Search

A Corporate Escape Story: How eCommerce Changed My Life

It was 5:00 on a Sunday, and I still had hours of work to do at the office. My girlfriend – who lived nine hours away and was in town for a rare visit – was sitting alone in my apartment, anxiously waiting for me to finish (and likely reconsidering the wisdom of her choice to date me).

How did I end up in this position? I never really intended to go into investment banking, a field notorious for long hours and insane work schedules. But it was an enticing job right out of college, offering solid job experience and the chance to really see how large businesses worked.

Our schedule wasn’t nearly as strenuous as many of the bigger investment banks, where 100-hour work weeks are the norm. Still, the 60- to 80-hour weeks, unpredictable schedule and inability to commit to people and/or plans quickly grew draining, especially for work that I didn’t love.

I made the decision to quit and started to save as much money as possible. I kept my beater college car longer than necessary in order to save more money – a car so hideous I had to hide park it blocks from the office. I banked 100% of the bonuses I received and earned a reputation around the office as a bit of a miser. In the small amount of spare time I did have, I read Tim Ferriss’ “The Four-Hour Work Week”and started dreaming about my future plans. I was laying the foundation for my escape.

In November of 2007, I quit. It’s both an exhilarating and slightly terrifying feeling to leave a good job to start your own business. After a solo cross-county road trip, I settled down to start building my future. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I did, however, know the required characteristics I wanted my new venture to have. It needed to:

  • Offer a low risk-to-reward ratio
  • Require little capital
  • Be scalable
  • Be location-independent

It’s amazing how a total lack of income motivates you to action. After exploring a number of potential ideas, I quickly settled on e-commerce as a business model that fit all my criteria. I opened up a bank account with $1,500, created an LLC and picked a niche: CB radios.

It’s about this time I think my mother lost total faith in me. Already somewhat distraught that I’d quit my job, she now had to let friends and family know her son had left the finance world to hawk CB radios via the internet! To be honest, I had a few doubts myself, but because my research methodology (outlined in my eBook) indicated CB radios might be a viable niche, I took a leap of faith and started Right Channel Radios.

Within a month I had my website online and live. Bootstrapped and designed by myself, it wasn’t going to win any awards, but it was a working prototype that could take orders and test my idea’s viability. Shortly after launch, I received my first order. As any business owner will tell you, few things compare to the thrill of your first sale, and it provided an incredible motivational boost.

Over the following months, I threw myself entirely into growing and improving my business. I hungrily learned as much as I could about online marketing, SEO (search engine optimization), my customers and my new market. Sales began to grow, albeit sporadically. My girlfriend (now wife) Annie could tell from my mood each evening how orders had been that day. I continued to bootstrap the business, reinvesting the earnings and my own sweat, but never adding any additional equity apart from my original $1,500 deposit.

Slowly but surely everything began to pay off. Within a year, I was making enough to support myself and Annie. I hired a part-time virtual assistant (VA) to help manage business operations. Within two years, I launched a second e-commerce site, TrollingMotors.net, and shortly thereafter hired my first full-time local employee.

With a great team in place to run most of the daily operations, I decided to take a break from growing the business to pursue a goal of mine: long-term international travel. So in February of 2011, Annie and I departed for a seven-month working vacation that took us to more than 20 countries. The trip was financed largely by over 2 million frequent flier miles I had generated by paying to fulfill business orders.

 

Teaching in India
Hiking in Patagonia
Sailing in Greece

 

After an incredible trip, we returned home in November. Despite being gone seven out of 12 months, it was a record year for revenues with my businesses collectively generating $1 million in sales and setting the stage for well above that in 2012. It was my best year ever in terms of income, and I earned significantly more than I ever did investment banking.

Four years and numerous businesses later, I’ve decided to start sharing my knowledge on this blog. My hope in writing is to help others who, like me in my banking days, want to build a better life for themselves through entrepreneurship. While my path has been unorthodox, it’s one that can be re-created by anyone with the determination to make it happen. This isn’t to say that building your own e-commerce business is easy – far from it. I think with entrepreneurial “success” stories, it’s tempting to indulge the good and downplay the bad. I want to intentionally avoid that.

