Exploiting Arbitrage For Beer Money: An Early Sign Of A Successful Entrepreneur

When I was in college, we didn’t have an Innovation & Entrepreneurship program. I’m not sure I’d ever heard the word “entrepreneur.” Even if I had, I certainly didn’t call myself one.

But these days, I have high school students handing me business cards listing “entrepreneur” as their job title.

While I don’t know where the line is between entrepreneur and non-entrepreneur, I’m pretty sure calling yourself one doesn’t make it true — just like calling yourself an astronaut doesn’t make you an astronaut. However, as I look back on my college days, I wonder if the teenage version of me would have had the appropriate combination of audacity and naivety to call himself an entrepreneur.

Although I didn’t launch my first official company until three years after undergrad, I was, in retrospect, running a business in college. That business was an Ebay arbitrage business. I would buy Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs (early smartphone-like gadgets) that were selling for cheaper than what I knew they were worth, have them shipped to my dorm room, and then re-sell them for a few bucks more than what I’d paid. I eventually got so good at understanding the market and the Ebay platform that I could buy a product, immediately re-list it for more money, sell it, and then have the person I bought it from ship it to the person who bought it from me without either one knowing I’d been nothing more than a middle man.

Ebay arbitrage isn’t a way to get rich. But, for a college kid who had all his expenses otherwise covered, the extra income (and constant supply of new gadgets) made me the envy of my friends. Did it also make an “entrepreneur”?

I don’t honestly know, and it probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I was undoubtedly being entrepreneurial while learning the basics of business building.

Fast forward 15 years to today, I teach in an Innovation & Entrepreneurship program, and I meet hundreds of aspiring young entrepreneurs every year. The ones that seem to have the most potential as future entrepreneurs are never the ones that call themselves entrepreneurs. Nor are they the ones actively running companies.

Instead, the students who appear most likely to succeed at building their own businesses are the ones exploiting some sort of arbitrage hack for extra “beer money.”

I’m not ready to make any sweeping theories about what all this means, especially because I’ll probably need another decade to see which, if any, of my students build successful companies. But it’s something I’m watching closely.

Share

I teach in Duke University’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship program and founded RocketBolt. I write about startups, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, engineering, and poetry. They’re all related, I promise.

2 Comments

  1. Kam

    I love this. Have seen it mentioned in a few different places in different contexts. Its way less about identifying as such and more about actions. How you think, act and do.

    My undergrad days were spent flipping FireTVs from Amazon. Buy em for 40 bucks. Add some software to them and you basically had an unlocked streaming device. Each would sell for 80-100 bucks.

    Paid for plenty of beer.

    • Aaron Dinin

      Yup… little arbitrage hacks like this are always the early sign of an entrepreneur-to-be. I wonder if there’s a reliable way to identify people who do this kind of thing naturally. Seems like a good talent identification strategy for a certain kind of company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Instagram

  • Giving a 3 hour lecture to a wonderful group of Chinese students from Yangtze University visiting @dukeuniversity. We’ll be taking about #marketing #sales #startups #entrepreneurship  #innovation #socialmediamarketing and lots of other stuff that’ll probably put them to sleep. 😴.
.
P.S. It’s really hot in this room and we’re all sweating.
  • ‪“In a business, you can hire to solve almost any problem, but nobody can replace discovering the problem and finding the path toward solving it. That’s what an entrepreneur does.” ‬- Sam Fox, a brilliant young #entrepreneur and @dukeuniversity alum who came back to talk with my @dukeinnovation capstone class about his journey into healthcare innovation.
.
.
.
#entrepreneur #startup #innovation #healthtech #healthcare #guestspeaker
  • Some #boomerang shots from the first day of classes including the first failure challenge of the year: a one hour game of tic tac toe with students, faculty, and staff from across @dukeuniversity. Because why not? 🤷‍♂️
.
A special thanks to my new partner in #failure, @star.gould, for jumping in as my #learningtofail co-teacher. It’s going to be a fun semester.
.
.
.
.
.
#startup #startups #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #innovation #highereducation #highered
  • Torturing my @dukeinnovation #socialmediamarketing students because it’s the #firstdayofschool at @dukeuniversity 😈🤑🤐
.
.
.
.
.
#innovation #entrepreneur #marketing #mystudentshateme
  • Snuck into the back of today’s @dukefuqua Program for Entrepreneurs kickoff event. Maybe if I attend enough classes I can convince someone to give me a free #MBA 😁
.
.
.
#p4e #entrepreneur #startup #entrepreneurlife #freeMBA
  • I’m hosting today’s @dukeinnovation “Lunch & Learn.” I’m talking with my colleagues about #socialmedia and trying to convince them to take it seriously, so I made them take a group photo for me to post.
.
In related news, doing this kind of thing is why I’ll probably never get #tenure
.
#entrepreneur #startups #lunchandlearn #mycolleagueshateme
  • Today, I lead the first meeting of a @dukeinnovation faculty committee about creating a methodology for teaching #entrepreneurship that can apply to any type of #venture.
.
Mind you, by “lead the meeting” I mostly just mean I was lucky to be in the same room with an amazing group of #scholars and #entrepreneurs who didn’t need any help from me to have a fascinating debate about how to accomplish a nearly impossible task.
.
But at least I got to take a picture from the head of the table 😁
.
#mycolleaguesarebrilliant #innovation #entrepreneur #wholetmein
  • Brought my daughter with me to watch my @dukeinnovation students graduate. She got to see dozens of examples of the kind of person I hope she becomes: brilliant, kind, thoughtful, articulate, talented, caring, confident, and really good at producing high quality work despite a propensity for procrastination 😁
.
Thanks, #duke2018 #graduates for making me love going to school every day. I hope your journeys beyond @dukeuniversity take you into jobs as amazing and rewarding as mine.
.
#graduation #innovation #entrepreneurship #classof2018 #bluedevils
  • Drinks at the @thelakewooddurham with the @dukeuniversity Junior Faculty Association to celebrate the end of another great semester.
  • Congrats to all my @dukeinnovation seniors who gave their final Capstone presentations yesterday.
.
No more #homework. Now it’s time for the #realworld.
.
#duke2018
.
.
.
#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship
  • Threw an LMOC (Last Monday of Classes) party in my #learningtofail class.
.
The students had to convince their friends to bring food, and they earned points based on how many calories they got delivered to class.
.
Lots of cookies and candies. But the winner was the student who convinced his friend to deliver 30 pounds of flour. 🤣
.
#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #startup #ldoc #partytime
  • Asked my #learningtofail students to sell a @jollyrancher for $100 today. For the first time ever, everyone #failed.
.
In related news, I heard a report from a campus tour guide that dozens of prospective students and their families were continuously being solicited to buy absurdly expensive candy during their campus visits.
.
What a strange coincidence. Must have been someone else selling candy today, too...😒
.
#innovation #entrepreneur #entrepreneurship #sweettooth #collegevisits

Follow Me!