By Sandhya Ramachandran
When you talk to Claudia Cuevas Rodriguez, you are pleasantly surprised by her disarming warmth and honesty. “I didn’t want to work in an office. I was frightened to start a company. But one day, as I was walking on the street, a witch stopped me. She said she can see my future and that I was going to start a company. Two months later, I was studying a course here at La Nave Nodriza, in Madrid, on how to develop digital products. I met a bunch of people and we started a company with an idea,” Claudia shares about the beginnings of Bendita Llave.
The idea had begun casually — by listing pain points. From that emerged a simple but screaming question — what do you do when you lose your keys and can’t get in your house? That is how Bendita Llave was established. Using an algorithm, the company manufactures a 3D printed key identical to the one you lost and sends them to you whenever and wherever you want. (Funnily enough, Bendita Llave stands for “bless the key,” an expression that clients often exclaim when they get the 3d printed keys in hand and realize they don’t have to pay 200€ for a locksmith again!) Today their team is seven-people strong (and hiring at the moment) they can even identify keys from pictures and make digital copies of them.
Believing in oneself
Although most of her family studied economics, Claudia went off the beaten path to study architecture and then switched to industrial design engineering. She finds immense strength and support from her father, uncles and cousins. But the biggest inspiration to Claudia is her mother. Her mother is a strong professional holding a high position, “not usual for her generation,” Claudia explains, “In the past, women had to be at home taking care of their houses and the kids, and men got degrees, went out to the bars with their friends, wrote novels or created plays.” But, things have changed a lot for Spain over the years. “Nowadays, there’s space for everyone. Little by little, women and girls are discovering that they have opportunities because they see other successful young and older women as icons. They believe they can do it themselves. It’s true that there are still areas dominated by men, like programming. But this is getting better.”
Claudia is one of those women who looks up to her own mother. “She’s a very talented woman who always knows what she wants to do and finds a way to get there. Recently, she decided to try landscaping and is now a self-taught successful designer. When I’m scared or not sure of what I am doing, I look at how much my mother believes in herself and use it to boost myself,” Claudia shares. Are these battles with insecurities often? She openly reveals, “I’ve never started a company before. It’s a lot of responsibility to guide a company. My decisions affect a lot of people.” But at On Truck, her former employer, Claudia learnt the big lesson of relying on good processes — “I learnt how to make mistakes and grow with them. I test ideas and gather data. These make me feel more confident since I’m doing things with a data-driven and user-testing point of view. You don’t want to invest a lot of money and energy on a solution that doesn’t work. So, I trust this methodology but even then, things can always go wrong!”
Apart from this effective mantra, Claudia has a few additional philosophies to guide her in work and life — “Understand that you’re not always going to be right, listen to everyone and stay humble about your decisions. You can find intelligent people on every rock; they don’t come from a specific place. And there’s no one rule or ingredient that will solve every startup’s problems. The great part about starting a company is that you find new ways to build it that you haven’t even thought about at the beginning.”
Balance for better
This effort arises from Claudia’s core belief that balance is very important. “I like to balance work and personal time. If I have the time to paint and be another version of myself, I feel more inspired. I’m very lucky because my colleagues are very supportive and cover for me when I have a project. As a company, we are remote-friendly and work only thirty-five hours a week (not the founders!). This allows personal time to develop a project, be with the family or travel,” she explains.
In her opinion, this is not just beneficial for the employee, but also for the company as the employees feel more involved whenever the company needs help. Running a hundred-percent remote friendly company, Claudia believes she is an entrepreneur without borders. “At Bendita Llave, we want talent from all parts of the world. We don’t care where you come from. We only care that you’re passionate, love learning and development and make sure that you enjoy the ride while growing with us.” Between her job at On Truck and starting Bendita Llave, Claudia took a small sabbatical. “I traveled and met so many people. It helped me change roles from a product designer to being the person who’s going to build the product department in my startup.”
Always look at the bigger picture
With an ambitious but grounded approach, it is not surprising that Claudia loves to mentor others. She reveals, “I really enjoy mentoring people. As a mentor, I hope that they know a little bit more than before after our interaction.”
But that’s not all. Last year, Claudia worked on a social development project in Kenya as part of a Design Summit organized by M.I.T. and now aspires to design a product or service for social development and sustainability in the future. “There’s always an ecological and social impact that your company is going to provoke. You can decide not to think about it or at least try to do your best because you never know what’s going to happen in the future. For now, at Bendita Llave, we are using a recyclable organic based polymer material of vegetable origin to print our keys because we don’t like the idea of how many keys will end up in the trash in five years. But, we’re trying to develop more sustainable materials,” she says.
Claudia is also an illustrator and body painter. “I love questioning things. I don’t take things for granted. Just because something is the way it is, that doesn’t mean that it has to remain like that. Why can’t they be better or different? As a designer, I question everything and use my art as a powerful communication tool,” she elaborates.
But how does she even balance so many aspirations? She has a go-to practice that helps her keep track of her many pursuits — “I have a huge paper calendar on my wall where I write my milestones every day of the week — personal, artistic and professional. This helps me see the big picture which I cannot see on the phone month by month. Here, I can see how all the things interact with each other to prevent collapses, organize myself to achieve goals and track how I am getting there.”
A team player
When it comes to balancing her energy, Claudia relies on sports. “I love sports and play volleyball on the weekends and train several days a week. This helps me reduce my stress levels and stay focused on my projects,” she reveals. Claudia considers herself a complete team player on and off the field. “I think community is important. I don’t like to work alone because I’m not the best at everything. I don’t believe in receiving medals and trophies or being the protagonist. I believe in being a part of the best pack,” she shares thoughtfully. “And that’s why I am at Bendita Llave!” she signs off.