After suffering a series of devastating personal losses in her life, Amanda Keppert, with hard work, good business sense and the help of a loan funded by Maria Shriver’s Conference Lending Team, made her business dreams a reality.
Her story shows us how -- with a little help from The Women’s Conference community -- a woman can pursue her dream to become her own boss and start her own business.
How did you get inspired to start your business, Mandy’s Korner?
Five years ago, I lost my mom and dad in a car accident. They had worked very hard during their lives and had left me a small inheritance, which helped me buy some property as an investment.
A few years later I started thinking: “Grilled hotdogs aren’t available in San Jose. Maybe I could sell hot dogs -- grilled hotdogs – not boiled -- out of a concession trailer on the busy street corner in San Jose that I bought with my inheritance.” With my mind made up, I bought my first concession trailer in 2005.
Unfortunately, a year later, my husband and I lost our son, Marcus, to a drunk driver. My husband and I had just gotten married in 2004. We struggled. Marcus was my stepson, but I felt like he was my son. Handling personal loss like that is hard. Either you go to the bar and you drink your sorrow away, or you go to church. My husband disappeared.
I had to quit my full-time job. Soon after, my brother was diagnosed with cancer, and I lost him at the end of 2008. It was a struggle to keep up with the business, but my customers stuck in there with me -- they’ve always been there with me, and I’d put so much money into the business that I couldn’t quit.
How did you get the Kiva loan?
By January 2009 my business stabilized. But I needed a loan so that I could invest in my business and keep it going. I went to my bank, which I’d been with for 20 years. I didn’t need a lot of money – just $6000 to $7000 to go towards advertising and a generator. But the bank wouldn’t give me a loan.
I wouldn’t give up. I went on the Internet and found the Opportunity Fund. I was on a mission to save my business. I had to get the loan. (Kiva hadn’t launched yet – but Kiva and Opportunity Fund were affiliated.)
What was the loan for?
I got the loan in April or May of 2009 to do a marketing campaign. I also needed money to get an ice machine. Ice is $6 a day. At that rate, 2 months of ice would pay for a machine. Meanwhile, the trailer was running off propane. The city would not allow me to get electricity, so I needed a generator, too.
How does the loan work?
Payments started a month ago with very low interest. A bank would charge 13.75%.
How do you juggle raising a family with this very full-time job?
If your family doesn’t go along with your dream and your goal, it’s very challenging. I put my dreams aside for many, many years. But I’m fortunate – now my children say, “You go for this, mom.”
My kids – who are between 14 and 18 years old – pitch in around the trailer. If they want shoes, gas money or movie money, I pay them minimum wage to load sodas.
When I met with Maria Shriver and Kiva, Ms. Shriver asked, “How do you get your children to work for you?” It’s simple. I just tell them, “Here’s your schedule, this is what you do. Then we’ll have fun after.”
My kids are pursuing higher education. The work they do for me establishes a work ethic in them. Whether it’s grilling hot dogs or working as an engineer – that work ethic has to be there. You have to work to make it. My priority is to help other people and help my family at the same time. If money comes, it comes; if not, I never had it, so it doesn’t matter. My father was a first generation immigrant from Mexico. My parents were humble, patriotic and diplomatic. They appreciated everything. They taught me to be on time, faithful and committed. I don’t know where it’s going to get me, but I do have respect, and I push my kids to be the same way.
With your business now stabilized, what’s your next dream? What’s your goal for 2010?
My heart wants to go feed the people still affected by Hurricane Katrina. There are people still living in tents. They lost their homes and have nowhere to go. Food brings people together; it relieves stress.
My dream is to go to New Orleans in my trailer with my kids to feed families. That is my dream, my goal. I just need to get there and get back home. I don’t know how to raise the money to travel there and home, but I want to give back.
Amanda Keppert, with supporters from the Kiva team: