My eCommerce Journey: How I Went From Side-Hustle To Full-Time Income with Drop Shipping
Hello! Trevor here with eCommerce Paradise dropshipping podcast and this will be a story on how I got started with ecommerce in the first place. I will share my journey from where I started my first business and selling it, growing my second business and also selling it, and growing my third and fourth business and doing the same thing again, and why I kept doing it.
How I Got My Start Selling Online with eBay in High School
It all started when I was in high school. I was taking a photography class, and the teacher wanted to sell old photography equipment. At that time, photography was moving from analog cameras to SLR and DSLR, and my teacher got the very first digital one and was very happy with it since everything was going digital. Obviously, he's like 'let me sell all my old photography equipment,' including ones that develop photographs and all that stuff. He had the class sit down and use lightboxes and stuff to make very nice product photography on products we wanted to sell.
Then we head to the computer lab and created product descriptions on eBay, and most of the class don't know what eBay was. At that time, eBay was virtually unknown since it was around 2003 to 2004. The site was not a new one, and we noticed people were having great success using their auction format to sell a wide range of products from their garage. We created product listings, list out the benefits of the product, and make it unique--our first taste of creating sales copy. We created keyword-rich titles and used keywords to the descriptions so people could find our stuff, and we did market research to compare prices in the marketplace.
We all learned that in high school. It was crazy as doing that was not normal (at that time), and none of our teachers were doing that. I can just say I was fortunate that a teacher taught me the foundations of ecommerce through a first-hand practice. I thought it was very cool and neat, so moving on to high school, I set up my own eBay account and started selling stuff that I had.
Ever tried collecting Pokemon trading cards and magic gathering cards? They were very popular back then (and even today). I had a lot of those leftover and did not want to throw them away, so I tried selling them on eBay.
Sure enough, it sold. I started making listings like single cards and packs of cards, and all of my trinkets and I make some money. I earned around $10, $50 to $150 from the average sale prices of $30 to $50. Since these things were already purchased by my parents, I just have to pay for shipping, and for me, the profit margin was quite high because I had no cost of goods. It worked out really well and made some extra money for after high school and college.
I Went To College and Discovered My Passion For Business and Marketing
I went to a community college after finishing high school, but I wasn't really focused on schooling. I figured out that all I will need in much of my life is basic math, basic geometry ideas, and basic algebra to run a business. Learning advanced English, history, and chemistry is beyond me, and I spent my time in classes doodling. Basically, I flunked out of schooling.
A few years later, I got a job as a salesperson for a warehouse in Los Angeles that sells security stuff like locks. That's the place where I learned to order fulfillment, packaging, and shipping stuff. I realized that it's the same thing I did on eBay, but I got to learn all the skills to be successful. I've been reading books like Rich Dad and Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, which mentioned that you must work to learn instead of working for your wage. Therefore, I tried to study all the aspects of the business, including sales and fulfillment. At that same time, I am thinking of starting my own company.
I Did Dumpster Diving To Get Out Of Debt, and It Saved Me
Eventually, I went up and moved to the sales department, handled the returns department. In there, I noticed that a lot of returns that were coming in were products that weren't actually defective, people just claim they were faulty or had scratches that they made up. The warehouse guys simply write it off, and instead of selling it at a discount, they would throw all those returns in the trash. So I talked to the manager to let me collect those stuff to sell on eBay, and got the permission as long as I do it after work and resell it at home. So I literally went dumpster diving and found plenty of excellent locks and random warehouse stuff to sell. I went home and simply cleaned them up, selected ones that are good, and listed them on eBay and sold them for high prices ranging $50, $150, $300 and even $500 since they were genuine and expensive items.
I was impressed to get stuff that companies literally threw in the trash, and I can support myself by just being resourceful. I earned only around $12 an hour before taxes, which is not good enough to live a good life in Los Angeles. Even at that time, living in that city is very expensive. Rent is expensive. The cost of the car is expensive. Insurance is expensive. I was into debt always, so I asked dad for help.
Luckily, dad's company was disposing a bunch of old and super-fast computers at that time. I looked online to see how much they were worth, and dad agreed to pay for the shipping and will dropship to the customer as a help to me. It was crazy as those units were pretty heavy and cost a lot to ship!
I listed them on eBay and sold every one of them. For every order, my dad would just take the computer unit and take it to the shipping place just around the street where it will be boxed and sent to the customer. The fees for shipping is around $50 to $300 per unit since it was heavy. I earned more than enough to cover all my debts and credit card, and became debt-free.
What Made Me Decide to Work for Myself and Not for Anyone?
