My story begins way back in 2009, when I was just a college graduate who had no real plans for the foreseeable future. Still, entrepreneurship is something that came natural to me, and I sincerely hope I’ll be able to keep hammering away at it throughout the rest of my livelihood.
It all began at the University of Florida, where my first gig was selling football tickets. As a scrawny white kid, I definitely stood out from the crowd, that’s for sure. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the best therapy for a boy like me. In my opinion, every entrepreneur should pass through a rejection therapy, in order to learn how to deal with refusal. After I graduated, I migrated to websites like TicketMaster and Stubhub, where I continued buying and selling tickets. You’d be surprised to hear just how interesting this job is, and if you’re really good at supplying the demand, you’ll never run out of business. The problem is, it’s quite repetitive, and after a while, you simply get bored with re-entering the captcha time and time again. Perhaps the biggest issue for me personally was not providing people with real value, something I now take pride in.
This tedious business was started to get to me, so I switched lanes, and visited a friend in China. After 6 weeks, I went back home and obviously, had to come back with some souvenirs and gifts for the ones closest to me. Among the various gadgets, one particular watch garnered the most attention, as people simply couldn’t stop asking about it. Out of sheer curiosity, I contacted my friend from China once again (who worked there as an English teacher at the time) and he found the supplier. I believed that a wealthy partner/investor is the way to go, so I reached out to my only wealthy friend for a $4,000 investment, and we got an arrangement to be 50/50 partners. The watches went for only $3, so I order 800 pieces, and spent about $3,000 for my own website.
Lesson 1 Don’t spend over $300 on your first web presence
After I invested a mad sum of cash into that website, I decided to ditch it and create one on Shopify by myself instead. Trust me, It’s super easy, and I guarantee you’ll be able to pull it off. My initial price was set at $65.
Lesson 2 Price high
Although it may sound counterintuitive to some, this is the right choice. With a better clientele, more space for wholesale/distributors, less returns, and a bigger perceived value, it comes with no drawbacks. Fun was always the goal of my brand. I tried my best to please the customers by throwing down awesome contests, have cool photoshoots and such, and it resulted in a pool of satisfied buyers. By pure luck, I got to meet a Groupon rep, and we agreed upon a deal. At the time, Groupon was primarily a website for food, and my watches were one of the first products out there. Sales numbers were good, so they included my brand in the Black Friday national deal. In only 3 days, more than 7,000 of my ’deals’ were sold! Unfortunately, my Chinese supplier turned out to be a trade company, and there was no way we could supply the demand based only on his ’credit’. Man, that was a hard blow for me, as the entire deal nearly went down the drain, and with it, my business as well. Only about 70% of orders were completed successfully, and others got refunds, but I got a ton of hate, as I basically ruined so many people’s Christmases. Incredibly, Groupon somehow paid me the full amount, despite the fact I failed to fulfill around 2,000 orders. In case you were wondering, the name of my company was TIKKR, but it’s not in business anymore. Who knows, maybe I’ll get back to it one day. The sad truth was, I saw that my empire didn’t have a bright future, as there were 50 companies which sold the exact same watch like I did. Among them, Walgreens was selling it for only $4.99 at the time, albeit without a brand name. I struggled for some time, as watches simply weren’t of the highest quality, and I was spending big bucks on returns and warranties. Ultimately, I needed a fresh start, but my inspiration was lacking. I cannot recall just how it came about, but suddenly, I realized that bamboo sunglasses were becoming a thing. Back in 2012, I found myself in Chicago, the home of Groupon headquarters. My friends from China reached out to me, proposing we start a joint project once again. Through a friend who worked at Groupon, I was able to get access to their sales floor, and I simply chatted with people until I got in touch with a girl who was selling fashion accessories.
