Meet this week’s awesome studentpreneur: Matthew Childs, 22 y.o., undergraduate Business and Civil Engineer student at the University of Technology Sydney and entrepreneur at Wine Stash in Australia.
Matthew started on Ebay in High School with books, making 700% profit margin sometimes and learning how to handle customer complaints. He leveraged all these good feedbacks and reviews when launching Wine Stash. He saw an opportunity while working in his family’s bottle shop. Customers were asking for wine racks and they couldn’t find any at a good price. After careful research, he took a risk and ordered a full container of wine racks! He moved on to becoming a part-time student and then put Uni on hold for a semester to try to automate his business. Matthew joined his university co-sharing space, the Hatchery. That got him introduced to Fishburners, the largest co-sharing space in Australia. A lot of people have told him that he should get a mentor, but he hasn’t found one yet. If you know his ideal mentor, contact Matthew.
– ‘On eBay sell the hardcover books or books that look relatively new, sell with free shipping at fixed price.’
– ‘I went through a lot of suppliers on Ali Baba until I found the right one.’
– ‘On eBay people don’t look for accounts but for great product pictures.’
– ‘Now I can easily justify the big expense of having professional.’
– ‘When I ordered my first container with my own money a lot of people called me crazy!’
– ‘I learned to accept fate and move on when things didn’t work out, I try to be lean.’
– ‘It’s finding and targetting that little niche that no one thought of that makes you money.’
– ‘Most of the people at Fishburners (co-sharing space) are surprised that I am still studying!’
– ‘You have got to accept failure and go on.’
– ‘There are a lot of risks but the risks equal the rewards.’
– Use Fiverr.com to get good photoshops at the beginning of your business
– Do your market research on what sells and doesn’t sell on eBay by using the “sold” option in the filter.
U2U (Managing Uni and the Business):
– I went part time and later on deferred one semester to focus on the business.
– I learned a lot in my Business and Civil Engineering for my business, especially the process of learning information.
Blogs and websites:
U2U (Uni to support you):
– ‘The Hatchery (co-sharing space at UTS) is a good start but a lot more can be done.’
– We need to connect students from different faculties a lot better: students with ideas, students with coding skills,…
– First identify students with ideas and then help them to develop their ideas.
– Wine Stash: WineStash.com.au
– The Hatchery at UTS
– LinkedIn: Matthew
Get ready to be inspired with studentpreneur, stories of students who are entrepreneurs. How did student entrepreneurs get started, how did they change their mindset, how did they manage to balance their business with their studies? Get the real story, with your host Julien Marchand.
Julien: Hi, I’m Julien, entrepreneur turned PhD student. Each week a studentpreneur, or a student who is also an entrepreneur shares or his/her story to get you motivated to turn your idea into a business. And I’m so happy to tell you that with this episode, we’ve reached 5,000 downloads for the podcast, not bad for a podcast targeting such a niche market of studentpreneurs, right? If you enjoyed this episode, hit subscribe on your podcast player or on studentpreneurpodcast.com, and of course, tall your mates. In this episode, Matthew shares how he grew exponentially his eBay business to 6-figures after noticing a gap in the market – wine racks. That can’t be true, you say? Check it out. Alright so today, with us, we have Matthew Charles. Matthew is 22 and he’s studying at the University of Technology in Sydney, he’s doing a double degree of Civil Engineering and Business, and he started a new business in January called “Wine Stash” which is already making a low 6-figure income. Matt, do you want to tell us a little bit more about you and Wine Stash?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. Uhm — So my name is Matthew Charles, I’m currently studying at UTS. Uhm — The business which I’m working on at the moment is called Wine Stash. Uhm — So basically what Wine Stash is, it’s basically, it’s online retail, so what I do is I get products manufactured in China, — uhm — I ship them across here and I resell them here in Sydney. Uhm — So what the products are is, they are basically, in essence they’re just wine racks. So basically, I feed out people sellers and I just [inaudible 02:08] I ship them off to the customer and the customer puts them together themselves. So basically, they usually sort of feed out people’s wine cellars people use in the kitchen, people use all over the house, pretty much. If that’s good.
Julien: And what type of customers — uhm — do you have?
Matthew: Uhm — The customers are quite broad, it’s pretty [inaudible 02:26] it’s probably around the 30-50 mark, 30-50 H.
Julien: Okay, excellent. So what got you started, not just on this business but on this entrepreneurial journey? Did you do anything in High school for instance?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. Uhm — So when I was back in school, I was always on eBay.
Matthew: Yes. When I was at High school, I was on eBay. Uhm — Initially I used to work in a library, just a part time job, and I just loved the books. So what I did is, I started off on eBay, I used to go down to all these book fairs all around New South Wales and basically. There were always sort of second hand book fairs and people were just selling these books, trying to get rid of them. I was like, “yes, it’s great.” I came along, I used to purchase like hundreds of dollars worth of books in each one of these book fairs and then take them online on eBay and sell them for quite a bit of money.
