Know What You’re Selling

Hey Friend:

Wanted to just write a quick post to discuss an issue with retail arbitrage that I ran into myself. That is not knowing what you’re selling. I’ll break this overall issue down into a few points that will hopefully keep you from making the same mistake.

Don’t Just Buy Anything

I wanted to get started right away doing some testing in the world of retail arbitrage. So I searched Facebook marketplace and saw someone selling a lot of 28 books all of the same author. Someone was a solid fan of this author, so perhaps there are more people like her out there on Amazon. They seemed like a good buy as the seller only wanted $25. A mix of paperback and hard cover. Okay I thought, surely these are selling well on Amazon, the biggest online bookstore! I even did a quick search on a couple of titles to see their best seller ranking and ratings. I had no idea who this author was, nor the content or context of these titles. Big mistake.

Do Your Research

I did a couple of searches quickly on Amazon before making the purchase. Had I done some additional due diligence using analysis tools such as the Jungle Scout Chrome Extension or their Jungle Scout Web App, I may have avoided this dead inventory. Albeit I hadn’t purchased those tools when I made this purchase, it would have been a good step to do so before going forward. They are useful for seeing sales velocity on a particular Amazon item and I’ll be doing a review on them in the near future.

Know Your Product

I discovered I went into this inventory blindly. I knew nothing about how popular the genre is nor who the author was. I assumed a lot when I made this purchase. Don’t assume. Know what you’re buying. I really didn’t know a whole lot about the book market either. How many sellers were selling their used copies of the same books. How many of those are power sellers or stores like Goodwill who pay nothing for their inventory so they auto-price their items down so they’re always cheapest even if they are losing money! It’s a cut throat market I tell ya!

Know Your Fees!

This is the biggest problem I’m facing right now. I had to become an Amazon Pro seller to enable the ability to offer free shipping! I read somewhere that increases a potential sale by 30%, and personally it’s an expectation of mine, so I suspect it will assist in future selling. Once you start selling more than 40 items a month it does typically pay for itself, considering without pro status, you pay $0.99 per item sold.

The problem with Amazon is they’re not cheap. It takes a lot of your margin to sell on their platform. For example, below is the break down of the latest book I just sold:

Used Paperback Book Sale+$4.98
Amazon Fees-$2.55
Printer Label/Print (Free Label from FedEx)-$0.02
Book Cost-$.89

As you can see, I lost money. I priced this book too low, just to try and move inventory and be ranked better, and in turn I screwed myself. So you have to know your all your costs and more importantly your Amazon fees before you know how to price your item. Hard lesson learned.

If Buying Used, Buy In Person

These books were used and overall in okay shape, but they don’t sell very well compared to new books. I really wouldn’t recommend selling used items on Amazon. It may be OK on E-bay, but items just seem to move slower when you’re a tiny footnote on an Amazon item listing. Amazon really wants to sell new items, not your old busted books.

Don’t Mess With Low Priced Items

My final screw-up was that I thought I’d have low risk by not spending a lot of money on my initial retail arbitrage experience. I was right in that I was only out $25, initially. However, once you start factoring in the pricing screw-ups, the monthly costs of Amazon pro service, and more, it starts to add up.

Selling a bunch of books to make .20 cents in profit on each book is not worth my time. Going forward I would suggest not to bother wasting your time on anything that makes you below $20 profit per item because the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze unless your selling A LOT of volume.

Hoped this helped a little and as always if you have any questions be sure to drop them into the comments section below!

Behold, The Brain Is Designed

Hey Friend:

I just got done designing the database schema for the Buy Low Sell High Brain idea I mentioned in my previous post.

This is a data dump of the general ideas that this program would implement. However, I took this a little further than my original intentions and implemented wholesale supplier and market place analysis capabilities into the design. This way, the brain can not only utilize wholesale supplier pricing but also scan marketplace sources for products by UPC and/or title and do a comparison as well as historic survey of the product niche space across multiple sales channels.

Furthermore, this schema contains inventory tracking for on hand items as well as wholesale supplier inventory as well as mapping of inventory source feeds to the appropriate sales channel data feeds.

In the end this schema would allow for the brain to programmatically manage wholesale account buying, sales channel order fulfillment, and marketplace analysis and price adjustments all by itself.