Lesson 3 Always stay in the game and hope for your big break
After some negotiation, we agreed on a deal, and I needed to prepare 10,000 units for sales on a national level. We were somehow able to gather $180,000 between 3 partners, the Groupon insider, friends from China, and myself, using most of TIKKR money and a big loan from the Bank of Mom! Our business plan was fairly straightforward. The guys from China were in charged with production, I handled marketing and branding, and the Groupon dude, was well, the Groupon dude. The name Woodies sounded awesome to me, but I first had to to buy rights to Woodies.com from a Canadian fellow, who was using it to sell hockey stick chairs. In case you were wondering, I got the idea from vintage Woodie station wagons which had a frame made from wood. Due to my obsession with Ashley Sky, I wanted to hire her for the photoshoot, and I also rented a few awesome rides for this purpose as well. Although she had 100k Instagram followers, she only asked $600 for a day of photoshoot, which in my mind was a deal made in heaven. After the Groupon sale went live, we only sold 4,000 instead of 10,000 units.
Lesson 4 Keep a positive attitude, but stay realistic with your forecasts
Wanna hear a crazy story? I cannot recall how many time a thought I had a world breaking deal on my hands, just to see it vanish in an instant. Even the deals which were mildly successful weren’t as rewarding as I originally hoped for. It struck me that I was living out a story from the Old Man and the Sea. I was landing huge deals, but after I completed the job, I was left with only a small part of my initial fortune. Problems with warranties, customers service and fees, shipping costs and other expenses quickly add up. One thing lead to another, and due to our ’poor’ sales numbers, my suppliers from China ran into their own financial hardships. Eventually, the Groupon guy and myself took over their part of the business out of sheer necessity.
Not everything was bad, though. After paying off our friends from China, we were left with a $140,000 capital base. We knew that our business had massive potential, but we were still unable to cope with a big order, so we turned to Kickstarter, which was really just starting to blow up at the time. I decided to go big, and planned to hire Kendall Jenner for this campaign. It took a long time, but I was eventually able to contact her modeling agency and get in touch with her direct manager. Their asking price was set at $100,000 for a single day! I tried to create a Pinterest board and send it her, asking if she could drop the price down to $25,000 including a ton of incentives, and to my amazement, she said YES! After wrapping my head around that number, I realized that we could get a return for our money, but we had to raise a lot of funds from our Kickstarter campaign. I hired Kendall Jenner, Ashley Sky, Aygemang Clay, Damaris Aguiar, Lyall Aston was a photographer, Sagette Van Embden was responsible for video production, styling was done by Lina Palacios and Mary Guthrie handled hair and makeup. The production was so insane, that I was simply in awe. By using Southwest Airlines buddy passes, I decided to fly everyone down to Malibu, CA. Most of these incredibly hot girls never encountered this form of travel, I can guarantee that much! All the time, I was sweating bullets, hoping that everything works out for the best. I endured a lot of stress during those days.
Lesson 5 Don’t put yourself down
In entrepreneurship, you’ve got to be ready to keep on fightting, and embrace the challenges. I’m not gonna lie, there were plenty of time where I thought the competition would eat me alive, and I was nothing more than a ’pretender’. However, be aware that the best tactics was always fake it til you make it! Still, let’s get back to the story. I rented a van and a HQ in Malibu through Airbnb. Looking back on it now, I can’t help myself but laugh. Imagine driving big shots like Kendall Jenner, Damaris Aguiar, Ashley Sky, and some of my friends in a rental van across Malibu! To make matters worse, we were kinda late, so I had to push the pedal to the metal, so that got me scolded by Kendal’s manager, as I was driving too fast. Oh yeah, I was also wearing a captain’s all the time, because that was my thing back in the day. Fun times.
