ABQ's entrepreneurial lure - Albuquerque Journal

ABQ’s entrepreneurial lure

Editor’s note: Five young entrepreneurs answered a series of questions from the Journal about the experiences they’ve had starting and operating businesses in Albuquerque. Their responses have been edited for length.

Travis Kellerman

At 31, Kellerman is already a serial entrepreneur. He founded his own tech and startup consulting firm,


The Agency/Kellerman.biz, in 2014, he says, to help connect what he calls Albuquerque’s “tremendous talent and skills (and) creative perspectives” with need around the U.S. and the world. He’s an adviser for ComboTrip LLC, an Albuquerque-based group travel planning and booking website and app that launched locally at FatPipe. Kellerman is also co-founder and chief operating officer for Asia-based Uteeni, a connection and communication platform featuring a directory of independent businesses in Southeast Asia.

Why are you in Albuquerque? (I) graduated from UNM (and) saw tremendous potential – first in politics, and then in the technology, startup and business world. Great quality of life, quality and friendly people, beautiful place to live and work. You can actually think and get things done here, and the Sunport makes it possible to travel for meetings and execution as needed.

Did you consider doing this anywhere else? No. I travel extensively to meet clients and develop/execute strategy on-site, but the necessary resources are based there. Albuquerque has what it needs to engage in this kind of work, take the leap, and can supplement, partner with other talent as needed. For Uteeni, I have to be on the ground in Asia obviously but, even then, I use remote resources based in Albuquerque and the U.S.A.

What are the advantages of doing business in Albuquerque? Low cost of operation, very competitive offerings for services; high quality of life and health; great “bootstrap” model environment for real revenue growth versus investment-driven growth; and creative, friendly, compassionate, skilled people and tremendous potential.

Has being in Albuquerque presented any specific challenges? Travel requirements for digital economy work; limited resources and talent for some specific skill sets; and lack of funding, capital, investment.

Have you considered or are you considering moving your operations elsewhere? For my consultancy, my operations are roaming as remote work, but most resources and talent used in projects is based in Albuquerque. ComboTrip is still based in Albuquerque, but has investment interest coming strongly from California. Movement may be required for scaling, but all work and the launch so far was done in Albuquerque. Uteeni and Connectica is based in Southeast Asia, as the regional scope requires, but uses some American and Albuquerque resources remotely.

What advice would you have for someone else looking to start a company in Albuquerque? Enjoy life here, but don’t lose slack on real work. Use the lack of distractions and close-knit community to focus and motivate you. There will be seemingly compelling reasons to operate elsewhere, but these resources and reasons can be found and fulfilled with creativity and travel, while keeping your base and heart in Albuquerque. Share yourself – your skills, your ideas, your generosity – and this community will reciprocate completely. Keep the faith, persevere and embrace the creativity this city will inspire in you. Bootstrapping is possible here and thrives from the low cost of operations. We proved this at Lavu Inc. and other local tech startups that initially grew on real revenue, not investment. Believe in your team and your mission, work hard and give back whenever you can.

Kristelle Siarza

Siarza started Siarza Social Digital last year. The online communications and marketing agency that specializes in social media, website development and integrated tactics now has grown to four


employees. Siarza, the 28-year-old owner and CEO, is the oldest in the group.

Why did you start this company in Albuquerque? Like many of the entrepreneurs that are in the community today, I started the company in Albuquerque because it’s home. … Also, with the type of work that we do, there is a demand for organizations like mine. Digital agencies that merge traditional public relations and advertising methods are unique, and Albuquerque needed an agency (like) ours to be the best value in the market while keeping up with the demand for our work.

What are the advantages of starting and doing business in Albuquerque? The biggest advantage for a young millennial like me is the community. From the community of students that I have interacted with to the professionals who have respected me for my talent and skills, the community has been supportive of the team that I have built and the services we provide.

Has being in Albuquerque presented any specific challenges? Yes: millennials are being talked about, but they’re not being engaged in the conversation. Millennials work, including the ones in Albuquerque, in a way where we thrive on gratification, information at our fingertips, and feeling like we are a part of a bigger picture. We like information in small bits, shorter time frames, but impactful when we need it. We question, we sometimes question too much. Sometimes, our older peers and individuals aren’t open to managing or working with individuals like us, but our differences make us unique. Our millennial culture has disrupted the norm and, in a community like Albuquerque, it’s so different and new that it has presented interesting challenges.

Have you, or are you, considering moving your operations elsewhere? Nope. I’ve thought about expanding operations to the Philippines to support my family, but Albuquerque is my home.

What do you wish you’d known before you started? Not to worry as much. Everything happens for a reason. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve had where I’ve worried about everything related to the company – but everything happens the way that they do because, if you work hard for it, worrying should be the least of your worries.

What advice would you have for someone else looking to start a company in Albuquerque? Be resilient. Don’t give up so easily. Embrace your differences and use them to your advantage. As a millennial, this has helped me lead a team of millennials, as well as work with great clients that appreciate what we do.

Trish Lopez

Lopez is founder and CEO of Teeniors, which connects tech-savvy teens with seniors for one-on-one, personalized coaching on smartphones, tablets and computers. Lopez, 37, says the idea is “to empower


seniors to connect with their loved ones, engage with their communities and the world through technology.” Teeniors, founded this year, hires teens and 20-something coaches on an independent, W-9 basis and has no employees yet, though Lopez says her brother helps her with the administrative work.

