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When it comes to starting a business, there’s a general misconception that you need to create something grand and invest lots of money in order to be successful. In fact, many would-be entrepreneurs never get started because they think that they need to create the next Facebook, the next Google or the next Amazon.com.
But in reality, it’s very easy to make money online if you start small and simply go for a base hit. In today’s podcast, Lars and I talk about some of the many ways that we’ve made money in the past that do not require any infrastructure or technical know how.
Warning: Some of Lars’ past businesses have been wacky, crazy and off the wall. And in honor of this podcast episode, I’m giving away a free monkey phone call to 3 lucky readers/listeners at MonkeyPhoneCall.com!
Leave a comment below to enter and I’ll do a random drawing.
Remember, the only thing you need to succeed in business is a little confidence and a lot of hustle. Enjoy the episode.
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What You’ll Learn
- Off the wall business ideas that have worked for Lars
- How I made money before I started my online store
- 7 different ways to make money that are simple and don’t require much upfront investment
- Why you need to start selling something today
- Why your potential for making money is much greater than you think
- Easy ways to make money right now without any technical knowledge
Other Resources And Books
This episode was sponsored by Big Commerce. If you are interested in starting your own online store, then click here to get 1 month free
Now if you enjoy this podcast please leave me a review on iTunes and enter my podcast contest where I’m giving away free one on one business consults every single month. For more information go to Mywifequitherjob.com/contest. And if you are interested in starting your own online business, be sure to sign up for my free six day mini course, where I show you how my wife and I managed to make over 100k in profit in our first year of business. Go to www.mywifequiteherjob.com for more information.
Now before I begin I just want to give a quick a shout out to this episode’s sponsor Bigcommerce. Now Bigcommerce is a fully hosted shopping cart platform that allows you to set up your own online store in minutes. And as most of you probably know, I teach a class on how to start a profitable online store. And Bigcommerce is actually one of the shopping carts that I highly recommend in my class. Now here is what I like about Bigcommerce. Unlike other competing platforms, Bigcommerce doesn’t really nickel and dime you with every little shopping cart feature. And when you sign up, you immediately have a fully featured and extremely powerful shopping cart at your disposal.
Now there’s also an incredible theme store where you can choose from a variety of attractive store designs, so you don’t really need a designer. And they also offer integration with Alibaba which is new. So you can easily find products to sell online. Now if you are interested in starting your own online store using Bigcommerce is as about as easy as it gets. Everything from design, to payment processing is all built in, and you just have to populate it with your own products.
You can literally start your own online store in a matter of hours. Simply go to www.bigcommerce.com/mywifequitherjob, sign up and you’ll instantly receive one month free. Once again the URL is www.bigcommerce.com/mywifequitherjob, now on to the show.
Welcome to the My Wife Quit her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit her Job podcast. Today’s episode is going to be a little different than some of the other episodes we’ve had. Now instead of talk about six, seven, or eight figure online businesses, my guest and I are going to talk about just making money period online. Now here is the thing, most people seem to have this misconception: they had to have the perfect idea before getting started. And most people think that your idea must be scalable in order to be successful. Most people are also afraid that their ideas are stupid, or they can’t think of anything worth doing.
So today I’ve invited my buddy Lars Hundley back on the show to discuss exactly that. Now it turns out that between the two of us, Lars and I have done some pretty silly things online. And some of our business ideas have just been downright ridiculous. Actually Lars beats me in this department. But if you don’t remember Lars, he was actually a guest on episode 29 where he talked about his Clean Air Gardening shop. But the guy actually had many businesses in the past, that he started in the past decade and kind of between the two of us we’ve both kind of failed spectacularly and yet we’ve also made decent money off of ideas that weren’t exactly great.
Now the point here is that you really don’t need a great idea at all to start. You just got to find something and just go with it. And so with that intro welcome to the show Lars. How are you doing today man?
Lars: Thank you Steve. It makes me feel really good about myself that I’m on your show as the example of– a lot of people make a lot of money and are very successful, but here is a guy that well he does a bunch of weird stuff and makes a little bit of money at it. So don’t feel bad about sucking because wait till you hear how this guy sucks.
Steve: So just for the record listeners Lars actually does really well. It just so happens that he’s done a lot of funny stuff too. He usually doesn’t publish his stuff publicly, but we’ve had some chats in the past and he’s done some pretty funny stuff. And I’ve got some stories to tell too. It’s not like I’m going to leave Lars out there alone in this case. But I actually don’t even know where to begin. So should we just start the ball rolling with some bone headed business ideas?
Lars: Well first I got to do a very quick like in my own defense thing. Clean Air Gardening was my– is my main business and I’ve been doing that from one to 15 years. And we’ve been in the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies list two or three different times. So I do have a real business and I do that for a living. I work out of a warehouse. I’ve been making my living fulltime online since I started making money online 1998. I quit my day job in 2000. So I’ve been doing it fulltime since 2000.
Steve: Plus you’ve got those other businesses too also that we didn’t even talk about in the last lectures. I think everyone out there knows Lars that you are the man. So let’s get to the funny stuff now.
Lars: Which one do you want to hear about?
Steve: I don’t know. What do you got? Let’s– we’ll alternate. Why don’t you start out with one and then I’ll chime in afterwards?
Lars: The stupidest way I’ve ever made money on the internet is I used to make monkey noises where people would pay me 10 bucks to make a monkey phone call where I would call people up and deliver a monkey phone call, or I would make these super loud monkey noises over the phone and just freak people out. It’s like a paid prank call basically. I ended up on like a whole list of clear channel radio DJs on the morning show guys. They keep like a master internal list of people that make good interviews, and I was so weird and bizarre that they had me on probably at least 20 different morning radio shows around the country. Or they would interview me and then sometimes they would make me make monkey phone calls live on the air. That’s probably the most ridiculous way I ever made money.