To be continued…

The Buy Low, Sell High Brain

Hello friend:

Over the last few weeks I’ve been investigating online arbitrage and the many tools that are available for individuals to seek out and find items to buy and resell on I had a pretty intense dream where I had developed a program that was making me millions of dollars doing just this thing. So, when I awoke and remembered this idea, I quickly wrote down all the details I could recall about it. I know I called it the Buy Low, Sell High Brain.

At the core of any business, the idea is to expend an amount of money that will give you a greater return at a later date and time. The faster and greater you can get that return the more profitable your windfalls shall be.

The problem with online retail arbitrage are many but the one thing that can never be solved is the involvement of a human being handling all the research legwork. This is a huge bottleneck in the process. I assume I was dreaming about this because I had come across a program like OAX-Ray in my arbitrage research.

So, in my dream I wrote an AI program that scours a set list of websites for items for sale and cross compares them with the buy box and cost thresholds for resale arbitrage via Amazon FBA.

Pretty simple right? However, my dream went further. I literally was spec’ing this out and I’m surprised I remembered these specs. Here’s a general outline of what this program does:
Not everything would be desirable to sell on Amazon FBA. The fees are pretty high so there’s no way to sell low cost items and still make a profit in my mind without some sort of additional deal to get favor from Amazon. So certain threshold gates needed to be established via program configuration:

Configuration would allow threshold gates for the following:

  • Limits on profit after costs
  • ‎Limits on sale velocity via a formula based on the item’s sales rank and category.
  • Amazon ‎Competition
  • ‎Item size
  • Amazon Restricted sale of item

I’m sure there are more, but these were the ones I could remember from the dream.

This program would act very much like the costly screen scraper browser plugins but take an additional step in providing additional AI logic to make decisions based on the pricing of items across all retail websites.

Purchase accounts would be setup on all websites allowing to accommodate for e-bates,, and/or other retail store discount codes and rewards systems. Full knowledge of these systems and account balances would be known by the AI and would allow for it to consider these when making best purchase decisions.

The first phase of this program would prepare the items daily in a web browser, with the first tab page showing a complete report of the day’s findings. Calculated fields would be manually adjustable to account for any changes that occurred since the report was generated or after inspection of the shopping cart results.

Each additional page would have the page of the shopping cart of the related retail site with the items found with an automatic refresh of 5 minutes to keep the cart session alive.

This would all me to review the findings and make the final purchase decisions for each find/shopping cart.

The AI will enter suggested purchase quantity based on expected sales velocity and budget constraints. The AI will know account balances of purchasing methods as well as thresholds for limits on balances. In turn it will be able to estimate quantity to order.

Over time, the AI can form patterns on retailer sales and discount schedules to further assist in decisions as well as suggested order quantities. Aside from these built-in heuristics data, outside sources for determining annual sales velocity and discount rate patterns can be useful to assist in determining when items should be purchased and when they should be sold. For example, Christmas ornaments are extremely seasonal and are typically sold only in the last quarter of the year. However, they are best purchased after December 24-25th when retail stores move to clear out inventory.

These pattern-checking algorithms can then be used to assist in notifying the best time to buy and sell an item down to a month. If possible, google trends data could be utilized.

In my dream the program actually was doing all the purchasing for me. My only job was to receive the boxes, inspect and label them for Amazon FBA and forward them on to Amazon. In the dream, I was making thousands of dollars a day. It was crazy.

I guess the dream interpretation is that I want passive income, I struggle with finding a niche to sell in on Amazon (like most people thinking about selling on Amazon), and my solution is to write a program to do it for me. I’m very much a data analytics guy. Filtering numbers in a spreadsheet to sift out the gold gets me pretty excited. The problem is the sea of data is getting larger and larger each year making manual analysis harder and harder.

I’m curious about this program. It wouldn’t really be that difficult to write.

Arbitrage your Basement/Garage/Life

Hey Friend:

If there’s one thing I took away from the movie Fight Club, it was when Tyler Durden said:

The things you own end up owning you

It’s a simplistic but profound statement considering our American culture and society today. We all have become consumers. We’re working for dollars that are quickly spent on services and products that we rarely need to survive. Only about 30% of Americans have more than $1,000 dollars saved in their bank account. I find this utterly disturbing. Maybe you’re in the 69%. If you are, you really should take this post to heart and make a change today.

