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Kobe and Du are e-commerce experts and two of the most insightful online marketers I know.
These guys are always dropping gems on Twitter, so I’m excited to get BOTH of them on today’s interview.
SIDE BAR: Kobe and Du have also created an impressive course called Ecom Secret Sauce that you should definitely check out if you want to crush it in ecom.
Let’s start with intros for the readers who don’t know you.
Where are you from?
When and how did you get into online marketing?
What’s up ya’ll. It’s Kobe. Born and raised north of Atlanta, Georgia.
I was 15 or 16 when I first got started in ecommerce, I was really into ebay dropshipping at the time.
Unfortunately I can never sell on ebay again but I did manage to make a few thousand dollars profit in just a few days.
From there I transitioned into customizing sneakers and into a digital marketing internship where I stayed low key for a while, twiddling my thumbs, not really knowing how sell things online.
I tried lawn care, a self-improvement blog and creating twitter accounts..
All of these ventures were trash.
It wasn’t until I started creating campaigns at my job for our clients did everything start to click in regards to what was really possible with this whole ecommerce thing.
I started to understand the basic concept of buying low and selling for a profit but I only started making real progress once I stumbled upon the power of branding.
Hey guys, I’m Du and I’m a so cal native currently living in Los Angeles, CA.
I started dabbling in the online marketing game back in April of this year, but didn’t really take it that seriously (or make any money) until about late July.
I’d say that my entry into this space was pretty unique in the sense that money wasn’t my primary motivator.
Instead, it was driven by an honest search for personal fulfillment.
Coming from an Asian family, traditionally “prestigious” jobs were championed, so I ended up behind a cubicle at a major financial institution right out of college.
Almost immediately, I knew that a lifetime of glorified number crunching would be the death of me, but I was too scared to look inward and truly figure out what kind of life I wanted to live.
Eventually, I hit a breaking point around the two year mark and started following Wall Street Playboys on Twitter with the hopes of finding an escape from the depressing slump I was in.
However, what was originally supposed to be a coping mechanism turned into a huge paradigm shift.
Through WSP, I ended up finding guys like Nate Schmidt, James Holt, and Kobe Gatsby who were not only making full-time incomes from their laptops, but also flipping my original definition of success on its head.
It took a couple months of following, but once that monumental “hey, I can do this too” became very apparent in my head, the rest was history.
A lot of people struggle with choosing a business model.
There’s affiliate marketing, coaching, info products, etc.
What made you get into e-commerce?
I touched on a few things above but I didn’t mention how i’ve always been that kid that was selling something, since elementary school.
My parents shopped wholesale so I would always tag along and get them to buy me large boxes of candy, chips and the cool pencils everyone liked.
As I grew older, everyone knew I was keen on selling things for a profit, it could be a pair of shoes or even basketball shorts.
If the price was right i’ve never been too attached to anything.
This made my transition into e-commerce so much easier because i’ve always had the eye to see opportunity, I just needed the right guidance.
As I previously mentioned, my entry into the online marketing space was primarily driven by a search for personal fulfillment.
Thus, when I was deciding which business model to pursue, I never asked myself which one would make me the most money.
Instead, I asked myself two questions: “what was I good at?” and “what did I enjoy?” - I always knew that I was an insanely effective storyteller and that I loved creating visual content, so e-commerce was the crystal clear choice.
By making decisions based off of these two questions, life turns into a fun game that you’re already primed to crush, and when you’re playing your favorite game, the money somehow always “magically” appears.
Let’s talk dropshipping since it’s such a popular topic right now.
What do you think are the pros and cons?
Who is it a good fit for and who is it NOT a good fit for?
Dropshipping is borderline perfect for anyone looking to get their feet wet in the ecommerce space.
You can be fully equipped to do some damage with about $1,000 and can compete in the big leagues.
No other physical product business allows you to do that.
Essentially it’s great for anyone who wants to learn how to build a passionate following of people online and sell them things they grow to love.
There isn’t a better business to test the waters, make decent money and move on to something else with confidence that you can make it work.
It’s basically the G-League of e-commerce.
On the other hand, as cool as dropshipping is, there are some real downsides that turn many people away.
