Starting a Business Instead of Going to College
A few years ago, Ryan Carroll was unemployed and living at home. Not ideal for an ambitious 20-year-old. But after a few fails, including an Amazon refund fiasco, Ryan stumbled across dropshipping – the first step toward launching a swimwear store that generated $300,000 in revenue.
In this episode, Ryan talks with us about his dropshipping journey, including where he found the courage to ignore conventional wisdom – and ignore what he was hearing from his family – and choose entrepreneurship over college.
Of course, a successful dropshipping business requires more than courage. So Ryan also breaks down the Facebook Ads tactics that he used to turn his favorite hobby into successful ecommerce stores.
Start Yours is a podcast about ecommerce, dropshipping, and all things launching a business.
Join us as we meet entrepreneurs who have gone through the triumphs and headaches of running an online store, and learn how they managed to survive and thrive.
David: So let’s go back a few years when you graduated high school, you were getting some pressure to go to college, that’s kind of what your family envisioned you doing, which is a pretty standard situation I think for a lot of high school kids in the States. You however weren’t real eager to go. So, take us back to that period. Tell us what you were hearing from mom and dad, and then what you were thinking yourself as this advice was coming in?
Ryan: Yeah, that was in hindsight a really great time. But during that time, it was a really, really hard time. And what I mean by that in that situation growing up through school, everyone just tells you to do the same thing, where it’s like, “Go to college… ” Everyone has this kind of same route that they’re going towards.
David: It’s what you do.
Ryan: Yeah, and it’s like, I feel like people are very unaware and they kind of follow the crowd like… They’re almost like sheep in a way, not in a mean way, but people just follow what everyone else is doing. And during that time I was like, I was really thinking about my life where I wanted to go, and I always had big dreams of making money, traveling the world, kind of living my own life on my own terms, and at that point I was really bad at school also, so I was like college… I already knew it was just gonna be such a struggle. I’m just not good with sitting in class and book smart. I’m very street-smart, out and about in sales and stuff like that.
So, yeah man, during that time, all of my family after I graduated was just like hounding on it, like, “At least go to community college and blah blah blah.” And I remember that summer after I graduated I never signed up. And it was tough, I got hounded on and I remember Thanksgiving later that year, I wasn’t really doing anything at this point and I was trying to get a job.
David: What was the answer when the aunts and uncles asked what you were doing? Did you have that?
Ryan: Yeah, that’s the thing, ’cause I was with other family and they’re like, “Oh so and so is going to this college, and they’re going to that college,” and right away when they say that, it makes it like justifiable like, “Oh they’re doing great, they’re going to college here.” And then it’s like, “Oh what’s Ryan doing? Oh, he’s just a bum.” He’s just a bum. I remember my high school teacher one time told me also, he was like, “If you don’t go to college, you’re gonna work at McDonald’s for the rest of your life.” And so one of my goals eventually is to franchise a McDonald’s just so that I can kinda have that way up in my pocket.
David: You can invite him to stop by.
Ryan: Exactly. Give him a gift card. Yeah, so a hard time, but I feel like I was just very confident in myself. I had this self-belief that one day somehow I had no idea how, I had no idea it would be through online businesses and e-commerce and drop shipping, but I knew that I would eventually reach my goals. And so I decided not to go to college and at that time I did eventually get a job working at a surf shop, which was cool just because I wanted to obviously start making some money and kind of figuring things out. And so started working at the surf shop. Still all my family was thinking that I was just…
David: They weren’t too impressed with the surf shop.
Ryan: Yeah, not too impressed. I was just kinda living at my dad’s house at this point in Orange County and surfing in the morning, going to work, surfing in the afternoon. And it was fun. I’m not gonna lie. It was a good two years where I was very happy just kind of surfing and working there. But at the same time, I was still very interested in business. So during that whole period of working at a surf shop, at surf shop, I was always researching different business ideas and just trying to figure out different ways to make money so I could have streams of income and then eventually start trying to build my own business.
And that’s really when I kinda learned about e-commerce. I stumbled across a webinar one day, and that was kind of before all these courses and webinars were all over the place. Everyday you’re bombarded with someone wanting you to join their webinar. But back then, I joined it, and it was… This guy’s name was Fred Lam. He became my mentor, and one of my buddies nowadays. And he’s this really big e-commerce guy and he was teaching people how to start drop shipping and I remember on that webinar, he was showing how you don’t really have to have that much capital because obviously all the product is coming from a vendor where you only have to buy it after someone purchases it off your website. So, it really just comes down to marketing at that point, which I knew I was really good at ’cause I had an eye for trends and things that I knew were like people wanted and so it seemed like a fun thing.