Building a cash cushion so I could afford to quit my job required frequently saying “no” to myself and delaying my gratification. Starting my first site was hard, really hard. It required a lot of work, much of it tedious, with little visible success for the first few months. Staying motivated with little to show for your efforts is extremely challenging in the early days of a venture.

Business success of any kind, e-commerce included, requires significant sacrifice and work, but I’m here to tell you that the investment is absolutely worth it. I believe there has never been a better time in history for individuals to start their own businesses. For online ventures, the risks are small and the rewards significant. If you decide to head down the same path I have, I hope the information I share here will help you along the way.

Thinking about starting your own business?  You’ll definitely want to download my free eBook, a detailed guide to starting a profitable online store. It’s based on my experience and full of information I wish I knew when starting my first site.

Looking for Your Dream Job?  Hiring?  Check out the eCommerceFuel Job Boards which lists curated opportunities to learn in roles with interesting, leading eCommerce businesses.   If you’re looking to escape the corporate world and jump into eCommerce – but don’t have much relevant experience – our curated internships and entry level jobs may be perfect.

Run an Established eCommerce Business?  You may be interested in the eCommerceFuel Private Forum. It’s a vetted community of 1,000+ high six, seven and eight figure store owners.  You can learn more about it here.  

Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000 vetted 6 and 7-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

Double Your eCommerce Business in the Next Year

...by requesting the most effective growth and profitability strategies we've unearthed from 5+ years of studying successful stores.
211 comments
  • Very happy to read your story. It has inspired me to think out of the corporate box again. I look forward to reading more – including the ebook that you are writing up.

    • Thanks Stuart! Striking out on your own is definitely worth it – and totally possible. Best of luck! I should be releasing that eBook within the next week or so. Keep an eye out on the blog as I’ll be announcing it here….

  • Hi Andrew your story is so inspirational – cant wait for that ebook. Anyway I am starting a ecommerce site as well, but more general category, women’s fashion. Do you have any tips to get traffic to the site?

    Many thanks,
    Huy

    • Thanks Huy and best of luck with the new site! Driving traffic is one of the biggest challenges with a new eCommerce site – it takes a lot of work and creativity. Here are a few tips I’d recommend:

      – Identify prominent bloggers in the industry and see if you can get your styles in front of their audience.

      – Make sure you have GREAT photos, with people modeling the product. For fashion, this will be a must.

      – The fashion niche is a PERFECT one for a blog, as it’s always changing. If you consistently post good content, it can serve to build business relationships and drive traffic.

      – I’m think the recent Pintrest craze has been overblown, but this is an ideal match for your audience. The vast majority of Pintrest users are women, and much of the content is fashion related. I would recommend showcasing your products there.

      – Using PPC (paid advertising) is great early-on to test conversion, but I’d strongly recommend on building long-term, organic free traffic from google.

      Just a few, but hopefully they get you started! Best of luck……

      -Andrew

  • Such a solid story. Did you narrate the trolling motor videos? wow. I have just launched an ecommerce site, also in Magento. I get 1 sale a day from organic traffic – just shows how awesome Magento engineering is. But how do I go from trickle to 10k per month? Do you blog or Facebook/tweet?

    Cheers, Chris

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris! And congratulations on your recent launch – that’s really exciting. Building traffic is one of the biggest challenges of any online venture, but especially eCommerce sites. It’s a topic I’ll be writing a few detailed posts on in the future, so keep your eye open. For now, I’d recommend:

      – Article marketing to sites in your niche. You can usually include 2-3 links back to your site
      – Contacting blogs in your niche and offer to guest post on a topic useful to their visitors AND that ties into your offering
      – Contests and giveaways. This is a great way to build traffic.
      – Create the most informative, useful niche site you can. Over time, great content = more traffic.
      – If you haven’t already, make sure you start learning about SEO. I recommend SEOMoz as a great place to start.

