Ethan Dobbins started dropshipping when he was just 16 years old. At that time, he just wanted to make money. But because he didn’t know that much about eCommerce and didn’t properly run paid traffic, he didn’t make money and went back to working as a cashier. After he made some money, he tried dropshipping again and made $50,000 in revenue, then $80,000 and then eventually $280,000 (with a profit of $80,000 - $90,000). As he says, it’s all about dropshipping properly, learning what products to sell, running paid ads the right way, and learning when to cut your losses. Read the interview below to learn more about his eCommerce journey.
Sean: Hi there, it's Sean from SaleHoo and today I'm interviewing Ethan. He has scaled multiple dropshipping brands past six figures in women accessory and home decor niche. So Ethan, can you give us a bit of background on your eCommerce journey? Maybe we can take it right from the beginning from when you first got started in dropshipping.
Ethan Dobbins: When I first got started, I was around 16 years old. When I was this age, I just looked up how you can actually make money when you're this young and you really don't have a lot of money. I did some research, I looked into Amazon FBA, I looked into a bunch of different business opportunities out there and what really struck with me was dropshipping because I saw other people that looked like me, that were my age that did not have high school diplomas, anything like that, that were making a lot of money. I got into women accessory niche, as you mentioned with Amaro sports selling these different chains and necklaces, and for six months, I honestly did horrible.
I really didn't know much about the eCommerce game. I didn't know what skills I needed to learn, I didn’t know how to properly run paid traffic whatsoever, especially with Facebook ads, and I was literally working 11 hours a day just finding products. I have this giant store with hundreds of products but when I launched the first ads, literally nothing happened. I would get traffic, but no one was buying because I didn't know how to make a good offer. I didn't know how to add urgency. I didn't know how to add the right apps.
All this stuff is just a big mess. I ended up losing about $2,000 went bankrupt and I had to go back to working as a cashier and as an umpire in baseball game part time just to make some more money. And then eventually I was able to bankroll my next try at this business and when I did that, I properly invested into a mentor who ran his own Facebook ad agency, so he taught me a lot of my first basic concepts of digital marketing, how to do customer research.
After I learned that skill, I eventually was able to finally have a winning ad and having product that eventually scale to $50,000 in revenue and then I was able to just find more and more winners off of that. Start some new businesses and as you mentioned, after three years of doing this, I scaled a brand-new store from zero to 80 grand in the women's health niche just using tick tock ads.
Sean: If it’s okay with you sharing how much was Amaro Sports making in terms of five figures, six figures, and how long did it take for you to get there?
Ethan: I would say the first year was definitely a whole learning experience. I tested probably around 22 products before finding that first winner. The first seven months which was brutal of me constantly failing at trying to market products, trying to do these urgency sales and everything and no one biting. That first year I would say I maybe did close to like $17,000 in revenue but profit was literally negative, so I didn't make anything off that.
Second year definitely was more profitable. I would say I was around $130- $140,000 in revenue. Profit from that was closer to around 25 to 30 grand so started to build a little bit of business there. Then third year, we did over $250,000 so it was around $280,000. Total we just did a little under half a million and I was able to sell the brand for around 72,000. It was dying off a little I will admit because when you're focused on other projects, and this is something I learned from one of my mentors where, if you really want to see progress in something, you need to put a 100% of your time into it.
If you're running three different businesses and you got your time split up 33% here 33% here, you're just gonna get half assed results compared to if you have all your attention focused on one thing. When you look at literally anyone that's successful at anything usually, they are specialist in that one thing. Like Usain Bolt reason why he is the best runner of all times he just focuses on running. He doesn’t focus on selling products or focus on being a kitchen guy. That was one of those things where I was sort of half assing it to a point but in that last year we did really well. We did $280,000 in revenue profit was probably close to $80-$90,000 so that was when it was really doing well and then just sold the brand and put that money into something else.
Sean: How did you figure out what to sell?