Julien: Oh wow! Okay.
Matthew: Yes, it worked. There was some textbooks, I was buying them for $1 or $2 and I’ll sell them for like $70-$80.
Matthew: I was making easy money there which was nice.
Julien: And how old were you?
Matthew: Uhm — That was probably Year 10 – Year 11 – Year 12 I was doing that. I was just cashing the bank pocket, that’s how I got started on that entrepreneurial journey, just on eBay, it was easy. You really learn a lot about how the customer reactions or how that process works with selling your products to clients and then getting a feedback. It really starts rough with that entrepreneurial journey.
Julien: Uhm — And like asking for feedback, how to start reviews and stuff like that.
Matthew: That’s it, and then getting complaints and then working on one.
Julien: Getting complaints. [laughter]
Matthew: Yes. And from there, pretty much.
Julien: Alright. So you did that through Year 10 and Year 11. Why did you stop?
Matthew: Uhm — I still haven’t really stopped, I’m still on the books. I’m a lot slower now just because I’m focusing more on that Wine Stash business and that’s driving me a lot further now than the books ever would. So that’s why I’m focusing more on the Wine Stash.
Julien: Are you using the same account, since you had so many reviews already?
Matthew: Exactly right. So I’m using the same account. So once I launched Wine Stash, I already had that eBay account up and running. I already had that eBay account, it was all set up, had good feedback and it was easy to jump straight in.
Julien: Ah! Yes, of course your PayPal account is always ready. So did you just change the name on the account?
Matthew: Ah! Yes, pretty much.
Julien: That’s right. So cool. So even though you’re selling totally different things, your reviews are the same.
Matthew: That’s it, and all that matters is that number at the top.
Julien: Yes. How many did you have when you started Wine Stash, do you remember roughly?
Matthew: Yes, it was probably maybe a hundred, 200 or so.
Julien: Okay, cool.
Matthew: Not too bad.
Julien: Going back on that selling books, what type of books would you recommend people to find and sell in a book fair?
Matthew: Uhm — If you’re going to go on that path, definitely the hard cover books because they’re worth a lot more money, — uhm — and definitely something that looks relatively new because nobody is going to buy a second hand piece of crap. As long as it looks new. Sometimes there are brand new books that are still in covers and they’re just great to buy cheaply.
Julien: Isn’t it quite expensive to ship? Like doesn’t it kill your margin?
Matthew: Yes, shipping is always expensive, very expensive. Uhm — On eBay, they always say you have free postage, so instead of selling the book, it’s like $10 + $10 postage, you just sell it for $20 with free postage and everybody loves that. So that works.
Julien: So you were selling at a fixed price.
Matthew: Yes, they’re always done fixed price.
Julien: Always done fixed price. Ah! And free shipping because eBay is really pushing you to do free shipping.
Matthew: Yes. And you just can’t argue with eBay, they just answer your listings if they don’t like you.
Julien: Yes. Alright, so then you fell into Wine Stash, what happened? How did you fall into it?
Matthew: Uhm — Well, on top of all the stuff I’m selling on eBay, I was also working at the family bottle shop, which is basically just a small store [inaudible 06:11] selling liquor. Uhm — And basically, that’s how I sort of fell into Wine Stash because I was working there quite a lot, and I found that a lot of people were kind of asking for these wine racks, these products. And you really couldn’t, and you still can’t today buy them anywhere in Australia. Uhm — So that’s sort of how I fell into Wine Stash.
Julien: Uhm — What do you mean they wanted it and they couldn’t find it? How come they couldn’t find it?
Matthew: Uhm — Because they were just asking, do you sell wine racks, do you know where we can buy these? And I didn’t know and they didn’t know. If you looked online, there were a few places, but they were selling them like hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and I am now selling those products for a fraction of that price.
Julien: Okay. Are there like refrigerated one or?
Matthew: It’s plain timber wine racks, so they all come in sorts of all different sizes, — uhm — I’ve got different colours as well now, and all different materials. I basically have a whole range of that which is on winestash.com.au.
Julien: That is crazy. It sounds like a very common product and people couldn’t find any on the market, that’s crazy.
Matthew: It is crazy, that’s why I really sort of just jumped into that Wine Stash market, because there really was a market there, and there really was a demand there for the product as well.
Julien: Wow! So straightaway, you went to a Chinese supplier, or how did you work your way to a supplier?
Matthew: Yes. Once I found supplier, we were just basically ordering samples. Uhm — It’s quite easy to do that now, it will cost you money in postage. But once you get those free samples, you test out the product. Uhm — For me one of the risks was just going straight ahead and getting that first shipment. So once I’m happy with the samples, — uhm — I went and got that first container, which was quite a bit of money out of my pocket.
Julien: Container? Like you order a full container?
Matthew: Container, yes.
Julien: Oh my God.
Matthew: [laughter] That was a bit risky, I was a bit paranoid.
