3 — The Entry Opportunities For (Youthful) Entrepreneurship through the Soccer Supply Chain
I am the son of a… businessman, and so was my father, so you could say its in my blood. My grandfather immigrated (and escaped) during the first World War and started a clothing company. My father was a salesman of all sorts, acquiring a great set of skills and business acumen along the way. He is also extremely clever, and truly embodied the title of a “wheeler and dealer,” all of which he fortunately passed onto me.
I wanted to enter the business realm, and I looked to my passion to do so. Soccer was (and still is) a huge part of my life (to be discussed in the next article), which presented with me a great opportunity. Just as sneaker-heads collect the obvious, sneakers, the more soccer took over my life, the more I became a “(soccer) cleat-head.” There was such a wide variety of cleats, from the simple classics, all the way to the flashy high-tech modern boots, spanning the entire color spectrum. Not only did I want to acquire them as collectables, I also had this conviction that the better and more expensive cleats I bought, the better player I could become. Clearly, this proved to be a true placebo affect, but it was a positive feeling and belief that others shared as well, and thus demonstrated potential for monetization: offer people the cleats they want at a price they can afford.
This led to the research phase of my first endeavor. I knew I needed to select a target audience, identify suppliers, and then locate their middlemen. In 2011, I spent about two months trying to figure this out. The first one was easy — it was anyone that played soccer. Originally, I thought to solely focus on those coming from a higher wealth class, and then pivot from there if necessary. The goal was simple: maximize profit, first by sales price, then by sales volume. Through research and many conversations, I learned how to pinpoint the best price-point through an ingenious economic strategy (I thought) I created: price discrimination or first-degree price differentiation. What this translated to is “sell the same product to different people at the most they are willing to pay.” Regardless, with this feat at age 13, I was pretty proud of myself.
The second of the three tasks was where I spent most of my time, until I finally met a woman named Tina who worked at a distribution center at a company called Alibaba, and I was extremely skeptical. Nevertheless, I asked my mother for an initial investment slash loan, because I was not 100% convinced my plan would work, and at 13 did not have much to gamble. I told her if it worked out, I would give her a 100% return, and if not, it would be next year’s birthday present. So I spent days of back and forth communication with good old Tina, vetting everything I saw fit. Then I decided now that with the seed funding I raised, that is less than $100 from my mother, but a fortune to someone at that age, I would commit my first purchase. Days turned into weeks, but low and behold, the first pair came.
My campaign began: I posted all over social media, I messaged my entire network of soccer friends and received tons of inquires. Order after order, I learned more and more about the customers, and more and more about how I could squeeze further Tina. She started to throw in gifts, give deals, and incentivize me with bulk orders. The more we transacted, the more trust we built, which was very important. Word was spreading fast, and I needed to order surplus inventory because I couldn’t keep up with demand. This forecasting was very difficult and I had to conduct analysis of what I ordered, what was popular, size, color, shape, etc. I learned a lot here about trend analysis, but also how to convince people of trends they didn’t realize. Sometimes I would have rather taken a smaller profit margin on a sale to speed up inventory turnover instead of order more.
Eventually sales slowed because I was running out of customers and refused to pay for inorganic advertising, so I tried to figure out how to move forward. Either people already bought cleats, had enough cleats, or did not have enough money to buy more. I found a way to pivot: I looked into profiting on trading, refurbishing, and recycling. I reached out to all the potential reluctant buyers and exhausted all of the possible trades I could make. Trading helped me acquire rare cleats or worn cleats which I was able to refurbish and resell or recycle. I even kept some rare ones on my own. But I hit the same road block and once again ran out of customers.
I turned back to social media and got in a very small group called “Buying, selling and trading cleats” on Facebook, and that is exactly what we did. The incentive was to expand the group: the more people in the group, the more possibilities of exchanges of any sort. It grew and grew as I invited more people, eventually to a few thousand. I even gave people discounts for adding all of their known soccer peers.
[added below paragraphs]
I actually met a friend on that Facebook page who would later become a business partner, so to speak. We connected over a pair of special edition mercurial vapors. The issue was he lived in New York and only had means for a cash transaction. It was 8th grade, and fortunately in the next two weeks we were going to New York for a day trip. I sat at the back of the bus with my bag of cleats, “ready to make the drop.” One by one we got off and were accounted for, so they thought. I veered off into an alley, made the trade, and the trust was established.
We tried to create a formalized website later called “Second Leg Soccer,” kind of like second hand, so hopefully you get the idea. It really didn’t go anywhere, at all in fact. But it was a fun go at web design and setting up my first official partnership / business.
All went well for a while, but I eventually I got busy with school. I was able to walk away with a vast set of valuable learning experiences and life lessons about marketing, supply chain management, economics, and negotiations, among many others. I hope you enjoyed my business experience afforded to me through soccer and I hope you get to read my next article about my other experiences while actually playing!