The stats: 21 years old; graduated from Simon Fraser University with an undergrad degree in Economics in December 2010; currently doing pre-MBA through SFU. Representing Canada at the 2011 Global Student Entrepeneur Awards; 2011 Student Entrepreneur Regional Champion; runs online medical bookstore from Canada that distributes in Mexico.
Can you tell me about what inspired you to launch librerialeo.com.mx?
When I finished my high school degree in Lower Vancouver in 2007, I went back to Mexico City for the summer. I decided I wanted to make some money, so I bought a coffee machine and starting selling drinks in the subway. But because it was summer and so hot outside, nobody was interested. There was a medical bookstore nearby, and my family has been in the book selling business for about 100 years so we knew the owners. As a favour, they let me sell coffee in their air conditioned store. I listened to the conversations around me, and learned that people from small towns all over Mexico had to travel long distances just to buy medical books in city centers. When I got back to Canada, I had the idea to start selling them in a way that was more accessible to people in rural communities ' the thing was, that I was in Canada.
How did you overcome such a challenge to become so successful?
First of all, I don't think we're successful yet. It's not yet what I want it to be; I want to make the business international. In a way, the challenge of not being able to see everything for myself has become a strength. I had to plan and develop processes to monitor and ensure really great customer service, especially because many people in Mexico don't trust buying online. I think I put systems in place that I wouldn't have developed had I not been in Canada. Presently, we are applying our expansion to other parts of Latin America, but shipping can be another challenge because many of these villages don't have names or addresses. They're not like small towns in Canada.
Until December, you were a full time student. How were you able to manage your time?
It was a lot to balance. Once during exams our site got hacked, and it was really terrible. I hardly slept for three days trying to fix it, and my marks suffered. Now, I know my schedule and everything is in place. I wake up at 6 AM and go to the gym for two hours. Then I go to work until 5 PM, where I do marketing for a company and am also chatting online with the engineers in Mexico. When I come home, I study my online courses for two hours, eat dinner, and go to sleep.
Did you ever consider leaving school to work on librerialeo.com.mx full time?
I love my business, but my main goal is to get Canadian citizenship. Long-term, we plan to sell it because I think there are people who could use it in a better way than we can. My degree is important to me because it allowed me to stay in Canada; if I had left school, I would have had to leave the country. I have been here for almost 7 years and I feel like a Canadian, but legally I am not. Even now, I have this office job so that I can stay here.
Despite your love for Canada, is it still meaningful for you to be working in your birth country?
Yes. I like to think that I am making a change there, from the point of view of both my users and my employees. We offer things that are standards here, but not in Mexico. I am interested in people who have goals, and we treat our employees very fairly, beyond what the law demands, and help them to develop. I want them to be successful people, even after they leave. Also, I think we are helping the medical community to have better tools and greater access to information and equipment.
Any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Persistence is key. If you have something people want, you're going to do well. If you have something people need, you're going to do better. I had the idea for this company in 2008, but we didn't make any sales for over a year. We were patient, we were persistent, and it worked. ÔÇ¿