10 Lessons from my first eCommerce Venture

About a year ago, I began reading The Four-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris. In the book, Tim lays out a road-map for creating a muse (an online side-hustle with the goal of creating financial independence through mostly passive income). Although I ended up ignoring a lot of Tim’s advice, my learning-through-experience approach was much more effective than trusting another business guru’s two-cents.

Inspired, I decided to get my feet wet with a $200 investment while living out of my truck. I am always willing to bet $200-$300 on a promising venture. In 2014, I spent $250 on a top-of-the-line bitcoin miner which I operated for 3 years using my dorm room electricity! That miner net me 1.6 BTC!

The first challenge was deciding what to sell. I wanted to sell a product that would bring actual lasting value to someone’s life – not fidget spinners, or decorative iPhone cases.


I looked at the things I owned that brought me value. I settled on an ID badge holder. While most people use these things to hold company IDs, I had used mine to completely replace my wallet. It simplified my life significantly, allowing me to carry the essentials (keys, credit card & driver’s license) all accessible from my belt.

I instantly logged in to Alibaba and began searching for the parts I needed. This brings me to my first lesson.

Begin Product Search Domestically

Don’t assume Alibaba is the cheapest option. Shipping from China is very expensive! Begin your search locally. You may be surprised to find a domestic supplier with FREE SHIPPING! Additionally, domestic products are more likely to be made of higher quality which leads me to the second lesson:

Always Order Product Samples

Order samples – especially when dealing with Alibaba! Ordering a product sample may seem like a waste of time. It can take 30+ days for a shipment to arrive from China and the per-unit cost of a sample may be VERY high compared to the per-unit cost of a regular order. It may seem worth the risk to just go ahead and place an order – it’s NOT!

It has been my experience that the sales representatives on Alibaba have poor English skills and will tell you anything to make you place an order. I’ve had reps straight up lie about product specifications (like the kind of plastic used in badge holders). Skipping the product sample can leave you with 100 ct. badge holders that you spent $75 on and which are as brittle as Wheat Thins.

eBay or Shopify?

You have two options as to how to sell your products: platform or proprietary.

Platforms (eBay, Amazon, Etsy) are great because they come with huge audiences but high competition. This allows you to reach many customers but it leaves PRICE as your only competing factor.

Proprietary stores (Shopify, WooCommerce, etc.) are great because you own the marketplace and can compete with other factors (quality, customer service, etc.) However, you will have to grow your own audience.

I started with a WooCommerce site but I soon realized it would be difficult to grow an audience for just badge holders. I listed my product on eBay.

Price Based on Competition

If your listing on a platform, the price you charge is purely based on the competition’s price.  I tried to circumvent this fact by using better photos and optimizing the title and description. I ended up slowly lowering my price until it matched or beat the competition. Only then did I begin making regular sales.

Research competition BEFORE you buy. This seems obvious but I missed it. Lowering my prices really ate into the profit margins and made this venture barely profitable.

Optimize Title

Use a tool like Title Builder to create optimized eBay titles. Your competitors are using it. So you have to! These tools pack your title with relevant search keywords and increase your product’s ranking in search results.

Always Make a Counteroffer

If you choose to include the “Make Offer” option in your listing, always make a counteroffer. This is Negotiating 101 and it actually benefits both you and the buyer.

Consider this: if you accept the first offer, the buyer is thinking, “Wow, I should have made a lower offer.” However, if you counter, the buyer knows he got the best price he could (and you made out with more).

Encourage Product Reviews


There is another competing factor on platforms: reviews. A listing with more positive reviews will outperform similar listings with worse reviews. Many positive reviews may also warrant a price increase. Reviews take lots of time to build organically. Include a note to remind buyers to review your product.

Don’t Bother with <$10 Unit Profits

The market for products with less than $10 unit profits is a dog eat dog world. There are rampant review fraud and vendors who can afford to buy in bulk to increase margins. Leave these kinds of products to the noobs and big dogs.

As an individual, move to specialty products with low competition.

Reinvest Profits

Nothing is more tempting to spend profits on new stuff. This is especially true with eBay since sales money is automatically deposited into PayPal where it’s easy to spend again on eBay. Try to separate your profits and reinvest them in the hustle until you can scale to a critical mass.

Stop Contributing to “The Stuff“


Lastly, consider your ethical and environmental responsibility. Do you want to sell another thing that may end up in the ocean or landfill? Do you want to sell a thing that encourages a bad habit or has negative consequences to the person who uses it?

I expect my next eCommerce venture to be much more lucrative. I’ll be sure to report back once I have results!

Have you had success in eCommerce? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments!

Hustle · Lifestyle

How to Get Paid to Play

Last week, we analyzed the system of preparation and found out why the truly sensible never work. The conclusion of that article was to find a way to get paid to play. In this article, we will try and determine how you (yes, you!) can get paid to play. But first…

What is play?

“Play” is simply anything you do purely for enjoyment and not for any practical or serious purpose. The kinds of people we traditionally think of who play for a living are the professional athletes who play the field, talented musicians who play some instrument, and performers who play the part on stage.

However, someone whom we often don’t associate with “play” is the artist.

What do you consider play?

