Unlike me, who spent most of my teenage years playing The Sims and sleeping until 3pm on weekends, many high schoolers today use their spare time very differently.
These teens are hungry to make their mark on the world, and are dedicating their out of school hours to building their own projects. Whether they’re busy vlogging, selling slime to their schoolmates, or launching their own ecommerce store, this is a generation of new entrepreneurs who aren’t waiting to finish school to get started in the business world.
The truth is for teens today, entrepreneurship is cool. A study by Internships.com found that 72% of high school students are excited to start their own business someday, with over 60% stating they would choose entrepreneurship over working as an employee. They’re passionate, highly ambitious, and the businesses they’re creating are already kicking ass.
Recently, I caught up with 18-year-old Matīss, a serial entrepreneur, social media marketer, and seriously successful dropshipper living in Riga, Latvia, to explore the motivation behind his teenage hustle.
Meeting a Millennial Entrepreneur
When you speak to Matīss, it doesn’t take long to realize you’re talking to a someone seriously impressive. He’s smart and creative, with the right amount of boldness (and a little recklessness) to just get out there and start something. At 18 years old, he’s already experienced the kind of business success that most of us save for daydreams during the particularly dull moments of our jobs.
In the first six months, Matīss had grown his ecommerce store Artsy Wall to $70,000 revenue, with an average of $3,000 profit per month. And, he says, this store is only “one of a few projects I have going on currently.”
It’s enough to make you start cursing all those years you spent as a teenager trying to perfect instant-noodle making instead of honing your business skills (or maybe that’s just me).
But even for Matīss, the road to success wasn’t so straightforward. It took him three failed dropshipping stores to finally find a format that worked.
Bedroom Businesses: Starting a Business From Your Parent’s House
When you’re still in school and thinking of starting a store, finding a location to run your business can be one of the biggest challenges. After all, if you’re living at home, it’s only so long until your parents lose patience with the boxes of inventory that will quickly take up residence in their living room.
That’s why, for Matīss, it made more sense to start an online business that he could easily operate out of his bedroom.
“It’s easier to start an online business than a physical business because all you need is an internet connection and money and a laptop, that’s it,” he says.
The teenage entrepreneur challenges don’t end there though. Add on top of that limited time to work on the business (those essays won’t write themselves), a limited amount of business knowledge, and not much cash to get started. It’s hard out there for a kid.
That’s why, when Matīss first discovered dropshipping, it seemed like a simple business model that could be just the right fit.
With a dropshipping business, he wouldn’t need to invest in any inventory because the supplier would hold the stock and he would only pay for it once he had made a sale. Dropshipping also meant that he didn’t need to know what he wanted to sell straight away, and could easily test out several product options to see what was most popular.
Using Oberlo to manage his store made the whole thing easier too. It would let him pull products from dropshipping suppliers into his Shopify store, where he would set his own prices, create product descriptions, and market them to his target audience. Once an order came through, Oberlo would help with fulfillment too, sending the order details through to the supplier who would prepare the delivery of the item to directly his customer. “It’s just two clicks and you’re done,” he says.
Choosing What to Sell: From Trending Products to Reliable Niches
Like many other entrepreneurs keen to try out dropshipping, in the beginning, he tried to capitalize on the latest trending product. At the time, this was fidget spinners. But operating in a market that’s saturated with hundreds of competitors is tough, and some trends are quick to fade away, so Matīss’ store didn’t make much money. Next he tried a general store, stocking a wide range of different products that he thought would be popular. This too didn’t work so well.
Looking back at what went wrong, he realizes that it would have been difficult for him to have success with a general store. Without a well-defined target customer, it can be hard to establish trust and build a long-term brand. “There is also less space for building a family of customers that like the same niche or interests that you can target through ads,” he says.
Moving forward, he experienced his first taste of real success with a store selling Christian products. Thanks to the combination of a well-defined audience, an interesting product niche and the use of influencer marketing, it became his first store to generate more than $100 a day.
