LORENZA ÁVILA- AND THE SUCCESS OF KIWILIMÓN
WHY THE TASTE OF SUCCESS TASTES LIKE KIWILIMÓN
By: Lilia Davis
Photos: Courtesy of Kiwilimón
Lorenza Ávila, Mexican businesswoman, mother and co-founder of a great empire of online recipes called Kiwilimón, being the number one recipe community in Spanish, leader in the category “Overall Creators” of Facebook and Multi-platforms in all of Mexico. Kiwilimón is one of the Top 5 of Food & Drinks Global sites. Her company has surpassed all records with 1 billion total viewers during the first quarter in 2019 and has 19 million followers on all of its platforms.
RECIPES+ KITCHEN+TECHNOLOGY =KIWILIMÓN
Kiwilimón is a driving force, and in many cases, a pioneer in implementing new technologies and digital tools in its category, and as a leader in the category of “General Creators” of Facebook and Multiplatforms across Mexico, within the top 5 of Food & Drinks sites globally.
This month Kiwilimón celebrates receiving the IXMATI 2019 award for distinguishing itself as one of the best and for its excellent work in the food world of the Latino community in the category “Best in Digital (Technology and Platform)”. This adds one more success to their table.
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Well now, we must ask what is their recipe for such success?
In an exclusive interview in Austin, Texas, her current residence, Lorenza Avila, says she never thought she would attain this great success when she started out ten years ago with the first few hundred recipes that her grandmother and mother had left her. We invite you to read her interview below where she relates her beginnings, the obstacles encountered, technology involved and Kiwilimón’s success.
When I met Lorenza for the first time, I was impressed to see that the origin of this empire of recipes in Spanish was due to an attractive and elegant petite woman, the mother of three children, with a brilliant gaze and warm smile. We were waiting for the opening of a trade show in the Convention Center during SXSW in Austin. Thus, we chatted while waiting in line where the idea for this interview was born.
Her intelligence and eloquence made evident in her conversation revealed the passion that is necessary in almost all cases of success similar to what has been achieved with Kiwilimón. When you speak with Lorenza, she becomes immediately and completely involved the conversation and sincere in her opinions, with a clear, direct, practical and optimistic tone, and at times, with charming responses showing the same spirit, the same style found in Kiwilimón.
Fast forwarding to this story, two years later I met with Lorenza at a restaurant in Austin called The Tiny Boxwoods, and there surrounded by good food, we ordered the house favorite: provençal salmon, mixed vegetables, and champagne vinaigrette – and then I asked her the first question: “With what would you like to accompany this delicious dish with?” using a phrase commonly found in the text of the recipes of Kiwilimón. She laughed. “ With goat cheese baguette, of course !” she answered with more laughter.
When talking with Lorenza I also discovered that just one level below her passion for cooking and Kiwilimón, she has an intense interest in interior design and architecture made obvious by the way she talked about colors, measurements, natural light and spaces in rooms, and the effects they have on people. She also confessed that one of her weaknesses is good perfume. And like Carolina Herrera, Venezuelan designer, once remarked in an interview: “Mexican women love a good perfume”. So we began.
Education and Work
Lorenza studied Business Administration at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, and prior to founding Kiwilimón, she worked in the consumer products industry as Brand Manager in the multinational company Procter & Gamble in Mexico City.
Lorenza is currently the director of products, editorial and marketing for Kiwilimón, being responsible for the experience of the users encounter when surfing Kiwilimón, as well as the creation, edition and production of contents for the different platforms of the brand.Lorenza resides in Austin with her family but travels constantly between this Texas city and Mexico City, where her work team and the Kiwilimón headquarters office are located.
México – Spain- N.Y. Texas- Adaptation spirit since childhood
Born in Mexico, when she was eight years old her family moved to Madrid, followed by a move to Manhattan five years later, living in New York for reasons of her father’s work as a senior executive in finance.This second change of residence was drastic enough as she came from Europe into an American environment almost overnight and confessed that in school she didn’t understand anything of what her classmates spoke in English.
But in any event, she decided to go ahead and try to approach them, attempting to speak English – with her strong Mexican-Spanish accent, – and attempting to adapt and participate in a new way of life. Her classmates and friends today recall this and still tease her about her awkwardness back then at that stage! However it was at that time, and with that experience that she learned to face problems and to solve them quickly. This spirit of adaptation has helped her both in her personal life and in business.
One of the things that calls attention to your website is the name, how did you decide on the name “Kiwilimón”?
Well, the truth is that that was not our first option. We tried several more traditional names using “Kitchen of”, “Recipes for”, “Teaspoon”, and so on, but those names were not very convincing to us.
One day, my partner and I remembered some frozen yogurt in Boston (where she used to live earlier) that were called “Berry Lime” and I thought: why don’t we choose two names of fruits? Then we checked the availability of names with “kiwi”, – and “limón” was the second name. Nobody had used that name before! I loved the fruit names so much that even my dog is called “Mango”. (laughter)
How did the idea of creating Kiwilimón come about?
