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My Side Hustle Story: From Dining Hall Worker to Online Entrepreneur

By Alejandra Carriazo

September 18, 2018

It was nearing the end of another 5-hour shift at the dining hall, and the clock ticked eleven. I stood polishing up the last of the fine silverware from one of our house dinners, making conversation with one of my coworkers about our papers due the next day. With sleepy smiles and goodbyes we hung up our hats, closed up shop, and walked back to our apartments. I liked my coworkers and I knew my work was valuable, but as I dragged my tired feet along under the midnight sky and rubbed my aching shoulders, I wondered somewhere if there was something more stimulating (and less exhausting) I could do as a part time job.

I stifled this hope for a while – pickings were slim, and what could I do as a college sophomore with no experience except minimum wage work? But one day after another long shift, as I noted some store returns I had to make at a faraway mall, I thought: “I know a lot about clothes. What if I can sell this is at a profit?”

So I made a bet with myself: I’m going to sell these clothes I bought on sale for a bit of profit. If I do, my entrepreneurial dream has a chance.

Within a week I had found buyers for all of the things I had purchased, and what’s more, I made more in profit than I would have in that week’s shift of work. This work was fun, less tiring, and exciting, and I found myself thinking about potential investments while serving food the next week, eager for the next challenge.

For the next few months, I experimented with selling different clothing brands, and got a feel for the markets by talking to buyers on different selling platforms (Poshmark, Mercari, Depop, eBay and Vinted), learning about each selling platform’s buying audience, and tracking selling trends online. I set up an Excel spreadsheet to calculate my profit margins and the time it took to time to sell each item, and slowly,  I was learning. I zeroed in on a few brands that I knew a lot about – Anthropologie, Free People, and Wildfox – and cycled some others in and out.

Most importantly, I spent the time to handwrite thank you cards and package all my sales in neat, pretty wrapping paper. I shipped within a day and maintained prompt communication. After all, my customers were the heart of everything, and I wanted to show my appreciation and love for them.

And they appreciated me back – before long, I was making my salary for a month at the dining hall in a third of the time.

One fateful night about three months into my new venture, I woke up at about 4am and couldn’t sleep. Half-awake, I checked the sites I frequented for buying on my phone, and saw it: a rare printed hoodie in pristine condition everyone had been looking for on Poshmark from a 2011 limited edition collection, that someone had priced for $30. I bought it immediately – I knew this was going to be big.

And I was right. When it finally arrived neatly packaged to my dorm room, I spent half an hour taking pictures to get just the right lighting, and posted it excitedly. No one had sold this in recent history, so I thought, “I’m going to put some outrageous price on this just to see how people respond.” I priced it for $300. No one would buy it for that price. I would accept my best offer.

Or so I thought.

Four hours after I posted it, I was leaving a class and my phone vibrated. It had just sold for $300.

I stood there for a moment, struggling to process that not only I had just sold an item for ten times more than what I paid for it, but that I had made more than my month’s salary – a month of long, achy night shifts – in the half hour it had taken me to buy and post something.

It was decided. I gave in my two weeks’ notice to the dining hall manager when I came in for my next shift and decided to focus more on my side hustle. Over the next year, I played around with different styles and brands and scaled up my buying – at one point, I had 1,000 items listed online and was shipping out about 10 items a week.

I’m no Sophia Amoruso, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes – buying unpopular items that end up sitting, unclaimed and lonely, in a storage box – but I also had a lot of successes that kept me pushing forward. To date, I’ve made about $15,000 in aggregate income, and about half of that is profit. Not bad for a few hours a week.

The autonomy of running and managing my own online shop, even if it was just a side hustle, was incredibly liberating and exciting. I still sell on a low-key basis (I’ve mostly stopped to focus more on school and my summer internships), and still, two and a half years in, I’m learning more every day about how to sell, how to communicate with customers, and how to balance profits and expenses.

The best part? It was so much fun! I love clothes – you’d be hard pressed to find someone who loves them more than I do. I used to think that was a vice, but I’ve turned it into an asset. Anyone with a niche amount of knowledge has knowledge that can set them apart from others, and this creates value.

Do you know a lot about video games? Trading cards? Sneakers? Vinyl records? Chances are you know more than the next person, and if you want to you can turn any knowledge you thought was useless trivia into profit. You just have to learn to see it.

I’m Alejandra Carriazo, a History major at Cornell University set to graduate in the spring of 2019. My dream job would definitely be working in creative marketing and e-commerce in a company where I’m able to experiment with a lot of different projects!

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