Although Kendall agreed with my Kickstarter campaign, the results were pretty underwhelming. I was only able to raise like $30,000 and had about $70,000 spent in investments. In hindsight, I don’t think I’d go through this ordeal again. Luckily for me, Kendall became a huge celebrity, so it raised a lot of recognition for my brand as well. Additionally, because her management let me write the contract, I basically have rights to those photos and video material forever. What a win! It only took a single tweet from Kendall, and I grew my number of email subscribers by 20,000, which turned out to be a steady source of revenue ever since. When it comes to the business side of things, the income is seasonal, with peaks throughout the summer and Christmas season. Woodies evolved a lot during the years, starting from watches to sunglasses, with business going from big to boom. Another good boost came from selling on Amazon, which was sorta surprising.
At the time, I was running on fumes, barely taking any paychecks, and actually had to move back in with my mom in Tulsa. Other than a few Bitcoins, I had zero savings, and spent my days traveling the world. During this time, my entrepreneurship came down to a few epic wins, and more than a few moderate losses. Still, this was an exciting journey, as I got to travel the globe, mingle with gorgeous models, perform creative tasks, and improve myself as a person overall. Ultimately, it proved to be a valuable lesson, and I would hardly change a thing.
Before I forget, let me mention some of the tech I used up to this point:
- Amazon FBA and Shipwire (Amazon trumps it in every aspect)
- All Google platforms such as Gmail, Analytics, Google Forms, Google Drive
- Shopify and Xero for E-commerce and accounting
- Fiverr to improve overall product reviews
- Alibaba for connecting with suppliers. Remember to keep in touch and invest in this relationship as much as possible
- Mailchimp as a tool for email marketing. In my case, this worked out the best
Important things I’ve learned:
- International shipping and wholesale business aren’t worth the effort, as they are both time consuming and offer small rewards in return. Until you make it big, you might want to stick to domestic clientele.
- Always start small and test the market first, before you decide to splurge big bucks.
- Data management and accounting systems are vital, so pay close attention here, as it might come in handy when you least expect it.
- Shout-out to my friend and ex-employee Joanna, who motivated me to work harder and always had great business ideas. When you’re hiring personnel, always go for the best option, friendship favors will get you nowhere fast.
Naturally, there were a couple of loose ends I had yet to take care of, including:
- Customer service management (answering those boring emails is so tiring)
- CRM such as Salesforce (although I’m not sure this is actually necessary)
When it comes to services, there are more than a few worth mentioning. Seriously, just now I’m starting to realize how many of these damn things I really use. Might as well cancel a few in the future, LOL. Either way, here it goes.
After 5 years of doing business with Woodie, I started to get a grip on things. With no partners or employees around, I am my own boss. This allows me to control my business, down to the slightest nuances. However, there’s only so much time in a day, and these services can be a life saver. Automation has truly taken things to another level.
Shopify: Alpha and Omega of the eCommerce space.
Make an offer: Pop-up which allows buyers to offer a bid for the product of their desire. They give their email address in the process, which I use to send them a discount code with Zapier and later fetch them to Mailchimp.
Login with Amazon: Although 60% of all traffic comes from mobile, checkouts only account for about 20%. Why is that? It’s actually a simple reason, it’s much harder to enter your personal info this way. This terrific app allows them to use their Amazon account, as well as choose their payment method and address.
ShopiMap: Every customer gets pinned, along with their orders. It’s perfect for social proof.
Yotpo: When I got them, the prices started at $30 per month, but the value has skyrocketed these days to $300! This fantastic app automatically sends review requests and showcases them on product pages.
CovetPics: A simply Instagram plugin which is used to design a collage from my photos. Honestly, this app may be a bit redundant these days.
Spently: Default confirmation emails from Shopify and terribly boring and plane, but Spently bring fun into the equation. Shout to Nick!
Compass.Co: Number one eCommerce analytics, as far as I’m concerned. Not only that it pulls tons of information I never even knew existed, it also organizes it all it a super neat way.
Amazon: My primary sales platform, which accounts for more than 60% of my overall sales.
Customer Service: An integral part of any business. Fortunately for me, my mom is hired for this part of the job. Although my mom is busy, you can test your luck on a website called HireMyMom. That’s a real place guys, laugh all you want. Greetings to moms across the globe, though, you are awesome!
