How Literature and Math Grad Founded the Famous Gelateria Brand

It will take a couple more generations for women to be treated equally as men even in a progressive society such as the United States

An Interview with Uli Nasibova, a Femigrant from Azerbaijan. She is an owner of Gelateria Uli in LA

Tell us a little bit about yourself (where are you originally from? When did you come to the USA?)

I am originally from Baku, Azerbaijan. I started my undergraduate studies at the American University in Baku and upon its closure, I transferred to the Colorado College, a wonderful liberal arts college in Colorado Springs, CO. I was only 15 when I started college, so naturally, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation. I double-majored in French Literature and Mathematical Economics, hoping one of the two would eventually be my calling in life.

How did you decide to open your business? Tell us about your business please.

I worked in the world of finance for eight years doing everything from investment banking to investment management research. At one point, I discovered my love for gelato and specifically for devising gelato recipes from scratch. I had a commercial gelato machine from Italy in my home kitchen where I would spend weekday nights and weekends experimenting with different flavors. Around the same time, my husband and I were living in downtown Los Angeles, a neighborhood that was changing rapidly from a desolate place at night to a vibrant city center. Young entrepreneurs were taking risks and opening new businesses in our neighborhood. The community needed a frozen dessert café, badly. I used my background in finance to write a business plan and opened the doors of my business in 2014, inspired by the infectiously dynamic atmosphere in my neighborhood.

What is the most difficult situation you have faced when you opened your business and how you solved it?

There was a myriad of difficult situations. I had never worked in a commercial kitchen before, let alone run one. I had never had employees or paid employer taxes. The best advice I can give anyone on my situation is to do your homework – our generation is very lucky with abundance of information online. I researched every aspect of the business I could. I talked to people who were more experienced than me. I hired and delegated to people who were better than me at those tasks. And I stayed humble and open-minded – you have to, so that you may learn from new experiences and get better.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?

I am proudest of our exceptional product – we make our gelato and sorbet from scratch, using best ingredients we can procure. It’s easy to sell something when you are 100% behind the quality and the workmanship. It also makes our team’s job easier – they are happy to represent something that has been made with so much attention to detail and love.

Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?

I didn’t have the correct equipment when I first opened the shop – again, lack of experience in commercial kitchens. Our sales were very slow in the beginning, which was a blessing in disguise, because within the first six months I had to work up some magic to sell and/or trade in the equipment I had for the correct equipment, while not disrupting the day-to-day operations and running out of cash.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

I believe to stay motivated professionally you have to enjoy the people you interact with on a daily basis. I love our customers and I have the best team – my production assistants, scoopers, baristas, manager. They are my daily motivation.

If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

I would make some operational changes that are too cumbersome to describe here. There is always something that could be done better. I am applying these lessons learned to my second location, currently under construction.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female immigrant entrepreneurs?

Being an immigrant is an advantage, in my opinion. Immigrants are known for hard work and drive. There is unspoken respect and recognition in a room once people learn I am a recent transplant to the US.

On the other hand, being a female and running a small business is much harder, solely because of how this and other societies have bred their men. Being assertive is sometimes mistaken for being “rude” or pushy” – big no-no’s for ladies. You have to rise above it and support others to do the same. I don’t ever let a negative experience ruin my day. I support other female entrepreneurs where I have the opportunity to do so.  I don’t work with vendors who are disrespectful towards anyone based on their gender, religion, race or sexual orientation.  I instill an atmosphere of mutual respect in my workplace. I also have a daughter who at one year old is already an independent, strong-willed force of nature.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women?

I think it will take a couple more generations for women to be treated equally as men even in a progressive society such as the United States. Women are still being paid less than men for exact same jobs. The biggest challenge is, and will remain for some time, other people’s perception that women can’t do the job as well as men. But it’s only a perception, not truth. We prove these people wrong every single day at Gelateria Uli.

If you were a Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?

To never give up and to always be better prepared than the next person.

Do you have any favorite quote that you think might inspire femigrants?

“Actions speak louder than words.”

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