Steve: How did you get the word out on this monkey call business?
Lars: Well it’s funny, I started way back in– I think it was either 2002 or 2003. So this is before social media even existed.
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Lars: So if you wanted something to go viral it had to go viral by email and people would share email. What happened was at that time in the early 2000s that was the time when sometimes funny eBay auctions would go viral where people would just list the weirdest stupidest stuff just to get attention, and then sometimes it would get reported in the media. So my brother and I were looking at some of those and there was an eBay auction that was weird like that, that had something to do with monkeys. And we thought, “I know what we can do. Let’s make a website.”
We threw the thing together and built it in about a day or two. I think literally we– I don’t remember if we posted it on some message board or emailed it to somebody that had like a long– that’s how we launched it and it literally went viral all by itself from that. We didn’t really promote it very much. And then every time we’d appear on the radio, everybody in the town– you’d start getting all these orders all from the same area code wherever the radio station was located. Then you can always– do a radio show and I would have to make 50 phone calls.
Steve: So was this a nice website, or did you just kind of throw up a page?
Lars: It still exists.
Steve: Oh it does?
Lars: It does not have the order button because I’m not– I’ve retired from the monkey noise businesses, but it’s Monkeyphonecall.com. That– it’s the original website. It looks totally 2003 when you look at it. It’s not mobile friendly or responsive, and it has funny graphics but it’s still there.
Steve: Give me a sec here. I’m just going to bring it up here. So it’s Monkey…
Steve: Call.com. Oh yeah, the site is really, really 2000, early 2000ish. So people would actually go on this website and click on this order now button, and then pay you 10 bucks per call?
Lars: It totally happened, it was real.
Steve: And then you would just spend the day making these prank calls to people. That’s pretty hilarious.
Lars: I was always doing it on the side so it was basically– it was like extra money in my pocket. It’s like free money and only takes three minutes to make the call. It was a pretty good deal.
Steve: Were you working your fulltime job at the time?
Lars: Oh yeah. That was– I was well into Clean Air Gardening. Clean Air Gardening was launched in 98 and was fulltime since 2000. So it was just something we did as a joke, and I was doing it on the side. When I’d see supporters go through, I would just sort of step aside and make a bunch of monkey noises and then go back to work.
Steve: What’s hilarious here is you even have a bunch of testimonials.
Lars: Those are real too.
Steve: Wow. So I don’t think that I can top that, but actually I just wanted to make a disclaimer to the listeners. Remember Lars when we said that we’ve done some bone headed things online. I actually just said that to make you feel better. I’ve actually never done anything stupid ever. This interview is all about you. All right, so here is one of mine. Long time ago and a lot of the people who’ve read my blog for a long time used to know that I used to buy stuff on Craigslist and I used to sell it on eBay. I got kind of sophisticated about it. I had a script that would send me new deals that popped up.
So one day a deal popped up on my Craigslist radar and it sounded too good to be true. And it was something like hard drives for like $10 that could easily have been sold on eBay for 80 bucks. So I email this dude, I map out the address and I head on over. And as I’m driving I realize that the houses that I was passing by were getting more and more run down and before I knew it I was in the ghetto. So here I was, like this nerdy Chinese guy. I think I was wearing my Stanford sweat shirt at the time; I was wearing my big coke bottle glasses. Driving outty and then I was deep in the ghetto, like G-H-E-T-T-O, ghetto.
So I knock on the dude’s house and this sketchy guy and his buddies walk me over to his van. He shows me the merchandise all of which look stolen. Like he’d ripped out– so these hard drives they still had the cables connected to them and then the cables were like cut. So picture a whole pile of hard drives with cables all from a bunch of computers. Lars I think I’m going to show my age here, but do you remember that episode– do you remember this show way back in the 80s called In Living Color.
Steve: It was like that skit the homeboy shopping network, “We’ve got car stereos, car radios and if you act now we can even get the car.” So anyway these guys I was dealing with they were pretty intimidating out to this nerdy Chinese dude. So I ended up buying these drives just because I was so intimidated, and I didn’t haggle. I always haggle, but I was just so terrified that I didn’t haggle and I just got the hell out of there. It’s just one of those like really stupid things where I could have gotten killed or mugged or whatever. But I actually made pretty much 1400 bucks that month, so I was pretty happy about myself. So there is my silly story.
Lars: So you sold the hard drives?
Steve: I did. I just turned them over on eBay and I would just do this with electronics and I was just doing this on the side. I would just make a couple of calls to Craigslist people. I always was the first one to jump because I had this script, and just to head on over, buy the stuff. I knew what everything was worth in my mind and I just turned it over on eBay. All right man, your turn.
Lars: It’s funny. You talk about arbitrage. I’m a member of a group here in Dallas, it’s a bunch of people that sell FBA, Fulfilled by Amazon. They were selling on Amazon and they are doing almost the exact same thing you were doing from Craigslist a long time ago where they were buying like weird groceries that are hard to find and toys. They are buying stuff at retail either at clearance or whatever, and then they are selling it on Amazon, FBA and making a profit on it. A bunch of these guys– most of them still have day jobs, but a few of them are doing it full time. They don’t even have their own exclusive product or anything like that. It’s kind of almost the same thing. It’s pretty cool that there are so many different ways to make money.
