How To Unlock Opportunities and Become a Better Version of Yourself With Joel Gandara

Joel Gandara is the President of Joel Gandara Coaching. Born in Cuba, he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1980. He started buying and selling products in fourth grade and later built an apparel business to eight figures and beyond. 

Joel was the Founder and CEO of Morro Capital, which focused on investing in apparel brands. He is now a renowned life and business coach dedicated to empowering men to be the best versions of themselves. He is also the author of 31 Days to Become a Better Man: Level Up in All Areas of Your Life!

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Joel Gandara, the President of Joel Gandara Coaching, about his entrepreneurship journey and tips for becoming a better version of yourself. Joel also shares his background, the challenges he faced settling in a new country, and the business lessons he has learned over the years. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [02:15] Joel Gandara’s background in Cuba and his experience immigrating to the US
  • [12:02] How Joel entered the entrepreneurial world in fourth grade and started a money-lending business
  • [18:13] Joel talks about selling clothing samples and importing apparel from Mexico
  • [23:23] The lessons Joel learned from losing some of his businesses
  • [33:05] How immigrating to the US impacted Joel’s life
  • [36:26] The people who’ve had a significant influence on Joel’s life

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

At Rise25, we’re committed to helping you connect with your Dream 100 referral partners, clients, and strategic partners through our done-for-you podcast solution. 

We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.

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The Rise25 podcasting solution is designed to help you build a profitable podcast. This requires a specific strategy, and we’ve got that down pat. We focus on making sure you have a direct path to ROI, which is the most important component. Plus, our podcast production company takes any heavy lifting of production and distribution off your plate.

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We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

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Contact us now at [email protected] or book a call at

Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

Today we are talking about how to become a better version of yourself. My guest today is Joel Gandara. He is a Cuban immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1980, at a young age with his family on a small, overcrowded boat, and he built an apparel business to eight figures and beyond starting with just buying and trading little items that he bought a garage sale. So I’ll tell you more about him in a moment. Stay tuned.

Intro 0:25

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders and thought leaders and ask them how they built the relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:42

All right. Welcome, everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And you know, if you’ve listened before, we have great episodes in the archives with co-founders or CEOs or entrepreneurs. We’ve got companies like Netflix, Kinkos, YPO, EO, GrubHub, Redfin and LendingTree. So check them out. We’ve got some great episodes back there in the archives, and of course, is brought to you by Rise25, our company where we help b2b businesses get client referrals and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. You can learn all about what we do at And I’m excited today for today’s guest. His name is Joel Gandara. And first quick shout-out to our mutual friend, Cesar Quintero, who’s one of the best EOS implementers out there. And he’s just an amazing guy, a ball of energy. And you know, I’m from South Florida as well. You Google his name, you’ll be able to reach more about him. But I love giving him a shout out because he’s such a great guy. And he gives so much to so many other people. 

But my guest, of course, is Joel. He’s the president of Joel Gandara Coaching, born in Cuba. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 1980. And had just an incredible story. Incredible entrepreneurial spirit never worked for another company, hardly a day in his life, and started buying and selling products in the schoolyard. We’re gonna hear some stories about that, because I love these stories, and eventually ended up in the apparel business and built a business to eight figures and beyond, and also became CEO of Morro Capital, a focus, an organization that was focused on investing in apparel brands. So we’ll, we’ll hear all about that. But Joel, I would love to start with your story of coming over here. And you have a visual for us. For those who are watching this on video. But you were about five years old, I believe it was four and a half years old, and your family. First of all, let’s start with Cuba, you have memories of being in Cuba. And I’ve heard stories many times where parents don’t say a word to their kids, because they’re worried about the kids telling someone else. And so oftentimes for kids, it’s just like, one day, the parents are just like, we’re going we’re getting on this boat. What was it like for you?

Joel Gandara 2:47

Yeah, that’s absolutely true. My parents did not talk about it. They kept that quiet. They didn’t want to focus on the fact that we had family outside of the country and that we were dying to get out. I didn’t have that desire, because I didn’t know better, but my parents did. So what happened I remember one day, I was supposed to go on a little boat ride in the Bay of Havana with my dad’s aunt who was our next-door neighbor. And we’re gonna go there because it’s like a shortcut across the bay for something. And I got a stomachache and I stayed home and as we were about to leave, but I wasn’t sure. Military men and olive green came in and they came in to take an inventory of our house. Because before they tell you that yes, you are allowed to leave. We’re gonna go in and count all your forks, spoons, pants, underwear, everything to make sure that the day you do leave it’s all here or you’re not leaving, right the government owns everything you own nothing my parents don’t didn’t leave with wedding rings with their glasses. All they left with was a shirt, pants, underwear, socks and shoes. That’s it there’s nothing else everything else and by the way when they say the government knows that the state owns it’s all corrupt. They all keep the guys on top and keep everything person at the bottom gets nothing. So those are some early memories of like right before we left but I have memories of playing outside in the yard and going into the store. Go into my grandmother’s house. Go into the restaurant you know things like that. So I have some basic memories of going into preschool. Now we got here to the US but the in-between that because that sounds easy. Oh, we got here to the US. Well, we spent two days in the port of Mariel and this is not equipped to hold all of these people. We just sat on the grass for a couple of days. Food ran out and we just waited. 

John Corcoran 4:28

And then the port of Mariel where’s that in Cuba in Havana? Cuba, okay, right. Okay.

