How I'm Building A Side Hustle With An Unorthodox Business Mindset

$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Boosa Tech
from Saint Louis, MO
started September 2017
$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
3.74M
alexa rank
718
followers
278
followers
13
subs
platform
shipping
freelance
other

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Chris Reimer, and I’m Founder and Chief Power Officer of Boosa Tech.

We sell power banks - portable phone chargers designed to keep your smartphone up and running no matter how long you’re away from a wall outlet. On a plane flying across the world? Trying to hail an Uber? At the never-ending 3-hour soccer practice playing mindless games on your phone? On the couch and your slovenly body just won’t move? Boosa's designed to eliminate the Low Battery Anxiety that just about everyone feels when their phone dips below 30%, 20%, 5% … as little as $25-35 will take this stress out of your life.

Boosa is currently a one-person operation - me! I run the website, social media, PR, inventory procurement from China (both negotiations and logistics), pick/pack/and ship orders, customer service, marketing … I do it all and love every minute of it. And all of this is happening while I continue to work my full-time job as a Director of Creative Services at a local university. Boosa’s website went live in late June 2018, and we’re averaging about $2,000/month in sales.

Currently we sell a lightweight 10000mAh model called the Macro M1 that will give your iPhone about 3 charges, and a slim 5000mAh model called the Midi M1 that provides almost 1.5 charges. We also sell iPhone charging cables.

I also published a book in 2015 called Happywork - A Business Parable About the Journey to Teamwork, Profit, and Purpose. I’ve probably done nothing in my life of which I’m more proud. I stand by the message of finding workplace happiness and fulfillment, and it continues to drive much of what I do today. Sometimes I think writing and publishing a book makes running Boosa look easy!

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Boosa is (for now) my side hustle. I do not consider myself an entrepreneur at heart; this stuff does NOT come natural to me, and I don’t typically feel a burning desire to leave whatever job I’m working. But Boosa was a business idea that I just had to execute on. I said to myself, “You’re going to regret it forever if you don’t do this.”

My first entrepreneurial experience was on the golf course directly behind my house. My younger brother and I would search the woods for lost golf balls, clean and scrub them, and sell them back to the golfers from our backyard on the 16th tee of the golf course. When you’re 10-15 years old making hundreds of dollars every weekend and you’re not selling weed, that’s something to be proud of! The golf course tried to shut us down, but the golfers loved our prices.

Boosa is (for now) my side hustle. I do not consider myself an entrepreneur at heart; this stuff does NOT come natural to me, and I don’t typically feel a burning desire to leave whatever job I’m working.

My grandfather started a window manufacturing company in 1949, and that was my first taste of real business, a large entrepreneurial venture. I spent time there as a child, watching salespeople milling about, factory artisans building windows, my grandpa and his team running the whole show. I was wide-eyed and amazed.

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I wanted a strong business background and was always good at math, so accounting seemed like the right career for me. I graduated from Marquette University with a degree in accounting, passed the CPA exam just a few years later, and eventually served as the CFO of various organizations in my hometown of St. Louis, MO. My CFO experience included a stint at my grandpa’s business, then run by my uncles. I got us Y2K compliant by launching a new computer system on December 21, 1999. Timely!

Halfway into my final accounting job, where I was CFO of a nonprofit, I launched Rizzo Tees, a funny t-shirt company with World Headquarters in my basement. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was the launch of my marketing career. When my site went live on October 31, 2008, I had no customers, so I had no choice but to jump on Twitter and Facebook and get to know people. Often times, I was having so much fun talking with people, I was forgetting to market the t-shirts. Nevertheless, many of those people bought tees, and I knew I was on to something.