Steve: Yes. So we’ve actually had a guest. Her name is Jessica Larrew and she does exactly that. And she actually makes six figures doing that. So what she does is she goes over to the clearance houses. She has the Amazon app where you can just pretty much scan what everything is worth. So once week she’ll go through one of these clearance stores, find out whether she can make some money, and then she will just buy out the entire lot of that store and she’ll list it online. She’s done really well doing that.
Lars: You want to talk about Amazon; Amazon is one of the things that I’m actually excited about recently making money on Amazon. I got to tell you, I was making a list before the call started to think of all the different ways that I make money related to Amazon, and I came up with seven different ways that I make money just on Amazon.
Steve: Are you going to share those seven things Lars?
Lars: Oh no, they are all a secret.
Steve: I know you’ve done a bunch of stuff with Amazon actually. It’s really quite impressive; I mean if you want to talk about some of those things.
Lars: Well– okay, here is the list. Since I’m in the gardening business some of the products that I sell were actually either a manufacturer, a private label manufacturer or an importer, but we have exclusive rights to some of these gardening products. Some of these products I sell to Amazon as like where you are an Amazon vendor and you sell it to them at wholesale, and then they sell it on Amazon and that’s where for sale, from Amazon and people buy it that way. So that’s one way. That is the original way that I started making money with Amazon.
And then I figured out how to become a merchant and sell on Amazon, and we used Amazon to liquidate all these dead products that were sitting in our warehouse that had been– like things that weren’t selling. Usually with stuff that you have to liquidate you either have to throw it in the dumpster and take a total loss or maybe there is something like a liquidation company and they’ll give you a five cents on the dollar. It’s just something ridiculously low to carry it away. I started listing all this stuff on Amazon, and I was like making small profits, at least breaking even on all of it.
So I emptied out my warehouse with all these useless stuff that wasn’t selling for me, and it was totally awesome. So that’s one way that I made money on there. And then I started realizing, “Well wait, I bet you there is other stuff that I could sell on Amazon.” So I was selling as a merchant on Amazon that way and making– I’m still a merchant today selling various products although it’s a little bit hard when you are selling stuff as a retailer on Amazon, because there is always somebody else coming along that you are competing for the buy button with a lot of these products. So that’s a pretty competitive space to be.
Then I also sell FBA on Amazon where I have products that I box up and you ship into Amazon’s warehouse and then it’s fulfilled by Amazon. Man I’ll tell you, the difference between selling as a merchant on Amazon and selling Fulfilled by Amazon your volume goes way up because people– like all those people that have Amazon prime accounts really prefer to buy stuff that comes directly from Amazon warehouse because they know they are going to get in two days. So that one– if you’ve got a good product that’s exclusive and you can sell at Amazon FBA, it’s a great way to make some money on Amazon.
I also– I’ve got an affiliate account with Amazon and I’ve got some informational websites out there and occasionally I’ll do affiliate links to products that are related– mostly these informational gardening sites, and I’ll have like a link to something for sale on Amazon that I don’t sell, but it’s related to tomato gardening or something like that. And I probably make 40, $50 a month on affiliate sales on Amazon. It’s not real money, but its good money. I’d rather have $50 than not have $50, right?
Steve: Yeah. So here is the thing about the Amazon affiliate program. What’s nice is you get someone on Amazon and you actually get commission on everything they buy. So what’s hilarious about this– I got a funny story here. Below, a lot of the show notes in some of these podcasts I list Amazon affiliate links for books that people recommend, like some of the guests I have them usually recommend a book or two. There is this one order where someone clicked on that book and bought like a $1000 worth of like spanks. It was just completely random because you can see what the people buy.
So I ended up making a decent amount just off that one order when the original intention was just to buy books. So you can easily make a couple of extra bucks doing that pretty easily if you have a blog or some sort of website.
Lars: I’ve also gotten some weird products that have come through where somebody has clicked through the link and ended up buying other stuff on Amazon too, and it’s like “What is that?”
Steve: Yeah. It’s completely random stuff. It’s actually pretty interesting.
Lars: Well another way I make money on Amazon is I’m actually a Kindle author and I wrote a book about composting. I worked on it– it’s not a very long book, it’s maybe 50 or 60 pages or something, but it’s basically a beginner’s guide to composting that sort of gets you started on it. I had a cover designed and I paid somebody on Elance to edit the book for me, and then put it up there. It’s got like 60 reviews. It does fairly well. I make probably up to a couple of hundred bucks a month on it, and it’s just up there.
I don’t promote it really anymore, and it does fairly well because now that it has enough reviews it sort of keeps going because people see that it has good reviews and they keep buying it. So that’s been a cool way. I made money as an Amazon shareholder for a while. I bought it when the stock was on a tear. Again it was like two or three years ago or whatever. And it was going up and then I stopped out when it started to go back down, because I sort of did trailing stops if I ever buy individual stocks because I’m afraid of losing money.
So Amazon went way up and then as it started to go back down it hit stock number so I sold. So I ended up– I think I almost doubled my money in– I don’t know, two or three years with Amazon. It wasn’t a giant amount, but it’s still kind of cool.
Steve: You know Lars one thing I really like about you is that you just– you try everything, unlike me, like we’re kind of different in this respect, but I tend to do one thing and then it takes me a lot to time to actually for me to start something new, yet you seem to be able to just start new things and try new things without– it’s just in your personality and that’s what I really like about you, and in fact you always try to get me to try new things and which I really appreciate by the way.
And without you like constantly emailing me about new things that you are trying that are working, I may not have even have considered doing some of these things. So let’s talk about some of your resent stuff that’s been pretty cool in my mind, so you recently wrote a post on my blog about a Kickstarter that you did, where you created this really cool bicycle locking belt. Now can you talk about some of the ways that you have been just using Kickstarter recently, and how you experimented with it?