For whatever reason lots of people say they feel “scammy” selling stuff from China, I call bs because basically everything is from China anyway but let’s pretend that’s the real reason.
So that’s one thing but another thing is, exactly what Du says, lack of control.
You really are at the mercy of your supplier to keep the product quality up to par and produce/ship your orders in time.
It’s also not for anyone who isn’t willing to put in the extra work to make things stand out and really resonate with people.
There are tons of people who make it seem like you just find a video, a product, launch facebook ads and BOOM tons of profit but that system is completely unsustainable.
Point is, if you are looking for an “easy” business look somewhere else.
The most salient pro to dropshipping is the ability to sell physical products without having to carry or fork up a huge upfront investment for inventory.
In other words, as long as you’re able to elicit an emotional response in people, you’ll be able to turn a few hundred dollars into tens of thousands consistently.
This low barrier to entry evens out the playing field and gives a high school dropout the same chance of success as you, me, us, and them.
However, on the flip side, two huge cons are the lack of control over the supply chain and the creative restrictions.
Because the inventory is usually housed overseas, it takes 2-3 weeks for customers to receive their products.
Additionally, the hands-off nature of the inventory also means that you’re unable to “design” your products (logos, packaging, etc.), which undermines the customer experience.
All in all though, as long as you’re able to elicit an emotional response, this’ll readily make up for any con.
If you’re unable or unwilling to do this either through words or pictures, dropshipping isn’t for you.
Again, it doesn’t matter how much money you have to begin with (a few hundred will suffice); it comes down to how much you enjoy and are good at inciting strong emotions in people.
I see some people saying that “dropshipping is dead.”
As soon as I see someone say X is dead, my B.S. Detector goes off.
So let’s set the record straight:
How is dropshipping evolving as a business and fulfillment model?
What should beginners know?
Exactly Dennis, things never die.
They just get a little tougher but if you know how to adjust you can still make it work.
That’s where dropshipping is right now, it’s shifting.
The days of random stores doing $50k in week selling pancake flippers are falling off.
Facebook is clamping down and consumers are getting smarter.
They would much rather pay $30 from a legitimate looking brand than $9 on a random obvious dropshipping store.
So beginners all need to know - invest in your appearance and double down on your emotional big idea.
That’s what will set you apart and allow you to keep making it happen for a long time to come.
As far as dropshipping itself being dead, it’ll never die. Why?
Because everyone does it.. Even Amazon, they are the biggest dropshipping enabler on the planet.
Dropshipping is just a fulfillment model and as long as you view it as just a way to ship your products, you can shift and morph effectively as the market changes.
Dropshipping is far from being dead.
Rather, it’s just different now, and the people who are unwilling to adapt to these differences get left in the dust.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed is the widespread shift towards authenticity.
No longer are dropshippers able to make money through gimmicky tactics such as “free+shipping” offers and humongous countdown timers, as people are sick of seeing cheap, impersonal ads on their social media feeds.
With that being said, if you’re a beginner dropshipper, your success will depend on how well you’re able to brand your store.
In other words, how well you’re able to communicate emotions and reinforce an identity and lifestyle as it pertains to a specific type of person.
Instead of convincing everyone and their mothers to buy a black watch, you’d study the emotions, identities, and lifestyles of bougie millennial women (for example) and provide them with the “Santa Monica” watch that communicates and reinforces those exact emotions, identities, and lifestyles.
Providing targeted value through the principles of human connection is how you authentically turn a random product into a prized possession.
Let’s go broader.
How has the e-commerce industry changed since you guys got into it?
And where do you see the biggest opportunities in 2019?
A few years ago, if a new company with amazing branding came onto the scene, it was something that got lots of buzz. Now?
It’s the norm and you better not expect a pat on the shoulder for doing what you are supposed to be doing.
This is because consumers demand experiences and feelings now more than ever.
Athletic brands have been ahead of the curve.
Their customers don’t care about the specifications of shoes, they want to feel like their favorite athlete.
That’s how everyone is treating their brand in 2019, as a wagon to a specific experience along with a product as a bonus.