It all started with a cleaning day

I recently started playing golf and so I wanted to make room in the basement for a new putting green to practice and hopefully improve my skills during the off-season. During the basement clean-up process I came across an overwhelming stack of boxes and items I had quickly shuttled down to the basement during our move-in day a few years back.

I must have been carrying around this large heap of “clutter-ibles” (things I think are collectible) for a couple of decades. Sadly, a bunch of baseball cards that have been coming along for the ride for years are now pretty much worth the weight of paper they’re printed on. But I found a lot of stuff that may actually be useful to someone else. This all triggered a moment for me… so I sat down the broom and got to work on a plan.

Sell baby Sell!

The catalyst here really was the Fight Club movie quote. These things that I’ve been carrying around, that I’ve been telling myself are valuable or will be used again at a future date, were holding me back from extracting their true value today. What good does an inanimate object do for you if it simply sits in the basement or garage collecting dust? Clothes in your closet you haven’t worn since the last decade? Shoes? That appliance you swore you would fix? Nintendo 8-bit console and games? These items all have some intrinsic value to someone, so let that someone buy these items from you and remove the burden. Release yourself from the bonds of housing these things you supposedly own, because right now they’re getting free rent and lying to you. If they were really an investment, would you have them in your garage or basement? Wouldn’t they be giving you some sort of value? That’s when you know you’ve invested in something.

I follow Gary Vaynerchuk and saw a while back he gave a challenge to his social media followers to sell their junk and/or buy and sell items to make a $20,000 profit in 2017. Although I didn’t accept the challenge then, however this pile of stuff in my basement triggered a moment where I thought, I could at least get $1,000 for this stuff. So I dusted off the old e-bay account (talegenllc) and started taking photos of the items and posting them up for sale.

After two weeks I had sold almost $1,000 in stuff! I was stoked! This was so much fun I thought! The endorphin rush was legit and as I freed myself from these items for cold hard cash, I felt a weight starting to lift.

After 2 weeks, I had sold almost $1,000 in stuff.

Selling Junk leads to Inspiration

So after getting a boost in entrepreneurial spirit from selling on e-bay I wanted to take the idea a step further and explore a simple side-hustle that could potentially bring in $1,000 or more a month for my family. Arbitrage simply stated is to buy and sell goods for profit. Over the long term, the junk in the basement was a loss, but the idea of being able to strategically buy something to sell at a profit is intriguing. It inspired additional discussions with my wife (who has never really been entrepreneurial) about starting a side-business with several different streams of revenue. One thing lead to another, and we’ve got Talegen, LLC formed with our brand: First & Will.

I’m so excited at this point it’s really hard to contain myself. I have a wife who’s on board with the idea of working a small business to make additional income for us all. The potential for growth is really in the sweat equity we both put into the business. Just working a few extra hours a week, I’ve already sold $936.43 worth of items from our basement. I can’t wait to see what unfolds for us this year.

Hope you all are doing well and take something from this post.



Be The Butterfly

Be The Butterfly

I was privileged to be asked to give a small five minute speech at the local Pennsylvania Gigabit Revolution meeting held April 22nd, 2016 at the Yorktowne Hotel.

The Gigabit Revolution is Pennsylvania-funded study conducted by United Fiber & Data to determine the feasibility, need, and cost for high-speed gigabit access in the commonwealth. Studies show Pennsylvania businesses pay 10,000%+ per megabit of bandwidth more than other competing cities with gigabit access. Shocking!

York, PA is central to UFD’s mission to run a high-strand fiber optic line from New York City to Washington D.C. York however has traditionally been a blue collar manufacturing county and as that industry has faded over the past several decades so too has the forward momentum of the city. Because of this stagnation and the need for voices to be heard, I was asked to give some perspective on the challenges I face as a hiring manager of a technology company within York. I also took some liberty to fire up the crowd on my personal belief that we need more than data. We need a Renaissance of learning and fundamental shift in business focus within the county to make a gigabit revolution a reality.

Forgive my speech disfluencies but I was up all night preparing for this meeting and had some nerves finding out I was sharing the stage with such distinguished leaders. Needless to say I was able to power through with the help of my notes. Never be afraid to use them if you need them! The message is truly the most important part!

