Greatest Hits Episode: Mariana Castillo, Ben & Frank: Direct-to-Consumer Eyewear for the Mexican Market, Ep 159

​​For this week’s episode of Crossing Borders, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Ben & Frank’s co-founder Mariana Castillo.

Mariana Castillo believes that the eyewear shopping experience in Mexico is broken. It’s generally reduced to an impersonal exchange that only considers the basic optical measurements, rather than catering the product to the customer’s style and personality. 

Mariana is the co-founder and co-CEO of Ben & Frank, a direct-to-consumer eyewear brand that seeks to transform the way Mexicans buy eyewear by providing fashionable and affordable options.

I sat down with Mariana to talk about why an internship at ALLVP played a key role in her decision to become an entrepreneur, the lessons she learned from working at Mexico’s Central Bank, and the insights she’s gained about the direct-to-consumer category in Latam; from building a brand to fundraising. And lastly, Mariana shares advice on how to remove biases in the ecosystem to empower female founders.

A career-defining moment at ALLVP

Before discovering her entrepreneurial journey, Mariana immersed herself in the investment world. She learned about venture capital and realized that she wanted to get involved with early-stage investment and started an internship at ALLVP, a VC firm based in Mexico City, for three months. Fascinated by the ability of some of the startups she worked with to execute ideas quickly, Mariana decided she wanted to pursue a career that would involve entrepreneurship in any way. 

Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Mariana’s lessons learned from her early days at Mexico’s Central Bank to her time at ALLVP.

Redefining what it means to be a “four-eyes”

Through Ben & Frank, Mariana has built a strong eyewear brand. She explains that consistency is key to building a successful brand in Mexico. That means that everything related to the brand reflects the same values, mission, and vision. From the unboxing experience to how a company reacts when they’ve made a mistake are all part of what makes a brand. At Ben & Frank, Mariana explains that they are very intentional about the language they use. For example, they’ve chosen to reclaim what it means to be a “four-eyes”. 

Learn more about building a successful brand in this episode of Crossing Borders. 

The untapped potential of direct-to-consumer companies in Latam

Mariana explains that direct-to-consumer brands caught on quickly in Mexico. Customer centricity is what traditional retailers in Mexico lack, and what direct-to-consumer brands excel at providing. As consumer habits change from generation to generation, companies will need to adapt to the demands of customers that are more conscious about the value for money and what a brand stands for. 

Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about the opportunities and the barriers that exist in the retail industry in Mexico. 

Mariana Castillo is transforming the meaning of “four eyes” in Mexico to be synonymous with cool and fashionable with Ben & Frank. The startup is breaking the barriers of the traditional retail industry and unleashing the potential of direct-to-consumer brands for the digital age.

Outline of this episode:

  • [1:37] – About Ben & Frank
  • [2:06] – Traditional retail experience for eyewear in Mexico
  • [3:23] – Mexican roots, nomadic upbringing
  • [5:05] – Entrepreneurial journey
  • [6:00] – Internship at ALLVP
  • [6:55] – Lessons learned at the Central Bank and ALLVP
  • [7:55] – Why tackle this specific problem?
  • [9:04] – Ben & Frank’s inflection point
  • [11:48] – Building a brand in Mexico
  • [13:15] – Insights into Latam’s direct-to-consumer category
  • [14:20] – Competing with traditional retailers
  • [17:25] – Expanding Mexican direct-to-consumer brands
  • [18:15] – Advice to Mariana’s younger self
  • [18:41] – Fundraising for a direct-to-consumer startup
  • [23:18] – Being a female founder in Latam
  • [26:35] – Avoiding biases in the VC ecosystem 
  • [29:07] – What’s next for Mariana and Ben & Frank?

Resources & people mentioned:

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