Joel Gandara 4:32

And we lined up I remember finally we’re gonna go to the boat. We line up on a dock and the boats right there, but between us and the boats, all these military people, and I remember them being mean, and I don’t remember what they said. But I remember just mean, and everything was tense. And we’re standing there looking at freedom on the other side of that ocean. And on the other side of those military men dressed in green, and finally, we got on the boats. And we’re on those boats for 12 hours between when they finally will say We could go until we got there. There’s no food, there’s no water. We’re just going for 12 hours in the heat of that straight straight to Florida. And three,

John Corcoran 5:10

what is the sort of the government knows you’re leaving? We were asked what was the story? Was it like a vacation? Or was it you’re going temporarily or what is a vacation?

Joel Gandara 5:17

There’s no leaving the communist country like that. What happened is that in 1980, there was a Mariel Boatlift, and it was a mass exodus, the movie Scarface is 100% Based on that, and without Pacino, it was a mass exodus. They allowed people to leave because some guys got smart. Thank God for these guys. They stole a van. By the way, stealing in a communist country is a good thing. You’re stealing it from the dictatorship. You’re not stealing from a hard-working person. They stole a van, and they ran it through the gates of the Peruvian embassy. And the moment that opened up anybody walking on the streets, all freedom because an embassy is a Peruvian land, right? That’s not Cuban land. They have a right to it. So everybody, they flooded the gates, they opened the house, you know, the doors, and every human that could walk in there. What went in there ran in there, and so they couldn’t control it. And so many people were going Peru said yes, we’ll accept as many as we can handle that Cuba said, You know what, we can’t handle this. Whoever wants to leave, go ahead and leave 125,000 People left that summer of 1980. We left in May of 1980 at the beginning of it. And while we were on that boat, there was three hours of it that will then have imprinted in my brain forever. Sadly, it’s the boat would go up because it was a big storm, with big waves. And we would see the sky and the moment that boat dropped and felt like a roller coaster. I looked around all the way. It was four walls of water. And then it would go back up. And that happened for three hours. And you heard screaming. My mom was crying, hugging my brother and me the whole time, trying to tell me that we were at the beach and everything’s fine. I knew we weren’t at the beach. I knew we were in the ocean. I recently was interviewed for a Telemundo television series on the 40th anniversary of this. And I was in my living room there interviewing my parents. I was on behind the camera behind the Emmy award-winning lady doing the interview with the whole crew and I was just there watching. And I hear my mom say that she was crying the whole time asking God to forgive her for taking her children out to the ocean so they can all drown. And because that’s the desperation we all thought we were going to drown. I didn’t know what drowning I didn’t know about death. But now I look back, we could have died very easily. A lot of those boats did sink during that boatlift. But we’re now. 

John Corcoran 7:26

Now, man, what a scary experience. And it’s not like it gets better. I imagine when you get to the States maybe better in the sense that there’s some opportunity, but you end up in Key West, right? And then eventually, South Florida and then eventually you actually come to Hayward in the San Francisco Bay area. So tell us how that trajectory you had some family in the Bay Area, I believe.

Joel Gandara 7:47

Yeah, my grandparents had got to leave in 1967. My dad’s side with all the kids. And then my dad was the only one that wasn’t allowed to leave because he was of military age. Since he didn’t side with the government, they sent him two or three years of a forced labor camp. And that’s why he had to stay alone in the country. A few months later, he got sick, and they let him go home. But by then he had no parents, no siblings, nothing. He was disconnected. He was alone. So 13 years later, he met up with his parents and his siblings met a new sister who was just 12 years old he never knew about. And so we got to California, but but the stark contrast was those military men who are evil and mean. And then in a rough seas going out of there. I remember a beautiful memory of Key West coming into the bay there. There’s a naval base there. And there’s a very long cement dock, and we pulled up and it was on our left side. And there were women volunteers. They’re with soups and Coca-Cola. And just amazing, you know, they had things for us. And they were so nice. And a black American soldier welcomed this and said, Welcome to the United States. I mean, it’s just what a difference. Even all those Marines on the base on the naval base. They were nice. Nobody was mean to us. It was a stark contrast. We were there a couple of days in South Florida and Miami, and we went to be reunited with family. That was my first time on an airplane. I remember that. And then it was rough. Because the difference now was we’re in a completely different country. Had we gone from Cuba to Miami, the difference isn’t that much. The weather, the people, the music, everything’s the same. We went to California had to buy me a jacket. I had to wear jeans instead of shorts. It was cold in Northern California. Well, those are some big differences.

John Corcoran 9:21

And what was it like for you, like making friends and getting to know other kids? And were you in a community that had other Cubans, or did everyone look differently different from you?

Joel Gandara 9:32

The first time I met a Cuban was at a KMart way later in life was a man that I heard him talking, and I went around the island. I ran back and told my parents, I saw Cuban. And it was like four years after we came from Cuba. So I’d never met Cubans at all other than that, and then my parents got in touch with them. We became friends with them. It was so rare. And so yeah, everything was very different. I didn’t make friends right away. Obviously, I didn’t speak the language. I don’t know what happened the first two years Just three months later, I was dropped into kindergarten. That was rough. I remember being in class hating the teacher hating the kids. I just didn’t speak the language and speak. And I just thought that we’re all weird here ever. You come from somewhere where everyone understands you, and you understand everyone. It’s all of a sudden they’re speaking gibberish. Yeah, it was scary. It was frustrating. I remember one time being pulled aside; maybe it was like an English second language teacher who would come and get me and sit me in. There’ll be a little partition, and it sits back there. I’ve never even shared this with anybody. And and I remember her talking through things with me. And I remember thinking she thinks I’m stupid. You know, I was a little kindergarten. But I remember thinking I’m not stupid, that she thinks I’m stupid. I don’t know how to prove otherwise. Because it’s not working, the communication is not there.

John Corcoran 10:44

Right, right. Yeah. Yeah, that communication barrier. You know, it’s hard for them to know that you have these capabilities. What did your parents end up doing? I must have been helpful that you had your grandparents on your father’s side, but still, like did, were they able to find jobs?