And it looks like this, to be precise:
Somebody paid $20.00 for that message. And that’s it.
Sometimes they pay $100.00, some other times they pay $50.00. It depends on the product.
This is our most expensive authentication: $100.00. The person who bought this paid $12,000+ for that bag. But that’s an outlier.
Our bread and butter is the $20.00 authentication (So that’s what we do — we tell people whether their item is fake or authentic. Not authentication as in login authentication). Besides, if their item is fake and they paid via PayPal or a Credit Card, we can issue them something that looks like this for $60.00.
But I jumped the gun telling you this.
One last thing I have to show, however, before going into the body of the post, is some proof to the claim:
And it’s a bit more, given B2B deals (a few, with 4 and 5 digits) + some other income. But it’s mainly due to the ‘add order notes’ field.
Well it didn’t start as a business.
In 2017 (I was 20 then) I was learning how to build an app and I eventually found out I hate coding. Don’t get me wrong — I love watching somebody code, and love looking at it, just didn’t like writing it. But mid-project I realised it’s not for me and said I’ll finish the app nonetheless.
It was so basic: literally a ‘glorified bookmark folder’ into an app. I made some menus for selecting a sneaker → selecting a colourway → selecting a ‘tells’ (how to tell a fake from a real item) → load a webview with the guide… I had hosted on… chdaniel.com. Kinda embarrassing, but yes, my personal website.
I keep saying I’ll write the full story one day, but I never got round to it, so that means it’s not that important, or ever on the list of ‘top 5 things I have to do to grow the business in a healthy manner’.
So I won’t bore you with the full story, but the short of it is:
I published the app
The app kept garnering views and users: 5k, then 10k, then 20k, then 40k, then 50k etc etc
At about 350k I turned it into a business, because the demand for my free authentications became overwhelming. Some people had to have priority, so I started charging. Plus, depending on how much ppl pay, I’d be considering that an indicator of ‘how much is this project deserving to be grown’
If people didn’t pay that much, it meant there wasn’t much utility
If people did pay, it meant there was utility, so the project deserved to be grown
And yep, we’ve stared with a free BigCartel website in April 2019. It was so cumbersome. I wince if I even think about it: you had to buy a $20.00 service, then email us with pics, then we’d come back to you. Like — who does that? Who pays and then has to make sure they put in the title “AUTHENTICATION SERVICE” and forward the $20.00 payment email. Wow.
But later on I made this WooCommerce website, which is very much live today. I thought: we really need to look like a trustworthy business, not just two guys that made up this scrappy BigCartel website.
If you’re wondering who ‘we’ is, I mean myself (22 then) and my then 15-year old brother. So in October 2019, here we were with a ‘proper’ website. We were SERIOUS now: we looked like a legit company (okay… imagine a “Legit Check” company that didn’t look legit… that’s who we were with the scrappy BigCartel store. The irony), and we had:
We went from the customer receiving this:
(Eventually, when I realised it was really bad, I started adding a numbered list with reasons. This is still the scrappy version.)
To now, with the proper branding, the customer receiving this:
Anyway, the big unaddressed elephant in the room is: how did we get those customers?
The answer is: a mix of luck (no tip-toe-ing around that) and making use of that luck. Our graph of users looks like this today:
We get 300-400k unique users a month.
These people come to read our free fake vs real authentication guides.
The short story is that we got lucky in the sense that we discovered a format that worked (and dare I even say, on some days when I’m more arrogant: we’ve invented a mini-industry, now that our efforts have birthed competitors) and then we swung for the fences.
So I won’t be claiming it was my intellect, my genius or whatever bs people claim to get VCs to invest in them, or to impress highschool people they anyways hate. It was luck and then we did our best to make use of the luck.
I’ll do my best to bring transparency to this by putting it this way:
We got lucky with: Traffic kept growing while I didn’t do anything. I struck an SEO goldmine without even knowing SEO
What we did with that luck: I learned SEO, established our position, built moats to make sure we keep those #1 positions for ‘fake vs real [name of item]’ searches
We got lucky with: The demand for authentications of items kept growing
What we did with that luck: We made a brand out of it and did our best to make it as trustworthy and professional as possible
We got lucky with: People paid for a product that was far from being done. BigCartel and you have to email us proof of payment, then the pictures
What we did with that luck: It was just a hedge against a a bad bet. What if we spent all those months and we ended up with 0 business? As soon as we saw it was a proper business, we were serious about it
We got lucky with: A high-margin, low-volume, time-based service (95% margins, if need be)
What we did with that luck: Understood that I need to keep an eye on being as lean as possible, if things go bad, but otherwise diversify by investing in new things.
We got lucky with: People paid a lot of money for something we could’ve offered way cheaper. I am being granted the spoil of overcharging, because I want to make use of the time I get (by overcharging) to build more for people.
What we did with that luck: Offered stellar customer support, did the right thing when I had to (refunds that my ego wanted to cling to), over-delivered for the customers etc.
Now that the luck bit has been addressed, the process is that people come to read the guides, as we rank high for keywords such as ‘Air Max fake vs real’ or ‘Air Max authentication guide’, and part of these people are short on time and not short on money, so they’d rather have us check their item.
Others want to get their money back from a scam, with the $60 Certificate I’ve mentioned above.
All in all, everything is handled via the ‘add order notes’ function of WordPress+WooCommerce. We write our message there, it gets added to that formatted email.
Since we’re making this amount of money, we can afford to invest into new, better things.
I’ve started documenting the strategical moves I’m making, bets I’m placing, how these bets turn out and other things in a free subscription called “Dear Mom/Investors”. In there I also put together all the figures I publicly disclose on my Twitter, e.g. example tweet
One of these new “things” we’re investing in is a brand-new ordering system: better for the customers and for us.
With WooCommerce, we got off the ground with a ready-made solution, but now we’re making our own thing. This move has ups and downs, but we’ll get to a point where:
Placing an order will take a lovely user of ours about 15-20 sec
Handling an order will take us 10x less time
So even if we don’t increase our revenue and it stays the same, we’d have increased our margins as less of our time is tied in.
Why write this now? Because: once our new system is out, as we’ll mature (and we’re building a lot of new stuff) and we’ll no longer be a ‘We put together a scrappy WordPress instance’ company
It… just felt right to document this now.
Both to share the lessons at this point in time, and because we’ll no longer be able to make a big claim like the one in the title. If you’ll see the new system out (which looks… at least polished) and we say we’re making $200k, you’ll say “Nice. So what”
This is our story.
This is how we’re making 6 digits as 2 folks who together have 40 years of age. Naturally it’s not just the two of us right now, but it would be fair to say that the two of us (David and I) built this.
“Dear Mom/Investors” is an all-access (free) subscription to all my numbers, and the strategy I document as time goes by. If any of this sounds interesting, you might find more interesting stuff in my journey.