Season 1, Episode 28

Island Life


Marla Bainbridge Martinez


If you are inspired to start your own podcast, check out the links on The Arena page.

Today’s Guest

In today’s episode I am speaking with Marla Bainbridge Martinez.

 Born and raised in Alabama, Marla has lived from coast to coast in the US.  With her relocation to Los Angeles in 2000 she completed her Master’s degree at Pepperdine University in Educational Leadership. After relocating to Las Vegas, Portland, OR and Atlanta, GA, she discovered her love for Mexico and passion for travel. 

So much that she is now married to an isleño of Isla Mujeres and makes her home there.  Marla began in the travel business by focusing on Isla Mujeres and what started as a single website for budget rentals has grown into a website with an extensive inventory of properties to meet the needs of the range of travelers. 

With the Pandemic of 2020 came her forced opportunity to refocus her income streams and now consults with other entrepreneurs on how to do the same. 

Her background in education, curriculum and instruction has filled a need with the influx of online courses being created in optimizing online courses beyond a simple presentations to a true learning experience.



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If you have a comment or question please reach out to me at or on Instagram @gladiatrixpodcast


Marla Bainbridge Martinez

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Malini Sarma 0:01

Hey, Marla, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Really appreciate it.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 0:07

Hi, Malini, thank you so much for having me. I've been looking forward to this all week.

Malini Sarma 0:11

Oh, so, so let's dive right in. So um, I know you grew up in Alabama, and most families there. So what was it like growing up? What were some of the, you know, what were some of the things that kind of stand out is you is growing up in Alabama. You know, just small town living, it's

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 0:32

everything that you kind of think small town life in Alabama

Unknown Speaker 0:36

would be, you know,

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 0:37

I lived in this really safe small town where,

you know, I grew up in a neighborhood. And then I have, you know, my parents and my sister and the dog, and it was just pretty typical. So yeah, life was good was easy.

Malini Sarma 0:53

So are you the oldest

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 0:54

and the oldest by seven years?

Malini Sarma 0:56

Oh, okay. All right. You know, there's some traits I've noticed, like a lot of my guests, you know, when do the older one is just the way how they approach life and how they kind of make decisions is just different compared to like, a younger sibling.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 1:09

So I would agree, I would agree My sister is very successful, and is great, but we definitely approach life differently. That's for sure.

Malini Sarma 1:17

Mm hmm. So you, how did you get into it? Because I know you have a background in education, education, consulting. So how did how did you go into that? Is that kind of natural because, you know, growing up, even I, I have a teacher's degree, but it was almost like, Oh, that's the safe thing. And that's what a woman should do, you know, go into career where you can, you know, so when you get married and have kids, you can be home for your husband and children. And that's where what women should do? I mean, is that how it was for you? Or was it something else? Not

Unknown Speaker 1:49

at all?

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 1:51

Not at all, I was the worst student like my, if you looked at my report cards, you would think, oh, my goodness, you know, is this person? What are the issues with this person? Because I was not, I didn't learn traditionally, but yet I was in a traditional school. And so school was very difficult for me, I didn't enjoy it. You know, I probably have some ADHD or, you know, other things, but I just didn't learn traditionally. But I did, like, you know, to learn, but just in a different way. And so I ended up going to a trade school, and going to cosmetology school. Hmm. So my entrepreneurship has been, you know, going since then. So, you know, I have owned up my own salons and own businesses, and in worked, you know, for training for haircolor companies and done other things, you know, so that I've been doing that forever. But when I went through my divorce in 92, is when I decided that I thought I wanted that lifestyle that you just described, where no, oh, well, if I'm teaching, then I can, you know, be home more, because when you own a salon, you're working weekends, and holidays, and weddings, and things like that, and I was, you know, working 16 hour days, it was just burned out and tired. So I went back to school for education. And the little did I know that being an educator does not mean you're done at three o'clock, and you have weekends off necessarily means you're planning and grading papers. And because I don't learn traditionally, I found that I really connected with students that don't learn traditionally. And so I was creating opportunities in my classroom that were not a textbook or a workbook. So I was, which was taking me a lot more time and a lot more effort. But I just felt like if you're going to do it, let's do it. And so as a firstborn, I think that's a trait, right? So then I moved to California, and started work as the director of educational technology at a private school in Los Angeles. And I ended up going to get my masters at Pepperdine in Educational Leadership, because that was the piece that I really liked about it was the curriculum and the instruction. Mm hmm. So my path to education was a little bit backwards, you know, and my grades were great. In my master's program, I had a 4.0. And no, it's because the way that my program was designed was a cohort. And everything we learned was applied in our job. So it wasn't just memorize this or take this test and be done it was learn something and apply it in a real authentic real life situation. And that that just matters to me in my learning style and I think it does for a lot of people.

