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Format:

For the first few posts I plan to recap the past few years starting from 2010. I anticipate each post will be pretty long and I could certainly make them shorter but I think it will be more fun for me to write them longer/more thorough and potentially more helpful for current and future readers. After we get to 2019 we will see how the thread progresses, my company is growing quickly so I anticipate there will be things to talk about. I hope you will find value in the journey that I share.



2009-2010

“You going to make any calls or are you just going to sit there all day?”

I still remember this like it was yesterday.

I was finishing up my final year of college and had just started an internship making sales calls. It was my first day and I had spent what felt like 2 hours “crafting my sales script.”

In reality I was stalling terrified to make that first call…

A week or so prior I saw a flyer posted outside one of my classes, the internship was a sales job with a university selling tickets to sporting events. As a sports management major and marketing minor it was the perfect opportunity or so I thought...

Only problem was I didn’t like sales or even talking…

But this was my chance to start working in sports, a dream of mine and the reason I was getting this degree. In order to get a job in sports you have to start in an internship for free. Prove your worth and move up. This was the perfect place to start. After this short unpaid internship I would soon be living my dream to be working in sports and getting paid for it!

I was a senior at the time and this experience would be valuable for my resume. Not only that but I wasn’t very good at sales or talking on the phone so this was the perfect opportunity for self-improvement. My mom likes to tell a story of me as a kid having my younger brother (2 years younger) make phone calls for me to check on video games or movies at the store or any other reason I had to make a call.

The internship seemed great, I felt like I was ready to tackle it until I sat down in front of the phone. Holy shit fear smacked me right in the face.

I was sitting in the middle of a 400 square foot room surrounded by my boss, fellow interns, and a few hot chicks and somehow I had to get up the courage to make calls all day… It finally hit me, DAMN this internship was going to suuuck.

After “working on my script” for what seemed like 2 hours my boss pipes up:

“You going to make any calls or are you just going to sit there all day?”

Damn!

Time to pick up the damn phone!

So I picked up the phone and dialed the first number on my paper. Ring Ring Ring… no answer shewww… I leave a message and it doesn’t completely suck… Success!

I made a few more calls that day, each time just praying it would go to voicemail!

For the next few months between classes and in the afternoons I would go into the office and make calls. I would typically make calls for 4-5 hours a day.

Eventually someone did answer the phone and each time they did, day after day, call after call I got more comfortable. At some point, I stopped thinking about them answering the phone and thought more about how I could better sell the tickets.

Luckily it wasn’t the toughest sell in the world, we didn’t have to use any shady sales tactics or tricks to get people to buy. That would have made the internship unbearable. I focused on good customer service and creating an experience that they couldn’t get from anyone else.

Each week I got progressively better. Eventually I was one of the best there, not that that meant I was getting paid.

It was still an unpaid internship.

After the first semester I decided to stick around for my final semester of college. They approved, I guess the thousands of dollars I was bringing in was worth the $0 they were paying me.

As graduation neared, I started applying for various jobs in sports and in sales. I ended up with a few interviews but no jobs so I decided to stick around in the internship full time and also picked up a job at a local bar. Full-time and still unpaid, again, I am sure they had to think long and hard about whether to keep me.

Over the summer and into the fall I was able to be more involved in the advertising, marketing and promotions we were running as well as still making calls 8 hours a day. I figured at some point a position would open up at the university and I would be first in line to go for it.

Unfortunately each time I was passed over. (thankfully)

At this point I had pretty solid level of experience especially for an entry-level job.

By the end of my internship I had generated about $1.5 Million in sales from tickets. I was still getting passed up for jobs both within the University and externally. So I figured I needed to go to grad school and get my masters in sports management and an MBA.

Long story short, that never worked out. (thankfully)

It sucked at the time…

Whether it was missing out on a job or missing out on going to your favorite school for grad school, they both equally sucked and were painful.

The reasons for being passed over never really seemed fair but now I feel so lucky that it didn’t work out for me. I don’t want to think what my life would be like at this time if one of those “missed” opportunities had worked out for me.

In Steve Jobs’ famous Stanford commencement speech, he said “you can never connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down and it’s made all the difference in my life.”

Dwelling on a decision made by someone else has never served me well.

All said and done I worked in this internship for nearly two years. What I learned and the self-improvement I gained was more valuable than any of the classes I went to.

I have found that some of my most rewarding periods of life were when I got way out of my comfort zone. Learning a new skill, self-improvement or getting out of your comfort zone are all hard tasks, it’s much easier to not do those things. It’s much easier to do nothing. But it’s not as rewarding. It’s not as fulfilling. At least it hasn’t been for me, what I have found most rewarding and fulfilling is taking something on that’s hard or uncomfortable and seeing yourself crush it.

What finally got me past this internship and propelled me to the next stage in my life was the kick in the a$$ that I got when I read The Millionaire Fastlane.
 

