Starting from Zero: How This First-Time Entrepreneur Found Success Online

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

In this story there’s no fancy business degrees, no network of knowledgeable mentors, and no pile of money to draw from. It’s just a story of a regular kid who started from zero and figured out the path to business success all on his own, pushing through the struggles and setbacks along the way.

Yuanda Wang is 21 years old and from Hamilton, Ontario. He’s spent the past year and a bit exploring the world of ecommerce and dropshipping, and has grown his most recent store to $18,000 revenue in four months. But this success almost didn’t happen for Yuanda, who until recently was planning to pursue a very different path in life.

Starting From Zero: An Average Kid

“A little over a year ago, and before that, I was just an average kid,” he says.  “I was in high school, and then I went to university and I had no clue what I wanted to do when I got older.”

So following the advice of his parents, Yuanda enrolled to study life sciences at university.

“At that time my parents wanted me to become a doctor, so I just went along with that path. I was like, ‘Oh, it seems like a good job, it pays well. I might go ahead and study life sciences and see where it leads me,’” he says.

At the same time, Yuanda was spending a lot of time on forums about online businesses. He’d browse the forum and read stories of entrepreneurs launching and running their businesses. He’d hear all about the endless new ways that it was possible to start an online business and the seemingly endless potential that lay out there in the big world wide web. At 15 years old he even tried to make a little money with affiliate marketing (it didn’t result in much). But as he began to read more about different online businesses like ecommerce, he started to get curious.

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

“When I started reading about entrepreneurship, ecommerce and online marketing, that really interested me. I never found anything that interesting before,” he says. “I would watch YouTube videos, and I would read articles endlessly. That’s the first time that I had this feeling of passion for something that I enjoy to do. That’s when my perspective changed completely.”

But Yuanda was starting from zero, and apart from his brief attempt at affiliate marketing, he had no business experience, but more importantly, no money. As much as he was intrigued by the idea of running his own ecommerce business, he knew it was going to be difficult given his current situation.

That’s when he heard about dropshipping. The ecommerce business model would allow him to operate an online store without needing to buy inventory upfront. He’d only pay for the products once they’d already been sold, and his supplier would ship them directly to his customers for him.

“It appealed to me because I didn’t have to take too much of a risk. Because I didn’t really have any money. As a student at that time I wasn’t really working, so I had I would say $100 in my bank account,” he says. “I thought starting a business would be a very expensive process, but through dropshipping, I realized that it’s very accessible. Anyone can start it as long as you have some money to begin with for the necessities.”

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

Reframing Failure

Just before Christmas in 2017, he began building his first stores. He used Shopify as the ecommerce platform, and used Oberlo to find products from dropshipping suppliers across the world.

He was starting from zero, and unsure of what to sell at first. So he dabbled in a variety of different product niches. He tried selling makeup, and wind up music boxes, and also had a general store stocked with a variety of trending products. He’d spend his evenings after university engrossed in YouTube tutorials and blog articles, trying to learn as much as possible.

It was trial by fire. He was reinvesting all of the money he made from his early stores back into the business, so he had his hard earned money on the line every time he tested a new advertising strategy. And it didn’t always work out.

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero“There was one point where I ran a huge advertisement on a big meme page. And it was very expensive. It was around $800 and it didn’t pay off, it didn’t generate that many sales. I lost a lot, would say $400 after expenses, cost of goods, and everything,” he says.

But rather than being knocked back by the loss, he decided to reframe things.

“That was a hard moment, but for me, the way I view failure is that it’s just a temporary thing. If you fail, you learn something from the process. You learn that you made a mistake and it will only help you to grow more,” he says. “So even in times of hardship, I understand that it’s gonna be hard, you’re gonna fail sometimes, but it’s more so how you react to the failure rather than how you react to the wins that determine your success.”

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

Finding His Winning Product

His early stores made a little money, but it wasn’t until his latest store that things started to really take off. And it was all thanks to the discovery of one product, an iPhone adapter.

The adapter, which sits in the phone accessories niche, took his store from zero to over $18,000 in sales in just four months.

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

“This product in particular, I have a friend that I talked to about dropshipping that I met through my Facebook group, and then he showed me that his store sold this product in the past, and his store did $20,000 in revenue in a month,” he says.

He searched for a supplier of the same product, and found one on AliExpress. To assess the competition level, he looked closely at the product’s order history, where he noticed there had been a flood of orders from AliExpress customers.

“In the order history, you can usually tell if someone is dropshipping,” he says.

His first tactic is to look closely at the timestamps of the orders. If there’s a string of orders placed around the same time, that means it’s usually a dropshipper who is bulk fulfilling their orders. The delivery location can provide hints too. Most organic sales on AliExpress are delivered to European customers, but most dropshippers sell products delivered to the United States.

So if you’re seeing a whole lot of stars and stripes in the order history, it’s safe to assume this product is currently being dropshipped.

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

This trick, Yuanda believes, is crucial to finding potential winning products.

“I think one of the biggest criteria now that I look for in products is organic sales from people who use AliExpress as consumers and not dropshippers. That shows that there is a demand for the product, but in that exact moment that supplier is not dropshipping heavily, so you have an opportunity to come in and get a slice of the pie,” he says.

Niche Check: Phone Accessories

The phone accessories niche that Yuanda chose is brimming with potential. Google Trends shows us that it’s a niche that has remained popular over the past five years, and it’s not going anywhere.

The great thing about the phone accessories market is that it’s huge. It’s estimated that there are more than 7 billion mobile phones in use in the world. In the US alone, that number is more than 327 million. Even if you manage to capture just 0.001% of the US market, you’ll have 327,000 potential phones to accessorize.