Personally, I see the biggest change happening in the influencer space.
Bloggers, vloggers, and Instagram icons are starting to diversify their income streams, shifting from pure ad revenue over to selling their own custom branded physical products.
They’re starting to recognize that e-commerce isn’t just Amazon, but also the cool kid from the suburbs with the loyal fan base of frat boys who are dying to buy his hoodies.
As such, I think huge opportunities lie in either helping these influencers monetize their audiences or becoming an influencer yourself (personal branding).
At the end of the day, people really want to buy from people they feel like they know and care about, so I’m very bullish on going deep (quality) over wide (quantity).
A lot of people on my email list are new to e-commerce.
They’re thinking of starting a store, either as a dropshipper or carrying their own inventory.
What's your advice to these people just starting out?
Anyone who is getting started in e-commerce should be dropshipping. Point blank end of story.
Majority of people will fail, with dropshipping you lost a few hundred bucks, time to pivot.
With holding your own inventory you might be in the hole for multiple thousands, then what?
Keep trying to promote it even as better opportunities pass you by? The best thing a beginner can do is to stay nimble and that’s best done with dropshipping.
Use that flexibility to test multiple markets, products and angles.
Focus on the markets.
The products always come second.
My biggest piece of advice is to always start off with dropshipping before diving into white labeling (custom branded products).
Many people think that dropshipping is its own distinct business model. It’s not.
It’s a fulfillment model.
The biggest difference is simply the fact that with dropshipping, you can test out different products to different target demographics without having to fork up that upfront investment for inventory.
Use dropshipping to learn the ins-and-outs of ecommerce with very little monetary risk.
Then, once you start becoming profitable, think about transitioning into white labeling.
It’s always smart to learn the fundamentals before going all in on more “advanced” territory where you’ll likely have a lot to lose.
What do you see as common beginner mistakes in e-com?
So many people create stores that they would never buy from.
It’s 2018, creating something simple and clean is EASY. So stop going crazy editing your color ways and weird formats.
Shopify makes it easy.
Now the biggest issue is focusing on products instead of markets.
There are lots of softwares that find winning “products” and it makes people think that products are what make businesses work - WRONG.
Markets are what matter.
Remember, products come and go but markets are here forever.
The biggest mistake is focusing on tactics over principles, bar none.
Tactics are “tricks” and “gimmicks” that aim to convince people to buy things from you.
For example, adding an artificial countdown timer to your product page is considered a tactic because it’s easily replicable and can turn obsolete in an instant (it may work today, but once people start seeing through it, you’re in a pickle).
Instead, focus all of your energy on understanding the principles of human connection.
In other words, figure out exactly who you’re selling to and how you’re able to get them excited and invested in your brand.
Don’t ask “what can I sell?” or “how can I make these people buy it?”
Ask “what are the granular characteristics of my specific type of customer?” and “how can I provide them with something that they already want and need?”
By doing this, the game shifts completely from trying to push products onto everyone and everyone (an uphill battle) to simply making a passionate group of people’s days (easy and fun).
You’ve partnered up on a new course, Ecom Secret Sauce.
What’s DIFFERENT about this course vs other ecom courses?
What makes this course special?
Honestly. Me and Du have the best smiles in the ecommerce sphere so that’s #1.
#2 is that most courses leave people with a very specific set of instructions that might work but after a few months you’ll be confused and back at square one.
Our goal was to help people learn how to create brands that will stand the test of time.
This is the best way to learn, focus on the principles and the specific tactics are bonuses.
The main selling point of our course is the fact that it teaches people how to think.
As previously mentioned, it’s completely principle based.
Most courses out there are extremely formulaic and only teach people how to capitalize on hot trends through tactics.
You can’t sustain a profitable brand this way.
As an example, while most courses tell you to find influencers that have 200k - 300k followers (a tactic), our course tells you to find influencers that have a passionate squad of followers who are already primed to buy from you (a principle).
By focusing on formulas such as follower count, you’re ignoring the fact that those followers might not even be in your target market to begin with.
A hot fitness model may have a million followers, but most of their followers are probably men, which would be ineffective if you were selling female products.