Ethan: I will admit, I fell into the typical trope of everyone that I was seeing online always saying sell products that you know, that you're interested in, and that will be the best way of doing it. Sell products that you're passionate about. I did go that route. I was super into jewelry. I was an athlete myself. I am still an athlete, I know what my target customers want because I'm in that demographic, but for nowadays. I think it's dumb to sell what you're passionate about because people are passionate about a lot of weird stuff.
I would recommend looking at what's selling right now, see what the market wants. For instance, with this new product I'm selling. I'll be honest, I'm selling waist trainers to women. I know nothing about waist training. I know nothing about women's health. I know nothing as to why people would buy a waist trainer. But I knew hey, there's a huge market for this. Females love shopping online typically more than men and it's a great price point. I was like alright; this is a product that I know I can market effectively. I did the research, I went on to similar competitors.
Competitors that are selling these waist trainers. I read the reviews. I read their description. For three days. I just gathered this giant word document, have all the best lines and all the best reviews so that I could figure out hey, what are the common phrases? What are the problems these people are dealing with? What do they want from this product? What are the benefits they care about? And then I'm like, Alright, I got all these amazing lines. Let me just cut the fat and make this amazing description.
Make these amazing ads using all these key benefits. I was able to scale a story, the first day I put $100 into TikTok ads made $1,100 back and I'm like, damn, that's insane. It's all because I just did the customer research. I think it's super simple, but I would say 90% of new people into dropshipping just don't do customer research. What they do is hey, I see this competitor has this description. Let me copy that I'll just it on to my website. You're probably copying someone who also didn't do the product research or didn't do customer research.
If you just read reviews of what real customers are saying on Amazon and on similar brands that are selling your product, you're just lightyears ahead of everyone else when it comes to marketing that product. If you can understand what your customer wants and if you can really make your ad speak to them and really resonate and make it sound like wow, this person is talking directly to me. Then they're most likely to click your ad and convert on your website. That's why I'm able to get a 4%-5% conversion rate consistently with a brand-new store that has absolutely no social proof at all.
Sean: Speaking of research, I want to ask what your research process is like you talked about product research. customer research. What's your process, like and what's your criteria?
Ethan: Nowadays I don't even do my own product research at all. I do have Virtual Assistants for that and that's sort of the next step if you want to grow and you have some money. Definitely hire someone because they can dedicate more man hours than you can. At my peek I was just doing an hour product research but nowadays, I just wanted to up work. I have a training video that's like 30 minutes long that I sent to all my Virtual Assistants that do it. Basically, I use I would say about five tools. First off, I like to use ad spy. I think I found most of my winners from that. I'll just pop onto there.
There’re certain filters I like by sorting, by shop now as the button, by having United States as a demographic, English as the language having the total likes of the ad at least a 1000 so I know hey, there's some engagement here. People are interested in the product. So that's one of the main ways I find products ads by just finding ads of products that are already doing well. There's a new one called Pipi ads sounds inappropriate, but it's okay, so they are like a TikTok ad spy tool. It's the same exact concept. I found some good winners there recently. A lot of my product researchers have been finding some good products there.
What I tell them to look for is products where I'm at least getting a margin of $25. When I'm scaling, I just tend to notice products that are less than that are much harder to scale, especially when you're showing your ads to millions of people and your cost per purchase is just naturally going to raise up so I'm selling a $5, $10 phone case, it's hard to get cost per purchase of $2 or $3 to make that profitable. I want to have a decent margin first off and to be able to justify the price tag of a product like that. It needs to be a product that is higher value. So could be like for instance, I mean this is a product I've sold a massage gun so I can get this on AliExpress 20 bucks, I can sell for 70 easily because there's massage guns that go for $300 $500.
