Welcome to ''Real Sellers- Real Talks'' interview series where we are revealing the adventures, struggles and tips from Amazon sellers located all across the globe on their journey to success.
The goal of this series is to connect you with Amazon sellers around the world, to inspire you and hopefully prevent you from making their mistakes. If you're an Amazon seller and you're interested in being featured, contact us.
James Bowen calls himself a High Performance Geek and Digital Entrepreneur.
I met James during my first 2 weeks in Bali, Indonesia, when we happened to be working at the same co-working space. Our paths crossed while trying to find the perfect spot for a well-earned sunset break.
Later, after a coconut and deep conversation about productivity hacks and the workings of the human brain, I discovered he was an Amazon seller - and a pretty good one at that.
James started his FBA business in 2017, at a time when he had little savings, a terrible job, and needed some answers about his future.
In his first 30 days as an Amazon seller, he managed $23,000 in sales - while running out of inventory twice!
Now, he is focused on giving back value to the seller community through his YouTube channel that focuses on Amazon, Affiliate Marketing, and Social Media Growth and Monetization.
He also runs a 19,000 members group of digital entrepreneurs, and is a productivity mentor who is always looking for new ways to improve. His mission is to continue down the path of success and provide massive amounts of value to help you win too.
Clearly, when James goes for something, he really goes!
In this inspirational interview, we’ll go behind the scenes and learn James’ story, the techniques he used to get started, how he maintains focus and mindset to continue achieving, and get some valuable advice for Amazon sellers new and old ( hoping that the ones who read this will not make his mistakes).
Let’s dive in and see what James had to share with us:
What were you doing before you became an Amazon seller?
In my past life (B.E.C.- before eCommerce), I was a professional motocross racer for 15 years.
That was really exciting. It taught me a lot of disciplines that I needed to become eventually an Amazon seller, especially self-motivation. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough money in the sport, especially in Canada.
I bounced around for a while, looking for other options. I went from job to job to job, hated every single one of them, and always quit within three months. I was a terrible employee.
From my racing background, I was very competitive and always expected to be near the best, if not the best, at something. I struggled to maintain that in the job world.
That was really frustrating because I always believed in my heart that I was destined for something better than a regular 9 to 5 job. But, I did not know what. It seemed like I can not get anything right.
The problem was I didn't believe in myself enough to actually make the leap that I needed to follow through with a decision.
I ended up in this repeated pattern of battling through a 9 to 5 job, getting sick of it, leaving, making a change to go down a new path, but then not sticking to that decision. This repeated itself for around four years.
My last job was as a back server, where I polished glasses, forks, and all that fun stuff for a bar. This was just north of Toronto, Ontario, in a little town called Mono. It was a fancy five-star bar in a resort, and I was stuck in the back hiding from all the customers.
How did you decide to switch careers and start on Amazon?
One night I came home from work feeling frustrated. The shift was so bad, my managers were so lazy and constantly failing at being decent human beings.
I was angry. I felt trapped. I felt like I'm not getting anywhere.
I realized that if I kept earning $350 a week consistently for the next four years, I'd have no money - it would all be spent as soon as I got paid. I needed something new.
I was in a lot of pain. I was struggling. I was getting older, and the clock was ticking. This all hit me at once.
I went onto YouTube searching for options on how to make money online. I needed an escape.
I came across this dude who was apparently making $20,000 selling things on Amazon. When I found that video something inside me clicked, and from there I just fired on all cylinders.
I did not need 20k- I needed a way out of this.
''I thought- if that guy could do it, I could do it too.''
I got a coaching call with him, and nothing seemed too complex. In fact, it seemed pretty easy. From there- I got his course, learned how to sell on Amazon, and went full blast into it.
You need to understand my mindset: If I go in and commit- I really go fully into whatever it is and attack it from every angle.
I've learned several times that if you want to go somewhere, you should ask the person who's been there, not someone who has an opinion about it. I figured I’d go to the person doing what I want to do, and do what he did.
The trick is finding the one that actually has skin in the game and is walking the talk.
(But more on that later).
Were you serious from the beginning or was it a ''side-hustle''?
I was super serious. As soon as I learned about the opportunity to be an Amazon seller, it really changed my attitude right away.
The next day I went to work motivated and hungry.
I became the ''world's best employee'' in just a few weeks. Everyone noticed the change. I was calm, I was punctual, I was always smiling- because I knew that the direction of my future just changed overnight.
Not the destination, but the direction changed - and that got me really excited.
When the manager was bossing me around, or being plain rude I smiled at him knowing that I was a short-timer. When the customers were angry or arrogant I just shrugged and kept my cool. I just knew it was going to work.
What was your #1 struggle at the beginning?
My struggles were with product research and dealing with Chinese suppliers. They are very bad at communicating. At least the ones I worked with.
