AlmaYEspiritu is an online platform which delivers mindfulness and work-life balance tools for people around the globe. Today I talk to the founder – Criss Cuervo about her and her team’s experience with developing a business model for the platform.
Agnieszka Węglarz: Criss what was the trigger to launch an internet platform with the online mindfulness tools? Could you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of this idea? Did you have a clear vision from the start or was it rather a happy coincidence?
Criss: Throughout my career in corporate America I never felt like I had “arrived” at a place where I wanted to stay and flourish. This unease and curiosity led me to venture into entrepreneurship. I used to watch “Shark Tank” and loved seeing these people come with amazing ideas and just be so confident and fearless to do it. One night in September 2015, I was twisting and turning, something inside of me moved me to buy the URL www.AlmaYEspiritu.com (Soul and Spirit). I just had to do it. At the time I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but it just felt right.
Before this I had one business launch attempt and failed. A little more background history, I was still working full time while I was envisioning this new venture. I was also doing a lot of extracurricular inner work and self-development. The first version of our company was a rough draft, as I was still trying to find direction. Today what remains from this is the intention, because only time and continuous willingness to learn and change have allowed us to have a clear vision.
Agnieszka: What was the initial concept? How did you work on the MVP (minimum viable product)? What were the most difficult moments, the biggest challenges?
Criss: Wow, great question! So this first rough draft of AlmaYEspiritu was about sharing everything I was learning. It looked more like a platform of information and tools, and me as the person sharing.
As time passed, I started to play a lot with products, offers, activities, courses, etc.. The purpose during this time was to learn what people needed, wanted, and connected with. I would say that the hardest time was the early beginnings, as I was doing 99% of the work without pay, and having to overcome skeptics. Our company did not start to generate income until 2018, because I realized early on that in order to enter a new field, I had to train myself and learn as much as I could.
So between 2016 and early 2020, I was studying full-time acquiring a MA in Mindfulness and completing a certification to teach the renown program “Search Inside Yourself” originally developed at Google. My prior education did not give me the credentials or confidence to develop and provide valuable products that aligned with my passions in life, and my vision for the business.
Agnieszka: It takes a lot of courage and determination to work on bringing your business vision to life without pay. How did you manage to go through this time – financially and emotionally?
Criss: Thank you for your words. I would say that being a big planner helped a lot! Even in my meditation sessions my mind loves to imagine ideal futures or not so ideal ones hehe – letting go and breath meditation help me disconnect from my planning mind when it is time to rest and recharge 🙂
Anyways, a great benefit of a planning mind is that it likes to prepare, so this was crucial when I was transitioning out of my corporate role in the US. I had been “planning for change”, not sure yet what this change would be. So in other words I was saving a lot and not getting myself into debt or long financial commitments. Once I made the decision to leave my career and pursue education, I was very cautious on my decisions and spending.
The first two years I became a nomad, so I traveled a lot and spent time living between my parents, sisters, and partner. Emotionally, it was not easy at first to break the ego patterns. However, I knew I wanted this change and I felt energized by my search for meaning and purpose. Also, my studies required me to spend lots of time meditating, reflecting, and cultivating new ways of being and thinking so this was medicine to my mind and soul. My practice and study were my safe spaces, and being surrounded by the love and support of family, friends, and my partner were essential to my ability to stay determined to build a new life that had a higher and bigger purpose.
Agnieszka: Your team is based in many locations – some of your team members live in Europe, some in America. Was it difficult to work on your business concept in a dispersed group? How did you divide your tasks, how did you organize team work?
Criss: Yes indeed. I was an early believer of work from home and remote work policies, I have never been a fan of “nine to five” work policies. Instead I loved the idea of trusting people to deliver and respond to their responsibilities and assignments. In my last corporate job I had the chance to work fully remotely for almost 5 years. This experience allowed me to gain really valuable insights that have allowed me to organize and manage tasks for our remote team. I would say that without technology our work would not be easy! Also, continued openness to improve and listen is essential in bettering the way we work together.