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1step

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In the spring of 2011, I was sick of working 8 hour days at my internship and then after that working at a local bar at night. I was tired of being rejected for grad school and full-time jobs. So, I decided I would change my path and start a lawn care company because… who knows, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

So, what do you do first when you want to start a business? Business school taught me to write a business plan so that’s what I did.

Luckily the mental masturbation of writing the business plan wasn’t a complete waste of time. As I was googling for some aspect of the business plan I stumbled upon the Fastlane Forum.

It was here that I found MJ was offering a free preview of his book, maybe the first chapter or two of the book. I instantly consumed it and was hooked, so I hopped over to Amazon to order the full book.

Up to this point I had never been that interested in reading but I devoured the book in just a couple of days. The book gave me the kick in the a$$ I needed at that time of my life. It helped me to see what was possible and open my eyes up to a different way of living.

After reading the book I decided the lawn care company wasn’t the way I needed to go and instead came up for an idea for a website which better fit the Fastlane NECST framework.

I also decided to quit the internship and the job at the bar and started working as a project manager for a construction company. I made very little money, but it gave me the opportunity to make money by day then at night I could work on my new website.

I found a developer for the website on odesk (now upwork) and was quoted 3 months and $3,000. He was based in China so after I got off work I could go home and chat with him about the website and be available to guide aspects of design and development.

The website ended up taking 14 months to develop and closer to $6,000.

Towards the end of the 14-months I read the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The essence of the book is the idea of launching your business with as minimum a product as possible. For example the website I developed could have been launched within 2 months for certain and likely for less than $500.

This was one of the major lessons I learned in this process, I should have scaled back features and not built out the full website with full functionality I should have just launched a minimum viable product to see how it was received by the market.

Knowing what I know now I could launch this business and test the idea with a wordpress website that I could build within 2 days for less than $100. Back then I don’t think I could have personally created the needed website. The $500 estimated above and 2 months is likely high on the money side and slow on the time side for hiring a pro to make the needed MVP.

The website was a 2 sided marketplace. The idea behind my website was unproven, meaning there wasn’t anything like it in existence and I wasn’t sure if I was solving a true problem that needed to be solved. The first question to answer for a business like the one I was creating is whether my website was even needed. I didn’t need to spend the time on creating user profiles or developing extensive feature lists or pricing models.

Instead of building my full website with all the bells and whistles I could have built a smaller site focused on just one small geographic area, for instance my city and built a 2 page website. One page would be do you need this service? Page two would be can you fill this service? Super basic but something like this would have easily worked for me.

If I was able to finish the site in 2 months instead of 14 I could have spent a year trying to slowly prove each theory as they became the next important thing to prove. If the new websites cost was $500 then I would have approximately $5000 more to allocate over the year to slowly solve each problem and prove each theory.

From The Lean Startup I learned an alternate way to launch a business. This would be important for my future projects.
 

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“I Quit”

In early Fall 2012, 14 months after starting my website it was finally complete and ready to launch to the world.

I was so excited about the launch that I quit my job so I could focus on it 100%.

I still remember going in to quit my Project Management job and explaining why I was quitting. I had minimal responsibilities, no kids, no excuse to keep me from moving all my chips to the middle of the table. Even if it did fail I wouldn’t be that much worse off then I was previously.

Luckily at the time I wasn’t paid much (and no other people to look after) so losing my job/pay wasn’t taking away much money from me.

So I quit and went all in.

I still remember the first week working for myself. At my day job it was always a struggle to wake up and get to work by 8. But as soon as I was working for myself I was wide awake and ready to go at 4-5am.

Every day for that first month was a roller coaster. This chart has never been more of an accurate representation of my life then that first 4-6 weeks. Everyday was up and down, I think eventually you more or less just get used to the ups and downs.

chart.jpg


Unfortunately, it only took about 3 months before I realized the website was a dud. The website was a 2-sided marketplace, in order for it to have any value to customers I needed to have people on both sides of the market using the site. So you practically have to build 2 businesses. Getting the people that make up “side one” to the site is completely different than getting the people that make up “side two” to the site. This made it more challenging. Certainly not something I was equipped to handle at the time. Outside of the issues I had growing the user base, another issue was there was no real profit model then or likely in the future.

Somewhat recently a similar idea was pitched on shark tank. They had a lot of the same issues that I had and also had no real profit model. Unsurprisingly the sharks took a pass on the deal primarily because they didn’t see any way to make money on it going into the future.

In late 2012/early 2013 I shut down the website and with less than $1000 in the bank launched my next company a health supplement company.

For this company I applied what I learned from The Lean Startup to launch quickly and cheaply. I chose a private label supplement, people were already selling essentially the exact same thing I was selling so I didn’t need to answer the question of “do people want this?”

