Struggles prompt Mendez-Rodriquez to launch company that celebrates unrest | Nebraska today
Editor’s Note – This is part of a weekly series of student conversations highlighted as part of Hispanic Heritage Month at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Average page. The series will feature students making an impact on campus and beyond. This week, we chat with Edwin Mendez-Rodriguez, a business management student from Grand Island. After helping his family work hard to overcome difficulties, he started his own business that celebrates the turmoil.
Have you always been interested in entrepreneurship?
Growing up, I always had big dreams. I wanted to be an architect since the second year. Something about buildings and architecture surprised me when I was a child. He still does to this day. My family and I went through some difficulties when I was in college. It’s something that changed my perspective on life, and it’s something that made me grow up quickly.
Coming out of the situation, I just felt like there was something bigger and better I could do to make sure something like this didn’t happen to my family again. Not just my family; I didn’t want anyone to go through such circumstances. Around the eighth grade, I fell into the business world. Something about building something from nothing really amused me. From that moment, I knew I wanted to start a business. Around the start of my senior year in high school, I felt like I could just start something now. In my head, I was like “Why wait? I had almost no money, but neither did a lot of entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. Some people have said, “Well, you haven’t finished school. I thought it was good. I can learn as I go, and if I fail, well, I learn setbacks and move on. I started at 5 a.m. Hustle at the start of my senior year of high school. I have been working there ever since.
You said that the challenges you encountered when you were younger were instrumental in inspiring you to start your business. Can you talk about it a bit more?
Yes, I come from a working class family. My parents are first generation Americans. My dad was born in Texas, but he grew up in Mexico most of his life. My mother was born and raised in Mexico. In the late 1990s they moved to Nebraska and I grew up on Grand Island. They knew little English. Spanish is my mother tongue, and to this day that’s what we speak in my house. I like to tell people that I learned Spanish and baseball before I even knew a word of English. My parents worked in a meat processing factory. It was factory work, long hours. They did everything to support me and, later, my younger brother. They never complained about work or life and always told me to work hard for whatever I wanted.
We have had a great life on Grand Island. When I was in sixth grade, my mother was injured at work and she was out of work for a while. During this time, I must have grown up very quickly. My dad was at work most of the day, working overtime to make ends meet. My mom had pain in bed and had trouble getting up on some days. I cycled to school or had family members ride me. During the day I would check on my mom, make sure she was okay and give her everything she needed. I couldn’t cook, so my brother and I ate whatever we could find. Most of the time it was just cereal. Finally, we were too late on the invoices. We lost our house and had to sell a lot of our belongings. It was a difficult time for my family. We lived in (Grand Island) for a few more years, but eventually decided to move to Lincoln. To this day, we still struggle sometimes. But we are much better off than we have ever been. The sad thing is that it took us about eight years to get back to this point.
Where did the idea for 5am: Hustle come from? What is the mission of your company?
In eighth grade, I promised my dad that when I started a business, I would give it his name. (The name) 5am is the time my dad has to be at work. He works insulation pipes, which is basically construction work. The excitement part comes from what he did and what he continues to do for us to this day. In high school, I discovered sneakers and streetwear. It was crazy to me that shoes and clothes were something people really wanted and were willing to pay an excessive amount of money for. Having no money to buy these products, I looked for alternatives that I could sell. I found some sneaker key chains and used my $ 10 to buy as many as I could. It was the start of 5 a.m.: Hustle.
You started the business with $ 10 and there were months where you suffered losses. What has running your own business taught you about patience and persistence?
Yes, I created a website because it felt like it would make me look more professional. It took me about a year to get my first order online. Before that, all of my sales were by word of mouth. I like to say that you have to keep working on what you want and that you have to be passionate about it. Eventually, everything will start to come. People think that starting a business is posting stuff on social media or a website and then sitting down and watching the money come in. It is not, believe me. Patience is the key, and it is something that you should try to have not only in business but in life. It is certainly something that I think is very important.
What do you hope to accomplish in life?
I just want to accomplish and accomplish my personal goals and be happy. I want to make sure my family is okay. I also want to help people and families in need. I want to have some kind of impact on people’s lives for the better. I am not someone who needs something in return; I’m just happy to know that I did something that could have made someone’s day.
What or what inspires and motivates you?
My family. Being Hispanic / Latin we are told that family is everything, and they help me be a better person every day.
What advice do you have for other Huskers looking to start a business?
Do it. It is certainly a scary thing. You ask yourself: how will people see me? Where will I get the money from? What if I fail? I had these same thoughts in my mind when I was 17. We are still young. If we’re wrong, be sure to learn from it and move on. Setbacks are a part of life, and they are a part of business. These days, starting a business is as easy as starting an Instagram account and selling by word of mouth. You don’t always have to start big. Make sure, whatever you do, that it’s something you’re passionate about. Always remember where you came from and where you want to go.