My boyfriend and I started a business out of his apartment with $2k in savings. 2 years later and we’ve quit our jobs, moved across the country, and grown the business to 7 figures. AMA!
Hi Reddit! I’m Monique. Two years ago I was working a typical corporate job in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was my “dream” job after college, but after a few years there, I realized I hated it. I was too chicken to quit without having a “Plan B”, so I spent my lunch hour writing lists of what I could do next. I wrote about how I could be more optimistic about my current job. I wrote lists of what I enjoyed doing. Skills I wanted to learn. What to do next. One day, I wrote a list about “10 businesses I could start in a day”. I showed the list to my boyfriend that night at dinner, and he liked one of the ideas. We started working on it as soon as we cleared the dishes.
We each took $1,000 from our savings to start the business. For the next three months, we worked on our business whenever we weren’t at our corporate jobs. Within weeks, I realized I had been naïve, and that there was an enormous sacrifice to starting a business. I stopped volunteering. I lost touch with a lot of friends. I stopped working out. I gained weight. My boyfriend and I fought a lot about the business and I questioned whether what we were doing was worth it.
Two years ago today, we took our website live. Since then, we’ve had plenty of highs and lows. We've both quit our corporate jobs, moved from Ohio to New Jersey, hired people, fired people, and made a ton of mistakes. But we’ve also managed to grow our business and grow as people. We’re proud to provide a living for several employees, and send our customers a product that they love.
Edit: Since several people have asked, I own Universal Yums. We sell snacks from a different country delivered monthly.
Edit 2: Website is down. Working on getting it back up.
Edit 3: Website should be working, although might be a bit slow.
My boyfriend was on reddit one night about 3 weeks after our website launched and posted on r/shutupandtakemymoney. We didn't think much about it and went to bed. When we woke up, we had 24 new orders. We freaked out. This was more orders than we had gotten since launching. That whole day, orders just kept pouring in. I think we got 200 or so just from Reddit. That day (specifically waking up that morning) was definitely the moment.
Did that happen again after this AMA? Seriously considering subbing, and I know I'm not the only one after seeing this.
I like these kinds of businesses and have a similar subscription to a Japanese candy one. I totally love the idea that its a different country each month, that in itself was really neat and makes me want to sub.
Considering the website is giving out 504 errors...
I think they might be overloaded from this thread
But even if they had 1% of people that visit sign up for a subscription, that's definitely something.
I feel like 1% would actually be pretty high.
I wish that 1% of people would sign up!
We have a ton of traffic on our website right now, but not a lot of orders. I'm sure we'll get more as things die down and the website regains functionality.
I'm glad the idea is interesting to you! The Japanese candy ones are cool, but I'm glad that we get to do a different country each month. It keeps things fresh as we're always learning about new places and working with new people.
I honestly had no idea if like 5 people would ask questions, or if it would blow up. Seems to have blown up. I can't speak to the number of new signups yet, but there are about 5-6k simultaneous users on the website according to google analytics.
Hey, fellow entrepreneur here! I have a very similar story. When I officially launched my business/site, Reddit alone brought in 10k in sales in a weekend. I literally quit my day job that Monday. This was about 15 months ago.
Do you constantly feel like the bottom could give out at any time? Like the whole thing could dry up because of no fault of yours and that would be that? Dealing with that anxiety almost makes it not worth it sometimes.
I can totally understand and empathize with your feelings. Since our product is subscription-based, it's unlikely that everyone will decide to cancel all at once. That said, finding new customers is hard and you never know which of your marketing efforts will pan out.
For us, it's very nerve-wracking working with new suppliers every month to source our product. We don't have a preexisting relationship so there's no trust, and we're constantly afraid someone will screw us and the product won't come.
Ha, I remember that post! Thanks for keeping my snack cabinet well stocked for the last two years. :)
Thank you for your business and helping us get our start! What country has been your favorite?
You only had 24 orders in the first three weeks but you were already profitable? You must have very little overhead.
We did quite literally everything ourselves. The $2000 went toward software for the website, initial inventory, a stamp for branding the boxes. So yeah, basically no overhead to start.
