Where I Was 10 Years Ago

Dec 27, 2019

I started my first business a decade ago.

At the end of 2009 I was 13 years old

After selling candy at school in 6th grade and tinkering with Amazon Affiliate e-commerce unsuccessfully in 7th grade, I recall having a burning urge to create and sell something new in 8th grade.

Middle school was a time when I naturally drifted away from the social group I had been a part of since preschool. This large gap in life opened up a lot of spare time and focus, which fueled the feeling of needing to have a business. That unfulfilled desire to create and sell occupied my mind and conversation with my mom most days for months.

Finally, an idea

One day a classmate pulled out a silver duct tape wallet that his friend from camp made him and people found it so cool, as if he acquired a rare gem no one else could. That night I looked up on YouTube how to make them, and after making a few horrendous looking ones with scissors and a roll of tape, I was getting the hang of it.

My dad and older brother surprised me with two rolls of blue and red duct tape (who knew they came in dozens of colors and patterns?). It wasn't long before I sold my first one to a friend on the bus to school (which was previously my medium for candy sales). Shoutout to Gracie if you ever come across this.

Then it got busy

I acquired more tape colors and patterns, word got around school, and I started taking custom design orders. I set up a workstation in my room, got efficient tools and a process down, and cranked away most nights until I ran out of people to sell to at school. Each wallet sold for $10-20 and took 30 minutes to make with $0.25 of material cost.

To this day I have no idea how I executed on this or what motivated me to bother, but I ended up creating a sizable YouTube channel teaching others how to make my products and showing off completed orders, which fed a virtuous cycle of sales. My dad's coworker's wife created an e-commerce site for me using Dreamweaver and Paypal to allow anyone around the world to customize and pay for their wallet online. Looking back, it's pretty cool to have had that functional website at the time.

You can see here some sample wallets and the packaging I created. I sweated the details and nothing's changed.

duct tape wallets

Then I peaked

My life was: school, making wallets, and making YouTube videos. The post office was my second home. There was always a backlog of orders.

But my pride in the product quality dropped (some unsolvable long-term problems with gunk accumulation at the seams), and I was maturing out of a middle-schooler product as a sophomore in high school. Acquiring 10,000 YouTube subscribers (over 2 million views), making about $15k in profit (from sales and YT ads), attending fairs, selling in a few local stores, and fulfilling that desire to create and sell, made it a pretty good run for two years.

What followed

I then went to two summer entrepreneurship programs right after, one at Babson (where I met my long-time friend and current co-founder, Josh) and then one the following year at MIT (more close friends). Tinkered with some more business ideas until college when I got into trading. And years later it's no surprise I'm still doing my own thing, even while I briefly had a job (Wingman was nights and weekends for months). Having to pay bills adds a real kicker. See: deep interest in personal finance (modified FIRE).

Every attempt to build and sell something bolstered my confidence and skillset to try the next thing, so starting early has served me well so far.

My hope for 2029

In 10 years I want to look back on today with an even greater feeling of growth than I do now on my middle school days. And 33 years old is around the time I've roughly targeted to be financially independent (before kids). Financial freedom enables working on what interests me, eliminates one of the most common stressors, and maximizes flexibility and possibility for my future family.

Outside of that, it's silly to chart out life's path, so we'll see what happens.