Answering the question “do people need what I am selling” is often the initial problem to solve, or theory to prove. Proving/solving that initial problem with an MVP before investing tons of money is ideal. When you private label or manufacture a product that people are already buying you already know people want it you just have to figure out the sales side.

So, the first question I had to answer was “can I get them to buy my supplement over others available?” I wasn’t confident that I could, the easiest place to start was Amazon. They already had the people searching for it I just had to get in front of them and convince them my option was the best.

To get launched as quickly and cheaply as possible, I ordered the smallest possible order from the manufacturer who had the lowest MOQ (minimum order quantity) which was 24 bottles.

I quickly drew up the labels for the bottles on Photoshop and impatiently waited for them to arrive a few weeks later. After a few hundred dollars and a few hours setting up Amazon/making bottle labels I was “launched” and ready to sell.

Getting the first shipment of supplements in was a very cool feeling. I hadn’t put in as much work as I did for the website but holding the bottle in my hands and seeing the label and brand that I created was very cool.

The label looked like shit by the way…

I saved a bottle from each batch for liability reasons and just recently threw them away. Seeing my label 5 years later was quite a different feeling than the one I got on day one!

You don’t have to launch the perfect product, just launch.

Once I had the bottles in hand and everything ready to go on Amazon it was early December 2012. I remember getting everything set up to sell on Amazon then selling a few bottles over the first few weeks of December. Then I went out of town for a long weekend over New Years. I still remember the feelings I had when I got the email that I had sold out of my stock and needed to replenish.

It wasn’t much money but the 10’s of dollars I made in a month were more than my previous idea had generated for me and that was a great feeling heading into 2013.

Note: Amazon in 2012 was completely different than Amazon now. The way I started my company by going into a popular market (most popular) and hoping for sales would never work today. Chances are if you can “launch” your company for a few hundred dollars its going to be insanely competitive. Not a recommended strategy today.
 

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After selling out of my first run of 24 bottles in early January I knew I would have some downtime before I would receive my next shipment and be back in stock. Being relatively new in this business I wasn’t positive how things would go after I got back in stock. Would I be able to keep up sales? How many sales can I make a month? Money was relatively tight so I needed a way to ensure I would be able to pay my bills and survive if the supplements didn’t keep selling.

Fall-Back Plan
Towards the middle of January I decided to start flipping items on craigslist. My goal was to flip enough items so that I would make enough money to pay bills, eat, etc. I did this so that I would know if everything went to shit I could at least make enough money to live off craigslist flipping.

Doing this for a month VERY part time I was able to make more than enough to live. I live in Kentucky and cost of living is relatively cheap. I would buy on craigslist and then take better pictures and list back on craigslist or amazon depending on the product.

This short test gave me the confidence to continue to push the supplement business and be a little more aggressive with inventory purchases. I could put most everything back into the business and know that even if I did mess up I would still be ok.

Sales Growth
During the first few months of 2013 my sales were increasing dramatically. Went from selling the first 24 units at end of December/early January to running through a few smaller reorders and then ordering 1000 bottles by the time March rolled around. As everything was rapidly growing, I would need to be more and more aggressive with re-orders to try to prevent selling out.

My turnaround time on these supplements was 3-4 weeks which seemed like forever at the time. Now I realize this is relatively short and a lot easier to plan inventory and finances then the 70-90 day turnaround times that come with importing product from overseas. If I was selling 100 units a week, I needed to have 400 units in stock to keep in stock for that month plus I would need to order 400 units for the next month so day 1 of the month I would need to have paid for 800 units total. Once you account for any growth your inventory costs grow exponentially.

I am glad that I did the short Craigslist test so that I could feel confident with the level of risk that I was willing to accept. It was a very liberating feeling, knowing that even if everything goes to shit, I will still be able to rely on craigslist to survive.

The first half of 2013 I spent a TON of time on Amazon. I spent a lot of time just searching on Amazon, looking at different products/pages to see what others were doing. I also spent a ton of time doing Amazon related google searches to figure out how to effectively sell my products on Amazon.

Over the hundreds of hours on Amazon I became very knowledgeable on how everything worked and what was needed to sell products. I think this one-track “mastery” was one of the best things I did/learned during 2013. For those starting out, I think having a one-track-mind can exponentially increase your chances at success. Don’t try to be everywhere, master acquiring customers on amazon, instagram, pinterest or wherever your ideal customers are. Once you do that, hire someone else to do that part of the process and move on to the next thing to master.

One of my most prominent memories of this time was a day when I was talking with @Eskil on skype about our supplement businesses. I had just woken up and checked on my Amazon sales and had 50 units in “pending” which typically meant they were sold but not always. At the time I was selling 20 or so a day and I remember telling Eskil there must have been some kind of issue with Amazon because no way had I already sold 50 units so early. Slowly as the day progressed, they all moved to sold and that became a regular occurrence.

