I love stories of people breaking away from an undesirable career to choose themselves and create their own businesses. I myself used to devour such stories and they played a huge part in giving me the push to go self employed. What follows then is John Accardi’s story of how he built two profitable businesses in a short space of time.
I left a Georgetown University PhD and started 2 online businesses
My name is John Accardi. I’m 25 years old and 6 months ago, I dropped out of the neuroscience PhD program at Georgetown University. Not only did Georgetown grant me a full scholarship, but they were paying me a generous stipend to attend. So why did I leave and how did I build 2 profitable online businesses with hardly any startup cash?
I left for one very simple reason: I didn’t enjoy it. In my PhD program, I was required to attend class but the majority of my time was spent doing research in the lab. I was working on a cutting-edge project that utilized the new technology of optogenetics to treat epilepsy. I would surgically implant fiber optic cables into the rat brain, attempting to alter epileptic neural networks. At times, It was exciting but most of the time it felt limiting. Like most jobs, I had to work long hours in the same room with the same people every day. I also disliked the fact that I needed permission to take time off for a doctor’s appointment or family vacation.
I became restless and soon began to think of other ways to earn a living. I searched for different options of how I could work for myself and set my own hours. I also wanted the potential to earn more money. After some searching, I became thrilled with the idea of building an online business. It was so intriguing because I knew that an online business could be operated from anywhere in the world. I pictured myself sitting on the beach in San Diego while managing business from my laptop or phone.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this concept of starting an online business, so I quickly began working to make it a reality. All day, every day I thought about what I could sell online. I wanted it to be a niche item, where the market isn’t too competitive. I also wanted it to be something that was primarily purchased online and difficult to find in brick and mortar retail stores. I wrote up an exhaustive list of all the possible products I could try to sell and in the end chose beer pong tables for 2 reasons. The first was that beer pong tables fit my criteria of being a niche product and they’re very difficult to find in brick and mortar retail stores. Most people who want to buy a beer pong table search Google and order from a website. The second reason was that in college, my friends and I owned a beer pong table. We would play almost every night but we’d fill the cups with water instead of beer and just play it like a sport. I got to know all the rules and tricks. I knew that being able to share this knowledge online could be valuable and help attract visitors to my store. I named the business PartyHouse Pong and the site is partyhousepong.com.
As I was building PartyHouse Pong, I thought of another product idea that I was really excited about: college care packages. I also had 2 reasons for wanting to try this product. The first was that I wouldn’t have to invest in manufacturing anything from scratch and yet, I could still create an original product. By simply taking pictures of a box and logo filled with different snack combinations, I would be able to sell my own unique product online. The second reason was that while I was a college student, my parents had bought me the care packages offered by the college. I remember thinking the quality was really poor and the style and snack brands were out-dated. I knew I could do a much better job.
This college care package business became known as CollegeBox and the website: collegebox.com. I was able to build both websites in a little over 1 month. They were fully functional but did not have any sales yet. No one knew about them! Despite not having sales, I was so excited to start the marketing phase of these businesses and I was extremely confident in my ability to generate sales. I had a decent idea of how I would begin marketing the sites but it would take time and the demand of grad school was only growing.
I began thinking about leaving Georgetown to work on these businesses full-time. I took an honest look at my finances, making sure I had the savings to live for 1 year without income and weighing my chances of landing a job if the businesses were to fail.
One weekend, I was visiting my home in Stone Harbor, NJ and I went to Cape May to take a walk on the boardwalk. I remember looking up at the full moon over the ocean and just knew that I had to drop out of school. Up until this point it was unclear to me but in that moment, I knew it had to be done. I knew that this was my chance and that if I stayed in school, I would always wonder what could have happened. Once I got back to Washington, I met with the appropriate people at Georgetown to plan my withdrawal.
Today, both of these businesses are profitable and it’s only been 6 months! To make things better, I never had to invest a lot of startup capital. This was possible because partyhousepong.com uses what’s called a “drop ship” model. This is how it works: A customer buys a table from my website for the price listed on the site, then I buy that table for a discounted price from one of my drop ship suppliers. I tell that supplier to ship the table to my customer’s shipping address. The result is that my customer gets their table, and I keep a small profit. While the profit margin is small, this model reduces risk and capital requirements since you don’t need to stock inventory.
For marketing, partyhousepong.com is all about Google search. Like I mentioned earlier, when people want to buy a beer pong table, they search Google and order from a website. It is too much of a niche product to be successful in Facebook marketing, magazine ads, ect. So all of my marketing efforts go towards search engine optimization (SEO). I do not hire a firm to help me with this and I have been very successful on my own. The first thing I did, was create phenomenal content. I wrote all the beer pong rules, tips, tricks, ect. and put them on my site. I also wrote a unique and interesting product description for all 200+ beer pong tables, and created a PartyHouse Pong blog which I contribute to regularly. The second thing I do for SEO is write blog and news articles for websites in the hopes of having them include a link back to my site.
Collegebox.com also minimizes risk and the need for startup cash since I could create these care packages without having to invest in manufacturing a new product. I simply bought the various snacks that would fill the boxes, took pictures, and put them on the website. As orders come in, I buy inventory from a local distributor and fill the orders as their purchased. CollegeBox has been marketed in many ways. Everything from flyers on college campuses to Google Adwords and Facebook. It has been moderately successful but I am still learning how this industry works.
So here I am, 6 months out of grad school, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made. I get to pursue my dream, work hard, and have fun all at the same time.
There have been many obstacles along the way and I’ve dealt with them in 2 ways: persistence and learning. For example, with PartyHouse Pong, I began marketing with Facebook and magazine ads but found that it simply wasn’t working. I had to quickly change gears and learn everything I could about SEO. As an entrepreneur, you must be willing to learn whatever it takes to get the job done. Persistence is important every single day in any kind of business. When you’re starting out, for every time someone says “yes” to you, 20 people or maybe 100 people will have said “no” before that. You have to believe in your vision and keep going.