Your idea of play is likely different from mine. However, discovering (or rather acknowledging) your play can be tricky especially if you’ve gone so far into the system of preparation that you’ve forgotten what “play” means to you.

Here are some prompts to help you acknowledge your play:

  • What kinds of play did you do as a child?

My answer: From middle school to college, I was always tinkering. First by dissecting my toys, electronics, and then computers. Once, in 5th grade, I made a motorized bug-like contraption out of broken toys and a computer motherboard.

Takeaways: Inventive, Inquisitive, Resourceful, Hands-on, Technical, Creative

  • What do you find yourself doing in your free time?

My answer: Often when I have free time, I read a book or watch informative YouTube videos.

Takeaways: Always learning

  • What do you wish you had more time/money to do?

My answer: If I had a sudden lump of cash, I’d use it as startup capital for an e-commerce business.

Takeaways: Entrepreneurial, Risk taker, Investor

Take a moment and answer these questions for yourself. These are the things that bring (or you think will bring) a sense of satisfaction, or pleasure even when nobody is paying you to do them. However, these are not all necessarily play!

Delusions of Play


Play in its truest form has no purpose. Our minds are very skilled at fooling us to believe that we enjoy the things that bring us money, that feed us and make us comfortable. But play alone does none of these things

The dangers of living with such a delusion are many. Besides the fact that you are intentionally depriving yourself of much of what this life has to offer, stress, anxiety, and a general numbness to reality (also known as becoming boring) can be expected.

The true play never expires or gets old. It does not drain you; it energizes you.

So you’ve found your play…

Whether your play is drawing, snowboarding, parasailing, video games, the violin, crossword puzzles, or writing, there is a path to getting paid to do it. The play you have chosen (or that has chosen you), has a unique path to the first payoff. However, there are 3 general traits that apply to all of them:

I call these the 3 M’s.

  1. Merit
  2. Mastery
  3. Marketing

Merit (Value)

Futurama Shut Up and Take My Money GIF

Merit – “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.”

Put simply: Someone has to find your play valuable.

Your ability to craft value from your play is the single most important step to getting paid. If you are an artist, your value may come from the art you produce. If you are not an artist, try to think about yourself as an artist anyway. What is your art? What specifically, are people willing to pay for? Is it the product of your play or is it something more personal or abstract?

People will pay for value.

Find the areas of your play that produce value for others or find ways to shape your play so that it creates value.


Pug Playing Piano GIF

Mastery – “comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.”

Put simply: You have to be good at your play.

I may love to draw, but if my drawings are stick figures, then I may need to reconsider where the value is in my play. I could be like the highly successful XKCD who uses stick figures in a web comic.

The point is this: you create more merit by being more skilled at your play. Start playing now and don’t stop. Build your skill through deliberate practice.


Look at me GIF

Marketing – “the action of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.”

Put simply: Know who thinks your play is valuable and make sure they know about you.

Today, marketing is less about getting yourself out there and more about cutting through the noise. Anybody and everybody can start marketing on social media. The idea is to build an audience of people who regularly tune in to what you have to provide. Social media is a great beginner’s channel to reach your new audience.


Find your play. Discover where the value lies. Maximize that value by developing your skill. Find and interact with the people who find your play valuable and make sure they know you are open for business.

Again, these are general steps that apply to any kind of playful pursuit. There are infinite ways to play this game we call “life”. What is the best use of your turn?


Failing your First Client

Anyone who works as a freelancer or contractor knows that managing your own clients has its ups and downs. However, new freelancers often neglect to consider the possibility of failing one of their clients. It’s not pleasant to think about but you are bound to fall short of a client’s expectations sooner or later.

Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do with failure is to learn from it. Here is what I learned from failing my first client. I’m hoping to pass the savings on to you in hopes that you’ll save yourself some embarrassment and reduce your chances of failing a client. But first…

Story Time

I was freelancing for a few weeks on My expertise was in web development but I was searching for low pay/low demand jobs to build a reputation on Upwork. I fought especially hard for a project that caught my eye. The client wanted a web dashboard to automate his Instagram accounts.  My job: to create a web front end to call and pass arguments to a Python script. Easy enough. I’d have it done in three days tops.

I got the gig! Smooth sailing for the first 2 days. Then I got stuck. The Python script stopped working (Instagram changed some things and maintainers of the script rewrote parts of the code). I could no longer test the application. After they fixed the script, I ran into trouble elsewhere.

To make a long story short, I invested a week of work into this project for WAY less than minimum wage. I was scared to fail my client. I was scared of ruining my reputation. Then I bit the bullet and explained to my client that I was unable to complete the project (After he had fronted me $100).

Lessons Learned from Failing a Client

1. Get out sooner rather than later

Once you know that you will be unable to deliver, tell your client immediately. This is best for you and your client. Swallow your fears of rejection and face the facts. You are likely to upset your client (especially if they already have put money into the project). Terminating the contract is better than hanging on and wasting everyone’s time.

2. Understand the client’s situation

Take a moment to understand the client’s losses (financial, time, energy, etc.) and the additional resources that the client will need to spend to complete the project. The better you can understand the client’s situation the better you can express yourself to the client and reduce damage to your reputation and perception as a professional.

3. Reflect on the experience

You have failed. Own it. Learn from it. Identify the early signs that should have been red flags.