Rafael De La Cruz

Universal Brand Ventures

Serial entrepreneur, angel investor and strategic advisor with over two decades of experience in marketing innovation, Rafael has led teams in successfully launching and branding a variety of products, creating new categories and effectively connecting with the most elusive audiences.

Rafael attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science in New York City and studied Bioengineering and Materials Science at the University of California, where he founded his first venture at 17. After studying at Berkeley, he joined a friend's tech startup out of the MIT Media Lab, running promotions, managing member acquisition and driving audience growth. Rafael contributed to building this early technology company's community to over one million active users. The Firefly Network was later acquired by Microsoft for its leadership in developing the Internet's leading recommendation technology (e.g. Amazon, Netflix), as well as the Firefly Passport, a product that a decade later the social media giant would purchase the patents in order to power Facebook Connect.

After a period of consulting several tech startups, Rafael joined the marketing team that re-booted Pepsi's Mountain Dew utilizing action sports, urban music and influencer culture (Do the Dew!), taking it from obscurity to the #4 position in the carbonated soft drink category. He was later recruited to manage and execute several national client programs including the development of Marlboro's on-premise strategy for Philip-Morris International, Spanish language marketing for Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol, nightlife influencer projects for Diageo and innovative content programming for Discovery HD.

Mr. De La Cruz was then recruited to be part of the core marketing team at glacéau - makers of vitaminwater & smartwater. Rafael created and executed a series of both sales & marketing initiatives that supported the company's doubling of revenue year after year, resulting in the largest acquisition of its kind in the beverage category by Coca-Cola ($4.2 billion).

Rafael has since then held several executive positions overseeing marketing, operations and strategy. He currently consults e-commerce technology and early stage companies in growth hacking and audience development strategies.

Mr. De La Cruz currently is an active investor, advising various successful ventures in the cannabis industry. Universal Brand Ventures provides capital, advisory and support services for early stage companies. He serves as a member of the investor selection committee for the Arcview Group and an executive board member of the Cannabis World Congress.

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Programming descriptions are generated by participants and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SXSW.