Pivot your life: How to become motivated

Motivation-200x200Lack of motivation is the primary killer of any bootstrapped business. I’ve talked about this in the past in my post regarding the desire to succeed. It’s not enough to just go through the motions of starting a business, or even running it. You’ve got to be motivated, and for those of us born into a world of instant gratification, this is a really tough attitude to maintain.

I’m not going to claim that even the most motivated individuals (think Tony Robbins dancing over a bed of hot coals) don’t have their down days, but I can probably assume that they don’t carry that lackadaisical attitude into the next day, week, or month.  Many of us find excuses to avoid the inevitable hard work that is necessary; whether it be for our business or for another chore we’ve put off, we come up with an excuse about why it isn’t getting done.

Without you doing hard work, any work, it does not succeed. Your business does not live.

Some of these excuses might actually be more important to us at the moment: Spending time with loved ones, taking care of important family matters, personal events, etc. These are all higher priory items over a business; and in almost all cases always should be. I would however suggest that your business is also a part of your family. It is a part of you; you are the soul of that company. Without you doing hard work, any work, it does not succeed. Your business does not live.

Some of you might even be running your business part-time, and are limited even further on time each day because of this. So how do we get back on track? You might feel overwhelmed by the large amount of work ahead of you. Let’s be real, that work will not get done if you give it lower priority to watching TV with the significant other. We must remember this; more importantly, our loved ones and family must understand and remember this as well.

So how do we change the current path of lethargic enthusiasm? We must pivot (to use a ‘lean’ term) how we are living our lives. If something isn’t going as planned in our lean business we pivot and go a different path. We must do the same with ourselves when we find we’re not succeeding in completing tasks for work or elsewhere.

My assumptions are that you’re in the rut you are because you aren’t following a structure that helps and promotes the motivational spirit to succeed with your business or goals. With that in mind we should follow some simple steps to help stoke our desires once more and get back to succeeding in business and life.

Step 1. Visualize your end result. This might sound corny, but you want to mount a bulletin board in a visible place within your office or home (or you can use the fridge w/ magnets too) filled with photos and phrases of all the things you desire for your business, your family, and yourself. Don’t be shy about it; put a Ferrari or Corvette on there, a big house, a check for $100,000 made out to your business, photos of a beach resort you want to visit, places to travel to, children in college, etc.  What these will do is offer a visual reminder of your original desires and goals, so when you walk by them each morning, you’re passion to achieve these goals is ignited.

Step 2. Get Organized. Scrum is an Agile software development framework that among other things, promotes a way to meet goals within a time-boxed environment of uncertainty and change. It doesn’t just work for software development however. Create three columns on a whiteboard labeled: To-do, In Process, and Done. Write your goals down on post cards and affix them to the board; then break these goals down into manageable tasks and sort them by priority and effort. If you can’t get a task done within two weeks, perhaps it needs to be broken down further into smaller tasks. Then, take one or more tasks and plan to finish them within two weeks; what is called a Sprint. If it doesn’t get done in that two-week period, it goes back into the to-do column. What this process does is allow you to clearly visualize your work goals, be realistic about the tasks and time needed to finish the goals, and create a visual plan to work toward those goals within a two-week period. I really like the Scrum framework for software development and task planning in general and it really does help keep your focus on the smaller parts of the big picture, which in turn helps reduce any feeling of being overwhelmed with work.

Step 3. Get Inspired. Find a mentor, or follow someone (ehh emm) on Twitter/Facebook/Blogs who you aspire to be like. Subscribe to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc. magazines for inspiration. I follow everyone from ABC’s show Shark Tank on Twitter. Mark Cuban in particular via his Blog and his book. The stories of successful entrepreneurs inspires me to succeed. I follow successful people. Not to be envious, but to keep reaffirming with myself that if they can do it, so can I.

Step 4. Publicly Commit to a goal. When you announce to everyone you plan on doing something, you usually hold yourself accountable to getting it done to avoid the embarrassment of failing. I haven’t been doing a good job of that myself. This blog was intended as a way to do just that, and I plan on doing more of this in the near future. There, see, I did it! Post about your goals on Facebook or Twitter (assuming you have an account and friends) and let the feedback fuel your desire to follow through on your intentions.