David: And this would have been like, what? 2016 or so?
Ryan: Yeah, I think… No, it was actually close to the end of 2017. So, I ended up joining this course and I built my entire store and actually that was late 2016. I’m sorry, it wasn’t 2017. So late 2016, I ended up building my first drop shipping store through December. I remember building it, and I was following step by step. I had no idea back then, but I was like, “I can do this, I can do this.” And I remember it was New Year’s Eve and I wanted to launch my store on January 1st specifically for tax purposes, ’cause I don’t wanna make sales in 2016 and have it be all weird. And so…
David: What was the store?
Ryan: The first store I ever built… I tried to build a Fashion Nova type site. It was like a women’s all around type store, accessories and everything like that. And it’s funny, Fashion Nova wasn’t big back then, but I just knew since working at that surf shop, I had seen so many girls come in and everything they were buying, so I kinda knew what sells. And also, just girls like to buy stuff. And so that was kind of my main demographic was the younger 18-25-year-olds, more trendy fashion accessories and stuff like that.
David: And so is it safe to say that these observations or your experience at the physical retail surf shop kind of informed…
Ryan: Yeah, definitely, because when you work in retail, it’s like you’re hearing firsthand what people want and what people need and their concerns and their desires and just helping so many people. So in a way it’s kind of easy to pivot that into e-commerce, ’cause it’s similar in a way, so you can handle objections and everything like that. So yeah, that’s what I did. I launched my store January 1st of 2017 and I was hoping to get sales that day, but I didn’t. First day. No sales, I think… I don’t know how much I spent on Facebook ads, and I don’t even know what I was trying to market at that point. I think it was women’s necklace chokers or something like that. But the second day came around and I remember my first sale came in, and it was $53, and that’s when I was like, “Alright, it’s time to really get the ball rolling.” I was like, “This is cool. I haven’t done anything today. I’ve just been chilling at home and I just made a bunch of… “
David: 53 bucks.
Ryan: Yeah, $53. I spent some money on Facebook ads, and so that’s what I really liked and that’s when I got hooked on it ’cause I was like, “This is very scalable.” As long as you know what to do and how to do it, you can scale this to really as big as you want. You know what I mean?
David: You said you got hooked on it and I wanna press you on that term ’cause I think that a lot of the… If you talk to drop shippers, which we get to do a lot here, there is something that’s kind of… It’s intangible. The money is cool, and it’s a creative outlet to make ads and to figure things out. There’s a lot of things that are kind of tangible about this experience, but I think there’s also something where it’s an embrace of the hustle or just kind of thinking like maybe there’s a competition involved. When you say your hooked, what exactly do you mean by that?
Ryan: I’m very competitive and I also like games… Growing up, that’s the only thing I was good at was competing and playing sports, and so in a way that allowed me to pivot that desire and wanting to win into e-commerce just being a game, and I still treat it like that. I treat it like a game, Facebook ads, my stores, everything, it’s just putting money in and trying to get $2 out for every $1 you put it. So, that’s really why I got hooked on it and obviously the money could be great. And you can travel with your computer whenever you want. I was super big into traveling ’cause I love surfing and I wanted to go to Bali and I wanted to travel to all these surf places, and that’s allowed me to do that through e-commerce and drop shipping. And so that’s why I was really hooked on it.
And at that time, I needed to prove myself in a way because I had quit my job with the surf shop. I was still living at home and I was, I don’t know, 19,20 at that time. I think I was 20. But still I hadn’t done anything… Everyone was still in college doing their thing and I was still considered just this kid who had big dreams that wasn’t going to college, and no one really believed that I could do it and so I’ve always used negative energy to just propel me. A lot of people talk about that, and it fills me so much like just hearing people talk down on me in a way, like I can’t do it, ’cause like I said, I’m very competitive and I wanna win and so that has always driven me in a very big way.
