How to Start and Sell an Ecommerce Business Without Any Experience [Acquire’d Case Study] 

Are you new to online selling and unsure how to start? 

After teaching himself the fundamentals, Derek Rodrigues launched his ecommerce store Euphoria Rave Clothing without experience. He grew it to $255,000 in revenue, with a total of 4,000 orders and a 20-percent profit margin, before selling it for five figures. His story proves you don’t need to be an expert to start, grow, and then sell an ecommerce business. 

If you want a slice of the global $6.3 trillion ecommerce market, learn how Derek carved out his niche in the step-by-step guide below.  

Step 1. Fill the Gaps in Your Knowledge 

What’s the secret to getting started from scratch in the ecommerce industry? 

It’s about realizing that it isn’t scary and that countless tools and resources exist to make the process (mostly) painless. Whether you’ve got a killer product idea or are just curious about what’s possible, don’t let your lack of ecommerce knowledge stop you from starting your own store. Derek didn’t.

Derek Rodrigues majored in physics at UCLA and became an actuarial analyst after college, but he was always intrigued by the world of ecommerce. He turned to YouTube to learn how to start an online store, such as finding a niche, picking the right products, and understanding how to market to the correct audience.  

Once he understood the basics, Derek invested in a course that explored the details of launching your own ecommerce business. It covered topics like conversion tunnels, demographic and behavioral targeting on social media, and aesthetic website design. 

Step 2. Pick Your Niche

With Derek’s new-found skills, he was (theoretically) ready to open an ecommerce store. But first, he had to pick a niche that would be both interesting and profitable. What was he passionate about? Choosing a niche that aligned with his interests would make the journey more enjoyable, he knew.

Plus, when you’re genuinely enthusiastic about what you’re selling, it attracts customers who share your passion. Derek says, “I love EDM (electronic dance music) and the whole rave culture surrounding it, so I wanted to contribute to that in my own way.” 

Alongside passion, he also had to ensure that particular niche had the potential to generate sales and profits. What products sell in that niche? Are people searching for them? Are they willing to spend money on them? The goal is to find a thriving niche that’s not overcrowded with competitors. 

“I researched clothing stores in the rave niche. Looking at their products and designs, I thought I could create rave clothing that wasn’t available yet. I wanted to design styles that competitors didn’t offer, but I knew ravers and festival-goers would love,” Derek says. 

Step 3. Choose a Suitable Business Model

Once he’d settled on an exciting and (hopefully) profitable niche, Derek needed to bring his ecommerce store to life. How would he bring products to the consumer? What tools would help him do that? How would he turn a profit?

For Derek, the most straightforward way to deliver his clothing to customers was via dropshipping. Dropshipping is a business model where you, as the store owner, don’t keep inventory or handle the shipping logistics yourself. Instead, you partner with suppliers who fulfill the orders on your behalf.

If you want to sell a custom product with your own warehouse, expect to invest as much as $40,000. Remove that need to house inventory – with dropshipping – and suddenly you’re looking at (close to) zero dollars to start your store.

Evaluating partners and platforms, Derek chose dropshipping heavyweights, Shopify and AliExpress. Shopify is a popular ecommerce platform that allows you to build and customize your online store. It offers all the essential tools and features to showcase and sell your products. And it’s user-friendly, so even as a newcomer, you can get your store up and running quickly (without hours of onboarding and training).

Next, AliExpress is a massive online marketplace where you find products at competitive prices. It’s a popular choice for dropshipping because it offers a wide selection of items from various suppliers. You can browse product listings, compare prices, and choose the ones you want to sell in your store.

The beauty of this Shopify-AliExpress setup is that you don’t need to worry about inventory management or shipping logistics. You can focus on marketing your store, driving traffic, and providing excellent customer service while your dropshipping partner takes care of the rest.

You do need to consider factors like shipping times, product quality, and maintaining good relationships with your suppliers. Communicate with your suppliers, establish clear expectations, and monitor feedback to ensure a positive customer experience.

With Shopify as his store-building platform and AliExpress as his dropshipping partner, Derek could start selling products online right away. 

Step 4. Set Up Your Ecommerce Store

With all the elements in place, Derek started designing his Shopify store in June 2020. Here’s what this process usually looks like:

  1. First, set up your Shopify store and design it to reflect your brand and style. Customize the look and feel using pre-designed themes or by tweaking the code if you’re feeling adventurous.
  2. Next, integrate your Shopify store with the Oberlo app (or a similar plug-in). Oberlo helps streamline the process of sourcing products from AliExpress and automates order fulfillment.
  3. Now comes the fun part. Browse AliExpress to find products that align with your niche. Look for reliable suppliers with good ratings and reviews. Derek hand-selected each item of clothing from AliExpress with his target audience in mind.  He curated an exhaustive catalog so that his customers could find anything they wanted to put their rave outfits together. 
  4. Once you’ve imported products, customize their titles, descriptions, and images to make them more appealing to your customers. Create compelling product descriptions and showcase high-quality images – which is exactly what Derek did for each item. 