Julien: Yes. There are so many bad stories about containers being not what you expected. [laughter]
Matthew: No, I was very paranoid about that and then, it was a lot of pain in supplying the money. I was like actually, let me get the goods, and ship the products.
Julien: How long did they take to come, like a month or something?
Matthew: Uhm — Usually now, it’s about a month to manufacture the goods, about a month for shipping.
Julien: Okay. When do you pay? Do you pay before they manufacture?
Matthew: Uhm — It’s usually a 20% deposit, and the rest of the payment is made after they submit photos of the actual goods, so I know that they’re [inaudible 08:22] they’ve got my load on them.
Julien: Okay. So they send you pictures of the products, so at least, you kind of know that it’s going to be what you want. [laughter]
Matthew: Sort of.
Julien: Okay, and how did you find the supplier? Did you go through Alibaba or?
Matthew: Yes, through Alibaba.
Julien: Okay. And so, you just checked the reviews and asked for sample, that’s all you did?
Matthew: Pretty much, yes. [laughter]
Julien: Okay. So when you talk of sample, do you mean like you bought like one item from them, saying that you might buy much more before or after or?
Matthew: Pretty much, that’s about it.
Julien: Okay. Wow! And your first supplier was the right one? Did you have to change?
Matthew: Uhm — I went through a lot of suppliers actually, I did go through quite a few. A lot of them couldn’t speak English, a lot of them, I wasn’t happy with the products, I wasn’t happy with the samples, so they weren’t willing to change. Uhm — But I found this one supplier I was happy with and I absolutely stuck with him.
Julien: So that’s a pretty long process, right? To go through this. Which is very important because once you have the right one, then you switch but how long does that take you? A couple of months at least?
Matthew: Quite a few months, and then, it was a long time before that actually, sort of working out that Wine Stash is the one that was like a feasible market. So that’s when I went back to eBay as well because with eBay, you can see everybody’s sales history. So if you’re interested in selling a particular product, I’d say go to eBay, look up what they’re selling and how many they’re selling, where they’re selling them to, and it gives you a really good idea if these products would actually [inaudible 09:40] if it would sell.
Julien: So you’re saying to search for the type of product you want to sell, and then search for the sold items, right?
Matthew: Exactly, yes. And the second detail, you know how many they’re selling at each rate, how many they’re selling each month.
Julien: And you can go per seller as well, is that what you’re doing?
Julien: So you looked at those top sellers in Australia and you checked how many they were doing?
Matthew: Yes, that’s how I started, yes.
Julien: So that’s a little icon on the bottom left corner, [laughter] the sold one.
Matthew: That’s it, yes, that’s what you look for.
Julien: Yes, that’s very useful. So cool. So you check out your market, then you looked at your suppliers. And then how did you reach your market because usually, it’s people looking at your account were people looking for books, not people looking for wine racks.
Matthew: Yes, that’s true. But usually on eBay, people don’t look at accounts, they just look at the item. So if someone searches a book, they’ll come up with that item; if somebody’s searching for wine racks, they’ll come up with that other item. So even though they’re on the same eBay store, they’re still pretty separate.
Julien: Okay. So are you saying that the most important is like the product description and the picture?
Matthew: Uhm — Definitely product description and the picture. So you can’t have enough pictures, and you need to have high quality pictures too. So for me, I’ve gotten to the stage now where I have professional photos taken.
Julien: You get professional photos for wine racks.
Matthew: Well, all the wine racks, yes.
Matthew: I’ve got like quite a big range now, so it’s a lot of money, professional photography.
Matthew: I can definitely justify that expense now, because if you have a good photo and a bad photo. With the bad photo, the products aren’t going to sell. So you need to have good photos.
Julien: So how did you do at the beginning, did you use your own camera?
Matthew: Yes, pretty much.
Julien: And so, did you have like a white background?
Matthew: No, what I did, I just took the photos, just nice, clean and easy. And I went to recycle in Fiverr, you get people for like $5 that will take just a normal photo, they’ll put a while background.
Matthew: [inaudible 11:37] check this, I did like 10 photos for $5 or something.
Julien: That’s pretty cool.
Julien: Yes, Fiver is one of the favorites. So fiveer.com.
Matthew: Yes, that’s the one, fiverr.com.
Julien: Ah! Double “r” Yes, you’re right. I’ll put it in the show notes with your website as well.
Matthew: Yes, that’s be great.
Julien: Cool. And so, how have you been handling the growth of the business?
Matthew: Uhm — It’s getting harder at the moment.
Matthew: Because initially, I started sort about like July last year, that’s when I started. Uhm — Probably the first 6 months, there was just nothing. Uhm — Probably maybe about $1,000 a month in sales, I was averaging. So that’s probably 6 months. Uhm — Once it hit January-February, I got my next container in, — uhm — and with that, I got a bigger range of products and a bigger variety of products. Uhm — And with that, my sales sort of continuously been [inaudible 12:28] since then. Uhm — So I’ve gotten to a stage now, I’m averaging about $2,000 – $3,000 a day in sales.
