Anthony Zambai started an online business with Reddit in three days. Two days after its launch, “Bullet Bouquets” was earning enough money to replace Zambai’s income as a full time engineer. Within a month he had given his notice at work. Today, his business is chugging along nicely, earning enough to support two part time employees.
Using a social media outlet like Reddit to make money online can seem a little bit mysterious. We hear stories about people who’ve done it, but it can seem like it happens in another reality. It looks like spooky magic that wouldn’t work for real people. So we interviewed Zambai for insights into how he made his business work and why it was such a huge success. We learned the specific steps he followed and why he doesn’t think his exact path would work for everyone, but that he does think anyone with the right entrepreneurial spirit could use Reddit to create a successful online business. He also gave us pointers on how that could be done.
Bullet Bouquets: A Business Made on Reddit
The idea for the business came when Zambai was online and saw a piece of art a guy had created for his girlfriend. It was a bouquet of metal flowers with the blooms made from spent bullets. The stems were copper wire and the “dirt” was empty shell casings. On seeing pictures of the bouquets, several other Redditors had commented that they would buy one right away if they could, but the inventor said he wasn’t planning to make more of the bouquets.
The Customers Were Waiting to Buy
When Zambai saw the picture of the first bullet bouquet on Reddit, he knew almost instantly that he could make a successful business out of it.
“It was a proof that the market existed,” Zambai said. “That Reddit thread was posted in a sub Reddit called “WhoaDude.” There are something like 10,000 active sub Reddits and another 300,000 not so active sub Reddits. They cover everything from movies and politics to Jeeps to you name it and there’s a sub Reddit for it. There’s one sub Reddit called WhoaDude where people post things that make them say, “Whoa, dude.” That’s where I saw the original idea. A guy had made a bullet bouquet for his girlfriend and it was a photo of a little flower pot in his girlfriend’s hand. That was posted to WhoaDude on a Friday.”
Since so many people on that original Reddit thread said they would love to buy a bullet bouquet if they could, Zambai knew there were already customers out there waiting to pay money for the product. All he had to do was make it. You can see the original Reddit thread that gave Zambai the idea for his Bullet Bouquets business by clicking here.
All the Pieces Were in Place
Apart from having lots of pre-existing customers out there on Reddit willing to part with money in exchange for bullet bouquets, Zambai knew instantly that he had the skills required to make the products easily.
“I’m a shooter and a tinkerer,” says Zambai. “All of the pieces of the puzzle necessary to take and build this thing quickly were already there for me. It’s not like I had to go out and do research and development. I looked at it and said, okay I need this, this, this and this and I can build prototypes.”
Zambai contacted the original inventor of the first bullet bouquet on Reddit and asked if he could have permission to make and sell them. The inventor said yes, and Zambai began to make some prototypes.
“Being a dyed-in-the-wool tinkerer,” says Zambai, “there were no mysteries on how I was going to make the prototypes. There was no need for R&D, and no misgivings about the process. It was a simple trip to Cabela’s for the ammo, a trip to a friend’s place to get a water tank, and then a drive to my wife’s grandparents’ land to do the shooting. It was messy, and not very glamorous, but every one of those original expanded hollowpoint blooms made it onto a prototype flowerpot. I shot some .22LR from my little revolver and kept the brass cases for “soil,” stripped some Romex wire, found some other odds and ends, and the prototypes were born. Finally I have a friend with a ton of camera gear and I stopped by his place to get some beautiful shots of the prototypes (which are still up on the website because there’s been no need to replace them)! I went home, added the photos to Facebook and my website, shot the dog video (still on my front page), and went to bed around 2am Monday morning.”
An Online Store in Three Hours
In order to sell his bullet bouquets, Zambai knew he had to have an online store. Not wanting to spend a lot of time and money on something that ultimately might not work, he created an online store in just three hours using GoDaddy Online Store.
“One of the major components in building this was, hey, we’ve got to build a website,” says Zambai. “I remembered I saw a little ad for GoDaddy Online Store and I went back and found it. I took a look at the video and I thought man, it really does look pretty simple. So I signed up. It was one month for free and $30 a month after that. You just fill in the blanks. If you can create a Facebook page, then you can make an online store that accepts credit card payments and has several products and tells about your company.”
Posting About the New Business on Reddit
Zambai now had a good idea with ready-made customers waiting to give him money. He had a few prototypes and an online store. All he needed now was to connect the customers with the store. To do that, he went to a sub Reddit called “ShutUpAndTakeMyMoney” and posted about his new business. He also offered discounts to people who shared his business on Facebook. He made his first sales almost instantly.