That was the start of me realizing how big this could turn out.

One Year Anniversary of Quitting My Job
I wrote this in August 2013 in my progress thread and I think this is a good spot for it as well:

“So, I reached a pretty big milestone within the last week or 2. I have now officially been working for myself for an entire year.

13 Months ago, I was working 40 hours a week as a construction project manager at a small company sweeping floors. I decided it was now or never, I needed to quit the job and give my full attention to my own business. I had $2k or so saved up and have minimal expenses so I knew I had a little time before I would be out of money. At the time I was finishing up a SaaS website that I had worked quite a while on. After working on that project for the first 2 or so months I realized it was going to be a failure, so I killed it.

My next move was to do this supplement business, so I jumped on it, did some research and quickly bought my first order.

I didn’t have time to dilly-dally around, I needed to get started and move fast before I ran out of money. So, I just did it, got started, placed the order and kept moving.

You can see how the rest unfolded throughout the thread.

The main takeaway is to just START, once the pressure mounted and I had to make money I made it happen.

You can spend years doing research, reading forums and worrying about random corporate tax loopholes... You'll never start, there’s always more to learn. You don't need to know everything right now, get started, tackle problems as they come and be nimble.

As an entrepreneur you're just a problem solver, every day there’s a new problem or issue, learn as you go, solve the problems quickly as they come up and move on.

That’s what I've learned in the last year.

I look forward to the next year, I have some big goals for the next 6 months, should be a lot of fun”



20/20 Hindsight:
A lot of my focus in the back half of 2013 was on creating websites, building content, running ads and other stuff to drive customers to my website. This all ended up a waste of time and money as the website was never a real revenue generator for me.

When I first launched this company, my goal was to use the profit from it and invest into another business or idea. I think the success that I experienced in a relatively short period of time clouded my judgement and I thought I could turn this into a huge business by going all in on it. Looking back, I wish I would have stayed the course and just focused on my Amazon sales and either pocketed the profit or put it towards a different business.

Some of the reasons I shouldn’t have focused on building out the websites, content etc:
1. Too Competitive, supplements are crazy competitive, on Amazon at the time it was doable off Amazon was a completely different beast.

2. Me Too Product, the product was private label and essentially the same as every other person. Sure, you can market it and make it seem better but that doesn’t make it true. Something a fellow fastlaner said to me at the time that has stuck with me today is “why does the market need you to exist?”

3. No Passion, I didn’t have much interest in the market or any passion and on top of that I didn’t really like telling people what my business was because of the negative perception of the supplement industry.

In the end I learned a ton through the process of building the content, running ads, etc. but I also wanted to mention how I would do things differently in hopes that it would be of benefit to someone here.
 

Eskil

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Awesome to see you create this thread my friend!

One of my most prominent memories of this time was a day when I was talking with @Eskil on skype about our supplement businesses. I had just woken up and checked on my Amazon sales and had 50 units in “pending” which typically meant they were sold but not always. At the time I was selling 20 or so a day and I remember telling Eskil there must have been some kind of issue with Amazon because no way had I already sold 50 units so early.

And oh yes - I remember our chats back then, and that one in particular :) And meeting you at BnP in 2014.

Really proud of you to see how far you've come. Watching this thread...
 

1step

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In February 2014 I went to my first Fastlane Forum meetup. This event had a huge impact on my business and future plans. Not only did I meet a ton of awesome people who have helped me in countless ways over the past 5 years but also lead to major changes for my business.

A few of the eye-opening things that shaped my future from the meetup:

The idea of a Lead Magnet/Tripwire. Think of something that your ideal customer needs/wants that you can acquire cheaply and essentially giveaway (sell cheaply) to attract lots of your ideal customers? That’s the idea of a tripwire. As an example, if you want to sell various printing services to businesses you might offer them business cards for $1.

The Canton Fair. This is a huge showcase of products/manufacturers in China where you can walk hundreds of miles over a few days and hopefully stumble upon a golden goose.

After the Forum Meetup I decided to go to the Canton Fair to find a lead magnet/tripwire to add to my product funnel. At this point I was focused heavily on building out a funnel for the supplement company. I would bring customers into my website through Display Ads, videos, blogs and other content. Then I wanted to offer a tripwire to capture a higher percent of the customers visiting my site that I could then sell the supplements to in the future. For my tripwire I wanted something that would appeal to my ideal customers with high perceived value that was small and inexpensive. Not too much to ask.

Over the few weeks after the Forum Meetup and before the Canton Fair I built a list of product ideas that might work as the tripwire but I also wanted to be open to other ideas I might stumble upon. I went to the Fair with @TopChef and I think we walked nearly 100 miles over 10 days with some days being close to 15-20 miles. This is mostly surrounded by an assortment of products and manufacturers. Needless to say there’s a ton to “stumble upon” and I think being open minded about what I was looking for lead to good results.

