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.
Emboldened by the prospect of easy cash and valuable experience, I booked my flight that very same day. What followed was a crash course in business (and crisis) management that helped prepare me for my eventual position as the CEO and founder of Lynkos, an all-in-one business networking platform employed by over 2.2 million businesses. Here are the lessons I learned along the way:
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.