      It takes time, but with a solid strategy and consistant execution you should be able to dramatically increase your organic traffic.

      Also, I am on Facebook / Twitter, although I’m just getting started with my eCommerceFuel accounts there. You can follow me – and have a shot at scoring 2 hours of free one-on-one consulting – here:

      https://www.ecommercefuel.com/connect/

      Thanks for reading!

      -Andrew

      P.S. Yep, that’s me narrating the trolling motor videos.

  • Hi Andrew!!! Wow!!! What a WONDERFUL story! 🙂 You made me believe that if I really want to make a living from the internet then it is possible. I am new to all of the eCommerce thing….I don’t know exactly what it means. I just downloaded your Ebook. I will continue reading it tomorrow.

    About choosing a eCommerce site to build…. do I need to chose a specific thing? I mean….if I want to do a site about Fitness… I will need to dig deeper? like (just for the example) to build a site for ellipticals? or do I build a site that covers everything about fitness?

    Thank you so much for your help! And that you so much for sharing your great story with us! Good Luck with this new blog!

    • Thanks for reading and for your comment, Eva!

      Generally, the more specific a site is, the easier it is to market and speak directly to your audience. For eCommerce, the “fitness” category is really broad – I’d definitely recommend focusing on a sub-category to improve your chances of success. The eBook addresses a lot of these issues (how specific to get, what the ideal search and competition levels are, etc), so hopefully it will be helpful.

      • Good Morning Andrew! 🙂
        I wanted to ask if it is building eCommerce sites are also for someone that doesn’t have a bank account in the U.S? Probably you cover all this stuff in your ebook….going to read the rest of it now…..
        To be honest with you I have no idea what exactly an eCommerce site is. need to read all about it. I am new to this.
        Do you have any coaching programs? or 1 on 1’s?
        Thank you so much for your FAST reply! 🙂
        Have a great day!

        • In short, eCommerce refers to goods that are sold online and shipped to customers. On this blog, I’ll be writing mostly about drop shipping, which is a form of eCommerce where the merchant (you) doesn’t have to stock a ton of inventory, but can instead purchase an item from a wholesaler only when you need it to fulfill an order. Then, the wholesale warehouse will ship it directly to your customer. You’re right – the eBook covers this in more detail, so hopefully that will be helpful.

          As to needing a U.S. bank account: it just depends on the supplier as to whether they will allow you to purchase and ship goods within the U.S. if you’re an international merchant. But you would definitely be able to operate and deal with suppliers in your own country. This might be a good topic for a future post!

          I’m currently not offering any paid coaching or 1-on-1 sessions. However, I do give away two hours of 1-on-1 coaching each month to a new social media follower. If you’re interested, please see below:

          https://www.ecommercefuel.com/connect/

          Thanks Eva!

          • Thank you Andrew…
            I did “Like” on facebook….I don’t remember my twitter account…and I don’t have linkedin or google+
            I hope that if I follow you on Facebook it will be enough!
            Thanks for everything!

  • I soooooo want to quit my job! I’ve never been a “numbers” person or CEO does it matter? I don’t even have any intense computer skills but want to help others come to understand true health! I want to write an ebook that would explain “true” health, not just eating what’s good for you but understanding the true nature of who we are! I am interested in using content from other books as well, how do I get permission for that? Or would I just blog that? What is a blog anyway? You are very inspiring to me! Thank you

  • Hi Andrew,
    Your story is very inspiring. It definitley gives some of us who are thinking about starting an ecommerce business a glimmer of hope. I just downloaded a copy of your ebook, and I’m about to begin reading it shortly. I’m considering starting an ecommerce business preferably selling health products. However, one of my problems is that I’m a novice when it comes to web design. I do know many hosting companies do offer tools in helping people like me in building their websites; however, for now, I would rather outsource this function to a realiable hosting company. Could you recommend a reliable company that specializes in designing an ecommerce site specifically for selling health products? Thanks a lot for your help Andrew.