Julien: Ah! Nice. Good job.
Matthew: It’s a lot to manage. Uhm — So especially with the stage where I’m at now, what I’m looking out now is sort of getting order fulfillments. So basically, paying other people to wrap up the products and ship it for me.
Matthew: Uhm — Yes. So it’s getting harder with Uni as well. Like last semester, I did part time Uni. So I did part time Uni and I was working on the business part time, and I just continued to get busier and busier all last semester. So I made the call actually to defer Uni, so doing zero [inaudible 13:03] and basically working on the business now full time.
Julien: In order to kind of automate it somehow, like with auto-fulfillment, professional pictures. That’s a sort of automation.
Matthew: Yes. It’s just always so much to do, like even now, my to-do list is just like 4 pages long, it’s always a mountain of things to do and it’s always emails and the phone calls.
Julien: Wow! Uhm — Do you say in January, you received a container. So you were pretty confident that you will sell it, the full container. That’s a big commitment.
Matthew: It was a big commitment, it was a lot of money out of my back pocket, I think a lot of people call me crazy. [laughter] But I still went ahead with it though, — uhm — I did what I did, — uhm — it was just a gamble that you had to take and — uhm — I was willing to take it based on that market research I had done. So I knew about the product I’d get, the price I’d sell it.
Julien: Where did the money come from? From your parents? Or was it from you savings from your previous business?
Matthew: All from my savings, out of my back pocket.
Julien: Wow! Okay.
Matthew: Even up till now, everything has just been out of my back pocket, and it’s probably just getting to the stage now where the business is just sort of making enough money to start paying myself a wage as a start, getting something back out of the business.
Julien: We are just over a year after you launched it [laughter] Now, you can now pay yourself.
Matthew: Yes. 12 months, I’ve been working, [inaudible 14:22] I haven’t paid myself.
Julien: Excellent. So what type of skills do you think you brought from your — uhm — first eBay business to this eBay business?
Matthew: Uhm — Probably dealing with customers is important, — uhm — that’s taught me a lot about that. Uhm — Just basically how to communicate with customers, how to sell products to customers. Uhm — Other thing, especially now, time management, because there’s always so much to do. The Engineering side of [inaudible 14:49] is very good at it because there’s always a mountain of [inaudible 14:51], a mountain of tests. And at that rate, it’s just how to manage tasks, how to prioritize tasks. Uhm — Pretty much accepting fate, like when things don’t work or product doesn’t work, you’ve really got to just take it and move on to the next, that’s all about thin-laying and moving quickly.
Julien: And would you say — uhm — that your 2 little jobs on the side, working in the library and then working for your parents’ business actually helped you in both your businesses?
Matthew: Uhm — Yes, I’d say that would, — uhm — especially in the business, that was a lot of retail. So it’s always dealing with customers and helping them, just basically “the customer is always right” attitude. Uhm — The library, not so much. [laughter] That’s really what got me started. I kept telling myself, I don’t want to keep working here, I want to do something else.
Julien: That’s a good motivation too. [laughter] Did your parents ask you to be part of the business or did you want to be part of the business?
Matthew: Uhm — It was my grandparents. So my grandparents were looking to build a shop.
Julien: Oh okay.
Matthew: Uhm — I was just like a student, I was this tall when I was working for the business. It was just a family business.
Julien: Yes. [laughter] That’s where you saw the market opportunity. I still can’t believe it, that’s people can’t find simple wine racks. You would think it’s an easy product to find.
Matthew: You would think. Yes, it’s just sort of finding that little niche that nobody thinks about and that really makes the money, just by targeting that one niche.
Julien: But then you also said that the business boomed once you got the container and you basically diversified the range of product you had. So are you saying you had different models, different sizes, different colours?
Matthew: Yes. So now I’ve got like all different sizes down from like 6-bottles which will have just about 25-box, all the way down to some of the biggest [inaudible 16:39] over $200 for one rack. Uhm — So people can just buy, say, a couple of those and fit up their whole cellar. Uhm — But yes, really diversifying was what sort of pushed myself up because I was just entering more and more into that market.
Julien: And what do you think,– uhm — you’re going to get into all the types of products after that?
Matthew: Uhm — Yes definitely. So I’ve got lots of plans about diversifying into the art woods but probably at this stage, focusing more on wine racks, then probably starting other businesses, like some different niches in different markets.
Julien: Because — uhm — few people were saying that on eBay, it doesn’t matter what you sell, it’s the quantity of products because the more products you sell, the more reviews you get and the more eBay pushes you in front of other people, right?
Matthew: Yes, definitely true. It’s always like the positive cash flow, it’s good to continue to sell, it’s good to get up to the top, — uhm — but eBay is just introducing basically paid search results. So basically you pay money to put your stuff at the top.
Julien: Ah! Of course. And they’re kind of pushing down the selling products from proper stores, you know, like Target and all the stores, Big W, and stuff like that. Is that scaring you?
