In this edition of the Maker Spotlight we chat with Isis Casalduc, a Miss Universe Puerto Rico 2002 turned indie hacker. She's a web designer and digital marketer working on a variety of projects, working to build sustainable businesses.
Hi Isis! Welcome to this week’s Maker Spotlight! Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re building.
Hi! I’m a Puerto Rican living in Puerto Rico but I also spend long periods in Germany with my husband who is German. I was born and raised in the center of the island and started modeling when I was a teenager. I like many unrelated things. And it’s hard for most people to figure out in which of their tiny boxes I fit. I like beauty and fashion, and I have discovered I have a love for design in general. I also love long distance triathlon (Ironman races). And then, of course, I also happen to be quite geeky and nerdy. Which is probably something most people don’t expect when they think of a beauty queen.
I also happen to be quite geeky and nerdy. Which is probably something most people don’t expect when they think of a beauty queen.
As Miss Puerto Rico Universe I got to work closely with marketing, advertising & production teams. And the learning aspect of it all was probably my favorite thing. I figured early on that I was in a position that very very few people get to be in. All of a sudden I had access to the island’s top professionals and I could ask questions, watch them work and learn from them. So when I was waiting for tv interviews, getting my makeup done, waiting for events, I would always watch and try to observe closely what was happening and I would ask questions. When I was traveling I would do the same. It was also interesting to see and experience the same industries, but notice the changes depending on culture.
And then I went on to participate in the Miss Universe pageant, which added even more to the experience. All of this had nothing to do with tech or making, but I think of it as the building blocks that help me think and strategize now that I can build some of the things that I want. It also helps me to sell, by understand how people behave, think and what they want, although I also think that a big part of that you can’t really learn it. It’s part of one’s personality, eq and how we relate to people. Just like some of us aren’t great at math, or languages, some others aren’t great at “reading” people, understanding and relating to them.
Tell us about your background - how’d you get started as an indie hacker?
I’ve always liked technology. As a kid, there was a period of 2-3 years where my health was really poor and until they finally got the right diagnosis and I had surgery, I was so sick that I didn’t have energy for much. My brothers and my sister bought me video games, and during that time, gaming was my world. Later in my teens, I started playing with computers, spending a ton of hours on ICQ and just navigating and visiting websites. It was all fascinating for me. Sadly, I come from a small town in the center of Puerto Rico. And I honestly had no clue that I could make a career out of my interest in technology. Sadly, every career counselor said I should study something related to communications, because that’s where they thought I would strive, given some of my strongest traits. They were not wrong, I do love advertising, public relations and marketing. But their recommendation was also in part due to them not being familiar with technology, and that, at the time, tech was not a field many people thought of when they thought of women or young girls interests.
It wasn’t until recently that I reconnected with my love for technology. I had just gotten married and my husband and his brothers were starting a company. And they went to San Francisco to learn and connect with people in the startup ecosystem. My husband called and told me that he really thought I should go and join them. That he really felt I could benefit from being there.
The minute I went to my first meetup, I was fascinated. And in my second meetup in San Francisco, I met an angel investor who became a friend and a mentor. Just to be clear, I haven’t raised a single dollar yet. But his experience, encouragement and guidance have been treasures for me. It was by brainstorming with him that I realized I really want to build my main two projects but I did not know how. And he encouraged me and gave me the confidence boost I needed to believe I could put the effort and learn what I needed to build my own projects. So I started learning by building.
What are your stats as of today?
I’m really only getting started but I am super excited that one of my side projects, which I also launched during COVID-19 lockdown, got its first client to hit $550 MRR this week. It’s a productized marketing service subscription and I am really pumped about seeing some of the automations work their magic.
You’ve recently launched a new product, tell us a little bit about it!
I recently soft launched Una Probadita, a food and recipe sharing community in Spanish where I intend to have a mix of editorial and community generated content.
I want it to be a space where the food, drinks and traditions that we hold so dear as part of our Latinx identity and cultures, are celebrated and amplified.
The idea is to have recipes in Spanish. But more than anything, I want it to be a space where the food, drinks and traditions that we hold so dear as part of our Latinx identity and cultures, are celebrated and amplified. I want it to be a community where we proudly celebrate what brings us together.
How’d the idea for Una Probadita come to mind?
Initially I built a similar site for a beauty and lifestyle community. But given its nature, that site requires a much more polished and produced content. So I started adding some DIY and food content there to test things out.
I noticed food drives decent traffic with less effort. The data and some research got me thinking that there is a huge demand for recipes in Spanish and very little out there to serve the need. So I decided to build a separate property that focuses 100% on food and that also appeals to anyone, not just women.