David: Sorry, did you tell your parents about the 53 bucks? Did they…
Ryan: Yeah, I did. I told my dad. I remember I was at my dad’s house, and he was like, “Oh that’s cool.” And it’s a funny story, talking about e-commerce and this $53 ’cause I forgot to mention that prior to this, I actually tried Amazon, prior to actually joining that webinar and joining the whole e-commerce course with Shopify. I had heard about Amazon earlier in 2016, and I decided to test it out and so I ended up ordering these headphones from China and got a bulk order sent to the Amazon FBA and I set up everything, and I remember I came home from working at that surf shop one day, and I saw my Amazon sales when I got home and I was like, “This is impossible.” It was maybe 12 PM, and I had made four grand that day so far on selling these headphones. And I remember I just kept refreshing it and seeing the numbers go up, and I sold out of all my headphones by, I don’t know, like 4:00 or 5:00 PM that day, and I made eight grand. And I was just like high on life.
I was like, “Alright, this is crazy ’cause Amazon… “
David: You just hacked the world.
Ryan: Yeah, Amazon FBA’s huge. At that point, I was like, “Oh my God. I’m a millionaire.” Right away, I was like, “I just gotta order way more headphones and source this and do everything correctly.” And yeah, I was high on life during that time, and I remember three days later, all of a sudden all of these refunds started coming through because these headphones at the time, I was just very naive, they actually had a brand name on them, and they were not real. Okay, ’cause I ordered them from China just thinking, “Oh, I’m gonna get these bulk products from China.” And I had no idea back then.
Ryan: And so I ended up having to refund pretty much all of that money, and I got in a huge dispute with Amazon. So I went from high on life just to down in the gutter again, thinking that I was gonna become a millionaire very, very soon with Amazon FBA to pretty much just getting shut down by them. So that was a big failure in e-commerce earlier on prior to actually starting Shopify.
David: But it didn’t taint it completely for you? You didn’t give up on the whole game?
Ryan: No, not at all. And that’s really why when I had heard about drop shipping, I didn’t know about that back when I started Amazon, but when I heard of drop shipping, I was like, I really like that, because you don’t have to order the products upfront. Like Amazon, you have to do all of that, you got a bulk order, it’s kind of risky, you have to know that it’s gonna sell. Amazon is a huge platform where you can make good money, but you have to have great products, and there’s a lot that goes into it. So that’s what really sold me on drop shipping and I knew that that was like the outlet for me because e-commerce seemed super amazing. So, yeah.
David: So day one of this store has been… January 2017, it was no sales on day one, a little bit of something on day two. And then what happened from there?
Ryan: Yeah, so back to the day of January 2017, my first store that first month did about two grand. I just spent some money on Facebook ads, was testing things, so I made a little bit of money and…
David: Revenue right?
Ryan: Yeah, so grossed two grand, I probably net maybe about $700 that month, which was good because I really had to pay my car, and that was a big motivation to try this. I wanted enough money to pay my car and I had made that, my car payment was 250 a month, and I’d paid my car and I was starting to get momentum on this and I was hooked. I kept learning everything I could. I was trying to YouTube, everything, I was watching all of my mentor’s videos. So, I end up scaling the store pretty quick. Then the next month, I think we did 12 grand, the month after that we did 30,000, and then the month after that, the fourth month of my drop shipping store I did 60,000 in sales and so that’s when I was just like, “Alright. I’m a baller now.” I’m starting to prove my worth, I guess, and find my niche of what I’m good at.
David: So what was the impact on your psyche once you kind of were able to see some success with your store? And the reason I ask is because you said you knew you didn’t wanna go to college. You knew that the surf shop was fine, but not necessarily your long-term ambition. Was it a relief? Was it exciting? What was the feeling of thinking, “Man, this might be the thing I can do now.”?
Ryan: That’s it. It was just super exciting. Everyday, I was just so… I don’t know what the word is, just excited to get up. I get up at 5:00 AM everyday and just start working because you just start getting that momentum eventually, and you start seeing the path unfold that you’re trying to go down. And so it was a really exciting time during those first months of starting my dropshipping store. And you wanna learn at that time, too. You just wanna keep growing your knowledge and reading as much as possible, and finding new marketing strategies. It was a really cool time. And, yeah.
David: So the next big store you did was in swimwear, if I’m not mistaken. Is that right?
Ryan: Actually, we have… I had a menswear store, and that store ended up doing 100 grand in three months. And it was pretty cool because my mentor, Fred Lam, I’d met him recently that summer. And he was like, “If you can do 100 grand gross by the end of the year,” I had four months to do it, he was like, “I’ll fly you back out to my event next year, and I’ll have you speaking in it, and everything like that, and help out.” And so that really motivated me ’cause I looked up to him so much. He held me accountable. And for some reason, I was just able to really dive in and make that 100 grand in that timeframe. So that was really my next big successful story in the menswear space.