I was using Twitter so much that I was ranked the most influential Twitter user in St. Louis in 2010 and 2011 - this was before TV stations and big brands and the Cardinals figured out how to use it. Still, in a metro area of 3 million people, this feat seemed impressive to people. Entrepreneur Magazine named me one of the top five Twitter follows in the world if you're new to Twitter. So all these crazy awards and accolades were happening around me - sometimes it was even hard to believe - and I finally decided to capitalize on it. I took my new “particular set of skills” and started my career in marketing. I was done being a CPA, and as I joke with people, “I’m much better now.”

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During the last 10 years, I’ve been glued to my smartphone, doing my job of social media, video production, and communication consulting. Now I have two phones, work and personal, and like every busy person with a phone, I’m burning them down to zero every day. When I first discovered the utility of portable phone chargers, I felt like I just got the cheat codes to my favorite video game. It’s crazy, I still feel that way, and the reason is that too many people still try to work, spend time away from home, and travel without a portable phone charger.

There’s no shortage of competition in this space, but there is a shortage of understanding of what these devices really provide you. I still see people sitting on sticky airport floors, stuck to the wall outlet (if someone else isn’t already using it). Or they turn it off on the airplane to conserve battery. Flights are so damn boring, we need our phones! People spend $1,000 on a smartphone but don’t spend $33 to make it invincible? I saw a business opportunity.

For love of mission and financial reasons, I’m not yet leaving my day job. So no one is relying on Boosa to put food on the table. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I feel no pressure to make it succeed, but... I feel no pressure to make it succeed. So I have to find ways to motivate myself, to stay on top of my game. I do appreciate the fact that I’m able to build this business without having my family’s back against the wall. I’ve been laid off a few times and we’ve felt the pressure, and I see no need to feel those feelings again.

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Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The first thing I did was scour Amazon for portable phone chargers I liked, and I purchased them. Along with the portable phone chargers I already owned, I began studying them, only charging my phones with power banks. I stayed off the wall for months! This is how I learn - hands on, tasting it, battle-testing it, tons of research, and reading thousands of Amazon reviews.

I discovered power banks that had features I liked - lightweight, able to turn itself on and off automatically, not completely fugly looking. Through trial and error, I found what I considered to be design flaws, such as power banks that required you press a small button to begin the charging process. Of course I sometimes forgot to hit the button. I decided my power bank would begin charging your phone the second you plugged it in. And tiny little flashlights seemed superfluous to me, not to mention they’d always accidentally turn on in your bag and drain the battery dead.

I began studying these power banks, only charging my phones with them. I stayed off the wall for months! This is how I learn - hands on, tasting it, battle-testing it, tons of research, and reading thousands of Amazon reviews.

I identified manufacturers in China and began messaging them. So many different personalities! Very businesslike, very responsive, very unresponsive, a guy that won’t stop calling me “Bro,” and mostly Americanized names like “Kenny” and “Jane” and “Louis.” I reviewed their websites to see what they were capable of making, and paid to have them ship me samples. Some of the samples were quite attractive, and some were ugly and shoddily made. Some clearly did not have as much battery capacity as advertised, and a few were rock-solid.

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For my initial product, a 10000mAh phone charger I call the Boosa Macro M1, I identified a particular manufacturer who, by my amateur judgement, was making high-quality gear. We were able to create a power bank customized to my needs, and I begin testing a second round of prototypes. I had found my manufacturer. (FYI I have yet to visit China, so we have a Skype relationship only).

My manufacturer also prints my boxes (based on my own design), and prints and inserts a two-sided thank you card from me. This company is so helpful to my business, and has always treated me well. I’m fortunate to have them on my side. They stand behind their product, and like me, they’re always taking steps to improve their business.

I spent almost $5,000 on my first run of power banks, and probably less than $1,000 on the remainder of my startup costs. Besides that inventory, this was an inexpensive business to start.

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Describe the process of launching the business.

To buy my first round of inventory, I pulled money from savings.

My business was originally intended to be an Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) business. My power banks were to be sold exclusively on Amazon, which means all I’d have to do was sell them. I’d have a website with “Buy Now” buttons that pointed consumers to Amazon. Amazon would pick, pack, ship, accept returns, and send me money. That sounded awesome!

