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Community Highlights: Meet Elisa Estrera of Gratefruit

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elisa Estrera.

Hi Elisa, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
The common thread throughout my life has been transformation. Not the idealized kind of transformation like a Pokemon evolving into a new form, but more raw like a caterpillar breaking itself down into mush and rebuilding itself bit by bit, and going through that cycle again and again even before it finishes becoming a butterfly. My parents immigrated from the Philippines to Australia when they were in their mid-30s. Brisbane, Australia is where I was born and grew up for those formative years. Then my parents decided to pack up and start all over again in their mid-40s in the United States. This reinventing oneself time after time and regardless of age must have planted itself in my subconscious. What a lovely idea that it’s never too late for anything. I have memories of my mom learning to drive and getting her driver’s license in LA at almost 50 years old!

In my 36 years on this planet, I’ve tried on multiple hats: majoring in neuropsychology, a short stint as a professional dancer, working in almost every department in a SF tech startup, co-founding two businesses in the Philippines – fintech and dairy, becoming certified in Vinyasa yoga and Tai Chi/Qigong, finally learning how to surf at 32 years old, and now business consulting for small businesses. Only recently did I accept that I was decent at marketing. It seems that walking so many different paths have made it that much easier to relate to different personalities.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
It has been a very rickety rollercoaster ride of emotions, and I love rollercoaster rides after the painfully slow initial ascent. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2008, the peak of the recession with a BA in neuropsychology. Finding a job was tough and I was burnt out on school so I didn’t want to go for a master’s or PhD just yet. I took a chance in applying for a little tech startup in France which, in retrospect, looked like a front for something shady like sex trafficking or organ harvesting. Startups are hard work and this was a startup in AI which was at least three years before SIRI became a household name. It was an uphill battle trying to communicate what AI was back then, and that made it difficult for the startup to figure out the core product, ideal client and team structure which led to a lot of turnover at all levels. I was the only woman and POC in a white, male-dominated office and industry. It was really difficult navigating what it meant to be a woman in a very demanding environment where sleep was seen as a weakness and every waking moment was spent working or hanging out with coworkers, aka the boys.

After five years of grinding, the startup was acquired and we transitioned from a company of 50 people to 15,000 people spread over a dozen countries. It wasn’t my cup of tea so I was really hoping to get into a MBA program. I took GMAT prep courses and took the GMAT and GRE a total of 4 times, applied two years in a row and didn’t get into any school. One year in the big company was too long with all the bureaucracy and no direction, so I decided to make my own MBA. I moved to the Philippines to start a fintech company with my brother and another partner. I was 27 years old, restless and probably going through my Saturn’s return.

The Philippines, even though my motherland, was a foreign country. I’ve only visited twice before moving. The culture and way of doing business were a huge shock and took me three years to adjust. It was difficult meeting people and making friends since I didn’t have coworkers, and all my immediate family had moved to the US. There was a time when I was only hanging around with a bunch of my parents’ college friends who were 70+ years old.

Closing my first business was difficult. I wanted to return to the US victorious: a social entrepreneur whose business was acquired. The startup was doing ok, but the deal-breaker was that we weren’t having the impact we intended. Our intention was to provide a sustainable alternative of lending money to the unbanked population so people wouldn’t have to resort to loan sharks. We weren’t preventing people from going to loan sharks, we were just delaying it. We didn’t want to compromise our integrity for the sake of recuperating startup costs so we shut down.

I was also in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, now husband, for the past four years. It just felt like the right time to go back to the US. Not knowing what to do and extremely burnt out, I started consulting on the side. It took a while to figure out what I wanted to specialize in and gain confidence and momentum. I even had some upset clients that wanted a refund and bad partnerships, such meaty lessons.

We’ve been impressed with Gratefruit, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Gratefruit is my business consulting practice where I focus on strategies to help small businesses launch a product/service, retain clients and build customer loyalty. Usually, clients are referred to me because they need help redesigning their website. I see the website as a piece of a puzzle. If there’s a weakness in the website, then that’s a symptom of a bigger pain point in the business whether in marketing, operations, customer relationships, etc… What ends up happening is that I help a client relaunch a product or service alongside their website.

I’m a big picture thinker, and I’ve had enough experience in startups to know how to execute or when to engage a collaborator to help me execute. I help businesses prototype and lay a strong foundation before they invest money on a process or system that doesn’t work for them.

What sets me apart is also what I’m most proud of which is that I’m very values-driven and customer experience-oriented. I love getting into the minds and motivations of customers and bridging that with a strategy that is authentic to the business owner. I don’t default to hype or trends, especially with marketing. I use a lot of psychology, personality tests and holistic philosophies to really understand my clients and capitalize on their strengths without compromising their values.

I’m very emotionally invested in my clients’ success so I don’t take on many client projects at once. Creating meaningful relationships is more important than the transaction, and it seems to work since all of my business comes from referrals. I tend to work with clients that operate the same way; their business model is usually high-touch, high-value and very personalized. Quality, not quantity.

I also make space to prototype my own business ideas like female solo traveler retreats, guided Tai Chi meditations and movement practices. Gratefruit is my sandbox for inspiration and to apply the business practices I use with my clients – taking my own medicine, basically.

Do you have any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
I was in 3rd grade when I won an art contest and didn’t even realize I entered one. One day in class, the teacher just handed each of us a big piece of white construction paper. She told us to draw anything that represented what America meant to us. I drew the earth, then the US flag behind the earth, and then a huge eagle behind the flag. I have no idea what it meant, but I was definitely in a flow and the judges seemed to vibe with that. I completely forgot about the drawing until the school called my mom to tell her the good news.

The prize was $100 and that’s a big chunk for a nine years old back in 1993. Union Bank was the sponsor of the art contest, and with that prize money, I opened my first bank account. I look back fondly at that memory as a reminder that abundance does flow regardless of what you do and especially when you take joy in the process and not care so much about the outcome.

Contact Info:

  • Email: elisa@gratefruit.com
  • Website: gratefruit.com
  • Instagram: litz_bitz


Image Credits:

Solo portrait practicing Tai Chi; visiting carabao farms for my dairy business, Calaboo; pitching for my fintech startup, Kaibigan Club, in the UBS Singapore Regional Finals; group picture launching pop-ups in LA, SF and NY for Philippines-based ANTHILL Fabric Gallery in collaboration with MAAARI, Cafe 86 and Gratefruit.

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