However, when you ignore the follower count and go deep into exactly who an influencer’s followers are, it’ll become very clear whether that page will do well or not.
No other course teaches you how to do that like ours.
I’m big on lifestyle entrepreneurship.
I want to keep my work schedule down to like 20 hours a week (or 4 hours a day) and make as much money as possible within that time frame.
Do you think that’s realistic with an e-commerce store?
Or does e-com require a bigger time commitment?
It’s totally doable.
I know you have other projects in place so at times you might be going over the 4 hour mark sometimes but once you get your brand going and get an assistant to fulfill your orders and respond to customers, you’ll be able to stay under that 4 hour mark of focuses work.
I’m the exact same way.
Ideally, I’d want to work 4 hours per day on high-level strategies over spending 12 hours per day dealing with operational headaches.
With ecommerce, the 4 hour day is extremely achievable.
Don’t get me wrong though.
When first starting out, you’ll have to put in those long hours to get your brand up and running.
But once you do, you’ll be seeing money come into your bank account on autopilot while you live your life.
For example, I’m currently working a 40 hour per week job and running an ecommerce brand.
In the early stages, I locked myself in my room for weeks on end to build up the asset.
Once I became profitable, I started automating a lot of the manual processes and outsourcing work to virtual assistants.
Nowadays, I focus all of my energy on finding strategic influencer partnerships and creating content.
All in all, because I built that asset upfront, I reaped the benefits down the line.
Ecommerce isn’t an instant gratification machine.
It’s a long-term play that will pay dividends in perpetuity well into the future.
You also don’t have to constantly get on the phone with clients or cold email businesses, which is a benefit that factored greatly into my lifestyle preferences.
What’s your typical day look like right now?
I like to geek out on daily schedules and I’m curious how you schedule your day.
Aw man. I am about to get exposed.
This actually something I really struggle with.
Time management has always been my biggest struggle.
What’s been working for me is getting all my tasks lined up the night before and then check them off as I go about my day.
I spend my time doing a little client work and then managing brands.
I’ve made the mistake in the past of growing multiple brands instead of just focusing on growing one into a monster.
So that’s where my focus is now.
That being said my days look like this.
Wake up around 8am, do regular tasks/management, check my emails, hit the gym and then any miscellaneous things until I feel like clocking out for the day.
Like I mentioned above, I’m currently working a 40 hour per week job in addition to running my ecommerce brand.
While I’m physically in the office for 8 hours per day, I only “work” for 4 of them.
With the other 4, I dedicate all of that time to ecom and some other side ventures.
So with that being said, I spend the first half of my day posting content, strategizing new growth opportunities, and writing emails (high-ROI work) with a coffee by my side while my mind is fresh.
After lunch, I post tweets, answer DM’s and customer inquiries, and other “maintenance” tasks (low-ROI work).
Once I come home, I’ll eat dinner, hit the gym, and spend another 2-3 hours on things that I wasn’t able to finish earlier in the day.
Eventually, I want to get to a point where the income from all of my side ventures surpass that of my main job.
Once this happens, I plan to go all-in as an entrepreneur and live that 4 hours per day lifestyle that Dennis mentioned.
It seems like I’m always “on,” but it’s all enjoyable to me, so I don’t even consider it to be a burden.
As a final note, I really value my friendships as well, so I always make sure to allocate time every weekend to go on adventures with them and explore the city.
Building off that last question:
What are your views on automation and delegation?
Do you work with VAs?
I’m a freelancer and done some affiliate marketing.
I’d like to launch at least one info product in 2018.
But one of the reasons I’ve held off on e-commerce is it just sounds like a major pain in the ass.
Inventory… shipping… refunds, etc.
Is running an e-com store easier than I think it is?
When first starting I recommend learning how every part of your machine works but once you have the hang of it, putting other people in place is ideal.
I have 2 VA’s that help me regularly.
Things like influencer management and website edits are all handled by them.
Compared to info products, it definitely is more post-sale work but having someone else do it makes it less of a hassle.
Initially, you’ll run into those pains in the ass.
This is simply because you’re fresh to the ecommerce game and need to learn how to navigate the business model and manage your time effectively.
