- Shirlene Tsang was working as a digital marketer when she started her jewelry business in 2019.
- She and her co-founder sold off-the-shelf inventory to minimize risk while building their brand.
- Here’s how Tsang increased his company’s revenue to $4.1 million, as told by Ellen Nguyen.
This say-to-say essay is based on a conversation with Shirlene Tsang, a 28-year-old entrepreneur from London. Insider checked the earnings of his business, Objkts Jewelry. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m the co-founder of a seven-figure online jewelry business that did £3.2 million in revenue last year, or about $4 million.
Just three years ago, I could only dream of making so much money.
As a second generation Asian immigrant, I felt the pressure to find a good job and earn money. I studied finance at the University of Bristol because my parents wanted me to, but I knew I had to chart my own course.
My co-founder, Max, and I started our business with just £3,000 while working full-time jobs
We first started a small swimwear brand in July 2018. But we only had £300 to invest, and that wasn’t enough to scale.
We made one or two sales every day by growing our Instagram account organically, so we decided to sell it and got 3,000 books.
Three thousand pounds was the most money we ever had. We could finally reinvest it in something bigger.
Our jewelry company, Objkts, was born.
At the time, I was working in digital marketing for a fashion accessories company, and Max was a digital designer for an ad agency. We were able to use our combined skills to reduce costs during the launch.
Cultivating Objkts alongside a full-time job meant I spent my weekends and two to four hours a day working after hours. But rather than feeling exhausted, I felt rewarded and excited.
We scaled using the test-and-learn approach with minimal product
At the end of 2018, we created a website. It was inexpensive and easy thanks to e-commerce platforms like Shopify.
Then we started testing different products using off-the-shelf stock. This approach minimized risk, as we only paid our supplier once the sale was made.
For our first professional campaign, we did the photo shoot alone, with the help of a few friends.
We tested marketing techniques with as little as 10-15 pounds per day for each product or advertising angle on Facebook and Instagram until we found a winning combination.
Within a month of testing the application with ready-made stock, we had gained enough momentum to switch to our own designs and buy our stock in bulk.
As of January 2019, we were selling on our own stock, but not yet making a profit. The operating cost always outweighed our sales.
I decided to do a “buy one, get two free” offer on a few products to get some data fast. It was bold, but we kept our ad spend reasonably low.
With each sale, we collected more data and were able to refine our marketing approach. We only spent £1,000 on ads from January to March 2019 before finding the winning combination of ads and products.
We had enough data to stop our offer after two months and advertise our products at full price.
In March 2019, we slowly increased ad spend to over £2,000 on our bestselling products and had our first profitable month, generating over £18,000 in revenue.
At the beginning of 2019, I had already spoken to my bosses about my hustle side, and they allowed me to become a part-time freelancer.
I’m a risk averse person, so I took small calculated steps to become a full-time business owner.
Once we had profits to reinvest, we upgraded our Shopify subscription and hired a developer to make the website more sophisticated.
Some might say that the information from the promotional campaigns was not representative of typical sales or customer habits, but we still managed to retain customers and triple our average order value after the offer ended.
When we launch a new product, we produce a small batch to avoid overproduction, then we use our social media to ask customers what they like and dislike. This means we can operate on a very lean basis.
Right from the start, we gained a large organic following on social media. We didn’t need to spend money on
because famous clients came to see us themselves.
“Selling Sunset’s” Christine Quinn, Claudia Valentina, Mahalia and influencers like Grace Beverley and Aoki Lee Simmons have worn our products.
We also hired quickly but efficiently. In April 2019, we hired our first customer service agent through Upwork to free up our time.
I gave it my all and quit my job in April 2019 when I could see that our business model was viable
That month we spent £8,701 on adverts and earned £36,907, meaning for every £1 spent we earned around £4.25. We were able to withdraw money, pay ourselves a salary and reinvest in ads to scale further.
I felt comfortable enough to quit my job by the end of the month. My co-founder kept his job for a while, so we weren’t risking all of a sudden.
In November 2019, we signed the lease for our UK office and warehouse and left the fulfillment of our orders to third party logistics. As it is their specialty, they have the ability and knowledge to scale the logistics side of the business and meet demand that we could not have handled on our own.
For anyone who wants to start a business but doesn’t have a big budget, I would say start small and experiment.
You have to be prepared to lose before you can win. I lost a bit before I had my first profitable month. If you give up after you don’t see a single ad sale worth £100, you’ll never make it.