What product do you guys make?
We send our customers snacks and candies from a different country each month. The snacks come with a 12-page booklet that has a ton of cool stuff like trivia about the country, descriptions of the snacks and their history, interesting pieces of culture, and a riddle to the next featured country!
I write the card every month and it's one of my favorite parts of the job :)
Knowing you're from Cincinnati, did Jungle Jims play a roll in you deciding this?
We both love that store and were inspired by how fun it was to shop there. It wasn't explicitly based on Jungle Jim's, but we definitely shopped there for samples in the beginning.
Aren't there already like 20 other companies that are based around this same idea
When we launched our business, we were the first company to do a subscription box featuring snacks from a different country each month. Since then, we've had a couple businesses come up that copied our idea. Our mentality is to keep making the product better (through things like the booklet) to differentiate ourselves. We also want to be the best at sourcing unique, cool products that no one else has.
My wife and I are agonizing on whether or not to start up our own business. It's scary as hell and I commend you both on going through with it. My question is at what time did you know it was right to leave your job to dedicate all of your time to your own business?
Edit: lots to consider here. Lots more than I had thought. I feel like this is something we'll still go through with but head into it with a much slower attitude. Thanks for the reply OP and thanks for the warnings and encouragement alike from the rest.
It's a very difficult decision! While my boyfriend and I don't regret starting the business together, we both agree that we wouldn't want to start a business together again. It is very taxing on our relationship.
Our tipping point was when we were making enough money from the business to pay our bills. We focused on reducing our living expenses as much as possible. The business was growing so even though we were taking an initial pay cut, we were confident it would end up being a smart decision.
I'm going to allow my SO to start a business while I work my ass off to cover her. :)
That's a great way to do it! We thought about having one of us continue working full-time while the other took the leap. In the end, we decided it would build resentment as we both really wanted to work on the business.
I had no idea that you guys were this small! I heard about you folks from TB's unboxing of your stuff and always thought this was a really neat business. How do you folks decide what to put in your boxes?
Thank you! The process of figuring out what goes in the box has evolved a ton since we first started. Here are all of the ways we do it:
- We go to trade shows where manufacturers and importers come to exhibit their products. We make contacts, try products and get samples here.
- We visit a lot of grocery stores in ethnic neighborhoods. We live just outside of NYC so we can almost always find a neighborhood with an ethnic grocery.
- We make contacts with a lot of manufacturers/exporters/importers. Sometimes this comes about through googling, sometimes through people, sometimes by finding their product as a sample in a store. These contacts are often experts and can help us find even more products.
As you can imagine this takes a TON of time and effort. It takes the most time of anything in our business.
You really need a German box soon! Our bread snacks are great and only Swiss people can make better chocolate
Belgium would like a word
Any recommendations for Belgium snacks? It's on our to-do list. We have maybe 6 products that we are aware of that we'd like to include. We especially need help with some savory snacks (like chips).
what are your top 5 favorite snacks? i saw bissli. i love bissli!
Bissli is awesome!
My Top 5:
- Haitai Chewy Walnut Candy from South Korea
- Lychee Hi Chew from Taiwan/Japan
- Bamba (Puffed corn with peanut flavoring) with hazelnut filling from Israel
- Chocolate Covered Crepes from France
- Torcida Pimenta Mexicana (spicy chip-type things) from Brazil
Congrats first of all!
These 7 digits are, I believe, the revenue. What about your net profit?
Are you planning on investing into the company or investing in assets?
Yes, the 7 digits is revenue. The business has been profitable since we started it. We are now able to take out enough money to live comfortably, and we invest everything back into the company.
In terms of investing in the company, this is a mix of infrastructure and advertising. Infrastructure being things like making our website better, buying equipment for our warehouse, etc. Advertising to grow our customer base.
Past business owner here. I'd suggest taking out a small percentage for personal savings as well as other investments. While you can easily net the most gain from investing everything back in the company, you really want to diversify if it goes down the tubes/takes a hit. Also, if your relationship ever goes south you won't get locked into the idea you HAVE to keep working together because literally everything is wrapped up in the company.