Lars: Yeah, that’s actually another thing that I’m very excited about, I’m excited about Amazon and I’m also excited about Kickstarter, I’ve done two successful Kickstarter projects now and they are both on the minor success scale, I think they both were just under 10,000 dollars each. So I’m not one of the people that make a million dollars on Kickstarter or anything like that, but the first one was Yoyo, because I have one of my ecommerce sites sells Yoyo, that’s one of the ones that’s also been around since 1998 or 1999, that’s one of my original ecommerce sites and I’m actually a Yoyo expert, and I’m really good at Yoyo which is weird but true.
It goes along with [inaudible] [0:21:46] I guess it’s– these things that it’s embarrassing to tell people that you’re good at. But the latest Kickstarer is sort of a little bit outside of my area of expertise, I’m really into cycling, I’m– I like to do a lot of mountain biking, cycle cross bike racing and road bike racing. And so I’ve always sort of wanted to have some kind of bike related product to sell, because I’m personally really interested in it.
And I even went to the Euro bike trade show a couple of years ago to look for a product maybe to import and sell, and I really wasn’t able to find anything that seemed to make sense, because a lot of the products you need so much money to import, like if you want to bring in a bike brand, you got to have millions of dollars because you have to carry every size, every color, every model. And so they are not looking for small time people like me. So anyway, I started thinking of ideas and I came up with this idea for a bike lock with a buddy of mine who actually is in the bike business, and so designed this lock and I worked with a guy that he goes– he flies back and forth to China all the time.
And he can find somebody to manufacture anything. If you have some idea and you don’t have to have like a card drawing and all that, I mean literally you could scribble out your idea on an up can and you can couple it together with purchased products that you’ve bought some place else, and then where there’s ort of a weird working prototype that’s not really– not a good prototype, it’s something that you could show it to some guy, and that’s what I did with this lock.
And then we went over there and then they made several samples and it was cool. And so I decided I was going to launch it on Kickstarter because I don’t really have a channel to sell bike stuff, because…
Steve: Your blog is gardening related, right?
Steve: It has nothing to do with… right.
Lars: My blog is gardening related, and so– and my website is gardening related, and so I didn’t really have any kind of sales channel for it. So I thought well let’s see if I can pond [ph] the first manufacturing run using Kickstarter, and so I was afraid that the Kickstarter was going to fail.
And so I set the number really low, because with Kickstarter, if you don’t hit your funding goal, you don’t get any of the money, and I thought well, I want to manufacture this product anyway, because I believe in it, but I’ll really like to see how much of it I can pre-sell with Kickstarter as I’m getting started. And hopefully Kickstarter will pay for the whole manufacturing run, so I don’t have to come up with any money out of my own pocket.
And it turned out that I did not make enough money to pay for the whole manufacturing run, but it paid a good portion of the manufacturing run. And so I was definitely ahead of the game of where I would have been if I would have just designed it and had no way to sell it or anything. So it worked out great.
Steve: So regarding the design of this belt, there are other products that were kind of similar, and that you could wear a chain on your waist, and you made a lot of improvements to kind of an existing design, is that how it worked or?
Lars: Yeah. There’s another bike lock out there and it’s supper expensive, and it’s sort of a more complex design and I sort of simplified the concept so that I could make it less expensive, and I think mine is a little better honestly, I’m really happy with the way it turned out.
Mine has a cool reflective strip on the back, so it lights up with the car headlight shines on it. It has a built in zipper pocket where you can keep the keys to your lock, and things like that, and there was already sort of a similar product in that category.
And the way I feel is every idea didn’t have to be the most original perfect idea that no one else has ever thought of in the history of the world, because how do you know if your idea is good? Like I like to find cool things that I can sort of iterate and improve, that is– that are things that I’m interested in rather than maybe I’m just not creative enough to come up with a completely original product.
Steve: By the way, everyone listening Lars is like one of the most self-duplicating guys I know, he’s really awesome yet he always like bashes on himself. Just a couple of words about his bike lock, I actually purchased one, and I find it– I want these bike locks because my wife and I and our kids, we like to go biking and we bought one of these coil type of locks with a padlock on it, and then every time my wife would try to lock the bike, she’d have to unwind this thing around her seat, and then the bike lock actually would start banging against the bike itself. And so I thought it was pretty ingenious, so we picked one up right away. I have yet to receive it yet, however Lars, but…
Lars: Well, no– actually the Kickstarter started out so good that I actually started the manufacturing run while the Kickstarter was still going once I saw that I was going to get funded. So– but they’re made in Asia, so they have to ship by sea because box are heavy, especially a whole bunch of them, so it takes longer, so they’re going to ship mid-February and then I’ll probably also be selling it on Amazon once they get there.
Lars: Also I’m working on setting up those product listings on Amazon right now.
Steve: So let’s talk about ideas that aren’t necessarily like million dollar ideas, but they just kind of work, like you mentioned you monkey call business. You probably made a couple of thousand dollars doing that I would imagine, and at the height…
Lars: Yeah, like literally some days if I would be on a radio show, I would do up to 50 phone calls in a day, which– that’s is 500 bucks.
Lars: So it did all right, and it was self-sustaining, because like it would always go to a new crowd of people that thought it was hilarious, and then it would keep going. It was funny because you’d see like people would start ordering it all from the same domain name, it’s like people were ordering it for each other at work, and then there’s all kind of weird patterns that you would see.
Steve: I mean this is just kind of that glitter envelope idea that was just– that just kind of went viral recently, where people are sending glitter to other people as a prank, in a way it’s a same sort of idea and it went viral.