The perceived margin of that is higher so I can justify the price increase, the markup. That's another thing I look for high value items. Obviously wow factor is another key thing. Is it something that is unique, or if I see it in ad can we market it to be like a good hook. If I can see early on when I'm looking at a product and I know okay, I can get a really good hook for that, that's going to capture people's attention. I'm probably going to market it. So that's a big thing as well. It is a little bit optional, but I do tend to gear focus on products that are more for females because I just notice they convert more especially on the first time, and they shop more.
But is there anything else? Margin is big, wow factor is a big one. And honestly, if the products cool, that is something I do tell like them. I don't want to sell anything that's too generic or too boring that I can find literally anywhere. If I can find it at a Target or a mall, then I don't want to sell it. It's just too easily accessible. That’s a big thing.
Sean: One of the things I wanted to ask is a lot of beginners, they're starting with $500, $400 $200 even. If you were starting over and you only had $500, What would you do, would you not start with $500 and just continue to save up?
Ethan: If I had $500 personally, I would save up when I first started, I did have around $1,500 and the second time I got into it I had around $2000. I personally believe just knowing after starting so many stores, first off with Shopify, which is my preferred platform, it's going to be around $30 a month for the plan and I know for the apps I like it's gonna be around $75 to $80 all said and done. Then I typically will find a winning product within six to eight product tests. And I like to spend about $100 for each test. So if you do the math there that's around $800 for the ad budget $80 for the website, etc.
I would probably recommend having at least $1000 once I save up to a $1000 though, immediately what I would be doing is I would go into tools like ad spy, I would be going on tools like drop point. Pipi ads is another one or just going onto social media and following these big meme pages because literally today I'll be following some meme pages that have millions of followers. They'll be posting dropshipping ads all the time for really engaging eye-catching ads. I'll be looking into those products literally today to see is there is a market for this?
Can I maybe see if there's good clips online that's another key thing. Is there a lot of good creatives that I can use for my ads, whether that be on TikTok, social media. I would save up to a $1000. I would find some good products. I would come up with a list about five to ten of these. Then for each one of these products, I'm building a one product store, I'm trying to make these seem as branded as possible so that my conversion rate is as highest, and the product success rate is also the highest.
Then I will go into TikTok ads that's my preferred platform nowadays because the CPM because the cost to show your ads to a thousand people is cheaper than any other major social media platform. Create a one product store, marketing with TikTok ads, spend about $100 a day and if it's breakeven, if it's profitable, keep the ads on and then just scale the winning ad groups. And if not, just move on to the next product. I would test around eight to ten products all one product store once I say that to a 1000.
Sean: In terms of budget allocation, how do you know how much to allocate to each audience or ad set?
Ethan: Personally, my rules are pretty set in stone right now where I'll test about five ad groups, which is synonymous if you're a Facebook ads person. It's ad groups, ad set. It's the same thing, slightly different terminology. When I'm testing with TikTok ads, I always do one campaign. I'll have five ad groups, each with a unique interest and I'll set the budget at $20 a day because that’s the minimum that you can do. After doing a day about $100 in spend. If I'm breakeven or profitable, that's when I know all right there's some life here.
If I'm getting some sales, that's great. I'm just going to look at my ad groups, see which ones are working, which ones are above my breakeven rows and I'm just gonna scale those. But with TikTok because you get down so fast, I know a winning product will be profit by day one. If it's not, I'm just gonna kill it. That's one of the main things I also see with a lot of beginners, they get way too emotionally attached to products where they are like man, I put all this work into this, I have this amazing description, amazing website.
It's gonna work eventually, I just got to keep putting more money into it. I'm like, no, that's not how it works. You just can't be emotionally attached. Personally, that's the budget allocation I do. I do a $100 a day. If it works, awesome keep scaling and if it doesn't move on to the next product, because when you have a good product, you're gonna feel it. You'll know immediately from day one, oh my God, my cost per click is incredibly low. I'm getting 10 cents a link like I'm getting all these conversions, etc.
