How We Started A $25K/Month Business Helping People Sell Online Without Owning Any Stock
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Miguel Pieras and I am the founder of Hustle Got Real. We enable individuals and businesses to sell online without owning any stock. Our mission is to help people from all over the world to achieve financial freedom through e-commerce with almost no initial investment.
This project went from $0 to $18,000/month in just one year and I am very excited to share the journey with you all in this post. We are now a team of 7 people and have over 15,000 customers in more than 25 countries.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was born in Palma de Mallorca (Spain) 32 years ago. Even though I became a software engineer, right after getting my first job, I realized that I was more interested in the business impact of what I was doing than in the technical aspects of it. I learned how coding could enable me to develop and execute an idea right from scratch, with no other investment than my own time, and started working on small side projects to generate extra income. Eventually, I came across a course on Udemy originally called How I made $100,000 my first year selling on eBay with no inventory.
I found the idea fascinating, and I devoured the course. In just two days, I had my eBay store set up and ready for doing business. I was a bit skeptical at first, but I kept building up my store with all kinds of items. A week after I took the course, I sold my first item: a mousetrap! I still remember the first time I heard the item sold notification sound from the eBay app. Even though I had only made a few pounds, I took a screenshot because it proved that the model could work at scale.
My new venture was rapidly taking off, but it wasn’t long before I faced the most common obstacle in any drop shipping business. Since I wasn’t holding any of the products I was selling, success was not guaranteed whenever I got a sale. I needed to check the supplier’s website and hope that the product was not only available but at a price that would allow me to make a profit.
I envisioned an automated system that would remove the product from my store as soon as it became out of stock on the supplier’s website. If my supplier changed the price, this system would change the price in my store accordingly. I studied a few options available in the market, but they were either too expensive or challenging to configure. I had a very clear image in my mind of what I wanted.
At the time, I couldn’t imagine that the piece of software that I was about to design would become what we know as Hustle Got Real today. I wasn’t thinking about selling it to other people at that time. I created it because I needed it for my store.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I was still working full time, spending the evenings adding new products, placing orders, and replying to customer inquiries. Every single day. On top of that, the priority was to get familiar with eBay API (a service to update eBay stores programmatically) to:
Synchronize my inventory automatically. It would reduce uncertainty after a sale and would improve the feedback from customers. No more canceled orders because the supplier ran out of stock!
Add new products faster. I set myself the goal to add 30 new products to my store every day, which takes between 1 and 2 hours. Reducing it would free up some valuable time to focus on other aspects of the business.
As I was looking for ways to delegate specific tasks, I often ended up reading about “Virtual assistants”. They are freelancers working remotely, commonly based in Asia, who can help you to get things done at a very competitive rate.
I posted a job offer on UpWork for “eBay store manager”, which received over 50 applications. I started interviewing a few candidates every day (it was actually at night in London, when they wake up in east Asia). I met people from India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, but I was greatly impressed by Filipino candidates. From my experience, their level of English is excellent and they are very loyal and hard-working.
Here are several aspects you need to consider if you work with Virtual Assistants:
They are very far, and it’s easy for them to feel disconnected. Build a relationship with them; it is not just about work. Let them know how important they are to the team.
Be very clear and precise with your tasks, and ensure you set specific deadlines.
Explain to them the reason why you are asking them to do something. They will appreciate it and will understand the importance that it has. They can work on your business or help you with personal tasks.
Communication is vital. If you don’t understand each other often, it is better to look for someone else.
Build trust gradually. They started replying to some emails after I had reviewed them and ended up having all my credit cards, placing orders for me every day.
If you need to talk about something really important, do a video call. Text messaging can sometimes lead to wrong interpretations.
Everybody can have an idea, but fewer people can turn an idea into a real business. It’s all about getting things done. If you don’t have the necessary skills to make it happen, find someone who does and do it together!
At some point, I had a team of 5 people working remotely in my eBay store, and the relationship with them is still excellent. Here are a few samples:
Virtual Assistant 1:
Virtual Assistant 2:
A regular weekday looked like this:
09:00 - 17:30: full-time job.
17:30 - 18:30: managing the store, resolving outstanding issues that couldn't be resolved by the team in the Philippines.
18:30 - 20:00: exercise. Gym or football (I played for Hounslow Wanderers!).
20:00 - 00:00: developing the software. The team in the Philippines started testing the tool as soon as it was usable and provided feedback for me to refine it further.
00:00 - 01:00: catching up with the virtual assistants, who were just starting their day. We planned the following day.
Note that I lived right next to my workplace, so I didn’t lose any time commuting. Even though the area was not very nice, having the extra time to make the most out of the day became invaluable.