Malini Sarma 4:54

So I'm just going back to you know, your your previous life, right. So when you were in school, in Then when you know, when you had trouble learning in a traditional setting, did you have like a teacher that probably kind of guide us that you know what maybe you should think about or where you're like parents upset because you're like, why isn't this girl figuring things out? And oh my god, she's in so much trouble all the time. And, you know, because I know with firstborns is always like, you have to, you're like the good kid, you know, they'll kind of like they always say, you know, with parents also, they experimented with it for a shock, because they have no clue how to do parents the first time anyway. So how did how was that growing up? I mean, that must have had a tremendous impact, you know, on just learning to deal with situations and people and good questions people asked, Do you ever have that kind of thing?

Unknown Speaker 5:41

Not really, I

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 5:41

mean, I was relatively a good kid, not a perfect kid by any stretch of the imagination. And, you know, it was frustrating for my parents in terms of my grades, and I stayed grounded a lot of my life, because no bad report cards, but you know, like I say, my parents didn't know what to do with me, because I was the first and they were figuring it out, too. And I certainly have no judgment. But you know, just trying to figure out the path. And I think that's important that we not try and put children in a box until, you know, we really listen to them and their learning style, and how they learn and what the world is going to mean to them.

Malini Sarma 6:21

So So how did you how did you decide that? Okay, you know what, this is not working for me. So I'm not going to go to college right now. I'm just going to go to cosmetology school. How did that decision? Was that kind of like suggested to you? Is it just something that you like to do, and he's like, you know what, I'm gonna do this instead. Because it makes me happy.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 6:37

My best friend, my senior year, her mother was a hairdresser. And she, my best friend was going to cosmetology school when we were seniors. And so I did the same thing. And then she ended up, you know, going to college and getting an accounting degree or finance degree, because she's really smart. And she did great in school. I ended up taking the entrepreneurial route, and no regrets. I learned so much, you know, owning my own business at 21 years old, and just real life experiences and applying all of those things. Mm hmm. Authentic situation, right. works best for me.

Malini Sarma 7:14

That's, that's really, that's really awesome. I mean, at 21, you are owning your own business. Did you? Did it scare you? I mean, or was it more of a survival thing? Like, you know what, I'm just gonna make this work for me, because it's what makes me happy? how did how did what was your mindset at the time when you you know, starting your own business, it was it just natural for you to do that?

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 7:32

Probably should have been scared. But I just the place where I lived, I couldn't find a salon that I really fit in, I liked all of you know, the women that worked in these salons, they were fantastic. And, you know, we're friends to this day. But the I couldn't find a vibe that I was really loved working in. So I just decided to create my own. So I went to the bank, and they gave me $5,000. And, you know, my family and I got together and I rented a space, and we redesigned the space and it and it took off. So it was good. That was awesome.

Malini Sarma 8:05

That's so awesome. That is so cool. And your parents were with you, you had support, you know, your family and, and your community was like you talk about now trying to go get alone, okay, the amount of paperwork that you have to do, and prove that you're going to be able to make money and give it back to them. I mean, that's awesome that the you know, you had such a supportive community. And I don't think we would have

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 8:25

been able to do it now for only $5,000. True.

