Note (7/9/14): This interview was originally published on 2/28/14. This week, we’re going to feature some of my favorite interviews that were published when The Daily Interview was brand new, that many of you may have missed. As I’m busy packing and getting ready to move to a new home later this month, I’ve decided to take another week off from posting new interviews. Don’t worry though – we’ll be back with new interviews starting next Monday. In the mean time, enjoy this one!
I love businesses that start from personal problems.
There’s something extra rewarding about doing something to solve a problem that you have, and then finding a way to turn it into a business.
That’s what Steve Chou and his wife did. They took a simple problem that came about when they were planning their wedding – and couldn’t find the exact solution that they needed. So they created the solution themselves.
This business (and you can read all the details about exactly what it is, in the interview) was so successful that it generated $100,000 of profit in the very first year. That’s amazing.
There’s a great story here, and I know you’re going to really like it.
Steve, I find your story (and your wife’s) fascinating, and it’s amazing how far your guys have come (while documenting everything at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com). Tell us about yourself and your journey – what led you to create this blog, and what’s your primary online business all about?
Our primary business is Bumblebee Linens, which is an online store that sells handkerchiefs and linens for special occasions.
Now my wife and I didn’t consider ourselves entrepreneurs when we first started. We had no experience running a business of any any kind and we knew nothing about the world wide web. But my wife desperately wanted to quit her job, stay at home, and start a family.
So when she became pregnant with our first child, we came up with a plan to replace her lost income which was a little over $100k at the time. Ultimately, we decided to open an online store because we could rely on a computer to take orders 24/7 and all we had to do was ship product out from our home.
Now most people think that selling handkerchiefs is kind of random. But a long time ago when we became engaged to marry, my wife knew she was going to cry and she wanted to carry something to the altar to dry her tears.
We looked in stores all over the place but could not find handkerchiefs anywhere. Finally we found this place in Asia, but the minimum order was in the hundreds. You heard that correctly…HUNDREDS! But my wife really wanted a hankie so we put down a bulk order from China for over 200 hankies, used about 6 of them and sold the rest on Ebay. And guess what? They sold like hotcakes!
So when it came time to start our online store, we reconnected with our vendor, ran the numbers and set off to create an online business selling hankies. And it ended up being a huge success!
Soon after our little shop started making some serious coin, I decided to document our experiences on my blog at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com
All of my friends were asking me questions on how they could open their own stores so it made sense to write everything down.
What has been your greatest success so far with your online business?
So just to provide some numbers, our online store ended up making over $100K in profit in our first year of business. And ever since 2007, the store has been growing in the double and triple digits every year. I’m proud to say that we are the leading purveyor of ladies handkerchiefs on the Internet.
In addition to our online store, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com has really taken off as well. In 2011, I took everything that I learned from running our online shop and created an online course called Create A Profitable Online Store, where I teach others how to create their own profitable ecommerce store. Today, my blog and my online store course generate over 6 figures per year in income.
In terms of milestones, last year my blog finally earned more money than my day job salary as well so I’m happy to say that I work at my job because I want to be there and not necessarily for the money.
I’m sure starting and running a business online wasn’t always a smooth and easy process. What do you consider to be your biggest failure along the way, and what did you learn from it?
Once we started making money selling handkerchiefs, we started trying to sell all sorts of random products in our store WITHOUT running the numbers first. As a result, we ended up wasting a lot of money on product that simply did not sell well. Even today, we still have some product in our warehouse that hasn’t sold because we didn’t do our research.
The key to success for any online business is to run the numbers first and make sure that there’s demand for your product before you launch. In addition, you also have to make sure that the competition is reasonable as well. If you follow these 2 basic rules of thumb, then your business has a good chance of being successful.
The other big mistake we made early on was bidding on too many broad keywords with our Adwords PPC campaigns. Adwords can be a major money pit if you don’t know how to use it correctly. So if you are just starting out, you should initially bid on very narrow keyword phrases and monitor your campaigns carefully and consistently.
One big mistake I see newbies make is that they forget to add negative keywords to their campaigns. Adwords is a great way to attract targeted traffic to your site, but you have to proceed with caution and refine your ads gradually.
Your wife’s business is obviously a great success story, but tell us about how the blog has been working for you – what type of monetization has been working best? Is there a way you tried to monetize the site that seemed to fall flat?
So as I mentioned earlier, my blog cracked the 6 figure mark 2 years ago and started making more than my day job income last year. The biggest money maker for my blog is my online store course followed by affiliate marketing.
I’ve found that if you can establish yourself as an authority in your niche, then people will listen to your recommendations. Now I never recommend anything that I’ve never used before. I simply mention the services I use for my shop and the sales happen naturally.
The worst money maker for my blog are my banner ads but they still generate 4 figures a month. I’m currently in the midst of a site redesign and am thinking about removing most banner ads from my blog. Why? It’s because I believe that I can generate more revenue with ads that point to my own products.
Let’s take a step back and look more generally at e-commerce. If you had to take your best advice and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
You can get started with an online store for as little as $5 a month. So why not give it a try? You really have nothing to lose and so much potential for gain.
What are your favorite online resources?
My favorite online resource is all of the open source software that is available for free. These days, you can throw up a fully functional shopping cart with open source software like OpenCart or Prestashop for just the cost of shared hosting. (The software is free.)
As a result, it’s super cheap and easy to start an online store.
For someone who is just starting out creating a blog, or even trying to sell products online, what advice would you offer? What do you wish someone told you about when you first started?
The most important advice I have to give about starting an online business is to make sure that there’s something unique or valuable about what you are trying to create before you launch. Most people who fail with their businesses simply throw something up that blends in with every other website out there.
If you want to succeed, you have to be unique and provide a value proposition. Spend some time thinking about what that is BEFORE you invest any money into implementation.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?
Most people who want to start an online business are afraid to begin. But let me tell you this.
I didn’t have any experience with running a business of any kind when I started.
I didn’t know anything about websites.
I didn’t know how to program in PHP.
I didn’t know any HTML or CSS.
I wasn’t willing to invest much money.
I didn’t have any confidence that customers could find me online.
But you know what? I started a business anyways because I wanted my wife to stay at home with our child. Some things are worth taking a chance on.
And looking back, it wasn’t a big risk at all. Ultimately, I invested about $630 dollars into my online store which turned into $100K just a year later. And today, we’ve made well over 7 figures in total since we launched.
It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t take an MBA. It just takes a little courage and a lot of perseverance.
Finally, where can people find you online?
Thanks Steve – this really is an amazing success story!
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