How One Dad Put a Healthy Spin on a Classic Mexican Favorite and Turned it into a Full-Time Business

By Dan Leberman, SVP, Head of SMB and Partner, PayPal

The pandemic forced many business closures, layoffs, and furloughs, but as a result, we saw an exponential increase in entrepreneurial activity. A record 5.4 million new businesses were created in the U.S. in 2021, and many of those businesses were Latino-founded. Today, there are an estimated 450,000 Latino-owned businesses in the U.S. and, according to the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, Latinos are starting businesses at a faster rate than many other groups, with 44% growth in the last decade compared to 4% for non-Latinos.

Aguas Locas founders Morris Ellis and Pablo Murillo
Aguas Locas founders Morris Ellis and Pablo Murillo

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, and to celebrate and recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic-American entrepreneurs, we’re featuring Aguas Locas, a Hispanic-owned beverage and lifestyle business that was founded during the pandemic.

Like many others, Pablo Murillo was furloughed from his job at the height of the pandemic. Around the same time, he found a healthy way to transform a drink from his childhood into a refreshing, sugar-free beverage for his three-year-old daughter Zoey. Then, with the help of a friend, Pablo took a leap of faith and started selling his handmade aguas frescas. When he realized there was a real demand for his product, he turned it into a business. Aguas Locas is now a flourishing business with a mission to bring healthy aguas frescas and Mexican culture to the rest of the world.

We spoke with Pablo to learn more about how he got started during the pandemic, what advice he has for other entrepreneurs, and how PayPal has helped his business.

Dan Leberman: Can you tell us a bit about Aguas Locas? And what inspired you to start the business?

Pablo Murillo preparing a watermellon for juicing
Pablo Murillo preparing watermelon for juicing

Pablo Murillo: We like to say Aguas Locas is pandemic-born and familia-owned. We started Aguas Locas in Los Angeles, California, during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. For those who don’t know, aguas frescas are a traditional Mexican drink typically made with fruit, sugar, and water, one that is very nostalgic for me and reminds me of my childhood. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were when my mom would let us stop for aguas frescas. We didn’t have much money growing up, but getting aguas frescas always made us happy.

During the pandemic, I was furloughed and started making my own aguas frescas. My daughter loves aguas frescas, but traditionally they’re made with a lot of sugar. I took the sugar out and created a healthier version of the drink. I quickly realized there was a market for a healthy version of aguas frescas. I did research and development for about a month to get the flavors just right, researching and reading everything I could about aguas frescas. I knew I wanted to build something that was bigger than myself. So I pitched my buddy Morris Ellis on my idea and asked him if he wanted to join me in turning my idea into a business. I told him my vision for the future of the business, and shared my idea for the logo – a sombrero, a homage to my late father, and a flower, which symbolized my daughter.

Aguas Locas

We started the business full-time in November 2020. Fast forward to today, we’ve outgrown our drink-making kitchen in my apartment, we’ve done over 150 pop-ups over the last two years, got a chance to collaborate with several A-list celebrities, and we also got the opportunity to be on the Ryan Seacrest show to share our story. Most importantly, we’re all about collaborating with other small business owners – we choose to put ourselves in the circles of people we look up to. We could not have gotten to where we are today without the support of other people and businesses along the way, and that includes PayPal and Venmo.


Dan Leberman: Which PayPal products do you use and how has PayPal helped your business?

Pablo Murillo: We started our business with PayPal Checkout and Venmo, and we‘ve expanded to also use the Zettle card reader to accept in-person payments. Without PayPal, we wouldn't have been able to do business during quarantine because everything needed to be contactless. We would drop a pre-order on Monday and every transaction was online through PayPal or Venmo. We owe a lot to PayPal and Venmo – they've been great partners and given us the ability to do transactions and business online. I constantly see new small businesses, like mine, using Venmo, PayPal, and Zettle, especially in the Hispanic community. PayPal has really helped us be the entrepreneurs that we want to be. To this day, PayPal and Venmo are our major forms of payments, and they also allow us to transfer funds easily to organizations we donate to, which is something that is very important to us.

Dan Leberman: Where is Aguas Locas currently sold and which channels do you hope to expand to?

Using the Zettle card reader to accept in-person payments
Using the Zettle card reader to accept in-person payments

Pablo Murillo: We started preselling our drinks on Instagram and we still do that. We take private event requests and orders through our Instagram account and customers can use PayPal or Venmo to pay us. We also sell in-store to restaurants and cafes, bodegas, and liquor stores. We’re growing and expanding constantly, and we are looking to scale up our manufacturing – right now we make everything by hand, including the labels. I’m looking forward to really growing the brand, not spending my time cutting watermelons and making drinks. Once we get a manufacturer, we hope to scale to larger retail stores, grocery stores, festivals, and stadiums to share more of what we love.

Dan Leberman: This month we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. You shared that during the pandemic, you would make aguas frescas for your daughter, partly to bring her closer to your Mexican culture. Can you speak to what this month means for you?

Using PayPal's QR Code to accept in-person payments
Using PayPal's QR Code to accept in-person payments

Pablo Murillo: I was born and raised on Catalina Island, California. The majority of people that live there are Hispanic. That’s where my parents settled when they immigrated to America from Mexico. My parents didn’t have much money growing up, and I was almost too scared to be proud of my Mexican heritage. Now, it’s what I’m most proud of. Having my own business, Aguas Locas, is so important for me, and being able to share this part of my culture with my daughter and the rest of the world is very special. Aguas Locas is a love letter to my Hispanic heritage and a homage to my parents, who sacrificed everything to give my brothers and me a better life. My drink is a celebration of that just that.

Dan Leberman: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses?

Pablo Murillo: Enjoy every moment! It’s not always going to be pretty or easy, but if you are consistent and passionate about what you're doing, you’re going to find success in ways you didn’t even know were possible. Just do it. 

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