Michael Soltis – Crushing it on E-Commerce While a College Student

Episode 21

This Firing The Man Podcast is an interview with Michael Soltis, an entrepreneur who is crushing it on Amazon while being a full-time college student.  During the episode, Michael shares his story and how he has built a small online empire in just a few short years.  Michael also discusses how he approaches learning and knowledge acquisition while commuting to and from school.  His answer to the question “do you learn more on your commute to college or at college?” will blow your mind.  This is an episode you will not want to miss.  

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David (00:00):
Are you learning more on the drive to school or while you’re at school?

Michael (00:04):
I don’t learn a thing from school. I really don’t. I’ve learned so much more from podcasts, from YouTube, from Google. The only things that I’m getting out of school are one, a paper degree, which to me means nothing. And two, I guess like basic English, math skills, like very basic level things. I really don’t have much value on universities. I’ve learned a hundred times more from podcasts than school.

Intro (00:32):
Welcome everyone to the firing the men podcast, a show for anyone who wants to be their own boss. If you sit in a cubicle every day and to know you were capable of more than join us, this show will help you build a business and grow your passive income stream in just a few short hours per day. And now your host serial entrepreneurs, David Schomer and Ken Wilson,

Ken (00:56):
welcome everyone to firing the man podcast. On today’s episode, we have the privilege of interviewing full time Amazon e-com seller, Michael Soltis and Michael has been selling on Amazon for almost three years and he primarily focuses on private label. You know, Michael’s story, he’s, he saved up money from his job as a lifeguard and launched his first private label product in 2017. The Michael’s bootstrapped his entire business from the profits. And within one year he was turning 10 K a month in profit all while being a full time student and working a part time job. Welcome Michael.

Michael (01:29):
All right. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here. Yeah, absolutely. So first things first, tell us a little bit about yourself. Yeah, so I started selling on Amazon. Well maybe even before that, uh, before Amazon I was going to a community college, um, full time. So you know, 12 to 16 credits studying biology, uh, something I’ve actually come to hate and not really be interested in. So, um, back in 2017 around November, I started seeing YouTube videos about selling on Amazon, um, researching it and got introduced, um, through mostly YouTube. But even before that, I tried, my first attempt at making money online was day trading stocks. So for six months, uh, I started with like $2,000 in a trading account was day trading penny stocks, lost a few hundred dollars, made a few hundred dollars. My biggest win was like 280.

Michael (02:27):
My biggest loss was 216. So that’s kind of what got me into making money online because over over the course of a five minute trade, I was able to make $282, I think was what it was. And then at that moment I was pretty much hooked on the idea of making money on relying as real. Um, so that’s kind of how I got introduced into, I guess e-commerce talked about being, um, a student. Uh, and also I was a lifeguard. So, um, just at an indoor outdoor pool, making decent money for life are $18 and 54 cents an hour. But yeah, we’re paid by the town government money. Yeah, that was a not something I was passionate about at all either. I just got introduced by a friend. I didn’t grow up being an entrepreneur. I didn’t grow up selling baseball cards to kids or um, you know, any of that kind of stuff. Um, I just had random jobs, summer camp jobs, things like that. I just found and fell in love with the idea of e-commerce just because of how much opportunity I was seeing the numbers. This is statistics, how many people are buying things online, all of that. So like right from the get go, I knew it was very doable and I just went in a hundred percent, um, with like $4,300 and haven’t looked back since.

David (03:49):
Awesome. Now how old were you when you started and how old are you today?

Michael (03:52):
I started when I was 21 and right now I’m 24. Just turned 24. Okay.

David (03:57):
I’m interested in your opinion on this. I certainly have one of my own. Do you think being that age is a benefit or a hindrance?

Michael (04:05):
I think it’s a massive advantage, um, because you, we all form habits pretty early on in our lives. So if we, if you’re able to come to a business model online, making money online, e-commerce, the earlier the better. I think, I mean, a lot of people get tripped up on like the legality side and um, starting a company and all of these things, but I think you have to just start putting one foot in front of the other, like as soon as possible in order to get anywhere in life.