David: Was there any grand logic or scheme behind menswear, or is it just kind of… It made sense ’cause you’re a dude, and you wear clothes, and stuff like that?
Ryan: Yeah. It kinda made sense, and that’s when I really started understanding what my niche was, in a sense. I think a lot of dropshippers, they try to go for everything that they don’t really understand, and I’ve done that. I’ve made that mistake a lot of times trying to sell things that I just… I guess I just don’t get the market. And so I think it’s very important for you to understand your target market, understand kinda how they think. Menswear stuck out to me, like I was targeting the younger demographics. I knew that they would be interested in these types of necklaces that we had, everything like that.
And then that’s also why I was able to sell really well to the younger women because, obviously, working at that surf shop, just understanding kinda what they want, and their mentality behind buying things. And so that’s an important tip for everyone to kinda understand is who your audience is, and how you can speak to them. It really helps out, especially when you’re creating marketing campaigns just because you know that people are gonna like that.
David: You prioritize a deep understanding of a product versus a deep understanding of the target audience. Do you think that the target audience might be even more important than the product, or are these two things one and the same for you?
Ryan: I would say they’re both very, very important. The product, it has to be a great product, something really unique, something that does have a great mass appeal or really big fan base. But you do need to understand your audience once you have that product because you have the product, when it comes to the audience, now you need to speak to them a certain way. You need to deliver your message. You need to sell to them in a certain way, right? When it comes to the copywriting, your video ads with people talking about your products, they need to be able to understand what you’re saying, in a sense.
David: So what’s an example of a product in a target group that you feel like you really understood and you were able to leverage that innate understanding into some sales?
Ryan: Well, 100%, the 18 to 25-year-old – both men and women just because I kinda understand that what they’re really looking for, especially with the menswear and then also with the women’s side, is they’re looking for something that can make them feel good with what they wear, something that they can post on Instagram and be like, “Oh, look at my new necklace, or my new sunglasses, or my new accessory,” because these were all trending products that are hot in the fashion-type marketplace, right, that I kinda just see by looking at Instagram, seeing influencers, and kinda just seeing these trends starting to develop. And then when I see them start to develop, I’m like, “All right. Definitely, the younger demographic is wanting to go after this, right?”
Like you start seeing Kim Kardashian maybe wear a certain type of sunglasses. Like right now, she wears these big, old, square sunglasses. And now, you see Gucci, Versace, all these brands start replicating it and making these glasses, right? But you could find those on standard, regular ones on Aliexpress and start selling those, right? Make a cool video ad with a model wearing them, and you target people interested in Kim Kardashian, and there you go. You’re speaking to the right audience. And so that was one of the biggest things for sure.
David: You’ve mentioned models a couple of times. Do you have an in with models? I know you’re from California so maybe they just fall from trees out there, I don’t know. What was your relationship with models and kinda getting them to help?
Ryan: To be honest, most of my models are my friends or my family.
Ryan: Like for ads, I’ve literally used my mom, I’ve used my dad, I’ve used some of my close… Just girls that I know for products. And it’s not that hard really finding anyone. I don’t necessarily need big influencers for ads. It’s mostly just looking for real people that when you’re running ads for. People who can just be… What’s the word? They can just see themselves kinda as that person.
David: Yeah, relatable.
Ryan: Yeah, relatable. It doesn’t necessarily… Yeah, relatable. It doesn’t have to be some big Kim Kardashian you’re paying half a million dollars for a post or whatever. It’s just people that are relatable. And so that’s really what I’m looking for when finding influencers. And obviously, with Instagram, it’s very easy just to reach out to them, and send them the product, and kinda tell them what you want filmed for your video, or whatever it is.
David: You said when you started out, you really didn’t know Facebook ads, didn’t know social media marketing, were basically starting from scratch on a lot of the standard e-commerce [marketing] platforms. What was the learning process like, and what were the keys to you kinda bringing yourself up to speed on those platforms?
Ryan: Yeah. Facebook was the only platform I was really marketing on, business.facebook.com. It took me, I would say, a solid three to four months to just really understand it on an unconscious level. There’s a ladder to learning things, and I forget the tiers of everyone. But I know at the top, it’s being able to do things on an unconscious level, where it’s like you don’t have to think about it, you’re just doing it. And it took me about three to four months to do that where you can just go inside business.facebook.com. You can go to any section. You’re not even thinking. You’re just creating ads and doing everything.
