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This is the 9th article in my newest series, Entrepreneur Stories. This series centers around a variety of different side hustlers and entrepreneurs, their unique journeys and how they make it all work.
I am floored by the number of amazing people and stories I have been able to feature so far, including this one. I hope that these stories help inspire and empower you in your own experience and journey (if you’re an entrepreneur or if you’re not and still want inspiration for something else you want to start in your life).
This interview is with Nate and Alysha Jackson who are elementary school teachers turned entrepreneurs thanks to Amazon retail arbitrage. Their story is especially interesting and will inspire the heck out of you (I was so inspired that I created my own Amazon Seller account afterward).
So grab on to your laptops or smartphones because this is going to be an exciting ride!
Tell us a little about yourself and your business.
My husband and I are former teachers turned business owners. When we were newlyweds, we decided that we would grow our family through foster care/adoption.
However 5 years later, when we started looking into growing our family, we realized quickly that we could not afford to be a single income family… so we looked for side hustles.
We read about Amazon and specifically “retail arbitrage” and saw a lot of potential. It had little to no startup costs, and the scalability of it is seemingly infinite.
We started by taking $100 and going to some thrift stores, garage sales, and Walmart. We got things like books, canned goods, lightbulbs, and other random things from the clearance aisle. We then took our sales from that and reinvested 100% of the profits back into more inventory.
We continued to do this and continued to reinvest 100% of the profits. After our first year, we had done over $180,000 in sales. Now three years later we have quit teaching, done over a million dollars in sales, and we both stay home full time with our 2 beautiful foster loves.
Currently, the majority of our sales come from bras that we purchase from stores like Kohl’s. We’ve actually spent more money on bras at Kohl’s then on our entire house!
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What made you want to embark on this entrepreneurial journey and start your own business?
When we looked into one of us being a stay-at-home parent, we realized just how pitiful the teacher salaries in our county were. We ran the math and learned that if my wife stopped teaching, we would qualify for government assistance with just me as a public school teacher (our county hasn’t given a raise in 15+ years, and this wasn’t going to change anytime soon).
We NEEDED another option and worked hard to make it happen for ourselves.
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What were you doing before? What made you want to leave that and do your own thing?
We LOVED teaching but having a flexible lifestyle as a family was just too great to pass up. We never intended on growing a million-dollar business, we just want to stay home with our kids and enjoy these years with them, and eventually travel with them. We were really blessed and our hard work paid off.
Starting a business is not easy. What was the hardest thing you faced when getting your business off the ground?
For Amazon, the hardest part is just jumping in and continuing to push on through the early roadblocks.
The hardest parts when starting Amazon are:
- Setting up an account
- Sending your first shipment
- Finding your first inventory
- Dealing with brands that you’re restricted from selling
If you can push through these 4 things, then there’s no turning back. We’ve taught countless people how to do replicate our business model, and what people quickly realize is that Amazon is not a “get rich quick” situation. It takes hard work to push through the beginning stages.
Did you have any sort of savings that you applied towards getting your business up and running or did you take out a loan? Can you guide us through how that was like?
Personally, I was super skeptical of if/how this all would work. My husband is the idea person, and I am the realist!
We had very little money at the time as well, and so we chose an amount of money that we were okay losing. $100 is about what we would spend on date nights every 2 months, so we used that money to start the business.
The great part about retail arbitrage (when compared to other methods of selling on Amazon) is that you can start with tiny budgets and work with whatever you have.
When your budget is small, you have to get creative in sourcing items for cheap or even free… so we put in a lot of legwork into finding things like books that we could get for under $1 per item. There were times where we would stop outside of the dumpster to snag books that people left out (and we sold those same books for over $150!).
We tried to save all of our budget for inventory, so if there was a free way to do something, we would do it. We had the free individual account to start, got boxes from the dumpster (and inventory sometimes).
We would post “Free Book Haul Away” to get free inventory that way, and then Nate would spend a TON of time in stores finding the best possible items with the highest ROI.
To this day, if somehow everything crashes and burns, we can still look at each other and say “At least we’re only out $100 bucks!”
How long did it take to actually start profiting from your business?
We made our first sale the first day our inventory was available and we actually sold about 50% of everything we had sent within a week. We didn’t make a ton right off the bat, but because we didn’t pay ourselves anything and just reinvested 100%, we snowballed those profits very quickly.