Step 5. Don’t Quit. When you fail at meeting your goals, don’t give up. Everyone falls down. It’s how we continue after failure that gives us the empowerment to succeed. A business venture I was invested in closed recently but we haven’t give up. I plan on pivoting the business into a new venture with a new direction and plan on that being a success. Roll with the punches and reach out for help if you need it.

The most important part of these steps is to make them habit. Like a healthy lifestyle, this is not something that you can just do for a few months and then everything will be different. You must commit to changing who you are and how you act by following these new steps. Your old methods weren’t getting you motivated so you need to pivot and change your life for the better. This will not be easy. Just like starting a workout regiment every day of the week (I’ve done P90X3 for 3 months now) it’s tough work to change for the better. Once these attitudes and life changes are habit (It should take a few months before it’s a real lifestyle change) you’ll find yourself more motivated than you ever felt possible.

I’m no Tony Robbins, but I know dancing over coals isn’t about magic, but about a positive state of mind. Get going!

These are a few steps to get you motivated. If you know of any other great motivation tips, feel free to add them below in the comments!

Dedicated to a Lean Holiday

store-crowd-black-friday-blur-615cs112212It’s that time of year again. The Christmas claymation specials are running on TV. The Salvation Army bells are ringing. The lines of early adopters are starting to form outside big-box electronic stores around the country. Recent news reports this week state there’s more anger toward businesses staying open on Thanksgiving this year; likely in hopes to attract shoppers to offset poor sales this year. The anger is primarily directed at the businesses who are “forcing” their employees to work on a holiday. I’m not quite sure why people are angry because the workers are likely volunteers who want to work; but I digress.

This post is about dedicating to a lean holiday in hopes that in doing so we dedicate long-term to a lean lifestyle. I don’t mean going on a food diet; I’m talking about a spending diet. We Americans have been raised in a consumer culture on purpose. We are told what to buy, when to buy it, and are given means to buy a lot of stuff that we might otherwise never be able to afford.

The hype behind “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” as a celebratory spending time is promoted to instigate you to pulling out your money and spending more that you normally would. The consumer culture is programmed to spend, and spend a lot during this time of year. Why? Most likely we’re programmed to spend because in the colder seasons there’s less spending in general. Nobody wants to go out and trudge around in cold weather, snow, etc.

To begin, you should already be on a budget. If not, you need to start with a monthly spending budget by calculating your after-tax income minus bills and expenses. For the Christmas holiday however, we should break down a budget for gifts. Determine how much money you can spend from your savings (that’s right, credit cards are off-limits) and then divide that by the number of people you’re buying gifts for. That will be the individual gift budget you will be aiming for.

A $500 gift budget ÷ 10 people = $50 max per person.

One would think this is a simple concept, but you’ll be surprised just how easy it is to spend more and more and more without tracking individual totals for each person you’re buying for. Simply keeping track of purchases in a spreadsheet on your phone or computer will allow you to maintain control over that tendency to have a holiday spending spree.

Once you successfully keep up a holiday budget, moving forward throughout the rest of the year with similar frugal spending will help you realize new savings you never thought were possible. By buying store brand instead of name brand, going out to eat once a month instead of every night, replacing trips to the movie theater with a book at home, and buying a 4-year old used economy car instead of the latest luxury car will begin to contribute to your positive savings at the end of each month. When you tally up your monthly budget (remember you’re doing one of these) I guarantee you’ll see that the consumer brainwashing we’ve all been indoctrinated with has held your savings and wealth growth back for years.

Let’s all make a commitment to dedicating ourselves to a lean holiday and continue on with a lean new year.

Desire To Succeed

Working At Night

Let’s get something straight from the start. There is no exact formula for creating a desire to succeed. There’s always going to be something that at some point will deplete your willingness to get motivated.

That being said, the number one cause for inaction towards success is in my opinion fear.

As a wise Yoda once said:

Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to misery.