However, once your conscious incompetence turns into unconscious competence (it happens faster than you think), automation and delegation will be your best friends.
For example, for one of the ecommerce brands that I’m working on, I have 2-3 virtual assistants handling fulfillment, photoshop, and other unsexy tasks that take up a lot of precious time.
They only cost $2/hour too!
This has allowed me to focus my energy on what I do best: storytelling, branding, and partnerships.
Let’s talk about mindset.
What do you guys struggle with when it comes to business?
What kinds of doubts do you have?
How do you deal with failure?
We all see the “highlight reel” and I want readers to understand that things DO go wrong, but there’s always a solution.
Time management. Big vision. Time management. Big vision.
Time management has always been a weakness of mine.
If I have 10 hours, it will take me 10 hours to get something done.
While working on something, i’ll finish it early and start on something spur the moment.
Next thing I know, i’m behind for the rest of the day.
Such a simple issue but has take me forever to get a grip on it, I have to have a detailed schedule with times on each event and set hard deadlines on myself to get things done.
Having a big vision is the next part of the puzzle.
Some days I want to create a huge empire and other days I want to work one day a week with other people handling tasks.
This can cause some confusion in terms on what projects to accept and decline.
It causes inconsistencies.
It’s something Dylan Madden has been helping me figure out about myself, what is my ideal big picture.
I’ll have to keep you updated on this once I figure it out.
Personally, I’ve never been completely comfortable with the idea of “spending money to make money.”
Likely due to my upbringing, I’ve always been taught to stockpile money and do everything myself, as stability was highly championed.
So, when I first started to drop thousands of dollars for paid traffic and inventory, it was definitely scary, driven by the irrational fear that my upfront investment would never be recovered.
Undoubtedly, the uncertainty surrounding the potential outcome really messed with my head.
However, after teaming up with power players in our Twitter community, I started to shift from a scarce mindset to an abundant one.
In other words, I started focusing on gratitude.
Even if I were to lose all that money, I’d still have a roof over my head, food to eat, and loving friends and family.
The whole point of getting into ecommerce in the first place was to have fun and become personally fulfilled, so it really didn’t make any sense to never take any monetary risks.
I wanted to make waves in the world, and in order to do that, I couldn’t play on the sidelines.
In the end, I encourage you to think about it this way.
You could literally die tomorrow in a car crash.
Do you want to merely exist as you’ve always existed or drop a couple thousand on a big idea that could not only change your entire life, but also positively affect millions of people in the world? You’re here to thrive and make moves. Don’t settle for anything less.
When you start an online business, I think we all go through a “lone wolf” phase where our family and friends don’t understand what we’re doing.
Oftentimes they aren’t supportive either because they “don’t get it.”
What’s it been like for you guys?
Do your family and friends understand what you do? Are they supportive (or negative)?
Have you had to cut yourself off or distance yourself from certain people?
I have a core group of friends I’ve had since college, but my closest friends all have online businesses.
I have a few friends that are interested in online business but for one reason or another they aren’t taking it as serious as I am.
It gets lonely at times but i’m grateful to have never faced any opposition.
Well actually my moms wants me to come to real estate with her really badly but that's the extent of anyone saying anything to me about what I do.
Everyone tends to see me as a hardworking young guy making something of himself, they might not understand but they like it.
Biggest thing is explaining to people that yes even though I can make my own schedule I still have to workmore than they do at certain times of the month. That can be frustrating.
Unlike most Asian families, my parents are extremely supportive of my ventures.
However, I think that was in large part due to the fact that they could tell that I was serious about it.
They saw the grind, my staying in on Friday nights, and the subsequent results.
In a way, I had to prove to them that I wasn’t wandering aimlessly.
In terms of my friends, I definitely lost a large number of them because I stopped hanging out as much.
My value lied solely in my availability, so it was very clear that they weren’t my real friends to begin with.
With that being said, it also made me very surgical about who I spend my time with.
Currently, I have around 5 friends who I truly consider to be my ride or dies.
Instead of getting mad at me for bailing on parties, these guys are constantly checking up on me on their own accord and pushing me to take my ventures to the moon.
