It was mid December of 2013 and websites were getting into year end mode, publishing clickbait lists based on the year that was soon to come to pass. “Best BLANK of 2013". “Most BLANKY BLANK of 2013". “Our Favorite BLANKS of 2013". I’m not going to lie, I clicked them. A bunch of them, and I hated myself for it. “Fuck, I just lost 45 minutes of my life by getting sucked in to these articles. ARRRGHHHHH!”.
But on this day, one of those articles would actually spark an idea in me. An idea that would turn into me putting over half a million dollars of retail products on shelves of over 700 stores across North America and yielded my company profits in the six figures in under 12 months. This is the story of how I monetized the word Amazeballs™.
Yes really, and yes that’s a ™ beside Amazeballs.
I know it was mid December because I was wasting time on the internet instead of working my ass off fufilling holiday orders for my new start-up Coasterly.com (hey, my UV printer broke down — cut me some slack). And so naturally instead of doing some admin work that I had been neglecting, I started surfing the endless abyss of the world wide web.
In my travels online that day, I came across an article with a title of something along the lines of “The 20 Most Overused Terms Of 2013" <— CLICK! Then boom. It hit me like a freight train. At number 2 or 4 or 6 — pretty high — was the word Amazeballs.
Now Amazeballs was not a word that had really worked its way into my personal vocabulary. Sure I would drop it very sparingly, but that was usually to annoy someone on purpose who I knew detested the word like my friend Laura. But eventhough it wasn’t one of my go-to phrases (I was 33 at the time afterall), I knew of it.
I knew how it had worked its way into the lexicon of modern pop-cultre and how it was verbal currency for a certain demographic. I knew it belonged on this list. Hell, I think it probably should have held the number one spot. So looking at the word on my screen, in this list, on whatever hugely popular site it was on with thousands of shares, I realized something. I saw an opportunity in this polarizing, overused word and decided in that moment that;
Amazeballs needed to be a product, it needed to be a brand and I was going to build that brand and bring the product to market.
So what the hell was Amazeballs going to be? What was the brand going to look like or be about? It didn’t take me long to marry this idea to an actual product. I had recently learned about a certain gift product category that was very popular and growing but was also ready for a new player, ready for a bit of disruption.
It was the beverage chilling accessory product category, specifically a product that I will generically call “Drink Stones”. Chances are you’ve either seen them, bought them or received them as a gift under a myriad of terrible brand names. They are little cubes cut from granite or soapstone that you put in the freezer, and then put in your glass to chill a few ounces of scotch or other spirits.
So my first thought was to see if I could get spheres of granite produced and come out with my own version and brand them as Amazeballs.
I hop on Alibaba to see if I can find a manufacturer of these stones so I can ask them if they can tumble them into round spheres instead of cubes. After about 5 minutes of searching for “Drink Stones”, sorting through what seems to be 100's of suppliers I came actross a listing for: “NEW HOT PRODUCT — STAINLESS STEEL ICE — MANY SHAPES”. Bingo.
I click to discover that this company manufacturers stainless steel ice balls, basically two hemispheres of food safe grade stainless steel, filled with freezer gel, then welded together and polished. They were perfect.
At this point, I think that it is important to note that I have no idea what I am doing, I am just winging it. Never been on Alibaba before, I don’t even have an account. No experience with dealing with overseas manufacturers. Really no clue how this all works. I’m just blindly diving into this, I’m an “ideas guy” and typically my ideas are pretty solid, and I trust my gut. So, fuelled by the thought that-
If I can bring an intriguing product to market under the brand Amazeballs and at the right price, it could be a combination that results in a homerun.
About 18 hours later I get an email back from the manufacturer telling me that they would be happy to send me samples. Jackpot! We talk back and forth over a few messages and I learn that this manufacturer whitelables this product, and needs me to provide the artwork for the retail boxes.
As it so happens, I went to school for Advertising/Design and have some utilitarian design skills, so I went to work “designing” an Amazeballs wordmark and after purchasing some stock photography, mocked up the retail packaging and sent it to the manufacturer.
