How I Grew My Business to $2M in Under 2 Years
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I started my business as a side hustle in 2020 during the pandemic while working in corporate finance for one of the largest companies in the world. I spent 60 hours a week building financial models and forecasts for a portfolio of 15 international business markets. My compensation was about $250k per year.
I hated it.
With the onset of COVID, our entire team was told to work from home. My worklife balance got worse – we were forecasting essential consumer goods in a rapidly changing pandemic environment.
It was a come to Jesus moment.
I realized that I’d spent the prior ten years of my life developing a skill set that bored me to death. I was good at it, but I needed a change.
I’ve been a life long nerd. Gaming is one of my passions: card games, board games, poker, and video games. I also love technology.
I started dedicating all of my free time to projects that I was passionate about. My first venture (or nerdventure) was to design, create, and sell my own custom playing cards. I taught myself photoshop, found a print supplier in China, and put up the proverbial shingle (I started an Etsy shop).
The growth that I experienced went beyond my expectations. My second month in business I made $7,000. I was dedicating all of my free time to new product development. My business has gone in different directions than I thought it would, but each month I’ve managed to grow sales.
My third month revenue was $12k, then $19k, $26k, $42k. My rolling 30-day sales are $187k as of the time of this article.
I’ve continued to grow my business in card games, but I’ve expanded to new niches. Printing has been brought in house. I went from outsourcing everything for the first 4 months, to producing everything that I sell. Printing has become a large portion of my business. We do stickers, labels, cards, banners, apparel, and more. Below are some of the categories that I’m involved in:
Categories that I'm Involved With:
What Worked For Me?
Bootstrapping, Managing Costs
My first venture was kicked off with very little upfront financial investment: a $29 photoshop subscription and $200 to print my first small batch of cards. Instead, my costs were my time. For the first four months I was working 100 hours a week: 50-60 hours at my corporate job, and 40 to 50 hours on my hustle. Every evening and weekend was dedicated to my own business.
When I decided to buy my own commercial printer, I went with a broken down one I found on ebay. It cost me $4k, and I fixed it myself. I have five commercial printers now, and I’ve only bought one of them new.
My approach to investing in equipment, space, and employees has been to stretch whatever I have until it’s bumping up against the breaking point. For example, the first printer that I bought was used until I had it running about 20 hours a day. I moved from my basement to my garage, to a small office space, to a warehouse. Each time I did so only as I physically couldn’t fit what I needed to operate.
Is this the only approach? Of course not, but it worked very well for me, because I’ve been profitable since I had my first sale.
This is quite possibly the biggest differentiator of my business vs most other small businesses.
Instead of focusing on one product and optimizing the marketing and sales of that product to the nth degree, I focus on developing new products constantly. The philosophy is to get an MVP (minimum viable product) and push it out the door, and then immediately start looking for or working on my next product idea.
Then, as I get sales and customer feedback I go back to my entire portfolio of products and channels and optimize them. I’m constantly growing my product portfolio, and then taking the learnings and iterating.
It’s also hugely beneficial from a growth standpoint. I have at least five products that pull in $10k a month in sales, and they are all growing. My first ecommerce website that I built is generating $90k per month. The second one is at $40k per month.
The benefit is that you get insights and data that can help optimize the sales funnel over time without investing tons of time or money into a single product.
Next to product development, this is the next big differentiator. Selling a product across multiple channels is low hanging fruit. If you already have a great product, and some insight on pricing, there is no reason not to bring it across multiple channels. I personally sell everything on at least 2-3 eCommerce channels.
Etsy is Ideal For Starting Out
Many of my products are custom designed and made, so Etsy is an ideal channel for my products. If you have a product that fits with Etsy’s terms, it’s a great place to start. Compared to other eCommerce channels like Ebay, Amazon, and Wish – Etsy is simple, intuitive, and has a large customer base. The fees are also lower than most other platforms. Plus there are options to optimize your listings for Etsy search using the tags, titles, and descriptions.
Etsy only works for certain products, but it’s my favorite platform of it’s type out there.
Now, my best Etsy stores tend to tap out at around $10-15k per month in sales. This is my experience in the toys, games, apparrel, and printing categories after optimizing my listings and being on page one of Etsy search. Other categories may have different sales figures.
$10-15k is great, especially for starting out, but let’s talk about websites and branding.
Websites are Slower to Build but Have a Larger Ceiling
On the other hand, builing your own website is a longer, slower process, but once you are ranking on Google, the ceiling is much higher. I mentioned this before, but my first website currently brings in $90k per month. The first several months after launch are slow, you are brand building, and paying for Google ads to drive traffic.
But then it starts to snowball.
I’ve built up a repeat customer base, and through SEO tactics I rank in the top 3 for many of my target keywords. Now, half my traffic on this site is organic.