TL;DR – 46, with no prior ecom or fashion experience, have grown my business from $2k a month to $100k a month in the last year. My wife and I run everything ourselves with no employees. AMA
In 2015, a friend of mine suggested, I start a private label Amazon business. So I did. Started with about $5k up front. It blew up. I had one two top 100 products in Beauty for like a year. I quit my $150k a year job and was happy! But then the competition came (since I was just arbitraging, I should have forseen it). I made $1 million in 3 years, but the race to the bottom killed it. I lost like $50k in 2018, and had to go back to corporate America, but had moved and blah blah, made only $45k in 2018 and 2019, and was really depressed about my lot in life.
However, during my success, my wife had an idea for a business she wanted to start. So she did. But it was more her thing, while I did my thing. I'd tried to start FB ads, but while I had mastered Amazon, I had no experience with FB. Couldn't get ads to work profitably. Tried it a few times, but always stopped because it wasn't profitable. On April 3, 2020, I started a new type of ad on FB that I hadn't tried before (catalog ad pointing to a 5% lookalike audience of a customer list I'd uploaded) and things took off from there.
As you can see from the image, sales have been up and down, but that's largely due to the fact I kept running out of inventory. I'd put the last year in 3 phases
The first phase was infrastructure – I was seeing success and profitability and I knew this had immense long term promise, so I didn't invest much in marketing because I didn't want my sales to outstrip my demand. So I worked to build infrastructure to support the growth that I foresaw.
We went on Clutch.co to find some shopify agencies that could build us a much improved site. My wife had done the previous on herself. They sucked. It was supposed to take 2 months; it took 9.
My wife chained herself to a chair and got cranking out new designs. From the time we started in 2016 until early 2020, we had maybe 25 designs. We have over 100 now. Many of them are not even available yet since manufacturing takes 4 months and shipment has been crazy delayed, so there is significant growth yet to come
I got us on every platform possible. I didn't know anything about Google or FB or Pinterest or whatever, but I made it a goal to at least get on every platform for free. Pinterest, FB, Google, Instagram Shopping, etc. All the platforms have internal marketing experts that will help you do it, or do it for you. Then I/they can cheaply test some content to see what converts. Any of the major places people could possibly buy or become aware of our items, and it was free to set up, I did it. I set up accounts on Faire Wholesale (awesome) and Shopify's Handshake (worthless).
I raised money. Took out a mortgage. Got a line of credit from Chase. Got working capital from Shopify. I also filled out something on LendingTree and got absolutely hilariously offensive awful rates. Like 30%-40%. I needed inventory
Phase II was transitioning – My time the last year has been about 50% doing work and 50% researching what and how to outsource. I was spending
I moved to a fulfillment company (not really happy with them, but they are able to deliver accurately and timely, so not looking to move). I tried hiring an agency to do my FB ads for me, but they were awful. We were extremely fortunate that my in laws had an old building we could use for inventory. I first was bringing back stuff so my wife and I could pack 50 orders every couple days. Then I had to start fulfilling from the warehouse directly where I was doing 100-200 orders every few days. There was a point in time where I was spending 5 hours every day, but finally was able to extract myself completely from that process.
The other big time suck was managing all the ads. have since brought it back in house and instead got a part time (10 hours a month min $170/hr) freelancer form MarketingHire and that has freed up a ton of time. I have not yet done big promotions still because I wanted to further build out our product offering before I started with material promotions (kind of hard to explain why without explaining my business too much)
Sales have kind of been stagnant the last few months because FB/Instagram profitability has been awful the last 6 months or so. From April-Sept I was consistently getting 3-4 ROAS. Now it's rare I beat 2, so I haven't yet been doing a ton of promotions. But in that time, I have been more easily able to manage inventory with less volatile sales
I worked to improve content. All we have is customer generated photos. I worked with a company to create content for us, photos, videos, etc, so that our ads will be more compelling and convert better
Dove into shopify to find all the various ways I could improve my site and increase AOV. There are a ton of applications that can move the needle a little bit. Presale apps bring in a lot of cash. Bulding and cross sells increases OAV. Improved search. Order tracking. I can think of more.
I am now entering Phase III which is going to be profiteering
I made $45k each of 2018 and 2019 and both my wife and I got laid off from our jobs early in 2020. I can't fathom the misery of my life in an alternate universe right now if this business fortunately taken off. Even though my business is generating tens of thousands a month in profit, I'm still living in poverty because all of my money is going to inventory, but in the next two months I am going to be flooded with new products and new inventory that I think could quickly make us go from $150k a month to $300-$500k
I am starting to work with alternate marketing channels since FB/Insta isn't profitable. We've started talking to influencers. I will be doing a big promotion with an influencer with millions of followers next month as my first test
We have started talking with larger platforms (like like2knowit) or other startups that can help expand our awareness.
My biggest challenges during this time, including still is finding information. I have no prior experience in this realm so it's a lot of drinking from a firehose. I don't know of any communities where I can speak with fellow soloentrepreneuers in a bit more specific detail of my challenges. Every community I do find whether it be discord or whatsap or …reddit, includes those trying to sell services to people like me and they basically just flood every community or spam people who post. I would love to find a community of solo entrepreneurs with 7 figure stores (AND NO SERVICE PROVIDERS) discussing challenges and solutions.
Happy to answer any questions. As you can see from my username, I am not trying to sell you anything. I am not trying to sell a class or product or anything.
Basic facts * physical products – kind of fashion adjacent. I'm not giving you detail about my product/market/etc whose only purpose is to help you find a hot market * AOV = $40 * Product made in China or India.
* My wife designs everything and we buy in bulk and hold inventory.
* Margins are great. About 70% retail and about 35% wholesale (after commissions) * Marketing costs are high. it's about $20 per sale on FB/insta which really kills profits * Social following 12 months ago was about 5,000 followers. Now is about 40k combined. Though I have not done anything proactively to obtain followers.
*Email list is about 15k. Additionally not really leveraging yet.