Lars: Yeah, exactly. I was way ahead of that guy. Except for, he was much smarter than me because he sold that site for $83,000, I believe it’s the number; it was called Ship Your Enemies glitter. And that actually there’s another side story about that, I read a story, it was on entrepreneur’s magazines website or blog about another guy who– they called him an opportunist entrepreneur, and that basically he heard about the Ship Your Enemies Glitter idea, and he thought this is a good idea.
And he made one call to Sparkle Slap, which is basically– it’s the same thing where he will send an envelope full of glitter to somebody, and he’s also made good money from it, just following the trend, because what happened was The Ship Your Enemies Glitter guy also and he started getting [Inaudible] [00:29:26] with orders, because it went viral and he couldn’t even fill them all because it’s a lot of work to mail envelopes.
And so this guy said well, that guy can’t even fill his orders, so I’m going to get into this and his thing I think it’s still running and profitable, and he’s still– he’s getting his MBA at some place. And so I– anyway I thought that was awesome, because that’s– you don’t have to– you could literally make a knock off of a weird site that sells glitter and be successful with it. Like that’s the way to make money.
Steve: I remember you sent me the link to that guy, he like threw up a sign like a weekend or something like that, and just started selling. And it is a descent looking website too, which I just also want to mention to the listeners, setting up one of these good looking websites actually isn’t that difficult anymore, you can just– there’s a bunch of fully hosted guys out there like the Shopify, Bigcommerce as well. You can literally throw up a fully functional store with just a couple of clicks, so it’s pretty amazing.
Lars: Yeah, they have some really good simple templates if you have an idea like that, you can probably put something together, and under 10 hours if you had a crazy idea, and the price for hosting it is not that high on the low level one, which you can always rise up or go back down.
And the other thing you can do, is you can put up a WordPress site, and there’s a bunch of different templates for a landing page kind of sites or all kinds of crazy templates, if it was a service where you could go even cheaper than putting it on Bigcommerce or Shopify if you wanted to do it that way. And then just take payment with PayPal or something and it’s bam, you’re up and running.
Steve: Actually you got a similar story to this glitter guy, right? I mean I remember you were talking to me, and I think you even wrote a post on my blog about there was some press about these guys that were making house numbers, the numbers that you kind of mount on your house to show off your house number, and you just went ahead and threw up a sign and started drop shipping these things, and it still makes money today, right.
Lars: Yeah. Well that one was actually– it was a column in the Wall Street journal from way back in early 2000s, because this site was also from like 2002, 2003. And what happened was it was in this column called catalogue critic, where every week they would secret-shop and order stuff, and then from a bunch of different catalogues and online sites, and then they would critic it and talk about what was good and what was bad. And that week they had ordered a bunch of address signs, the kind that go on your house.
And they noticed that quite a few of them, all came from the same manufacturer or shipped from the same address. And I was like ding, ding, ding, then my alarm bells were going off and like hey this sounds like a drop ship product that might work. And so I put together a site and man there were so many products, I couldn’t just add it to Cleaner Gardening because it didn’t make sense, this was actually my very niche sight that was a separate site than Cleaner Gardening and my first niche ecommerce site.
And so I thought well, I’m just going to make a separate site out of it, because they did also sell a few things that made sense for Cleaner Gardening, that I sold them at Cleaner Gardening site, but I had to write individual product descriptions for like hundreds of products, because you had to write something and they didn’t give me any text back then.
So it was actually quite a bit of work, I ended up hiring a college kid to help me write some of those, because I got so like bored with putting it together because it was like so much work, but it was– yeah, there was, once again you read something, you see an opportunity, and you act on it and it works out, I mean it’s not been like– but yeah, I mean it still makes money today.
Steve: I mean it’s good spending cash, I don’t know how much it makes, but it sounds like it makes descent money for pretty much a maintenance free site, right?
Lars: Yeah, like back in the day when it used to rank well on Google, when it was easier to rank for stuff, it was making probably mortgage payment level profits per month. So it was…
Steve: A couple of grand a month?
Lars: Yeah, Well yeah. Well you think about California [inaudible] [0:33:40].
Steve: Oh yeah, my bet. Well that would be like 10,000.
Lars: Yeah, I’m thinking more along the lines of Texas mortgages which are in the 1000 to 2000 range for a nice house.
Steve: You know, I mean we had similar ideas too, so I remember my wife and I we use to comb eBay for stuff that was selling, and one idea that we got was going into the personalized baby bib business.
So basically we would just monogram, or we put funny sayings on bibs, and these actually sold pretty well, and what’s awesome about baby bibs is that people– little kids they vomit all over them, and they are pretty much ruined after the first use and then they come back and they buy another one.
And we ended up finding a vendor who was willing to sell these things in super cheap, in thousand unit quantities, so we bought a whole bunch. Eventually we found out that we had to actually get these tested before selling which kind of ruined the whole operation, but for a while we were doing well. But it did get to the point where once we found out they need to get tested, and we were kind of selling these illegally, we ended up having a garage full of these things.
I ended up wearing these baby bibs at dinner, just coz they were like napkins, right. And every kid wore a bib, that was our policy in our house until we went through like the thousands that we had. But anyway just do your research on permits before selling anything, but those ideas are all over the place, you just got to find out what’s selling, or you can use a tool called Terapeak to kind of comb the eBay listings and find out what products are moving well.
Lars: Interesting. I haven’t used Terapeak before.
Steve: Yeah, and you’ve got some other funky businesses that you’ve done in the past which personally I didn’t think would make a dime, but you’ve actually done pretty well with them also.
