- Erik Soto Ayala, an ex-warehouse forklift operator, started a side hustle to escape the 9-to-5.
- He was willing to start selling anything and researched Etsy products that had minimal competition.
- After landing on personalized wallets, he made $67,000 in profit in his first 10 months in business.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Erik Soto Ayala, a 23-year-old entrepreneur selling engraved wallets on Etsy. It has been edited for length and clarity.
While I was thankful for my warehouse job as a forklift operator and floor product stacker, I wanted to escape the 9-to-5 grind. I knew there was more to life than just clocking in and out.
I quit my job in October after almost four years—handing in my two weeks’ notice was one of my most freeing experiences ever.
I was quitting because I’d launched a side hustle six months earlier and was making more income than my salary. I made $2,600 a month at my warehouse job. In September, my side hustle made $26,000 in revenue, and I took home $14,300.
I tried launching side hustles before, but my Etsy store was different
My side-hustle journey wasn’t easy. I tried launching side hustles in the past — Fulfillment by Amazon, investing in cryptocurrency, drop shipping, and even social-media management — but they all failed. I spent between $2,000 and $3,000 on each venture, working overtime to finance them.
My Etsy endeavor was different because I wasn’t chasing an oversaturated market.
I researched products with low competition instead and improved on what was already out there. Rather than selling brand names on Amazon, I saw a big opportunity with personalized gifts on Etsy.
From wood crafts to embroidery, I was open to starting an Etsy store for anything, and I was constantly brainstorming, watching YouTube videos, and reading blogs by successful Etsy sellers.
By the middle of January, I stumbled across a video on laser engraving that caught my attention. I had never heard of or seen a laser engraver before. I felt in my gut that this was my product.
From January to February, I’d sometimes spend up to eight hours after work researching the Etsy engraving market.
I invested in the best laser-engraver package I could find, which cost me $1,200. I started working overtime in January to save up money to put into my Etsy store. I had saved up enough to buy the laser engraver by the end of February.
The next step was deciding what to engrave. At the beginning of March, I found myself needing a new wallet, and that’s when it hit me: “Why don’t I try engraving wallets?”
I landed on a niche product that didn’t have much competition
After searching for personalized wallets on Etsy, I saw massive potential. There were only two or three competitors on the site. I thought I could offer a better product and better customer service than what was out there. I’d noticed that the comments at my competitors’ stores were mixed at best.
I spent $200 to buy a small order of wallets from Alibaba. When it arrived, I tested the engraver on them, and it looked great. I invested another $400 to start building my inventory.
My fiancée took product photos using my iPhone, and I uploaded them to my Etsy shop. Five days later, my first sale came in.
I knew customer service was something I could control and use to differentiate my store, so I committed to providing the best customer service. This meant replying to customers’ comments as quickly as possible and ensuring next-day shipping.
Prioritizing customer service helped me gain an audience quickly
May was the first month my business was open. I had 16 orders, which totaled $521.20. I made it a point to keep in touch with my customers through Etsy messaging and sent a notification when their orders shipped.
My competitors were shipping three to five days after a purchase, and customers sometimes received their orders two weeks after purchase. I was processing orders the next day. I think this is a big part of why my store took off.
By June, I had made nearly $1,000 in sales. At that point, I was buying bigger bulk orders of wallets to keep up with demand. As sales increased, I knew I had to do something different. I was still juggling my store with my full-time job.
I purchased a second engraving machine in July so my fiancée could help with fulfilling orders. I organized my time into two blocks: engraving and packing at night and customer service early in the mornings and during my breaks at work. This helped me manage work and the Etsy shop.
My Etsy shop was successful enough that I quit my warehouse job
After six months, I’d generated over $80,000, and I quit my warehouse job in October to take my business full time.
I ran Etsy ads to test new products and spent $3,500 over the first six months. I now mainly rely on organic Etsy traffic. I selected a market and a product that people seemed to like, and as long as I deliver great customer service, I believe sales will continue to grow.
By the end of November, I’d made over six figures in revenue in only seven months of selling wallets on Etsy; $67,000 of that was profit.
I control my hours and can be creative while running the store with my fiancée. I invest everything back into the business. I’m hoping to start paying myself a salary and have saved some money in the event the store slows down, but right now, I’m very excited about its future.