Why did you start this company in Albuquerque? I’m originally from New Mexico – born and raised in Belen, went to college at UNM, then lived outside of Albuquerque for 13 years before returning in 2014. Teeniors came from an idea I pitched at a women’s startup weekend – something I’d never heard of before this year.

What are the advantages of starting and doing business in Albuquerque? The biggest advantage is that we happen to be in a time when the city administration, as well as the greater community, are genuinely supportive of new, local businesses. New Mexico overall has advantages for Teeniors because we have a lot of teens who want to work and need guidance, as well as a growing community of seniors retiring here.

Has being in Albuquerque presented any specific challenges? The fact that New Mexico is one of the most impoverished states presents its own set of challenges. In terms of investment capital, we don’t attract the same opportunities as other cities and our low urban density can make scaling hard; but, for these reasons, I’m also hopeful that, if Teeniors can work here, maybe it can work anywhere. Albuquerque itself has not presented any specific challenges because we’re more of a community-driven enterprise than a typical startup. And we’ve been very fortunate and very grateful to have tons of grass-roots support.

What do you wish you’d known before you started? I wish I’d known how much my personal and professional background would benefit me in this startup. I didn’t realize that until I saw how many parallels there were to my own experiences (as a teen, as a worker, as a leader … ). The ability to believe “I’ve got this” took a while, so I wasted far too much time trying to win approval on ideas when my own instincts were on target.

What advice would you have for someone else looking to start a company in Albuquerque? Do it. There’s no time like the present if you want to try something new that just might change your community or the world. And there have been no better resources available than right now in Albuquerque to pursue it. The hardest part, of course, is having the money to get by while you attempt this new thing, so my tip: The best time to start is while you’re living at home with your parents, or once you’re in a place to go at least a year with no money and even a little to invest.

Nicole Taylor

Taylor, 32, started House Nanny in 2012 in Grants, N.M., but moved it to Albuquerque in 2013 and essentially started from scratch. She has since taken a new role in the city’s larger entrepreneurial


community as a coordinator for The Epicenter @ Innovate ABQ, but continues to keep her service business, which specializes in professional organization, housekeeping and house-sitting, on a part-time basis.

Was there something specific that attracted you to Albuquerque? The city and being close to some family members that lived here. I learned last year that the entrepreneur community here is thriving and I am very privileged to be a part of this ever-growing community of innovators.

What are the advantages of starting and doing business in Albuquerque? Albuquerque isn’t that big, and it’s easy to find networking events and like-minded individuals that are eager to help you find resources to grow and expand your market base. The mentality that I have seen here has been “give before you get” and opportunity tends to fall perfectly in place.

Has being in Albuquerque presented any specific challenges? Sometimes, it’s challenging to make the right connections because it seems you need to know someone to get into the right circles of networking at first.

What do you wish you’d known before you started? How to file taxes and deal with basic startup administration obligations.

What advice would you have for someone else looking to start a company in Albuquerque? Put yourself out there and find the right circles of networks for your target market. Find a business mentor to walk you through the administrations of starting a business.

Micaela Brown

Brown, 35, is the president of Heritage Productions LLC. Founded in 2015, the company specializes in creating experiences – from events to tours to spa vacations – that Brown says reflect “the art, food,


wine, dance and culture of the people of New Mexico.” She has put on Diner en Blanc, The Running of the Chihuahuas and Christmas at Hogwarts. Her early successes led to a meeting with Heritage Hotels and Resorts CEO Jim Long. Heritage Productions now serves as a sister company to the hotel chain, working on projects around the state. It is hiring its first full-time employee at the end of this year.

Why did you start this company in Albuquerque? When my family moved to New Mexico, I was in Washington, D.C., working for the government. Then my sister married and announced they were pregnant. It was important that I be more than a photograph on a wall to my new nephew. So I quit everything, sold all my things and moved to Albuquerque with what could fit in my Oldsmobile. … I became the executive director of a local nonprofit contractor for the U.S. Department of State to bring international delegations to our community. … I wrote 15 proposals a week highlighting the top industries and people that New Mexico had to offer. I saw opportunities in the market that I thought someone would surely take advantage of. After a while, I realized that someone was me!

What are the advantages of starting and doing business in Albuquerque? Albuquerque is magic ! The benefits of starting a business here are that you have both a large metro and the potential for life-changing relationships happening in every encounter. The universal truth about business being about relationships is never truer than in New Mexico. New Mexico provides access, in all ways. The strength of your company and product relies on your relationships with your customers, partners and community.

Has being in Albuquerque presented any specific challenges? Everyone in New Mexico has long-term relationships that have existed through family ties going back centuries. Being new to New Mexico, it took time to get to know the community, different cities, local economy, develop my own relationships and then to find ways that I could provide benefit to a community that had welcomed me so warmly.

What do you wish you’d known before you started? The saying “I wish I knew then what I know now” definitely resonates with me. I was (in) government for a long time and thought that policy work was going to be my path. One day, I developed ideas that I couldn’t rest without implementing and I knew I could execute the concepts. For someone with a very risk-adverse personality, it was incredibly risky – but it didn’t matter to me. I knew that I could. I wish I had that moment years earlier, so I wouldn’t be starting as an entrepreneur in my 30s. That said, I feel that I know enough to know what I don’t know, and I’m agile enough to learn what I need to grow personally and grow my company.

What advice would you have for someone else looking to start a company in Albuquerque? Take the time to get to know the market and what it needs. Find your customer first and then develop the product. Solve a problem. Become part of the community and then you will find doors opening.

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