At this point it has been about 48hours since I read the article and decided to try this whole idea. Things are going a million miles an hour and I am incredibly excited. I love starting things. The rush is indescribable, it’s addictive. As an entrepreneur, I can be easily distracted and admit I can suffer from “shiny ball syndrome” — but this time not only was it figurative, it was literal; my focus had literally been completely consumed by actual shiny balls.
But I digress… Next, I wire some money to the manufacturer to cover sample and shipping costs and am told that I will receive the samples in a few weeks. A FEW WEEKS! Amazing. No, Amazeballs.
So I have 4 retail ready samples coming to me via courier. Great. Now who is going to sell them? How am I going to get these on store shelves? You’ll notice I was building my plan in real time… which is to say I had no plan at all.
They say luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Well, as luck would have it, I just so happened to have a blossoming business relationship with the Bar & Drink Accessory buyer at one of Canada’s largest retail gift chains - Chapters/Indigo. (As an aside, while all this Amazeballs stuff was going on, I was also actually in the middle of negotiating a purchase order with her for the marble drink coasters I make under the brand VersaTile. We were closing in on pricing and numbers for a deal that would see Indigo/Chapters take my drink coasters on nationwide across Canada for Father’s Day of 2014).
So I sent her an email and told her that before they cut me a P.O., I had a prototype of a product that she absolutely needed to see. This was a bit of a calculated risk, as I did not want to jeopardize the deal I was working on for the coasters, but getting her eyes on Amazeballs was just too good of an “in” to ignore. As I hoped, she told me to send it her way as soon as I could.
A couple weeks pass and I get home from work on December 30th to a DHL package on my front step. My samples have arrived, literally 21 days after giving birth to this idea. Much like my sons ripped open their presents with reckless abandon 5 days earlier on Christmas morning, I tear into the box to see what these things actually look like.
They are fantastic. A glossy white hard pressed cardboard box with a magnetic closing flap, inside a custom foam insert holding two polished steel balls, a set of tongs and a little pouch with the Amazeballs wordmark on it for storage — afterall balls belong in a sack right? They look incredible. Ready for a store shelf, and certainly something that would look right at home in a store like Chapters/Indigo.
The next day I pack a sample up and ship it to my contact at Chapters/Indigo via overnight courier. I email her to give her a heads up and ask her to let me know what she thinks. The next day I track the package, multiple times throughout the day. Out for delivery. Out for delivery. Out for delivery. Delivered. YES!
A couple hours later my phone rings, it’s the buyer, I’m paraphrasing here but basically it went like this: “Dan we absolutely love these, everyone at the office thinks they are awesome. Can you give us pricing and let us know if we can get 500 units in time for Father’s Day so we can do a market test? We’ll add it to your PO for the coasters.”. While inside I am FREAKING OUT, I calmly reply “Glad you guys like them, I’ll get back to you tomorrow with the info you’re looking for”. Holy shit!
From that moment on, there was no looking back. I invested money to register for a trademark on the word Amazeballs in Canada and the USA to make sure I could protect the brand and build some intellectual property. That is such a ridiculous sentence, I still can’t believe it.
The 500 units flew off the shelves come Father’s Day. In fact-
Amazeballs outperform Chapters/Indigo’s sales metric for a “strong product” by up to 5X.
Having the product validated at that scale gave me the confidence to approach other retailers. I did some google sleuthing and found the contact emails for the buyers at Urban Outfitters and the webstore of TheChive (The Chivery). Both of them asked for samples, then both of them cut me P.O.s.
Next I get an email out of the blue from the buyers at TJX Canada, they represent the brands Winners, Homesense and Marshalls. They saw Amazeballs on the shelves of Chapters/Indigo and wanted in in their stores. More P.O.s cut. Buyer are contacting me now! Then another P.O. comes in from Chapters/Indigo.
