Launched an Internet service provider in Brazil
Met a fellow Greek expat who made bikinis
Became the world's largest independent distributor of Brazilian bikinis
In the late 1990s, Thales Panagides was a recent business school graduate from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., when he flew to Brazil to help his cousin launch a small Internet service provider. He expected to return to the United States after a few weeks.
Based on an idyllic beach in Fortaleza, the small firm -- like so many others in the early days of the dot-com boom -- soon landed funding from a large venture capital group, which forced them to leave their beachfront office for the business district of Sao Paulo.Despite the firm's success, Panagides longed to return to the beach. Looking to ditch the online world altogether, he started researching local product manufacturers with an eye to setting up a seaside exporting company back in Fortaleza. One of the first factories he visited was owned by a fellow Greek expat whose parents had immigrated to Brazil. The product they made was light-weight, compact and ideal for exporting -- Brazilian bikinis.
Leveraging both his MBA and his online expertise, Panagides bought a few samples and put 10 up for sale on eBay as a simple test. The next morning, seven of the bikinis had active buyers. "It was then that I knew I hit a home run," Panagides tells fellow Ball State alumni on the school's Web site.
Today, www.brazilian-bikinis.net is the largest independent distributor of Brazilian bikinis in the world, selling to retailers in more than 41 countries around the globe. As for himself, Panagides is back on the beach.