One year ago, life for Paul Lee was very different. He was studying art at college in the US, and working 9-5 in a restaurant server job. He hated it. When the restaurant was slow, he’d spend his time reading business books. At home, he’d watch hours of online videos about starting your own business, what it’s like to work at home, and being your own boss. He wanted something more.
“All throughout school, and all throughout my 9-5 jobs, I always felt like I was wasting my time. I was never in control, I was always stuck within a structure, always working for somebody else.”
Since then he’s built his beard grooming ecommerce store, HUSKYBEARD, into a six-figure business. He’s quit his job, quit college, and is thinking of his future in a different way.
Paul’s journey with beards started when he decided to grow one himself. Wanting to do things right, he dove deep into the world of the beard. He learned about trimming techniques, the issues of tangling and dryness that can come with a beard, as well as the importance of proper hydration for your follicles. He mingled with the hairy-faced community on Instagram, finding his way into a group that he discovered were close-knit and wildly passionate about showing off their facial fur.
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Seeing The Potential For New Products
The more he learned about beards, the more he saw potential in the market. A slew of beard grooming brands had already made it big, and there was a passionate community who were ready to get behind new products.
While growing a beard might sound simple, I mean, all you do is stop shaving and let the thing start sprouting, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. Often, your hair might grow faster in some spots than others, leaving you with a patchy looking beard.
In situations like this, you might turn to a beard growth product.
And as he discovered when he began looking into the products for himself, there’s a whole lot of snake oil and illegitimate products out there. He found simple vitamin supplements masquerading as beard growing miracles, and other hair growth formulations that while they seemed to get results, came with a slew of nasty side effects.
He saw an opportunity to create a beard growth product that genuinely worked.
A Big Decision: A $10,000 Investment
For the next three months, he poured his time, energy and money into researching a beard growth formula. He spent hundreds of hours reading complex scientific studies on individual ingredients, trying to discover which were legitimately linked to hair growth. He consulted with medical researchers and hair growth companies to analyze his findings and determine if the formulation of ingredients he had put together would work.
Next, he hired cosmetic chemists to help him formulate his product. So far, he’d spent $700 of his saving developing the recipe and consulting with experts. He was excited to keep moving ahead, pushing his product closer and closer to reality.
This, it turned out, was going to be harder than he thought.
The chemists he consulted with told him that to develop his formulation, at a minimum, the first batch would require the production of 1000 units, and would cost him at least $10,000.
This was serious business he was talking and a serious investment for a college student who was currently supporting himself waiting tables. After all, he was new to business and even newer to the world of cosmetics. He remembers nervously considering the decision, thinking “I don’t even know if this is going to sell.”
Still, he felt like he was ready to do it. He wanted to start his own business more than anything and knew running any kind of business carries some risk. “I kept saying to myself “I have to have the courage, I have to spend the $10,000 and hope that it works.'”
He contacted a range of cosmetic legal regulators to speak about his product idea, hoping the conversations would give him the confidence to pull the trigger and invest the $10,000 in his first batch. But instead, their advice wasn’t so positive.
They warned him about the regulatory complications of creating a new product that would be classified as a drug. The FDA’s “New Drug Application” process costs over $2M and can take 4-8 years to process. While he was tempted to skip over the regulatory process, they warned him that the FDA would catch up to him eventually, which would spell seriously bad news.
Confidence shattered and feeling completely deflated, he accepted that it wasn’t going to work.
Discovering the Benefits of Dropshipping
One night, while up late watching videos of entrepreneurs on YouTube, he stumbled on the idea of dropshipping. Clicking through, he discovered more and more stories of successful entrepreneurs who were dropshipping their products. From there, he promptly fell down a rabbit hole of information.
The biggest benefit of dropshipping that he found was that he wouldn’t need to invest in his own inventory. The supplier would hold the stock for him, and he would only pay for it once he made a sale. This felt like a safer and smarter option than investing in $10,000 worth of product that he might not sell.
He wouldn’t have to deal with delivery either, as the supplier would ship the product directly to his customers. With inventory and fulfillment taken care of by the supplier, his main focus would instead be on sourcing and selling the products. The business model made sense for him. He knew could use a range of dropshipped products to test with real customers, before deciding to invest in any inventory.
“I switched my whole business model, from custom formulated products to dropshipping other people’s products,” he says.
He signed up for a Shopify account and installed Oberlo – which allowed him to pull in products from dropshipping suppliers.