This is great advice. We'll be looking at taking out a "bonus" at the end of this year to invest personally.
For how long the average customer keeps his subscription?
We've had some customers that have been with us since the very first box, and some that just sign up for one box and then cancel.
While I can't provide the exact number, I will say that most people either cancel within the first 1-2 months, or they stick around for at least a year. A lot of our customers try the snacks as an activity with other people (their family, their co-workers, their SO, etc.). So once you make it a routine/tradition, you stay subscribed for a while.
Hi! Unsolicited advice: I do believe your company, given that it is a growing one, should allot some money to research and business developmeny such as knowing this kind of information. It would be very beneficial for you to know these kinds of stuff so as to know where to improve and such.
So we are working on some backend website updates right now that would track important statistics such as this one. In the meantime we've calculated this number by essentially downloading all of our order and subscription information and doing some fancy excel work. This process takes a while and I haven't done it for several months.
So, yes I do know this number. It is one of the very few things I won't share because it would hurt us for our competitors to know it. But your comment is still valid and is something we're working toward knowing more intimately on a regular basis.
Which country's box has been your favorite? What about your favorite snack (that came from a box)
My favorite box was France, and my boyfriend's was South Korea.
My favorite snack was the Haitai Walnut Chewy Candies from South Korea, and my boyfriend's favorite was Lychee Hi-Chew from Taiwan/Japan (Japanese company, made in Taiwan).
Lychee Hi-Chew from Taiwan/Japan (Japanese company, made in Taiwan).
Oh my god. That sounds heavenly.
It really is. If you like gummies, Kasugai gummies from Japan are also delicious. The kiwi flavor is the best!
What were the biggest challenges in scaling from $10,xxx > $100,xxx > $1,xxx,xxx?
What do you anticipate biggest challenges being going forward?
$10k -> $100k: Acquiring customers with no marketing budget. $100k -> $1MM: Sourcing products at larger scales. Going forward: Hiring employees and transitioning from doing things ourselves to having a process that someone else can follow to do it.
What's your best advice for someone starting a new business , with very little cash, like yourselves?
Learn how to do everything yourself, unless you absolutely cannot. We outsourced almost nothing, and in addition to saving us money it allowed us to make better decisions about how to outsource it later.
Did you guys set times for work in your new business, after quitting your day jobs? Or were you basically working it non stop whenever needed
We didn't have strict times when we worked, but we did fall into a basic schedule. To be honest, at the beginning we worked every single day for at least 10 hours. We did not find that to be sustainable and have since cut back, but hard work is inevitable.
How much is shipping to canada?
$5 for the big box and $2.50 for the small
And do you know how long they usually take?
Typically they arrive within 1-2 weeks.
Thank you for doing this. I am just starting out in ecommerce and am just finishing building my shopify site. My question to you is, what forms of marketing did you use other than reddit? Did you 2 learn to use facebook ads? SEO? What would you say was the best form of marketing regarding sales? Thanks a ton!
Congratulations! We've had a lot of success marketing our product on YouTube by partnering with content creators that have a good number of subscribers. We send them the box, they try the snacks on camera, sometimes we give them compensation beyond the free snacks depending on how big they are.
We've experimented with FB Ads but haven't had a huge amount of success with it. SEO is important for every business, although we haven't spend a ton of time perfecting it (not a lot of people are searching for our product and stumble across it).
What kind of product(s) are you selling? I can recommend some advertising channels once I know!
Im selling fitness products aimed towards the more serious lifter. So weight lifting belts, straps, chalk, knee wraps etc. I know this is probably a little too niche, so I also decided to add athletic clothing, like muscle shirts, compression shirts, and yoga pants / workout tops for women. Do you think this is doable? Im quite new to this world, but was laid off from work due to the oil recession and really want to see if I can be successful and someday work for myself like you have done. Once again thank you kindly for the reply :)
My first suggestion would be to create your own brand and try to sell as many branded products as you can. This is very important in this day and age. Even if you can't afford to get your logo onto everything you're selling, start by using stickers.
In terms of advertising - you should teach yourself a lot about google adwords. People search for what you're selling, and if you can find the right terms you can make good money selling to them.