AmazonFBA: 100% of my products are dealt through this great service. They receive, store, pack and ship out all of my products. It allows me to live as a full-time traveler, and it made the logistics so much simpler.
Amazon Affiliates: There are tons of individuals who use Amazon Prime as their primary service, and honestly, I completely get that. At the end of the day, free shipping is a welcomed bonus. Because of that, each of my product pages includes a link to my product listings on Amazon, and through affiliate links, I’m able to gather around 1% of the order. Ultimately, it only adds up to about $100 per month, but why throw that away.
- FeedbackGenius: Because reviews are an integral part of Amazon business, this app is a definite must-have. It sends auto-feedback pop-ups to thousands of orders on a daily basis. Trust me, this is absolutely essential.
- HelloProfit: After I reviewed what this app had to offer, I went ahead and canceled my subscription. Paying $79 per month to clean up a report of Amazon simply seemed like a rip-off.
- Cloudflare: I guess it’s supposed to make my website run smoother for $20 per month, but honestly, I haven’t got a clue how this actually works. Care to enlighten me?
- Typeform: It’s a service I use to gather info from giveaways.
- Zapier: Works really well with the previously mentioned service. I use it to transfer data from one service to another, for example, from Gmail to Typeform, later on to Google Docs and MailChimp, before finally ending with Shopify.
- GoDaddy: Maybe not your best choice, but it works OK, and hey, how about that catchy name?
Gmail: I do my best to check it as often as possible, at least two times a day. If only I could ever reach Inbox Zero…
Pro Tip: There are tons of interesting Gmail keyboard shortcuts you should learn
Pro Tip 2: Go to Gmail Settings and enable Send+Archive option on automatic.
Inbox Pause: Most people tend to finish tough tasks first, but somehow always find a way to answer 3 or 4 short emails simultaneously. The Inbox Pause stops this nasty habit from the get go. Trust me, it will increase your productivity by a long shot.
Trello: As I strive towards achieving Inbox Zero, I always have a couple of rules at hand:
- If it’s possible to answer in a minute or two, go for it
- Anything over that time limit goes into Trello as a task
Gmail Timer Logs: A timer automatically starts upon opening a new mail.
- LastPASS: Saves previous passwords, automatic login as well as form-fills all payment methods. Quick tip: make sure not to lose your card, or you’re gonna have to reset all of your passwords once again, which is excruciating.
- Block Site: One of the best website blockers out there. It’s extremely simple, and works every time, what more could you ask?
- The Great Suspender: I have a nasty habit of leaving 15-20 tabs open at all times. This extension suspends the background tabs, which makes the one I use run faster.
- AMZ Seller Browser: Allows me to check out Sales rank of Amazon and Price History, which is extremely important, to keep the competition in check.
- Alexa Traffic & Similarweb: Enables me to quickly check out loading speeds, as well as how much traffic a specific site gets.
- OpenVid: A brilliant way to record a screencast, which will help you get in touch with designers on a moments notice.
Alibaba: This is still my go to website for finding new products. The only thing you need to do is email the suppliers, and ask them for a reply. Not only that it eliminates Alibaba’s complicated message delivery system, it also excludes the suppliers who aren’t able to follow basic instructions.
Whatsapp: For some weird reason, Chinese suppliers prefer texting over email. Bring them to Whatsapp and establish good communication from the start.
Flexport: This terrific extension simplifies international freight forwarding. Not sure they are accepting new members, though.
Upgraded images: If you want photography that trumps the competition, this is the best option.
Speedy Barcodes: Place where I buy barcodes which I later use on Amazon.
Schedugram: It schedules Instagram posts in advance. Helped me out a bunch of times.
Repost: Reposts other people’s photos, specifically those that have Woody tags in ’em.
