Selling Gadgets

In 2004, at (a Dutch group-buy website), after having organized a group buy for color changing clocks (I sold 600 clocks in 4 weeks to my amazement), I browsed the internet for a follow up. Not really sure what it would mean to me, I thought rc planes and helicopters would be a nice gadget. I e-mailed a few companies I found online, and somehow ended up copying the products spec, pictures and wholesaleprices (+%10) from some excel sheet onto my group-buy page. What followed may have been my first week-long adreline rush. And some more.

For a 17-year-old, selling one rc-helicopter at €74 euros was quite a thing, but I didnt expect to be refreshing my order page every few minutes, to find out that people would be so naive, ordering around 10 helicopters a day in the first week . Or maybe I was the one being naive, because after one month I found myself in the responsibility of handling and placing an order for 9.000 usd at a chinese company called ‘Walkera’, of which the only chinese person I knew was somehow called ‘Amy’, of which our communication and order confirmation mainly happened over msn (later I found out all their msn representatives are called Amy, how peculiar).

Anyway, this was the first thing I was using a thing called ‘iban’, and started wondering if I may be taking part in some remote-controlled scam. Luckily after a few days i got the shipping number, and in 6 weeks time a truck appeared at my home, unloading two pallets of chinese rc-helicopters and a load of spare parts. Ok. So maybe this was the time to think about how to ship these things to my customers. Well, I had to ship them eventually… I didnt want to spend too much on packaging, on boxes or packaging paper, and thought tightly wrapped garbage bags would give some protection and would hide what’s inside the box. So the next four days I was busy wrapping chinese rc-helicopters in garbage bags, fixing everything with packaging tape and bringing it to the local post office. Four days in a row. The lady at the post office must have recognized me at some point. Finding me cute. Or extremely annoying. I was that little guy appearing right before closing time and maybe making her leave her work 10 minutes later.

Thrilled with my supposedly ‘achievement’, I did some more group-buys and became close attached to my new entrepreneurial identity. Honestly, I found rc-helicopters only interesting so far. They could move and they could fly. But that was it. I found this selling-things-for-money far more interesting and never bothered myself too much with technical details about rc-helicopters. Some customers unknowingly even learned me a lot about these things. I even set up a webshop and a forum to sustain my hobby of selling. I learned that having forum on your webshop is a valuable way to stay in touch with your customers and learn from them.

During the half year my which the webshop grew, I got to struggle with keeping a decent supply of inventory, which I actually never got quite around. It turns out the most money is made from selling spare parts (which had a markup of around 100%). As it turned out, customers like to play with their products, and they even like it when their helicopters crashes into the ground, and they are more than happy to go about repairing their beloved toy to its former perfection.

Quite ironic, because these customers kept ordering a lot of spare parts. And me being a small grownup, I didnt really connect the dots between between the rapid rate at which my customers where flying their toys into the ground and the time it took to ship new spare parts from china into my bedroom, which also was my inventory storage. It could be argued that I was in a favorable position, my customers ordered more than I could handle and they even accepted my out-of-inventory notices. I only needed to make a few simple calculations, extrapolations and orders and my problems were probably fixed. However, it was a source of frustration for me, even a perceived failure. After I recovered from a random fever, I opened my mailbox and saw 200+ unread mails, it was too much for me. I decided to quit my hobby that started to feel like work.

I put a notice on my website that it was for sale, it was a ‘healthy’ bussines with around 1-2k revenue per week. Within a week I was sitting next to two entreprenurs in their forties, willing to buy my shop and my inventory. They left me with a bag of cash and an empty bedroom. Wow. When you put yourself on a new track, and you do what is supposedly expected from you, and it isn’t necessarily very difficult, you just have to do it. In hindsight, things could always have gone better. Or worse. It still sometimes inspires me how an healthy sense of ignorance can put you on new roads.