At that point, I had an epiphany of starting a business after waking up one day at 7 in the morning. I am not a morning person and hate waking up in the morning, and I was so dead tired working the night before. I hate having to wake up early, drive half an hour to work, do the job I don't want to do, and deal with people I don't like to deal with. I hate driving in traffic, those very short breaks at work, finish up work late in the night because of my lazy superiors. I stayed in the company to learn about the business to help me when I start my own later, but it was becoming ridiculous! I know it was not for me.
I knew what I wanted in life. I love helping people, and I want to build a business out of that. I want to make something successful and have other people do the same. That's a reason why I create content almost every day. I think that consulting is a great thing to do. There is the internet and video technology, where it is possible to do a podcast and have people listen anytime they like. It is almost free to start a website and a YouTube channel to use to spread ideas.
I Faced Failures in My First Venture
I really wanted to start on my own, so I made my skateboard brand with a partner because I am into skateboarding in the first place. I made my own designs, which I admit we're not great because I am not that creative. I bought like, 50 decks upfront with my life savings, which is my number one mistake. I did not purchase multiple designs and multiple sizes.
I did not have a distribution plan. I didn't even have any ecommerce websites set up. I simply went to the skate park and showed my decks and used my salesman skills to make a sale. I tried to get the board to the shops. I sold some, but it was not enough to be called a business. One summer, I even tried sponsoring a whole team of skaters at one time, gave them decks to grind and film a whole bunch of videos. It was such a great time and memories. However, at the end of the summer my money ran out, and I have no choice but to shut the business down.
Things were not that great in my first venture. There is no planning. I have not attended any business or marketing classes yet. It was all haphazardly done.
First Taste of Success
One day, my workmate at the lock warehouse came up with an idea for dropshipping, which is advantageous because we don't have to put up money upfront and do any product design, development, and packaging. We are able to secure a dropshipping account by presenting ourselves as a mobile bike shop, using my partner's locksmith van slapped with our logo and website. All we have to do is purchase 10 bike units wholesale, at $10 each (we choosed kid's bikes since it was the cheapest) for an initial $100 investment.
I set up a very simple HTML website and worked on it for over a month. Back then, I didn't know about Shopify and Wordpress yet. I decided to use other platforms as fees are high on eBay. I will always remember the day I finally got the sale. It was a freaking blessing, and I was so happy. I got the order, sent it to the supplier and shipped it out, and the customer was delighted with it. I made $30 on that order.
There I decided to scale up and add more products to the website, optimized product descriptions and looking for suppliers. We started making more sales (and issues, but it is part of the game) and made extra hundred bucks for six months. The website looked pretty bad, so I put more effort into it by hiring SEO consultants. I made it out of the holiday season with a few thousand dollars in profits.
I realized that Wordpress is much better, so I set up a website with Woocommerce plugin. I made sales almost right away on bikes that are priced around $300, $600, and $1,000 because we're driving traffic from Google Ads, SEO, and videos from Google shopping ads. We were starting shifting from single-gear bikes to more expensive road bikes, and I started working from home and building the company. I began to gain attention and began buying other products to sell online. Note that I am still was working at the lock warehouse. Eventually, my bosses saw what I am doing and stopped me because I was basically selling my bikes at work.
I was making enough money at that point. It was 2013, and that is the time I broke the six-figure mark, causing over 100,000 in sales. I decided I will be quitting my day job, but it didn't went to the plan. One day, my boss told me I will be fired because I was giving employees 'other ideas' so I was laid off.
Still, I was more than happy. I continued my business and filed for unemployment that gave me a percentage of my past wage. Back then, my business is a sole proprietorship and have no W-4 attached to it. Therefore, I got my unemployment income and dropshipping income. I also did side gigs of creating web stores for other locksmiths I worked as clients back at the warehouse.
I got involved in other business like MLM and life insurance. By 2014, things started taking off. We were selling a lot on eBay and Amazon.com, and we even began selling expensive electric bicycles that gave us even more profit.
There was a time where I sold Fix-It kits, electric bike kits that can be retrofitted into electric mountain bicycles, which I thought was cool. However, I found out that the only supplier who got them are getting it from imported low-quality Chinese kits. I got to start somewhere, so I took them and dropshipped them, and it was profitable. Of course, I got issues since those are poorly-made with faulty electronics and there is no one to work on them. But, it was a start.
Opening My First Physical Store, and My Mistakes
Having a physical store is not for me, as I wanted to travel the world and don't want to be location dependent. Yet I did open a small physical shop with a partner, where we sold regular bikes, fix-its, electric bicycles, and worked on there the whole summer. It did somewhat well, but not as profitable as my internet store. In fall, everything was falling apart, and the shop just became a hangout spot with lots of drinking and partying.
