I’ve had a ton of “million-dollar ideas” while sitting at the bar with friends.
Only thing is, I’ve never acted on any of them. Most of them probably would’ve been flops — but then again, you never know.
That’s why I love the story of Kevin Mahoney, who was having drinks with a middle-school friend when he decided to launch an ecommerce website.
Last year, it raked in $5.5 million.
And what does he sell? Tape.
Even better, Mahoney’s work-from-home business has allowed him to support his wife’s career and spend more time with his kids.
Here’s his inspiring story.
An Idea That Stuck
In the early 2000s, Mahoney was living in New Jersey and commuting into New York City for his full-time job at a digital advertising agency.
Thanks to his commute, which was 2.5 hours each way, he left the house at 7 a.m. and didn’t get back until 8:30 p.m. His wife, who was the principal at a local middle school, was pregnant with their first child.
Mahoney was sick of wasting hours on the train. “You really lose out on all that time,” he said.
Then, while having drinks with Robert Valley, a friend he’d met in seventh grade, an idea struck.
Valley’s family owned a tape converting business. According to Mahoney, this basically means “they’ll get a 60-inch wide roll of tape and cut it into two-inch rolls.”
He asked Valley, “Why don’t I create a website for you and electronically send you the [tape] orders, and you’ll drop ship for me?”
A few months, about $1,000 and a “lot of work” later, Mahoney launched FindTape.com.
Because he drop shipped everything, he explains, “I didn’t have a huge investment — I was able to slowly ramp it up.”
“There weren’t a lot of upfront development costs because I was a developer,” he says.
“Just my time. I would definitely spend a couple hours a night, and then on weekends, I spent a lot of hours. A lot of it was done on the train on my laptop.”
Mahoney was also lucky to have creative friends who helped with the site’s logo and design. So his only real cost was about $100 per month on “pay-per-click advertising to get people to come to the site.”
He also had no employees, which eliminated much of the stress faced by small-business owners. “I never had issues with ‘Oh my God, am I going to make payroll this month?’” he says.
As FindTape.com grew, Mahoney realized it had the potential to turn into a full-time gig.
“I wrote down a number,” he says. “I was like, ‘OK if I hit this [revenue] number, I can quit the full-time job, and I’ll work from home and won’t have to commute in anymore.”
That number was $1 million. Three years later, he hit it.
The Multi-Million Dollar Success of FindTape.com
It’s been 10 years since Mahoney left his full-time job to work for himself.
He now works from home four days a week, and visits his call center — which is located inside the tape converting factory in PA — one day a week. He employs two people full time to answer the phones there.
Since he doesn’t have a warehouse or office, Mahoney’s costs remain fairly low; in addition to his employees’ salaries, most of his expenses come from web hosting and advertising.
If you’re surprised Mahoney found such success with tape, join the club.
“I think everybody’s a little surprised,” he says. “I’ll get that question, ‘What do you sell?’ ‘Tape.’ ‘Really? Just tape?’ I’m like, ‘That’s it.’”
But the fact his business is sometimes difficult to explain means little to Mahoney. What does matter? The difference it’s made to his family.
For one, it’s allowed him to support his wife’s career as a principal.
“Two, or sometimes three, nights a week, she’s at something: a PTA meeting, a board meeting, a concert,” he says. “It would have been very hard for her if I were still commuting to New York.”
That’s because he’s the main caregiver for their two children, ages 9 and 11.
“I put them on the bus and take them to concert rehearsals,” he says. “I get to see my kids as soon as they get home.”
He’s quick to note he still works “crazy hours;” the difference is it’s on his own time, and in his own home.
“Most weekends I’m working a little bit,” he says, “and most nights after they go to bed.”
But it’s still worlds better than commuting into the city every day.
“Just being there when they come home, and being able to see them when they’re not sleeping,” he says, “It’s awesome.”
Your Turn: Are you inspired by Mahoney’s story?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.