Malini Sarma 8:30

That's very true. So after after LA, and you were a director there, what happened after that.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 8:37

So then I have a master's and I moved to Las Vegas, and I was director of curriculum instruction at a private school in Las Vegas, and then moved to educational consulting with a firm out of Portland, Oregon, where I was consulting with schools internationally, on how to map out their curriculum using the software for the company that I was working for, and help putting in place processes of curriculum review and analysis. So looking at what teachers teach, when they teach it, how they teach it and why they teach it, and where are the gaps and redundancies for students. So a whole student experience within a school system or school. So, for example, the school where I worked, we taught as to history in third grade, and again in eighth grade, which was fine as long as the content wasn't the same way because you don't want kids to have to say, Wait, we already did this. Now we have to do it again. Why? So you know, getting those two teachers to talk to each other and come up with a plan on what's going to be covered in third grade and how the eighth grade teacher is going to connect that for students. You know, just putting in place those processes of curriculum review and analysis.

Malini Sarma 9:51

So you've been you you did that for quite a bit though. But then something changed because then you just decided like, okay, you're you're done from being you know, Being consultant and you know, you now want to have a what you call like laptop life by the beach in that you now live in Mexico. So how did all that happen?

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 10:12

I must, you know, as you've seen, I kind of do things zero to 60 I don't really know. And in between I go full force all in, you know, tunnel vision and then I burn out. So I was just tired. And I came to vacation at a summer hiatus Mexico on this island, and I just fell in love with it. And the people and I kept meeting more and more expats expatriates, Americans and Canadians who were living here on the island. And I just said, Well, if they can do it, I can do it. You know, why can I do it? I want to do it. So I still had my house in Las Vegas. So I sold everything. I was living in Atlanta at the time. And then I sold everything and moved here and said, you know, if I have to move back to the United States and work until I retire, like the rest of the world, okay. And you know, it's been 10 years. So I'm still here. But I just think I just burned out. I was just tired. And I wanted to be here.

Malini Sarma 11:11

So I'm sure the sun and the ocean and all the food. It was like amazing. And people are so friendly. Yeah,

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 11:19

it's the community here is unlike any other. And we're a five mile by about one mile island and in the Caribbean, just off of Cancun. Okay. So it's it is it's beautiful, and easy. And, you know, and hard at the same time. I mean, there are certainly inconveniences to living in Mexico. But that's okay. That was sort of one of the reasons I wanted to move here is I felt like I was on this hamster wheel, this corporate hamster wheel just trying to keep up with the Joneses. When I was in the States, and I was tired of that I you know, I wanted to be here where it didn't matter what you drove or, you know, if you drove anything, and you know, it just didn't matter. You could just be part of the community. And so that's what I did.

Malini Sarma 12:04

That's, that's really cool. Now, I do know that you have multiple businesses in Mexico to write because you've got multiple thing you got, like you said, zero to 60. And you got multiple thing you are multiple irons in the fire. So what are some of the other businesses that you running Besides, because because you have vacation homes, right, the current one that your your main one that you're working on?

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 12:26

Well, I have a website that markets vacation home, so I'm more like a I'm not really a travel agent and more like a vacationista.

Malini Sarma 12:35

Okay, I like that. I like that word.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 12:38

