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Taking My eCommerce Hobby and Turning Into a Real Business


 Things are starting to get REAL as I decide to take my selling on eBay hobby and turn it into a REAL BUSINESS.

This was back in 1999 after spending 6-9 months selling items around the house and things I would purchase at thrift stores and garage sales for major profits.  Please check earlier blog posts and podcasts for the back story.  I was proving the concept that this process could be standardized and turned into a long-term sustainable business and felt I had enough sales and experience across many different types of items that this was a sustainable business opportunity.

I was ready to dial things up a notch and take it to the next level.

As I explain in my podcast, at this time I was working the corporate lifestyle full time and pursuing my MBA degree part time in the evenings.  Many would say I had a full plate but pursuing this hobby that I grew into a passion into a real living and breathing business that could eventually support myself and my soon to be growing family, I was determined to put ideas onto paper and get solid feedback and support from local  business owners and entrepreneurs.

I also wished to make this transition as risk-free as possible so I had no plans of quitting my corporate job at this point.  It was still too early in the game for that.  This stage was about building the business plan, analyzing the market opportunity in detail and crunching the numbers. This was about developing a brand, launching a real corporation and jumping into the big time.  This was at the time where eBay selling was still primarily a hobby for the now 2 million registered users who were buying and selling on eBay.  Most were still buying at this stage 😉  Writing a business for the first time in this space was my mission and I was determined to climb this mountain with my bare hands!

The first step in this process was to take the Entrepreneurship class at the University of Nebraska…again!  Did I get a bad grade the first time?  Did I not finish it the first time?

Nope, I passed the class with flying colors the first time I took it 4 years earlier.   I enjoyed the class as an undergrad student in pursuit of my BS degree in business.  The big project for the class is to write a business plan from start to finish on a  business idea you might have.  This was back in 1995 and I didn’t really have a business idea at the time but I knew someday I wanted to become an entrepreneur, a real entrepreneur.  Not just a paper boy or someone who mows lawns like my past.  I wanted a corporation, I wanted to chase the dream of building something from scratch that adds value to the community and creates jobs.  I wanted something with unlimited income opportunity based on my smarts, skills and hard work.

The business plan I decided to write about was a billboard advertising company that put billboards…wait for it…wait for it…are you ready…in bathroom stalls.  I noticed this business model while traveling through airports in bigger cities but I felt this idea was under-utilized in my part of the country.  Long story short, this was a great experience giving me insight in the effort needed to review a business idea, research the market, identify a value proposition and crunch the numbers.  It also taught me the valuable less of needing to “Sell your idea” to other people and the reality that not everyone can see what you see when looking into the future. You’v spent weeks, months and maybe years thinking about your idea. They’ve had only five minutes.  You’re going to have people who believe you’re crazy and you have no chance of success.  Sometimes even friends and family.  I didn’t pursue the bathroom billboard idea, it just didn’t get me excited enough at the end of the day but these were valuable lessons for the future.

Fast forward 4 years to 1999 and I’m now pursuing my Master’s Degree in Business MBA and I DO have a real idea that has captured my attention and passion.  I loved selling on eBay.  I loved taking items from one value scenario and moving them to another value scenario attaching my creative marketing skills and receiving a sizable profit when done well.  It was time to take this exact same entrepreneur class all over again with the ultimate goal of writing a business plan, getting feedback from other people on my idea and really crunching the numbers.

Developing a brand name was one of the goals of this project and a part of the process I enjoy.  I still enjoy brand development and building today and utilize this skill to my advantage in my current entrepreneur adventures.  The name I came up with was Sell2All.  I felt it worked well as a brand name to represent to manufacturers as I sold them on using my services to sell or liquidate their inventory to the world using the Internet.  I also felt this brand name worked well to the buyers who would be buying from me online.  It seemed to be a win win brand name that could be remembered and conveyed from person to person.  I paid my $70 and registered the domain for the first year.

During the coarse of the business planning process my project partner (Justin – who teamed up with me in class to help research and write the business plan) and I went through all the necessary steps. We researched the market size and projections, we evaluated the competitive landscape using Michael Porter’s Five Forces model (one of my favorites by the way), we developed our unique approach to the market and how we will add value to the market, we crunched the numbers down to the transaction level showing how we make profit on a single transaction and how many transactions we can do per a month with a given size operation.  We even validated our assumption by using real data from my hobby selling of items on eBay and included the 157 positive feedback comments from my eBay selling account.  It was a 50 page document after including all the diagrams, tables and spreadsheets at the back.  I was convinced I had a winning business plan that everyone would agree I’ve discovered the most amazing opportunity on the planet.  I was ready to show the world how I’d conquer the online auction industry and become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Believe it or not, I still have a copy of the original plan over 15 years later! I had a good time re-reading through parts of it to see how right or how seriously wrong I was.

sell2all ecommerce ebay business plan 1999
sell2all ecommerce ebay business plan 1999
sell2all ecommerce ebay business plan 1999
sell2all ecommerce ebay business plan 1999

Once the plan was written the next step was to present my plan to an audience of judges who were experienced entrepreneurs, CEO’s and investors from the area.  This was Shark Tank 1.0 before the idea of Shark Tank existed.  I loved the idea of presenting a business plan and showing the world my plan was the best of the best and how I was going to beat all the other business plans in the competition.   A little competitiveness showing. Yes, I’m a competitive person.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of eCommerce Story Time with Brandon.  In the next episode of eCommerce Story Time I’ll share how the business plans went.  I attended three competitions and one of them was a major event where the winner was awarded $5 million.  Yes, $5 million big ones for a simple idea!

Cheers to selling smarter!

PS: I really enjoyed putting this episode together. Please take 10 seconds to LIKE, SHARE and tell your eCommerce friends!