Unless you live in a cave, you’ve heard that the new iPhones don’t have a headphone jack. This nonsense led to a frenzy of Apple fans searching far and wide for Bluetooth headphones that are as clear and convenient as their old wired pair.
To you, that may look like a problem, but to the keen, optimistic eye of an entrepreneur, it’s an opportunity.
I jumped on the hype train and launched an e-commerce business that aimed to undercut Apple’s Airpods. Those suckers are $159, which would appear akin to robbery if Apple didn’t have a free pass to do whatever the flip they want.
The market for wireless headphones is pretty narrow right now, as they’re not yet a large-scale necessity. Plus, most sellers are pricing their products at well over a hundred bucks. Surely, I’ll be able to sell them for less and still turn a profit, right?
Mehh… It’s not as simple as that, apparently. Here’s how it went down.
Since I wanted to price them somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-$90, I needed the point of entry to be so low that I could skate over it like a crack in the sidewalk.
Startup costs had to be borderline nonexistent. Shipping had to be filthy cheap or literally free. The ads had to be completely covered by the money I made from sales.
Electronics are notoriously risky, too (StartupBros constantly preaches this, but I waived that warning), so I needed to do this right.
I began by scouring AliExpress.com for wireless Bluetooth headphones. After rifling through reviews, I found a reliable seller and “borrowed” their stock images to create my own store and the advertisements for it (sorry, not sorry).
The name of my venture: RunPods. You know, like fitness, blended with Airpods… you get it. With that out of the way, I published my Shopify store and crossed my fingers.
Orders started rolling in almost immediately, which was a pleasant surprise. I experimented with different prices, and the highest anyone paid was around $79, while the lowest was $39 during my Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
So why didn’t it work?
A good entrepreneur can admit his own mistakes, and there were a few major flaws with my plan.
Despite the cost-effectiveness of the method, because I was drop-shipping (from China, mind you), the average delivery window was within 20–40 days.
That, my friends, is a long freaking time.
I was trying to sell the product at such a low price that customers would stomach the wait without question because of the overall value I was offering. But people have craaazy high expectations when it comes to electronics. Tech folks are a tough crowd.
Another weird hurdle I ran into is that people aren’t used to wireless headphones, so they look a little strange when sitting in your ears without that familiar wire dangling down.
Also, who is going to enjoy having to charge their headphones? It’s inconvenient, annoying, and impractical from the perspective of someone who has never owned a wireless pair before.
This led to customer service speed bumps like complaints and returns, which made a big honkin’ dent in my profits.
Yes, I did 3 grand in sales in a month flat, but I wound up $150 in the red after returns and the piling costs of purchase, ads, etc. Ouch.
My wife’s approach seems similar, but it wasn’t. At all.
She got wind of my plan and decided to hop on a different trend: The whole strappy-back underneath-your-tank-top bra craze.
Hitting AliExpress, she ordered 10 of these bras for $1.70 per to the house. From there, she sold through existing online channels like eBay, Poshmark, and Mercari, while using stock photos to make her listings look primo.
She didn’t make a Shopify store, she didn’t run expensive ads, and she didn’t rely on a social media algorithm target potential customers. All she did was post them up online, and get this: The woman sold one every single day for $10.99 a pop.
Minus the ~10% fee from the platform, and the cost of the initial investment, she wound up profiting around $6 per sale. No shipping expenses, either. A true genius, that one.
With the $60 she made from those sales, she invested another $20 for a new batch of bras and experienced the same result. If she scaled it up, she’d be rolling in paper.
That’s right, folks. By the end of our run, my business-savvy wife pocketed $100, while I was in the hole for that much and then some.
Well then, class, what have we learned?
I’m not going to lie, RunPods was technically a failure, albeit a fun and valuable one. Through this trial, I was blessed with the following kernels of truth:
1. Don’t be afraid to try something because of initial investment costs! My wife spent a measly $40 and walked away with 250% of what she put down. If you ask me, that’s a killer ROI.
2. If you can, try to avoid the tech trap. Just because there can be a higher profit margin in electronics doesn’t mean you’re actually going to make any cash.
3. Test out your product on existing channels (eBay, Poshmark, Mecari, Facebook Marketplace…etc) before building your own store.
4. Don’t shell out moolah for Facebook to target customers right out the gate.
5. Fine, honey, you win. Ugh.