- Shan Shan Fu started her e-commerce business, Millennials In Motion, as a side hustle.
- She sold face masks during the early stages of the pandemic and now sells socks and tights.
- Fu believes that anyone can start a successful e-commerce business with less than $2,000 upfront.
Shan Shan Fu’s e-commerce company started as a pandemic side hustle.
The Covid lockdown was the perfect time to experiment with a business idea, Fu told Insider: “Any serious start-up founder will tell you that when they’re grinding on their company, they do not want distraction.”
After wrapping up her day job — she was working at an IT consulting firm at the time — Fu would work on Millennials In Motion, a face mask company she started in April 2020 after realizing her friends were having a hard time finding high-quality face coverings.
Her side hustle has evolved into a full-time gig: After six months of successfully selling face masks, Fu left her corporate job to focus on scaling her start-up. Today, she brings in over $42,000 in revenue a month selling products like socks and tights on Amazon, according to documents viewed by Insider. She also sells on Etsy, Walmart, and her website.
She launched Millennials in Motion with about $2,000 of her own savings.
Most of that money, $1,250, went towards her first batch of inventory. Her other upfront costs included: setting up a limited liability company (LLC) for $370, a $220 Rollo printer, and a $13 Canva subscription. She also spent $70 on logo printing and $45 on poly bags to mail her product.
She did it with little to no experience, too.
“I learned everything from YouTube,” Fu told Insider. “I just kind of put together the business and made it up as I went.”
The 34-year-old entrepreneur believes that anyone can build a profitable e-commerce business with less than $2,000 upfront. Here’s her step-by-step guide to getting started:
1. Watch 200 educational e-commerce YouTube videos
This is exactly how Fu learned the ins and outs of running an e-commerce business.
“I would watch these ‘I made 20 grand a month selling on Amazon’ videos that walk you through the process step-by-step and think, ‘I can do this too!'” she said. “Some of them are quite broad but if you watch enough of them — I’ve watched hundreds by now — you eventually get the gist.”
“Put it on in the background when you’re washing dishes,” she advised. “Eventually, if you watch enough of these videos, it’ll get absorbed into your brain and that will manifest into action.”
2. Post products on Poshmark and make 3 sales
Once you’ve educated yourself on how e-commerce works, it’s time to actually take action.
Pick out a couple of items from your closet that you never wear — preferably something with a brand name, she said — and list them for sale on the social marketplace Poshmark. Anyone can sign up for free and list items either online or through the app. The first item Fu listed on Poshmark was a Club Monaco blouse for $25 and she got free shipping supplies from USPS.com
This step will cost you nothing but teach you about customer service, shipping, product description writing, and other key elements of running a successful e-commerce business.
3. Buy 10 inexpensive products and post them on Etsy
Next, head to your local thrift store, a craft fair, or Alibaba.com and buy 10 inexpensive products — anything from fake flowers to wooden spoons, she said. You can buy 10 of the same product if you want.
Don’t get caught up in picking the perfect product, she emphasized. This step isn’t about trying to make money. You’re simply learning how the process of buying and selling online works.
Once you have your 10 items, post them on Etsy and set the goal of making three sales. You’ll learn how to write product listings, get experience taking photos of products, understand more about search engine optimization (SEO), and figure out how Etsy ads work.
Selling on Etsy doesn’t require setting up a company or getting an LLC. If you eventually decide to take your business to the next level, you’ll probably want to set up an LLC, said Fu, but at this point you don’t have to worry about those legal intricacies.
Fu recommends launching one product per day: “That’s best for Etsy’s algorithm and it gives Etsy the impression that you’re a frequently updated shop.”
You can also turn on Etsy ads, she explained, and spend $5 per day on advertising for seven days. It should help you get traffic. Another tip to getting your first sale: Max out the picture slots, so if Etsy allows you to upload 10 photos, use all 10, said Fu. Take pictures of every angle of the product and people using the product.
4. Download eRank and Helium 10
These are both subscription softwares that can help you improve your SEO and grow your online business. Helium 10 will tell you everything you need to know about demand and competition on Amazon, while eRank is specific to helping drive more traffic on Etsy.
“This is when it gets real,” said Fu. At this point, you’ve learned the basics of running an e-commerce business and have made sales on Poshmark and Etsy. If you liked the process, you can start listing products on Amazon and investing in helpful tools like Helium 10 and eRank to find keywords with high demand, high search volume, and low competition.
You can search for any keyword, such as “cute socks,” she explained. “And it will tell you something like, ‘cute socks’ has 10,000 monthly searches and 1,000 competitors. You have to compare all the keywords that are out there and find the ones that have the highest demand with the lowest competition.”
A key part of Fu’s strategy is launching on Etsy to test her products before taking them to Amazon. It’s cheaper and easier to sell on Etsy, she explained: “With Amazon, you have to have a barcode for every unique product and variation of a product. It’s not very difficult to get but you have to buy it, so it’s an extra cost.”
Typically, 20% of her products do 80% of her sales, she explained. Whichever products perform the best on Etsy, she brings to Amazon.
Fu pays $100 a month for Helium 10 and $6 a month for eRank.
Despite her success, she still runs a lean operation. Instead of hiring professional photographers and models to showcase her products online, for example, she uses her iPhone and asks friends to pose in the masks. She doesn’t rent a studio; rather, they take the photos on the streets of San Francisco. Another helpful, free tool she uses is Gimp, an image editor that she uses to paste her product images on a white background. That helps make your listing page look more professional, she said. She also pays $13 a month for the design tool Canva.
Starting an e-commerce business as a side hustle is probably the most risk-averse way to do it, she said. Between inventory and subscriptions to platforms like Amazon Seller Central and Etsy Plus, business expenses add up.
Even though her revenue numbers are now exceeding $40,000 a month, she still works part-time as a consultant for an Amazon advertising agency called Trivium and a legal start-up called OnlineVisas, which is the company that helped her secure her O-1 visa.
“If your only source of income is from one e-commerce company, that is really risky,” said Fu. “I don’t think everyone necessarily needs to be an entrepreneur full-time, but I do think everyone should have a side hustle.” Besides being able to earn extra money, “it’s so mentally fun and stimulating,” she said.