Entrepreneurship is certainly about innovative ideas, and it’s also a way to connect with a community of like-minded people and grow as a person. This month’s podcast guest, high school senior Alejandro Gonzalez, has appreciated these opportunities since he began reselling items like sneakers and clothing in his native Puerto Rico. He also learned some things about business along the way, including the value of research and an awareness that not everyone can be trusted to hold up their end of a transaction. Selling through various online platforms has also convinced Alejandro that a renaissance mindset is key to connecting with others.
Be sure to tap the arrow above and listen to our conversation with Alejandro, who is carrying his entrepreneurial mindset forward as he considers colleges and life after high school. An edited transcript appears below.
Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World. I’m Diana Drake of the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. This podcast explores entrepreneurship and innovation, with a twist. Our guests are all still in high school and on a mission to strengthen their entrepreneurial mindset, generate profits, solve pressing problems and create change.
Today’s guest joins us from Puerto Rico. Alejandro Gonzalez has expressed himself through entrepreneurship for years and has learned a thing or two along the way. He took an online Pre- baccalaureate class with us this summer, and reached out through our virtual global youth meetup community to tell us about his reselling business.
Alejandro, it’s great to have you on Future of the Business World!
Alejandro Gonzalez: Thank you for having me.
Wharton Global Youth: Let’s get started. What do business and entrepreneurship mean to you?
Alejandro: Business and entrepreneurship [are] about being able to control my time. Compared to a normal job, I love that in business I can work whenever I want. One day, if I’m inspired to, I can work at 2 a.m. And one day at 7 a.m., I can do that as well. It’s also a way of constantly learning and developing myself. Because in a way, if you want to develop your business, you also have to work on yourself. So, I do also enjoy that a lot.
Wharton Global Youth: I want to drill down on your reselling activities. But first, let’s consider the context, I guess. You are from Puerto Rico, a vibrant and resilient island in the Caribbean, that has really endured devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Maria in 2017. How have those challenges changed your perspective on life, and particularly on business?
Alejandro: It’s like we almost got a preview of the pandemic with what we had here in Hurricane Maria. I personally didn’t have electricity for around six, seven months. So, it was a bit of a challenge, really. And [we] also had a lot of supply chain issues. We have a specific law with the United States in which everything that gets here has to go through a port from the United States. So, it was hard to get a lot of resources that we needed. Puerto Rico is still devastated in a way. There are a lot of things that really didn’t recuperate. A lot of businesses stopped fully and they will never come back again. So, it really affected Puerto Rico.
Wharton Global Youth: Wow. And I’m sure also maybe changed your perspective on what it means to be resilient. Do you agree?
Alejandro: Yeah, it was hard for everyone. A lot of businesses, there’s nothing they could do. But they still did their best considering everything that was happening.
Wharton Global Youth: Let’s talk about Cacique, the business you started to resell items online. Can you tell us the meaning of the name? And tell us more about how this business came together? What products did you sell?
Alejandro: Cacique originated from the name of the tribe leaders that lived here before the Spaniards came in the 1400s. So, it’s inspired by a really old tradition. I started selling stickers so I could get money in school — stickers and chips. And when I got enough money, I started selling clothing, shoes and collectible items. I also saved up a lot of money. Like since I was in kindergarten, I had all of my money saved up for the business. So, it took a lot of time.
Wharton Global Youth: Can you give us some more details about the business?
Alejandro: I would locally source products, maybe from different retailers. For example, one time I bought five or six pairs of shoes in the same mall. So, I brought like three or four different people and it was a was a really complicated process because they only let you buy one thing per person. And then I sold them all the same week on GOAT [a global platform for reselling sneakers, clothing and other items], which means getting boxes for all of them and shipping them through USPS [United States Postal Service]. And at the time, I didn’t have my driver’s license. So, my parents would be bothered when I showed up with five or six boxes and said, ‘Hey, I need to go to the local USPS.’
Wharton Global Youth: Parents are always the business partner in these businesses; the unsung heroes. When did it really hit its stride?
Alejandro: When I was about 15 or 16. It reached about $3,400 in sales in 90 days on eBay and I also sold locally and on other platforms.
Wharton Global Youth: I’m hoping we can explore some of the lessons about business that you’ve learned as a reseller. First of all, what are some of the intricacies of selling on different online platforms? Can you talk about the products you sold, but also the different places you sold them?
Alejandro: It’s really different with every platform. For example, on eBay you talk directly with the person you’re selling the item to, so you have to deal with a lot of customer service, compared to selling on GOAT, which considers me an independent contractor. It’s a really different way of selling. And also, I sold at the biggest sneaker convention at the time in Puerto Rico, which is face to face and a totally different experience from selling online. So, there are a lot of different ways you can sell things. And they also have intricacies to each of them.
