As an Argentinian living in the United State, Ana Goldseker always found the hurried American consumption of caffeine strange. Coffee dates are penciled into busy hyper-scheduled days; she missed the ritual and leisurely chat that came with sharing yerba maté (Argentina’s most famous caffeinated tea) with a friend back home. In 2015 Goldseker decided to bring this taste of her homeland to the States and she started SoulMate Yerba Co., a yerba maté importing business. She creates organic tea blends using yerba maté and also imports all the accessories to enjoy the full ritual. Today the Owing Mills, Maryland-based entrepreneur offers workshops and Zoom classes to teach consumers all about the rich history of yerba maté and how to best make it.
Goldseker’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I was born in Argentina and raised in the United States. I would visit Argentina every year to see family. So I was always aware of the differences between the two cultures. When I would be in the States, I would greatly miss the “closeness” I felt to those in Argentina. In the States, we have friends and family, but intimacy is only given to a select few. You could have a close friend that you would connect to and maybe see them once a month. Work takes precedence and the generations don’t usually all mingle together.
In Argentina, it’s very different, and I have to admit that usually during the first few days there, I need to quiet my American sensibilities. I find that friendships here are more intimate; you usually know the kids and parents of the friend and gatherings are held with a few generations in attendance. And of course, gatherings happen after work, which sometimes means getting together to have dinner around 10pm and not finishing until around 2 or 3 in the morning. Yes, that happens all the time.
You could never consistently do that in the US. Work and school push a lot of those opportunities to the side, so there isn’t as much time to socialize. That meant growing up here, I always felt like something was missing.
All of this translates to our different rituals. Going to the gym, school and even having coffee with someone is strickly scheduled and usually book ended by appointments on both sides. Starbucks created a whole culture with sleek paper cups catering to the custom of meeting for a few moments and then dashing off. The lid even made it so that you could still have your coffee while accomplishing a variety of other activities.
You can’t do that with yerba maté. In fact, if you want to drink yerba, you must share! That is what the ritual is based on. You can’t consume it on the go because you have a thermos of hot water. That means you must sit and share with someone, make eye contact and connect. This gives a whole layer of depth to the “moment” and leaves more space to hear about someone else’s day and what is going on in their life.
How do you define success?
For my business, I looked for different levels of success. Because I was working with a product that is new for most of my customers, I knew that I first needed to see if I could tweak the yerba maté ritual so it would appeal to the North American aesthetic. Then I needed to see if I could package it in a way that customers would like. Once that was done, there were other things that I was looking for. Could I find employees I liked to work with who were also passionate about the product? Then it was just about breaking even! And now, I continue to build and build.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Doing business in different countries creates many issues. Importing is very difficult. There are also different timelines between the countries. For example, a company here in North America that places an order, expects the shipment to happen within a few days. However, in Argentina, it takes them a week to get back to me and tell me if they even have the stock available. That’s not even counting the five days of shipping (on a good week!).
I also think that for me as a female owner working in a male dominated space, I needed to feel comfortable and work with vendors that take me seriously and understand the two different cultures. Once I found them, it made my business more streamlined. To make sure deliveries happened in a timely fashion, I learned that I needed to mostly have the inventory here in the US ready to go. Learning what to order and when is a huge part of what I do.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, none of the other kids had ever heard of Argentina, much less were able to point it out on a map. It wasn’t cool to be from another country or to speak another language. Another culture that did things differently was seen as weird and odd, not something interesting or of value. So, I put my head down a lot and perservered. I figured it would always be considered “weird” to be from another country. I rarely admitted or flaunted it, but rather felt shame.
In my 40’s though, something changed. I became more sure of who I was, and in my 50’s even more so. At the same time, the conversation started changing, the women’s magazines started changing and different varieties of voices and opinions were being heard. That’s how I knew it was time to step out with this business and really be ok with who I am.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I am a mom and have always been concerned about falling behind in this role as I was working. This may seem trivial, but when I have spoken to other moms, this is their main concern. It is very difficult to do this.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Not all “experts” know what they are doing. Hire someone when you know how to check their work.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
On the darkest days, I realized for me it is better to cocoon and shut down rather than power through. I try to get more rest and food in. I try to look elsewhere and distract myself a bit.
Who is your most important role model?
Other Lantinas who have broken through in their industry. ◼