Christina Ros Blankfein
Cristina Ros Blankfein is the Cuban American co-founder of Swoon, a line of zero sugar simple syrup, mixers, lemonade, and iced tea which are all sweetened naturally with monk fruit. Here we spoke with Ros Blankfein about how her business was inspired by a mojito and how her Cuban roots have shaped where she is today.
Can you speak to your experience growing up as a Cuban American?
CRB: My mother’s family fled to the U.S. during the Cuban Revolution. So, like many immigrant families, I grew up with the stories of life in Cuba and lessons from them starting anew. My family was very proud of their roots and always made me so — enforcing Spanish-only in the house, cooking favorite recipes, and keeping Cuba alive in stories. My grandparents credited their education, work ethic, and a healthy dose of luck to explain how they were able to build a life for their multi-generational family after losing all of their possessions.
Many of my core beliefs and values came from their poignant stories like the time my Great-Grandfather was jailed during the revolution and my Grandmother was able to free him because the guard had formerly been a farmer down on his luck who my Great-Grandfather previously helped out. That same Great-Grandfather worked as a janitor and then as a cashier at a hotel, because he was too old for his professional qualifications to translate and he needed to support his family any way he could. These stories were always shared with admiration, impressing in me a desire to carry forward their values.
How did the idea for Swoon come about?
CRB: I was hosting a dinner party and my friend, Jen Ross, came over to help me set up like the great friend she is. As I poured a cup of white table sugar into a pot of boiling water to make simple syrup for my signature mojito (my grandfather’s Cuban recipe) it dawned on me that Jen’s a type-1 diabetic. How could I serve her melted sugar? I felt terrible, so we ran to the store to look for healthy options. Empty-handed, we set out to create a solution of a drink for celebration that didn’t have sugar and could keep life sweet.
What sets Swoon apart from other brands?
CRB: Swoon products are sugar-free, but still naturally made sweet with monk fruit. We’ve cleaned up the basics. Monk fruit is a melon native to Southeast Asia that has a natural sweetness and is high in antioxidants but doesn’t contain any of the calories or carbs that sugar does.
Do you have any advice for other Latina-American women who are wanting to start their own businesses?
CRB: Jen and I became friends at Harvard Business School where I was hosting that dinner party. We entered Swoon in a school competition in which we had to create a product and pitch it. We were runners-up and went on to start the business for real. Being in competitive educational and professional environments has definitely taught me a lot. Perhaps most importantly, being surrounded by super sharp, interesting peers to learn from is inspiring! It’s definitely made it clear from the beginning of launching Swoon that our success lies in recruiting and retaining a team that knows more than me! People really are the only secret to success. Deciding whether to take the risk of starting a business is very personal. My recommendation is to make a list of the questions that make you doubt the business. Go about answering those and if you’re happy with the answers, go for it!
(This interview has been edited & condensed)
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