Lars: Like what are you thinking?
Steve: I was thinking about the one that you sold like wadded up pieces of paper in a box, you want to talk a little on that one, I thought that was pretty interesting to me.
Lars: It’s– first of all, it’s not wadded up pieces of paper, it was actually art.
Steve: My bet, my bet.
Lars: It’s origami [ph] boulder, and basically it’s– that one is actually a reference to an old Matt Groening cartoon book from the 80s that when I was– I was in a book store, I was visiting Austin in high school in the 80s, and we’re in this– it had been a book store, looking through like the humor section, and there’s this Matt Groening, I don’t remember how you pronounce his name, he’s the Simpsons guy, this is way before the Simpsons.
But anyway one of his cartoons– it was called cheap gifts or something like that, and one of them was like jar [ph] or gravel, and the other one was origami boulder, and then it’s just like land– drier land, it was just stupid ideas for– to give as a gift to a purely ultimate lazy person.
And I thought that was hilarious and so it stuck in my mind, and after monkey phone call, I thought what else can I do that’s kind of funny, they might go viral. And so I came up with that idea, and it actually did go viral too, and I can’t say who, I don’t think– I don’t want to violate anybody’s privacy, but once a big name that everybody would recognize from silicon valley, and this was also in probably 2005 or something like that, ordered like a hundred of these origami boulders.
And then I used to have a more expensive version that would have a haiku on the inside, you couldn’t read the haiku because if you opened it up, then you would ruin the art work, but I really did, I wrote in the original haiku for every single one of them. In fact it was just recently some guy emailed me that he waited 10 years and opened up his haiku and read it.
Steve: That’s hilarious, what is this site called, you don’t do this anymore, but…
Lars: No, it’s still up and once again I had the order button down because I’m not up to wadding up paper and sending in mail anymore, it’s origamiboulder.com.
Steve: Origami boulder, hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever actually went to the site, I remember you telling me the story, oh no the buy buttons are still there.
Lars: I don’t think they work though.
Steve: Oh they don’t work. Okay, hilarious, these are expensive too.
Lars: Yeah, and people would buy them up, and they would buy the most expensive version too. I have one with the bamboo stand, that’s like a display stand, and I was buying those over at the container store.
Steve: Yeah, I know, it’s– you were charging 30 bucks, that’s a lot.
Lars: People were buying them too.
Steve: Yeah, that’s crazy, crazy. I mean it just goes to show that, I don’t know, I mean these are just ideas that are just kind off the wall and they work, and how did that one go viral actually?
Lars: You know, I put it up there, I linked to it from monkey phone call for a while, so people that were visiting Monkey phone call clicked through to it, and then it just went just viral all by itself. And somebody linked to it, and the funny part was that a bunch of people linked to it and it was Origami boulder in the domain name and the name of the site.
And this was back when there was– anchor text was everything with Google. And I was ranking in the top three for just Origami which was really annoying to all the real origami enthusiasts, it was just like a total insult, I would get insulting emails actually about this is not Origami.
And I have a whole actually page of letters where people would get completely offended by this concept of Origami boulders, and they sent me these scathing emails and then I would reply to them, and like in an annoying way, the whole section is called letters from dum dums, and I would just call everybody a dum dum, they wrote and complained about it.
And the site is written sort of in bad English where you are not sure if it’s an Asian guy or not, and then because it was a character basically that I created when I came up with this one because I thought, what would be funny– because just selling up wadded papers is not funny, and so I came with a whole character to go with it.
Steve: Yeah, and what’s funny about all of this is it– kind of all these things kind of tie into like a central theme that I always preach in my class, which is having some sort of interesting story behind your products, and having some sort of value proposition. And often times it’s much easier to get press if you have a good story related to your product.
Steve: A good story? I thought you were going to go in the other direction. You are going to talk about the awesome value preposition.
Lars: Oh yes I couldn’t think of anything there, so I decided to go with the story.
Steve: Well hey so Lars so what are some of pieces of advice that you can give to the listeners here. Just in general when it just comes to just making money like we are not talking about creating $100 million businesses here, we are just talking about making some side money here. You might still be working your full time job, you know what are some of the early steps to kind of dip your feet in the water, and then hopefully gradually build up to something bigger?
Lars: Well that is a good point that I want to make because you know when I started my business even when I started Clean Air Gardening, I kept my day job and I started it. And I was actually; I was getting my MBA at night. And I had a day job, and I was starting a business. And you still have your day job even today. I think that is not a bad idea to keep your day job. I think it’s riskier if you are just going to quit everything for an idea that is completely unproven. And I really love the idea of starting a side business, and then when you see “Hey this is going to be a success,” then you can quit your day job and move on to it. So that’s one thing that I want to point out.
And the other thing that I would like to say is you know there’s a million ideas and there’s nothing new under the sun. There’s so many different ways to make money, and I’m definitely a shiny object guy where I have an idea and I chase this, I go “Oh! Here’s the way to make money. Oh! I’m going to do a Kickstarter thing. Oh I’m going to sell on Amazon.” And I’m going from one thing to the next. And what– in the beginning what you want to do is– and this is what I did, I had one website and it was making money. And I made it work fast.
Because you really want to find at least one thing and get it running where you are making a little bit of money before you do ten things, because otherwise your temptation is right before you make the one thing work, then that’s when you give up on it, because “Oh! There’s this other idea and this is even better.” And you don’t finish your first idea and then you end up like doing all the work, but you reap none of the benefits.
So I highly suggest you figure out– and it doesn’t matter if your first idea is stupid or lame or whatever, just finish your first idea and start making a little bit of money from it first before you do ten things.