Helps plan the vacation, and I only booked for properties here on the island. I don't book for anywhere else. Okay, I don't book airfare. But when someone wants to come to the island, I help them find the right property for them. I work with about 150 proper property owners on the island, and book their properties for them. And so then I started, you know, since I moved here, 10 years ago, I just said, Okay, what am I going to do, I thought I was going to continue consulting. And then I went to Shanghai for working in Shanghai for a while. And then I was supposed to go to Thailand. And this is when the flood hit back about 10 years ago, that was cancelled. And then I just decided I didn't want to travel anymore. I just wanted to stay here. And so I started looking for things to do. And I was building websites for people and I was managing properties for people and owners that didn't live on the island, but had Vacation Rentals here I would do that and helping with social media marketing for restaurants and bars. My husband is in a band. And so I would help market the band and book weddings and things like that, and just collaborative marketing. And that was where that sort of came into play. And then I realized that you know, I could create a multi faceted business. So now the way that I have my system set up is you Melanie, if you decide you're coming to vacation on a summer hiatus, I'm going to get you reserved in a villa and then I'm going to make sure that you have airport transportation and then to the ferry and what to expect and who's going to meet you there and and ask you if you want welcome snacks on the counter in which I'm going to then order from my restaurant and catering business. Okay. I know when I say my I mean my husband and me. And then so the catering is all part of it. We also have a signature experience we called entertainment. My husband as a chef and a musician. Hmm. So you come in and you haven't experienced so you've rented this great Villa because you're coming down for somebody's birthday or anniversary or something to celebrate. And so entertainment is a great way to do that. And we come in and we bring margaritas and appetizers and salad and dinner and dessert and high plays guitar and it's super interactive and low key and and that sort of started because when I moved here people would say what you live here, how do you live here? What do you do when

Malini Sarma 14:56

you live here and well, we get

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 14:58

together and we Play music and we eat good food. And they say, Well, I wanted to do that. Don't do that. So then you know that business was born entertainment. And you know, I work with other providers on the islands to make sure if you're here, you want a golf cart, and I've connected you with Julio to get the golf cart rented, and Roberto is going to take you fishing. And so it's more just collaboration and having our own businesses and then when you leave, I'm gonna send you an email that says, here's my East le t shirt, in case you forgot any souvenirs, we can have these delivered to your door. So it's a Shopify store. So we've just sort of taken the whole experience and not just approached it as a vacation rental, but

Malini Sarma 15:38

more of an experience. And that way you also it's kind of like a, like you said it was a community event, because you've engaged every single business that is on the island. So everybody has a stake in it, and they're all providing value, and everybody gets something out of it. Right. So Exactly. I think that is I think that is really cool. And I think that's one of the advantages of living in small communities, because you connected with everybody. Right?

Unknown Speaker 16:08


Malini Sarma 16:08

So and I know it has I know, it's a, You make it sound like a lot of fun and easy, but it's not I know, there's, there's a lot of stuff that happens in the background that makes running of it smoothly, you know, for it to go smoothly. So I'm sure you've had ups and downs, you know, weather and hurricanes. And of course, now the pandemic. And you know, because it's basically a tourist business, so there's no tourists, and that's you can be impacted. Right. Right. So how do you how do you deal with that? When you I mean, are you mentally prepared? I mean, I couldn't, you know, considering you started your business at 21, I'm sure you've got tons of experience. But what do you do when things go awry? And you're like, I mean, have you ever like, just sat there? And like, what, why did I get into this? Have you ever thought like that you're like, you know what, we'll get through this too? How do you how do you handle it, when you go through rough patches,

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 17:02

it's hard for those thoughts to not creep in when you've just lost 10s of thousands of dollars in canceled reservations. And Our island was actually shut down from March until June.

Unknown Speaker 17:21


Marla Bainbridge Martinez 17:23

so we had zero tourists and we were on lockdown could not leave the house for several months. And you know, it was very difficult. Unfortunately, I was prepared with money that I had saved for low season. Because we know this living on this tourist island that we have high season and low season and we know there are a few months in the fall that are going to be difficult. So we save money to be prepared for those times. And that money has helped us you know, get get through it. And we have 15 employees at the restaurant. And so it was important for us to help, you know, take care of them them and Javi and I if it were just as we get side hustle our way through it, we have done a weekly, live show live stream concert, where we're playing music, and it's more kind of a talk show format. And we do giveaways and things like that, just to kind of help keep people entertained and connected to the island because the island is such that people who come here usually come at least every year and sometimes multiple times a year. So people are really connected to the island. So I think that was an important piece of keeping us connected. And it also really was a forced opportunity for me, you know, mode to look at my businesses. And thankfully, I had systems in place that that do make things easier. I mean, there are always things, you know, problems to solve. But that's, that's just part of being an entrepreneur, I think is, you know, what is the problem? Where how are you going to solve it?