Our first payout was small, but as soon as it hit our bank account, Nate was hitting the stores again to find more inventory. We could usually double our profits every few weeks. We turned 100 into 200, then 200 into 400, and so on.
5 months in and we had done over $40,000 in sales. Even though we profited quickly, we didn’t pay ourselves until we quit our teaching jobs 1.5 years later.
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What legal issues/roadblocks (if any) you experienced during this start-up period?
Nothing too serious. Setting up a sole proprietor was easy to start. We incorporated last year, but we had our accountant set all that up for us.
We do occasionally get nasty-grams from brands who think we are selling fakes, but these aren’t a big deal since we can prove the authenticity of our items by submitting our receipts to Amazon.
What did you do in regards to finding health insurance and contributing to retirement?
We looked around and eventually went with a health share company. Ours is faith-based but there are a lot of great options out there.
For non-emergency large procedures (kids braces for example), we will be flying overseas. It is actually much cheaper to fly and do it in a place like S Korea or Mexico then it is to do it here (and the service tends to be much better as well).
We have a solo401k (Small business owner with no official W2 employees) that we are pumping funds into as well as actively investing in rental properties that we intend on keeping until we’re so old that we forget we own them.
How do you find the time to still tend to your own personal life and needs?
For the first year, we didn’t. We worked 50+ hours a week as teachers and then worked another 30-40 on Amazon. But we had an end goal and a purpose so it didn’t always feel like work.
Now that we’re up and running we’ve been able to automate a lot of our systems so we actually only spend around 30 combined hours a week on Amazon. We also don’t intend on growing the business much larger.
We are making plenty of money and are spending the majority of our days with our kids. We would rather continue enjoying these early years with them than to make fist-fulls of cash.
What tools do you use and recommend to others to help manage your time, life and overall well-being while running a business?
Specifically for our business, I recommend a few things:
- Hire packers and preppers right away. Clearance items will need the clearance sticker taken off. This is a very menial task and should be outsourced.
- Get an accountant. My time is better spent sourcing than it is figuring out tax law. They are well worth the money!
- Figure out which parts of your workflow are slowing you down and get tools to make those faster. We have a list of tools that we use in our group if you want ideas about specific items we currently use.
- Create a schedule. Schedule in family time or else your excitement over the businesses success will take over every minute of your day.
What was one book, online article or another form of inspiration that guides you through your day-to-day work?
The 4-Hour Work Week is fantastic.
Other than that, we binged watched HOURS of YouTube videos and interviews.
Tell us one way your lifestyle has changed since becoming an entrepreneur?
I don’t remember what day of the week it is. Mondays are Fridays and Saturdays are Tuesdays. They all became the same to me instead of dreading the coming week after every weekend.
What are 3 tips you have for others who are thinking about starting their own business?
Our top 3 tips are:
- Don’t get analysis paralysis. Mistakes are good. Jump in and make them.
- If you’re willing to spend money on college, you should be willing to spend money on education. For us, we spent money on making mistakes (which was our education).
- Join a community about whatever it is your trying to do. For Amazon FBA, we have a great community over at Facebook.com/groups/hustlebuddies where our members are fantastic about lifting each other up, pushing each other further, and giving actionable tips for new sellers.
Think back to a time before you had your own business. What would you tell the “you” that you were back then?
“Remember when you sold that one textbook on Amazon in college 10 years ago? KEEP DOING THAT OVER AND OVER!”
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us! Any parting thoughts?
Our pleasure! We’re happy to share our experience. For those who found this interesting and want to learn more, we have started a facebook community to help bring new and experienced sellers together in an uplifting and positive environment.
We do lots of free videos and behind the scenes posts over there as well as tips, advise, and webinars.
Check us out over at HustleBuddies.com and our social media:
Nate and Alysha Jackson are elementary school teachers turned entrepreneurs. Currently, they live in Florida, but have called many cities and countries “home”. 6 months ago they became parents to two beautiful children through foster care, and are fur-parents to two rescue pups. They run multiple successful businesses including a 7 figure Amazon FBA store, but in their spare time they enjoy traveling, fishing, and sleeping (when their children let them).
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Daniella is the creator and author of iliketodabble.com. When her wife Alexandra and her aren’t globetrotting or playing with their 7+ animals, they are hustling and working towards a future of financial freedom.