In addition to looking for a Tripwire to add to my supplement business I asked friends and family for any products I should look for. The best idea I got was for a hard to find knife that a friend’s work was having a hard time finding.

It was with these ideas that I was off to China.

The Canton Fair was awesome. Over the past few years it has changed quite a bit but that initial trip was amazing. I don’t think I can overemphasize how much work @TopChef and I put in to try and find products. It was a ton of leg work and mentally and physically exhausting. It was also incredibly rewarding and being able to discuss products/markets and bounce ideas with someone else was very helpful. TopChef really pushed me to pursue the products that ended up working out best for me, not sure I would’ve gone down this path without that push.

Here’s a link to a write up about going to the fair, so I won’t touch on it much more here.

At the fair I found the tripwire I was looking for, the knife and a whole lot more.

After getting home and digesting everything I had found and experienced in China I knew it was the unofficial end of the supplement business.

It was approximately June 2014 and although we continued to sell the supplements for a few months after that my time, energy and resources into that business ended shortly after the Canton Fair.

Before moving on to what came next, I’ll just quickly wrap up the supplement business. I wrote this in Feb 2015 in a progress thread after “closing” the supplement business.

“My supplements were run of the mill products that anyone can buy from pretty much any private label company. When I got started selling on Amazon they were relatively competitive but nothing like they are today.

This was over two years ago and a lot has changed since then including a popular amazon coaching course telling everyone and their mom to sell supplements. The popular private label supplement niches have become a lot more competitive since then, specifically over the last year.

Over the last year the game stopped being “try and sell your product and market your brand” and became “sabotage the competitors.” There are tons of shady people selling on amazon (especially in supplements) and competition is fierce even more so in the most popular categories.

With all that being said over the last 9 months I stopped investing time into the business, after that, my sales ranks slowly dropped and eventually the new guys rose to the top and I was left with a few sales a day from long-time customers and maybe long tail KWs.

The Future of these Supplements:
I currently have a few bottles left at amazon but have pulled a ton off the site recently and will pull the rest within the coming week. I am going to send all my stock overseas and sell what I have remaining in another market… Or attempt to. Honestly, it’s just a test with a friend to see how this smaller growing market performs. I am pretty excited about this – more excited than I have been with this company in a while. It won’t have a huge impact now, but in the future, it could impact my other business significantly. I will spend no time doing this, all I will do is list the products and see what happens.

I know you and others here have started or are starting supplement companies. Maybe some of what I share below can help you with your planning, vision, and strategy.


Mistake:
The way I set up the supplement company was not with a long-term focus. My original goal was to use the supplements to make money to fund another venture (that has long since died). Unfortunately when I had success selling these I let it go to my head and thought that I could parlay that into more of a long term play with my own website and a straight sell offer. In my opinion this was a bad strategy for a variety of reason but one in particular is my product did not lend its self to long-term success.
Lesson: For this product I should have stuck to the original plan, use amazon as a traffic source to get sales and reinvest in other plays with a chance at long-term success.

The best thing… to come out of this venture is that I learned how to sell on Amazon, this can translate to any niche and has served me well in my new business. This is by far the best thing to come out of this venture. I spent a ton of time on Amazon especially early on and I picked up a ton of neat tricks.

The best thing… I did on this journey was get started and get going in the right direction quickly. I went from idea to being sold out of my first order in a few short weeks and kept going from there. I am glad I didn’t spend a ton of time planning and just got started, tried different things and kept moving.

If I could do it all over I would still start the supplement company but I would follow the original plan and use money from it to fund other ventures.”

With the supplement company my best month of sales was slightly over $80,000 but by the end of 2014 I will have already surpassed that with my new business.


***Part 2 of 2014 to come***
 

CardinalFlame

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2014

In February 2014 I went to my first Fastlane Forum meetup. This event had a huge impact on my business and future plans. Not only did I meet a ton of awesome people who have helped me in countless ways over the past 5 years but also lead to major changes for my business.

A few of the eye-opening things that shaped my future from the meetup:

The idea of a Lead Magnet/Tripwire. Think of something that your ideal customer needs/wants that you can acquire cheaply and essentially giveaway (sell cheaply) to attract lots of your ideal customers? That’s the idea of a tripwire. As an example, if you want to sell various printing services to businesses you might offer them business cards for $1.

The Canton Fair. This is a huge showcase of products/manufacturers in China where you can walk hundreds of miles over a few days and hopefully stumble upon a golden goose.

After the Forum Meetup I decided to go to the Canton Fair to find a lead magnet/tripwire to add to my product funnel. At this point I was focused heavily on building out a funnel for the supplement company. I would bring customers into my website through Display Ads, videos, blogs and other content. Then I wanted to offer a tripwire to capture a higher percent of the customers visiting my site that I could then sell the supplements to in the future. For my tripwire I wanted something that would appeal to my ideal customers with high perceived value that was small and inexpensive. Not too much to ask.