    • If you’re just getting started, I would highly recommend learning how to build a basic website yourself. It’s the nuts-and-bolts of your business, and if you’re completely dependent on someone else from the get-to, it’s going to be 1) frustrating to make changes 2) expensive.

      Sites like Shopify make it easy to get an eCommerce store online without too much technical knowledge. This is where I’d start.

        • Jeff, I actually launched on a platform called Zencart and then moved to Magento. I wasn’t familiar with Shopify when I started my store.

  • What a great story. This is exactly what I want to achieve too. Did you sell some of the sites or just keep them all and expand your staff to manage them? Congratulations and keep up the good work for you and your family.

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. I’m sure reading your blog will teach me a thing or two. Can’t wait to start on the e-book.

    • Thanks Owen!

      I’ve never sold any of my sites – they are all run by my team members both in the U.S. and abroad. I hope you find the eBook useful and thanks for subscribing! Best of luck with your new furniture site, too.

  • Thank you for your story. It inspires me much. I am a web developer and now I want to try with e-commerce stuff. I hope I will discover more cool things from your site. If I have question, may I send it to you for advice?

    Wish you all the bests with your family and business.

    • Hey Tuan! I’m happy to answer specific question via email. Just see the ‘About’ page for my contact info…

  • I love real life stories like this – I’m going through a bit of a mid-life need to change course after nearly 30 years as a number cruncher with one company – I still love it – but I also dream of building something bigger for my empty nest years (youngest starts 11th grade in the fall) I’ve got a business partner who specializes in SEO and has turned me on to internet marketing and copy writing and I’ve been intrigued at the potential. We are dabbling right now trying to figure out what we want to do exactly. Just downloaded the ebook and will read it this week. I’m sure I’ll have questions afterwards!

    Thanks again for being willing to share your knowledge.

    • Thanks for the comment and best of luck with your new venture! I hope the eBook will be helpful….

  • Hey Andrew,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, it just brought a smile to my face. You are who I want to be!
    I have just read your ebook and like you I read 4hr work week by Tim Ferriss (awesome book!) and dreamt of a better life. I’ve quit my job and following in your footsteps and following your advice in your ebook. I am just about to start making my website. I have my products decided and in the next few weeks I’m going to learn as much as I can about SEO and online marketing. I just had one question, how long do you think it will take on average for a sale to occur from the time of opening the site? Also how long should I wait before I give up? Ideally I don’t want to give up and I want to tweak the website and try as many different methods of online marketing as possible until I’m successful but realistically speaking I have about 4 months to start seeing some progress, and if that doesn’t happen I’ll be back looking for a job. So should I focus all of those 4 months on this one site? Spend 2 months on one and give up if I see no progress and try another? or try to make multiple sites simultaneously?

    Any advice will help!

    Thanks Andrew

    • James,

      Congratulations on quitting your job and diving in! I’m excited for you! Having 4 months is a bit of a blessing in disguise as it will motivate you to work like crazy, and help you prioritize things. Here are my recommendations.

      1) I would take 2 weeks to build a store with Shopify. It doesn’t need to be beautiful or perfect. Use the stock, manufacturer descriptions. Have your prices be very competitive. And put a HUGE phone number on it, and start driving traffic via PPC. All of these things we will change later, but you have three goals for the first month:

      – Learn about your customers
      – Learn about your products
      – See if the niche is one that gets a lot of commercial traction

      If you’re not making many sales with low prices and paid traffic, that’s a bad sign. But if you’ve been generating some decent sales, there’s a great chance the market is viable. So, after a month of learning as much as you can, I’d invest another 2-4 weeks in improving your store. Write outstanding descriptions for your top 1o to 20 products. Take some pictures. Raise your prices a bit. Try to add value. And then cut back on the PPC ads and start working on SEO and marketing to boost your long-term traffic and profits.

      Best of luck!

      • Thanks for the speedy response Andrew! I’ll do as u said and see how it goes. I’m really grateful that you took time out of your busy schedule to reply to us and help us on our journey. I have shared your eBook with several people and will continue to do so. Thanks Andrew. BTW, do you do any personal coaching? It would be great if I can have a mentor or someone to email with queries and get some advice every now and then. There are a few questions i’d like to ask but not in such a public forum so if you do coaching please email me and let me know if you’re available and your rates.