David (04:36):
Absolutely. I’m glad you answered that way. I, uh, I would agree with you completely. You know, everyone’s going to fail and you might as well get those failures out of the way early before you have a mortgage and a family and, and everything. Failures along with successes, right. That momentum starts to build as you’ve seen in your own business and that’s awesome. Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s, that’s very inspiring.

Michael (05:00):
Yeah.

Ken (05:01):
So Michael, you’ve been in e-commerce for about three years now? Yeah, two and a half, almost two and a half. Okay. What was your biggest fear holding you back from going full time into e-commerce? You know, like you said you had a nest egg of cash and you were kind of like pivoting and what was it? Did you have any fears or anything that held you back or did you just, you know, at what point did you say, I’m going to do that?

Michael (05:24):
I quit my job, my lifeguarding job in February, February, 2019 so it’s been over a year. Um, and it was actually funny because I was making, uh, in profit like 10 K a month while I was still working that job making a thousand dollars a month from the pool. Uh, so I remember walking around in my flip flop shirtless with my lifeguard stuff and I was like, like, Oh wait, hold on. I made 10,000 this month from my business. I’m making 1000 a from this job. I definitely liked the extra cash of being able to kind of build on my business quicker, just from taking money out of my day job, putting into my business. And I always have reinvested all of my money into my business. Even to this day, I don’t like, I don’t like having money sitting around my personal account. I feel like it’s going to waste where I could invest it in another product.

Michael (06:21):
Um, so I guess what, what held me back was just for one, like businesses, never a for sure a hundred percent thing. Like there’s no guarantees that you’re going to still be in business a year from now. Something could happen, something could change. So it mostly it was like the stability side, like not knowing whether, you know, I would continue to be able to be making this money also. Um, I have a lot of expenses for my business, so even though I’m making 10,000 profit a month, I’m reinvesting a lot of it. Um, I’m saving money for taxes, so it’s not just, you know, all this money that I can play with and, you know, buy a new car or something. It’s, I had to be calculated with it, so I wanted to make sure it’s the right time. Okay. Yeah.

David (07:08):
Thinking forward to the next five years, where do you see this e-commerce journey headed? Are you in college anymore?

Michael (07:15):
Yeah, I am. I’m a finishing, my senior year actually dropped out for a year, um, and got my own apartment and was working on my business. Um, but I, I wanted to finish my degree just because I’m two semesters away from finishing a bachelor’s degree, which I never plan on using. I always want to be self employed, running my own online businesses. Uh, so five years from now if Amazon is still a viable thing, definitely, definitely still be selling on that. Uh, I want to expand. So I’m getting ready to start selling on my own website, uh, through WooCommerce and I’m also starting, I’m an information product business like we were talking about before, getting everything rolling. So yeah, five years from now, definitely I still want to be online a hundred percent. I don’t like the idea of trading time for money. I think it’s a, you’re basically trading a portion of your life for a set dollar amount, which I don’t, I don’t believe in, I don’t agree with. So still be running online businesses and e-commerce based knowledge. Yeah.

David (08:17):
One question that we do like to ask is, uh, so what, what advice would you give yourself now three years ago? So when you first started, what, what advice would you have given yourself from what you know now? It’s tough because when you’re first starting, you’re so overwhelmed.

Michael (08:34):
Um, so when I first started selling on Amazon, or even before when I was like figuring everything out, it would probably be um, just to stick with it. And that’s a hard thing because looking back, I pretty much did every, I don’t want to say everything right but I made, I kept on making progress, making steps, um, towards the goal of selling things on Amazon and starting eCommerce business. So just to be reassured that there’s massive opportunity like that life isn’t a zero sum game where you make money at my expense. It’s all about even coming down to the products we sell on Amazon. It’s all about like we give value to people and in exchange we receive money. So like getting the mindset portion down, um, before like the, the how to, if that makes sense to like make sure I was coming in the game with like the right mindset really helped. And so that’s what I would say to folk like I should have focused on more early on.

David (09:38):
What are your friends say? What are your parents say when you, when you tell them about your, your plans and your goals.

