In this series, Open Every Door, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.
Beatriz Acevedo has been a fixture of the entertainment world since she was just eight years old. Driven and goal-oriented as a young girl, she got her start as radio announcer in her native Mexico by marshalling her father’s connection to a local station and getting herself an interview.
“I had a crush on Ricky Martin when he was a kid in this group called Menudo. I had a plan. I thought if I get a show at the radio station when Menudo comes to town I can interview them. So I can meet Ricky, we’ll fall in love and marry each other,” she recalls to Entrepreneur. “So I brought my demo tape of my McDonald’s and Toys ‘R’ Us commercials that I had done voiceover for. And I made a plea to [the station owner] that I was the demographic that they were trying to reach. Why did they have an old guy being the deejay?” Acevedo’s moxie made an impression, and she became the station’s young sidekick, learning the ropes of what would become her career every day after school.
In 1995, she founded a production company called HIP Entertainment Group, where for more than 20 years, Acevedo created and produced more than 1,000 hours of television programming in English, Spanish and Portuguese for networks like the Travel Channel, PBS and MTV. Her work across genres, ranging from documentaries to game shows to music specials, won her three Emmy Awards.
Acevedo is on a mission to empower the voices of Latino creators and change how Latinos are represented in the media. To that end, in 2012 she launched her latest venture, a digital media company called mitu , to make content for and by Latinos, especially for U.S.-born millennials.
Over the course of five years, the company’s programming has grown to reach nearly 100 million people in the U.S. each month. Every month, the work she and her team produce generates 400 million content views and over 120 million video views. The company has partnerships with platforms like Spotify, YouTube Red and Paramount TV, and brand partners such as Honda, Toyota, Pizza Hut and State Farm. In the US, the company has 111 employees, of which 51 percent are female. Her team has produced seven original series this year with plans to double that figure in 2018.
Today, her goal is simply to pay it forward. “The creative community that didn’t have have a place to go, we’ll take a chance on them,” explains Acevedo. “We actually have a program called the mitu accelerator, where we find the next generation of [creatives] from animators to writers to directors. We are building a brand that stands for a community, that opens doors and provides opportunity.”
Acevedo shared her insights about the importance of not going for the obvious choice and always taking chances.
Why is your work with mitu meaningful for you?
Being a woman, a Latina and an immigrant entrepreneur, I was always pretty puzzled about the disconnect between the Latino creative community and Hollywood buyers. I was lucky enough to get these meetings with networks and studio heads, and they would say, ‘We can’t find the writers, and we can’t find the talent.’ Then, I would go back to my office, and there’s 20 people that are so talented, who tell me, ‘Nobody takes our calls. We can’t get an agent, we can’t get a meeting.’ That broken bridge was always pretty puzzling to me. Even when I would make an introduction, [the buyers] wouldn’t know what to make of them. [If they met with] a writer that had a really authentic story to tell, they’d be like, ‘We don’t know if this will be commercial enough, or it’s going to turn off our core audience.’
So with mitu, I think what we do really matters and can really change the narrative. Thanks to digital, you have a phone, you have an opportunity. We see these kids making movies from their phones and uploading them and finding audiences that have been so underserved for so many years. But, we can’t just be waiting for somebody to give us a chance. My dream is that mitu becomes the voice for this generation. It’s a very big and hefty dream. But, every day we try to do it. We’ve found an incredibly loyal audience who always say, ‘Oh, finally, a brand that gets me, where have you been all my life?’ We’re striking a chord.
Can you talk about a moment in your career that you had to advocate for yourself? How did you approach it?
I’m always advocating for myself and for my community. I’m usually one of the few token female Latinas speaking at these [industry] conferences. I feel that every time they invite me, they sort of want like the quick three tips on how to not be embarrassed as a company [if it isn’t] diverse. You have to stop thinking about multiculturalism or diversity as a good deed or charity. Because you are really missing out on a big economic opportunity. Women represent half of the population in the U.S. How could any company think that without their insights, you are going to be able to thrive and survive? It’s the same with Latinos. [I’m asked] ‘how do we up our numbers? How do we make it not look so bad?’ But, you’re completely missing out.[You need these] diverse ways of thinking in order to thrive and survive as a company. That is something that I’m constantly advocating. Don’t invite me [to speak on a panel], because you have a panel of all white men that look the same, and you’re desperate to have a woman. Oh, and double check: She’s a Latina, and we know she’s vocal. It’s almost like a show. So my plea always is: I, or any of my colleagues who are not here, could add to this conversation [beyond my presence] making you not look bad on a panel. I’m educating the marketplace all the time about why this matters to them as a business.
What was a mistake you made and how did you move forward from it?
Five years ago, when we started the company, the biggest mistake mistake we made was to do the obvious. We thought we’re building a digital media brand for Latinos, so we’re going to do it in Spanish. So we assumed that because we were going on digital platforms, we would have a very young audience based in the U.S., because we were based in Los Angeles. Very quickly, we discovered we would get 50 plus-year-old people in the U.S. [and younger viewers in Latin America].
We felt we knew the market really well. But, this demographic is U.S. born and speaks English [first] and consumes their content in English. So, we quickly pivoted into doing our content in English and really addressing U.S.-born Latinos who were the most underserved. Univision and Telemundo do a really good job of catering to [the older demographic] and that’s a generation that’s TV-first, Spanish-first. Now, we fully know we want to be English-first and digital-first. We’re trying to superserve a demographic here that’s not served at all.
How have you grown and changed as a leader throughout your career?
I’ve learned to be less of a perfectionist. And I’m doing my best everyday to learn to delegate. I think that I come from being a very scrappy, money-conscious and creative entrepreneur from my own country of origin, where you have to make a lot with very little. So I’m used to filling 10 roles and not one. I’ve tried to trust that people can do their jobs and be there for anything that I can support. But that’s definitely been my biggest challenge. As I come from a very let-me-roll-up-my-sleeves-and-do-everything mentality. I can’t say that I’ve mastered it fully but I try every day to be to be more of a delegator and a support. Hopefully, I’ll continue to learn, and people will feel empowered to do their job without me helping them out.
Over time, how has your view of success and failure changed?
I won my first Emmy when I was in my early 20s, which nobody in Mexico had ever won. For me, success back then, was all about me. Today, now that I am much older, it’s so different. I see the kids in my office, and now, for me, success is seeing them succeed. I have such pride, especially for the women in our company, who are so amazing, talented and smart. As much as I can, I bring [my female employees to the company’s] board as a spotlight, so they can talk about what they’re working on. It makes me beam with pride.
My view of success is, If I can be that catalyst, if I can be that person that opens doors for the next generation of Latino leaders, with a very close place in my heart for women, that’s success to me. In my 20s, it used to be, ‘How do I win another award? How do get on another cover of a magazine?’ It was all me. And, now, it’s all about seeing how I can have a hand in opening doors, mentoring the next generation.
What do you say to yourself to keep going during tough moments?
For me, it’s very hard to balance work and personal life, especially because I have 12- year-old twins that would love for me to be there for them and pick them up at school, like all the other moms do. For me, what makes me feel like the tradeoffs are worth it is knowing that what I do everyday potentially can really make a difference.
And I see it everyday, whether it’s a kid from a very low-income community who is so deserving of an opportunity that nobody else was giving him, and we see how we can change lives by giving [that kid] opportunities and [him] giving back to us, as a company. Building a company that matters, that stands for my community, that can really change the narrative of how we’re perceived — that keeps me going for sure. As hard as it is, knowing that you have that power to contribute is really exciting.