Let’s talk marketing! You’ve been making the rounds in local media with your projects! Press is the indie hacker’s marketing dream, how did you grab their attention and how’d you handle the influx of users?
Marketing and media are my background and it’s what comes naturally to me. When I was Miss Puerto Rico, one of the main TV channels was the owner of the Miss PR Universe franchise.
I always went to the sales and marketing department to see everyone work. I asked lots of questions all the time.
I spent a lot of time at the channel. Usually the other Miss PRs from previous years would just sit and wait in an office but I always went to the sales and marketing department to see everyone work. I asked lots of questions all the time. To me, it was fascinating and a golden opportunity to learn. An opportunity given to very few people.
As for the recent articles, I must say it was a blessing but also the way things happened was kind of one of my biggest fears. See, as a public figure and former Miss Puerto Rico, people have huge expectations for anything you do. People are not familiar with startups and making things, and they don’t understand what MVPs are. And I am not given that benefit of oh it’s just an idea and it will be much better soon as she works on it. I needed some test users, but I wanted random people, not close friends and family. So I posted on Facebook a simple post that I thought would work as a very low key soft launch to get idk, maybe 5-7 test users I could work with. But then someone from the newspaper saw it and they called. I wasn’t really ready. And I debated if I should go for it or not. I did. And it was ok, I got close to 50 users but I wasn’t ready so now I am slowly onboarding everyone and getting ready to start getting the community together and help them understand how things work. I think most people are so used to editorial content sites where everything is served to them and they have no participation or say, that they haven’t grasped that they too, can easily contribute content! That this is not yet another site where they have the more passive role of a visitor.
What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced when founding and bootstrapping Una Probadita?
Making and founding is very different depending on your age and your personal circumstances and reality. As a grown adult, with fixed living expenses, relationships and family responsibilities, I need to be careful and balance many things and measure my risks.
For me, probably the hardest thing is needing to work on my own projects just a few hours a week because the big chunk of my time is dedicated to clients and their projects because it’s how I survive. Constantly swapping my focus and time takes a lot of energy. And with the limited amount of time and resources I can allocate, things can take a long time, which is frustrating and that also has an impact on motivation.
What’s your workflow like for your projects? You have quite a content creation hustle!
Right now things are all over the place. But basically every bit of time and energy I have goes into my projects. And about 90% of it goes to Una Probadita. Right now most of the time is spent building and fixing things... But I am starting to spend more and more time creating content, connecting with users, asking for feedback and starting to make some initial efforts to connect with brands who could potentially partner/sponsor the project.
Also - with these tumultuous times, it’s also important to ask: how are you handling the coronavirus crisis?
I have my days and my moments where frustration and anxiety over all the bad and sad news and the uncertainty get to me. On those days, I don’t push myself.
All things considered, I'm OK. We’ve been on full lockdown for 2 months now. I have my days and my moments where frustration and anxiety over all the bad and sad news and the uncertainty get to me. On those days, I don’t push myself. If nothing is working and flowing easily, I’ll just rest and watch something or do something that is fun for me, like DIY building and decor projects for the home.
What have been the biggest takeaways from your experience as a maker? What are the biggest lessons?
First, I think the most important ones for me have been that I can build – even the biggest projects that seem too complicated – if I consistently work on them if I work on a few tasks every day or every few days, depending on how much time I have. This seems like a no brainer, but as someone with ADHD, consistency does not come easy. I joke that inconsistency is the only consistent thing in my life.
Second, I can’t and also shouldn’t build every idea that crosses my mind, no matter how good of an idea it seems. Being able to build is super exciting and empowering, but doing it well and strategically executing is exhausting. Making things has forced me to really get the importance of narrowing things down, and to not add more things to the table. Because even the most simple things like, let’s say a blog, take a ton of time if you want to get things right. Most importantly, although it always helps build new skills, what’s the point of just having a bunch of projects just sitting there because you don’t have the time to do anything with them?
Finally, once you are “done”, that’s where the real work starts. Marketing, growth, sales, social media, support… you name it! It all adds up and takes an insane amount of time.
Well, slightly off topic, but as tradition we ask makers to share the music genre or playlist that motivates them.
I like a bit of everything. But currently there’s a playlist of Imagine Dragons that works wonders when it comes to keeping me focused while I work and happy. Also, not music but frequently, I do play white noise videos in the background while I work too.
As always, closing question: What advice would you give other makers out there?
Spend some real time learning about marketing. Schedule it. Follow marketers and marketing accounts on Twitter. And if you are on Facebook, join quality groups for email marketing, FB Ads, SEO, sales funnels, Google Ads... and spend some time each day checking those.