Martha de la Torre never wanted to be an entrepreneur. “I thought entrepreneurs had to invent things and have lots of money to start new businesses,” says de la Torre, adding she wanted to work for a major company with lots of security. Now as founder, president, and CEO of El Clasificado, de la Torre reflects with HE on 25 years of leading the classifieds Spanish-language publication in Southern California to greater heights, growing the company to nearly $20 million in yearly revenue and a weekly circulation of 500,000.
What made you get into this industry?
I was inspired by the growing Hispanic community in the 1980s that I observed as an audit manager while at Arthur Young and then as CFO of La Opinion. At La Opinion, I learned that the major revenue source for the newspaper was the classifieds … I was fascinated with the Pennysaver model and thought someone should launch a free classified paper in Spanish full of job and service ads, but not just be a shopper. It should have short “how-to” editorials with content such as how to get your kids in college, how to get low-cost medical services and how to become a US citizen—the types of editorials that would have made life easier for my parents when they first arrived from Ecuador in the 1950s.
What’s your favorite thing about working in this field?
What I love the most about our business is creating a marketplace for the grassroots Latino community where goods and services can be bought and sold in a culturally welcoming environment as well as where jobs can be created within our Latino communities as commerce grows.
What would be your number one advice to other companies in your industry?
Always understand the buyer persona of your audience and niches that you serve as well as your client’s changing needs and shopping trends. This is the key to staying relevant and competitive.
Any advice for others hoping to follow in your footsteps?
In order to be a successful leader and present a plan that has real value, you must make sure you have done your homework and thought through on how you define and measure success. A great idea is just a theory. A great plan is executable and delivers positive and measurable results.
Sticking too long to our original business plan that said we were going to be home delivered just like the Pennysaver and that we were going to reach 90,000 circulation by 1989. Now I am very flexible and nimble in my leadership and management style. I think it is a key to my personal success.
It took 25 years to reach a weekly circulation of 500,000 (about 15 years later than my original business plan), but it only took two years to reach 7.5 million monthly mobile page views. Total digital page views are 13.5 million and currently growing at 30 percent a month.
Describe your role in five words or less:
Passionate visionary, effectively influencing leader
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Don’t let a slow economy or recession stop you from growing your business or expecting to be profitable. A weak economy is often the best opportunity you have to expand your market and conquer your competition. We grew from 5 percent to 16 percent during the last recession.
Philosophy that you live by:
The golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.