Right around Christmas, I forgot to close the gate one night, and the shop got broken into. Someone rolled over and broke the windows. Luckily, I left the alarm on and went off to scare them away, and only a few bikes were stolen. The cops came and called me three in the morning, and scared the crap out of me. After fixing everything, everything is not just the same after that incident. I didn't feel comfortable. I wanted out, and my business partner agreed to secede from the partnership as long as I handled the debts, and we have to let go of our deposit. Fortunately, I found someone to continue the lease, able to send most of the stock back to the distributor and get a refund, and sell the rest on Craigslist. I got out of that store. I had a horrible experience in that partnership.
Selling the Online Bike Shop Business
After that, the worst happened. The beginning of 2015 was a wreck, and everything looked bleak. I got kicked out of Amazon because of issues on selling those shoddy Chinese electric bikes. I also got kicked out of eBay a month later due to the same reason. Things went from bad to worse quickly as website sales were down, and I just got out of the bike shop. Suddenly, eBay and Amazon were no longer viable and removed a third of our income.
At that point, I have two choices. I can switch over to Shopify and try to make it happen again. Or, sell the online bike shop and get big cash to start a new venture on a different niche. I listed the website for sale on Flippa.com looking for a minimum payout of $50,000. Note that the site was not selling any eBay or Amazon assets and got no VA running it so we have lower multiple, and things were not looking great. Fortunately again, I did end up with a guy offering $50,000, and I accepted the cash.
Suddenly, all of our stress disappeared as if nothing happened. Now I got no business in life and nothing to deal with, just hours and hours with nothing to do and having a bunch of money in the account. It was such a strange feeling.
Soon, it kicked in. Yes, I got cash, but I'm going to owe some in taxes, and I don't have a job or a business. I can't just sit here in Los Angeles and spend $5,000 a month on living expenses. I have to figure something out quick, either start a new business or do something to get out of debts and costs we're having. I can't start a new business after all that stress, so my girlfriend and I at that time decided to take a break and start traveling.
My Start as a Digital Nomad
The first step is to sell everything, and we just did that. We have tons of stuff, and we sold it on Craigslist and other sites. We were able to sell them at a reasonable price and sold my car and motorbike as well. We luckily found someone to take over the lease to our apartment. Then we started to make a road trip using my girlfriend's car. First, we went to Idaho to visit my mom, then went on the stunning California coast, and went back to Los Angeles. We got married there and then headed to Cancun. We went back again, and road tripped to Utah and went through all the national parks, and went through a bunch of places. We got back to Los Angeles again in winter.
During our road trips, we're not staying in hotels. We stayed in camping sites, or simply set up the tent, everywhere we go. In that way, we spent $30 a night instead of $100 in a hotel and saved us a ton of money. I paid and took online courses. With no responsibilities, it was crazy but fun. It was a total, idyllic peace, and I passed the time reading books and stuff to keep up. It was one of the best summers of my life.
Still, we have to figure out to make an income, so we started driving for Uber and Lyft. Julianna drive mornings and then I would drive evenings. We got together in the afternoons and would discuss to figure out something. Driving for Uber and Lyft was good for a short term but not for long when you factor the car expenses and gas.
I wanted to make a new website and try different ideas. I tried selling paddleboards, boat supplies, and outboard motors, all without success because I did not have the right suppliers and distributors. I was lost. I can't do my old business due to a non-compete agreement, and I just can't go back to a partnership to get back into my former niche.
However, one week later, I got an email telling me that the guy that bought my old business actually sold it to someone else, so the non-compete agreement was void. I knew it was profitable and was such perfect timing. So I literally just put up a website overnight and used all conversion techniques and traffic methods I learned from online courses. We started making sales almost right away because the competition was super low and there is such good demand.
On a side note, I remember making a sale that turned out to be fraudulent and a guy calling me on the phone, and we ended up losing a thousand dollars. Therefore, I installed a fraud-detection app to prevent that from happening again. We took sales online from now on, and we have to approve before shipping it out. Besides that, it was very profitable.
At that time, I was watching YouTube videos about other digital nomads living abroad in Thailand and other places doing the same dropshipping business. I talked about it to Julianna, and she agreed to my plan. So we sold everything again, sold her car this time, and adopted out our cats, and decided to fly overseas.