Matthew: Uhm — Not so much at the moment because none of those are in wine racks, but definitely for other people that sell home-ware goods, it’s really just crushing them out of the market, it’s turning it back from like a place where small sellers come up with [inaudible 18:03] being competitive, just having different avenue of selling their products.
Julien: Yes, it’s a bit scary but as long as you’re in a niche that the other big stores aren’t.
Matthew: For now.
Julien: Yes, exactly. Alright, so going back on how you balance Uni and the business. So you said last year, you went part time to help you grow the business and then, this year you deferred because the business was just growing too much. So the question is, why didn’t you quit?
Matthew: Why didn’t I quit Uni or quit the business?
Julien: Oh, Uni sorry.
Matthew: Quit Uni? Uhm — So last year, I was doing pretty much all full time Uni, which is just sort of running the business on the side, coming home and wrapping up orders or staying up late at night and just working on the website. Uhm — So first semester this year, I decide to actually get part time Uni to focus more on the business and more time to focus more on the business. Uhm — It was only this semester that I’ve actually deferred Uni, it’s been pretty work full time on the business.
Julien: And — uhm — what did your parents say? [laughter]
Matthew: Uhm — They weren’t too happy about it, they’re still not too happy about it. Uhm — I’ve made that to call to sort of focus on the business and that was my call. I haven’t looked back, so I’m still enjoying it. And the best part is like I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now, my motivation now is that I can do this, I can keep doing this, otherwise I have to go back and go to those subjects again.
Julien: That is true. Uhm — But do you think it will be possible for you to go back and finish?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. So once I get especially the business more automated and basically pay the other people to do the work for me, then yes, definitely got a lot of plans to go back to Uni.
Julien: So you do see value in Uni.
Matthew: Yes, definitely, I do see value in Uni. So I learnt a lot from Uni, especially in the Business degree, and especially in the Engineering degree as well combined. Uhm — So I did learn a lot from that which I have applied to the business which has been great.
Julien: So you’re saying that you actually learnt from both business, and also Civil Engineering?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. Not so much the content alone but just the skills, that process of learning information that you can really apply to the business.
Julien: Yes. And — uhm — a lot of people that we had on this podcast, they did exactly that, they automated the business and then they were able to go to Uni, even full-time.
Julien: So what you’re doing at the moment, you automate it, that’s the best way to be able to balance both.
Matthew: Yes, definitely. So that’s my plan. Definitely [inaudible 20:23] to automate and then go back to Uni, finish my degree.
Julien: So what value do you see in finishing Uni?
Matthew: Uhm– I’m not so sure at the moment. It’s like say I had finished Uni now, I’d still probably be working on the business.
Julien: Yes, that’s right.
Matthew: Exactly. So what’s the point of me getting an extra piece of paper. So that’s what I’m thinking at the moment.
Julien: That’s what you’re thinking, yes. But it’s also, it’s kind of a way to diverse risk as well. You’ve got several options, if you get a degree.
Matthew: Yes, definitely. It’s always good to have that backup plan, that’s why I do plan on going back to Uni.
Julien: Because you never know what eBay can do to you.
Julien: They can switch a button and say bye-bye. [laughter]
Matthew: That’s exactly right. But yes, a lot of people say that [inaudible 21:08] position at the moment but [inaudible 21:10] for you to have your own. So that when something happens, you’ve got backup options.
Julien: Yes, but at the same time, you’re buying yourself a lot of experience as well. Uhm — You’re buying online retail experience which is pretty invaluable. So you’re not getting a degree but you are actually.
Matthew: That’s very true as well, yes definitely.
Julien: Uhm — So how do you learn and what do you recommend? Like do you read books, podcasts, blogs, what do you do to learn?
Matthew: Uhm — I definitely do a lot of reading. Uhm — Not so much podcasts or books that much, definitely a lot of blogs though, like every morning, my inbox is full of different stuff.
Julien: Ah! Okay.
Matthew: Which is good. So I do a lot of reading once I have all the stuff to read, there’s this entrepreneur.com, they’re very good. Otherwise, it’s all the Shopify blogs that I get, — uhm — there’s StartupSmart, there’s BusinessCollective. So there’s a lot of different blogs and they always have different information which is always relevant to a business, to running a business.
Julien: Yes, that’s good, entrepreneur.com and StartupSmart.com are some really good ones.
Matthew: Yes, definitely. I could highly recommend those.
Julien: And you read them every morning?
Matthew: Uhm — pretty much daily, there’s always new content daily, so it’s good to stay on top of everything.
Julien: Uhm — Alright, in terms of support, do you have any support, like parents, mentors. or tutors, do you ask anybody at school to support you?
Matthew: Yes, definitely, it’s definitely good to have support. At the moment, it’s just sort of mostly friends and family, always sort of pushing you, encouraging to keep doing more. Uhm — Otherwise, normal support is just the feedback I’m getting from customers now.
Julien: Ah! Customers, okay.
