My Entrepreneurial Ecuadorian
By Steve Gillman - November 2013
When I met my wife Ana in Quito, Ecuador, almost thirteen
years ago, I didn't know that she had been such a entrepreneur
as a child. Of course, over the years of our marriage I heard
many of the stories. I also saw that her grandmother was an influence,
since she was always looking to lend money to make interest,
or to build another rental home. Then one night, while working
on this website, I asked Ana to list the ways she had made money,
starting with what she did as a child in Ecuador. Some are unusual,
and others might suggest some usable ideas for entrepreneurial
individuals here in the states.
Ana's First Business
Ana tells me that when she was 8 years old she had a collection
of comic books. Most of the kids where she lived could not afford
to buy them, even second-hand, so selling the comic books was
not really a viable option. However, the children did have enough
money to rent the comic books. Ana rented them out for a day,
perhaps making more than she could have by selling them in any
case. This was Ana's first business. Here are some of the others
she and her grandparents had.
Ana and her grandfather used to stand at the gate of a factory
that was near their house and sell sandwiches to the workers
when they took their breaks. They made the sandwiches themselves,
of course, and she tells me that sales were brisk at times.
They also sold homemade ice cream, popsicles and Coca Cola
out of their house when they lived in Guayaquil. They happened
to be living next to a school, so they had a good market. They
made a sign and put it on the front of the house to let the kids
know what was available. You can do that sort of thing in Ecuador
without the permits and other regulations you would face here.
Ana's grandmother read tarot cards for people, and sold "blessed"
perfume. Ana helped her with the bottling and selling of "magic
water" as well. By the time Ana was in her teens, she helped
her grandmother sell typed prayers that were then read by customers
repeatedly for good luck. Expanding into related niches, her
grandmother also did séances in the house.
Ana did help her grandmother with some more ordinary services
as well. For example, they did sewing and hair cutting. I happen
to know that her grandmother gives an excellent haircut, even
now that she is over 80 years old, since she has cut my hair
four times now. By the way, did I mention that Ana's grandmother
was, until recently (and maybe still), a loan shark? She collects
as much as 10% monthly on her loans.
Being a very intelligent girl, it is no surprise that Ana
sold her homework services to other students when she was a teenager.
Being very smart, it also is not too surprising that she was
Love Letter Service
Teenagers who wanted to impress someone they had a crush on,
but who didn't know what to say, could come to Ana. She would
prepare a personalized love letter for them. Naturally they could
then pass it off as their own.
Along with love letters, students and friends could hire Ana
to write poems for them or for their loved ones. Ana kept up
this practice, and later became a famous poet in Ecuador. She
has published several books since coming to the United States.
Although jobs are not as entrepreneurial, Ana had a few interesting
ones along the way. She has worked as a journalist and a character
voice on a radio show. She also has been a teacher at various
schools and colleges.
When I met Ana in Quito she was giving Spanish lessons to
tourists who were staying at a hostel. The owner of the place
kept half of the payment for arranging the lessons. I had only
a lesson or two with her before I decided I would love to be
tutored by her for life. We kept in touch, and less than a year
later we were married.
Doing Business in the States
Ana tolerated the renters in our home when we were first married,
and went along with other ventures that I got into. We even spent
a summer driving around in our van trying to make money at flea
markets -- but that's a story in itself. Ana gave Spanish lessons
in a carpeted shed in the yard when we lived in Michigan. Here
are a couple more items to add to her business resume...
In our internet business Ana was always the technical expert.
She's much better than me at figuring out software and the rest
of the technical side of things. She designed our sites and is
still sometimes interrupted by me when something needs to be
downloaded and installed, or book covers need to be made.
Although Ana is no longer working actively in our internet
business, the self-improvement site (in Spanish) that she created
years ago, www.tusuperacionpersonal.com, still produces a nice
chunk of monthly income.
Ana, in addition to being the love of my life, is very unique,
but I think I can also risk the generalization that Ecuadorians
tend to be very entrepreneurial. It's fun to ride a bus in Ecuador
and watch vendors move up and down the aisles selling everything
from jewelry to ice cream to magazines. It's nice to go to the
beach and have people bring chairs to you for rent, while others
bring beer to drink or peanuts to eat. See the page on our travel
site about our
trip to the beach in Salinas for more about all the beach
businesses. Now that credit is easier to obtain in Ecuador (car
loans, home mortgages, and loans in general have become much
more common in the last ten years), I suspect the economy will
do well as all of that entrepreneurial energy is put to work
on a larger scale.