NextGen Collective recently spotlighted Vanessa Karel. Read about her efforts to help women travel safely, the causes she’s passionate about, and more.
Where are you from?
I reside in San Francisco, California. I was raised in Mexico City.
What do you do today and where do you want to go in your career?
I am the founder of a travel and tech startup called Greether that helps women travel safer around the world. As an experienced solo female traveler, I always chose destinations that seemed to be safer for women to go on their own. However, I like to say that life wanted me to create Greether, because in the midst of the pandemic chaos, life detoured me to Morocco. This event was what finally made me realize what had been lacking throughout my solo journeys; a safety and travel platform that allowed me to connect with trustworthy local people wherever I went in case something happened, or in case I felt insecure navigating a new destination.
My goals as a leader are to empower women to help each other while discovering the world, to represent being a Latina in the workforce and to inspire other women to believe in following their dreams, especially when those dreams come with solving world issues.
Who inspired you the most in your life growing up?
I am fortunate to have been raised by parents that never doubted my ideas or potential. My father, Eleazar Ramos, is an amazing journalist and the conduit that made me become an artist, writer, and traveler. My mom Karina Azuara, is the most crafty human I have ever known, and also a great business woman. They are my biggest cheerleaders and biggest inspiration. I grew up with a lot of discipline, love, and with constant exposure to new things. Thankfully my family prioritized experiences over things and this had a big influence on what I value in my life today.
What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?
Your passion will take you far, but your intuition and purpose so much further. I used to believe that whatever major I chose at school would determine how my life would unfold. It turns out, it’s not true, your life can take as many routes and pivots as you can imagine. You are not your major, you are not just your job. You are a combination of everything that has been a part of your life. You choose who you become.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see for Latinx professionals early in their careers?
Access to opportunities. When I graduated college, it took me almost a year to find a job in my industry, because I couldn’t afford to not get paid through college. I didn’t have internships under my belt upon graduation and even though I had a lot of freelancing experience when I graduated, it wasn’t enough to land that first industry role sooner. I am aware of how much harder I had to work those early days for doors to open up, a fact that led me to become an entrepreneur and co-founded my first startup Collective Theory with my best friend and amazing filmmaker Monica Guerra. We started it when we noticed that we were doing as good a job as other production agencies where we were applying to work at, so good that actually it took zero marketing dollars to start attracting clients and we soon landed gigs for brands such as AT&T, InterContinental hotels, and SF Magazine, etc. all of this through word of mouth.
Entering the tech startup industry hasn’t been much different than the experience above. One of the biggest challenges again is access to opportunities. Finding people willing to invest in what I am building and getting accepted into very “elite” networks hasn’t been easy. However, I am noticing a change and more awareness from organizations to come up with ways to support us. There isn’t enough though for how many fantastic Latinx and Hispanic entrepreneurs I have met, but I am hopeful and thankful for people who believe in me as a leader, organizations that have supported our mission, and to all of those that are reading these words today.
How can Latinx professionals better advocate for themselves?
Support each other, as simple as that. If you have a friend or family member that is building something from thin air, ask them how you can help them. You might think that we only could use monetary support, however, there are so many ways to advocate for us without giving us any money. Share our stories, our pages, mention our names, engage with our projects, and specially, use our services.
When you get a new idea, what’s the first thing you do with it?
I first like to write my ideas, then google if someone has already done it. If they have, I think of how I can make that better. Some people think I should only focus on the immediate goal, and even though I do that a lot as well, I can’t stop my brain. I am always thinking ahead. How I can take this further? What parallel markets can we touch on?
What behavior or personality traits do you attribute to your success?
I am extremely passionate and love to see something go from idea to reality, I really enjoy that process. I honestly think if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing right now, because being an entrepreneur is alienating and a total emotional rollercoaster. Being disciplined has been key to my personal and professional success. I am not afraid to take risks, in fact I am currently taking one of the biggest risks of my life by building this startup. But I am aware of it and while it is not always easy, I am thankful for putting myself through these challenges that would be so hard to experience at a regular corporate job.
Which causes are you passionate about?
Gender equality, sustainable tourism, and building safer cities for anyone that identifies as a woman or people that are part of vulnerable communities.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Every day we receive messages from women saying that they have wanted something like this to exist, or that the reason that they don’t feel confident to explore the world is because they feel unsafe. This is the most rewarding of it all, it keeps me and my team motivated and excited to bring our services to them.