“Here’s Bullet Bouquets’ first post on that fateful Monday,” says Zambai. “Enough purchases happened in the first hour to cover my initial expenses, but that first day wasn’t really all that special. Things really took off when Erin Carstens wrote this unsolicited piece for DudeIWantThat.com. I had an old college friend living in the Pacific Northwest send me this email:
“That’s exactly the moment when the business took off, and my life went into a whole different mode. I’m now a 16-week veteran of the business, and you can imagine the business is still not a well-oiled machine, right? Well It’s now a freaking Swiss watch compared to those rickety first two weeks, I can’t believe we were able to build ANYTHING. We had all the problems new businesses have in their first 3 months compressed into just two weeks. Supply chain and procurement issues, procedural nightmares, equipment failures, employment problems, two monumental shipping disasters, all in two weeks time.”
Catching Up With Success
Eventually, business at Bullet Bouquets approached something resembling normalcy.
“It was 3 weeks before I got my head above water, and we were still shipping out orders about 8 days after they were placed. I spent at least 2 hours a day simply answering “Where is my product?” emails, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had enough things figured out that production was catching up with orders. I had friends from my day job coming over and soldering for 5 hours after work 5 days a week, but we started getting to the point where we had products on our shelves, and that was a magical time.”
Another Reddit Post
Next, Zambai realized he should create another post on Reddit called an AMA (which stands for “Ask Me Anything.”)
“I thought the Reddit community might like my story,” says Zambai, “but I had no idea that it would get so much attention. I woke up one Tuesday morning and slapped together the AMA, and an hour later I was simply trying to hang on. At around 10am, I called in sick to work, and every time I’d hit refresh on my browser, there were 50 more comments on the AMA. It was absolutely overwhelming.”
Aside from just getting a lot of comments on Reddit, Zambai also got a ton of orders.
“We were caught up on orders the day before the AMA, and the AMA kinda broke that streak. But the crazy thing was that it only took us 3 days to get all the orders out from AMA day and get caught up again. The 4-week-old business was already producing the same amount of product with fewer people, and with fewer mistakes.”
Something about the Bullet Bouquets success story appealed to others in a big way. Zambai’s story quickly became one of the most popular threads on Reddit. You can see Zambai’s Reddit post that went viral by clicking here.
“Things really exploded just because of that viral craze with the idea that hey, somebody built a business in three days? That’s just crazy. What’s the product? I don’t care, it’s just a cool story. And I feel like that’s why the business blew up on me. It wasn’t from loving the product, it was from loving the story. And I think that’s a huge lesson. That people may like your products, they may not, whatever, but they love a story.”
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Not His First Rodeo
Though it may seem like Zambai was an engineer who hit on a business idea one day and became an instant success, nothing could be further from the truth. Zambai had tried to start several businesses in the past, but none of them had taken off.
“I’m a serial entrepreneur,” Zambai said. “This isn’t my first rodeo. I think this is like my seventh or eighth try. Of course it’s the first real success. That’s a common thread in entrepreneurship is, you’ve got to fail five or six times before you get something that actually works. There’s so much to learn. Given that my mom was an entrepreneur, my father was an entrepreneur, my grandfather was an entrepreneur, my sister was an entrepreneur, I’ve just always assumed that that’s what I was going to do with my life and I just always believed in that dream. That’s led to me always sizing up situations as an entrepreneur would. I’d say, hey, maybe I could do this, or maybe I could throw this together. Maybe I could build something out of this. Hey, is somebody interested in buying that? That’s just the sort of mindset I’ve developed. I don’t think that’s really rare. I think a lot of entrepreneurs have a lot of fun just sizing up business opportunities on the fly.”
“That’s really all I did when I saw that flower pot idea is say, “Hey, I can do that. I have all the tools necessary to make that happen, and quick. What if I do this, this and this? Is that going to get me enough advertising exposure and is that going to be a business that survives a month and makes me a little bit of money, or what’s the possibility that it could go even larger than that? How much money would it cost to get into this? The initial investment, is that going to be ridiculous? Or is it pretty much going to be, hey, if I’m going to build this thing in three days, is it just going to be kind of a fun, hectic weekend that I can tell my kids about?”
What if the Business Fails?
One common theme echoed by a lot of Zambai’s critics on Reddit is that his business will flop just as quickly as it flew. People have said over and over that yes, he’s making a lot of money now, but things that boom fast almost invariably bust. In a month or two, critics say, Zambai won’t be making any money and he’ll have to beg for his engineering job back.
“So what if this fails?” Zambai says. “I’ll have learned so much from it that my next venture will be just a little bit more successful. That’s also one of the lessons of entrepreneurship is that it’s such a learning experience. You have to not necessarily look at each opportunity as a way to make money but as a way to learn the ins and outs of making money. So you’ve got to step back a little bit.”