Matthew: It’s actually quite good, and you get a lot of people saying “oh, thanks so much, I love this product”, or “I couldn’t find it anywhere else, they’re great”, [inaudible 22:55]
Julien: So they send in a photo, that’s great.
Matthew: Yes, it’s great, like wow! I’m actually doing this, this is good.
Julien: Yes. If you’re filling a market, an initial market, that’s awesome, you’re really helping people as well, so it’s a win-win situation. If you were selling iPhone cases, you will not get this feedback.
Matthew: Oh no. I can guarantee that too, yes.
Julien: Uhm — So you’re saying your friends are supporting you, but are your friends — uhm — entrepreneurs as well or?
Matthew: Not so much entrepreneurs, but it’s always good to have people supporting you on the side.
Julien: And have you told your tutors or — uhm — Professors that you are running a business? Especially in the business faculty for instance?
Matthew: Not so much actually. Uhm — No, I haven’t really done that at all. I’ve just sort of kept it a little bit quiet on the side, but no, I haven’t told that many people about it.
Julien: So you haven’t told a lot of people about it?
Julien: And in terms of mentor, do you think that you have someone who looks like a mentor, someone that can help you go through the different steps and answer questions when you need them?
Matthew: Not at the moment actually, a lot of people have told me that I should be getting a mentor, but I haven’t got anybody at the moment, no.
Julien: Uhm — A lot of people told us — uhm — that they were getting mentors through — uhm — like networking events — uhm — around entrepreneurship, that was the most basic way to get mentors and they were getting a lot of feedback, like good feedback from mentors. So that’s definitely something to look into.
Matthew: Yes, definitely.
Julien: And — uhm — So I met you at the Hatchery, do you consider it as a support for your business? Was it helpful?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. The hatchery, so many people don’t know, hatchery is like a program, they call it pre-incubator program. So it basically helps people go from an idea to actually turning an idea into a vital business. Uhm — Definitely the support that you get from there, basically the skills that you learn from there is great for running a business, and definitely used a lot of that information with my own business.
Julien: When did you get into that program?
Matthew: Uhm — So I did the program last semester, that was the first semester they launched.
Julien: Okay. And did you meet other — uhm — student entrepreneurs like you?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. Met a lot of people there and still a lot of friends, still friends with a lot of those people that I met there, and it’s great to sort of ask those people for support and for advice as well, “what would you do here”, “what are you working on”, “how can we do this together”, that sort of thing.
Julien: And so, was it good to meet people like you? [laughter]
Matthew: Yes, definitely. It’s great to meet other people that are working on other businesses and get along and communicate with them. Uhm — It’s also after that program that I got introduced into Fishburner.
Julien: Ah good.
Matthew: It’s a co-working space in the city, so I’ve been working there for the last few months as well.
Julien: Cool. So you got introduced. So this was a pre-incubator program, and then they introduced you to kind of the next step which is the Fishburner which is like a coaching space with a lot of programs attached to it?
Matthew: Yes, definitely.
Julien: Which is like the biggest coaching space in Australia I think?
Matthew: Yes, I think it is, it’s great working there as well; the support and the advice and the network.
Julien: Yes, well, if you can’t find a mentor there, there’s like no hope for you. [laughter]
Julien: So do you have a desk there now, or do you just go from time to time?
Matthew: Ah yes, I’ve got a desk there at the moment and it’s working.
Julien: Okay. So now, you’re seeing the value of having a coaching space because the hatchery, this was a free program but that Fishburner, you have to pay for it.
Matthew: Exactly. Definitely, I’m at a stage now where I can justify spending money to get my own desk because it is so much more productive when you’re out of the house.
Julien: Say it again, you’re more productive when you’re outside of home.
Matthew: 100% more productive when you’re outside of the house. So yes, that’s why I really do like getting out and sort of working from those co-working spaces as well. And just once you’re there, everybody there is so motivated, so passionate about working on their own business that it inspires you to keep working on your own.
Julien: Yes, it is great to have that vibe when you go to work. [laughter]
Matthew: Yes, definitely.
Julien: Your little desk into that big building but you see the buzz going around of just energy and people asking how is your business is going. And do people know that you’re a student?
Matthew: Yes, most of them know that I’m a student, they do.
Julien: Are they trying to push you to stop studying?
Matthew: Uhm — Most of them are still surprised that I was still studying.
Matthew: So yes, they’re all pushing me so stop studying and focus more because that’s basically what everybody there does. They all run businesses, it’s really inspiring to be there.
Julien: Yes, very inspiring I guess. So you recommend to people to go to coaching places.
Matthew: Yes, [inaudible 27:19]
Julien: So it’s worth the cost of paying for it?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. I think with Fishburner, you get a free week trial as well. So it’s even great just going.
Julien: Okay, cool. So you [inaudible 27:29] for a week. And how much roughly does it cost to be at Fishburner?
Matthew: Uhm — It’s about $90 a week I think.
Julien: So $100 for a week, cool. And you can stop whenever you want?
Matthew: Pretty much, yes.
Julien: Okay, that’s cool. Is there a waiting list to getting in there?