Wharton Global Youth: I remember reading about a reseller during the pandemic, who also happened to be a high school student who sourced in-demand merchandise, like gaming consoles, raised the prices on these hard-to-get items, and then made a lot of money reselling them online. What have you learned about the logistics of sourcing items to sell? Can you give us some specifics navigating supply and demand and even pricing?
Alejandro: I only have one word, which is research. You have to do a lot of research. There are some really in-demand products, like the PlayStation 5, when it started selling out, that you can know how much it sells for. But some items I bought, they only had three listings on eBay or something like that and it was really hard to get. So, it’s about knowing about the industry you’re in. I followed every Instagram page I could and I talked with everyone I could — and getting your information from there.
Wharton Global Youth: While your business is online, there are people on the other end of these transactions. You must inspire them to buy your products, as well as keep them happy when they do. Have you become skilled at customer service and marketing. And what are some specific things you’ve learned there?
Alejandro: This business is not as easy as people think. I have to take a lot of photos, I have to answer questions all the time. There are people [who] try to take money from you. It’s really a lot more than just listing your item and trying to sell it. And you also need good reviews if you want to sell more. I sent little messages to the buyers on the packages and things like that. It’s a really complicated process of customer service and trying to connect with the people you’re selling the items to.
Wharton Global Youth: Can you give us an example of one of the items that you sold and the process of selling it?
Alejandro: The most common things were shirts, and I would buy them online. For example, Uniqlo sold shirts for $10 each, and they would sell on Puerto Rico for about $30 each. I noticed that, bought them and sold them locally. But it really depends on the items. Some are a lot harder to ship than others, especially coming from Puerto Rico, where shipping is a lot more expensive.
Wharton Global Youth: So you have to factor that in.
Alejandro: And the complicated thing is that some people automatically refuse to buy things from you if you’re in Puerto Rico [because of] the shipping costs, I believe. They think it’s more expensive and they flat out reject you. No matter the offer.
Wharton Global Youth: Oh no. You have to deal with rejection.
Alejandro: That’s part of the business.
“I once traded a pair of shoes for another that I liked. I did that in person and it was dark out. So, I didn’t really see the shoe well. When I got home, it was broken. And they just did not respond to any messages.” –Alejandro Gonzalez
Wharton Global Youth: You took a class on behavioral economics this summer, as I mentioned, with the Wharton Global Youth Pre-bacc program. What lessons from that course would you apply to your entrepreneurial endeavors?
Alejandro: The key takeaway is that I self-studied for AP microeconomics, and they teach you that everyone is perfectly rational. They’re not. For example, I have here a keychain that sells for about $50 on eBay and rationally that makes no sense. Most of the things I saw make absolutely no sense when you factor in rationality. But, people have a lot of emotion and I think it’s really important to consider that when you’re selling something — factoring in nostalgia or another emotion that you might not have considered originally when selling a product.
Wharton Global Youth: That’s really interesting. Back up a minute, though…a keychain for $50 on eBay? What kind of keychain is this?
Alejandro: It’s a Travis Scott [American rapper] keychain. Now that he’s selling out concerts in Egypt or something like that, it’s getting a lot harder to find. A lot of the things I bought…they only sell it for one time. They had a collection in, let’s say, 2019 and sold it in 2019. And now it’s over. There are 100 keychains in the world and that’s it. They’re not selling that again. So that’s why it’s so expensive because it’s never going to be produced again.
Wharton Global Youth: It’s got that limited appeal.
Alejandro: Yes. Which again, that’s not rational. But it’s something that people do factor in when they’re purchasing items.
Wharton Global Youth: You mentioned to me that you’ve put your reselling business on hold for a time as you work on college applications. Do you plan to resume your entrepreneurial activities in the next few years?
Alejandro: Yes, definitely. And I also hope to meet a lot of people in university who share some of the same experiences and ways of thinking that I do. And maybe trying something different, because I’m always open to new business ideas or concepts.
Wharton Global Youth: Is there a reselling community out there? I mean, are there platforms where you guys can trade best practices?
Alejandro: Just in Puerto Rico, I was in chats with 300 people, and some of them lived off reselling different items; that was their job. There’s definitely a community for that. And for selling any types of things. If you’re hearing this right now and you want to start doing this, it doesn’t have to be shoes. It doesn’t have to be clothing. I also sold comics, video games, vinyl records. Any hobby that you want you can apply to this business model.
Wharton Global Youth: Yes. Because again, it sounds like you’re appealing to people’s collections and their emotional interest in different items, too.
Alejandro: Yes, [for instance] now with [interest in the Barbie Movie], I’m sure there are a lot of really expensive Barbies out there. I’m sure that’s also a business going on right now.