Ryan: And it took me a while to really get to that place, but just doing that and sticking with it, like during the hard times, especially where it’s like everything’s so repetitive, and you’re like, “Oh where’s this? Where does this go? What’s this mean?” And just sticking with it and knowing that eventually it’s gonna get to that place where it’s super easy to do, is very, very important, especially for everyone out there listening, it’s like just stick with it, because eventually it becomes literally like tying your shoe laces, creating ads, whatever it is.
David: So the next big store for you was back in swimwear, talk about setting up that store and going back to the… Back to your roots, so to speak, getting into swimwear.
Ryan: Of course, yeah, so swimwear, I had sold a little bit on that first site, right? Like that Fashion Nova type site I had, and it was doing really well, like that was one of my top products was swimwear. So when I got rid of that other store that made $100 grand over the three months, the men’s wear store, I was moving on, it was about spring time and I was like, “Alright, summer’s coming around, I really wanna start swimwear again, but we’ll just stick to swimwear. We’re not gonna make a big women’s accessory site, or whatever, we’ll just have a swimwear niche.” And I really like swimwear also because when I was working at that surf shop, I’d see these girls come in and they were buying these $70-$80 swimsuit, bikinis, whatever it is, and I was like, “These have crazy margins.” It’s not that much material like these companies, these big companies are probably manufacturing them for $5 to $10 each.
David: Okay, so you knew…
Ryan: And so, I knew girls would spend a lot of money on swimwear, and I didn’t wanna sell swimwear that was $80, I didn’t really have a big brand name, but I could still sell for $30-$40 easily and get products for relatively cheap. And so that’s what I did, and at that time I started the website called Bali Babe Swim, which I no longer have, I sold that. But yeah, back then, that’s when I launched the swimwear store and it was pretty cool. I mean right away, I kinda knew the tactics of going out there and marketing that, ’cause I’d already kind of done it in the past and summer was coming, so it was pretty easy to do. One of the biggest things that happened though, so I scaled that site up I think in the first month, I don’t know, I did maybe $20-$30 grand, and I was just running basic photo ads. So at this time, I hadn’t really developed any real strategy of marketing, right? And this was in dropshipping, the wave started coming around, so you really had to be creative, ’cause there was so much more competition, and competition actually came in and started selling the same piece of swimwear I was selling with that site.
And I remember my Facebook Ads one morning, I was doing comfortably about three grand a day, and it just pretty much went to zero and I started losing a bunch of money with Facebook ads, and I had found my competitor and I’d realized, they’re just running the same photo ad that I’m running, and so they’re just out beating me with Facebook bidding whatever it is. And so I really had to go to the drawing boards, and I was like, “Alright, what can I do to really up my marketing?” I understood at this time marketing was huge, drop shipping was changing, the way consumers bought online and just perceived things and products online were changing, they’re getting so much smarter, go ahead.
David: What time are we talking about here?
Ryan: So this was 20… Wait this time, this is 2018.
David: Okay, heading in the summer of 2018.
Ryan: Yeah 2018. And at this time, I’d just moved to LA too, so I was living in my first apartment in Hollywood, I had… My rent was two grand a month that I split with a roommate, so I had to produce, right? My back was against the wall.
David: You weren’t living at dad’s anymore?
Ryan: No, I moved out, this was a good time. I remember I got to move out of my dad’s and it was a very proud moment, being able to move into my first place and it was all because of e-commerce. And 2018, it was an amazing year ’cause prior I’d had those successful stores and I’d finally had enough capital, now I was starting the swimwear site and that took off pretty quick. But like I said, the competition came in and kinda wiped me out about one month into running that store. And so right around this time, I developed a new kind of marketing tactic where I was gonna go out there and just use influencers, but not use influencers to post about my products, use influencers to create content for me.
Ryan: So I got some of my model friends, and it was during Coachella that year, and we just literally gave them the swimwear and we shot this ad at Coachella by a pool. And they were just talking about this swimwear and this special deal that we were doing. And right away, as soon as I launched those ads I spent only I think $140 the first day just testing it, and I made $1100, so it was a really, really good return on my ads spent, with just those video ads and I quickly scale that up to do 10 grand in a day. And so, in hindsight, it was good that the competition came and wiped me out, ’cause it made me develop new ways of marketing, right?