Moving Out of the USA
Now we have nothing but our suitcases with laptops and our dropshipping business, so we flew to Thailand and secured got a 6-month visa so we could stay for six to nine months without any issue. We went to Chiang Mai and met the popular digital nomad community there. It was a great experience. We grew our store, did some live talks and public speaking engagements about ecommerce and dropshipping.
I achieved what I always wanted to do. Before, I started this business just to have an income and did not know how to do it properly. Now with my experience, I can do my dream job of selling information, products, courses, and do coaching and consulting as a business itself. I can now consult with people about their jobs and stories, and not just running myself.
We continued to travel and toured Malaysia, the Philippines, and Europe and took the business with us. We went all over the place. We hired a virtual assistant to do the sales and customer service for us so we can do the crazy lifestyle we enjoy, like scuba diving, and still make a thousand-dollar profit at the end of the day.
Despite the success, some things did not go smoothly. The online business became stressful on our relationship, and my wife and I had plenty of disagreements to the point of being unhealthy. I became somewhat depressed. We decided to move to Bangkok since I wanted to move to bigger cities and there are more skateboarding places there. However, things between us are so unhealthy that I started going to coffee shops all the time to work just to avoid stress.
We also built another business, this time selling mobility scooters. We started doing it and forgot about it because our business is really profitable. It ended up selling it just like what happened to our old road bike store. We got other problems, like having really high expenses due to traveling and spending, things like that. At that moment, I felt like running into the wall again. The store is doing somewhat well, but not too great, and we need the cash. So I listed it for sale and it was sold, and gladly the new owners are great, and the site is doing great ever since.
Then we built another store, and I poured all my effort into it. The new store became very profitable and grew like crazy, earning like $50,000 to $90,000 a month. Then, an investor called us and offered to buy our store plus the duplicate we made out of it for $50,000 each. That summer, $100,00 was wired into our account, so we sold three stores in 2018 and had all this cash.
Getting into Coaching Business
So I decided to build this business out. Now instead of making new dropshipping stores, I decided to build one dropshipping store for a case study to teach a course on how to do it. I created a whole dropshipping course that entire summer, all while sampling local cuisines and having massages because things are cheap and fun in Thailand. I will never forget my first customer who bought my course, which I had back in Chiang Mai. He purchased the course for $50, and he's happy with it. I was amazed. Three months later, I got my first monthly customer, paying $47 a month on my then newly-formed membership group eCommerce Paradise.
Growing this course and selling it was a big step for me. I had to make new content always so I film tons of tutorial videos, improving my high-ticket dropshipping store, filming for the masterclass, and launching it with content and emails.
All of that paid off. Last year with our business eCommerce Paradise we've done over $150,000 in profit. We have high-profit margins and sold a few done-for-you service packages. I hired a team to work for me, and the customers are doing great.
Current and Future Plans
My focus is on automating the business and taking myself out of it as much as possible. I will have to close the agency and stop coaching for a while so I can focus on the course, selling and optimizing the course, doing more videos and content marketing. I want the business automated, so I don't have to be physically present for any specific. That's my goal for now, and I am happy with that. I will be back to coaching when I am ready.
Right now, we have three drop shipping stores and building more of them, and my team is managing them. It will be exciting, and eventually, my goal is to build up eCommerce Paradise to a point where an investor would be interested in buying it from me. So if you're interested in buying your own business or a dropshipping store, let me know and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk.
What I want now is to grow my business and have an awesome lifestyle. I am currently staying in Indonesia due to visa issues in Thailand. Things are going great here in Bali, and I am enjoying the Indonesian culture. I plan to return to the US this summer and stay there a little bit, get my Indonesian and Thailand visas again, and go back and forth. I also plan to tour Europe this summer. I like to do it because it is fun to travel and do business building and learning.
Unfortunately, my wife and I decided to separate as she wanted a steady home while I want to travel. She went back to the US. We're living our lives separately, but we're still working on our business together, and it's working great.
And that's my story so far this 2019. I will be adding more as time goes on. That's this episode and I hope you enjoyed it.
If you're interested in getting started with high-ticket drop shipping, doing what I do, get my free niches list here on www.ecommerceparadise.com/99niches. Get into my free course, and there might be a Webinar at that point as well when you're watching this.
Get into my masterclass www.ecommerceparadise.com/masterclass and build your own store, build your own business, build your own lifestyle business where you can be location independent, have freedom of time, and do whatever you want to do. Work for yourself, make your own money and achieve financial freedom so you can work at home and travel abroad. It will take a lot of work and learning, but it is worth it. It is possible since I did it, and I am the perfect example of what is possible. Learn new skill sets that weren't taught in high school and college. Thanks and see you in the next episode.