We had the good fortune of connecting with Joel Gandara and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Joel, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born in the Caribbean island of Cuba. Cuba has been under Communist control since 1959. Opportunities for succeeding are limited to the family and close friends of whomever is in power (for nearly 60 years it was the Castros) and now a new dictator has been put in place. The masses are kept quiet and powerless without hope of a better future. Upon coming to the United States in 1980, as a 4 year old boy, my life jumped to a new trajectory. While the first years were very difficult, my family slowly worked their way out of poverty (a typical starting point for immigrants) and bought a house, paid it off and kept going. Every single day I am grateful for being in the United States and the opportunities that are all around us to succeed, accomplish our potential and be free. As a kid growing up in my new country, I always new that I had to make it. I was here for a reason. Til this day, I’m 45 years old now, and have been here 40 years, I have just one physical memento from Cuba. It’s the T-shirt I wore on that scary boat trip to freedom. That shirt is very small, because I was, but I see it hanging in my closet every single day and it reminds me every morning to make each day count. I’m here for a reason. Here’s more about me: https://www.joelgandara.com/about
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My first entrepreneurial adventures began in the 4th grade and they never stopped. While the products and the scale has changed tremendously from the elementary school yard, the idea was the same: Sell, build and do something special. What got me to where I’m at today was my drive and persistence. Notice I didn’t say intellect, pedigree, talent and certainly it was not good looks. It was simply working very hard and not quitting. I always felt like someone was coming to take my lunch so I needed to outwork everyone around me. Whether it was true or just a figment of my imagination, I wouldn’t change it because it worked. Nothing was easy, in fact, when I look back at the struggles I had, I wonder if I could do it all again. I hope to not have to go through the sacrifices again because they made for a very difficult few decades. I’ve benefited from many lessons in business and in life and I continue to learn more every day. Some of the most important things I’ve learned is to be action-oriented. I know many people who talk a lot about what they’re going to accomplish, but never seem to get it done. Their number one mistake is not starting. I’m all about giving it a shot and win or lose at least I know that I tried. What might keep us from trying is often that we find the whole endeavor overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Take small steps to get to your final destination. At 39 years old I took myself out of the day-to-day of my businesses. My businesses were and still are ecommerce apparel websites and a fulfillment center. Once I got out of the day-t0-day, I was free to focus on my real passion, which is helping people. Since the people I most know and understand are entrepreneurs, I began coaching them. These are real deal, successful entrepreneurs and you may wonder why they need a coach, but just remember that the best athletes in the world have coaches and they sharpen their skills when they’re encouraged and held accountable.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
When I was 24 years old I moved to Miami, from San Francisco and though it’s been 20 years now, every day I’m grateful to have moved 3,000 miles away from where I grew up to live in an amazing area. If you joined me for a week in South Florida, I’d take you to many places, but let’s start at the southern most point in the U.S.: Key West. Key West is known mostly for nightlife and bars and while I don’t stay out till the wee hours or drink for that matter, Key West is a fun place to take friends, even if just for a 2 day/1 night trip. There’s jet skiing, snorkeling, kayaking and so much more that can be packed into a fun 2 day trip in Key West. From Key West, we’d drive up the 1 and hit one of the most different and exciting cities in the country: Miami. Miami has so many unique locations that make you feel like you’re in another country. Little Havana is one of my favorite spots in South Florida. As you walk down the famous Calle 8 (Southwest 8th Street), you’ll take in more salsa music and smell of sweet Cuban coffee than the senses can take. From Little Havana, we’d go east a few blocks to Miami’s Downtown and Brickell Area, where you’ll find some of the nicest restaurants in the city. Brickell in the 20 years I’ve lived here has been transforming itself into a real metropolitan area, with skyscrapers, the Adrienne Arscht Center for Performing Arts and so many countless venues for world-class performances. A little further east, we’ll take the MacArthur Causeway over to Miami Beach, passing by beautiful homes of celebrities on one side in Star Island and the beautiful Port of Miami with all its luxurious cruise ships on the other side. Once in South Beach you’ll take in some of what made me want to move to MIami when I first visited at 21 years old: Art Deco architecture, the beautiful people and the clear and warm water of South Florida’s beaches. South Beach is only the southern part of Miami Beach and it’s the most famous, but personally I like going up some 30-40 blocks north where it’s still Miami Beach, but a little bit more laid back. Miami-Dade County has a lot more to offer than what I’ve touched on above, but if we limited the trip to just a few points, I’d have to include Ft. Lauderdale Beach, which is a bit more family-oriented than South Beach and equally as attractive.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Today there seem to be so many incubators, accelerators and other institutions built to help entrepreneurs launch their businesses and thrive. Unfortunately I didn’t have that growing up. In fact, when I was young, the word Entrepreneur wasn’t as common as it is today. I have a few people who I did quietly observe from the outside and saw them hustle and I could say that this paved the way for me to look for opportunities. My uncle Jorge Gandara was a full-time mailman, but on his days off he would go to garage sales and buy anything that he could flip. He has a great eye for this and has been a regular at the flea markets in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 4 decades now. It’s from my uncle that I learned to look for opportunities then give the market what they’re searching for. These principles are how I built my first few businesses.