Sonoma County Latino builds fast-growing marketing firm from clients 'no one else wanted'

Latino business owners

Read about other notable entrepreneurs in the North Bay area. Also check out these winners of the Business Journal's Latino Business Leadership Awards.

Mustafa Tolosa, the 31-year-old founder of Healdsburg marketing firm Createsburg, is working to help other local business owners succeed. As Tolosa designs web pages, develops social media strategies, and creates commercials for businesses in Northern California and beyond, he blends his services with mentoring.

“I've put out educational videos, given Career Path presentations at local high schools, and advised Latino small business owners at La Luz Center and other organizations, including Santa Rosa Junior College Adult Education and Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County. (I've also) partnered with the Hispanic Chamber Young Professionals Network of Sonoma County,” said Tolosa.

His ability to speak Spanish and English and long-standing relationships with industrial and Latino businesses have helped him and clients achieve together.

Marcos Suárez, program manager for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said Tolosa's work as a professional and volunteer have helped students and businesses.

“It's not easy to find people who are willing to donate their time to teach others. Everything that has to do with technology is expensive. But Mustafa always says yes. Whenever EDB has needed his help, he's said, ‘Just let me know where and when,'” said Suárez.

An additional benefit of Tolosa's work is that it makes the North Bay's Latino community more visible. Every business Tolosa brings online showcases the North Bay's economic and cultural diversity.

Mustafa helps people find us. With cell phones, everyone has a computer in their hands. When they want to look for a restaurant, that's what they use. David Beatriz, owner of the Mi Pueblo restaurant chain

It began at home

Tolosa, who was born in Healdsburg, spent most of his early years north of there in Cloverdale. In eighth grade, he changed school districts to attend Healdsburg High School. He often visited his mother's family's ranch near Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

“My mother's family is from the mountains in Sinaloa, which is in northwest Mexico. There's only about four of us up here, but I grew up with 32 first cousins who I saw a lot. We're a really tight-knit family,” said Tolosa.

At the age of 13, Tolosa started teaching himself computer programs, including Windows Movie Maker, computer languages and website technologies such as HTML and CSS. Later, he put in over 100 hours of volunteer work at Access Healdsburg, the public television station at Healdsburg High School.

While a student in Healdsburg High's Math, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program, Tolosa taught other students the computer programs and languages he knew.

“Mustafa was really good at webpage design. He became the teacher for a particular group in MESA class. He also helped other students get to local and regional MESA competitions,” said Carolina Diaz, now a Spanish teacher at Healdsburg High School.

Diaz said Tolosa is a leader who knows how to encourage peers.

“He's kind and humble, but not afraid to take risks,” said Diaz.

After graduation, Tolosa earned an associate's degree in digital media at Santa Rosa Junior College. He also started taking on clients, eventually joining a Santa Rosa marketing firm when he was 24.

Going solo

Tolosa said taking the clients “no one else wanted” from ages 18 to 25 taught him a great deal.

“I started working with cannabis dispensaries, pipe shops, industrial companies, landscapers, welders, construction firms and clients who did not speak English. Everyone else was going for wineries and fancy restaurants. This worked to my advantage,” said Tolosa.

At 26, Tolosa left the Santa Rosa firm to found Createsburg. That same year, Tolosa also co-founded On Fleek Makeup and Wax Studio in Windsor with his wife, Brittney Tolosa.

Today, Tolosa runs Createsburg as a sole proprietorship, hiring contractors in Mexico on an as-needed basis to assist him. He also hires local filmmakers on an as-needed basis to operate secondary cameras during commercial shoots.

Tolosa declined to provide revenues figures for the company but said it is growing at double-digit rates.

“We were growing by around 15% to 20% at Createsburg until last year. Once we started providing more video services and also domain and hosting services, we grew around 30% to 35%. It's easy to find clients (because we're a marketing agency), but we can't find affordable employees willing to take on the work on a consistent basis in the U.S.”

Tolosa said owning one small business, co-owning a second, and serving a range of clients taught him advertising goes hand in hand with service.

“There's been times where I've generated advertising for a client and they get a lot more customers. But they don't have the infrastructure to serve them. It's hard to find enough good employees in the North Bay,” said Tolosa.

He said he learns more about advertising every day because it is an ever-changing industry. Many of his clients think he is already one of the best.

Erika Dominguez, owner of Dream Dress Quinceañera in Santa Rosa, said Tolosa created an excellent website for the company in June 2019.

“He guided us through everything, and we love the site. We think he's very nice, very knowledgeable,” said Dominguez.

Dominguez said customers find the site clear and easy to navigate.

“I like ... that whatever we post on Instagram goes on the website too,” said Dominguez.

David Beatriz, owner of the Mi Pueblo restaurant chain, said Tolosa is “reliable, professional and very good at his job.”

“We have seven locations in Sonoma and Marin counties. Mustafa helps people find us. With cell phones, everyone has a computer in their hands. When they want to look for a restaurant, that's what they use,” said Beatriz.

Bobby Ramirez, owner of Nature Pacific Pest Services, which offers pest control in Sonoma and Marin counties, said Tolosa has helped generate calls for the business “every week from new clients.”

“He's fun, energetic, easy to work with, and calls me back within five minutes if there's a problem. Then he works on the issue until it's solved.”

Looking ahead

Tolosa's goals for the future include finding new ways to reach out to high school students, working with local clients and serving new clients out of state, and exchanging ideas with his cousins.

“They became entrepreneurs at the same time I did. We talk a lot about business with each other,” said Tolosa.

The companies Tolosa's cousins founded include El Chande Restaurant in Culiacán, La Toya Seafood in Mazatlán, and Helados del Pueblo, an ice cream bar based in Culiacán that operates in multiple Mexican states.

Tolosa said his advice for new business owners is to not get “hung up on perfection.”

“It's better to put something out there that's not 100% perfect. Consistency is your best friend. If you just do a little bit at a time, you can achieve almost anything,” said Tolosa.

Tolosa added new business owners should seek to form long-term relationships “with everyone, and make those relationships mutually beneficial.”

“These are the basics. Be respectful of people, be nice to people, and give back to the community. Do that for free,” said Tolosa.

Latino business owners

Read about other notable entrepreneurs in the North Bay area. Also check out these winners of the Business Journal's Latino Business Leadership Awards.

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