Most people spend their first job slaving away at a local restaurant or department store. But, if you’re like me, you leave home to sell bikinis abroad.
Yes, that actually happened: When I was 18, I was tipped off by an older friend about a unique way to make money: Travel to Brazil. Buy bikinis in a local factory. Sell them on the beach.
Lesson 1: Always have your budget on the brain.
When I first arrived in Florianopolis, Brazil, I was immediately taken aback by the area’s outrageous cost of living. In my native Uruguay, real estate could be had for a fraction of the price and was extremely affordable, even by my recent high school graduate standards.
Because of the pricey real estate, I was forced to stay in a dank, dilapidated building complex to be as cost efficient as possible. I also had to adjust to forgoing normal creature comforts by eating dirt-cheap dinners and limiting air-conditioner use as much as possible (no easy feat in a climate that could reach triple digits).
The only purchases I made (outside of the essentials) were for the items that would adorn my kiosk. And despite the cutbacks I’d imposed on myself, I struggled to turn the tide. At the bikini factory, I was told I would be able to buy swimsuits only in bulk and only with up-front payments. For someone like me who was already scuffling, and who planned to use what little spare cash I had for advertising in local papers, the factory’s requirements were a tremendous issue.
In hindsight, as much as I was shocked by my financial straits, I had no one to blame but myself. I should have accounted for all the payment logistics much earlier and adjusted accordingly, maybe getting a part-time job in high school to prepare for those potential expenses.
Lesson 2: Anticipate the need to adapt.
To my surprise, the first couple of weeks exceeded expectations — in a good way: I developed a report with a few of the boardwalk regulars, who presented me with a steady stream of clients. That big stack of bikini bottoms lying under the register that had once seemed so daunting suddenly didn’t seem so bad.
Then came the rains both literally and figuratively. That summer featured some of the most consistent rainfall Florianopolis had seen in over 20 years, leaving the beaches deserted for days on end. When I wasn’t getting bombarded by the elements, I had a chance to take stock and realize that I had oversaturated the market.
The customers I had relied on so heavily during the first few weeks completely disappeared. I had totally cornered the market, leaving me no new source of income. As a result, I had to travel miles across the beach every day to meet new potential clients. I hadn’t considered any of these possibilities back home in Uruguay and lost a lot of money while suffering undue stress because of this oversight.
Looking back, I see that all of this, to a degree, was under my control. I could have studied the local market for bikinis. I could have even accounted for the rain, studying historical weather patterns in Florianopolis and scouring forecasts for the summer. When it comes to your own business, know that no detail is too finite and that all potential obstacles should be explored.
Lesson 3: Appreciate the journey.
I’ve known CEOs who have traveled some very windy roads to reach the city of success. Tomas Gorny, for instance, who’s CEO of Nextiva, worked as a carpet cleaner before finding success in the business world. CEO of Etermax, Maximo Cavazzani, taught and practiced Taekwondo for 15 years prior to establishing his company. Ron Yekutiel worked as a helicopter pilot before becoming the CEO and Founder of Kaltura.
Few people’s journeys go according to plan. I wish I could say that I rallied, overcame all odds and ran the most lucrative bikini business in South America, but my venture was an absolute bust. Saying I made very little money would be a generous characterization of my time in Brazil.
In the end, I barely had enough in my wallet for the trip back, and I returned home with nothing more to show for my efforts than a bag full of women’s wear. However, after licking my wounds, I realized that my experience abroad had actually been a phenomenal business tutorial: If one truly learns from failure, then selling bikinis on the beaches of Brazil is a Harvard education.
It’s crucial to remember, then, that in every situation, you take something with you, be it a memory, a lesson or even a suitcase full of unsold bathingsuits. If you don’t embrace the ride, you might miss out on some valuable business experience, not to mention the opportunity to build character, learn about yourself and improve as a human being.
I’ve come a long way since my days on the beaches at Florianopolis. What began as the shortsighted attempts of a brash, reckless kid emerged as the disciplined calculations of a businessman ready to tackle all challenges. Your own journey will undoubtedly take you down some difficult roads, but if you budget properly, constantly adapt and, most of all, appreciate your circumstances and learn from your mistakes, you will likely eventually achieve what you strive to be.