        Thanks for everything mate!

        • Unfortunately, due to a number of projects/businesses, I’m not offering personal coaching or consulting at this time – I’m sorry! As always, I’ll try to keep the content on this blog as useful as possible and love hearing about potential ideas/topics you’d like covered in future posts. Additionally, I’m happy to answer a specific question or two via email so feel free to drop me a line.

  • Hello Andrew,

    My nephew (a programmer in Seattle area) sent me to your website to help give me ‘food for thought’ in kicking off my e-commerce site. I am having trouble finding dropshippers that carry quality products…or just haven’t discovered them yet. I want to have items to stock a kitchen from scratch, the must haves, to those of a well stocked kitchen, the want haves. ( Want Haves, L.L.C.) I want my site to be middle range…affordable yet quality. Is that too broad?

    You ARE an inspiration. I HAD to leave my career due to a disabling illness and miss it so much. I have always wanted something of my own, something I love. Since I wasn’t able to get out and about (Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and just became a Cancer Survivor) the internet has been my sole means for over four years now. It feels so right for me, since I am a buyer on many, many, many sites. This is an exciting new venture that I am committing to . I appreciate any tips you can share. I will continue to follow you and your followers… all very inspiring!

    Regards,
    Holly Stringham

    • Thanks for the comment Holly! And I’m sorry to hear about your illness.

      In terms of tips, I have a lot to say and try to offer as much as possible here on the blog. Especially if you’ve read through the eBook, you’ll have a great start. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  • Your story is an inspiration to me and my current business. I quit my corporate job a few years back, despite being successful at it, to start business on my own online. I’ve sold thousands of e-books about 10 years ago, and a few years ago, decided to be a fully online business after realizing what a mistake it was for me to continue working at my day job. Online is certainly where it’s at, and the future for e-commerce is bright. Great read.

    • Thanks James! Glad to hear things have worked out for you online, too. There’s a ton of potential with online business – I love it. Best of luck.

  • Hi Andrew,

    This is Jon and I was surfing online and landed this post. Amazing story and I can definitely relate to you. I am also in investment banking, I also read the 4 Hour Week and followed it’s path and took the leap of faith. Similarly, planned for the escape and in the last 6 months started a website called http://www.connectsclub.com (check it out if you have time), on the side I am also planning to start an eCommerce site so I will download your copy to take a look!

    • Great to meet another former IB! Tried to check out your site, but it seemed to be down.

      Best of luck with the new eCommerce site!

  • Hi Andrew, Thanks for all the great info. What do you think about ecommerce do it yourself sites like Volusion or shopify? I’m under the impression that building your own ecommerce website might be better in the long run.

    • Hi Amery!

      I think shopping carts like Volusion and Shopify are great tools, and a great way to get a store up-and-running quickly. For 99.9% of new store owners, I think building a store completely from scratch would be a waste of time and resources, and time that would be much better spent on marketing.

  • Your story mirrors so many of my i-banking classmates from business school. They chase the brass ring (and try to stem the tide of student loans) at the loss of their humanity. Eventually, you learn that the chase isn’t worth it and that the marginal utility of that extra dollar really isn’t worth it. Ironically enough, once you embrace how you want to live your life (as opposed to the “chase your passion” advice columns), you find ways to enable it.

    Do you know Derek from http://www.socialtriggers.com or Lea from http://www.locationindependent.com? It sounds like you’d have a lot in common with both of them; I’m happy to do introductions for you.

    Your story resonates a lot with me; thanks for putting it out there!

    • Thanks for the comment, Jason! You’re dead-on about the marginal utility of the extra dollar. They’ve found that once people make over a certain amount – I think it’s around $60K to $70K – their increase in happiness is not related to income, but to other non-financial elements of their time.