Over the few weeks after the Forum Meetup and before the Canton Fair I built a list of product ideas that might work as the tripwire but I also wanted to be open to other ideas I might stumble upon. I went to the Fair with @TopChef and I think we walked nearly 100 miles over 10 days with some days being close to 15-20 miles. This is mostly surrounded by an assortment of products and manufacturers. Needless to say there’s a ton to “stumble upon” and I think being open minded about what I was looking for lead to good results.

In addition to looking for a Tripwire to add to my supplement business I asked friends and family for any products I should look for. The best idea I got was for a hard to find knife that a friend’s work was having a hard time finding.

It was with these ideas that I was off to China.

The Canton Fair was awesome. Over the past few years it has changed quite a bit but that initial trip was amazing. I don’t think I can overemphasize how much work @TopChef and I put in to try and find products. It was a ton of leg work and mentally and physically exhausting. It was also incredibly rewarding and being able to discuss products/markets and bounce ideas with someone else was very helpful. TopChef really pushed me to pursue the products that ended up working out best for me, not sure I would’ve gone down this path without that push.

Here’s a link to a write up about going to the fair, so I won’t touch on it much more here.

At the fair I found the tripwire I was looking for, the knife and a whole lot more.

After getting home and digesting everything I had found and experienced in China I knew it was the unofficial end of the supplement business.

It was approximately June 2014 and although we continued to sell the supplements for a few months after that my time, energy and resources into that business ended shortly after the Canton Fair.

Before moving on to what came next, I’ll just quickly wrap up the supplement business. I wrote this in Feb 2015 in a progress thread after “closing” the supplement business.

“My supplements were run of the mill products that anyone can buy from pretty much any private label company. When I got started selling on Amazon they were relatively competitive but nothing like they are today.

This was over two years ago and a lot has changed since then including a popular amazon coaching course telling everyone and their mom to sell supplements. The popular private label supplement niches have become a lot more competitive since then, specifically over the last year.

Over the last year the game stopped being “try and sell your product and market your brand” and became “sabotage the competitors.” There are tons of shady people selling on amazon (especially in supplements) and competition is fierce even more so in the most popular categories.

With all that being said over the last 9 months I stopped investing time into the business, after that, my sales ranks slowly dropped and eventually the new guys rose to the top and I was left with a few sales a day from long-time customers and maybe long tail KWs.

The Future of these Supplements:
I currently have a few bottles left at amazon but have pulled a ton off the site recently and will pull the rest within the coming week. I am going to send all my stock overseas and sell what I have remaining in another market… Or attempt to. Honestly, it’s just a test with a friend to see how this smaller growing market performs. I am pretty excited about this – more excited than I have been with this company in a while. It won’t have a huge impact now, but in the future, it could impact my other business significantly. I will spend no time doing this, all I will do is list the products and see what happens.

I know you and others here have started or are starting supplement companies. Maybe some of what I share below can help you with your planning, vision, and strategy.


Mistake:
The way I set up the supplement company was not with a long-term focus. My original goal was to use the supplements to make money to fund another venture (that has long since died). Unfortunately when I had success selling these I let it go to my head and thought that I could parlay that into more of a long term play with my own website and a straight sell offer. In my opinion this was a bad strategy for a variety of reason but one in particular is my product did not lend its self to long-term success.
Lesson: For this product I should have stuck to the original plan, use amazon as a traffic source to get sales and reinvest in other plays with a chance at long-term success.

The best thing… to come out of this venture is that I learned how to sell on Amazon, this can translate to any niche and has served me well in my new business. This is by far the best thing to come out of this venture. I spent a ton of time on Amazon especially early on and I picked up a ton of neat tricks.

The best thing… I did on this journey was get started and get going in the right direction quickly. I went from idea to being sold out of my first order in a few short weeks and kept going from there. I am glad I didn’t spend a ton of time planning and just got started, tried different things and kept moving.

If I could do it all over I would still start the supplement company but I would follow the original plan and use money from it to fund other ventures.”

With the supplement company my best month of sales was slightly over $80,000 but by the end of 2014 I will have already surpassed that with my new business.


***Part 2 of 2014 to come***
Man this is a cliff hangerrrrrrr....
 

csalvato

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I think this thread wins the award for most under appreciated thread on the forum.

A handful of likes for insight into a very real and relatable journey.

Looking forward to the next installment my friend.
 

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SIDI

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I think this thread wins the award for most under appreciated thread on the forum.

A handful of likes for insight into a very real and relatable journey.

Looking forward to the next installment my friend.

Agreed. Both the content and the delivery is superb!

Keep it coming @1step. I’m really enjoying this!
 

