Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Adam Torkildson (Tork to my friends). I run Tork Media, which is the umbrella company to several ventures I’m in various stages of running and/or funding.
I’m a partner and founder of 7 very different ventures; ranging from a solar farm in Bakersfield to selling sportscards on eBay (which is the one I like to talk about the most).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was homeschooled, so I have a fairly non-traditional education. I feel like that really shaped the way that I approach life in general. My dad was also a clown in Barnum and Bailey circus, so we moved around a lot and I never made very many friends. This led to my parents eventually got divorced, and me becoming addicted to pornography by the time I was 12.
I really struggled to connect with people in real life, and therefore spent most of my time on video games and the internet. Amazingly, I did get married and now have 2 beautiful kids, who are my main motivation for everything I do now.
My neighbor, who is in the Hall of Fame as the winningest coach in American sports history, has been collecting sports and playing cards for over 50 years. One day, as he was coaching my son in javelin, he offered to let me see his collection. I was blown away. He had everything from Jordan rookies, to Kobes, to Babe Ruths, etc. I wasn’t an expert in collecting cards by any means, but like most kids of the ’80s, I had bought a pack or 2 of trading cards from the store. There is a lot of nostalgia there.
The coach (David Houle) asked if I’d like to buy some. I declined, having no interest in owning sports cards anymore at my age. However, once he told me what some of the cards had been selling for on eBay, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much money there was in cards.
I did some research and eventually ended up buying an already existing eBay store from a friend, found some amazing card scanning technology coupled with a cataloging and listing software for eBay, and partnered with coach Houle to sell his entire collection on eBay. Houle Sports LLC was born.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I was able to finance the business with a $10,000 investment from my other ventures, and since coach Houle already had the existing inventory of cards we needed, all I had to figure out was the business structure and how to price cards at a volume so there was an actual profit.
People who know the industry very well, but lack a key tool, resource, or another service that I can come in and fill. That way we’re both incentivized to take care of the other person and neither of us feels like the other is taking advantage.
The money was spent on buying a scanning machine for the cards, the cataloging software for helping manage the cards once scanned, shipping supplies, and sending several ‘raw’ cards in for grading. This was a process I had never heard about before and was definitely a major lesson, but it is fairly simple:
There are lots of fake sports cards floating around. How does one know which is which? The answer is that several sports card authentication companies exist (PSA and Beckett being the most well-known). You send your cards to them, and they not only authenticate them, but they give them a grade from 1-10, 10 being the best mint condition a card could have.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I bought an eBay store that already had several 100 5 star reviews and a long track record of great customer service. eBay rewards stores like this with better search results for listings, and some other perks that end up being well worth the investment.
eBay also has a built-in advertising system, that is extremely rudimentary, but it doesn’t require any money upfront.
Lastly, they have a system of sending offers to interested buyers who have been looking at your listings or added them to their cart. Similar to Shopify’s abandoned cart emails, but it’s not automated. You do have to manually send out offers to interested parties, and you don’t get to see their contact details. See the screenshot below for a fairly good representation of the promoted listings feature and the send offers feature:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We reached profitability in the second month of being in business. Since we don’t have expenses in purchasing inventory, we can usually undersell our competition (since there are more people selling cards on eBay than at any other time in history).
I’ve also figured out a system of bypassing the eBay shipping fees (normally a $3 per card fee, which I’ve worked down to $1 per card). This is accomplished with a combination of getting free tracking labels from USPS, using inexpensive bubble mailers to ship, and using good old stamps on envelopes.
Our operation is currently being run by my business partner, who is retired, and just has to spend his time mailing cards from his home every day as sales come in.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
During the course of starting up this card-selling business, I’ve learned how to evaluate the condition of a card. The corners have to be sharp; there can’t be any blemishes, scratches, discolorations, etc. This is an image of a nearly perfect Mickey Mantle card (a different Mickey Mantle sold for 5.2 million recently).
This looks like any other card to the untrained eye. We have it listed for $500 right now.
And granted, it’s not the most excellent of pictures either. But once you get a card graded by either PSA or Beckett, like the one above, there is no room for argument about the condition of the card. It’s similar to a Supreme Court ruling on any legal issue. It’s binding, and basically law at that point. So you don’t need to have a pristine picture, as long as you have the grade (9 in this case) displayed properly.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use a software called Kronocard, which costs about $100 per month for the pro version. It connects very well with our Epson card scanner and has a built-in feature that allows us to have each card scanned, described, and uploaded to eBay with a click of a button.
We also use a card grading service called SNC Grading. They’re very inexpensive and have a very quick turnaround on card grades. They also make a video of each card as it gets graded. Here’s one they did for our Gem Mint 10 Kobe Bryant rookie card (worth over $5000):
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most influential book I’ve read has to do with managing finances. It’s called The Richest Man in Babylon and I read it when I was 12 and have lived by those principles my entire life.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I always prefer to have partners in any new venture I start or become a part of. People who know the industry very well, but lack a key tool, resource, or another service that I can come in and fill. That way we’re both incentivized to take care of the other person and neither of us feels like the other is taking advantage.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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