Interviewed by Jenny Ye, a Shoemaker Scholar
Name: Jorge Obeso
Product/Service: Upparel, Inc (Co-Founder)
What is your story?
Born in Miami, FL to immigrant parents, my entire life has consisted of finding nontraditional, alternative ways to solve complex problems ingraining an innate penchant for creating something from nothing. This realization came early on, growing up in a scarce household I underwent different conflicts than most. Understanding this at a young age not only forced me to mature early on, but it allowed me to maximize my opportunities and leverage the challenges of my upbringing as assets of my own. At the age of 8 I opened an eBay account under my mother’s name to resell rare plush toys and playing cards. I continued this until my teens when I began buying and reselling coveted sneakers. During this same time I self-taught myself web design and at age 13 I started a full suite digital marketing and creative agency called Gradual Designs. It wasn’t until the end of high school as I explored options for college, where I connected the parallels of my past and truly apprehended my passion for business and entrepreneurship. I sought to find a school where I could focus my attention/studies on growing my entrepreneurial skills to become a better leader and operator. While attending Indiana University I’ve been able to leverage my opportunities as a student to promote diversity, inclusiveness, community, civic leadership and innovation through forms of cross-campus collaboration, mentorship and the fruition of my company, Upparel.
What is your typical beverage if you were to walk into a cafe?
Whenever the opportunity presents itself my beverage of choice is Mate, an Argentinian tea-like drink made from yerba mate leaves. It’s quickly become a daily ritual of mine to start my day with a cup of mate due to its countless properties, cognitive and health benefits stemming from the tea’s concentration of antioxidants and nutrients.
What entrepreneurial or innovative business or project are you currently working on?
The majority of my time is spent operating Upparel, a company I co-founded my sophomore year of college. Upparel is an enterprise solution streamlining communication between organizations, Fortune 500 corporations and suppliers with a focus on securing brand alignment and vendor consolidation. Our platform services both corporates and suppliers, allowing them to create a dynamic-centralized marketplace through a series of automated systems and process flows which will leverage AI to suggest predictive analytics for expected ROI on marketing/procurement spend and inventory management for suppliers. Beyond my day to day activities growing Upparel, I also do part time consulting for portfolio companies part of Loeb.nyc’s venture collective and try my best to provide guidance for others in our startup community on campus.
How did you get here? What were some of your entrepreneurial and innovative highlights?
I think one of the greatest justifications that has been attributed to my entrepreneurial accomplishments has been my ability to make the conceptual practical, allowing me to create innovative solutions to complex problems and thrive through adversity. In this capacity, I’ve worked daily to bootstrap Upparel from a traditional custom apparel company focused on collegiate Greek Life to a technology platform yielding over $300,000 in revenue working with companies like Tesla, LinkedIn and Lockheed Martin. With little to industry experience or connections when starting off, I’ve learned the importance of grit, discipline and work ethic to get to the point we are today. These experiences have taught me to think in systems which has granted me a unique perspective on the way I view business.
Could you elaborate on the work you have done for Upparel?
Since the inception of Upparel, my co-founder and I have placed a large focus on customer discovery and optimizing internal processes which has allowed us to scale rapidly and stay nimble throughout our journey. After making our first trip blindly to Mexico in the summer of 2018, we’ve successfully aggregated a global supply chain of over 25 suppliers and have been responsible for all facets of contract development, including analysis, negotiation, and closeout. Throughout the progression of the company, we have leveraged Lean Six Sigma methodologies to reduce costs for Upparel and maintain an average cost savings of 30% for our corporate partner’s marketing budgets. Daily activities include overseeing end-to-end business operations such as customer growth and retention, marketing, sales, and distribution of merchandise.
What has been the most useful entrepreneurial resource or experience at the university?
Both the Shoemaker Innovation Center and the Shoemaker Scholars have made a profound impact on not only my business, but also entrepreneurship on campus in general. I am sincerely grateful to have been a part of both organizations during my time at Indiana University, and am especially appreciative of the faculty and community that has enabled students to make utmost use of these resources – putting the thoughts of students first above all else.
What has been the most useful entrepreneurial resource or experience outside the University? Mentorship. Upparel and I wouldn’t be in the position we are today without the constant mentorship and guidance from the incredible people I’ve run into over the last 3 years. Words cannot describe how thankful I am to have been fortunate enough to learn from successful entrepreneurs during my internship last summer – the amount of knowledge and continued support I’ve received from Loeb.nyc has been truly invaluable.
To those looking for mentors, the best piece of advice I can give is to put yourself out there, take initiative and just ask. Whether it be through cold email, networking events, your job or at school, regardless of your background or existing network, people are always open to offering guidance to those who are hungry for it.
What was your favorite failure or learning experience?
During my sophomore year, in an attempt to diversify my income I began trading. Over the course of that year, I grew the portfolio by as much as 2,000%. By the time I exited, that number contracted to 800%, and I was frustrated to have let greed get the best of me rather than capturing profits as they were achieved. It was an expensive lesson, but it’s hard to assign a dollar value to learning about the importance of patience. It’s not about what you make, it’s about what you keep.
What is the best advice you’ve received as an entrepreneur?
Not too long ago a mentor told me to live life being fearless, but constantly scared. Be fearless in the sense that you should live life being open to conquering new opportunities, but constantly scared where you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. When you’re scared, you’re always learning and whether you fail or succeed in your endeavors, be fearless and try again because that’s how you’ll learn the most.
Are you open to connecting with other students if they are interested? Where can people find
you? Most Definitely, always happy to help. I have a strong conviction in the concept of paying it forward and personally believe it ignites the true spirit of entrepreneurship. If anyone wants to reach me feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org