Steve: Yeah you know it’s funny as I get a lot of emails from readers of the blog and they email me and they say, “Oh I have tried the whole e-commerce thing and it didn’t work.” Or you know– and then I’ll ask “How long did you try it for,” and they’ll say “Oh! Yeah you know I had it up for six months. You know I only got a couple of sales and so e-commerce just isn’t my thing.” And you know often times I tell people to take kind of a multi year timeframe. You know at least one year; preferably two to three or three to five. I don’t even start anything unless I plan on maintaining it for at least three years. Is that your philosophy too Lars or?
Lars: I think particularly with any kind of website now, I think Google– this is my conspiracy theory, it’s not based on any fact or anything like that, but I think Google makes it hard to ever rank for anything unless your site has been existing for at least a year or so. Of course if your site goes viral or weighing out, there’s all kinds of exceptions to that rule, but I think in general if you are starting a new site, I think it’s unlikely that you are going to rank well in the first year unless you just happen to get lucky.
And so yeah I totally agree with that. That you got to be you are willing to stick with it for a while before you just give up on it because it didn’t take off. I don’t think things– it’s hard. Most things don’t take off. They start slow and then they sort of snow ball. And so you got to not panic when it’s not immediately making $100,000 a month.
Steve: And the things that do take off they always make me suspicious. Like this whole Amazon thing that I’ve been doing seems a little bit too easy right now and I imagine that would probably change at some point. I don’t know. What are your thoughts on Amazon?
Lars: You know Amazon is my greatest friendenemy [ph]. I love them and hate them so much at the same time that it’s a really complex relationship. You know as a competitor– because you know Amazon sells a lot of gardening stuff also. They are a brutal competitor and the buy button– there’s massive competition for it. And there’s always somebody– it seems like your awesome product is somebody else’s like loss leader or somebody else’s liquidation product. And so here you are. You’ll– somebody will be looking on your website and they will say, “Well I looked on Amazon and it was only $40.” And it’s like that’s how much I pay wholesale for it.
So I can’t match that price. I’ll still have to ship it to you on top of that. And I had it shipped to my warehouse. It’s truly frustrating as an e-commerce guy to compete with Amazon. And really I’m having the most success on Amazon with exclusive stuff. But even if you have exclusive stuff on Amazon, you are competing against everything else in that category. Let’s say you know I have like a compost bin actually that I manufacture that I sell on Amazon. I’m competing against every other compost tumbler in that price range you know, and so just because you have a unique product doesn’t even guarantee your success on Amazon.
But they have so many people and the reason why people go to Amazon is to buy things, so all their traffic is so valuable. I don’t know, I’m really excited about what’s happening with Amazon now, but I’m afraid that things might change. You know like e-Bay used to be super easy to make money on. And now it’s not easy to make money on. People still do make money on it. And so I’m afraid that it’s going to be one of the things like that. In general I’m afraid of like hitching my wagon into somebody else’s train or– that’s probably a bad analogy. But you know like once you are hitched to them, well Amazon is always going to do what’s on Amazon’s best interest.
And what if one day Amazon decides, “You know what this Amazon seller thing, it’s not even making money for us, let’s just abandon it. Or let’s charge 30 percent instead of 15 percent so we can double our profits.” They could decide that over night. It’s their business. And yeah it’s probably not likely that they are going to do something that crazy. But I guarantee you though over time they will start cranking up the profit knob to make more money off of it.
Steve: I mean I totally agree. That’s why I’m always preaching that you should have your own branded website and– I usually don’t use the hitching the wagon analogy. I usually use the pregnancy analogy. You want to have fun, but you don’t want to get knocked up by Amazon and really depend on them. Same thing hey, but Lars you know we’ve been chatting for a while now and really appreciate you coming on the show. I’ll link up all of your previous businesses at the end of this podcast so people can see. And where can people find you if they have any questions for you, if they want to pay you a little extra and get a monkey call? You are still doing those even for the right price?
Lars: No, no, not at any price. I’m not– I’m done with those; at cleanairgardening.com is the best place to find me I guess.
Steve: Yeah and I will just link some of your kick starters also, do you have any kick starters on the way or in the process.
Lars: I do, I have some ideas, but they are at this point they are not– I can’t talk about them yet because they are still vague in my brain that I don’t think I could even describe them.
Steve: Okay no problem. Well hey Lars thanks for coming on the show again.
Lars: All right, well I’m sad that we didn’t get to talk about some of my giant e-commerce failures because it makes it sounds like I’m…
Steve: There’s time. There’s time. If you want to tell– I mean I had some failures too. I didn’t even get a chance too because we were going down a different route, but share one of your failures Lars before we go.
Lars: Okay. Well here’s my biggest online failures was, my grandfather used to own a beer dealership when I was a kid. And my dad worked there a little bit when I was a kid before, but he was– he really worked for a Fortune 500 Company after that. But he worked there for a few years with my grandfather. And so I’ve always been sort of interested in cars. And I thought you know what I want to do? I want to get my used car dealer’s licenses and I want to sell cars online, because I read about this company in Dallas that was selling cars on like e-Bay motors and they were just making a killing.
And so I actually went through all of the paper work to be a used car dealer. And you have to have a lot. You have to have like there are all these things you have to have. And it’s so much paper work because it’s like it’s really highly regulated, the car market. And so I spent a ton of– I mean fortunately I already had a building, so I didn’t have to lease a whole space or anything like that because I just made our parking lot the car lot. But even doing it cheap it probably cost me thousands of dollars starting. And I never sold a car for a profit. I sold everything at a loss. And then I gave up on it for a while and then I shut down.
