I realized early in life that following the conventional path was not something I was interested in. From a young age, I taught myself skills that most people will never learn, excelled at a sport that most people know very little about, and quit a great corporate job to move to the Philippines and build non-traditional businesses. I believe in learning by doing, and I am excited to learn something new every day in the process of building Alpha Rock Capital.
A Childhood of Technological Curiosity and Cycling
I was born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida. When I was seven, my father brought home three broken computers from work that he wanted to fix. One day, I was bored and decided to completely disassemble them and make a mess of our guest room. My parents told me it was my responsibility to fix them, so I hopped on our working family computer and went to Google to figure out what the heck I was doing and within a couple of hours I had them put back together. I then proceeded to tear them down again, selected the best parts from each (checking for compatibility along the way), and built myself the best computer I could.
This experience ignited my natural curiosity and I became obsessed with the world of technology. I began teaching myself networking in order to get my new (new to me, at least) computer on the Internet and to optimize my connection speed to give me the edge in games. In the next year, I built my own server with the leftover parts and have maintained my own server ever since, culminating with my current octa-core 38TB dual-parity build that spends its spare computing power running protein folding simulations for Stanford’s distributed computing project that helps in the fight against diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
At the age of eight, my father introduced me to the world of road cycling, which became an obsession for the next decade of my life. I started doing a monthly police escorted ride, which was about 20 miles, with him and our local bicycle shop on my 24” mountain bike, which I could barely finish at the time. While it was mostly a leisurely ride, at some points the police would open it up and let everyone go as fast as they could. The owner of the shop was a former local racer and I did my best to keep up with him, which lit the competitive spirit inside me.
For the next few years, I rode 2-3 times per week with a local club of older and novice riders, doing 30-60 miles each ride. When I was 14, I met a local junior racer that convinced me to compete in local races, which took my love of the sport to a much higher level.
My Competitive Cycling Years
For two years, I was one of the top-ranked junior racers in Florida. We traveled around the southeast US and competed in national races several times. Most seasons, I raced more than 50 times, sometimes more than 4 races in a weekend, while maintaining near-perfect grades in my high school’s International Baccalaureate program, which effectively let me finish my first 2 years of college classes during high school.
I was fully committed to competitive racing for the first two years of college at the University of Florida. I joined my university’s cycling team and we won the Southeast regional championship the first year, which was quite the feat as some of the other schools focused on producing professional racers. We competed at Nationals and took home a modest 8th place in the overall team race.
The next year, I became the treasurer of the cycling team, and my friend Anthony became the president. He would play a huge role later in my life of convincing me to quit my corporate job and move to the Philippines, but more on that later.
An accident during a race in my second year of college saw the end of my racing career. I was forced into a curb at about 30 miles per hour, leading to a broken femur, broken arm, and a torn medial collateral ligament. I was training 20 hours per week to get back into racing shape, and this was far from my first crash (I had been hit by a car before), but when a close friend was hit by a car and almost died, I realized how dangerous this sport truly was and decided to take a big step back from cycling.
Investing My Way Through College
One could think that leaving my racing career behind, I would have focused on college, but that was not the case. Most of the basic business courses were online and I thought the idea of paying for information that was free online and usually taught better on YouTube was, quite frankly, a joke.
I began day-trading stocks and oil derivatives halfway through my second year of college, so I wasn’t really studying. I did quite well, even for a bull market, as my worst year saw a 28% gain. There were, of course, some times where I recall losing multiple months of rent in a single day, though I only ever risked my profit, not my principal.
When I got to upper-level classes, I became friends with my Equity professor because I actually understood how the stock market worked in practice, eventually getting 108% in the class (I missed one bonus question) without studying, and attempting to help him with some research.
Having taken two years’ worth of credits in high school and not wanting to graduate too early, I decided to get a second Bachelor’s degree in Economics. The Economics degree was a bit more complicated and mathematically intensive, but I enjoyed it much more than Finance, especially when introduced to upper-level game theory.
But of course, at my age, it wasn’t all about the financial markets and code. I lived in a big apartment with a bunch of friends and we threw parties constantly. I had specced-out our place with RGB-lights and huge speakers that would help set the right mood for any party’s theme.
It may have been the morning after one of these parties that one of my roommates told me he wanted to study abroad. He had already done an exchange over the previous summer, and this time he wanted to attend Bocconi University, a university in Milan, Italy with a spectacular reputation for economics, business, and finance.
I had never been abroad in my life, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to do my last semester of college. I did some calculations and figured out how to have this exchange cost exactly what I was paying at the University of Florida, which was not much when including the scholarships I was receiving.
My parents were very supportive (especially at almost no cost to them) and I was set to use my passport for the first time, moving to Italy for my last six months of school. It was a time of change for me and a time to challenge my ideas of what the future may bring. I had already done my first internship and it had proved to me that corporate life was exceedingly boring. I needed to figure out what I wanted to do.
My graduation was closing in and, while I was abroad, I applied for all sorts of jobs. My criteria was that I wanted to be in the technology sector and to do something business-related; but other than that, I had no other expectations. I was offered a position in IBM’s business consulting division, waiting for my return from Italy.
Once I accepted the job, my focus drifted away from my studies abroad and I decided I wanted to see as much of Europe as possible in my remaining 4 months. I would get on a plane pretty much every weekend and managed to visit 15 different countries in that time.