Because Toronto is the exact opposite time as China, it would take two days to get a simple answer. This led to pulling a lot of all-nighters, which led to feeling more and more tired.
It was a very time consuming challenge to do the night shift. I found dedication in the battle of polishing glasses until 1:00 AM, then from 1:00 AM to 6:00 AM, sitting at your computer waiting for a response from the manufacturer, while trying to keep up with all the questions and answers, the disappointments, and what they could and could not do.
Not so much fun, I'll tell you that. But, it gets better with time.
You learn how to communicate, how to be persistent and how to be extremely precise in explaining what you want and when you want it.
Pro tip: If you can- pay some extra money to find a proper English-speaking manufacturer, or go out of our way to try getting the best recommendations from other sellers. It will save you a lot of energy and time in the long run.
How did you go about product research and find your first product?
In the course I took, I vaguely learned how to find products ( it had a few chapters about it).
When I got the course, it took two weeks for me to study the course pretty obsessively. On the last day of the second week, I made a decision to go for it. I felt like I knew what I was doing and started product research.
I used JungleScout to sort through the the different statistics on Amazon for certain products.
The Product Research criteria I used were:
- It needed to have a minimum of 300 sales per month, pretty consistently through the first page on a certain product.
- It had to have under 50 reviews.
- It had to have a price range of $15 to $30. Anything more was too much and anything below 15 was too little.
72 hours later I found a product!
I called my mentor at the time and approached him with 6 different prospects of different products. We came across one and he said: ''That’s the one you need to do right now!''
I got the validation, which gave me confidence. After that it was full speed ahead. That was pretty much the extent of the initial product research.
With a bit of luck, I found a really good product. I just had this gut feeling that it was going to work. It matched the criteria that I was looking for in a product, and I just took a chance.
I couldn't afford not to take a chance.
How much money did you need to start selling on Amazon? What was the biggest cost?
I sure do remember the exact amount. It was $1,654 dollars.
The biggest cost was the shipping to and from Canada, including the import taxes from wherever.
I've heard course gurus say that you need a minimum of $2000 or $3000 to get started, and I've heard other people saying you can get started with $100.
I think it depends on the approach, your strategy, and your product.
Did you do FBA, FBM, or PL? What advice would you give someone trying to decide where to start?
I immediately did FBA. I've heard a few experts touch on the subject of where to start. The path that I liked the most is this.
I recommend people to take $100, and go through all the motions of becoming an Amazon seller.
First, I would get a course, find someone who's done it before and is pretty successful, or figure out a way to learn the whole process.
That's where a lot people fail. They get stuck in knowledge-to-action, and I feel like a lot of people don't take action. They research the heck out of it, but then do get stuck.
In order to get people to take action, you have to minimize the risk so they have more certainty. Take $100, go through the motions, find a product, and order 10 units of that product. It could be samples.
Have the product ordered to your house, send them to Amazon, build the listing, sell just 10 units, and go through the motions of ordering and selling.
Next time you're ready, you're going to be much more comfortable to put in a 500 unit order.
Building momentum by taking small steps at first is a great idea. If you feel confident, go for it.
I think $100 is just fine to start learning how it works.
How did you launch your product and go about that? Did you use any of the tools?
Nope, no tools- did not know about you guys back then ( smile).
I got into a certain product before the wave of popularity hit, and I just ran the Amazon PPC campaigns in a strategic way.
I kind of took a chance and tried a tactic that was not in the course. We were taught in the course to keep a $20 a day budget. But, I went all in. I wanted to test how it works. I thought: ''Let's do $300 a day and see if Amazon will spend that budget.''
They didn’t. But what they DID do is favor me. Because I had such a larger budget, they favored me more than someone who didn’t. They wanted me to spend all the money.
Well, you only spend money if people click. I knew that if people weren't clicking ( at least not nearly as much as $300/day), then it wouldn't be spent.
My thought was that either way- if they're clicking and it's converting, spend as much money as I can, and it paid off.
Do you remember your first sale?
I was with my friends, and I had an email from earlier that day saying my items have landed into Amazon. I opened up the Seller App. All of a sudden, there is a one with a $19.99 on the top. My first thought was: “Holy s***! It worked!”
I remember being so happy, because at the time my goal was to make $100 a day.
If I could make $100 a day, that meant I could travel wherever I wanted to in the world.
If I could make $100 a day- I would be free.
That was my drive. That was my burning desire.
How long did it take to actually scale or make a substantial amount of money purely from Amazon business?
As I said, at the beginning, I wanted freedom. Freedom to me meant $100 a day.
I didn't like not having options.
I didn't like being told I couldn't do something or couldn't buy something.
If I could just take my $100 a day, travel, and get out of the small town I was in, then that would be an outstanding first step.
That took 15 hours to get done. I ordered 500 units and sold out my first six days.