Michael (09:45):
As I’ve been learning more about online business and entrepreneurship, it’s kind of actually distanced me from everyone I know because everyone else is doing the traditional, even though I’m still in school and I plan to finish, but you know, the traditional college route get a job. Um, and so I’m not really able to hold a conversation about what I do because either I get too excited and start talking really quickly and getting really technical or, you know, it’s, it’s hard to relate. So my parents are proud of me, my dad especially. Um, my mom really wants me to finish school. She’s pretty much the only reason why I’m still in school. But yeah, it’s, it’s just different cause they don’t understand that. I think there’s still a big stigma around online business and um, so it’s hard to talk to them about what I do

David (10:35):
that’s very similar to my experiences. And can I thank you. You’d probably agree with me when you tell somebody that you sell on Amazon, they kind of view it as a hobby or, or this weird eccentric interest. And the deeper I am involved in this industry, the more I realized that this is one and incredibly viable business opportunity. And two, this is the future of commerce in general. I mean you are, you are seeing an implosion of the brick and mortar stores, you know as we speak and you are seeing, especially with Colvin 19 going on, you are seeing all generations migrating towards purchasing things online and the number of seven and eight figure sellers and nine figures. We had a nine figure seller on the podcast who are treating this as you know, a corporation, right? They are growing and scaling just as a typical brick and mortar company would or just as a public company is. And there is huge value in that. And so, you know, to all the naysayers, I hope they continue cause it’s just gonna mean that there’s less competition for us. Right. You know, the longer that I can be viewed as an odd eccentric person that does this as a hobby, the longer I can continue to make money with less.

Michael (11:54):
So pretty much every time someone asks me what I do and I tell them their, their response is always like, is that enough to support your lifestyle? Is that enough to support yourself? Uh, and then, um, it usually like, it kind of gets me triggered. Um, I’m like, yes, this is a full time income. Um, so no one, I guess no one can wrap their head around the idea of, you know, selling things online, owning an online store. So that’s pretty much every single response that I’ve gotten is like, Oh, how’s that going for you? Like skepticism, you know?

David (12:33):
Yeah, absolutely. Can I have you, have you been met with similar responses? Yeah, for sure. You know, I think there’s some confusion on just, I don’t think it’s a, something that is a, it’s common. Right. You know, like Michael, I don’t go and talk to, you know, my family, you know, they’re, they, they look at me like, what are you talking about? You know, like that’s not real or um, yeah, it’s definitely not a, not a common um, field, right. Especially for a full time job. Uh, yep.

Michael (13:02):
Then you look at the statistics and you see, you know, millions of Amazon accounts, hundreds of thousands of successful sellers, a good majority of Amazon e-commerce sellers doing North of a hundred thousand in sales a year, and then you get a different perspective. So I guess we’re out there, but just, you know, behind our laptops in our rooms in the dark, not telling everyone and uh, advertising what we’re doing I guess. But yeah, there’s a lot of people making money online, especially on Amazon. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

David (13:38):
You’ve went from just three years ago being at $0 million in profit, a month to $10,000 in profit per month. I would imagine that it’s taken a great deal of one effort in to learning. Can you talk about what has been the most important step that you’ve taken to learn and to grow your business to that size?

Michael (13:58):
In terms of the effort, it was just a consistent thing like learning, um, all of the steps and getting familiar with, um, e-commerce. I was sometimes I was watching videos and researching like 10 or 12 hours a day. Sometimes I was doing, you know, only a couple of hours a day really depends on how much time you have. And that might’ve been a little excessive. But, um, it was, it was just like I put a consistent effort. Like I can’t remember the last day. I haven’t worked on my business just because I want to, not because I have to, because it’s very passive. Like I can sit and for example, I went to Mexico last June and I did, I answered one customer email and I think I made a Brown $2,000 for that week. Um, and the Mexico trip costs me like $1,500. So I came out of that working, what is five minutes answering an email and still like being profitable.