David: In the ads, I’ve seen the ads – they’re on our website, we’ll link to that in the show notes – but they’re not ground-breaking…
David: Cinematography, or…
Ryan: And that’s the thing, even now I’m still sticking with that strategy of just basic literally having an iPhone and shooting a video. They don’t have to be over-produced. And that’s what a lot of people think it’s like, “Oh I need to have all of this stuff,” And I don’t even know how to really video edit, I just use a basic app, it’s called the video shop. Just an app that you can play around with and add your videos into. And so that’s the thing, and especially now too, it’s like good ads are just organic people talking about the products, because now consumers are so smart they just wanna hear real people talking and giving their real opinion on a product. And so that’s more of my style of running ads now, is almost like a testimonial type ad with those models or influencers using your product. And those will go so much better than any type of basic photo ad that you’re ever gonna run.
David: So with the Instagram ads taking off, and with you having found some products that work and some advertising strategies that work you had the money to, not only move out of dad’s place, but to also start traveling, and you went to New York and Mexico and Hawaii and went to Europe, all over the place. Tell us about running the business while also doing all the traveling. I think this is like a… This is a dream for a lot of people.
David: So how did you juggle the… That lifestyle?
Ryan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is amazing that you can do this, because obviously being able to just work from your computer wherever you got in the world is just a huge plus. It does get a little hectic sometimes with traveling just because there’s so much to do when you’re traveling, so you kinda have to still set out a time where you’re like, “Alright, I need to like get work done,” and still work for about two, three hours a day. But at that time, the cool thing with dropshipping is you can develop systems, and that’s what’s super amazing about this business. Everything is very system-based.
David: What do you mean by that?
Ryan: And what I mean by that is it’s Facebook ads, it’s the sales, it’s making sure orders are getting processed, it’s some customer support, but once you kinda see… It’s kind of like an engine of a car; there’s different parts and pieces to it, but then you can start developing a team, which is what I did. I hired some people off Upwork, and I kinda just taught them what I knew and made them work on the pieces of the business that take too much time which is customer support, order fulfillment. And that’s really it, because other than that, it’s just making sure that you’re looking at new products out there that might be able to sell and running Facebook ads, which is… I’ve never delegated to anyone else. I’ve always stuck with that ’cause that’s kind of my thing that I’ve just been really good at. And so when you do that, you can hire people for pretty cheap off Upwork. They’re like $4 or $5 people.
David: This is like a platform of freelancers basically, right?
Ryan: Yeah, freelancers out there. And they’ll do all of this work for you, and you kinda just teach them and give them scripts and stuff like that, and that really frees up so much time. So the cool thing was when I did that, I only had to work about two hours a day.
Ryan: I would go on, I would look at Facebook ads, I would kinda see what’s working, I would tweak some things, and that was really it for the day. There’s obviously a lot more that I could do if I wanted to do it, but that was pretty much the only thing I had to do. So, with that time freedom, it allows you to do so much more. Obviously, when you’re traveling, it’s good because you don’t have to work all day on the computer. A lot of people do travel with online businesses, but they might be super tied down so they don’t really get to travel and experience that.
So that’s a big thing is creating systems as you start scaling up your business and really only using your time and energy towards what’s gonna drive you the most revenue. That’s one of the things every big mentor of mine has said is to stop wasting time on things that aren’t producing you revenue, that are easily duplicatable by someone else. You gotta buy your time back, and you gotta use your time very wisely in the day and your energy towards things that are only going to produce you more revenue. And so that’s what I did, and it freed up all of my time, and that’s when I was able to, yeah, travel to super nice places that I’ve always wanted to go. I went to Tulum and Europe and New York and a lot of places, and I’m still traveling. In this past year, I went to Bali for about four weeks, little over four weeks, and I worked while I was over there.
David: Is there anything… In a lot of ways, that sounds like the dream life. Bali beach in the morning, do a little bit of work and then just coast into the evening. That’s…
Ryan: Yeah, it’s definitely like a crazy selling point for e-commerce. And if that motivates you, let it; that’s crazy. It is awesome, don’t get me wrong.