It blew all my expectations. It was absolutely crazy. Because I sold all my inventory so fast and I didn't have a lot of money, I ran into a problem really quickly.
That was the lack of money.
I spent nearly $1700 on the initial order, and it was going to be three weeks until I got a check from Amazon.
This was a big cash flow problem because I needed inventory into Amazon ( and I needed it yesterday). Since I didn't have it, I had to borrow money from a friend. Luckily, he saw that what I was doing made sense, and gave me a good interest rate.
Then I had to get the manufacturer to step on it, because we were losing a lot of money each day.
I informed them that all 500 units sold out really fast, since it was obviously a great product, and we need more right away.
Obviously they loved it, because the quicker they could get the inventory in, the more money I was going to pay them.
They had motivation, I had desperation, and it worked out. Things took off soon after that.
When did you quit your job?
When I had my first hundred dollar day, I sent my boss a text message the next day. It was something I borrowed from Les Brown.
I called it my two-day notice. It said, “Today you're going to notice I'm not there.”
He didn't find it very funny.
It wasn’t the classiest way to quit, I admit. But, at the time- it felt so good.
How did this “side income” improve your life and change your mindset?
The answer is super important, and I really want to share this.
I fell into a trap as soon as I started making a lot of money.
Business went from $500 to $1000 a day pretty much right away. That was completely unexpected. I was not rich per se ( at least not by everyone's standards), but I had made more money than I could spend.
I had chased money my whole life, and now that I had it, I was like a kid in a candy store.
I thought I could do anything right away, but that's not what I should have done. I should have invested it back into a business or new assets.
Instead, I took my eyes off the vision, fell into a trap and got distracted. I hit my first goal of $100 a day, then I hit my next goal of $1000 a day.
But once I hit that, I did not set another goal - and that was my huge mistake. It felt like, “I don't need to do anything now because I just hit my goal. That is it.”
That’s when I lost my momentum. I lost my drive, started traveling, and it was really hard to convince my mind to get back into the flow of things.
Simply put- I got lazy.
''I believe it is really important that once you've accomplished the goal you've set (whether it's your rank/sales/profit), to immediately set a new goal. That way you will always have a ''laundry list of goals'' to work toward. ''
It had changed my life fo the better- I could travel around and do what I wanted, but it also left me flying blind and clueless.
It made me a little bit lost, because I was traveling without direction. I just didn't have a purpose. I didn't have any goals to strive for each day.
( As you've figured out by now, I am a very goal-oriented person).
If I could go back and change things, I would still travel and do what I wanted, but I'd have always my ''next big thing'' set, so I could be focused and keep moving forward.
People often don't think about the after-effects of what happens after you get what you want.
What are the main obstacles that almost brought you down?
There were a few of them.
One was the constant battle with manufacturers. The constant miscommunication or lack of communication was stressful. Long nights of waiting are tiring.
For example, you've spent all night waiting for a response, and they'd tell you they will message you first thing in the morning, their time - which is your night. 6:00 AM comes around and you still haven't heard from them.
Another thing that I got frustrated with were hijackers - other people that come onto your listing and steal your sales and your listings. I woke up one day to find out that all my photos I've worked hard to create were changed - and now my listing has someone else's photos that weren't even mine.
Little things like this popped up and really pushed my buttons.
In working through those issues, I felt it helped me grow my patience, as well as my discipline to focus on what's really important. I learned that I need to ''get rid of the noise'' and all the mini-distractions and focus on growing, not obsessing and stressing about the things that are not really in my control.
What would you do differently if you were starting again from scratch?
I would pick a different mentor.
I was click-baited by dollar signs and blindly listened to what he said. Fortunately, I lucked out and picked a nice product. Other people ( that were his students) that I know also listened to that exact same advice, followed the same criteria, and lost thousands of dollars.
I understand that in business world, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but it should have worked. The problem was, as it turned out, this guy was never even selling on Amazon. But, he ''felt confident'' in giving you advice as if he did.
This is where ''the skin in the game'' concept plays in.
How would you pick a new mentor?
I would look at a mentoring opportunity from an outside perspective, instead of blindly following dollar signs and the promises of tomorrow.
Do your research, and talk to people. Figure out who’s leading the industry in Amazon and find them.
Find out what their reputation is.
Do people like them?
Do they have good track record?
Ask around, go in their groups. They have a lot of Facebook groups, ask about their reputation.
Once you pick your winner, then follow that mentor and listen to exactly everything they say.
Chances are if you take the time - like I did not do - and do your due diligence, you'll find someone that you can trust.
When it comes to Amazon, there are plenty of con artists that will say that they make $20,000 a month to sell you a course. I fell into that trap- you don't have to.
You have to be careful. You have to actually know that your mentor has your best intentions in mind, and not what color their Lamborghini is going to be.
Do your due diligence on the right mentor.