Email is currency. I only have 500 names on my list, but those are 500 rock-solid Boosa family members. So I try to treat them well. I’m going to begin running contests to grow the list.

Since power banks have batteries, there are various regulations that must be met. After going through at least three different approval processes, Amazon approved me and formally approved my initial shipment to them. I had all of my initial inventory sent straight from China to an Amazon warehouse, and then Amazon distributed it to all of their warehouses across the United States. I had my listing up on Amazon, optimized with keyword-rich copy and professional photography. I was about to go live!

Then, Amazon completely turned my business upside down by changing the rules on power banks. After approving my business, the specs of my power banks, receiving certified safety tests straight from my manufacturer, and agreeing to receive my inventory, they changed the power bank category to “restricted” and refused to grandfather me in. I was devastated, and so confused. Panicky and heartbroken at the same time, and short of words to explain this to my wife.

I mean, at this point, I was arguing with the richest man in the world, right? Finally, an Amazon associate, herself exasperated at the whole situation, suggested I send an email to “Jeff.” I was like, “JEFF WHO?” She said, “Bezos.” I rather lost my calm demeanor, retorting, “Oh of course, Jeff Bezos at AMAZON! Right! What’s his email address? “[email protected],” she said. Yeah, I didn’t see that coming! I sent the email, and of course nothing happened.

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Finally, in order to prepare for Prime Day 2018, Amazon was offering free inventory removals. So I had them UPS me all of my power banks. My packaging was in horrible shape, including at least 40 units where it looks like a forklift ran over the boxes. All of my inventory had been horribly mistreated. It’s Amazon, what are you gonna do? I got reimbursed for everything I could, and my Amazon FBA career was over before it even started.

I was bitter, but I had no choice but to shake it off (after many tears and wine and then more wine). Time to shift gears, change my business model, scrap my first website (which cost me $150 on Fiverr) and launch a Shopify site. I built the site myself, and Shopify makes it so easy. The whole setup is actually awesome because I’m in control of my own marketing. I pack the orders myself, I write a thank you note for every order, I capture the Facebook pixel data from my site, and I'm not forced to pay sales tax in 30+ states.

I was never afraid to do this work myself, but I knew that Amazon was the king of ecommerce and I wanted to get in front of their customers. Nevertheless, life is so much better this way, because I’m 100% in control of my business’ destiny. There are too many Amazon horror stories out there, and I refuse to be the next one.

My site went live in late June 2018, but my business’ real birthdate is July 9, 2018. That’s the day I announced my new venture on social media. I was shocked at the response. I packed orders for two days straight, and quickly had over $3,000 back in the bank. It was a hot start, and I realized that many of those first buyers weren’t buying the product, but my story. Always be telling a better story.

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Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

My first piece of advice is to capture email addresses (only upon consent, of course), and use that list. That’s what I failed to do with my first ecommerce business, Rizzo Tees. I paid so little attention to my email list, and that was back in 2009-2011 when open rates were even higher than they are today.

I am not making that mistake again. One thing I’ve noticed is that 80% of my buyers opt in for email marketing. I was shocked at that number. I thought everyone hated email, or at least just tolerated it with clenched fists. No, they read my emails, and they repeat buy after I send those emails. Email is currency. I only have 500 names on my list, but those are 500 rock-solid Boosa family members. So I try to treat them well. I’m going to begin running contests to grow the list.

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If you’re running an ecommerce site, make sure you offer Paypal as a payment option. It’s 2019; I could not and cannot believe how many people use Paypal for their online purchasing. Rizzo Tees saw maybe 10-20% of buyers using Paypal. Boosa Tech is seeing 35-50% using a mixture of Paypal and Venmo. I don’t use Paypal to buy things, so there’s the lesson - just because you don’t use it doesn’t mean others don’t. Step out of your own shoes and into the customer’s shoes, and you’ll then know how to treat them.