Also, to get started you'll want to find bloggers/YouTubers/Instagrammers/etc. in the fitness niche. Ask them to review your product in exchange for giving them the product for free. The smaller accounts will do it.
How do you feel about this man eating your snacks and thousand watch him eat them?
We are very appreciative of TB. They just started making those videos - we never even talked to them about it. It obviously brought in new customers for us, and we are very grateful. Also, I think the videos are pretty funny.
Him and Jenna have said they don't order them anymore because they could basically just order the stuff off amazon themselves. Or have locals give them lists/ packages that would be more representative of the countries.
There are like 4 or 5 countries we've done that actually have some of the products on Amazon. Most of the time the products we're featuring are not sold online. Sometimes we're bringing the product into the US for the first time ever.
How much were you making at your corporate job? How much are you making now?
We were both making about $70k at our corporate jobs. We're making more now but we invest a lot of it back into the business.
Edit: To clarify, we are better off financially than we would have been staying at our corporate jobs. But if you factor in how much more work it is to run the business we're probably making less money per hour than we were at our corporate jobs.
What other businesses were on your list of 10?
Oh man, that's hard to remember. A lot of them were basic ideas - starting a store on Etsy, going to garage sales and reselling stuff on eBay.
I did have one idea that was similar to what we ended up doing... When I was in college, my friends and I would go to the grocery store and buy every brand of a product. Like, we would buy 8 brands of peanut butter. Then we would put them all in unmarked containers and do a taste test. We thought it was fun, and then we knew what to buy when we went to the store. I wanted to recreate this idea for people by sending them the samples in the mail in unmarked containers. We lost excitement for the idea when we realized that no one would pay for this - the real value was in getting the data back from people and selling it to stores or distributors or manufacturers. That just wasn't a route we were interested in pursuing.
Did we just crash your site? I was so excited to gift one. Should we check back tomorrow or have we taken all your nomnoms now?
Yes you did, haha. We're trying to get it back up now but if not then sure, please try again tomorrow.
How did you produce your first few boxes?
Apart from the sacrifice of time involved, what surprised you most about starting your business?
For the first few boxes we worked with importers who had already brought the product into the US. We spent a lot of time on Google finding them, and then called them up to start doing business. We got their catalogs, then spent a lot of time researching all the products and getting samples. Then we decided what items to include.
When we ordered the products we had them delivered to the UPS store. We picked up all boxes of snacks after work and drove them to my boyfriend's apartment. Then we assembled everything from Friday after work until Sunday night. We stayed home from work the next day for the USPS package pickup.
In terms of what surprised me... I wasn't sure what to expect when working with international suppliers. Many of them have gone out of their way to help us by explaining parts of their country's culture and food. I didn't expect that in a business setting and have been pleasantly surprised!
How do you get the snacks/candies from various countries? I know most English stores I go to mark up like crazy, supposedly due to import costs, so how do you keep the cost down and affordable to make it profitable to send out all these snacks, especially when you first started?
When the business first started, we paid a lot for the products, but our advantage was that we could keep our overhead super low. Our rent in our first office space was $300 / month and we weren't paying ourselves at first. A storefront will never be able to start off with such a low overhead.
As the business has grown, our overhead has grown, but we now often receive volume discounts on the products we purchase or we set up payment terms that allow us to receive a discount (ie. paying for the full order upfront).
What countries candy did you start with? How did you chose what country would be next months box?
Do you backlog previous boxes for new customers or does everyone get the current month?
How do you avoid sending repeat items to people?
The first country we did was Germany.
We try to plan the countries so that we mix up regions of the world (e.g. An Asian country, then European, then South American, etc.). We also do more Asian and less European countries in the summer, because we can't ship chocolate.
Everyone gets the current month. We would like to eventually have all the boxes available all the time, but it really takes a lot of customers for this to work. You have to continuously source products from all over the world while keeping track of expiration dates so you don't send expired product. It's something to work toward, though!
So far we've sent out boxes from 22 different countries. We've only repeated one country (we did Brazil again for the olympics in August). Obviously, we will eventually have to repeat some countries. When we do this we'll look for different products so that even though the country is the same, the products are new.