Matthew: Uhm — I think there is quite a waiting list at the moment.
Julien: Ah, so you had to put your name in there and just wait for it.
Matthew: Pretty much, yes.
Julien: Okay. Well, it is the biggest one in Australia, so it’s kind of very attractive and everyone talked about it.
Matthew: Pretty much, yes.
Julien: So cool. Alright, thanks for that. Uhm — So now we’re getting to the step where, you know, all the great fairytale story of starting eBay, selling books, and then magically finding a secret niche and then selling wine stash.
Julien: With no problem at all on the way. Were there actually any problems? [laughter]
Matthew: Oh, there are hundreds of problems. I don’t think there has been a time where everything has been smooth sailing.
Matthew: And that’s one of the things of being an entrepreneur. You’ve got to be able to accept failure and move on. Uhm — Like hundreds of times, things have gone wrong and things have screwed up, and then I take a step in and fix it all. It happens almost daily, — uhm — I’ll give you one good example. I think it was probably the third or fourth container that I got in, — uhm — and one of the biggest problems I’ve had is cash flow. So basically, you’ve got to pay like $80,000 to stock up front to get those products in. Uhm — One of those ways to manage cash flow is to sort of pre-order the products. Uhm — So basically, people pay would for it in advance, — uhm — they’ve got 2 weeks before they get the product — uhm — and that gives me the money to pay for the shipment. So that 2 weeks covers that shipping time for the products to get here.
Matthew: Then once the products are here, I sort of distribute to everybody that has already paid.
Julien: So you upfront with them, it says on eBay that it’s a 2-weeks turnaround, right?
Matthew: Yes, pretty much.
Julien: And you’ve got the photos of the product because it was your first container, so it was the same product.
Matthew: Exactly, yes. So that’s one of the ways I try to go generating cash flow. Uhm — The only problem with that though, is that that particular container had got delayed.
Julien: Oh, of course.
Matthew: It got delayed leaving China, then it got delayed here in Sydney, then it got delay getting through customs. Then it ended up being probably over a month overdue which wasn’t too good because I had all these people saying, “I was meant to get this product like 3 weeks ago, where is my wine rack?”
Julien: “This was a birthday present.”
Matthew: Exactly. I was probably getting about 10 complaints a day.
Julien: A day! Because a container is pretty big, so that’s like a lot of products for you, okay.
Matthew: Very big, definitely, yes. So that was pretty high, just dealing with that, and just sort of telling everyone “it’s coming, I’m just waiting as well, I don’t know when it’s going to be here, it should be here soon, I’ll get it posted to you as soon as possible.” So that was pretty hard dealing with all of that.
Julien: Wow! Did you have communication from, it’s not really from the supplier, it’s from the shipper.
Matthew: Yes, once the stuffs are in the container, it’s not the supplier’s problem. So it’s all my problem.
Julien: Wow! Okay. And so, — uhm — what have you done to — uhm — deal with that type of issue?
Matthew: Uhm — Not doing pre-orders again.
Julien: So you’re not doing pre-orders. It’s not worth the headache of getting 10 complaints a day.
Matthew: Exactly, yes.
Julien: It’s a great way to grow your business exponentially really. So you went back to the safer option of you buy a container, and then once you’ve got enough money to buy another container, you buy another container.
Matthew: So yes, that’s what I was doing. A lot of people telling me now. I keep running out of stock now because I’m doing that.
Julien: Of course, yes.
Matthew: A lot of people saying, if you just went and got a business line, you could have had that product in stock and that extra sales, the extra profit you would have made, it could have easily covered any interest or expense of the business line. It may as well justify getting a line to sort of do that. I haven’t done that yet, but I think I’ll go with.
Julien: Yes, because the problem is, with a very diversified — uhm — product line, with different sizes, different products, some products would be out of stock, but you will have lots of other products still in stock, right?
Matthew: Yes, definitely. It’s always hard staying on top of all that, working out which products you’re going to sell fast, which ones aren’t going to sell fast, how much stock I’ve got currently, how much stock I’ve got in storage and staying on top of all of that. It’s probably over 150 different product lines now.
Julien: 150 product lines, oh my God!
Matthew: 150 different product lines. So yes, it’s a bit of a nightmare at the moment, and it’s only getting worse too. [laughter]
Julien: So where do you store your products?
Matthew: Uhm — At the moment, I’m paying for storage. Uhm — So most of the stuff is still there, — uhm — the rest of it is stored in sort of my house in the garage.
Matthew: It works. It just basically wraps up the oldest one, one at a time to come.
Julien: So you open the cabinets at home and there is a wine rack.
Matthew: Oh yes, there’s boxes everywhere.
Julien: Your parents haven’t complained yet?