When a customer places an order on your Shopify store, it will automatically be sent to the supplier on AliExpress. Upon receiving the order details, the supplier will package and ship the product directly to your customer. 

Step 5. Scale Your Business

Although it’s easy to set up your store and dropship items, the challenge is to find customers and scale your business (just as it is for every other type of company). For customer acquisition, Derek focused on social media marketing. He explored Facebook ads, brainstormed his target audience and what types of campaigns to run, and then designed the ads himself.

In April 2021, Derek started testing different ad creatives and copy to determine what was most effective. Soon, the orders started rolling in. Euphoria Rave Clothing’s growth can be attributed to its successful Facebook campaigns. The founder spent a total of $80,000 on ads, with the highest ROAS (return on ad spend) achieved being five – for every dollar he spent on advertising, he earned five dollars back.

Derek says his success lay in continuously optimizing the ad creative and targeting, as well as understanding the nuances of Facebook’s algorithm to maximize each ad’s potential. “If you’re running ads, ask yourself: How do you reduce the cost of your ad? How well will it perform in a bidding war against a competitor? Is your creative engaging for your target audience?”

With the Facebook campaigns driving sustainable growth, Derek’s plan was to expand his social media marketing to new channels, including Snapchat, Tiktok, and Google Ads. However, the founder had his hands full with customer support, and even more so, his full-time job. There was only so much he could do in a day. 

Step 6. Sell Your Ecommerce Business

Alongside Derek’s full-time job and side gig, he was also studying for further actuarial exams. Derek wanted to complete his credentials after putting them on hold for three years. As a result, he didn’t have as much time to dedicate to Euphoria Rave Clothing towards the end of 2022.

“I stopped putting money into advertising and wasn’t creating any new ads, so the store’s revenue started declining. If you don’t change it up, your audience gets ad fatigue. I decided to sell my company because I knew that somebody else would have more time and capital to keep expanding Euphoria. The month before I listed it for sale, I had spent zero on ads but still profited two thousand dollars. I knew there was something viable there for a buyer,” Derek says. 

For Euphoria Rave’s valuation, the founder researched the typical multiple ranges for an ecommerce company with comparable revenue. Unfortunately, the business’s revenue had fallen in the previous months. “Because I wasn’t focusing on Euphoria as much as before, the trailing twelve months (TTM) revenue went down, which is a big factor in the valuation. If I had sold it several months sooner, when the business was still in full swing, I could’ve justified an asking price of almost four times higher,” he says.  

Derek prepared for the sale of Euphoria Rave Clothing by organizing the company’s financials and data, including revenue statements, order information, customer data, email lists, etc. He collected everything that could be viewed as an asset and would be part of the sale. At the end of 2022, Derek enlisted his friend Jordan’s help to sell his company on and manage buyer interest because Jordan had experience selling businesses (and the founder didn’t have much free time). 

“I wanted a buyer who would care about my business. I put so much effort into building Euphoria –  creating the concept, website, product pages, and ads. Most dropshipping businesses fail pretty early on and this one didn’t, and it was my first one. I loved the brand, so it was hard for me to part with it. If I was going to hand my creation to someone else, I wanted to make sure it went to the right person. Someone who respected my niche and had an interest in it – and had enough time and money to invest in growing the company,” Derek says. 

“The acquisition process was very straightforward. We listed my company, evaluated potential buyers, and closed the deal in March 2023 with a buyer who fit my criteria. After that, I just had to ensure we could cleanly transfer ownership, like fulfilling any orders and answering open customer service messages.”

Since the new owners have taken over the ecommerce store, they’ve hired a small team to focus specifically on Facebook marketing. Derek says they are doing very well and Euphoria Rave Clothing is thriving.  

Step 7: Rinse and Repeat 

Once Derek has completed all of his actuarial exams, he plans to return to ecommerce and dive deeper into social media marketing for his next venture.

You can follow in this founder’s footsteps. Remember, you’ve got the potential to build an online empire – it’s just a matter of having the right mindset, a hunger for knowledge, and a commitment to delivering value to your customers. 

So if you’ve been hesitant about diving into ecommerce, let this story serve as your call to action. And if you don’t want to start from the ground up, browse for an existing ecommerce business that you can grow without all the early-stage pain. 

Get content like this, and more, sent directly to your inbox twice a month.