I was enthralled when the first The Fast and The Furious film came out. Like most boys my age, I got excited about the idea of modifying engines and tricking out cars. I was gearing up to get my learner’s permit and ready to hit the roads. As I sat in school, all I could think about was cars, cars, cars.
But I was also a budding entrepreneur. At the time, eBay was still pretty new to the retail industry, so there weren’t too many businesses in the marketplace. I wondered if I could unite my passion for cars with my desire to make money. After identifying a market interested in the aftermarket auto space, I purchased inventory, listed it on eBay, and began selling.
Let me tell you, it was a rocky road.
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The lessons about entrepreneurship I learned selling aftermarket car parts as a teenager have stuck with me to this day.
Here’s what I discovered during this first business venture:
1. Nurture your ideas and commit to them.
There’s a big advantage to starting anything early, and countless entrepreneurs will tell you stories about how their first foray into the business world was running a lemonade stand as a kid.
Growing up, I was more into baseball cards than beverages. But I definitely had an interest in buying and selling. I remember constantly thinking about how I could trade certain cards to grow my collection.
Once I started my eBay business, I went all in.
I didn’t know if it was the best idea, but I thought it might just work. And as a teenager living at home with my parents, I knew I had nothing to lose: no bills to pay, no family to support. Because I dove right in, I was one of the earliest sellers in the online marketplace.
I made what I perceived to be a lot of money at the time—and eventually sold my company.
But what was more valuable than my earnings was the lesson that by getting into an entrepreneurial mindset early, I was better able to identify potential markets, distinguish between good and bad ideas, and follow through on my ideas.
2. Listen to your customers.
Today, it seems obvious that customer feedback is essential to growing any business.
Yet, in the early days of eBay, everyone was too busy navigating the fundamentals of how to buy and sell online to focus on a customer’s input. To stand out, I made it my priority to get positive feedback from buyers—and this commitment to customer service paid off.
Nowadays, customer satisfaction is still paramount to any online company. After all, earning great reviews on eBay is no different than getting positive reviews on a platform like Yelp or Airbnb. Whether you’re a sales manager, a store manager at a Publix in Orlando, Florida, or a senior software engineer creating the latest app, you won’t get anywhere without listening to your customers.
In the end, your success or failure comes down to your customers.
3. Understand that success breeds a cycle of confidence.
Once you’re consistently making sales and getting positive customer feedback, everything changes. You feel increasingly confident and want to strive for more.
No matter what you’re selling, you have to be focused on why you’re doing it. Even though I was excited about the profit from selling in the aftermarket auto space, I only focused on that space because I thought cars were cool. But once the money began rolling in, I became more assured of myself and my ability to increase both sales and profit.
Every successful sales director knows that each win empowers you to strive for the next step, the next opportunity, the next big thing.
4. Know some things are out of your control—and some aren’t.
Early on, I realized things don’t always go according to plan.
My favorite quote is: “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.” I truly believe that nothing is thrown at us that we can’t handle.
In my early days, I knew an entrepreneur who spent three months dealing with a client who didn’t pay for one month’s worth of work—and he never recovered his money. But rather than making countless calls and feeling aggravated, he could have spent that energy finding new clients who would pay.
Instead of writing it off as a sunk cost and moving on with his business, he fought an uphill battle that eventually led to nothing. Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t a time and place to pursue unpaid debts depending on the situation.
Whether your shipment gets lost, you face a legal dispute, or you lose a business partner, problems are inevitable. Knowing how to cut your losses, especially when something’s out of your control, is essential for prolonged success as an entrepreneur.
5. Realize the basic lessons of entrepreneurship don’t change.
Fundamental business principles hold true over time, which is why I still can apply what I learned almost two decades ago to my work today.
Figuring out how to get visitors to my eBay site was not much different from driving online traffic to a website. Instead of selling in the auto space, I came to realize I could build a website with ads on it, or sell other people’s products. I got into the advertising space, and all my experiences with generating online traffic led me to where I am today with multiple business ventures and almost two decades of experience with marketing and branding.
Selling in the aftermarket auto space on eBay wasn’t the most glamorous entry into the business world, but truthfully, it doesn’t matter where you start. The wisdom you’ll gain from running your first company will stay with you in your entrepreneurial toolbox, always there for you to tinker with your next idea.
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