      Don’t know Derek or Lea, but will definitely check out their sites and I appreciate the offer for an intro – thanks! May take you up on it. 😉

  • The thing that really resonated with me was the girlfriend 9 hours away. How often did you all see each other or speak to each other? It must have been tough.

    • It was tough! We still wonder sometimes how we managed to make it through 2.5 years of a long-distance relationship. If we were lucky, we’d get to see each other once ever 5 to 6 weeks. When I was really busy, that often stretched to 7 or 8. But she’s an amazing girl, and it was totally worth it. 🙂

  • Hi Andrew

    It is difficult for me to set up a business online in my country because of the lack of logistic system and online payment. Could you give me any ideas about products which is suitable for e-commerce?

    Thanks,
    Vu

    • Vu,

      There’s a lot of that goes into picking an eCommerce product, and I’d recommend picking up my free eBook which discusses the topic in detail. And while I don’t have personal experience selling internationally (outside the U.S.), I’ve been getting a lot of requests for this type of information and will be researching and writing about it in the future. Thanks for your comment!

  • Hi Andrew,

    Looking for some suggestions and help here.

    I am a supplier to few of the Drop-ship model based e-coms in India.
    The major problem I’m facing is that it requires me to Invoice the customers individually which is a burden for me as a manufacturer. If I go for: “Bill To: Ecom party and Ship to: Customer” – is it lawful? and then again, I’ll need to send invoices to each customer. How’s that possible?

    Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
    If you’re available on email or instant messengers, please inform.

    Regards,
    Deepak

    • Unfortunately, as someone who isn’t familiar with manufacturing processes or the Indian legal system I can’t offer much helpful advice. I’m sorry!

  • I am very happy that I found your information online. From reading your materials you seem like a really nice, down to earth guy who is not working to resell the Brooklyn Bridge to readers. This is SO refreshing! My sister is retired and so am I but we have strong interest in opening some type of business, ecommerce is it for us. The thought of signing a lease for a brick and mortar building scares us. I downloaded your ebook and look forward to reading and learning from it. The best to you and your company.

    • Thanks Thurman! No bridges for sale here, at least not yet. 😉 Appreciate your support and thanks for reading.

  • Andrew, good job on writing the book! I love how you share the tips about Google ad words, very-very valuable information and I feel like this was a very important part that not many “guides” share. I wish there was a more affordable way to invest into the Drop Shipping listing, I know that Googlin’ is an option, but so far I did not have much luck with it for my niche I am thinking… Do you think it’s a possibility to buy WordWide Guide with someone else who is interested in ecommerce?

    Thanks, Roman

    • I’m pretty sure WWB “official” policy is that you can’t share accounts, but you’d have to check with them.

      Glad you enjoyed the eBook!

  • Thanks for sharing such an amazing and inspirational story. Not to mention for taking time to share your knowledge, wisdom and experience through your blog. Thank you so much, your book is awesome and I enjoy reading and learing from your blog posts. You’re a champion, thanks again Andrew!

    • Thanks Nick! Appreciate the comment, and glad you’re enjoying the blog! I’ll do my best to keep it useful going forward. Best of luck!

  • oh WOW, I am so fortunate I found you! Great story! — after trolling away in a long career in NYC law firms and private equity I totally can relate with the work week hours that never end. Last December, I was almost PUSHED from the corporate world (not that I minded) by a car accident and neck injury that’s kept me out this long, so first thing I did was pick up Tim Ferris’ book and start reading! I am determined not to go back to that prison!! I invested in a brick and mortar shop first, and quickly realized that’s not gonna cut it…retail is like watching paint dry after the pace with which we have lived…….so August 1st, I hopped on Shopify and started building my niche little site for monogrammed gifts! Just two days ago, without any marketing and an unfinished site (in my opinion) I actually had my first sale!! Like you mentioned, I’m through the roof with excitement! It quickly has me back in the saddle and ready to perfect my site, officially launch and start marketing! I guess that is how I just found you…. I need all the guidance and help I can get! Just got your ebook and plan to read everything you’ve written…thank you for being a great resource who has ‘been there done that’ !!