Wharton Global Youth: Interesting. Right. Definitely lots of reselling happening there. So, you said something to me earlier that I want to hear more about. You said, ‘I’m happy I started early, instead of messing up when the stakes are higher.’ What do you mean by that?
Alejandro: I’m just glad I’m failing now, with less money and less things to consider. Because if in 20 years, I have a kid and I mess something up really hard in my business, it can mean a lot of things. Right now, I have a home, my parents give me food. So, the stakes are much lower now. And these lessons I can apply forever, basically. I’m just glad that the things that went wrong went wrong now, and not when it was a bigger thing.
Wharton Global Youth: I understand. You don’t have as much to lose at this point, because you’re surrounded by a safety net. So, you know I’ve got to ask the next question, which is, what went wrong? I need to know an example of maybe some of the ways that you feel you messed up and that you really learned from that and were able to pivot?
Alejandro: So, this one isn’t as serious, but it was mostly funny. I once traded a pair of shoes for another that I liked. I did that in person and it was dark out. So, I didn’t really see the shoe well. When I got home, it was broken. And they just did not respond to any messages, obviously. So that was definitely a lesson. Being aware that not everyone is nice to you in business.
Something else that I really want to talk about is that I think my ego was in the way of making money. For example, there are some things in Puerto Rico that don’t sell as much, like high ticket items that do sell in the United States online. I remember holding something for six months, because I wanted to sell it for a bit more money in Puerto Rico and it never happened. Sometimes, some people don’t know how to take a loss or make a little bit less money than in other avenues, even though it’s a much quicker way. So sometimes you just have to take that loss or or take a little bit less money and pivot to something new.
Wharton Global Youth: Yes, take that risk a little bit. I love your example with the sneakers. I’m sorry that happened to you. But you know, it’s so funny that you’re mostly online with your business. But this was actually a face-to-face transaction? That’s crazy. So, where do you go from here? Do you hope to take all you’ve learned and be at the forefront of an innovative business someday? And what does that look like for you?
Alejandro: Yes, I’d really love to earn again and at university I hope to connect with people that do share some interest with me and some that don’t, and I can learn a lot from them. I also enjoy investing in general and I bought my first stock when I was 13, which was really young at the time. And I also just enjoy helping anyone out with their passion or their business. So, I do hope to continue doing this in the future.
Wharton Global Youth: One question I like to ask all my guests on Future of the Business World is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Alejandro: I really like the Renaissance. And I want everyone to know a bit more about everything. This applies to business in the sense that maybe you’re meeting with a client that really likes basketball, and you should know a bit about basketball. Maybe someone else likes comics, and you should know a bit about that. I think, in general, everyone should have a general sense of understanding of a lot of different hobbies and things that are unexpected to better understand each other and better connect with each other.
Wharton Global Youth: Let’s end with our lightning round. Answer these questions as quickly as you can.
Something about you that would surprise us?
Alejandro: I write poetry, and I enjoy it.
Wharton Global Youth: Something about Puerto Rico that would surprise us?
Alejandro: A lot of people have confusion about what Puerto Rico is. We’re not a state, but we’re not independent either. We’re an independent associated state. It’s a weird phrase. We’re the only one in the world with that, so Puerto Rico has a complicated status.
Wharton Global Youth: Your biggest mistake in business so far?
Alejandro: This is connecting to what I said earlier — my ego. Everyone should listen to other people’s opinions and take that loss sometimes.
Wharton Global Youth: Describe your personal brand in a few words?
Alejandro: I’m always learning and always trying to improve, I may not be the best at something, but you best believe I will try to learn as much about it.
Wharton Global Youth: Your biggest lesson from Boy Scouts that you would apply to entrepreneurship?
Alejandro: Being really organized. Now I’m working on my Eagle Project, finishing that up. And you have to message a lot of people to ask about a lot of things. There are a lot of things you have to consider with your schedule and such. So, being really organized.
Wharton Global Youth: Music, book or show that inspired you in the past six months?
Alejandro: The book Psycho-Cybernetics, which is about connecting your subconscious to your conscious mind and visualizing your future.
Wharton Global Youth: Businessperson you would most like to take to lunch and why?
Alejandro: So, I’m recently reading a lot about Ray Dalio, who is the founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund. And he’s also someone whom I think is always trying to learn about everything, and he always is willing to hear other people’s opinions. I think I could learn a lot from him.
Wharton Global Youth: Excellent. Alejandro, it’s been great speaking with you. Thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.
Why is it important to consider emotion when you’re selling something to a customer?
Have you operated a reselling business? Share a few of your best practices in the comment section of this transcript.
Alejandro Gonzalez talks about the value of a renaissance mindset. What does he mean by this? Why do you think this is valuable in business?