Today we’d like to introduce you to Maricel Dominguez-Watson.
Maricel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It took a while for me to know that I was meant to be an entrepreneur. On average, I lasted about two years in each job and could not understand why I lost interest in these jobs. There was always something missing. A lot of it had to do with corporate policies that meant a job was just a job, nothing you could enjoy, too much red tape, little recognition, etc., etc. These jobs were killing my joy! Ten years after graduating from college and after several two-year term jobs (by choice), I found myself laid off and coincidentally around the two-year mark.
I decided to take a break from going back to a 9 to 5 job and start my own business; the easiest business I could think of was tax preparation and insurance services, specifically for Hispanics. I learned new skills and of course, there was nothing fun about tax preparation and insurance, but it was giving me a taste of entrepreneurship. Being able to choose a place, set it up the way I wanted, designing my own marketing and promotions, these things and more made it all very exciting. But, all of this cost money, building a new company from scratch costs a lot of money. With the tax business being seasonal, that did not help, and selling insurance was a lot more complicated than I thought. So, it was back to the job search, but I decided to keep the tax business in the meantime; I have been bitten by the entrepreneur bug and was not ready to let it go.
During my job search, I met someone who worked at a Hispanic advertising agency and what could be more fun than working there?! Well, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. She not only worked in the research department, which sounded kind of boring, but they were only hiring summer interns, paying $7 an hour.
Here I am, ten years after getting my bachelor’s degree in marketing, interviewing for an internship alongside a recent graduate, and getting offered pretty much minimum wage. Talk about swallowing my pride. I talked to my husband and we both agreed I needed my foot in the door if I wanted to finally have a job that was in the marketing and advertising fields. So, I took the $7 internship alongside a recent graduate, working in research. We were fortunate that after the summer was over, we were both offered full-time jobs. The pay wasn’t great, but anything was a step up from $7 an hour. After about a year and nine months working there, I started to get my two-year itch. This company knew how to work hard and play hard which was good, but the scale tipped more to the work hard, without necessarily getting the deserved recognition.
One day a business idea came to me. I was dealing with Hispanic research vendors who did a mediocre job when recruiting Hispanics for research projects, and thru my tax preparation services, I have built a nice size database of Hispanics. Why not start my own Hispanic research recruiting business and convert this agency (my current job) into my first client? It took a lot of delicate planning, but my husband and I decided right at two years and two months from working at this agency to start this business. But, life is never that black and white. As I was getting ready to take this leap, my husband was in the process of getting laid off. Starting a new business with no other source of income was a big no-no.
As this was happening, literally that same week, I got a call from a good friend and ex-colleague that they were looking to hire someone to their marketing team – great pay, great benefits and in marketing! Why was I now getting the so-called dream job?! Well, I took it; I had no choice. At the same time, my sister with two little girls needed to leave her bank job and find a job where she could have the flexibility and the income. So, I told her she could run my new Hispanic research recruiting business while I took on a full-time job. I know people say this all of the time, but this story is solid proof that “Everything happens for a reason.” “Everything happens in God’s time.” I am a spiritual person, so God definitely comes into play with this story, actually, He takes the lead.
At the moment, when these things are happening you cannot understand why, and you blame God, you blame yourself for these failures and bumps on the road. But, once you let things unfold, hold His hand, trust in Him, it is amazing to see what a beautifully executed plan has unfolded. The $7 internship and the tax business led to my new business; my husband getting laid off meant I had to take a marketing job that I actually found rewarding, and that meant my sister would run the business and have the flexibility she desperately needed. But, that’s not all that unfolded. Not only did the agency become my client but that recent graduate who also took the internship became one of my best friends, and I was her matron of honor at her wedding. From working at that agency, I also formed other great relationships both friendships and clients.
Eventually when the new business grew, and my sister could no longer manage it on her own, I left my marketing job (BTW I actually lasted four years at this job, breaking my own record), and in that job I developed and grew some of the best relationships ever; they not only became amazing friends, but just like at the agency they also became my clients! Today, the business is more than just a Hispanic research recruiting firm. We now offer all types of consumer market research services; we have become a full-service research and strategy firm not just for Hispanics but for the General Market population as well.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has never been a smooth road. Even my story of how I started the business was an indicator that it wouldn’t be a smooth road. But, I am not complaining, simply pointing out a fact. If I had to do it all over again, I would most likely not change that road. Through both failures and successes, I have learned so much; it made me a better person, a better entrepreneur, not to mention that I made some valuable and long-lasting relationships.
We have gone through growing pains, hiring and then having to let go of people, which is really hard for me to do. I am a people person but at the end, I had to do what was best for the business. How we come out of those struggles is what truly defines us, and even though we are still recovering from some difficult financial struggles, we are still standing, moving forward, moving strong.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the ConneXion Research, LLC story. Tell us more about the business.We are a consumer market research and strategy company, specializing in Hispanics. We have also developed a focus and expertise with Millennials and Generation Z consumers.
There are not a lot of companies in our field who know how to talk to Hispanics, how to understand what makes them tick and thus how that sincere understanding can help brands. That is where we step in. We help companies conduct research that is not about having data dumped and then stored into some archive, forgotten forever, but obtain real and actionable insights that can eventually impact the company’s bottom line.
Moreover, we are multicultural, having diversity in our team really allows us to look at research and consumers from different perspectives and thus allow us to extend our services beyond Hispanics. I am proud of the diversity we have created for a small company and wish that were the case for other companies. It really is a truer representation of the world we live in, helping us broaden our minds while bringing so many different and new ideas to the table. We have been able to create a corporate culture that I never could have dreamed of having in my previous jobs. We work hard, we play hard and we do our best to recognize everyone’s contributions. We have created an experience and not just another job. But, what I am really most proud of is my dad being proud of me.
My dad came to this country as an undocumented immigrant who eventually obtained his citizenship and did the same for his family. He worked so hard, I mean really hard, climbing up oil rigs as a welder dealing with rough waters and harsh weather conditions well into his 60s. He was proud of his job because he learned a skill and became really good at it. He wanted more for us and wanted us to always be a united front. With this company not only, my sister was a part of it, but my younger brother and husband eventually came on board. Now, that made him proud! He was proud that we built a family business, knowing we were all working together for a common cause, a common purpose; this was his true happiness.
Sadly, my dad was killed almost two years ago in Colombia during a robbery. He had retired to Colombia to enjoy the fruits of his labor, which he very much deserved. But, only six years after retiring his life was cut short over a senseless crime committed by a teen. This obviously broke my heart and I found myself wanting to give up. But, what we had built as a family made him so proud and happy that I had to find the strength to keep going. It has not been easy but in God, in family and in friends, I have found the strength to move forward and as cliché as this sounds, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel even if you are too blind to see it.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?It is hard to answer this question because to answer it you have to believe in luck. A small part of me wants to say that luck exists but the rest of me doesn’t really believe in that. I just believe that you have to trust in a higher power because as humans we are limited in what we can do and even limit our own potential. But trusting in God more than oneself, helps you clearly understand that the sky is really and literally the limit.
As a business owner, I may be talking too much about God and that may turn some people off. However, when our clients receive excellent customer service, detailed research and strategy plans, virtually flawless execution of research projects with actionable insights, all of that comes from somewhere, it comes from our upbringing, from our strong work ethics and it all circles back to our beliefs. Back to the good luck, bad luck question. If I ever relied on luck I would never have made it this far. Nothing has been about luck, it is about that trust, a supporting and patient spouse, a strong family bond, a great and loyal team, a lot of hard work…and of course some fun!