Instagram and Snapchat: Two absolute kings in the social media game. In case you’re interested, my Instagram is WoodiesCaptain as well as WoodiesIG.
Mailchimp: For the previous 4 years, Mailchimp has been my go to for sending emails. To be fair, my emails are fairly straightforward, so I might consider a downgrade. Oh yeah, I also use Klaviyo, as it’s integrated with Shopify.
TripIt: Because I live the life of a nomad, this app keeps track of my itineraries.
F.lux: Dims the screen brightness late at night. If you’re a night owl, this is a necessity.
Franz: A simple client for Mac which combines all sorts of apps like Whatsapp, Skype, Messenger, Hangouts, Slack and WeChat into one.
I don’t approve on: Shipwire, StitchLabs and AppSumo, as they are too complicated.
Am I missing something? Be sure to let me know.
Before I forget, although there’s no specific app for this, one thing everyone should learn is how to say NO. No, wholesale is not an option. International shipping? Forget about it. These two simple letters will save you so much time and effort, so force yourself to use them every time you feel like it.
Tinder for marketing? Just wait and see, my friends. It’s my own little secret tactics, but it’s fine, I’m ready to share it with the rest of the world. On your Tinder profile, make sure to emphasize you’re the owner of that specific brand, and put up some photos to back it up. The next steps include upgrading to TinderPlus (only about $9.99 a month) and download Bonfire (which will set you back another $0.99). I place Tinder location at 100 miles, and arrange Bofire to 200 profiles at a time. By pressing like multiple times, you’ll get in touch with hundreds, possibly thousands of matches in no time. I’ve personally used this tactic to gather over 9,000 matches, possibly dozens of sales, and it also scored me a bunch of impressions and hits. Sure, it also helps you meet girls, just in case you were wondering.
Want to hear the story about the dumbest thing I ever did? Just wait for it. For my friend’s birthday, I accidentally made a 99% off discount code. How? I failed to uncheck the ‘display on detail page’, and the Internet blew up.
After it got posted on SlickDeals, I got orders for 1,500 pairs of glasses in the span of 4 hours! When I realized what just happened, Amazon already shipped everything out. Sure, I cried like a baby girl to support one time after another, but the deal was set in stone. My mom and I tried to send out as many emails as possible to customers, but got basically nothing to show for.
The results? A loss of $30,000 and my soul crushed!
Much to my surprise, due to spike in my sales, Amazon kept sending customers to me, and the products started to sell like crazy. I don’t know if I would keep pushing after that initial blow if it wasn’t for my support system, but luck finally turned on my side.
Two whole years after that, I broke a million in sales numbers on Amazon alone. The point is, even if you make a foolish mistake, there’s always a lesson to learn. Embrace the grind!
Are you still using your mom’s garage? Join the club! There was a time where I had 1,100 kilograms show up at my mom’s place. The shipment included over 10,000 pairs of sunglasses which were packed for Amazon. In case you missed it, I am a full-time traveler, and I run Woodies with a help of AmazonFBA, where they store and ship my orders.
Sure, I could ship these items directly to Amazon, but then again, I always check them out first, just in case. Naturally, I wouldn’t want my supplier to know they can ship to Amazon themselves either, and also, Amazon rates are quite big, so make sure you trim it down as much as possible. If you have a chance to lean of friends/family for inventory, don’t be afraid to ask. Your savings can be huge. And remember, the key to every successful entrepreneur is to own a box cutter and a tape gun. Gotta handle the fundamentals.
Ultimately, I hope my journey will inspire you to tackle your business and grab life by the throat. You’ve seen that my journey was filled with different obstacles, and there were plenty of times where I wanted to give up, but I kept on pushing, and now, my company is recording over $1 million in sales annually! Still, I haven’t run out of personal goals, nor do I see that moment ever happening, but if you told me I’d be here a few years ago, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. Shout-out to all entrepreneurs out there, keep doing your thing, and eventually, you’ll make it big.
See you at the Beach!