After a few months, we started performing really well as a team. Using the software I developed really helped us to take the store to the next level. At this time, I was 100% focused on the development of the software and the store was being completely managed from the Philippines. Special thanks to Faith and Erlyn, you did an outstanding job!
Describe the process of launching the business.
Before launching the product, I needed to finish up a few fundamentals:
Product: Preparing the system to be able to work with multiple eBay stores. It was originally designed to work with mine only, and it had some parameters that users would want to edit. I needed to develop the user interface and the process for them to sign up.
Business name: a side hustle is a small venture someone gets into to make some extra money. When this side hustle becomes your primary occupation, your hustle gets real. We aspire to help as many people as possible to get the life they want.
Logo: I am not very good at graphic design, so I hired a freelancer on Fiverr to design the company logo. I didn’t like the first proposal, but since the service I chose entitled me to unlimited revisions, I was able to get a new design. Here are the logos I first received from the freelancer:
Website: I could have done it myself from scratch but decided to buy a template on Themeforest to save time. I wanted to hit the market as soon as possible.
Company incorporation: I sought legal advice on this one since I wanted to be on the safe side. I contacted Aster & Trujillo in London, and within a few days, the company was incorporated in London. They were already familiar with my drop shipping business, so creating a new business entity with them was easy.
Pricing: I wanted to start with a monthly subscription based on the number of products that the user wanted to sell. I liked it because it is recurring and it builds up over time, plus it is widespread for SaaS companies (businesses offering cloud-based solutions). It was free for up to 30 products, and here is the pricing structure:
The idea behind the FREE tier was to make it easy for people to give it a try. I trusted that after making the first sale and seeing the real potential, people would move to a paid plan to scale up.
Since all my potential customers were eBay users, I only needed to accept PayPal as a payment method. I had to admit that the implementation was pretty straight forward.
Once the above was completed, I started looking for potential customers and offered them to test the software for free for a month. My main goal was to gather feedback and gauge whether the current version had enough features to provide value to others. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that it was going to work because I was successfully using it for my own store, but I was also aware that it was very tailored to my business strategy, which might not be the same for everyone else.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our initial growth was purely organic. I found people on YouTube not only making video tutorials about Hustle Got Real but also encouraging people to join. I was astonished because I had never talked to them, and they were not getting any benefit at all. I contacted all of them and offered an affiliate commission for every sale. Since then, we have been creating content on our own YouTube channel to help people get started.
I installed a live chat on the website (Tawk. to - free), a non-scalable idea that made sense at the time. I installed their mobile app so I could reply even when not at home. Whenever customers requested new features, I told them that I would forward the request to the technical team (it was still me!) and would come back to them. They were shocked when after a few hours, I came back to them and told them that what they requested was live. It worked well to raise brand awareness by word of mouth. Here’s an example of a chat I took in the morning, after spending the night before talking to the same person.
I also found that there were many people on Facebook talking about dropshipping. I decided to create a Facebook group with the ultimate goal of creating a community where users could help each other. Initially, I thought of it as a support group, but then I realized that by opening it up to anyone it would be easier to get more people to try it. This has been working very well so far, and we have a group of almost 7,000 members.
The main problem I was facing at the time, and it still is one of our main concerns today, is that many people sign up, give it a try for a few days and give up. They might have a concept of drop shipping as a get-rich-quick model when it isn’t. It takes time and effort to create a profitable business, even when you use the right tools. Here are a few actions I took:
- Offered 6-months plans and yearly subscriptions with massive discounts, with the hope to increase the Customer Lifetime Value.
- Added the option to pay in different currencies to reduce friction during checkout.
- Created all the PayPal subscription buttons for the new plans.
I wasn’t even sure if people would be willing to pay for a year of service in advance, not even 6 months - especially for big subscriptions. I even felt that I was wasting my time at some point while creating all the payment plans in PayPal. But guess what? It worked!
I believe that being so close to the customers made me understand the business from a broader perspective.
I can’t stress enough the importance of the team, especially in small companies. You are going to spend a lot of time together, and the success of the business depends directly on how good your team is.
I was finally able to quit my job and started working from my parents’ in Spain. At first, I thought I could do everything myself but I proved myself wrong very quickly. There were more and more people signing up and emails were piling up even though I spent hours every day managing the inbox. I barely had any time to fix the issues that were reported, let alone adding new features. I had to decide: either I kept doing it myself and let the level of service drop, or found people who wanted to join me in this project. This was one of the best decisions I ever made. I know there are people better than me at many things, and those are the people I wanted to work with.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are currently a team of 7 people. Ana Bravo is the voice of the customers and is in charge of customer service and marketing. Joe Cale leads the technical team as CTO, working with Carlos Mena and Jaume Solivellas who are awesome software engineers. Joana Llull and I work on the business strategy and operations. Finally, Rowena helps with customer support and the live chat remotely.