What kind of contract did you and your boyfriend set up? Is it own 50/50 by you two? How has it affected your personal relationship with each other? What happens if you two want to take the company in very two different approaches? I'm asking because everything on reddit says not to mix personal and business together. So what's your secret to making it work?
We both signed an operating agreement when we first started the business. It is owned 50 / 50 by me and my boyfriend.
There have been many, many times when we've disagreed on a business decision. The best way we've found to handle it is to explicitly separate what the other person "owns". As an example, my boyfriend handles all of our operations, so he gets to make the ultimate call on anything that's related to our operations.
After working together for two years, now I can definitely understand why it's discouraged to mix business and personal. However we also have shared a lot of great moments together and always have each other's back. He understands any sort of stress that I'm experiencing and overall, I would say it's made our relationship much stronger.
From what I have seen in family owned businesses, it will either destroy or strengthen a relationship. Glad to see you guys are the latter. And I wish all the best for you guys.
Thank you very much!
Long-term, do you believe your Yum boxes will be able to get you through to retirement? I love the idea of your product, but as with most things, it can be tough to see sustained sales/growth, soon guess, I'm mainly wondering if you have any thoughts you'd share about your "next steps"?
I am not sure if we will work on this business all the way into retirement. One of the things I've enjoyed about leaving my corporate job to start this business is that I have control over my own destiny. Part of what's awesome about that control is that I can decide that I don't want to do this anymore. Of course, I'm not going to do that right now, but it's nice to know that I could.
In regards to the longevity / "next steps" of the business, we have a lot of ideas! Most notably, we'd like to begin selling the individual snacks that we featured in past boxes. We have a lot of customers who try the snacks and then want more, but can't find them anywhere (many are not sold online). We don't want to deprive them of that!
What are you going to do when you run out of countries?
At some point we will go back to some countries that we've done before, but we'll include different items. There will be at least 2 years in between, so most of the people getting the box won't have had anything from that country before.
Are you anticipating a bump in sales as a result of this AMA?
I'm not sure, I've never done an AMA before so I don't know what to expect. If you'd like, I'll be happy to report back in a few hours!
What are some examples of business mistakes you and your boyfriend made these past two years and how did you learn from them?
Haha, so many...
We had a hard time transitioning from doing everything ourselves to outsourcing pieces of work. By extension, we also waited way too long to hire our first employee. We ended up feeling like were behind constantly because we didn't take anything off our plates.
A lot of mistakes came from us being totally new to the industry (eCommerce and imported food). We didn't know how to communicate with suppliers, how to negotiate terms in contracts, etc. Lots of small mistakes there.
Have you guys had to forfeit taking in salaries for the time being? And I'm also interested in why you moved? You guys should apply to be on Shark Tank. They would eat this up! I might suggest changing the name though to separate yourselves from other delivery meal plans.
We didn't take a salary for our first year in business but we have fortunate to be able to take a salary this year.
We moved for the business - to be closer to the ports, to be near all the ethnic neighborhoods of NY, etc.
We have talked/thought about going on Shark Tank but ultimately decided not to apply. We do not want to give up equity or take on investors.
Best advice for someone looking to start their own online business?
Find something you're interested in, because online businesses (just like every other business) are hard work, and it's a lot easier if you're interested in what you do. Do a lot of research before you begin and figure out what you're going to do that's different/better than everyone else. Ignore anyone that's promising easy money - it doesn't exist.
In what way is moving from Ohio to New Jersey cross country?
I mean... it isn't exactly across the country but NJ has a totally different culture from Ohio so they feel very different. Sorry, writing headlines is hard!
Do you make the dolls or just distribute them?
Sorry, that picture is misleading. We sell international snacks but we're giving away some of the Russian dolls for fun as we are selling a bunch of Russian snacks this month.
So you want us to ask you anything about a business but you're not going to tell us what it is or does?
I didn't want to be overtly self-promotional as that isn't the point. But you can click on the proof to get to my website!
When was your first "this is going to work out" moment?
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