#GOINGTOIEU

03/04/2024

Diego Loría, from Costa Rica, is an alum of IE University’s Bachelor in Business Administration. The final year of the program saw him co-found his startup Stone Creek Capital, an import and distribution company selling fast-moving consumer goods to over 1300 retailers in Costa Rica. He tells us about his entrepreneurial journey so far, and how his time at IE University sparked his passion for startups.

What inspired you to start your own business?

During my internships at IE University, I had the chance to work for great serial entrepreneurs and their startups. This environment was the perfect fit: I felt very aligned with the values of creative problem-solving and the dynamic, risk-taking scene. Also, I was motivated to pursue a personal venture from an understanding that a traditional corporate position was not my cup of tea. Looking up to founders made me want to be one—I value the freedom associated with being an entrepreneur. 

Can you give us an overview of what Stone Creek Capital offers?

We leverage our knowledge of international consumer markets to offer Costa Ricans new and innovative products. Our star stock-keeping units are electronic cigarettes and other nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) such as nicotine pouches and vaping devices—our most popular brand is Maskking. What’s more, we are actively looking for other recurrent, high-margin consumption products that have not yet entered the market. 

We strive to offer products at accessible prices to reach a wider demographic. Our mission is to promote our country’s growth through new experiences, and we envision Stone Creek Capital as one of the main players in the region. Our company closed the 2023 financial year with just over €5 million in revenues and a 50% profit margin.

Mention some challenges you faced when starting your business. How did you overcome them?

Retail in Costa Rica is an industry that is very monopolized, with the same big players controlling most of the market. It was very difficult to convince the buyers at supermarkets, convenience stores and other retail points to trust products that had not even entered the market, especially coming from young entrepreneurs with no retail background. 

We overcame this by never taking “no” for an answer and valuing every small opportunity that came our way. Being able to take criticism and growing from it helped us gain the respect of these buyers. And after the first year of business, my older brother, who is an experienced entrepreneur, joined the business as a partner. He helped us create a great structure for the company.

What lessons have you learned from the early stages of your entrepreneurial journey?

When you start a business, persistence is fundamental. You should learn to deal with rejection as it’s a part of the process, but not the final frontier. Push through and endure the hardships—it will pay off in the end.

How did your time at IE University help you in running your project?

The Lean Startup methodology and business model was one of the greatest lessons that I learned at IE University. We focused first on testing our hypothesis and minimum viable product (MVP) without pouring in too much capital, managing risk until we knew the product was validated by the market.

But while at the university, I wasn’t the biggest fan of my marketing classes. I didn’t realize at the time how useful those courses would be for my future. Now, I greatly appreciate having some digital marketing skills and being able to conduct focus groups to test products and brands before bringing them to market.

Looking back, how did IE University prepare you for entrepreneurship?

IE University gave me a great multicultural experience that really broadened my perspective and the way I viewed the business world. I learned not only through my classes, but through my classmates as well. It was great being surrounded by people wanting to make a name for themselves and leave an impact on the world. I would’ve loved to have spent more time being involved in entrepreneurial courses or clubs.

Any long-term goals for Stone Creek Capital you’d like to share?

We are currently operating only in Costa Rica, but our long-term goal is to expand our distribution network into several Latin American countries. We also want to look for innovative products that help solve different problems for consumers, specifically steering away from nicotine products. Our one-year goal is to grow our revenue by 30%, our team by ten employees to a total of 23, and our number of partner retail points to more than 3000.

What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs?

Build around profitability. Think about it from the beginning and never forget that it’s what makes or breaks a business. Moreover, always stay humble. Never think that you’ve figured everything out or that you have all the answers—you can learn something new from everyone.