I would recommend a $100 a day and if you're still using Facebook ads, which I use for a couple years, till I started getting into TikTok, I recommend doing a $35 day over there. What I used to do was seven ad sets, each with a unique interest and I did $5 a day and I would have it on for about two days. So if you do the math there that's $70 a day for a product test. There’re definitely different ways of doing it. You got to do the research and what platform you think is best for you. Personally though, I'm TikTok all the way.
Sean: But having transitioned out of the dropshipping model? I know that some they would start doing wholesaling, buying in bulk, or manufacturing even. Through your eCommerce journey, have you ever transitioned to those that I mentioned?
Ethan: Yeah. I would say so with this most recent brand. When I was able to get to $80,000 a month I knew instantly all right, well, I'm gonna go from dropshipping to eCommerce. Dropshipping is technically to eCommerce but to an actual brand, just like that. That's the beauty of dropshipping to how fast you can get results. I started this brand, I had no idea what the hell was gonna happen. I never launched a TikTok in my life, and then boom, it just these amazing results. I scaled it to $7,000 a day 200 orders within two weeks and I was like alright, that's enough proof for me to brand this product and start bulk ordering it like that's all I needed to see.
What I did was I went on to 99 designs because I originally just had some shitty logo, I made in Canva and I'm like, Alright, if I'm going to put my logo on this product, it's not going to be that. I went on to 99 designs posted a contest for about $500 to get this amazing logo made. I had about 100 designs submitted to me got down to around three I really liked, there was one I thought was baller, contacted the designer, she made it in the right format because there is sort of format for printing a logo on product. I'm not 100% sure off the top of my head, what it's called but there is a specific file you do need. When I got it, I just sent it directly to my supplier, here's my logo, put it on here.
They're like, alright, that's going to cost extra 40 cents a unit and I'm like, wow, that's not too shabby because my unit costs about $320, so it was just $360 to get my logo on there. All right, let me bulk order. I did 2000 units bulk order it to the United States. $6,000. But all right, cool. Got it all in the US and that's where all my customers come from the United States. Got it over there. I would say we're an E- commerce brand. It’s all in the US. We got 4-6 days shipping. If I was to compare that to any other big E- commerce. We’ve got the logo on the product, we’ve got fast shipping, it's all there. I would say we made the transition literally in just two months from a dropshipping brand to a real brand.
Sean: What were the experiments that you were running to continually optimize because optimization starts right from day one. You run the ads and you realize, oh, it's not converting, then you find the root of the problem and you go like, okay, maybe it's my landing page. Maybe it's my ad copy. What were the experiments that you ran to test what went wrong, what were the roots of the problems and what you can improve?
Ethan: For really identifying where the leak is happening, where the problems are in my business. I always have certain KPIs that I need to be hitting. For instance, if you want to know if my ad is the problem, then I personally have these metrics, I want to at least get a cost per click under 60cents. If my ad is getting a cost per click of $1 or $2, I know alright my ad is the problem so maybe I need to change the hooks, so they are opening three seconds because that's always the most important. Maybe I need to change the messaging or the call to actions is just not clear enough, or the clips just aren't speaking directly to my audience good enough.
That's the first thing with ads. The main things you can measure there is the cost per click and your click through rate your CTR. I aim for a CTR of at least 1.5% and again cost per click is 60 cents or less. That's the first stage of the funnel. Next is your landing page. Now personally, for me, I'm aiming for at least an add to cart rate of 5%. If I'm getting 100 visitors, I want at least five of those people to add to cart. Then my conversion rate. It depends on the product, but I typically like to get at least a 2% conversion rate, I would say the average Shopify store was around 1.2 1.3.
I want to aim for at least 2% with one product stores like nowadays, my main brand is around a 4.6% and other stores that started around 4% or 5% conversion rate. First you need to establish hey, what are my KPIs here, what am I trying to hit and that's how you can really tell where the problem lies. If I know my cost per click is 20 cents, but my conversion rates are like half a percent. Clearly, it's my product page. There's just not enough urgency. Maybe the copywriting is out there. Maybe my reviews are not convincing enough. I would say that's the main thing I would do. With this new brand when I was split testing and all that stuff. There’re constant split tests even the price points, the offers, everything.