Michael (14:54):
So, um, the effort, um, was just consistently working towards the goal of getting something going. And in terms of the learning. YouTube is a huge help. Google is a huge help. Podcasts like this are an amazing help. I podcasted I still podcast when I go to school all the way. They all the way back an hour each way. If I can, I feel guilty if I listen to music and then reading books, so entrepreneurship books, business, not some, I haven’t read a single book on how to sell an Amazon. I did that all through video, mostly in podcasts, but just constantly trying to improve, learn, grow and scale. It’s funny that you mentioned you’re listening to podcasts on your way to a learning institution and on your way back home from a learning institution. Are you learning more on the drive to school or while you’re at school?

Michael (15:46):
I don’t learn a thing from school. I really don’t. I’ve learned so much more from podcasts, from YouTube, from Google. The only things that I’m getting out of school are one, a paper degree, which to me means nothing. And two, I guess like basic English, math skills, like very basic level things. I really don’t have much value on universities. I’ve learned a hundred times more from podcasting than school. That’s awesome. Yeah. Yeah. Michael is, so, can you describe your day, say whenever you were working your lifeguarding job versus when you quit and went full time, you know, kind of what’s the, what was the difference? What changed? Yeah, it’s whenever someone asks me, what do you do all day? It’s very hard for me to answer just because it really depends. Am I launching a new product? Am I doing product research? Am I optimizing listings, working on email, so many different things.

Michael (16:42):
Um, but for my lifeguarding job, when I was working a day job, it was more of a grind, right? A mindless grind of just, um, being of a body to fill a position for a job. I really didn’t, I felt very undervalued. So not much going on there. But right now for, for as being an entrepreneur and running, um, um, online business, I feel like, um, I’m using way more of my potential, so getting, I’m way more fulfilled to, um, from building something for myself than for someone else. So instead of working for like, like talking about this podcast, firing the demand instead of working for the man I’m working for myself. Um, which gives me like, um, this like big sense of I guess peace and security. Like I’m doing something with a purpose behind it. Um, so that’s the biggest difference I feel working for someone else versus working for myself is that I feel like I’m doing the right thing and making in my life. Awesome. Awesome.

David (17:53):
Now there may be some people listening that hear your story and maybe thinking how it sounds easy. I’m going to, I’m going to jump in and do this and those people, I would encourage you to jump in, but, but how would you address that? You know, that sounds easy. Sounds easy. Um, so it, it is easy

Michael (18:12):
if you really love, love the idea if you’re like fully into it, cause it’s hard to do something you hate, but it’s very easy to do something you love and you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about e-commerce, I’m passionate about online business. So you have to come in into the game with the right kind of perspective. And mindset and if you don’t like it, and that’s going to be difficult. But that’s the biggest thing I think that motivated me to keep going was even though I didn’t make money for, you know, the two months of doing research, the one month of sourcing the product, it was still like, I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to get it going. Like this has to work.

David (18:50):
When I asked that question, I was kind of fishing for an answer of no, it’s not easy, but I think the perspective you brought up kind of makes me change my thoughts on that. Ken and I have talked about our previous jobs before. You know, I used to, when I was in high school, I, uh, I power washed pig barns, uh, for 10 hour shifts. That was a hard job. And so when I compare sitting at my laptop and doing keyword research, yes, relatively, you know, relative to that it is easy. However, in terms of like the amount of hours and time invested and effort invested, I think that’s where, you know, it is difficult and you will face adversity and you will fail and it’s, this is not for, you know, the faint of heart.

Michael (19:34):
Yeah. I mean, if I were to track and log my time spent starting the business and see I don’t know how many hundreds of hours of work before I got paid a single cent, then that would have been discouraging to me. So I’m glad I didn’t do that. Um, because it’s a very like front end loaded the learning curve of you have to learn before you earn money, right? You have to learn how everything works at the set, everything up you have to put time, like invest your time and money into something before it even happens. So yes, there’s a lot of risk and getting started I think is the most difficult part because just there’s so many moving parts, so many, so many, you know, things you could be thinking about or focusing on. Um, and you just don’t know what portion to actually work on. But, um, yeah, getting started I think is the hardest for sure.