Tom.V

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pkom79

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@1step helped me start my first business after the meetup in Arizona in 2014. I heard his story and decided to follow his footsteps and sell supplements on Amazon :)

He generously spend time to give me a ton of valuable tips that jump-started my business.

I never quite get to $80k/months with this business, but I generated high $XXX,XXX over the few years I was running it.

Thanks, @1step!
 

foodiepersecond

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I just started my online biz. Definitely going to fully read these and pick up some tips. Just when I feel that I am not ready to come to the summit, I hear stories like this and @pkom79 and it gets me that itch to get them tickets.
 

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Brings back great memories! I remember your presentation that year, and @TopChef, too. Both presentations were on tricks that I had never heard of, even being in e-commerce myself. It bolstered my decision to go to the meetup every year.

Fun times in Guangzhou. I don’t have a photo from 2014. I remember sitting on plastic stools in dark alleyways, drinking cheap convenience store beers (and soda), and getting eaten alive by mysterious bugs.
 

1step

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2014 – June to December

After returning from the Canton Fair I had found quite a few product/business ideas that I considered starting.

For the supplement business I had the tripwire I went to China for and also found a tea that would have made a good add-on for the future of the supplement company or even its own company. I also found a supplier for the knife I was looking for and an additional supplier for a housewares brand.

After some thought about how to proceed, I was just a lot more excited about the knife and housewares brand then I was about the supplements/tripwire/etc. So, I decided to get a small test shipment of the knife and housewares products and put everything else on the back burner.

The two new products that I would be importing were/are very unique and I wasn’t sure how they would sell. The knife was/is pretty niche and while I knew a handful of restaurants needed them, I wasn’t sure if this would be a B2C play at all. My friend who suggested the knife did say that they had customers ask where they could get a similar knife at times so that was reassuring however it was very much unknown.

For the housewares brand there was obviously a need/want for my product as people purchase similar products. However, the design of my product was very unique and it certainly wasn’t a guarantee that it would be well received.

Due to the above uncertainty and fear I decided to keep the supplement company running however I would invest much less time in it. I kept it running merely as an insurance plan in case my other new ideas didn’t work out.

20/20 Hindsight: I didn’t really think there would be much value in a supplement business that was 95% Amazon sales. At this time my 12 month sales were trending downward so it definitely wouldn’t have been the best time to sell but I think I could have made out a bit better if I would have sold the business instead of let it run and continue to trail downward over the next 9 months. Now you hear a lot more about people selling similar Amazon only companies but in 2014 I didn’t hear about that at all. Looking back I could’ve done better financially if I would have sold it than let it run itself into the ground.

Product/Supplier Diversity

For the knife manufacturer I had to pay for tooling costs and setup fees which made my first order relatively expensive considering the price per unit was only $4. I got 100 units and my total costs were $1500. The product costs for future orders would be around $4. Since it was a new product (no competitors) I wasn’t sure about the pricing and decided to start with $50 but would also test other pricing.

For the housewares brand my biggest initial assumption was that people would like the designs I have. People already bought products that accomplished the same thing that my products did, I just needed to prove to myself that they would buy the designs I had chosen. Since this was primarily a design play, I decided to diversify a bit by getting a few different designs of the product. So that I could figure out winners and losers and then expand based on that information.

You can think of the housewares products like table runners, I already knew people bought table runners but with my new unique designs I had to figure out if they wanted my designs and which designs were the best.

Additionally, quality would be vital for this company. There were many parts that could fail and manufacturing required quite a bit of skill. For those reasons I decided to test out 2 different manufacturers. I ordered a total of 4 different designs which included 3 designs from 1 company and 1 design from the other company. I ordered 100-500 of each design. The product costs for each design was around $10 on top of that air freight for them would be around $10 each. Like with the knives I wasn’t sure about pricing but products that fit a similar function with lesser design (in my opinion) were selling for $30-50 so I figured I would try $50-60 depending on the design (my opinion of the design) and see how things went.

Obviously, I wouldn’t make much money at these prices, but I knew in the future once I could use sea freight I would save significantly. I wasn’t concerned with margins on this first order I just wanted to prove demand for the designs and then go from there.

During this time, I was in constant communication with my manufacturers, the knife was relatively simple to make and there wasn’t a lot of need for back and forth but with the housewares products I was constantly speaking with them. Initially I would get an email or message from them at 10pm or so (10am their time) that I would handle before bed. Other issues would need to be addresses later into the night when I was sleeping. Slowly I realized how much more productive and faster everything would go if I was constantly available. So, to make communication easier my awake hours slowly shifted to be more in line with a normal Chinese business day and up until as recently as 2017 I was awake working until 6AM every night.

The First Sale

After production and delivery times were factored in we were into October and my first shipment had finally arrived.

