— Interview by Emily Santos
Emily is a social producer and brand strategist. Since graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2018 she has been sharpening her craft in the digital space.
Barney Santos, Founder, and CEO of Gentefy and BLVD Market is a trailblazer in his community of Montebello, California. On a mission to transform the Latinx community Barney Santos created Gentefy and BLVD Market. A digital marketing agency that helps Spanish businesses gain more customers and a real estate development project that brings emerging restaurants and entertainment together to build a more prosperous community to bring the “GENTE” in gentrification to the forefront. Barney Santos shares the importance of giving back to your community and fundamentals of the leadership as a CEO.
As a company of high growth potential, what does the company have on the horizons?
I don’t think we ever intended to build gentefy into a high growth company when we started. On the contrary, our main goal from the beginning has always been to build a company that focused instead on a high impact in local communities.I just want to make sure we do it with the right focus, the right partners, and without ever losing sight of why we started this company to begin with. I often times see companies shift their focus on high growth at the expense of impact, that is something I don’t want to sacrifice.
Our main goal right now is to stabilize our business within the next year and build a solid P&L with great annual cash flows. As many already know we’re building BLVD MRKT, an incubator program, and investing in a craft beer bar within the food hall.
What inspired you to start Gentefy?
In all honesty, my wife and I were inspired to build Gentefy when we first learned about the Gentefication movement that was being born out of Boyle Heights. The founder of a bar in Boyle Heights called Eastside Luv coined the phrase around 2012 or 2013 as a way to describe what he felt was taking place in the community. He noticed that more people from the community were investing back into their own neighborhood as a way to combat unwanted gentrification efforts that were taking place at the time.
We were so inspired by the idea of people from the community economically empower themselves to prevent gentrification and help local economies thrive that we asked ourselves if we could create a company that could focus on that. Gentefy was born from that idea. Something about that idea of building a company where people and community were a part of the main core values really resonated with me. I mean you can’t have Gentefy without “Gente” right?
Please describe your strengths as a CEO. How does your leadership style set you apart?
My natural strengths are centered around my ability to sell. As a CEO I think a lot of people don’t acknowledge this but if you were to ask any CEO how much of their day they spend selling, I would bet that it would be extremely high. As a CEO your job is to raise capital, build a team, set a strategy and holding your team accountable to that strategy. In order to build a solid team you have to be able to sell them on why they should work with you. In order to raise capital, you have to sell investors on why your project is worth their hard earned money. If you’re setting strategy, you have to sell to the team why this strategy will help your company grow. In fact almost all aspects of being a CEO involve the need to sell.
I like to think I’m more of an aspirational servant leader. I try my best to always be empathetic towards my team, their needs and personal goals. I’m constantly looking for ways to help my team grow as people, make sure I do my best to make sure they don’t feel overwhelmed, and that they have all the tools needed to execute their role at the highest level. My philosophy is that when the leader of an organization focuses his/her/their efforts on building the most supportive company culture, the team will thrive and reinvest that energy into their work. I’ve worked with horrible leaders in the past and I’ve always noticed that people tend to do just enough to not get fired. That’s not the culture I want to build at Gentefy. I want my team to be excited to work on projects that stimulate them intellectually, spiritually, and professionally. People want a place where they feel connected to their work and feel connected to their colleagues.
How do your values inform your leadership style?
I know for a fact that my values are heavily influenced by my parents and how I was raised. My mother was a Community Worker in Watts, California for Martin Luther King Jr Hospital for over 30 years. Her tremendous heart and unwavering selflessness towards helping others made a huge impact on me as an adult. My father is an extremely hard working person who has spent his entire life in construction working with his hands. I learned from both of them the values of critical thinking, constant learning, hard work, empathy, community, and agency. Collectively these values help me understand the type of leader I aspire to be.
What are you most passionate about or motivated by? Was there a defining moment or series of events that influenced your career path and personal mission with your company?
I’ve joked around and said that Im the illegitimate love child of Entrepreneurship & Creativity. Although, I guess when I really think about it, I really am most passionate and motivated by the intersection of those overlapping ideas. Every venture I’ve ever been apart of, I’ve been most excited when I allow myself the opportunity to think creatively about the finished product / service in my minds eye in order to reverse engineer it. That really excites me for some reason, probably because I’m a very visual person and so when I see the finished product in my mind I can truly allow my full creativity to unfold unencumbered. This enables me to see what’s possible before I ever ask the important question of “how can we make it happen”.
BLVD MRKT and Gentefy really are a cumulation of all my personal and professional experiences so far. And while I can’t say there was one defining moment, I know that in retrospect I can clearly see how each business I’ve ever been involved with as a founder, director, employee or partner had an influence in me building my current company.