Matthew: A little bit but there’s still boxes everywhere. [laughter]
Julien: So that’s actually, you described 2 problems. One of the biggest one is cash flow, how to deal with cash flow because most businesses get killed by cash flow. Let’s say you never received your container for instance, it just disappeared, and so what do you do? You need to give back the money to — uhm — your customers and then your suppliers, he got his money and he’s put the container in the ship, so there’s no problem. [laughter]
Matthew: Exactly. There’s a lot of risk involved, so that is like the risk takers reward. That’s why not many people do this, because there’s a lot of risk in it.
Julien: That’s right. That’s one of the reasons there’s not a lot of people, because if you get burned once, then you need to learn from it.
Matthew: Exactly, yes.
Julien: So there’s a big reward if you get the business learn that you can fulfill all the orders — uhm — but you never know what might happen.
Julien: You get 3 containers, with a business known, and then eBay changed the rules and no orders come through.
Matthew: What if people stop buying them or people are no longer interested in them or there’s another competitor in the market. Yes, it’s a lot of risk involved.
Julien: Yes, because there’s always people checking what products are selling well, and if they see your products selling well, then they might follow it. Uhm — I remember a friend of mine, he started exactly like you, selling movie lights, you know it’s a tripod.
Julien: Yes. So that was 5 years ago, right? Everyone wanted them and it was so hard to get, and he was really killing in margin. Now, you can buy them from Aldi. [laughter] That just shows you.
Matthew: Yes. You’ve really got to get lucky with the timing as well.
Julien: That’s right. He was really explaining, to find the product that is in the niche, that people really are looking for and are ready to buy. You don’t want to educate them to buy it.
Matthew: Exactly, yes.
Julien: But you don’t want Big W to be selling the product.
Julien: Alright, that was a good example, thanks. Uhm — So you went through university, you’re still at university while you deferred and there was a coaching space or a pre-incubator program there. What do you think universities should do to support studentpreneurs like you?
Matthew: Uhm — I think the Hatchery program is a good start, especially what UTS is doing towards entrepreneurs. I think there’s definitely a lot more that can be done. Uhm — I think one of the things, I’m part of the UTS IS club which is an entrepreneurial society, and actually one of the real things we’re working on is basically connecting a lot more students together. There’s a lot of students that have ideas that don’t know how to move forward. There’s a lot of people that have sort of Apps and don’t have anybody or know anybody that can develop those Apps. Uhm — Basically, I think it needs to do a lot more investment in connecting all the different students from all different faculties together. Uhm — Because at the moment, the Engineering faculty is completely separate from the business faculty and there is no communication or collaboration between them.
Julien: And Engineering students know how to do things, whereas business students don’t know how to do things but they’ve got ideas on what should be done.
Matthew: They know process of doing it. Basically connecting students and once you have 2 or more people, you get like a much more stronger team, and basically working with that.
Julien: Yes. And have you been to competitions such as — uhm — Startup Weekend or Project Pitch for UTS as well, which is a little example of a moment where students from different faculties can get together on a project.
Matthew: Yes, definitely, I was part of Project Pitch this year, and that was like a big competition that we were running. Uhm — I’ve also gone to a lot of networking events, but not so many hyker-tons [inaudible 36:08] or competitions. I just haven’t got time.
Julien: Yes, of course.
Matthew: It’s probably 7 days a week I’m working, at the moment. But usually try to find time at the other end.
Julien: Okay, cool, that’s a really good one. Trying to connect different people, that’s a feedback that comes back a lot because one of the big benefits of being a student and an entrepreneur at the same time, you can reach out to so many types of people and have employees with good ideas and working for nothing basically.
Matthew: Yes, exactly right, which is great, it’s a huge benefit. Uhm — The other thing we’re working on with UTS is just helping students develop their own ideas because a lot of people have great business ideas but they don’t know how to move forward with it, they’re not putting it to the side, they’re just leaving it down there. Just basically identifying that student and saying, look, here’s a space, we can work on your idea, here is all bunch of connections of people that can help you and sort of help you develop that.
Julien: Yes, identifying the student, that’s a tough one.
Matthew: That’s hard to get.
Julien: Because — uhm — like you, you didn’t tell anyone what you were doing back in January.
Matthew: Yes, pretty much.
Julien: So how do you find people like that? And they’re not the ones that will respond to an email sent by the university really. [laughter]
Matthew: Yes. It’s just some networking events, just finding people and getting the word out.
Julien: Yes, now we can [inaudible 27:24] at the good ones. Alright, so we come to the end of this interview. Uhm — Do you need anything right now, or do you have a call for actions for our audience?
Matthew: Uhm — Not really. I’d say I’m probably looking for a mentor, somebody who’s got experience of turning like a small business into like a much bigger business. I’ve got like a lot of plans with Wine Stash, just somebody who could pin down that possible flaw and someone that has a lot of experience with that. That would be great to meet somebody like that. Uhm — But no, that should all be good.
Julien: Excellent. Well, we wish you the best to grow your business, and don’t forget to enroll back at the Uni when you finish automating the business.
Matthew: I’ll be back at Uni.
Julien: Excellent. Alright, Thank you very much Matthew, have a good one.
Matthew: You too.
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