It started when I was newly married, and a housewife in Boston where my husband was studying for a master’s degree at Harvard. After giving up life in the corporate world of Procter & Gamble in México, where I employed all of my creativity and business skills, I still felt the need to produce something. When I became a housewife and having been away from my family for a long period, I suddenly realized that “I didn’t even know how to cook eggs!”
So I decided to study cooking and obtained a professional diploma at the School of Culinary Arts in Boston- and soon after I started having the most outstanding dinners of all my husband’s student friends! (laughter) However, I also noticed that when I started looking for recipes with a Mexican flavor, I didn’t find anything specifically aimed at women.
During the summer of 2009, it occurred to me to contact Deborah Dana, my former work partner in the marketing area of Procter & Gamble México, and who later became my partner, and we talked about the need to have digital solutions to reach Spanish-speaking women.
We decided that we needed to start a digital cooking tool for ourselves and offering it to other women and consumer brands could advertise their products.
There is no such thing as a bad cook, because if you have a good recipe, things will turn out good“ –– Lorenza Ávila
Lorenza, so where did you find the first recipes?
My family.I started preparing a list of recipes in Spanish for my own use and my first recourse was to go to the recipe book of my maternal grandmother, and my mother who are both passionate about cooking. My partner did the same with her family and together we organized and uploaded the first 800 recipes in digital form to what later formed the database of what today is Kiwilimón with more than 17 thousand recipes right now and continues growing every day!
How are the recipes chosen and shared on the Kiwilimón platform?
The recipes can be uploaded by any of the readers, they have the option of uploading the recipe they like, and if they have the photograph as well. Then they are complemented with seasonal sections and videos published by the editorial team.
But before putting them online, we have an editorial team that studies them, to make sure they are correct and aligns well with the profile of Kiwilimón before we select any recipe. Especially that a recipe is not repeated, that it is well written and most importantly, that it is delicious!
Do you think the online recipe industry will go out of style one day?
No, I don’t think so, because there is an important detail – and one that has nothing to do with technology – it is that the recipes are like something magical – because they do not expire, let’s say, they do not get old like the news, for example.
You can continue preparing the same recipe every month, year after year, so I think the recipes will not go out of style and the category of food is very attractive from the editorial point of view as you can repeat content and have lower production costs.
What were the first obstacles that you had to face when you started?
At first it was difficult to get clients since they didn’t know us. As there was no one like us in Mexico furnishing recipes on a digital platform, they did not have a reference to successful and proven businesses, nor the technology in that industry. There was not at that time, as there is today, a strong movement of female investors, at all .
Then, in the course of the company’s growth, another obstacle was having the right personnel. When you have a small business, you do almost everything and you can control the quality, but the moment you grow, you have to delegate.The profiles of the people and what we needed did not match. To assemble the people into a team and the equipment with the same quality was difficult.
But the most important obstacle was when we tried to get investors to enlarge the company. All the investors were men and didn’t know much about the digital category of recipes. And so, our first big obstacle was that we ran into a world dominated by men who didn’t know much about recipes. They told us: “Ah … it’s a blog”, “ah … it’s like your hobby, isn’t it?”, “Women cooking.”
In spite of all the above, in 2012 we managed to formalize an investment by the Mexico Ventures and Gerbera capital investment fund. This capital furnished was key to growing the team, moving offices and accelerating growth.
Did you expect to have all this success when you started?
We really didn’t expect it. But my partner and I did want to be the best. We executed our business plan quickly and managed to raise the capital to grow the company and take it to the next level. I always followed with great passion that the Kiwilimón recipes were the best, easy to follow and with the latest culinary trends (such as vegan recipes).
We quickly become a great resource to go to find food options for your family, parties or a special occasion, and that’s it. We think that there is no such thing as a bad cook, because if you have a good recipe, things will turn out good.
But my partner and I did want to be the best. We executed our business plan quickly and managed to raise capital to grow the company and take it to the next level.
How was the process of taking it to the level of business?
We started to see business options with the main objective: recipes and cooking. The next step was to investigate and analyze the best practices and success stories at a global level to inspire us and create a concept that adapts both to our business vision and to the needs of the Latin market.
That was how Kiwilimón was born in December 2009, my former co-worker, Deborah Dana and I founded it one hundred percent with our savings.
A year later we competed with Kiwilimón in a Harvard Business School (HBS) contest for entrepreneurial students from around the world and we managed to be finalists. This gave us a lot of credibility that our business plan had potential.
Currently, our business revenue models used are mainly through organic advertising, through brand-sponsored recipe videos.
THE BIG PICTURE
When was the moment when you realized that YES, this is going to become the big picture!
I realized it when we were competing with the larger companies, when we started putting videos on Facebook to complement a simple recipe – and that caused a furor and became viral! Videos such as “carlota de limón” and “trompo al pastor” that reached more than 30 million viewings in one single video. People started to take more attention and our followers multiplied by thousands.
That’s when we saw that we had to change the business model and focus on the production and distribution of videos to this loyal audience we have now. Now the videos are the soul of Kiwilimón.
