The Dealmaker

Jessica Hood Pate ('01) turns her dorm-room hobby into a thriving online business.

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Jessica Hood Pate (’01) got her start in e-commerce 20 years ago in her Poteat Hall dorm room with an out-of-print book and a used pair of cowboy boots. Back then, in her freshman year, she really “didn’t do the internet;” it was the ’90s remember. But with her brand-new Wake Forest-issued laptop, she checked out a website originally called AuctionWeb that had just changed its name to eBay.

She was looking for a copy of the 1988 New York Times bestseller “The Spy Wore Red” and was thrilled to find it on eBay. A little later, she decided to try to unload a scuffed-up pair of cowboy boots on the site. When she sold the boots and turned an $80 profit, she thought there just might be something to this new way to buy and sell things.

“I was hoping to get $20 for the boots and get them out of my dorm room,” said Pate, who now lives in Cumming, Georgia. “Then I thought maybe I could find some other stuff to sell.”

Since then, she’s found a lot of other stuff to sell. She’s turned a part-time hobby into a full-time thriving business at MyKiddosCollegeFund. In May, eBay recognized Pate as one of its top sellers and invited her to participate in its annual eBay Seller Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. Along with about 20 other eBay small business owners, she met with lawmakers to discuss internet-based businesses.

“The seed was planted there (at Wake Forest),” said Pate, who was a communication major with an entrepreneurial streak. “I got a feel for eBay and an understanding of how to sell and what to sell.”

Pate, 39, grew up in Kansas. She learned about Wake Forest from her father, Dr. David Hood, an OB anesthesiologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health. A 6-feet-1-inch three-sport athlete in high school, she signed to play volleyball for coach Mary Buczek, who was in her second year rebuilding the volleyball program after a decade-long hiatus.

As a student-athlete, Pate didn’t have much time to spend on eBay. But on trips back home to Kansas, she’d visit an outlet store in her small hometown, search for discounted brand-name clothing, and haul blouses and dresses back to her dorm room to sell. “I didn’t make a ton of money, but when you’re in college, any little bit can help,” she said.

After graduating, Pate held a series of jobs as a consultant, a medical-equipment salesperson and an executive assistant with an online branding agency. She spent a year with AmeriCorps, building houses and working in schools.

Jess Pate keeps her mail carrier and UPS driver busy, especially around Christmas when she ships up to 50 packages a day.

Unsure of her long-term career goal, she turned to a mentor at Wake Forest, Deputy Athletics Director Barbara Walker, for advice. Walker encouraged her to pursue her passions for athletics and volunteerism in an open position in the athletics department at Virginia Tech. There, Pate coordinated volunteer activities for Hokie student-athletes and pursued a master’s degree. She met her husband, Stephen, a high-school math teacher and coach, at a volleyball camp, and they eventually settled in the Atlanta area.

She continued dabbling in eBay, but only just to earn a little extra spending money. “Everywhere I went, eBay went with me, but I never thought I would be a full-time eBay seller,” she said.

That changed when her first child, Ansley, was born in 2010. Oliver came along two years later. Wanting a job with flexibility that she could do from home, she started selling more on eBay. Then her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.

With help from family and friends, she launched MyKiddosCollegeFund. (Ansley and Oliver are the kiddos.) She doesn’t want to give away too much of her business strategy, but it’s safe to say she’s moved beyond selling used cowboy boots. “You have to know what you love and what products you know really well and how you resell them,” she said. “You can get yourself into a lot of trouble if you don’t do your research and know your products.”

She has six employees who work out of her home’s basement. She also has 12 storage units around Atlanta and is searching for land to build her own storage building.

She’s developed a solid business plan focusing on specific products and “a low pricing strategy, fast shipping and good user ratings to boost buyer confidence. The people who shop from me are just searching eBay for a very specific thing, usually something that is sold out. It’s kind of like when I bought my first book on eBay.”

She still has that copy of “The Spy Wore Red” that she bought in 1997. She also retains her spirit of Pro Humanitate that she learned as a student-athlete. There’s a place for Pro Humanitate even in the online marketplace, she said. She’s a generous supporter of Wake Forest’s Athletes in Action chapter, her church and other causes. “I’ve tried to be the best that I can be to help others and serve others. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been successful so I can give back.”

Pate, front center, participated in the annual eBay Seller Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in May. (Photograph courtesy of eBay Government Relations team.)

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