Malini Sarma 18:47

Right? And you do have, because of your prior businesses, and you've been doing this for almost 10 years, you're you built an email list and you have your regular customers and, you know, you have people you can reach out to that don't live there but are you know, connect, like you said connected to the island. So because like you said you and I, we were both on paths. We follow Pat Flynn and on the income stream, you know, I'm sure you've met a lot of people who new friends, right. Right, know more about your business now and in probably helped out or giving advice or whatever. Right?

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 19:26

Right. And they were what we were finding is when we did our Friday Night Live show that we would have the same, you know, 50 people show up every Friday night and they are still coming and we're still doing you know, it's we've been doing this since April, and we haven't missed a Friday night and so for those you know, handful 1020 people that were coming every single Friday night and donating to our virtual tip jar which was what we were using to pay our employees salaries. So we created a membership group. And now we have a membership group with a monthly fee that we just use Facebook for. And then we do live content and, you know, private content for for that group and they pay, you know, a set fee every month, which helps us kind of get through the pandemic.

Malini Sarma 20:16

That's really that's, that's very creative. I mean, but like you said, this is forced opportunities, it forces you to think outside the box and come up with new ways. Because if there was no pandemic, we probably wouldn't have, I'm sure a lot of the businesses, new businesses that cropped up probably wouldn't even happen. So,

Unknown Speaker 20:33


Marla Bainbridge Martinez 20:34

and, you know, the travel will come back. And you know, we're not worried about if this is a forever thing, right? Not, and I work side hustling our way through it. You know, because it's a forced opportunity to learn other learn other things. And, you know, which is one of the things I was, you know, that has really come from this is my new business, which is helping course creators kind of think about their courses from the inside out, they're experts who know what they're doing. And there's 50 million people teaching how to, to create online courses. And after I took some trying to, you know, expand my own knowledge, what I learned is that I could help these people from the inside out. And I really didn't think about that until in the last couple of months, when I was approached by an entrepreneur who was a presenter and a coach, and she had an online course and said, You know, I'm going to be giving this course to teachers in a State Department of Education, and I need an educator to help me make sure this course is set up well, and I thought, Oh, well, maybe that's an opportunity. So that's what I'm working on now is how to optimize your online course. So it's more than just a sales funnel. And, and it really gets your students results that they come back. And, you know, it's when designed to give the win. And you know, they're, they're going to finish your course. And they're going to write reviews and give you referrals, and then not going to ask for refunds. So just really helping from the inside out looking at the course from a teaching and learning perspective. Okay,

Malini Sarma 22:16

that's really cool. Because now you can actually use all your educational consultant experience plus your own experience, and, you know, give a provide value to people who probably didn't even realize that there there is something more to what they were doing. Right. So right.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 22:33

And that's what I'm finding. And it's also kind of difficult to talk about it. Because, you know, when you start using education jargon, I sort of glaze over and go Well, yeah, that sounds good. But what is it, you know, so a pet, finding a way to sort of translate it has been a fun challenge to figure out the words that makes sense for people. And it's not that people aren't smart, they are, they're incredibly intelligent, and their course, you know, courses are good. I mean, I've taken some really good courses, but just, they're just some simple techniques that, you know, we do as educators, that it's not their fault, they don't know, they didn't, you know, go to school for that they went to school for something else, right. So, you know, I can help solve that problem.

Malini Sarma 23:12

That's really cool. So, um, so now you have, you know, you've been doing business for almost 2030 years, knowing what you know, now, what would you have told your younger self? Is there anything that you would have told your younger self that would have made the journey different or better?

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 23:38

I would say, and I had something else, you know, in mind when we first started talking about this, but I think travel changes people, it broadens what how you see the world. And I would, you know, growing up in small town, Alabama, it really never occurred to me that I would live in Los Angeles, or that I would travel to different countries around the world. I don't know, I was just very narrow minded in that sense. You know, most people kind of say close to home. Mm hmm. And so once I started doing that is when I really looking back is when I really see that I grew as a person. So knowing what I know, now, I would tell my younger self, travel sooner, get to know people and different cultures all around the world. And let that shape you.