Our focus is now to provide a “done for you service” where we can manage all the processes involved in the sale, from sourcing to invoicing. Our users can now sell on Amazon and their own website (Shopify) and source their items from over 80 different suppliers.
After the lockdown, we have seen an increase in the number of online transactions and our revenue has grown 20% compared to last month.
During last month we launched 2 services that are being very popular so far:
“We list for you”: we browse potential hot selling products, optimize them for your specific sales channel and list them for you. We started offering this because we saw many people who were willing to pay instead of doing it themselves manually. You can find out more details on our website.
Optimization tokens: Each token can optimize the title of your product automatically. The user still needs to find the product and list it on the sales channel. Here is a video showing how it works.
We have also added a new supplier to our auto ordering service, The VA Ninja. This was started by another entrepreneur, a previous customer, who saw a lack of functionality in our software and developed it himself. We ended up acquiring the software to further improve it. We invited him to come over to Mallorca and give us training on how it worked internally.
I am checking the stats at the time of writing and would like to share with you a few interesting facts:
- Today, the top-selling product belongs to the “party” category. Unbelievable!
- This month, makeup has been the top category to sell in.
- Sports equipment has seen the highest increase in sales, well above all other categories.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting my own business changed my life. It still feels like yesterday when I was selling my first products on eBay. The product has evolved so much and there are thousands of people using it. As a solo founder, there were also challenging times. There was no boss or employee to blame; it was all on me when things didn’t go as expected. Starting a business from scratch in a foreign country while being employed full time can only work if you are genuinely committed to your goal.
I can’t stress enough the importance of the team, especially in small companies. You are going to spend a lot of time together, and the success of the business depends directly on how good your team is... and mine is fantastic!
Before Hustle Got Real I worked on other side projects with some of my friends. One of the main difficulties I found was that the level of commitment was significantly different among us. I learned that it is very important to clarify the roles and level of participation before doing any work.
Finally, one of the things I am enjoying the most during this journey is getting to know super interesting people, who have created amazing projects or are still working on them. I try to learn as much as I can from all of them, and apply this knowledge to my life, on both personal and professional levels.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Upwork and OnlineJobs.ph: Services to hire freelancers working remotely. Great variety of skills and price ranges.
PayPal and Stripe: Manage payments and subscriptions. Stripe has an Integration Builder to make integrations super easy.
Mailjet: Send email marketing campaigns, automation, and transactional emails. For example, if a user hasn’t posted any product a day after creating the account, we send an email showing how to do it.
Grafana: System monitoring and business dashboards. Here’s an example of one of the dashboards we currently use. Visibility is critical, and it has saved us a lot of time. If something goes wrong, we know it immediately!
Awin: Manage affiliate agreements and payments.
Hubspot and Gmail: We are still managing our customer service via Gmail, but lately we have been integrating certain functionalities from HubSpot. I like it because it has a lot of features for Gmail and an API integration.
MightyText: Read text messages received on a phone from the computer. We use it to manage our UK mobile phone from Spain.
Transferwise: Send and receive international payments. I added my affiliate link because you get a free international transfer for up to €500.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I stumbled upon a video from Gary Vaynerchuk when I was just getting started and I was truly inspired. He is a true entrepreneur. Here’s a video where he explains how he sees life and entrepreneurship.
I was also inspired by Will Smith in this video
And finally, this one from Arnold Schwarzenegger
The 4 hours work week by Tim Ferris is a book I would also recommend to you. You may not need many of the ideas explained in the book, but it can help you to see life from a different perspective.
Crushing it by Gary Vaynerchuk. Case study about startups of different sizes.
“Make it happen” - As @sama put it, “if there is a single key to success, it is the trait of being able to make things happen in the world - willingfulness, determination, execution focus, not giving up when you hit a roadblock, the ability to solve any problem that comes your way, and self-belief”.
“Michael Jordan won 125 times with the last shot of the game. He missed the same amount of times. Why do people admire him? Because he always took the last shot”
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
You are probably better prepared than you think, it is just a matter of applying this knowledge. You will never feel 100% ready, there are so many things that can’t be controlled in life and resilience is one of the most important skills for an entrepreneur.
Take time to celebrate small victories. You are probably so focused on the daily operations that you don’t realize how far you have come.
As Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Ideas are s--t, execution is the game”. Everybody can have an idea, but fewer people can turn an idea into a real business. It’s all about getting things done. If you don’t have the necessary skills to make it happen, find someone who does and do it together!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not offering any full-time positions at the moment. However, if you are an affiliate marketer and are interested in promoting Hustle Got Real we do have an affiliate program where you can earn a recurring commission.
If you have any questions or want to get in touch, you can find our social profiles in the following section. You can also message us via the contact form on our website.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hustle Got Real
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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