How difficult is it to beat the odds when setting up a marketing company in Colombia?

An interview with the Co-Founder & COO of Branditt Digital Marketing – by Răzvan Dumitru

Setting up a company is by far a challenging job. The difficulties that arise along the way can easily counter the initial drive and motivation of an entrepreneur. However, there are also people who choose to keep going and chase their dream. Ila Travecedo – an alumna who graduated in the Hague – is an example of resilience and resourcefulness in entrepreneurship. After completing two internships in Monaco and Abu Dhabi, and graduating in 2013, she set up her own digital marketing company together with her husband.

What did you do after completing your studies at Hotelschool The Hague?

After finishing my studies, I started working in Abu Dhabi for Yas Viceroy hotel, the one situated near the Yas Marina F1 Circuit, where the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is hosted. I worked there in the Learning & Development department as a management trainee and successfully completed my internship in 2013.

The next step represented a completely new chapter of my professional and personal life. I chose to come back to Colombia. The fact that my family owns a boutique hotel in Bogota represented the underlying reason behind my choice for studying at Hotelschool The Hague. Therefore, together with my husband, we came back to Colombia and started managing my family’s hotel.

Since I gained substantial experience and knowledge due to my four-year journey within Hotelschool The Hague, I was full of new ground-breaking ideas for our family business. However, needless to say, working within a family business is noticeably different than working in a corporate environment. The first difference that I observed was the cultural one. Even though I am Colombian myself, I was working in a German-like way, and this could result in contrasting perspectives.

How did Branditt start?

My husband was in charge of the commercial side of the hotel. He had taken this role since he had an e-commerce and business development background. As part of our objective to find new guests for our hotel, social media management became a must. Hence, he started to learn how to manage our social media channels in a more professional manner. After seeing the results of his work in digital marketing, people started reaching out to him with requests such as creating websites or managing social media channels for them. Even though I worked HR-related positions during both of my internships, I have always had a passion for marketing and communications. Since I am handy with graphic design, I realised that I enjoyed this side of the business much more than managing its day-to-day operations.

Hence, me and my husband saw this opportunity in the market and concluded that we should take advantage of it. We set up the company in 2014 and have been growing it since then. It was risky since I was pregnant at the very start of the business so, for a while, it was only my husband who was in charge of it. From only having a couple of clients, through our continuous will to learn and develop, Branditt is nowadays a developed operation, with headquarters in France and Colombia. Our activity in France started after we adhered to the French-Colombian Chamber of Commerce, which led to having French clients besides the Colombian ones. We decided to make this move as both me and my husband are also part French.

What was a notable problem that you faced while managing Branditt?

One of the most difficult situations that we encountered was when our only three clients announced that they could not afford marketing and promotion for the following year. The coincidence that made the situation even more tense was that I gave birth not so long before this happened. Therefore, we had to balance our professional and personal life. It goes without saying that it was very challenging to be a parent and an entrepreneur at the same time, but mutual help and support were the key to striking the balance.

Things started to fall into place after having created a business model for our company, just like in the Business Model Innovation course. Followed by its completion, we obtained our first client outside of Colombia, in Abu Dhabi.  

Why did you opt for an internship in Monaco?

I was among the few people in our generation that already had previous experience. Besides having worked in my family’s hotel, I also worked for restaurants in France and Norway. When the time for my practical placement came, I asked the Placement Office to allow me to discover another area of the hotel business, different from operations.

I also did not want to go too far away because my husband moved to the Netherlands especially for being together with me, so that was also something to consider. Nevertheless, since I do not speak Dutch, it was difficult to come across an opportunity to enter a different department of a hotel. And so, since I am fluent in French, Monaco it was.

These days, students can go anywhere for an internship. However, it is their duty to make the most out of it. The only way to get out of a situation where there is no real growth or learning is to ask for an opportunity. Never be afraid to ask for more responsibility or for the chance to prove that you can take on more complex tasks.

From your point of view, what did the pandemic change the most in entrepreneurship? 

So many things! Managing my team remotely was one of the greatest challenges. Since our company mainly revolves around creativity, we often conduct brainstorming sessions. However, we discovered that it is completely different to host this kind of session online. People tend to not engage as much as in real-life.

Hence, I believe that many entrepreneurs need to realise that the pandemic caused some long-lasting changes in managing, working, and dealing with people. I believe that, nowadays, managers need to rethink their channels and methods of communication and engagement. In our case, we had to find innovative ways of stimulating the emotional side of creativity. But before making such changes, companies also need to take into account the effect that they might have on the company culture, motivation, and overall control.

What achievement are you most proud of?    

My biggest achievement to this day is owning a company that employs 20 people, collaborates with renowned brands, and has never received any external investment.

What do you consider your biggest failure?   

I sometimes have the feeling that I am too emotional. I learned how to control this over time but when I was young and did not have so much experience, it could represent an inconvenience because my intentions could have been misinterpreted.  

What would your advice be for a person that would like to become an entrepreneur?

The best piece of advice that I can give is that an entrepreneur should dare to dream and just go for it. Money should not be the only drive behind every action. On the contrary, learning should represent a priority since it is the only way of expanding, overcoming difficulties, and lastly, maximising profit. Bottom line, I think that the first step is to find your own managing style that allows you to be yourself. Constantly remember that such a path is a journey full of surprises!

The story of founding a marketing company from scratch, together with her husband, was very inspiring and motivating. But let’s find out some personal facts about this energetic and enthusiastic professional.

What is your favourite book?    

Paula by Isabel Allende.

What is the last film you saw? 

The series Maid, on Netflix.

Are you a morning person or a night owl?   

I think I am both! I can wake up early in the morning but also work until late during the night.

How do you prepare yourself for a workday? What is your ritual?    

Planning my day while taking a shower.

Name one thing on your bucket list.

Japan is among the countries that I want to visit.

Name one thing you like to do in your free time.     

Being alone, recharging my batteries.

Which country that you lived or worked in was your favourite?   

The United Arab Emirates!

What would your advice be for students graduating in 2021?   

Accept the digitalisation of the future and follow your passion!