Andy Unanue's Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

By Bill Reeve, Staff Writer | Digital Business

Dynamic business person and private equity investor Andy Unanue was born, raised, and educated in New Jersey. After earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Miami and an MBA from Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management, Andy worked his way up to become COO of his family's business, Goya Foods. Andy helped turn Goya Foods from what many people believed to be a niche business into an international success.

Since helping Goya grow into the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, Andy has focused on helping other Hispanic-oriented and family-owned businesses succeed.

Andy recently spoke at a master class for entrepreneurs in New York co-hosted by Dreamers Ventures and Google. We had the opportunity to ask Andy to share some of his wisdom and advice.

In your opinion, what is the main reason why people take the entrepreneurial path?

I think people are born entrepreneurial, and they follow the entrepreneurial path because they want to take control of their own destiny.

We all know it's not easy to be an entrepreneur. It requires a huge amount of courage, dedication, and hard work. But, the American Dream keeps the entrepreneurial spirit very much alive despite all adversities, and I believe that the American Dream is as vibrant as ever.

When my grandfather immigrated to the United States, he started Goya because he missed the food of his home country – Spain. Over the years, my grandfather saw the opportunity to reach a much larger consumer base by importing food from other Hispanic countries, creating a pan-Hispanic company that appeals not only to Latinos but also caters to the mainstream American household. My grandfather's entrepreneurial drive, besides creating the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, provides livelihood for all his descendants and, more importantly, for the families of the thousands of employees at our company.

Successful stories like my grandfather's can inspire others to follow the entrepreneurial path.

As a private equity investor, you see many companies looking for funding. What do you personally look for as key indicators of success? What can entrepreneurs do to ensure that their company gets an investor's attention?

When you're looking for investment, the most important thing you can do is demonstrate your business' potential to grow and to grow sustainably. As an investor, I look for businesses with good, capable management teams - in sectors that show high growth potential and opportunities. I also look for businesses that we can add value to – that we can help grow.

One of the things we talk about in our firm is "do what you do." Know what you do, and make sure you do it right. I look for entrepreneurs who understand their target customers and want to grow their businesses. There is tremendous opportunity for those smaller companies to grow.

An entrepreneur gets an investor's attention by showing them a strong management team, a sustainable business model, and scalable products.

What advice can you give entrepreneurs who also want to make their unique product or service universally desirable?

Understand your customers' mindset and how your product or service fulfills their core needs and align your team with that customer base. One way of doing that is by having a diverse workforce that would mirror your market. For example, at Goya we understood that to make our products appealing to the many different cultures we were targeting, we needed to hire people from those cultures to better understand the market.

As I always say, what separates us from much of the competition is we were out there marketing our products as Hispanics and entrenching ourselves in the communities we were selling. We were not out there just marketing to Hispanics. That alignment, as well as gender and ethnic diversity, was one of our competitive advantages.

I would also try and understand the approaches your competitors are using, and focus on building a great product or service that is better aligned with your customers.

Looking back on the difficulties you faced, what is the most important piece of advice you would give a new entrepreneur?

You have to believe in yourself, and you have to want to work hard. Know that you are going to fail. I've failed many times. How you pick yourself up and learn from those failures - that's what matters.

Grit and perseverance will win the day. I cannot emphasize enough that it is hard work. If you don't want to work hard, then you don't want to be an entrepreneur.

Remember, first and foremost, you are a business person. Know when to sweat the small things and when to focus on the bigger picture.

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