I have struggled with Facebook ads, but I’m pretty sure that’s because I’m doing something wrong. It’s a work in progress.

I get repeat customers because I ship fast, they get a great product, I respond to all messages as quickly as possible, and provide excellent customer service. If something goes wrong with a Boosa, we figure out if it’s user error or a defect, and one way or another, I take care of it.

Try selling on Amazon, if you like. You know how I feel about it! Many are succeeding, and I guess they’re just more patient than I am.

how-i-m-building-a-side-hustle-with-an-unorthodox-business-mindset

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Boosa is profitable, and will get even more profitable when I launch the high-margin 20000mAh model. Margins are 50% minimum and go up from there. I wasn’t sure I was going to use discounts to lure customers, but I’ve done so and it’s worked so well.

I have done zero sales outreach to organizations that could be buying Boosa in bulk. And yet, I’ve done three large sales to a national bank, a few Realtors giving them out as closing gifts, and I’m working on another sale to a national brokerage house. These people are finding me. I wonder what would happen if I tried harder and started calling large organizations.

Future products include a wall charger, a car charger, a USB Type C charging cable for Android, a wireless charger, and most importantly, that aforementioned 20000mAh model with 18W fast charging that will provide juice to your MacBook or MacBook Air. In order to add that all-important 20000mAh model, I may need to invest a few more thousand dollars in the business.

My goal is to hit $10,000/month in sales, and I’ll set a new goal from there.

how-i-m-building-a-side-hustle-with-an-unorthodox-business-mindset

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Being an entrepreneur takes patience. Yes, it’s great when you have a vision, know how to build a company culture, have a can’t-miss product, aren’t afraid to work long hours, all of the aspects of stereotypical entrepreneurism.

But nothing is more important than patience, because when you’re the Big Cheese and things go wrong, it’s all on you. And things always go wrong. Besides my Amazon debacle (which I could write a whole book about), I’ve had lost packages, angry customers, graphic designers who’ve left an error in a design after being asked through 5 rounds of revision to fix it, MailChimp ditching Shopify, shipments stuck at the port, social media tools that don’t work as advertised, an Instagram shadowban, Instagram Influencer posts that generate zero sales, Facebook ads getting shut down for no reason … the list goes on and on. Every entrepreneur reading this knows what I’m talking about.

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You’re not Rockefeller, and neither am I. We’re going to have to work for a living. It’s not designed to be easy, so don’t expect it to be. I think it’s easier to have patience when you lower your expectations in such a way.

I think my empathy for the consumer is a strength. I don’t just want to make money. I want people to be happy with their Boosa! No amount of money would be worth it if people despised my product.

During times of trouble, the most important question any entrepreneur can ask herself is “What next?” When Amazon screwed me over, I stewed about it for a few days (it was a dark couple of days, not gonna lie), and then I asked myself, “So what do I do next?” Will Boosa be defined by what just happened to me, or by what I make happen next? This isn’t pound-your-chest, I’m-so-tough crap here. It’s a choice we have. It’s like when my kids do something unfortunate. They think that, in my eyes, this is going to define them for years to come. I always remind them it’s what they do next that’s really going to matter.

This is difficult to admit in front of an audience of entrepreneurs, but I have to work hard to overcome my fears. This is crazy, but what if this actually succeeds? There’s no guarantee that life will be better, and I’ll have to leave my job and disappoint so many people, and what if and what if and … there is a part of my brain that works this way. I sometimes mitigate risk by not taking risks, and I think that risk aversion has probably cost me some opportunities.

My wife will remind me that I took a huge leap by leaving my CPA life behind at age 39 to start a marketing career, and I wrote a book, and I’ve started two businesses. I’ve got some accomplishments under my belt, but I do need to remind myself that, from my position of privilege, I probably shouldn’t be afraid of anything, especially making progress and building a great company. I’m not sure what I should be fearful of. But I know some of you entrepreneurs out there know what I’m talking about. Look, cold showers are cold. You know this. You still gotta get in, so embrace it.