I started at $29.99 doing a 40% off sale and then I realized over time, I can raise the price. I can get even more margin. Now I'm selling it for $34.99 and that's just some things you got to split test. Different price points, different offers, maybe you do buy one, get one free. You never know what's going to work until you split test and I do that with every single aspect of business from the upsells I always tried different upsell offers whether it's a complementary product or doing the same product, add another 25% off or with my ads, I'll try different creatives.
Especially because with TikTok ad creatives burn so fast. I think I've tested at least 25 ads in the last two months just for this product because you have to first, I have something that works. What are the key elements that work in this ad? Oh, it's the messaging. I'll take that same messaging, but maybe I'll use slightly different clips and slightly different texts. But when you have a winner, it's your main job to figure out how it was a winner and then just slightly tweak it to keep it running profitable. Those are the main things I do split test for optimization.
Sean: How do you think dropshipping eCommerce will change over the next one to two years and how do you advise to adapt to that change? And now what are your predictions in terms of the future?
Ethan: Personally, I thought two years ago that Amazon would have eliminated dropshipping and sold everything and there would no longer be dropshipping but it's still alive nowadays. I am a living proof of that. With drop shipping, I would say it's here to stay. There's always gonna be new opportunities. There's always gonna be new products but the barrier to entry is always rising. I feel like less people are getting into it now. Because the only reason why people got into dropshipping initially especially people nowadays even the ones watching this video is because they do have the opportunity, they do feel like okay, if I learn these skills, I can make money fast. It's get rich quick.
But now adays many people that were into dropshipping are now getting into NFT's and crypto, that there actually is less competition nowadays for a lot of these products, which means there's more opportunities for the people that do want to stick with us and learn the skills. I really think there's a lot more money to be made there's gonna be a lot more winning product. eCommerce is obviously constantly growing every single year and with less people getting into it because all the money hungry people are now going to the next bad which is going to be crypto for a while.
I think it’s definitely very exciting. Especially with all these new opportunities with TikTok ads being incredibly cheap with Facebook ads probably are going to figure out their stuff. I think there's just more resources than ever before. I think there's more knowledge ever before and YouTube that you can access easily at your fingertips or Udemy for cheap. I think for Dropshippers if you're really dedicated and you love E-commerce, you love building a brand, you want to sell something and you want to scale your brand before we can exit from it. Then yes, stick with us because there's gonna be opportunities.
Sean: Before I close off, would you like to tell the viewers where they can find out more about you?
Ethan: Yeah, so if you found me a little bit entertaining and want to learn more about my thoughts on dropshipping and everything of the sorts, I do have an Instagram account Ethan Dobbins official. I have around I believe 30,000 followers now. I just post daily tips, daily value. I'm not your typical guru who does all the lifestyle posts with his Ferraris and all his fake cash and stuff like that. I just love posting daily value so you can find me on Instagram, or also my YouTube channel where I am posting about my latest strategies with TikTok ads those do seem to be popular, if you look up my name Ethan Dobbins you will see. My YouTube channel has around 30 thousand subscribers. Check out the latest videos. They are very long videos. They're each around like an hour long. If you want to get value packs, like a whole course in one video, I would recommend checking me out there.
Sean: I'm going to leave Ethan's channel in the description below if any of you want to learn more about Ethan and follow his journey. That's it for the interview. Thank you so much Ethan.
Ethan: Alright, I appreciate it.
Sean: Did you enjoy this video? If you did, make sure to like, comment and subscribe to support the channel. If you'd like to find pre vetted reliable dropship suppliers, check out SaleHoo dropship and SaleHoo directory links are in the description box below. Want to see more interviews like this? Check out this video. Want profitable products to sell? Check out this video over here. Anyway, thanks everyone. See you in the next video.