Zambai says what some of his critics on Reddit didn’t realize is just how much money was coming in.
“It wasn’t millions of dollars but it was definitely blowing away my engineering income single handedly.”
Although he knew the big money wouldn’t last, he also knew he could capitalize on the initial success of the business and sell a lot more, but only if he put the time in early.
“If my numbers were low and I quit my day job over it, people would rightfully say, hey, you’re an idiot. Don’t do that yet. You’re a little bit early. That’s the same thing I would say to somebody if they started something up and they were quitting their job and it hadn’t gone kind of huge initially. Especially if it was their first or second time building a business like this.”
Beware of Freshman Mistakes
Zambai cautions others against quitting their job to start an online business unless they’ve got a few attempts already under their belts.
“There are just so many ways to screw up and so many ways to disappoint your customers, and with the internet, that stuff spreads so fast, that negative publicity. You may not recover from it if you do something stupid and you’re not fast enough on your feet to fix it. For instance if you were up late one night freaking out and you decided to raise your prices. The next day your customers are all angry and you just didn’t know any better. You just make stupid freshman mistakes. So yeah, if it’s your first business, I would say approach it very cautiously. If it’s your sixth or seventh business and it does sort of take off, I’d say absolutely, you’ll need to quit your job in order to grow that business.”
Knowing When to Quit His Day Job
Zambai and his wife set up a few metrics he would have to meet before he could quit his day job. Having metrics was important to keep him from quitting too early and making a decision he’d regret.
- He wanted to make six months of decent income from his Reddit-built business.
- He wanted to make at least half his regular job’s income even in down times.
- He wanted to know he could diversify his business and sell more than just one item, and also sell his products not just online but also in brick and mortar stores.
In the end, Zambai decided to ignore his metrics. The simple reason was, if he stayed in his engineering job, Bullet Bouquets would almost certainly fail. He had the experience of several past businesses to draw on, he knew he didn’t want to make his customers angry, and he knew he needed to use the initial burst of viral success to set up deals with retailers and wholesalers.
“What’s kind of ironic is, I talk about all these metrics, but I quit my job after six weeks,” Zambai says. “I put in my two week notice four weeks after I started my business. So I talk about all these metrics, but in the end, I didn’t really use any of them. I was absolutely swamped. I had two employees working for me the very first week the business opened. Two weeks in I was getting probably 10 to 15 emails a day that were, hey, where’s my order? It was pretty stressful.”
What Advice Would Zambai Give to Others Who Want to Use Reddit to Start or Grow a Business?
You May Not Get Lightning to Strike…
Bullet Bouquets was in some senses a very lucky break.
“I’m not a big enough expert in all of this,” says Zambai, “but I would say that this whole social media explosion is getting lightning to strike in the right spot. It’s really difficult to do, and because of that, I don’t know if I could really recommend somebody following the same path that I’ve followed.”
…But You Can Become Active in a Sub Reddit That Matches Your Business
“You look at what happens on Reddit, and some businesses explode because they’re super active on Reddit,” Zambai says. “But maybe because they post a bunch of photos of what they’re doing there, they post coupon codes there, and they get Reddit to feel like it’s a part of the growth of that business and a part of the story. That isn’t all that difficult to do, and I think it just takes a lot of sincerity and listening to those people that you’re chatting with online.”
Find the Right Sub Reddit
For example, say someone had a business reclaiming old lumber from homes and making furniture from it. If that person wanted to grow their business with Reddit, they’d want to find the right sub Reddit first.
“The case of the guy repurposing lumber out of houses, that’s almost a great story in itself,” says Zambai. “I’m sure there are some sub Reddits that would just eat that up. People love the idea of repurposing. There’s a sub Reddit I know of called well worn, where people post photos of stuff that’s all beat up, whether it’s a pair of boots their grandpa wore or some part of the house or something like that. People really like the idea of this sort of nostalgia for old stuff. You find some right spot and start growing some interest in what you’re doing and you can continue to gain some popularity. It may not happen overnight but you can keep on working at it and you’ll get more of a following. You’ve got to learn the community a little bit, learn the best place for you to get in touch with people and then put in the time. It takes a commitment.”
The success of Bullet Bouquets wasn’t all thanks to Reddit. Zambai also used Facebook and other social media promotions, plus deals with wholesalers and retailers to get the job done. His business continues to grow and change, and he’s excited for the future. While Zambai doesn’t counsel people to quit their day job unless they’re making enough money to justify it, he’s all about low-risk experimenting and trying something new.
“Don’t be afraid to do something a little stupid. There’s a fine line between stupid and bold, and if you’re brazen enough, you might just convince enough people that you’re the latter.”