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What platform/tools do you use for your business?

BoosaTech.com runs on Shopify, and I’m quite happy with it. Solid foundation on which to run ecommerce, and the support is amazing. I run much of the business from my 27” iMac and my Samsung Galaxy Note 9. I shoot videos on a Canon 70D and edit with iMovie. I work with Shopify coders, photo editors, and graphic designers using Fiverr. I use Mailchimp for my email marketing.

My inventory sits on shelves and in boxes in my home office. Nothing fancy there! I have custom-made Boosa shipping boxes, a tape gun, and battery warning stickers I purchase on Amazon. I ship via Stamps.com and the US Postal Service. I’m even using the same thermal label printer I used when I was running Rizzo Tees a decade ago.

A few days a week, I’m at the gym lifting weights starting at 4 a.m. (OK sometimes 5 or 6 a.m.!). This is a perfect time to catch up on business with my manufacturers. It’s pretty fun, actually. I do 12 reps, and then see what China just said to me on my smartphone. Sometimes I’m juggling four conversations across Skype, WhatsApp, and WeChat. I don’t think we should ever take the amazingness of our new world for granted. Truly, there are opportunities our entrepreneurial forefathers never had.

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What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I’ve learned so much from Gary Vaynerchuk, Dan Pink, and Chris Brogan. The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk is my favorite business book of all time. Others that have taught me much include The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, The Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon, and Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

Recently, I'm taking a great deal from Andy Frisella'sMFCEO Project podcast, which is odd because I don't listen to many podcasts, and am not a huge fan of his profanity and demeanor (I curse sometimes, but this guy…)

Nevertheless, there's been several episodes where, as an entrepreneur at the beginning of his journey, I've felt like he was speaking directly to me. I think that means he's doing a good job.

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Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The famous boxing announcer Michael Buffer used to go on The Howard Stern Show, and they'd make him say all sorts of hilarious announcements using variations of his famous "Let's get ready to rumble!" line. I actually took a business lesson from the time he said "LLLLLLET'S get ready TO GET READY!" That's a problem in business. Too much preparation, too many lists, too much waiting… Your business is going nowhere fast, and take it from me because I still suffer from this every now and then. Get ready AND THEN GO.

A more serious explanation came from Seth Godin in his book Linchpin, when he talks about shipping one's art. He says it's not art until you ship it, until you put your work out for public display and ridicule. Ship your idea, ship your product, ship it! I would never have been able to finish my book had I not read Seth’s book.

At my university job, I ask every applicant I interview about perfection, and their willingness to ship work that's a B, not an A+. You think you are so great, that you have high standards, that all of your work is an A+. I ship Bs all day! It's how I get things done, and I feel too many entrepreneurs starting out are waiting for all conditions to be perfect. Perfection is an illusion, and entrepreneurism is pigs-in-the-mud dirty, so set yourself a deadline, get that idea ready, and ship it on time.

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Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I am not looking to hire anyone at this point, except maybe a VA in the near future. But here’s the crazy thing. I don’t need to scale this to the moon to be happy. I don’t need warehouses with 30-foot pallet racking and fulfillment centers all over the country and 1,000 employees. I’m convinced there’s a consumer electronics business I can run out of my house, all by myself, and be happy.

Yes, I want to sell more, always more, more, more, and I’m not doing enough sales yet. But the way I look at it … there’s not a huge difference between desire and contentment. I am defining my own success, and need to force myself to not care what others think about that.

This business is a sort of experiment - can I curate an operation that gets bigger but stays small? I don’t blame you if that doesn’t make sense, or if you don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to grow big and crush Anker and Mophie. It’s just not where my head is at and it’s no goal of mine. I want people to adore their Boosas and then pack them up and go travel the world. That’s true happiness for me.

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Where can we go to learn more?

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If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Chris Reimer ,   Founder of Boosa Tech

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