OK whoa. Time for me to pump the brakes a bit. Tallying everything up I need to order 10,000 units from my manufacturer to fill all my orders for Christmas of 2014. That’s 10x my Spring order. That’s 10X the money I need to lay out up front to my manufacturer as they require 25% upon placing an order, and 75% before it ships. That’s money I won’t see back until after 30 days manufacturing, plus 30 days in transit, plus about 10 days in fulfilment and distribution, oh and then plus another 30 days after my clients receive the product before they pay. We’re talking 120+ days.
I’m bootstrapping and that is a very large gap. So I decide 10,000 units is enough for now. I want to make sure I do not spread myself too thin, as I need to baby these 3–4 major clients I have just landed before I search out any more.
Another reason for me to not reach out to any more buyers is that for me there is a huge learning curve. I’m importing goods to Canada from overseas for the first time. There’s paperwork and knowledge that I need to absorb for that. I’m also about to export goods to the United States from Canada. There’s a bunch of stuff that goes along with that too.
Each vendor also has their own process and manual you need to read and adhere to for sending products. They want the items to arrive a certain way, labelled a certain way, packed a certain way — all in the name of keeping their warehouses and distribution centre’s as efficient as possible.
So I do it, I learn everything, I get a lot of help from some advisors and the logistics firm I’ve tasked with warehousing and distribution. Product gets successfully delivered to all my vendors.
It’s at this point I realize I’m going to probably start to get some residual traffic to my Amazeballs website since there will be 10,000 units out in the market starting in November 2014.
At the time my site was slapped together crudely on my own. It did not reflect the brand I wanted to present, so now with some cashflow on the way, I tasked a good friend and top Shopify Expert Chris from Pointer Creative to develop a site worthy of my target audience. His team nails it and getamazeballs.com is re-launched. I’m ready.
As November bled into December of 2014, sales for my vendors really started to pick up. Every day that passes shortening the shopping hours until Christmas exponentially increases consumer dollars spent.
Amazeballs were moving off the shelves quickly, and all my vendors placed top-up orders on short notice out of fear they would sell out before Christmas. In fact two of the vendors tried to place a second top-up order with around 10 days to go to Christmas, but I was sold out of product.
I had a hunch 8 months earlier that if I could find the right mix of product, price and opportunity to brand with the name Amazeballs I would have a homerun on my hands. As Christmas 2014 came to pass I had rounded 3rd base and was headed for home plate. I indeed had hit a homerun.
So where are we today? If 2014 was about market and product validation, then 2015 is about growth. I’ve already secured P.O.’s with my vendors to see them through Spring 2015 and Father’s Day of 2015.
I’m planning to attend America’s Mart in Atlanta — a retail trade show — the largest gathering of retail buyers in North America to expose my balls to them (sorry, had to). I’ll also be attending CanGift in Toronto — the Canadian equivalent to the show in Atlanta because the truth is, I’ve only been in front of a few retail buyers with Amazeballs, and they pretty much all took the product on. These retail buyer trade shows should prove very fruitful. And with that in mind, I’m also considering raising a round of smart money to help with cashflow, P.O. fulfilment and expediting distribution.
I was also recently chosen to shoot an episode of Dragons’ Den (the Canadian version of Shark Tank). Now I am not at liberty to discuss the results of that taping, but my segment should air in season 10, which runs from October 2015 — March 2016. So that’s another exciting development.
I understand that a product is not a company. So with that in mind, I’m working to expand Amazeballs into a line of products under the “Amaze” umbrella. We have a gift set of Amazeballs in the works that adds two scotch glasses to the set, and we’ve got some other complimentary products coming to the line, one of which; Amazerods (Stainless steel beer chilling rods) made its retail debut this Spring at Chapters/Indigo for Father’s Day. The potential to make a legitimate gift line exists by riding the coat-tails of Amazeballs, working hard, and finding opportunities.
So I’ll continue to, grow, learn, and build as I navigate my way through this adventure. An adventure that if you told me I’d be on 13 months ago I would have laughed in your face. Yet here I am.
So this has been the story of how I monetized the word Amazeballs. I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished in the past 12 months and am very much looking forward to the future. I suppose taking nothing and turning into something makes you feel that way, or as some may say, makes you feel Amazeballs.