For my first shipment I had a freight forwarder in China arrange delivery to my airport and then I would handle the paperwork and pickup. The guys in customs at my airport were moderately helpful but you could tell newbies like me didn’t go in there often. I told them what I was doing and how I had a shipment with a carrier at the airport that I needed to pickup. I think I either caught them on a day they were bored, or they just didn’t believe me but they decided we needed to ride over to the carrier and inspect the shipment right then.

We went over to the carrier and they opened up some of the boxes and inspected everything. Being the noob I am I didn’t bring my invoice with me so they couldn’t let me leave with the shipment but they said the inspection was fine and I just needed to bring up the invoice to the customs office the next day and they would give me everything needed to pickup the shipment.

Right when I was about to leave a guy came in from the back warehouse and asked if those were my products sitting on the boxes. I confirmed and he asked me how much I sold them for. I told him I was thinking about $50 but it was brand new and I wasn’t sure what it would be yet. He said he really liked it and wanted one. He had $30 on him and gave me that and said when I came back the next day he’d have the rest for me!

My first sale!

The next day when I came back to pickup the shipment he gave me the rest of the money and told me I should consider selling them for more and that he thinks there will be a huge market for me.

Definitely a great start to the new company!

At this time I was just using my home office & basement to store all my product. In the past this was never an issue because the supplements took up a very small amount of space. My new products were much larger and after having to make two trips to the airport and back my basement was a lot more crowded than it had been in the past. Going forward (and soon) storage was going to be a big issue.

After diving into the shipment 20% of one of the designs was damaged during transit. This was damage beyond repair, so a total loss. On top of that dozens (in total) of the other designs were also damaged beyond repair.

A few weeks later I got the first shipment for the housewares company from the other manufacturer. The quality difference between the two products was very noticeable however there wasn’t much damage.

Christmas Cash-In

Once the products arrived to Amazon the uniqueness of the designs really stood out and we got sales relatively easy through PPC.

As we got closer to the end of the year I had to figure out how much inventory to order for Christmas not really knowing what to expect. I thought our products would make good gifts but wasn’t sure if that meant to send 2x as many as we had been? 3x as many?

From the time we got our stock to Amazon in October up until the first week of November we had sold 50 units for the housewares company. I decided to send 200 units to see how that would go. Over the next two weeks in November we sold another 50 units. And then over the final week in November (black Friday/cyber Monday) we sold another 100 units.

After seeing how sales were picking up I sent 500 units thinking if they didn’t sell in December they’d be sold out by the end of January at-least.

The first week in December we sold another 200 units. As you can probably tell by now the 500 units didn’t make it to the end of December.

In total in December alone we had 1100 sales of the housewares products alone.

At the end of December, we were essentially completely sold out of our first orders.

The last week before Christmas we were pretty much sold out of everything so I started testing different prices. We sold the vast majority of them at $60 but they still sold at $70, $80, even $90. These tests were extremely valuable and to this day I still do this when we are running low on a product just to see how the price affects conversions.

The month was absolutely insane.

While the housewares products stole the show, the knives didn’t do bad either.

Towards the middle of November, we received the knives. Like the housewares products we had success targeting a few specific keywords through PPC.

Since our knife was the only one to fit those keywords we ranked for it relatively quickly which lead to constant sales. Although not a large amount of sales. In total we sold 100 knives in November and December.

In total for the year (Oct-Dec) we sold nearly 1400 units from the housewares company and all 100 knives. Gross sales for December alone was nearly $90,000.

Versus the previous company, it felt good to have a product that people truly wanted and were excited about. If the supplement business wasn’t dead already, it surely was now.

RIP Supplement Company.
 

amp0193

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The first week in December we sold another 200 units. As you can probably tell by now the 500 units didn’t make it to the end of December.

This was my first experience with my first amazon biz.

Big success right out of the gate.

What a rush!


Amazing about the first customer to the warehouse guy!
 

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Thank you for sharing, amazing journey so far!
 

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Ganglion

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I'm taking notes!

Biggest points so far:

Stop selling me-too private label products, ask:- “Why does the market need you to exist?”

“Versus the previous company, it felt good to have a product that people truly wanted and were excited about.”


I'm fed up of selling me-too private label products and using info marketing to convince people to buy MY stuff over someone else's, when I know there are thousands of other products just like mine.

My biggest barrier to coming up with a unique product is high minimum order quantities, prices for moulds etc.

Do keep the updates coming OP.
 

1step

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Can’t believe it’s been a year since I last updated. I have quite a bit written for following years but not to the point where I am ready to post any. I was thinking I would have more time to write this year but it’s been a crazy year. I’d like to get this up to date but we’re about to get into the holiday season and realistically I won’t have time to work on it very much until 2021. But I am around and I’ll make sure to continue on with this thread as I can
 

LightHouse

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What an amazing thread, Glad I found it. Even though I know a lot of the story, this gives it different context.

Can't wait for the next installment Addison!
 

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