The Early Days: Test and Learn
Starting out was tough. With so much to learn he admits, “At the beginning, I was working on it for 10-12 hours a day, just non stop.”
He found that product sourcing was key. “The majority of my time, in the beginning, was going through AliExpress just finding anything that I could sell related to beards.”
Through testing and trials and products that failed to fit the market, he struck gold. He found a ‘winning product’ – one that connected with his target audience. “I advertised it on Facebook and everybody loved it,” he says. From there, he scaled his efforts – focusing on mastering Facebook advertising strategy and building out the HUSKYBEARD brand.
His own beard might not have worked out so well – he’s looking particularly clean shaven on our video chat over Skype – but HUSKYBEARD kept growing. The store kept passing more and more milestones – the first sale, the first $100 sales day, $500 day, $1000 day. He remembers how ecstatic he was at that moment, “Right when I got that $1000 in one day, I just wanted to tell everybody.“
In its first year, HUSKYBEARD generated over $100k in revenue
Things were heating up with the business, and at the point he was making around $3000 a month, he knew he needed to step things up.
So after a couple of months of running HUSKYBEARD, he made a big decision. “I dropped out of college and quit my job. It was pretty drastic,” he laughs.
The Next Stage: Building a Brand and Growing Pains
Paul had always known he wanted to build HUSKYBEARD into a brand. So, he took his most popular products and worked with his supplier to brand the products and supply branded packaging. “I knew that having the logo on the products would definitely help the brand.”
He started to invest in bulk orders of his products, negotiating deals with his suppliers to order lots of 200, and then 500, and then 1000 products at a time. In the beginning, he opted to fulfill the items himself, posting them out from his house. This was a mistake, he admits. “When we first received our inventory, we received 1000 products and we had to ship them all out ourselves. It was just me and my cousin in our house, working all night to get it done.” He remembers the pain of packing and shipping order after order, “It was just a headache, it was terrible. It was just so bad.”
Now, the inventory for HUSKYBEARD is managed by a third-party fulfillment company, who handles the delivery of his orders to his customers all across the world. This is key, he says, and a suggestion he would give to any dropshipper thinking of moving towards managing their own inventory.
And while he never got the chance to develop his beard growth product, all his hours of study didn’t go to waste. He developed his own line of custom formulated Beard Oils, in a range of scents.
Taking a chance on his own product got him noticed too, earning him the praise of one of the best known barbers and beard-havers, George Bruno.
The Biggest Moments: Conquering Black Friday
Looking back, one of his proudest moments was one that required a whole lot of hustle. He was several months into running the brand full time, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday were approaching. He knew he needed to take advantage of the biggest sales weekend of the year. He prepared for 45 days straight, working on strategies to skyrocket his sales. It was nerve-wracking leading up to the weekend, he says, “I had taken a lot of risks, I had borrowed money from business loans and from my grandma.”
In the weeks before to Black Friday, he focused his time on building his mailing list. He knew that getting attention on Black Friday is competitive, so he wanted to make sure his message was going to reach the right audience. For 30 days, he hosted a free product giveaway for his Beard Comb, which helped him collect over 7,000 leads. He took care to nurture the leads with follow up emails full of valuable content like blog articles he’d written about beard care. When the day finally came, he fired off a series of emails to his mailing list, promoting a 20-40% discount offer on some of his best selling products.
The sales report after a wild Black Friday weekend
Throughout the weekend, he watched as the sales poured in. More and more customers clicked through from the emails and purchased items. At the end of the weekend, he had received 210 orders and made over $7,900. “Ka-ching!” his phone kept buzzing with sales notifications. A sigh of relief. The hard work had paid off.
Happy customers share their purchases on social media
So, What’s Next?
Now, Paul is looking to the future beyond beards. He recently listed HUSKYBEARD for sale on the Exchange Marketplace and sold it to another passionate entrepreneur. But he’s not done with business, and has already started another store and is using the same approach to growth as HUSKYBEARD. He’s using the dropshipping method with Oberlo again to test his products in the market. Once he hits another ‘winning product’ he’ll use it to build his next brand. This time around, he’s focused on making it even bigger and wants to grow the business into a major international brand. He’s also now offering aspiring ecommerce entrepreneurs one-on-one consulting and mentoring through his business ECOMSWIFT.
This test-and-learn approach has been key to his success, he says. “Without Oberlo I would not have been able to find winning products and scale at all”. And for anyone else thinking of building a business using the same model, he agrees it’s a great approach, “The opportunity is limitless.”