Uber Drivers Are Side Hustle Inspiration

In the past year, I’ve used many modes of transportation. While the opportunities to speak with pilots, bus drivers or train conductors are rare, Uber drivers are frequently open to conversation. Typically our talks are about our respective hometowns, what the city is like, tips about venues to see and me constantly checking the route to see if we’re going the right way. The best rides are when the conversation moves beyond the basics. More than just what jobs we have but why we do them. While it’s great to travel the world, it’s not a permanent vacation for me and I’m curious about what other people are doing to make ends meet. For most of the drivers that I meet, Uber isn’t their only job. In fact, it’s usually their side hustle.

My most recent encounter was with Alonzo, a driver in Charleston, SC. His story reminded me of my grandfather, who for many years in New York simultaneously worked at a hospital, drove a cab and had a dry cleaning business. Alonzo told me about his various gigs outside of Uber: a full time job at a local college, a fragrance business, a truck detailing service and selling on Amazon/Ebay. Once we discovered that Amazon selling was something that we had in common, we started sharing our respective experiences and swapping tips. I realized that I was missing some very profitable categories in retail arbitrage and he learned about the advantages of Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA).

I’m not only nomadic in my travels, I’m moving fluidly amongst my roles in pursuing business opportunities. At any given time, I am a mobile app developer or a market researcher or shopkeep. Getting comfortable with the frequent transitions has been helped by my experience in moving from country to country. The languages and customs change with each venue but in gaining confidence in my ability to navigate the world, I am more prepared to face the myriad challenges in making my new life work.

My Retail Arbitrage Experience

I’ve now gone out three times to find products to source for retail arbitrage (RA) via Amazon FBA. I’d heard about it on a few seller podcasts/YouTube vids and wanted to see firsthand what the experience was like. I’ve decided to provide some answers to questions that I had when I started. Perhaps they can help you.2016-10-19-16-20-21

Is it hard to get started? No. I created an Amazon Seller account and in less than 30 minutes and was listing my books and electronics. I had boxes, tape and a printer to package what I needed. I didn’t even have to pay the UPS shipping costs up front. I’m currently doing RA from the road and do my label printing via available business centers (hotel/apartments). Unlike the books I originally sold, I only needed to print a shipping label for each box.

What is your game plan? Each day, I map put an area of town that has a number of retail stores (Walmart, Target, Kmart, Big Lots, Toys R Us). My main focus has been toys as I heard it was a great category for bargains. Some tips:

  • Set a target value for the day. For example, try to get $400 (sale price) worth of  products per day. You can always go over but this gives you a good baseline
  • Set a profit target per item. I’ve heard various opinions on this one. Some people want $10 per item. Some are happy with $5. Others simply want products they can sell for 3x their acquisition cost (approx. 1/3 of that will go to Amazon/shipping costs).
  • Scan each item if you find similar items that are a different color/size. I bought a bunch of markers only to find out that Amazon won’t let me ship the yellow ones (the green and orange are fine). I’m sure it’s a bug but it was a reminder of the old carpentry adage: measure twice, cut once.
  • Upgrade to Pro Seller Account if you think you want to keep doing this. I missed out on many deals simply because I was restricted from a category based on my account type.

How much time do you spend doing this? I try to spend no more than an hour per location and sweep through the clearance sections. After about 4-5 hours, I’m usually ready to call it a day. I’m sure a more savvy shopper could come right behind me and fill a shopping cart with deals that I didn’t think to investigate. Total time in 3 trips was less than 15 hours (including shipping).

How much does it cost/Is it really worth it? I can’t say what the actual ROI is for my time/costs until the products are all sold. Through 3 trips, I’ve spent about $520 for products that should sell for about $1418.

Will you keep doing this? No, as I will be returning to SE Asia in a few days. It’s a fun activity I do each time I’m stateside but I’ve already accomplished my goals in doing RA, namely:

  • Learning more about selling on Amazon
  • Provide first hand experience to anyone interested in trying it for themselves
  • Getting product ideas for private labeling, online arbitrage, wholesaling (all of which I may try at some point)
  • Breaking out of my comfort zone by doing something else to make money.
  • After using existing tools available for doing RA, I now have an app idea to pursue. I constantly joke that my motto is ABD (Always Be Drinking) but in reality it’s ABT (Always Be Thinking of new product/service ideas)

Overall the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s basically a real life scavenger hunt game show with real cash and prizes awaiting you in the end.

Thinking of a Master Plan

I left my job of 3 years in April to focus on developing my own apps and exploring other ways of making a living. I was burnt out and needed a sabbatical. Six months later, I’m looking to pass the mantle of President of Team Hangout to someone else on Remote Year and get back to work. When I left for Belgrade 60 days ago, I assumed that I wouldn’t need to return. I sold most of my possessions. I left someone I trusted in charge of selling my house. I assumed that I would be gone for at least another 6 months, yet I find myself back in the United States.

So What Happened?

The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go often askew

During my presidency, I spoke with a fellow Battuta who is making a living selling private label products on Amazon. I was familiar with drop shipping from an entrepreneurship class in grad school but hadn’t given online selling any serious thought since.