If you choose to sell phone accessories you can sell products like phone cases, wireless chargers, or ring holders. And because phones are so personal and important in our lives, people want to buy products that match their personal style. This means there is a potentially limitless amount of designs you could offer.

 

And it’s not just Yuanda who has made it big selling phone accessories. Check out other these success stories from phone accessory entrepreneurs:

The Small Details That Make a Big Difference

When he launched his phone accessories, Yuanda was sure about two things:

  1. He wanted his store to feel like a premium brand
  2. Advertising doesn’t work if it looks like advertising

Yuanda has worked hard to make the first one true, focusing on the details of his store experience to communicate a premium brand feel. The first step to doing this was to include just one type of product on his store, with three variations in style. Because of this, he was able to use a stripped back variation of the theme Brooklyn, which funnels users quickly towards the “Shop Now” or “Add to Cart” buttons.

“The idea is that I wanted to make the store look like a brand, not a dropshipping store, and not a general store. It’s a one-product store that looks like a real brand,” he says. “Many general stores are just random collection of products. And personally I feel like as soon as someone sees a random collection of products, they automatically think of Amazon and then they start thinking, ‘Oh can I get a better price on Amazon?’ And that’s when you lose out.”

But it doesn’t end there. Yuanda has been thinking about the even smaller details. (Like decimal points small.)

“Something that I’ve recently been doing is reading a lot about pricing. I think one thing people are often getting absolutely wrong in e-commerce is the way they do their pricing,” he says.

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

“So a lot of people, they always recommend ending your price in 0.99. But I noticed that the only people who really do that are retail brands like Walmart, Loblaws, and some ecommerce brands like Amazon. So these are all really big retailers, and people come to Amazon and Walmart because they want the best price. But when you are trying to convince an impulse purchaser, you don’t want them to think of price at all. You want them to think of your product as a premium product that they can only get from this one site. So the way I do my pricing now is I actually just leave them at whole numbers like $20 or $22. It gives it that professional brand feel. Big brands like Nike that sell online, none of them use 99 cent pricing, they use $17, $47, or $100 or something like that.”

For his advertising, he stuck firm to the belief that the best ads don’t look like ads.

“That’s something that I really believe in, creating content to post that does not look like an ad. Because if it looks like an ad, people won’t like it, instead they’ll scroll by. Then you’ll have a harder time getting it shown to people due to the Instagram algorithm favoring posts that have high engagement,” he says.

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

But it took a while to get to this realization, and he admits that when he was just starting out, his ads needed a lot of improvement.

“When I started out, I didn’t know how to make engaging content at all,” he says. “The difference between now and then is now I understand that people don’t want to see ads, so you have to make your ads super subtle, make them in a way that it doesn’t seem like an ad.”

His strategy now is to create content for Instagram that features his product, but also fits seamlessly within his audience’s newsfeed. Then he pays related niche accounts with large followings to repost it to their followers.

“For example, some of my ads would look like a meme. It would just look like a very organic post that does not look like an advertisement,” he says.

Yuanda Wang - Starting From Zero

To learn more about Yuanda’s advertising strategy, check out his mini case study video.

After experimenting with the Instagram shoutouts tactic in his earlier stores, he already had the process down pat by the time he launched his phone accessories store.

“For my phone store, I knew exactly what to do. I’d run more ads, find new pages to run them on, then keep stacking. And pretty quickly I was hitting $300 a day in revenue consistently within a week or so of launching the store. So it was pretty profitable right off the bat,” he says.

Advice for Beginners

Even though Yuanda was able to start with zero and reinvest his profits bit by bit to help his business grow, he advises that this probably isn’t the best approach.

“I think a really important piece of advice is you need money to start,” he says. “If you don’t have money, and you wanna start your own dropshipping business, you need to find a way to get money. You need to either get a job, start freelance work, find some way or some source of income.”

He recalls how frustrating it was for him to be in that position, without enough cash flow to grow his business.

“I was in that stage, where I had no money to spend on my dropshipping business. Even though I had made sales with it, I wasn’t able to scale it. Last Christmas, I made sales with my music box store, but I wasn’t able to scale it because I simply didn’t have the money,” he says.

“Over the summer, I ended up getting a job, part-time job working in an office. And it was the exact moment that I got this job that my second dropshipping store started making incremental sales. I think it’s because I had that confidence in the fact that I have money coming in, so I can actually spend on ads without being worried or scared.”

He suggests a startup budget of $1,000, so that you’ll have enough buffer to test different products and scale up with what’s working. After that point, you should be able to begin to generate sales and reinvest your revenue back into more ads for the business.

But importantly, he warns that you have to be comfortable with the idea of burning through it all.

“Scared money doesn’t make any money,” he says. (And that’s a point that Young Jeezy agrees with him on.)

The Impact of Starting His Business

Starting his ecommerce businesses set Yuanda off on a very different path to what he had planned a couple of years ago. It’s even made him rethink his path towards a career as a doctor.

“I’m still studying science, but I ended up swapping to another type of science, which is psychology,” he says. “I feel like it’s been really helpful in understanding how to do my writing, copywriting my product description, and also understanding the mind of a customer or potential customer when they’re scrolling through social media.”

But the impact of the business has been greater than the degree he’ll be leaving university with, it’s transformed his outlook on life, and given it a whole new purpose.

“It has impacted me in so many good ways. Starting my business has given me a good source of money to live off of while I’m in university, but I think it’s also really changed me to be a better person,” he says.

“Before I would spend my free time just lounging around watching Netflix, and not really being productive. And now I feel like it’s given me a sense of purpose. When I wake up in the morning, I have something that I know I can work on and it can be a bigger thing that really motivates me to get out of bed and start working hard right away.”

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