And when I shut down, the state of Texas sent me a $3,000 tax penalty because there was a six month period that I hadn’t shut down yet, and I had not sold anything. And so since I had zero sales, there was some special form that you are supposed to fill out that you have to report that you have zero sales, and since I didn’t report zero sales, they assumed that this and that, and there is no way to get around it. So I had to pay $3000 just to shut the whole thing down.
Steve: And then the cars that you did buy, are you still driving them?
Lars: Yes I’m still driving them. And that was from– I don’t know how many years; it’s a 2010 Subaru Outback. That was the last one that I bought at auction and I’m still driving it today.
Steve: I mean that’s just like my baby bib story. I mean at least your car is useful I mean.
Lars: That is true, but I bet you are shirts stay clean.
Steve: Well you know we’ll have to get on the show again maybe and talk about some of our failures. I got a whole bunch and unfortunately we didn’t have time to get to all of them today. But once again thanks for coming on the show Lars. We’ll have to get in touch again.
Lars: All right, thanks for having me.
Steve: All right take care.
I hope you enjoyed that episode which was a little bit different than some of the other ones that I’ve published in the past. And I hope that you’ve learned that making money online isn’t really that difficult. You just need to take some initiative, take some action, and execute. My friend Lars has just about tried everything and I hope that you can learn from his experiences.
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And once again I just want to thank big commerce for sponsoring this episode. Big commerce is one of the best shopping carts that I personally recommend, if you want to start your own online store without having to worry about anything technical. They’ve got an incredible theme store where you can choose from a wide variety of attractive store designs, so you don’t need to hire a designer. And they also offer integration with Alibaba, so you can easily find products to sell online.
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22 thoughts on “070: Crazy Simple Business Ideas That Actually Make A Lot Of Money With Lars Hundley”
Great podcats Steve. No one buys my stuff. Just 18 orders in two years. Do I quit or stick at it. Looks like I will be using my stock for years to come. Its not as if I stocked rubbish. Do I try amazon? People say advertise but I dont know how?
Definitely try Amazon while keeping your existing site
Amazon is like the mall…it has alot of traffic. There are already customers there looking to buy stuff
Loved this Podcast! It was informative and funny! Thanks so much!
Great stuff here. Thanks!
I found this lowering the bar exercise most useful. I would love to know more about how he went about prototyping the bike lock. Also, would love to know how he decides on which ideas to push forward and which to wait on. Also, in general, how do you find things out that are regulatory issues before you get to the point of costing thousands in waste/fees etc.
I have several ideas myself. Some seem like long roads to a prototype and turn into products, some are goofy ideas like origami boulders that might create interest and sell. So this conversation has me re-evaluating what to start with.
Originally, I felt like I should just do simple branded products on amazon, then snowball up to the bigger/crazier ideas with the time and money that this would allow.
Hearing that there is something to be said for making me-too knockoffs was a bit liberating as well. I have a few things that are alternative versions of things that are selling well, some patented or patent pending. Just not sure how to get them made into real products. ( I wish I could tell the claims on the patent pending things so I could think up alternative versions on those and be safe.)
But it all comes down to decision and EXECUTION.
I guess I need a proper mentor
It’s funny that you asked that question Tony, because I just had Lars as a guest speaker for my class last night. He actually answered all of the questions that you just asked. If you have specific questions, email me and I’ll try to answer them.
You had me up until the “Ghetto/In Living Color” bit.
Sorry if that came across poorly. I guess I should not try to be funny in the podcast. In any case, In Living Color was the first thing that came to my mind when I was there because I loved the show and Damon Wayan’s skit so much. Did not mean to offend anyone. My apologies.
I’m up for a monkey call or whatever it is. Great episode!
Is this how monkey phone call looked like originally? Looks too nice to be an old site
This podcast made me laugh and the websites that Lars still has up and running don’t “appear” to be that old. Great stuff…sort of reminds me of the “Pet Rock” concept 🙂
Very interesting! I came across your website when researching information on ecommerce. My dream project is to help indigenous artists in South america by selling their handmade bags and accessories. Their work is beautifuland unique – just need to figure out the steps to getting it all organized and set up. Would love to chat with you! Thanks 🙂
Great podcast, Steve and Lars! Informative and entertaining. The closing story regarding the failed online used car sales business was great. I look forward to a future podcast highlighting some of yours, Steve! I’ve had plenty of online/offline failures in my career and it’s the ability to dust yourself off and learn from mistakes that separates the successful from the less so.
Awesome. I can’t wait to listen to this episode … I’m balls deep in your show!
Wonderful Podcast. Gained a lot of knowledge. My partner and I are learning and growing in our business because of these podcasts! Go Steve!
Your podcasts are always so informative. I’m working on a project that I’m hoping will work out so these little nuggets are priceless.
Great podcast. Lars’ S tips about selling on Amazon are very helpful. For example if we have a good product and we sell at Amazon FBA; it is a great way to make money on Amazon.
Loved this episode Steve! Lars, you are so cool!
This podcast reminded me of all the hurricane products on Ebay after the Florida hurricane season of 2006 I think. I saw people selling jars of hurricane wind, hurricane rain, etc! Unbelievable what people will buy!
Love these podcasts, im hooked, I think I have listened to nearly all of them. Keep up the awesome work steve.
Great post! Want to share the two conferences you mention in addition to Steve’s?
Amazon has lost the past two shipments of my pl product so I am down to zero during my busiest selling season. SO frustrating.
Great information from Lars. Thank you to share his experience as yours as wel. I am in the process to create my own website and for now I am reading everything about eCommerce websites.
By the way, I love your blog and full of great inputs.
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