Entrepreneur A.J. Gonzales shares lessons on hustle through adversities
A cold hard fact about coolers is they're not easy to carry when they're full. A Texas Tech University and Innovation Hub alumnus has built a startup around a unique solution to that problem.
A.J. Gonzales is the founder and CEO of Infinite Coolers. "It's the first cooler with four retractable wheels," he says.
"With ice and beverages inside them, regular coolers can weigh from 60 to 100 pounds. That's a lot for one or two people to carry. The Infinite Coolers' all-terrain design eliminates the weight issue and allows you to pull them along easily," he explains.
There was nothing easy about Gonzales's journey toward making his innovation a reality. His startup's concept has been almost three years in the making.
Innovation and adversity
In late 2017, Gonzales started pondering how to make heavy coolers more portable. "I began drawing some of my ideas on scraps of paper. And I'm no artist," he laughs.
The full-time business management major decided to hire someone to help bring his designs to life. "I worked during the summers, saved up that money, and then paid an engineer what I could. Time after time, through trial and error, something on the design would have to be tweaked. Ultimately, we went through seven prototypes before getting the retractable wheels on the product to work perfectly. That process was rough but necessary."
With his determination and free assistance from Tech's Office of Research Commercialization, the result was Infinite Coolers' now patented wheel system.
Gonzales got additional startup help through the university and the TTU Innovation Hub.
"I highly recommend the Rawls College of Business," he says. "I had so many good experiences there. The professors and entrepreneurship classes I took were incredible. They laid a strong foundation for me as someone starting a business from the ground up."
By his senior year in 2018, Gonzales was involved in the Texas Tech CEOs (Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization) chapter. The student-led group held regular meetings at the Hub. Gonzales found himself surrounded there by like-minded classmates, including Braxley Bands co-founders Braxton Manley and Grant Andrews and C-Safe CEO Gage Dutkin. They encouraged Gonzales to enter Infinite Coolers in the Hub's iLaunch Competition.
"At first, I was reluctant to do it because I absolutely hate public speaking. I believe we presented in front of about 150 people," he says. "Still, I knew you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow and succeed. That's where opportunities come from. Nothing good comes from staying in that comfortable bubble. You don't know if you don't try."
Although his startup idea was not among the winners, Gonzales says the extensive hands-on learning experience it provided paid off. "If you want to raise funding or get capital from investors, the first thing they want to see is your business plan or business model. Through iLaunch and the Hub's mentorship process, I learned how to create, present, and implement those plans. There's nothing else out there that can prepare you as iLaunch does."
Gonzales returned to his hometown in the Permian Basin after graduating from Texas Tech in 2018. He competed in the 2019 Odessa Business Challenge, which Gonzales says was similar to the iLaunch Competition.
As one of three winners, Infinite Coolers was awarded $125,000.
Even with the funding and a finalized design, Infinite Coolers' product launch was delayed until May due to manufacturing and shipping challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gonzales says customer traffic has been steady ever since then, however.
"It still amazes me," he says. "I get orders coming in through our website every day. I think, 'Wow! A pencil drawing on a piece of paper turned it into this!' I give all the glory and thanks to God."
All about the hustle
Patience, dedication, and perseverance are crucial to Gonzales's definition of hustle.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs, for sure," he says. "Whenever I've gotten bummed out or frustrated, I pick myself back up, start the next day re-motivated, and keep on trying. You have to realize you are going to have failures, no matter what. You must also realize that each failure is one step closer to the success you're trying to reach. As soon as you can accept that, you're on a faster track to that success."