I decided to dip a toe into by creating an Amazon account and selling my books/electronics. While most of the items that I owned were not worth listing, I found a few gems that fetched a decent price, like a chord book of Prince’s The Hits that sold for $100. After watching my sales for a few weeks, I was hooked. The only problem was that I was out of inventory.

So What Now?

  • I’m sourcing products for retail arbitrage for FBA while I’m stateside. I’m both excited and nervous because I’m not sure if this is going to work. I’m currently packing the first shipment of items to send to Amazon. I’m still researching private label products.2016-10-16-12-55-14
  • I’ll continue working on app development (more app-specific posts to come). I haven’t lost my love for creating things, I just needed to diversify my attention (and income sources).
  • The house is still not listed for sale. The situation is further complicated by the effects of Hurricane Matthew. My house sustained damage but thankfully it’s not as bad as the countless others who have been displaced.
  • My tentative plan is to remain in SE Asia after the conclusion of Remote Year. It is inexpensive, the food/weather/people are awesome and there are communities of remotes that are working on both types of businesses where my focus lies.


Where Have You Been?

When I started this Remote Year, I thought that I would be frequently blogging my experiences, keeping everyone updated on my travels. I also thought I would still be working at my job, and returning to the States at the end. It’s amazing how much can change in a year.

In an effort to reignite my blogging efforts, I’m going to start by trying to simply capture my travel life so far, borrowing from a post by Thirty30Courtney

A: Age you went on your first international trip: 26. I took a trip to Toronto for a conference.

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where: I’ve had so many great beers while traveling, it’s nearly impossible to choose. One of my favorites that comes to mind is my first Hofbrau at Oktoberfest. It’s so good that even my domestic beer loving uncle became a fan.

C: Cuisine [favorite]: Thai, hands down. So many flavors.

D: Destinations: Favorite– Spain (Malaga, Barcelona, Sevilla and Cadiz)

Least Favorite – Belgrade. I still had a good time but there has to be a least favorite.

E: Experience that made you say wow: Riding the Death Road in Bolivia. Tearing down that 15,000 foot descending tiny rocky road on a mountain bike was sheer joy! IMG_2323.JPG

F: Favorite mode of transportation: Train. Despite the constant delays and occasional fire (I’m looking at you, Amtrak), I still love riding the rails.

G: Greatest Feeling While Traveling: Freedom. It’s the reason why I do it.

H: Hottest place you’ve ever traveled to: Kuala Lumpur has been the hottest in my international travel but it’s still not as bad as Miami/New Orleans/Atlanta

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced: Home cooking class and dinner in Montevideo img_1745

J: Journey that took the longest: Tie – Cusco, Peru to London/Split, Croatia to Kuala Lumpur. The second was had a long layover in Doha, Qatar so I was able to go into the city and do a little exploring/eat.

K: Keepsake from your travels: I tend to keep money from different countries that I’ve visited. Not big bills but I find the difference in currency interesting. (On that note: Brits, cut it out with the arbitrary coin sizes! You’re better than that)

L: Let-down sight, where & why: While I definitely like some places more than others, there hasn’t been a let-down sight for me yet. The most underwhelming has to be the Sistine Chapel. As a counter, I had much more fun in Croatia than I imagined I would.

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel: My first trip to Europe. I went with no real plans other than visiting a friend in London, seeing an exhibit in Glasgow and going to the French Open. I ended up staying 3 weeks and had some of the best experiences of my life. From there, I was hooked.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed at: Poshness is wasted on me but I once got a free upgrade to a suite at the Beau Rivage for a poker tournament. The room was massive and for one night I felt like a whale.

O: Obsession:– what do you take photos of while traveling: Great street art and small streets always catches my eye.

P: Passport stamps:– how many & from where: 24 (not counting duplicate entries) – Croatia, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, The Netherlands, The Vatican, Malaysia, Singapore, Qatar, Singapore, Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: Not sure it qualifies but the Witches Market in La Paz had some oddities.

R: Really frightening- a place where you felt unsafe or uneasy: The bus ride to our hotel after riding the Death Road. That was far scarier than riding the bike.

S: Splurge- something you have no problem spending on while traveling: Food and drink. One of my favorite parts of traveling is trying new dishes and libations. Thankfully, the best stuff is typically not expensive but I’m willing to spend if its a great experience.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: Hop on/Hop off bus tour in Barcelona. Turned out to be a great to get a lay of the land.

U: Unforgettable Travel Memory: Portugal Road Trip with my roommates in Malaga, Spain. 5 guys crammed into a tiny car. We had no itinerary but one goal: get to Lisbon. Along the way, we shared stories about our lives, partied, ate great food, slept on the beach, clubbed all night to avoid getting a hostel.

V: Visas- how many and for where: 1 visa for Bolivia. 2 more upcoming for Thailand and Vietnam

W: Wine- Best taste of wine while traveling and where?: Malbec in Argentina is my new favorite.

X: eXcellent view: 3 day hike to Machu Picchu had some of the most incredible views I’ve ever witnessed. I highly recommend taking a few days to go through the mountains before arriving at the city. img_3319

Y: Years Spent Traveling: 18

Z: Zealous sports fans and where: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, Manchester United