Unknown Speaker 24:27

Hmm. That's, that's,

Malini Sarma 24:30

I can I can attest to that. Because I, you know, you learn something new. Every time you travel, every different place has a different culture and personality and it really opens up opens up your mind. So it's hard to describe that right? Right, like, right,

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 24:47

we can say that it opens up your mind, but when we say it when it just sounds almost cliche, but right there, it's indescribable. Yeah, it's just,

Malini Sarma 24:55

I just think you just think in a completely different way, you know, it's like you didn't it just like it's like thinking outside the box? Yeah. So I don't know exactly what you're talking about. So now, as a business woman, if you had to, you know, give advice to somebody who is, you know, young women who are just starting out, what would be the top three pieces that you found the most useful? Or would you would consider that they should absolutely do in order to be successful?

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 25:30

Do something for you to serve others first. Because it's easier to have a business that is something that people have already need. And that you can serve others with. have systems in place that make your life easier. And the third pieces of third piece of advice would be to just jump and you know, fail forward, you know, everything's not going to be a success. And it doesn't have to be perfect. And it doesn't have to look like what you think it's going to look like. But you won't know what is it that Pat Flynn says you have to be the disaster before you can become the master, sir. Right. Right. I don't know if that says quote, or if he took it from someone else. But that's where I got it from. And I think he's right, and you know, don't get stuck thinking I'm not ready, just do it. Just do it. I mean, you know, when I started the Shopify store, I didn't, you know, have this huge, long business plan. I didn't, you know, I just researched it, and just did it. And, you know, if it didn't work out, I closed it. Okay. So, you know, granted, there are other businesses that require more capital upfront, but,

Malini Sarma 26:34

you know,

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 26:34

I just think do it, just do it and surround yourself with people, you know, you're the summary of the five people you spend most of your time with. And, you know, you and I are in several groups together. And, you know, I'm part of other groups. And that has been super helpful as an entrepreneur, a solopreneur, but surrounding myself with other entrepreneurs, who are going through what I'm going through and push me to be better and challenge me. And I think that's probably really important. As you know, you are a summary of who you surround yourself with.

Malini Sarma 27:09

I think that's, I think that's very important. I've learned that myself in the last, I think this pandemic has kind of forced us to be a little more creative, and how we choose to meet our people. And I think, I think this is, I think that has really changed my perspective. And I've learned so much just hanging out with a lot of a lot of the groups like you said, you know, that we hang out with, I've learned so much. Yeah. So if people need to get a hold of you, what, where would they want to go? I mean, do you have like a website? Because I know you do multiple businesses. So where would you want people to do

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 27:44

well, if you if you want to come to a slumber Haridas and come on vacation, then you can reach me at www dot ECE le is la vache, a va ca easily making if you want to work on your own course and work on optimizing your course from the inside out. You can find me at refocused income calm because that was sort of how I approached the pandemic was how can I increase my income streams with skills and talents that I already have? How can I refocus my income with you know, doing,

Unknown Speaker 28:24

you know, things,

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 28:25

the things that I already know? So refocussed income comm is how you can can find me there.

Malini Sarma 28:32

Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much, Marla. I really appreciate you taking the time and be on this on the podcast. And I can't wait to send this to you and you so that you can send it to all you folks because I think this is great advice. Even for somebody who's just starting out and for people who want to come in, visit your island in Mexico.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez 28:53

Well, thank you so much, Melanie, for having me. I think that you have just you will have a great podcast and all of your guests are so interesting. So I feel really honored to be part of that. So thank you.

Malini Sarma 29:04

Oh, thank you.

Transcribed by

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Malini Sarma

Malini Sarma

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Hello. I am Malini. I am a dancer, world traveler and storyteller. I am a hard core fan of chai and anything hot. I am always looking for new adventures and would rather be outside than inside.

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