I walked away from a million dollar business

Hello all.  I have been thinking about writing this post for some time, but finally got around to it.  If you have been around here, then you know that I used to own and operate an online e-commerce store.  It was built when I was in college and I ran it for about 3 years after I graduated.  It was one of the best experiences of my life.  I learned so much and made many mistakes.  I feel that I am a better person because of my business and I wouldn’t take back anything.  Let me give you a little background of my business.

Hmmm…I’m Going to Sell Electronics!

I have been a big fan of electronics for years.  I am probably a little too infatuated with them, but oh well.  You probably don’t even want to see my Amazon orders 🙂 . When I was in college, the only place I could get electronics was from Walmart.  NO!!!!  I am not a fan of that place for electronics.  There is little selection and most quality is sub-par.  If I needed good electronics, then I would have to drive about 2 hours to the nearest store.  Not a fan!

As I was a business major in college and have always had a hankering for business, I decided that I would start up my own electronics store, but do it online.  I wanted to learn more about e-commerce and running an online store.  If I knew of the adventure I was about to partake on, then I might have thought about it just a little more to make sure I was ready.

I took about 2 months of researching and calling to find distributors and getting my appropriate licenses together.  It is much harder to deal with in a small college town, but I got it done.  Now, off to the races!

The Growth of My Business

The first year was a tough one to say the least.  I designed the website from scratch and it looked terrible.  I didn’t even know what I was doing.  I was learning just by doing it.  I wanted to make it work, so I was going to make it work.  Looking back, my first website was embarrassing.  Oh well.

After the first year, I moved my business to a shopping cart platform that allowed me to expand what I sold and how I sold.  It was a big turning point for my business.  The first year in business, I sold about $20,000 worth of merchandise.  I was on top of the world.  The second year I brought in about $100,000.  My third year was close to $600,000.  My final full year I sold over $1 million worth of product.  That was my milestone.  I had grown my business by myself with my own hands all without carrying any inventory.  Yes, I was a drop shipping business, but I found the right distributors to do it. They even sold products to the big brands like Best Buy and some to Amazon.  I was proud of it and just wanted to keep it going.

Long Hours, Stress, and Customers

Those of you that have run their own business know that it can be stressful.  There is not doubt about it.  The biggest issue with me is that I was trying to build my business only being part time and save on business expenses.  I still worked full time and then went home and worked more on my business.  I would wake up at 7am and go to bed at around 3am.  I didn’t get much sleep, but I was driven by the thought of success.

When you run a business, especially in retail, you are going to come across a wide range of customers.  Most were nice and courteous, but then there were the ones that made you want to pull your hair out.  My main goal was to please my customers because they were the ones that ordered.  I had to please them, but found out over time that you can’t please everyone.  There were also some “customers” that just wanted to buy your customers data.  You can read about that story and I hope it doesn’t shock you too much.

There were so many facets that I needed to take care of with the business that it was taking a toll on me because a business is not passive.  I understand why some small business owners look like they haven’t slept in a couple of days.  They probably haven’t!  I did attempt on different occasions to outsource some work, but that always ended with me doing more work than before.  Someone would always mess something up and it could either cost me money or cost me time.  Outsourcing just wasn’t an option.

This all doesn’t even include the mistakes I made during the course of business. I sold a lot of products on Amazon. It was one of my biggest revenue drivers. Having said that, when you don’t sleep a lot and are working too much, you make mistakes. One such mistakes cost me around $10,000 worth of sales and it got me kicked off Amazon. I was able to get back on, but mistakes slowly got more and more as I had to take on more things. One man can only do so much.

The Hardest Decision

I was running on fumes for months.  My hardest part of the year was coming up and that was the holiday shopping season.  There is nothing that I can compare this time to.  There were times that I didn’t sleep at all in order to deal with all of the orders and customer service.  I was starting to get ready with my distributor to find out which products would be the hot sellers and get setup with some inventory.  I had so much going on that I needed to get away from the computer for a bit.

I went downstairs at my house and spoke with my wife.  She can always be honest with me and that is one of the many things that I love about her.  We had a very stern conversation about how this business was affecting me.  Here is how it broke down.

  • Stress – Holding the reins with everything was causing a lot of stress on me.  I was constantly thinking about my business, no matter if I was near my computer or not.  I was always connected with my smartphone, so I just never took a break.
  • Health – With the lack of sleep and running at a feverish pace, I was becoming unhealthy   I was gaining weight and my blood pressure was rising. I’ve never felt that bad before.
  • Relationship – This is a big one.  My relationship with my wife was taking a turn for the worse.  She stood beside me each and every day, but I was not giving her the attention she deserved.  I was causing our relationship to get sour.

After talking with her for 2 hours, I made the very difficult decision to shut down my business.  That’s right, I decided to shut down my online business.  Why would I do that?  There was one simple answer:

There are more important things than money

Yep, I was running a business that was making money, but that was not what it was all about.  I wanted to be my own boss and control my own destiny.  The problem is that I was affecting my personal life and my health.  My destiny was becoming consumed by my business.  It just wasn’t worth it to me to destroy my new marriage and fall on poor health just to make an online business work.  There are many more things that are far more important in life than just money.  I had started to become driven by money and the outcome was going to be bad.  I didn’t want that to happen.

I worked on my site for one last week and then pulled the trigger on stopping the ability to order.  I knew that I would still have to deal with customer service, but that would be a lot less since I wasn’t selling anymore.  I finally closed down my business by November 2009 and it was the best decision I could have ever made. I wouldn’t change that decision for anything. I still feel that way today.

While the business taught me a lot of things, the biggest thing it taught me was to take care of my personal life first and then worry about making money and running a business.  I am an entrepreneur at heart and probably always will be, but I won’t let my business ventures get in the way of living my life.  My wife, my son, and my health are far more important than business success.  They are my success.

So, there you have it.  That is my business story and why I shut it down.  As an important note, I did sell pieces of my business and got some profit from it and was able to enjoy some of my hobbies with it.  I apologize for it being so long, but I could talk about this for days.  Not that it matters at this point, but I would love to know you opinion on this.

I have since started a new business (including this blog) that helps other bloggers with their sites. It’s basically a blog management service with a large service offering. I learned so much from my first business and am seeing a lot of success with this one. I also learned to bootstrap the business and funnel the money back in. I haven’t used credit cards unless I had the money to pay it off. That fact alone has really changed the growth of my new business.


Would you shut down your profitable business to salvage your relationship and keep your health?

Why I Walked Away from a Million Dollar Business