In the last two years, Rosa Alonso has lost friends, gained 20 pounds, and drained her life savings. But if she’s depressed, you wouldn’t know it. The Web site Alonso launched in 2008, first as MiApogeo.com, and then re-launched in 2009 as MyLatinoVoice.com, may have consumed her life and money to the tune of nearly seven figures (including loans from friends), but it’s also delivered her immeasurable joy and a successful business.
At any start-up, she says, one expects a few bumps in the road. During a wide-ranging conversation recently, in which Alonso poured forth a rapid stream of stories, often interrupting herself with laughter, she returned several times to a single phrase: “I love what I do.”
It doesn’t hurt her mood, of course, that Alonso believes the nascent business will turn a profit in the near future. She says the Web offers many creative avenues for melding content with advertising. “We’ve had amazing growth,” says Alonso, who is now seeking investors. “You won’t see those crazy little ads for all sorts of interesting products that have nothing to do with the audience.”
Unveiled on Valentine’s Day two years ago, the site “is a labor of love,” says Alonso, who calls herself a NuyoCuban, a twist on Nuyorican, which refers to New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. Given her penchant for word play, it may not be surprising to learn that Alonso’s most recent corporate job was in public relations and marketing. Her long and varied career has included marketing positions in both media and technology—often with a focus on multicultural and international consumers.
The Web site celebrates American- Latino culture in its many incarnations, with content that is both light-hearted (a recent essay relates the author’s obsession with pointy bras) and the political (one article focuses on a new law that requires Puerto-Rican-born U.S. residents to renew their birth certificates). It taps into the diverse voices of American-Latinos, exploring Afro-Latino and gay-Latino issues, and also spotlighting Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. MyLatinoVoice. com includes a navigation bar that transports readers to its sister site—also Alonso’s endeavor—WikiLatino, a free encyclopedia of Latino culture and history.
Unlike similar sites, which offer Spanish or bilingual postings, MyLatinoVoice.com provides its content entirely in English, and draws more than 500,000 unique visitors every month. The site targets the fast-growing, youthful population of second- and third-generation Latinos. “You have to take a leap and go ahead and do it,” says Alonso of launching her start-up.
Alonso has relied more on her “can-do” spirit many times in her life. In her mid-20s, she jumped from a budding career in law to one in business, simply by crossing the street. On a lunch break from Proskauer, the white-shoe law firm where she worked as a senior paralegal, Alonso walked into the human resources department of Bankers Trust, and announced: “I want to be part of the management training program.” At first, the response was, “Who are you?” A month later she was hired.
Alonso’s application to Barnard College followed a similar plot line. She was a new immigrant, with little money, and sadly, her mother had recently died in a car accident. The guidance counselor at her New Jersey high school hadn’t even heard of Barnard. In college, Alonso majored in history, took up fencing, and grew active in student government, winning the office of senior class president. “Barnard gave me the encouragement, the tools, the education,” says Alonso, who is serving her third term on Barnard’s Board of Trustees.
In addition to Barnard, Alonso’s father has had a tremendous impact on her gumption, her readiness to take risks, she says. “He never raised me with the idea that you’re a girl, therefore you cannot...,” says Alonso, her voice trailing off. “If he were changing the door lock, he would call me over to learn how it’s done.”
Alonso’s father, who owned a successful furniture company in Cuba, remade himself when the family fled to Spain during the Cuban Revolution. Seven years later, when the family arrived in New York City, he began again, knocking on the door of a plastic upholstery shop in Washington Heights. “He drove me,” says Alonso, noting her luck in having someone in the “household like that—with those powers of will and resiliency.” These days, she steels herself with the same determination, and tells aspiring entrepreneurs: “You have to feel it in the pit of your stomach that you will succeed. If you don’t believe in it 1,000 percent, then, when the valleys come, you will quit.”
-by Elicia Brown '90, photograph by Dorothy Hong