In regards to how we divide our tasks. A lot of the work has to do with trusting each other. We also know that we are there for each other in case someone knows that they won’t be able to meet a certain deadline or timeline. Everyone works the hours they decide to complete assigned tasks, and each one decides which projects they want to take on for extra commissions. The payment structure is not based on time, it is based on project performance, completion, and involvement.
Agnieszka: This is very interesting. Do you have any metrics to measure the project’s performance to support the payment structure?
Criss: It has definitely not been easy to find a way to incentivise people differently. I have played with many formats in the past years, and I will most likely continue to improve. Let me clarify that running a purpose driven business attracts like-minded individuals that are willing to work hard, take risks, and ride the waves with hope.
Our performance metrics are not based on monetary returns, so it is a complex question to answer. Another philosophy I have is that, when you do what you love with time it will pay off. This is something we have in alignment with every team member. During the last few years of my corporate career, I had the chance to work closely with many business owners. One of the businesses I worked with, powerfully impacted me. They were doing things differently, the management team made earnings and spendings available to employees, they were very transparent with that and all decisions. This made employees feel like owners of the business. I loved this, and I knew that one day I wanted to do something similar.
So, my version of performance can be explained in this analogy. Earnings for us are like Apple Pies. We all love an apple pie and as a team we know there is enough to share with everyone! We all get a piece depending on our involvement with each project, and we know we have to save a part of the pie so we can make more. Each pie has its own value so as a team we all have the same interest to make this pie the best ever. At the end of the day, we hope that our work and the love we put into each pie will generate sustainable value. At times this happens, other times it doesn’t. What do we do? We try to learn from it and improve.
At the end of the day, in order to make these decisions to improve. We go back and look at everyday performance metrics like clicks, reach, engagement from marketing promotions, and approx. time invested. These metrics are used to improve and not to affect people’s commissions and pay, because we know that we are all making the greatest efforts to deliver what we are passionate about.
Agnieszka: How do you communicate within your team working remotely?
Criss: We meet monthly as a team and soon (because of our growth) we will start meeting twice a month, we have one-on-one chats once or twice a month, we communicate via email for non-urgent, and via messaging mobile groups for urgent things. We also take advantage of cloud storage and the use of platforms that allow us to create, edit, and collaborate with each other online. We are always looking for ways to improve at a low or no cost to the company!
Agnieszka: What new challenges appeared as the business started to grow? Why did you decide to join the Business Model Mastering program?
Criss: As we started to grow I started to see that all of us were doing a lot of work and noticed that some of the team members and myself were losing passion because of the lack of direction. As the leader of the organization I knew something had to change, and I know it started with my leadership.
In the process of learning about myself and developing myself, I learned that if we want our outer world to change it has to start from within. So, my goal was to find experts and a training that would allow me to reflect and learn so we could together as a team develop a clear and purpose-driven business model.
I decided to apply to the Google Startup Business Model Mastering Program without telling the team because I wanted to share this as a surprise to them, I knew how invested they had been and how eager they were for something to change. Once I shared the great news that we had been accepted, they were super enthusiastic and instantly on board to do whatever we had to do!
Agnieszka: What were the key turning points when working on your business model during the programme ?
Criss: There were many turning points! This training was eye opening for me and the team. The first week we confirmed indeed AlmaYEspiritu had no clear direction, something that was a little heartbreaking. At times, we find ourselves super busy doing tasks without pausing and looking at the bigger picture.
As a leader, I knew I had to find a way to see the bigger picture but my capabilities did not allow me. This course has given us the opportunity to find what we couldn’t find because we didn’t know how, where, or what was needed to have a successful business model.
Every week was a turning point, specifically looking at developing our segments, this was crucial and insightful to know who we are targeting and talking to when we create everything we do.
After that was to look at our client relations and distribution channels, so taking the time to evaluate our sales processes and how we connect with our chosen profitable segments (something that is still in process of improvement). Another key part was looking at our value offers, taking the time to learn from past clients and from our competition was extremely valuable.
The feedback and wisdom you (Agnieszka) provided was the cherry on top! It just made our turning points stronger and super valuable!
Agnieszka: If you were to sum up key benefits of using the business model canva and approach – what would it be?