David: Were there any downsides though? That’s what I was wanting to ask. On the surface, it’s like, wow, that is, that’s heavy, but were there things that you missed or…
Ryan: Yeah, there are downsides to it. It’s, number one, it’s just distracting. If you really wanna grow your business… Like now, I’m very, very, very, just wanting to grow, and so I’m trying to focus more on staying in one place because when you’re all over the place, your mind is kind of scattered; you’re kinda just doing the things that you have to do, but it’s hard to use all of your energy to just focus on growing your business, right? ‘Cause you’re traveling here, you’re traveling here, you gotta do this and that, and so. You can kind of manage your business at that point, but you can’t grow it.
Ryan: That’s what I’ve kinda found out. And so, that’s the one downside with it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s still cool to go travel and kinda just cruise and put your business on cruise control during that time. But if you really wanna grow, you’re gonna have to sit down and definitely put in work.
David: What did your days look like? So, not when you were traveling and living the nomad life, but when you were building it up, I’m just curious what was the daily schedule? You talk about waking up early then… Walk us through a typical Thursday when you were in your building phase.
Ryan: My schedule everyday is definitely waking up early about 05:00 AM, and I meditate right away; [chuckle] it keeps me very clear-headed and gets rid of my stress which comes with e-commerce, comes with dropshipping, ’cause there will be failure. I spent tens of thousands of dollars on Facebook that I have not made a single dollar off of; I’ve lost tons of money. And so it can be hard sometimes to mentally just keep going through that, and especially if you do like… Luckily, since I’ve always been an entrepreneur, I have kind of just known that that’s what I have to do, but I can understand if you’re coming from a background of working a 9-to-5 job or something and you jump into this, it can be stressful because you’ve never actually spent any money online, and it’s like you gotta spend money to make money in this game. And so you gotta be okay with that, and so…
Back to the schedule though; meditate, I go work out, I get my health right in the morning. But then after that, it’s just managing my Upwork employees. And so, if they’re having any issues, they’ll tell me if things are going on with customers or exchanges, and I’m just trying to help them and guide them so that they can obviously help our customers and make everything work very efficiently. After I do that… That usually takes about an hour to do. Sometimes a lot less it just depends on the day. But I will then hop into Facebook… Or business.facebook.com and I’ll start managing all of my ads. I wanna see how they performed yesterday, how they’re starting to perform today. There’s a lot of different scaling tactics, so you might wanna try scaling throughout the day, which I’ve done in the past where you can kind of scale up every few hours, you start putting more money towards your ads and just managing stuff like that.
After looking at Facebook and all my ads for about an hour or two, I’ll kinda start strategizing new ways of marketing ’cause the thing is with Facebook is your ads aren’t always gonna work forever, and you gotta understand that, that as soon as you launch them, they are going to die eventually. Sometimes they might die after a month, maybe a little bit less. I’ve had ads that I’ve run for a few months luckily that have still performed.
So now I’m always just looking at new ways I could run marketing campaigns. So I’m maybe reaching out to new influencers, there’s an app I use called BrandSnob, where you can communicate with influencers, and give them jobs, you can post jobs that you want, and then they also work as escrow, like BrandSnob does, so you can kind of put money in it and they do all the work and deliver you videos and stuff like that. And so it just becomes a big thinking time for me where I get to strategize on my business. And that’s another big thing with delegating your tasks towards other people, is you wanna be the business owner, you don’t wanna work in your business.
And that’s another thing, a lot of mentors have told me is being in the business, you’re not really able… You’re always working operationally, so you’re not able to actually think very strategically ’cause you’re always kind of putting out fires, “This needs to be done, this needs to be done.” You can’t think how to grow. And that’s one of the biggest things you need to do as a business owner is understand how to actually grow the business. You need to have literally thinking time for that where you can put out, put two hours aside on the day where you do nothing but just think, write out and kinda strategize new marketing plans, things that are going on, things that can help you grow.
That’s usually my next phase in the day after I look at all of my ads, and then after that I usually kind of just chill, read a book, go out in the sun, enjoy the vitamins it produces. That’s really it. Other than that I’m always kind of looking at other products. Swimwear is not just the only thing I sell. So since I do this full-time, I’m able to then really dive deep into product research on AliExpress looking at trends, things that I could possibly sell. And I’m always creating new stores, so that’s usually what all my other time is put into is developing new stores that I can start testing out.
David: And so the different platforms you’ve mentioned over this conversation, the Facebook ads and Instagram, and specifically Instagram influencers, you haven’t been doing this for so long, but just a couple of years is plenty of time to see lots of stuff change with that world. What are one or two of the biggest changes you’ve seen when it comes to these advertising platforms that are really kinda at the back bone of the way that you market your products?