Is there any additional advice you would give someone considering selling on Amazon?
Once you find the right mentor, the next step is the most crucial step. You have to decide.
You have to decide that Amazon is going to be your vehicle and you're going to succeed on Amazon. If you don't decide, and you're 50/50 or just dipping your toe in, you're going to screw up and waste some money.
''Make a decision, go all in and move all the chips into the middle of the table.''
You have the right mentor, you have the right guide, you have the map that you need to get to the end zone. Follow it and race.
After you make your decision, I would suggest that you have a long list of reasons Why.
When I first started, my Why? was freedom.
Think about, and know the answers to: Why are you selling on Amazon? Why do you want to sell on Amazon?
Those reasons better have reasons. The more reasons that you can kind of stack on top of each other, the better.
Don't just say you want to make more money.
Say that you want to make more money so you can live the life that you deserve, or so that you could treat your family to a vacation, or so you could stick it to your boss.
These are kind of reasons that start putting smiles on your face, that you can start to feel good about.
When you go through tough times, you can reflect on those reasons and they'll pull you out of that slump and onto a more victorious path.
How do you keep yourself motivated? Who or what inspires you the most?
As far as motivation goes, personal development is really, really important.
Step one is daily practice.
If you take the time out of your day to work on yourself, for at least one hour each day - whether it's learning how to think better, learning how to be more productive, or more efficient - that's going to carry over into your success as an Amazon seller.
If you don't work on yourself, you won't have that momentum.
Step two would be to get connected with other sellers in the industry.
Facebook groups are a great spot to do this. Almost every Amazon seller that has any amount of success has their own Facebook group or social media channel.
Get in there and ask questions. Talk to the owner of the Facebook group. Start building connections, building friendships, and add value to their group.
If you add value to their group, the owners will naturally add value back to you. When that happens, you'll be in the loop of all the things that change on Amazon.
Amazon changes all the time, and if you don't have connections like this, you'll be in the dark.
One guy that I really trust and follow on Youtube is my friend Matt Loberstein. He’s very good. He's all about building brands, doing things the right way. There's no shortcuts and he preaches nothing about overnight success. Definitely follow him.
Another guy I like a lot is Samar Brax. He's up and coming. He’s got a very in-depth YouTube channel strictly for Amazon sellers. I don't listen to any podcasts around Amazon.
Those two YouTube channels from Matt and Samar, and then Facebook groups, is the way to go. Connect with those guys on Facebook, and pay attention.
What I like to ask is: Can you give a 7, 10, or 21 day challenge for Amazon sellers you to our readers?
(Something they can start doing now or that you think would improve their life, or business in the short period of time.)
For 7 days, you should go into Facebook groups and ask questions about Amazon.
Join as many Amazon facebook groups as you can, then pick the five groups that are the most active, with the most engagement, and with the most support.
In those groups, you're going to ask:
- What is the best way to get started in Amazon?
- Any successful sellers in here? (There should be - It's an Amazon group. )
Figure out who they are, and then start asking those people questions about their journey. (Kind of what you did with me.)
In order to gain perspective, you need to communicate with people, and understand what they did to get there.
Ask basic questions like, “Hey, I'm new. I want to get into Amazon. What's the best way?”
If you do that in five different groups, you're going to get five different answers. Eventually you start compiling information and then you'll pick the right answer that suits you.
''It's very specific, but don't take shortcuts. This is a lifestyle. This is a massive change in your life if done properly. Take it seriously. Don't cut any corners.''
I made that mistake. I didn't order any samples of my first product and I needed them to get to Amazon now. The problem was my products were flawed. Once you have a bad review, it's hard to get rid of it.
Don't cut corners. Build it right from the ground up.
Get to know people, do the groundwork, do the micro activities daily that end up giving you the macro results at the end.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
One of the things that almost made me quit was the outside pressure of friends and family who didn't understand why I wouldn't leave my room for days and days.
It was Friday night. People are going out, but I'm stuck in my room not doing anything and my friends thought I was being rude. They thought I avoided them. My family thought I was neglecting them.
You're going to get pressure from your circle of friends. It's going to be a lot, and that's going to be something that you're going to have to deal with.
Everyone that you know and love and respect is going to tell you to go right instead of left; or don't do that, or you shouldn't do that because I know someone who did that once. They lost all their money, and I really respect and care about you and I don't want you to lose your money.
Those are limitations that you shouldn't listen to.
You should focus on your mentor. That's why it's so important to have that proper mentor, and stick to the path that’s less traveled to get to a spot that's less attainable.
Prepare for that resistance ahead of time and know that once you start going down this new path, you'll start attracting new tribe members and then you'll run together to never-after-land.
Have some fun with it. This is an asset that you're building that's going to change your life. Take it seriously, be strict, but have fun, meet people, meet friends, and have a good time!