It was a fun and eye-opening experience. There were differences between the countries, especially when it came to food, but it was also revealing to see how similar all the cultures were to what I already knew. It gave me the confidence to realize that I could live anywhere I wanted, not just at home in the USA.
My Corporate Attempt with IBM
I was incredibly excited about joining IBM in New York City, as I figured that helping companies implement some of the newest technologies to help their businesses sounded like a perfect job for me. There I was, with the best corporate job that someone fresh out of college could imagine, making good money, in one of the best cities in the world. It was all that I felt I should have wanted, but as the months wore on, I was far removed from actually feeling fulfilled.
I lived and worked in Manhattan whenever I didn’t have a client, but most of the time, I would wake up Monday around 4 am, go to the airport, fly for several hours, just to start working around noon, feeling exhausted already. We would work in a windowless conference room, only watching time tick by on the clock on our computer screens, doing work for huge corporations that would either take forever to implement our work through their long bureaucratic reporting chains or scrap it completely only to go in another direction. Thursday night I would fly back to NYC, get home in the early hours of the morning, and go to bed knowing I would need to be in the office in a few hours.
The travel was physically exhausting, and the work mind-numbingly slow. It gave me very little room to enjoy life and the perks that came with the job. I knew that a single promotion, maybe two years from then, and I would be making six figures a year. That was a crazy sum for a fresh graduate like me and more money than my parents ever received as a salary.
I was in a position where I felt I should be happy, but I wasn’t.
My First Online Business
While working for IBM, I spent my weekends creating my first attempt at an online business with my friend Anthony, who lived halfway across the country. The world of credit cards and reward points is a fascinating one. If you can manage your finances well and have a keen eye for fine print, you can really make the most of them. Between us, Anthony and I had redeemed tens of thousands of dollars of free travel over the past few years.
We started a small YouTube channel and an online blog about credit cards. While it didn’t perform the way we had hoped, as neither of us had very much time to spend on it, it was my first experience as an entrepreneur and I learned a lot in a short period of time. What really enticed me was the thrill of being able to actually see the benefits of your work as you constantly implement small changes, which was drastically different from corporate work.
A short time later, Anthony, who at the time was working for Amazon in Texas, broke up with his girlfriend, quit his job, and moved to the Philippines where another college friend had just opened a photography studio focusing on Amazon sellers. We would talk to each other every day and he would tell me how incredible the business and life in the Philippines was.
I took a two-week holiday to Asia with the slightest notion that if I liked what I saw, I would never return to the corporate world.
Moving to the Philippines
I flew to Hong Kong first, where I had been told NFC payment was widely accepted and there was no need for cash, which quickly proved to be terrible advice. My first meal in Hong Kong ended with a man who spoke no English irritably asking for cash while I was trying to make him take my phone as collateral while I ran to an ATM.
Luckily things didn’t escalate and after a couple of days in Hong Kong, I flew to the Philippines. My friends spent the first week introducing me to their business and then we went to a resort to enjoy the last few days while working at the beach. Amongst the group that went was a highly vocal guy from Andorra that struck me as someone interesting, Marc Roca.
He told me how he was buying FBA businesses and how he had previously played professional poker, and the more he talked the more engaging his stories became. It seemed there was quite a lot of opportunity in Manila, and I had only begun to stick my toe in the pool.
Anthony and his partner in the photo studio offered me a position and I immediately knew I wanted to take this chance. I had to tell my parents that I was going to take a 66% pay-cut and move all the way around the world to help run a photography studio, but thankfully they were supportive as always and said they would still love me, even if it backfired.
I went straight back to work from the Philippines. Jet-lagged and in another windowless conference room, this time in Texas, I decided to give my manager my two-weeks notice on my first day back. She was surprised but also supportive, seeing it as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and encouraged me to seize it. My teammates were confused, some even going as far as to call me crazy, and I’m sure some still think I am. The idea of taking such big risks can cause those thoughts in some people, I suppose.
Joining Alpha Rock Capital
The number of entrepreneurs I met in Manila and in my travels through Asia in the first three months was truly incredible and that proved essential when I decided to leave my position in the photo studio just three months into my Filipino adventure.
There were so many opportunities that I never thought of going back home. Upon hearing I was looking to do something else, Marc, who I had become close with, asked me to come work with him without providing any sort of job description. At that time, Alpha Rock Capital was only two FBA businesses that Vedast and Marc owned, but Vedast was not involved in them.
I helped Marc develop the FBA businesses, along with a few side-projects. But as time went on, it became more and more clear to us that FBA was the most profitable endeavor. Pushing away all side projects and having Vedast join the team, we bought two more businesses and formed Alpha Rock Capital as a US corporation, the first step in becoming the growing company that we are today.
Life has been an adventure for me, and I am sure it will continue to be as I take calculated risks in the pursuit of self-improvement. If there is one key takeaway from my journey so far, it is to embrace change, as it is the only thing that is constant. My newest passion is to grow Alpha Rock Capital, and I expect that to be the case for the next decade, or hopefully even longer (we are long-term thinkers, above all). With the lessons learned and the friends I have made along the way, I believe that we can grow this company into something truly incredible.
And remember, always have cash.
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