David (20:25):
Yeah, absolutely. You know, you covered a couple of good points of you know, having enough money or you know, spending enough time and I see a lot of YouTube videos and a lot of information that’s out there about, Oh it’s, you know, online selling is passive. Oh you know, you can make millions of dollars doing this and that. And we, and David and I have really liked to expose that on the show. And you know, it’s, this is really, really hard work and it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and you have to have a, why you have to be driven. You know, like you said, you, you work well, you don’t consider it work because you love what you do, right? So you spend time and whether it’s keyword research or launching a product you enjoy that you love, that’s a passion of yours, right?

David (21:03):
So if it’s not, then it’s going to be grueling. And if, and if you go into it thinking, Oh, it’s going to be super easy passive income, I’m going to go buy a Gallardo and roll it around. You know, that’s not not true. You know, definitely want to be respectful of your time. We really appreciate having you on the show. All of our guests, we, uh, we go to a lightning round at the end of the show and we ask a standard set of questions. David, you want to rip them off? You bet. What’s your favorite book?

Michael (21:30):
That’s hard because I’ve read 30 or 40 or 50 books on things I love, but right now I’m reading, I’m the greatest salesman in the world by odd man, Dino. I have it on my shelf right now and I’m, I really liked this book because it talks about, uh, like 10 scrolls of basically like timeless principles rather than hacks and strategies. So that right now the greatest salesman in the world. My favorite book,

David (21:55):
if you, I know this is lightning round, but if you like, I haven’t read that book, but the way you described it, have you read the richest man in Babylon?

Michael (22:03):
I haven’t, but I’m vaguely familiar. Classic book.

David (22:07):
It could be read in a thousand years and it would still be relevant. It is a fantastic book. And so if you like that, I would recommend richest man in Babylon. Cool. I wrote it down. Absolutely. I would say that whatever green principles right? For sure. Yeah, for sure. It’s damn near like the Bible like that. All right. Michael, what are a couple of your hobbies?

Michael (22:30):
I am big into jujitsu, so martial arts grappling, so kind of like wrestling, but very technical. Uh, I was almost a blue belt, but then this whole coronavirus thing happened. So I like jujitsu and then airsoft is another one of my hobbies and then I guess making money online.

David (22:48):
Nice. Awesome. And last question, what do you think sets apart successful eCommerce entrepreneurs from those who give up, fail or never get started?

Michael (22:59):
I think it comes down to a couple of things. One being focused, focused, intent of not just kind of um, meandering around cause I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about, I’ve tried to help them as much as I could to get started and none of them seem to have the focus. And then I guess like passion and drive, right? Like those two things.

David (23:21):
Awesome. Nice. Michael, I think your story is going to inspire a lot of, a lot of our listeners, you know, hearing you share your story and your experiences, um, is really big and I want to thank you for being on the show. How can people reach out to you and get a hold of you? What kind of projects are you working?

Michael (23:38):
Well you can reach it out to me on Facebook. Just look at me on Facebook, Michael Soltis or email me. I’m fine with that. My email is Msoltis7@gmail.com. So M S O L T, I s7@gmail.com. And then I also have a YouTube channel, which I’m pretty active on or I plan to be in the future. That’s also my name, Michael Soltis, where I talk about e-commerce, Amazon entrepreneurs, a lot of similar topics to this. Awesome. Awesome. Well, Michael, thank you so much for being on the show and uh, we’ll talk to you soon. Good luck in your business. All right, thank you. Thank you for having me.

David (24:15):
Thank you everyone for tuning into today’s firing the man podcast. If you liked this episode, head on over to www.firingtheman.com and check out our resource library for exclusive firing the man discounts on popular e-commerce subscription services that is www.firingtheman.com/resource. You can also find a comprehensive library of over 50 books that Ken and I have read in the last few years that have made a meaningful impact on our business or that head on over to www.firingtheman.com/library lastly, check us out on social media at firing the man in on YouTube at firing demand for exclusive content. This is David Schomer and Ken Wilson. We’re out