Monday, November 28, 2022
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You’d be hard-pressed to find an Oklahoma State student who isn’t busy, but Friday, September. The 30th was a particularly busy day for Elian Trujillo, a senior at the Spears School of Business.
Trujillo, who will graduate from Oklahoma State in December, has a packed school schedule that includes a daunting doctoral exam. Alexis Smith Washington Diversity Management in the Workplace Class. He also had to close a house for his growing real estate and construction business, and was urged to sign paperwork and produce a cashier’s check the same day.
He usually conducts business in his hometown of Oklahoma City, but the courtyard of the business building will have to. Trujillo and the other party coordinated with a closeout company that was able to meet him on campus. He closed the deal, then passed the test.
“I’m doing really well,” Trujillo said with a smile. “I put school first. I still love what I do, but I have to prioritize school.”
It’s a day’s work for 22-year-old Trujillo, who has owned RT&E Construction since 2019. While working at full capacity at OSU, he also branched out into real estate and started a successful painting and remodeling business.
Many Spears Business students discover their entrepreneurial spirit in the classroom or at events at the Riata Center, but Trujillo felt it intuitively early on. He started mowing lawns near his home when he was 12, and he ended up with so many clients that he had to attach a trailer to his bike to transport all the equipment to the 20+ lawns he mows each week.
“For a 12-year-old, I made a decent amount of money,” Trujillo said. “Back then, I didn’t realize I was an entrepreneur. I didn’t realize I was building sales skills and building a product and a business. It all came naturally to me, and it was really easy to get yardage.”
With no money to spend his earnings, Trujillo reinvested the money back into his business. He bought new and better equipment and over the next six years expanded his turf empire to about 80 yards.
Trujillo’s business is booming, but his family has always placed a high value on education. He heeded their advice, sold his lawn business to a friend at age 18 and moved 70 miles north to Stillwater. He would be the first in his family to go to college, but the desire to start a business stayed with him.
Trujillo was working shifts at O’Reilly Auto Parts in Stillwater to pay the bills, but was inspired one day when an older friend and mentor took him to a real estate event. One of the sessions was about working with contractors, and the speaker mentioned how difficult it was to find reliable workers in his area.
A light bulb went off in Trujillo’s mind. He knows the labor side of home building and he knows how to run a business. He might be the reliable contractor your local real estate agent needs. Within two months, he started RT&E Construction.
“I had a fire inside me,” he said. “When I get motivated, no one can stop me.”
Things got off to a slow start at RT&E, but he believed in the lawn-mowing business model he had developed in OKC. To find work, Trujillo would wake up early and drive to construction sites or local hardware stores to advertise his services and network with workers. Next thing you know, his phone starts ringing with job offers.
While returns were modest at first, Trujillo again invested heavily in his business and his employees. He started advertising on social media and buying better equipment, but he also invested in things like high-end insurance to attract his employees and help them stay loyal in a crowded job market.
Slowly but surely, RT&E’s work has gone from remodeling rental homes and preparing apartments for new tenants to building new homes and performing extensive gigs in high-end neighborhoods. His job at RT&E became so steady that he had to quit his job at O’Reilly. Still, education remains his top priority, and until now he has been unable to pay cash when financial bills are due.
“If I were to mentor anyone who wanted to start a business, I would say you have to learn to come out of the shell,” Trujillo said. “We all have a lot of insecurities, but you have to put yourself in there and not think twice about it. These types of things really help you grow. They did for me.”
The traction in the construction world meant that with extra money in his bank account, he decided once again to reinvest in his business in the form of a real estate company. Now he can afford to buy homes with a real estate agency, do the renovations with RT&E, and put them back on the market. As of November 2022, Trujillo has just completed his 15th home purchase.
“I have a very big vision,” Trujillo said. “I live in the present. I try not to think too much about the past, but when I think about the present, I think about my future.”
Most people go to college to learn a trade, but Trujillo came to master his craft. He will walk the graduation stage at the Gallagher-Iba Arena on December 12th. Seventeen have a bachelor’s degree in management with a minor in entrepreneurship. Unlike most of his graduates, he will also have a résumé full of successful businesses.
A master’s degree is on his wish list, but Trujillo isn’t sure what he wants to do next. Regardless, he knows that even with this chapter over, his story is far from over.
“It’s hard to balance everything that’s going on, but I love school,” Trujillo said. “I’m not from an upscale neighborhood. Not many people go to college. So, I like to inspire people to make a difference and show them that the only thing limiting them is their own mind. I never thought I’d get this far, But here I am.”