Kim Gamez, CEO and Founder of Mi Padrino, an event planning platform for the Hispanic community, recently closed $1.5 in seed funding from the likes of Astia Angels, XO Group, Invest MI, Invest Detroit, Chloe Capital, and Portfolia.

Gamez met her husband Hugo when she was 19, after he moved to the US from Mexico while she was tutoring him in English. Within a year they were married, had opened their first business and found out they were pregnant with their first son.

She walked us through her experience, having been through the trenches on her entrepreneurship journey, including many similar ups and downs to those faced by her fellow female founders, as well as a few unique ones of her own.

Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?

To be honest, yes! I originally went to cosmetology school and wanted to own my own salon but realized I needed a business degree in addition to my cosmo license. Long story short, I never opened a salon.

After I got married and as we were growing our family, we decided to open some small businesses – a restaurant, some rental units – and I really began to like the idea of being my own boss. The hours are crazy, the income is irregular but the rush I get from the day to day is what I look forward to each and every day.

How did you get started with Mi Padrino? Did you have an “aha” moment?

After business school and having four kids, we were fortunate enough to sell one of our businesses, which gave us some capital to invest in this crazy idea, Mi Padrino.

After Hugo and I got married, and even while we were first dating, I began to fall in love with the Hispanic culture. The traditions and community were amazing to me and felt like something I had never really had in my life.

Fast forward a few years; Hugo and I were asked to be “padrinos” for some of his family and friends to help sponsor and pay for their big milestones events, like weddings and quinceañeras.

Having padrinos is a tradition that’s been around forever in Hispanic communities and it’s really awesome. It originated because not all families could afford to hold these large and lavish events and so everyone in the community would come together and help put on these events for the people they love.

One night we got a call from our niece in Mexico while we were eating dinner, and she asked us to be her padrinos. We were obviously happy to do so, but that was when we realized the process needed some serious improving. We had to figure out if we were sending cash or check or doing a wire transfer, needed to figure out exactly what she wanted us to help contribute towards, had to make sure everything got to the right address…. it was just a real pain. That’s when I realized there had to be a better way.

When did you realize you really had a great idea?

After thinking of the idea that night, I did a lot of research into this space. There were literally NO solutions that existed for this widespread “problem” with the padrino tradition. The lack of resources online and off was astounding to me.

Before Mi Padrino, quinceanera/wedding/event planners would combine the functionalities of several different applications – GoFundMe, to fund the event, to find ideas, and TheKnot to give their guests/padrinos important event information.

This was very frustrating, and not very organized. For my own son’s quince años (or, quinceañero) I needed something masculine but elegant, I actually looked up “gay wedding decor” to find something other than the typical sport/firetruck-themed birthday theme for little boys! This is when I knew that there was nothing helping people plan these events, and we had to do something.

Mi Padrino combines the functionalities of all these different applications, and makes it easy to plan, fund, and organize such events.

Running a company isn’t an easy process. What goes through your head when things get rough?

Once I realized there was an opportunity to help bring this tradition to the 21st century, I was obsessed. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of culture. When Hugo and I got married, we adopted Hispanic traditions for our family. With a family of now five beautiful kids, we celebrate all sorts of tres años parties (3rd birthday), quinceañeras (15th birthday, coming of age event), bodas (weddings), you name it. The padrino tradition is my personal favorite, because it has such a huge impact.  

I know that Mi Padrino is helping other women like myself who are too busy to breathe, let alone plan a huge traditional event. That’s what keeps me going. Every time we add a new feature, or update a checklist to include more planning tips, I know that it’s helping women in my shoes.

Continuing to make it easier to embrace these important life celebration traditions, is my number one goal. It’s so exciting to help our users: women (and men!) actively planning events for themselves or their children. We also get the opportunity to work with many small businesses looking to advertise their services and products. Our wholesalers are often women who had a bright idea, just like me. We met a wonderful lady in Dallas who embroiders beautiful quinceanera sashes, which are available for purchase in our shop. We hope to bring these women’s businesses to a large audience, and grow their businesses along with ours.

You’ve just ended a capital raise. Walk us through it.  

Fundraising is tough. During much of my pre-seed funding, I was pretty visibly pregnant with our fifth (and last), Lucy. There were many times where I could tell that, despite my beautifully prepared pitch deck and financial projections, that I was being seen as a pregnant woman, not a business owner.

Along the journey there have been some incredible investors who saw past the baby bump and through to the potential that Mi Padrino has. I had just had Lucy when Mi Padrino really started growing exponentially. With Lucy in hand, I flew to NYC, and pitched the business to a group of amazing women at Chloe Capital in New York.

While nursing in the back of the awards room, I heard the winner’s name: Mi Padrino! I was picked out of over 100 companies who applied to win the $50K investment. Just a week after winning this award, I won $100K at a Accelerate Michigan Competition. From there, it’s just snowballed.

We’ve fully funded a Series Seed Round, led by the Astia Angels, followed by Invest Detroit, Invest Michigan, Michigan Angel Fund, Portfolia as well as other angel groups. We are also excited to include XO GROUP as a strategic investor.

With Lucy in hand, I’ve flown all over the country and won awards for innovation and raw growth in numbers. We now have 150,000 users, and are running to catch up. Helping this community celebrate family, unity, and cultural pride, is something that I have a huge passion for. We are not only solving a problem, but bringing people together to celebrate what matters in this world.

The people backing you during a startup journey can make or break you. Who’s been there to help you along the way?

Mi Padrino has grown so fast over these past two years. Our team has devoted countless hours, nights, and weekends to keep this idea moving forward. Through this journey, our trusted advisors have pushed us to accomplish and surpass our goals for the first year. There are many people along the way that have “the answer”, but ultimately you need to surround yourself with people who walk the walk. It’s tough finding mentors and advisors, but it’s crucial to grow your business.

Another huge help along the way has been startup accelerators, such as Spark Ann Arbor and Desai Accelerator. Both help startups like ours to realize their full potential, but more than that, they create an environment full of other startups, resources, and expertise. These environments helped us tremendously, because often the other companies need the same information, have the same questions, and experience the same lows. Knowing that we weren’t alone really helped to fuel the fire.  

Most importantly, we’ve received so much love and support from our users, thanking us for solving a problem that they’ve had for centuries. We get some of the best ideas from our users, which helps us to better our site for everyone.

So what’s next for you and your company?

Our goals for the next year are to build our user base substantially, fuel further updates and content, and hire additional staff to keep up with growth. In the following 12 months, we plan to launch in-app purchases, so that once an item is paid for, it ships to the customer. This will provide a seamless e-commerce experience for our event planners.

Also within the next year, we plan to launch internationally. Currently we only advertise in the US, and I am so excited to launch into Mexico, too. As you can imagine, there are lots of quinceañeras and weddings celebrated in Mexico, and we are ready to help them all.