What was the key factor for Kiwilimón to be successful today – that sets it apart from other recipe platforms ?
I think we have an original content that attracts people and the fact that this content, in addition to being very broad, is provided by the users themselves who have a brand identity, and this is reflected in a simple but fun design too. We also publish a monthly newsletter and the cooking blog: Kiwiblóg with everything related to cooking.
Technological innovation has been one of the key drivers in the growth of Kiwilimón, since the company has been a driving force and, in many cases, a pioneer in implementing new technologies and digital tools in the category.
It is common that in startups the founding partners do not stay long running the company. What was the case of Kiwilimón?
Well, in my case, I have continued as Chief Content Officer in charge of the area of content, marketing, editorial, design … which is what I love most. I feel fortunate to have been able to be present in Kiwilimón and watch it grow during these ten years, from the beginning to becoming one of the leading digital platforms in Spanish.
But obviously our company has suffered several changes. One year after the fund’s investment, we decided to have a CEO, Carlos Lieja, who was instrumental in helping to grow and give the company more structure. And at the end of 2014 my partner Deborah Dana left to devote herself to other projects, although she remained on the Board of Directors.
Is there anything you have contributed to Kiwilimón that you feel has been essential to achieve success?
I think that the most important part of me from the beginning, always was and has been the fact of establishing and maintaining a very high quality standard, at the forefront and as a priority in everything we do. To the point that some consider me a perfectionist (she laughs). I have made sure to take good care of the Kiwilimón brand and always think first of our audience.
Today the focus of the company is precisely that, our audience, and we use data that we have accumulated in the last ten years to develop recipes that we know will be successful before anyone sees them. This allows us to create content for brands that work with us that exceed expectations and make them loyal customers of Kiwilimón.
What innovation in technology has Kiwilimón specifically contributed?
One of them is our “kiwilimon app” included in the selection of the “Best of 2015” of Google Play. We also have a menu planner that allows you to organize meals by day of the week and food, make weekly shopping lists and even create menus based on user preferences. It is now available in the Samsung Family Hub.
Another important achievement is that we have ventured into the portfolio of capabilities of artificial intelligence products. In fact, we have an ability (skill) on Alexa devices, Amazon’s virtual assistant.
Through it, users can find more than 17,000 recipes and follow step by step instructions for cooking dishes based on the ingredients that users have. That has been a huge achievement.
BALANCE IS BETTER
This year, the theme of the International Women’s Foundation is “a balance is better.” Being the mother of three young children, you work as an executive and co-founder of this great company. How do you find that balance in a company where the majority of the staff are women?
It is our priority. A large part of our team are women. It is not that we hire only women, but it was easy because they were recipes. At the end of the day we have very good values and keeping a balance in the work is our priority.
We are very strict in such balance. We put a limit on the workday of 8 a.m. at 5p.m., that’s essential — especially if you’re a mom, to get home early and have time for your family. We are proud to say that have been recognized, for the second time, as the best company to work for in Mexico.
At the end of ten years, what has given you the greatest satisfaction?
I think that my greatest satisfaction is knowing that our work impacts millions of people in the world who care about feeding themselves in a practical, original and fun way.
After exceeding 1 billion views, what’s next?
I think the consequence of that is to continue with e-commerce. The brand is big enough for that. We have to sell things directly to the market. Eventually, what you see you like can be bought in Kiwilimón.
What other advice can you give us- like that; Kiwilimón style?
I have many, but if I had to summarize them they would be the following:
- If you are going to have partners, to choose partners that compliment you, and share values.
- Study the business opportunities. Remember that not all good ideas translate into good business opportunities.
- Do “homework” and work a business plan in detail. That’s fundamental.
- Before raising capital, show your commitment by investing your own money, time, etc., so you can check the future success of your startup and get a better valuation
Finally, follow the passion for what you do, but without neglecting the attention to your family, because at the end of the day they will be your support. But above all do what makes you happy!
After interviewing Lorenza I feel that she is really the spirit of Kiwilimón. Her enthusiastic, positive and cheerful phrases as in the recipes are like those of a friend who helps you solve your problems with homemade meals, in a second!
When I started to use Kiwilimón recipe platform, I can say that I was impressed with how easy it is to work the recipes. You can prepare a traditional dish with a contemporary twist, and make it fun, for example the traditional Mexican conchas flavored with green matcha tea, the ability to create “cake in a cup” is ingenious.
The possibilities for cooking without an oven are endless. And adapting your menus to vegan dishes, or the Keto diet, but with a Mexican flavor is refreshing.
That is exactly what Lorenza was looking for when she started ten years ago: practical, fun recipes with a Mexican flavor. And she sure found them! With great success she has solved her problem and that of nineteen million more people!
We are proud to have Lorenza Ávila in our Revista Mujer as a woman entrepreneur who brings to our community a great example. She demonstrates that from a simple idea to help and support other women in the daily preparation of meals, you can build a spectacular company with a taste of success: Kiwilimón.
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