The fear of not being able to succeed, complete a project, or causing irreparable harm to one’s finances has most of us convinced that we cannot do what we want to do on our own as an entrepreneur. The fear of not being able to pay the bills if we quit our day job to pursue our dream is usually a big one. That fear leads us to stay in a safe place, usually still working for someone else and it’s understandable for some in today’s job market. But that fear… and the inability to act grows inside us…  and leads to anger. Angry that we’re not doing what we want or being who we want to be in life. That leads perhaps to a “hate” of the work that we do and eventually the misery we endure at a job where we know we may be under-appreciated or working on things that prevent us from awaking each day with blinding inspiration.

Someone I trust once said:

Be crazy. Get out of the rut and do something different. Just leap.

I however would add the following disclaimer: If you jump, there’s a launch velocity you need that cannot be achieved without a desire to soar.

Which leads me to my conclusion. Desire, is at the core of anyone that achieves success. It is the number one destroyer of fear. The level of desire has to be all-encompassing. Simply stating “boy won’t it be great when I succeed” is not enough. Your need to succeed must be like a need for air to breath.

I WILL DIE if I do not succeed!

That level of dedication can be found in those who have nothing to lose.

I do not advocate quitting your job tomorrow without any sort of direction, financial plan, or safety net in place. If you have a secure day job, make sure you have about twelve months of total expenses saved in the bank  so you can at least survive with little or no monthly income coming in while you build your business. If you’re without a job now, then you already have a financial motivator to have the burning desire to succeed at whatever you put your mind to. Focus on that goal, plan, and act. With your new-found burning desire of success you will meet your goal.

Lastly, we must not forget that your family must be on board with your desire to succeed. Many relationships are strained early on when wives and husbands are working long hours away from the family building their business. The family should not be neglected but they should know that without hard work, extra hours nurturing the business, your dream will not be actualized. If they truly care about you they will give you space to grow your business. Now get off the computer and go give your loved ones a hug!

Rethinking The Traditional Workplace

VPN InternetGenerally IT entrepreneurs think that it is a requirement to have a centralized headquarters building. Large, lofty spaces with pool tables, bean bags, and modern art on the walls.

I think this thinking is old and past its time in the IT industry. I don’t like old ideas. If your company is centering around information technology you have an Internet connection. The distributed nature of an TCP/IP network lends itself well to a distributed work force.

So why do companies still insist on the overhead of a centralized workforce? It could be that they expect their customers to want to see them in an impressive facility. This is superficial. Since when does putting up a façade of what a business should have or look like make any difference on how a product performs? It doesn’t. Perhaps it’s a way to control the company employees; ensuring that they’re working. I think this too is false as employees who are excited about what they do will want to work hard no matter where they are. Even so, there are tools and policies that can be implemented to make sure work is completed.

I look at Automattic as an example of how a distributed company should perform. Automattic has remote workers all over the world and uses a diverse set of tools to collaborate between them. Because the employees are all over the world, productivity is pretty much 24/7. Try and get that out of a centralized office space  in a single time zone! They’re a growing company and are simply doing remote right.

If there’s one thing that I can confirm as someone who has teleworked in the past, remote working offers flexibility, reduced stress, and increased savings in commuter-related costs. My future businesses will be following Automattic in offering a remote team work experience.

Trials and Tribulations

plant-seedlingA fresh start. That’s what I needed. The old ways weren’t working. Writing what I know brought in maybe one real person a month checking out my website. I grew bored. Writing code examples got me nowhere except deeper into time debt.

Time debt. No, it’s not related to time travel. Time debt is what you get when you know you have to make something happen on a project schedule and instead you do something else. You’ve borrowed time from that project deadline to spend a night watching TV with the significant other, rambling off onto some tangential-laced web-search-session to nowhere, or surfing every department of the Target website just “to see what’s available.”

Well, I’ve given up on the old ways. My time debt is getting too large. It’s time to crunch and in doing so it’s time for a refresh on the personal blog. Gone are the code samples, tyrades on programming, music, and useless stories on technology others have created. I’m a software engineer who’s an entrepreneur.  A left-handed creative who suffers from shiny-object-syndrome. I’ve run businesses in the past. It’s about time I run my business.

This kickoff post is the beginning of a new chapter for this blog. From now on I plan on blogging about business; my business, generalities about business, but more importantly the trials and tribulations of starting and running a business. Yeah, it’s been done before. I don’t care. I’m writing this as a weblog of my journey. If you glean anything from my posts then I’ve done my job.

Web analytics be damned! It’s about time.