Erick Rodriguez

Driven by passion: How a UF Warrington alumnus conquered his shyness and built a million-dollar business

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When Erick Rodriguez (BSBA ’16) first started at the University of Florida, he was a shy kid in spite of having already sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise on eBay, Amazon and Craigslist (including a car). The budding entrepreneur looked down at the ensuing four years and knew that he’d be guided by two crucial values: first, to follow his passion for entrepreneurship, and second, the drive to better himself.

These two values, coupled with a foundation set by the University of Florida, sparked off a million-dollar career for Erick. Now, he’s based in Manila, Philippines, where he bridges the gap between Chinese manufacturers and American retailers. He creates products that sell on Amazon and Walmart, all the while fulfilling his entrepreneurship dreams and staying true to the passions that drive him.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (well, in Erick’s case, it’s approximately 9,145 miles between the University of Florida and his condo in the heart of Manila, Philippines, his current home country). The first step Erick took was to conquer his shyness. The young Colombian-American became a peer leader at the Warrington College of Business, a path that led him to the Entrepreneurship Club, where he eventually served as president.

“It was a tough time,” Erick recalls. “The organization was at a low point, and considered the least admirable of clubs due to poor attendance, quality of speakers and overall poor organizational management.”

Large group of employees at Virtuous Graphics

Erick and his team in the Philippines.

Nevertheless, the young entrepreneur knew where his passions resided. A love for all things entrepreneurial, and the grit and determination to succeed, drove Erick to turn the organization around. In three consecutive terms, the club went from least popular to #1 student organization in the Warrington College of Business.

“My time at UF taught me strong habits, and the base structure of education — a foundation upon which I’ve built much of my success,” Erick explains. “UF taught me how to teach myself. Even now, after my time at the university, I continue my education through online courses. Eventually, I’ll pursue an Executive Education or even an MBA.”

Erick’s brightness couldn’t be dimmed. He caught the eye of none other than Google, which he felt was his golden ticket to success. Yet, he simply didn’t feel like he was being true to himself. He had amassed a safety net of traditional jobs. Many companies tried to seduce Erick with shiny job offers of six-figure salaries, but Erick remembered the passion that drove him. He eschewed the traditional life and bought a one-way ticket to China.

Erick didn’t speak Chinese. All he knew was that China was the mecca of manufacturing, and that he was greatly interested in product development. He’d already tasted success at the hands of eBay, Craigslist and Amazon. He knew where his passions lay, and they were south of the Great Wall.

He learned about manufacturing and how to do business in China. He invested $12,000 in purchase orders, and proceeded to hire two employees in the Philippines, whose proximity to China was ideal (because of time zone), and who possessed the skills and dedication that Erick wanted. Essentially, Erick took a dive off a cliff, and learned how to fly on the way down. That fledgling manufacturing business, known as Virtuous Imports, now nets more than $1M annually on Amazon and through 1,282 Walmart stores nationwide. He has grown his team, and increased their salaries by 116 percent.

Erick also developed Virtuous Graphics, a sister company to his manufacturing and product development firm. He recognized a need in the Amazon seller community for professional, Amazon-compliant photographs. That seed of an idea created a company so successful, it was acquired in August 2019 by a private equity firm.

All of these successes were fueled by two clear values. The first is encapsulated beautifully by Erick’s advice to all UF students: “Take advantage of your college years to explore clubs, courses and organizations. Identify your passion and follow it throughout life.”

Passion is key; honor your passion by staying true to it and never compromising in your pursuit of your passions.

The second is less tangible: “Relationships are key. Self-improvement is key. Develop friendships with people who drive you to be your best.”

Where to find those relationships? Why, go back to the first value, of course.

Want to pursue your entrepreneurial passions like Erick? Check out all of what Warrington has to offer entrepreneurs, from a master’s degree to an undergraduate minor to countless programs and experiential learning opportunities through the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center