Ask Oscar Rodriguez about the dot-com burst and he may grin at you as if to say, “What burst?” Rodriguez, a 38- years-old entrepreneur, owns an Internet business that sells loose diamond to various buyers. Business is booming for Rodriguez, In 2004, he has sales of $2.06 million-a 140 percent increase from 2003. Rodriguez’s database of almost 60000 diamonds is one of the largest and is valued, according to Rodriguez, at over $350 million. Needless to say, Oscar Rodriguez is optimistic about his business venture.
The future wasn’t always so bright for Rodriguez, however. In 1985, Rodriguez moved from his country, Puerto Rico, to Gainesville, Florida, with little ability to speak English. There, he attended community college and worked at the local mall to support himself. After graduation, his roommate’s girlfriend suggested that he work at a local jeweler. “I thought she was crazy. I didn’t know anything about jewelry,” says Rodriguez, who took her advice. Though he worked hard and received his Diamonds and Diamonds Grading certification from the Gemological institute of America, he wasn’t satisfied with this progress. “I quickly realized that working there; I was just going to get a salary with a raise here and there. I would never become anything. That drove me to explore other business ventures. I also came to really know diamonds-their pricing and their quality.”
In 1997, tired of working for someone else, Rodriguez decided to open his own jewelry store. However, business didn’t boom. “Some of my customers were telling me they could find diamonds for less on the Internet. It blew my mind.” Rodriguez recognized an opportunity and began contacting well-known diamond dealers to see if they would be interested in selling their gems online. Roriguez recalls one conversation with a prominent dealer who told him, “You cannot sell diamonds on the Internet. You will not survive.” Discouraged, Rodriguez then says that he made a mistake. “I stopped working on it. If you have a dream, you have to keep working harder at it.”
A year later, Rodriguez did work harder at his dream and found a dealer who agreed to provide him with some diamonds. Says Rodriguez, “Once I had one, I could approach others. Business started to build. The first three months I sold $200,000 worth of diamonds right off the bat. And that was just me. I started to add employees and eventually closed the jewelry store and got out of retail.”Although Rodriquez does have some diamonds in inventory, he primarily acts as a connection point between buyers and suppliers, giving his customers an extraordinary selection from which to choose.
Rodriguez is now a savvy entrepreneur, and his company, Abazias.com, went public in October 2003. Why is Rodriguez successful? Just ask two people who have known Rodriguez over the years. Gary Schneider, a realtor who helped build Rodriguez’s building, says, “Oscar is a very ambitious young man. I am not surprised at all how successful he is. He is an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word.” One of Rodriguez’s former real-estate instructors, Howard Freeman, concurs. “I am not surprised at all at his success,” says Freeman. “Oscar has always been an extremely motivated individual with a lot of resources. He has a wonderful personality and pays close attention to detail. He also has an ability to stick to things. You could tell from beginning that he was going to persevere, and I am proud of him.”
Rodriguez is keeping his success in perspective, but he also realizes his business’ potential: “I take a very small salary, and our overhead is $250,000 a year. I am not in debt, and the business is breaking even. I care about the company. I want to keep everything even until we take off, and then it may be another ball game.”