Ryan: Yeah, well first off, the number one thing is it’s only getting more expensive to market on Facebook. And so what that really makes you have to develop is a good lifetime value for your customers, a good average order value. So that’s something else that you really wanna strategize on. In the beginning when I first started, it was like you could just easily get one-and-done sales. It was like, alright, someone buys that, 20 bucks, 20 bucks, whatever you’re selling. Now it’s like you might have to break even on your ads where you’re not making any money, right? Any return on your ad spent but know that because you have some upsells, because you have some cross-sales or emails that are going out after, that’s a big game changer that a lot of big e-commerce people will talk about as well, because especially with competition, the more value and more money you can make from one person coming into your store and buying something you can always out-beat your competitors because you can spend more than them to acquire that customer. So that’s one of the things.
Another thing is like video ads are, I would say, pretty much critical at this point. Video converts way better, and Facebook also will give you a way better CPM, meaning the same dollar you’re gonna spend on a video ad compared to a photo ad, you’re gonna get way more people seeing that video just because they want more people on their platform, longer, engaging on things and their biggest competitor is YouTube, so they want videos, very, very critical for you to use video ads and actually creating ad with real people, that kind of ties in in my next thing is, when I first started it was basic photo ads. Not really anything too crazy. Now, I’m really going out there and trying to sell… And I shouldn’t even say sell, I’m gonna say teach the audience I’m trying to reach about the product with someone actually using it, talking about it, even maybe mentioning flaws about it.
I had these face masks that I made my step-mom shoot a video with… Yeah, and she was doing a video, and she even said something that she didn’t like about the product, which was completely okay with me because on the consumers and they’re so smart nowadays, it’s like they wanna see something that’s real and so when they see that someone was just, “Yeah, I don’t like the mask because it takes a little bit too long to dry but other than that, I like this and that about it.” And so people just can relate to that so much more.
You need to make really relatable good content, good content will get you so many more clicks to your store, better click through rates. All in all, you’re gonna have so much more success with really investing time and energy and money if needed into creating really good content for your Facebook ads.
David: Let’s circle back around to where we started. And that’s this topic of college. I wanted to ask you what do you feel like you’ve gotten from the e-commerce path that you wouldn’t have gotten from college? ‘Cause theoretically you go to college to gain experience for a future job, to acquire some skills that you can put into practice later on. So I’m curious if you feel like you missed out on anything not going to college or on the flip side of that, if the years that you’ve spent doing e-commerce instead of going to college has given you experiences that you definitely wouldn’t have gotten if you were in the classroom?
Ryan: So there’s something that you said in there which I like what you said; studying now to do something later on. And that’s the biggest thing with school that I think is very hard is you’re gonna get taught things and if you’re not actually doing them and applying what you’re learning a lot of times it’s gonna go over your head, you know what I mean? You’re gonna find that by just doing things and being in it experiencing everything firsthand you’re gonna learn so much more and you’re gonna learn everything so much quicker because you’re gonna get data back right away on what’s working and what’s not working and you can optimize from there.
It’s kind of like driving a car, you can go take all the tests, read all the books, but until you’re actually in the car driving it, that’s how you know what it feels like to drive a car. And so that’s how I kind of feel about college. College is cool if you wanna go and there’s so many things that you do actually need a degree for, but I think a lot of it is just fluff to kind of get you this degree that supposedly is supposed to get you this job that makes you six figures a year. And I don’t know, I just feel like it kind of sets you up to be in this rat race lifestyle, not that everyone’s in it, but I see so many people and they’re very unaware that they’re going into that route, going into debt to get all this… The degree that then gets you a $50,000 job a year that you gotta pay off over the next…
Ryan: Yeah, forever your college debt and then you buy a house, right? That’s what everyone tells you to do and just being aware of that and what you’re doing. But yeah, I definitely don’t regret not going to college whatsoever. I’m very, very happy that I found e-commerce, and I stuck with it and I just learned every single day and did everything firsthand. College, if I went to college I could tell you right now all I would have probably done is partied. I would have drunk every day and surfed and just probably gotten really bad grades and I wouldn’t have done anything, and so that’s why I really liked that I had this outlet where I can do something that I really enjoy and it makes me wanna level up every single day. So, I’m very, very happy with the route I chose.
David: Awesome, Ryan, we can leave it there. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat.
Ryan: Yeah, man. I appreciate it, thank you so much.