Criss: We went from foggy to sunny and clear!
Agnieszka: What is unique about your platform?
- Caring, passionate, trustable, certified, and multicultural facilitators
- Safe, private, and personal approach
- Science-based, copyrighted & renowned programs
- Scaled pricing
- Online and Live from anywhere, anytime!
Agnieszka: What would you recommend to startups at the beginning of their road? If you were to begin once again with your current knowledge and experience – what would you do differently?
Criss: First, I would say surround yourself with other entrepreneurs. At the beginning I never thought about looking for places or organizations or events where I could meet like-minded entrepreneurs, this can be very helpful because you are probably facing very similar hurdles even if your product or offer is different.
Secondly, Do not let fear rule your decisions! Invest and spend quality time in self-care so you can build up internal skills that will allow you to thrive and overcome hard times and obstacles that you will face as an entrepreneur.
Third and most importantly, find a training like Google for Startups Campus Business Model Mastering programme to help you find clarity and direction so you can launch from a great space!
Agnieszka: What are your plans for the future, how do you intend to grow further?
Criss: Currently, we are undergoing a lot of enhancements to our client experience and sales process. These improvements come from our learnings from the Google for Startups Campus Business Model Mastering programme.
We feel confident, excited, and eager to apply everything we learned, however, these improvements will take some time and investment. As an owner, I feel super confident to invest more in the business because I am sure that what we have is something valuable to our developed segments and many people out there 🙂
Our plans for the future are to continue delivering mindfulness-based life and work balance tools to people around the globe online and in person. Internally we plan to increase our partnerships, develop brand awareness, enhance our segmented market strategies, improve our sales processes, and invest in training and tools for the team.
On behalf of the entire AlmaYEspiritu team we want to Thank You (Agnieszka), Zofia, and the entire Google for Startups Europe team for selecting us and allowing us to experience this unique opportunity!
Agnieszka: Criss, your story has so many interesting aspects and is so insightful that I could keep on asking forever 🙂 However since you are so busy with implementing your new ideas, I will stop there. Let me just say that I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you and your team and looking forward to seeing your platform and online community growing! Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Agnieszka Węglarz is an independent consultant, business strategist and practitioner in B2B and B2C, as well as lecturer, speaker and blogger. She has over 20 years of professional experience working as manager in both large corporations and SMEs, where she was responsible for strategy, marketing and business development. She uses her long term executive experience and training expertise to assist companies and their managers in building their business strategy using a workshop methodology. She specializes in business modeling, segmentation, value proposition, sales and marketing strategies as well as consultative selling. She runs her own consultancy business, as well as cooperates with Google for Startups Campus in Warsaw as the leading expert in Business Model Mastering – a Program for European startups providing founders and their teams with a structured approach to run their company and accelerate their growth. Agnieszka is an author of many business publications. You can read her writing on her business blog on www.agnieszkaweglarz.com and watch her business content on her YouTube channel – Biznes Ring by Agnieszka Węglarz. You can contact her by writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org or directly by sending a message via LinkedIN.
Criss Cuervo is the CEO of AlmayEspiritu.com, facilitator, speaker, and author of PERTENÆCER ©. Criss was born in Venezuela to Colombian parents. In 1998, her family migrated to the United States. Since then she has lived throughout the US, Mexico, and Spain. She currently resides in Toledo – Spain.
Criss has a BA from University of Illinois, and multiple graduate courses in Spanish Journalism. In 2019, Criss completed a Masters of Arts in Mindfulness from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Recently, she received a certification to teach Search Inside Yourself, a mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and leadership program originally developed at Google.
Before discovering emotional intelligence, mediation, and mindfulness, Criss worked for top US Hispanic Media and Television companies for over 13 years, during that time she received multiple awards for her leadership, performance, and innovation skills. Emotional intelligence, mediation, and mindfulness made a huge impact on her and her life, so in 2016 she transitioned into dedicating her life to sharing these practices with the world.
In her free time, you can find Criss meditating, reading, or just being with nature. She also loves to walk without a purpose, yoga, zumba, and tennis!