I’m extremely thankful.
At the end of the day, I don’t care if my real friends live different lifestyles, are 9-5’ers, or any of that.
Are they cool people who fill my life with positive energy?
That’s all that matters. I’ll gladly take one friend with high energy and optimism over twenty with mediocre vibes.
You’re both on social media, but I never see either one of you get into arguments.
Don’t you know you’re supposed to spend all day arguing with people?
I’m a pretty chill guy except for when I play sports, I love talking trash then.
But other than that I pretty much share my opinion and stay out the way.
I work too hard to keep good energy to let someone else tamper with it.
Very true, Dennis. I should definitely start getting more triggered by things I don’t agree with.
I’ve been spending way too much time enjoying my life, leveling up, and working towards a vision.
Great wake up call!
I believe the best form of self-improvement comes from running a business.
How has business helped you improve as men?
Personally, it’s made me a LOT more responsible, organized and goal-oriented.
I actually think entrepreneurship and self improvement go hand in hand and a lot of people forget that.
Having a million dollar business is cool but you know what’s even cooler?
Keeping a low body fat throughout the process or still being able to spend time with your family and friends.
If it wasn’t for business I would’ve never started reading books or ever stumbling upon the red-pill which I do make fun of the community at times but the core information is extremely solid.
There’s something about working you take so much more seriously when there’s no guarantees you’re gonna get paid next month.
It forces you to stay on your toes.
Business has completely transformed me as a man.
Before I got into ecommerce, I was a total scrub in terms of mindset.
My default method of operation was to play the victim and blame external forces for my weaknesses and shortcomings.
However, in business, you’re simply unable to blame anyone other than yourself because you’re not reporting to anyone.
It’s your baby.
Didn’t make any money?
Your fault for missing the mark on your ad creative.
Getting customer complaints?
Your fault for not providing them with the service they want.
It forces you to really take full responsibility for your life.
You have no time to get angry or dwell on “bad” things happening, which forces you to be super cognizant of how you deploy your mental energy.
Synergistically, this mental shift has also transferred over to other parts of my life.
Nowadays, I naturally catch myself standing up straighter, making more impactful eye contact, and just doing things on my own terms.
I’m in control of my own destiny, and it’s my duty to craft myself into who I want to be.
Let’s fast forward FIVE years.
It’s the end of 2023.
You’re 5 years older and it’s been 5 years since this interview.
What does your life look like?
Are you living on the beach? A NYC penthouse apartment next to Bruce?
Did you both end up marrying Victoria’s Secret models?
What does your business(es) look like?
What financial goals have you achieved?
I want to understand your Master Plan and what you’re working towards.
I said this earlier, I am working on this exactly but let’s touch on it.
I’m not really into cars or huge cribs but I those things will come but they aren't what i’m chasing.
In 5 years I see myself extremely happy, in better shape, my girl by my side and more spiritual.
I do well for myself now but in 5 years I really want to be able to help my extended family pay their bills and have confidence that both my parents will be comfortable forever.
I’m really big on adventure and really becoming the world's most interesting man so in my spare time I stay well read and go explore new places, I don’t see that ever changing.
This is my favorite question.
In 5 years, I want to be living a life that I’m utterly, positively, and 100% proud to be living.
Sure, I envision myself to be running successful businesses that allow me to have the time and financial freedom to travel and do awesome things.
But honestly, it goes way deeper than that.
Ultimately, I never want to be in a position where I “have to” or “should” do something.
If I find myself waking up in the morning and sighing at the thought of working on one of my ventures, I’ve failed, regardless of how much money I’m bringing in.
Right now, I have a hyper-detailed list of personal values that I’m not willing to compromise on, none of which involve being an international playboy with a Lambo or what most internet entrepreneurs champion.
I want to be an inspiration to everyone around me, to be the sturdy rock for my future wife and kids, and to be so mentally, emotionally, and physically optimized that every day seems like the greatest day ever.
I know that my priorities in 5 years will be way different than those of today, and I’m fully game to embrace whatever those changes may entail.
So, in the end, all I care about is being happy with myself and transferring that happiness to the people I care about.