The success of Artsy Wall, though, kind of happened by mistake. He’d set up the store on the side, to run as a test project while focusing most of his efforts on growing the Christian store. Soon, sales for the store had overtaken his primary store, quickly picking up steam and generating over $8,000 in sales over the first two months.
Of All the Stores in All the World… What Made This Store so Successful?
Matīss says the secret lies within the structure of the product range. Instead of focusing first on a particular product, he says, “I wanted to find a general store inside a niche, so I can test as much product as I can possibly find.” He’s passionate about visual arts, too, which helps him understand the audience he’s marketing to. “I just really like to hang out around artists, but I’m not one myself unfortunately.”
As a store owner, he spends a lot of his time testing as many products as possible to see which his customers would like. Often, the products that worked well surprised him. “It’s hard to stop following your heart, as in what you think will work, and instead just look at the data,” he says “Often, the products that sell the most, from my experience, are the ones that I would never even purchase. But other people seem to love them.”
How He Mastered His Marketing Strategy
Marketing. It’s the magic that sets the successful stores apart from the rest. When he started, Matīss was a complete newbie to marketing, but he didn’t let that stop him. He focused his effort on really, deeply, learning Facebook ads. He took a data-driven approach to his marketing strategy, analyzing all the data found in Facebook Ads Manager to determine what was working and what needed tweaking. He became a master of remarketing and building out custom audiences to target with his advertisements. Test and test again. Fail and succeed. For Matīss, every chance to gather more data about his audience was an opportunity to refine his strategy.
In March, his sales for Artsy Wall hit an all-time high of over $45,000. The secret sauce? Well, it wasn’t so secret. All month, he’d been pushing hard with Facebook advertising, driving his profits back into his ad budget to help him scale his advertising to reach new audiences. He cleverly scaled the ads by targeting Lookalike Audiences, who were more likely to convert to a sale.
In the end, he’d done so well that he couldn’t keep up with the sales, “The spike was so big I had to stop advertising to keep up with the order fulfillment and logistics.”
Learning How to Be Successful, It’s All in the Mindset
So what makes Matīss so successful? It’s not talent or experience he says, but it’s all in the mindset. He started his first store as an absolute beginner and says that the learning curve was steep. “There is so much to learn, and there’s also such an information overload, you often do not even know what you’re doing and what you should do,” he says. But bit by bit, he built on his knowledge, learning from his mistakes and learning from others to discover new things to try. “You also have to be patient,” he says, “It’s not a get rich quick scheme.”
He’s a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, whose advice helped him get comfortable with taking risks and building an entrepreneurial mindset. Gary’s key piece of advice that stuck was that up until you’re 29, you can fail at everything you try, and you still have time to be successful. At 18, he’s still got a while before he reaches that deadline and the advice gives him the confidence to try new things, even if he’s not sure if they will work out. “I have ten more years, and I can just fail each time and still be successful in life,” he says.
This mindset also helps him focus on what’s important, and to prioritize his time around his goals. After school, working on his business comes next. At one stage, he was working on Artsy Wall almost every day, testing new ad strategies and looking for new products. “I have six hours of free time after school, so that’s when I usually work on my businesses,” he says. Now though, the business has become profitable enough for him to hire a virtual assistant.
What’s the Future Look Like for This Teenage Entrepreneur?
Getting started so young means that there’s a whole lifetime of opportunity lies ahead, and Matīss is primed to take advantage of it. He’s currently got his Artsy Wall listed for sale on Shopify Exchange and is looking for another passionate entrepreneur to take over.
But the sale of his store doesn’t equal early retirement from ecommerce. No way. In fact, he’s already started two new businesses – a patriotic Latvian apparel company, and a social media marketing agency. He’ll be using the profits from the sale of Artsy Wall to help fund his other businesses, as well as investing in different business courses to accelerate his learning. Now that’s a certified go-getter.