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Irma Mesa, Founder of Cafecito is a leading #LatinaInTech

Irma Mesa (she/her) grew up in Miami, FL and is half Cuban and half Panamanian! Growing up Irma was tech support for her family because she loved all things technology and tinkering with the newest gadgets. In 2015 while studying Psychology at Florida International University she began to learn front-end web development and fell in love. Since then her background in tech, coding, and human behavior have opened doors for her which she wasn’t expecting at all as a triple minority. Irma moved to Indianapolis in 2017 after meeting her partner Caryssa on Reddit and started working from home from a new city for the very first time. Today, Irma works as a Head of Product at an Ed-Tech company and on her new startup Cafecito.

Tell us about Cafecito.

Cafecito is an online platform facilitating organic 1:1 virtual coffee chats for individuals and organizations worldwide.

In 2017, Irma was living in Miami, FL working as a Product Manager, and was itching to move to a new city. So, she pitched her company to let her work remotely from another city and that brought her to Indianapolis, IN. She found herself in a new city, not knowing anyone but her partner and her friends, and 1,000+ miles away from the rest of her co-workers. She looked around during her second month of working from home and started to realize that this was how it was going to be - it was going to be quite lonely and wondered why there wasn’t a solution to help solve isolation primarily for remote workers who were struggling.

And that is how Cafecito came to be after months of months of experimentation, research, and speaking with researchers. I found that not only was loneliness a problem but people didn’t really make time to take breaks.

So I introduced virtual coffee chats as a way to take breaks while meeting new people.

There are tons of social connection platforms out there. What is special about this app?

We’re all about the “casual” conversation. There are so many apps out there that make the environment very sterile and serious and one thing that this pandemic has taught a lot of us is that there is more to us than our work.

We all have unique personalities and we’ve come from different walks of life but so many conversations turn into talking about where we went to school and how it’s been like working at a FAANG company. But if we focus on setting all that aside humans are pretty amazing.

Cafecito focuses on surfacing personal interests, sharing icebreakers, and leveling the playing field. We encourage our users to start the conversation off using a conversation starter we provide or on a topic that is non-work related and that has really helped the conversations that happen via our tool be authentic and organic.

Walk us through the user experience.

Our current offering is 2-sided. We have our consumer side (B2C) which is our global community of entrepreneurs and freelancers that use our product to meet many people from all over the world. And we have our business (B2B) which organizations can use to engage their communities.

As the end user, whether you sign up to use our consumer side or business side your journey will be the same.

When you sign up, you provide us with your profile which includes information about your occupation, role, and industry. We also collect topics you’re interested in discussing to provide the conversation with a more casual feeling. Then we email you every Sunday to opt-in for the next week’s matches. Every Monday we match all the members who have opted in. As a member you receive a warm introduction email, a calendar invite, meeting link, and a conversation starter.

On the day of your 25-min coffee break you just click that meeting link and join in! That’s it!

What have been some of the outcomes of the relationships that have been built on Cafecito?

In the beginning, we used to set up group Cafecito chats vs. 1:1. 1:1s are what our primary offering is but we were also experimenting with group chats. We had matched 3 of users who were all in the Product or Design space and I found out recently that they ended up scheduling 8 more calls where every week they were checking in on one another and what they were up to work work, ideas, and life. I thought this was really amazing! And speaks to the amazing people we have on the platform.

We’ve also had other folks who have spinned out of our platform to start a group of bloggers where they all help keep each other accountable and amplify each others’ content.

There were 2 users that met. One from D.C and the other from Mexico City. They had almost a 45-min conversation talking about Mexico City and their previous visits to the city. They even state in touch so that next time our user from D.C. was visiting they could connect in person.

The ability for our consumer side to be global is really incredible. We are able to connect and allow for so many different perspectives to be shared.

Who is on the app?

We have our serial entrepreneur persona. These are folks who have been there and have done the work and now want to sit back and mentor. They join because being a founder and an operator excites them and they want to be a listening ear to the young and budding founders out there.

We have our culture explorer. These are folks who are multi-talented and usually have many gigs and projects on their plate but are genuinely curious about culture. They join our consumer product to meet like-minded people from all over the world and learn about their culture.

A new maker. We have a set of users who are minorities and have never had access to a large network. This is who I was when I started the app. This persona joins our app to build their network and soak in as much as they can from users who have more experience than them in business, creating, and startups.

The extroverted remote worker. These users are folks who used to love going into the office because they got to be around people and this is truly what fueled them and gave them energy. Unfortunately that was all ripped away. So they came over to our app to socialize, make conversation, and leave feeling with that same energy they used to have in the office.

The collaborator. These are folks whose main purpose is to find someone to collaborate on a project with.

How do you manage working full-time and starting up a company?

This is a great question! It’s pretty difficult, honestly. I’m grateful that I can do both and that I have that opportunity to do so and a big reason is because I work from home. Without remote work in my life I have no idea how I’d be able to balance it all.

I’m big into productivity and breaking up my schedule. So I’ve been able to build my own way of balancing it all and in no way is it perfect. I usually block my schedule on days that I know I will have too many priorities for my day so that I don’t have conflicting tasks happening throughout the day. I’ve also gotten better at saying “no”. There’s only 1 of me and so many areas that I have to be involved in that saying yes to everything started to hurt my sleep, my energy, and overall how well I was able to perform as a leader within my day job and Cafecito.

My partner has helped me a ton as well. She’s a big support system as I do this work and constantly reminds me to take breaks and to be patient.

We don’t see enough Latino women in the tech. What can we do to make the space more welcoming to the Latinx community?

We don’t. It really saddens me. My partner and I are both Latinas and we talk about this all the time and how we want to do more work to spark change so that there can be more access for Latinx folks of all ages to break into tech.

Growing up I never saw anyone that looked like me in tech or in leadership roles. And we need to all do more work to tap into existing Latinx communities around us and ask how we can help. From my experience my family and my parents didn’t have any connections into the tech ecosystem when I lived in Miami and that's not their fault but families like ours just didn’t know where to look.

I suggest volunteering and inviting more Latinx families into the work that is being done in the Indy tech space. We have to be active in getting involved and exposing families to what’s out there for them and their kids. Without exposure we’ll keep shutting them out.

Partnerships with communities like Techqueria, the Indiana Latino Institute, and even Latino entrepreneurship groups at local universities could be a great start.

Growth goals are so important. What are some of yours?

I love this question! My constant growth goal is to keep being a life-long learner. Exposing myself to new ideas, thoughts, and perspectives has helped develop my own opinions but also has taught to listen and understand others. So I’ll keep on doing this as it affects every aspect of my life personally and professionally. Actually, this week I started to learn about airplanes and all things aerodynamics!

My other growth goal is to learn how to manage a team. I always think back to managers I worked with that I loved working with and those that I never vibed with. Managing people is tough but I’m hoping I can grow into my own management style where I create a psychologically safe space where individuals can be creative and not afraid to fail or make mistakes.

How have The Startup Ladies helped you grow?

The community has helped me with opportunity. When you’re starting out you sometimes need those 1 or 2 people to give you a chance. And The Startup Ladies has done that for me. Huge thank you to The Startup Ladies team and community!

What are some fun things that you have planned after you get vaccinated?

Definitely heading back to Miami to visit my family. I miss them so much! We’re also hoping to take a trip to the sand dunes in Michigan as I have YET to go and keep hearing folks gush over how incredible it is. Can’t wait!


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