Member Spotlight: Melissa Villanueva
CEO of Brewpoint Coffee
Brewpoint Coffee has grown into a thriving coffee business with four coffee shops, a coffee roastery, and a premier event space. But it’s not just a business to us – it’s a platform and ecosystem for building the world we want to see.
Can you please introduce yourself and your business and the date it was founded?
My name is Melissa Villanueva, I am the founder and CEO of Brewpoint Coffee. It was established in September 2014.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Prior to starting Brewpoint, I worked in corporate America as a recruiter. However, I made the decision to quit my job and embarked on a self-discovery trip to the Philippines. I vividly remember being in a hot room there, contemplating what I wanted to do with my life. During this reflection, I recalled my enjoyable experiences working at Starbucks during high school. I pondered why that particular job stood out to me. It dawned on me that it provided an authentic space where I could build a sense of community on a daily basis. People who could afford a cup of coffee would come in regularly, and even those who didn’t enjoy coffee could find something they liked. This realization struck a chord with me, emphasizing the importance of creating authentic spaces where people could connect regularly. That’s when I decided that someday I would open my own coffee shop. Just a week later, I came across a coffee shop for sale on Craigslist. Within a month, I purchased it with my boyfriend of seven months, and the rest is history.
How has your identity impacted your journey so far?
Being a woman of color, specifically Filipino American, has a significant impact on everything. It shapes my identity and influences my perceptions and values, just like any other identity does for a person. Personally, I strongly identify with having a mixed identity, and I often feel like I don’t fully belong anywhere I’ve been. I have often found myself being treated as a token in certain circles, and this has had a profound effect on me. That’s why the mission of Brewpoints is so important to me. It’s about creating a sense of belonging and inclusion. Diversity, which may be buzzwords at the moment, holds great significance for me because I’ve always sought to find my place in various social groups while growing up. When it comes to building the culture of Brewpoints, I prioritize allowing people to be their authentic selves. They shouldn’t feel the need to conform to a specific standard or structure. At the same time, they should strive to do their best work and contribute to creating something that the community can genuinely engage with and enjoy. For me, fostering a sense of belonging, inclusion, and diversity is integral to the culture of Brewpoints. It’s about providing a space where individuals can feel accepted and appreciated, while also using this platform to showcase what that kind of inclusivity can look like for other cultures as well.
Can you share any challenges you have faced as a business owner and how you have overcome them?
As business owners. I feel like we encounter challenges every single day. Being a business owner requires problem-solving skills. When I saw this question, I thought of it more as how do you think of challenges? Challenges can be seen as difficult problems to solve. That’s my mentality when it comes to challenges. I have faced many challenges and encountered situations that seemed hard to solve. However, I believe that the best approach I’ve taken as a leader for my company is persistence. Eventually, we find solutions to problems, even if they initially seem insurmountable. Whether it’s through reaching out to mentors or participating in programs like Founders First, we have always found ways to overcome our hurdles.
Can you share an example of how the Founders First accelerator program supported you in discovering new avenues for growth?
What was really unique about the Founders First program for me was the fact that it culminated in a pitch competition. I had never actually done pitches before, despite being comfortable with public speaking and other similar activities. Pitching was particularly unique for me because it’s one thing to do a 45-minute keynote presentation, but it’s another thing to have only five minutes where every word, pace, and everything you say needs to be intentional. With that being said, what I found opportune with this was knowing that I had the pitch at the end. I ended up getting invited to multiple pitch competitions during the month of the Founders First pitch competition event. Founders First really prepared me for the other pitches I was a part of, and I ended up winning second place in one of them. Now, I’m intrigued by how to use pitches moving forward. Even though my business isn’t currently seeking investors, it has been incredibly advantageous in getting Brewpoints’ story out there and giving me confidence that what we have is something special. I really appreciate that aspect of Founders First because I haven’t found it anywhere else.
Can you offer any advice for other entrepreneurs who are just starting their business journey?
There are two pieces of advice that come to mind right away. I bought this coffee shop on Craigslist pretty quickly, with no business plan and minimal finances. In some ways, I would never recommend that approach for a budding entrepreneur. However, I also see many people who aspire to be entrepreneurs, but never take the leap because they’re always waiting for the perfect moment, for perfect stability. There’s a part of me that believes you have to jump in, even if you feel unprepared. Sometimes the right opportunity presents itself unexpectedly, and you just have to seize it, even without everything in place. Entrepreneurship has this element of risk-taking, where you have to take a leap. However, I must emphasize that it should be the right opportunity. In my case, the coffee shop on Craigslist felt unique, and I had a gut feeling that I wouldn’t find something similar anytime soon. It felt right, even though I lacked a business plan and adequate finances. Looking back, I’m grateful I didn’t take a slower approach and instead embraced that opportunity. The other piece of advice I would like to share is the importance of understanding that entrepreneurship means being the leader of an ecosystem. It’s crucial to be aware of your weaknesses and seek complementary strengths in others. I personally recognize that I excel in communication, delegation, and casting a vision. However, I struggle with follow-through and details at times. That’s why I have assembled a team of leaders who excel in areas where I fall short. They complement my skills and are crucial to every department. I truly believe I couldn’t do this without them. Therefore, being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and intentionally surrounding yourself with complementary individuals is vital in entrepreneurship.