When I was 15, I took my first business class in high school, where I learned about supply and demand. At the time, I noticed an increasingly popular trend among my schoolmates in wearing snapback hats as opposed to the classic fitted sports hats. I quickly hopped on the trend and ordered a box of snapback hats at wholesale price.
Even by undercutting my competitors’ prices, I still managed to triple my money on each sale due to low cost of goods. Between word-of-mouth and Facebook marketing, I had made a few thousand in profit within two months. Not bad for being a high school student.
Cost: 48 hats at $5/hat = $240
Revenue: 48 hats at $30/hat = $1,440
Moving on to university, I reused the same concept for my next few ventures. Recognize demand for a product in a niche market. Buy for low, sell for high.
Ticket flipping has a lot of negative connotations as people usually think about the scalpers that charge insane prices at the door or scammers selling fake tickets online to unsuspecting victims. However, that wasn’t my intention at all when I got into this business.
I became interested in the EDM scene and started to go to a lot of shows and concerts to see DJs play. Tickets for a show would often be sold in tiers, with each tier being priced higher than the previous one.
The motivation behind this business was simple. Sometimes, I would buy tickets for my friends, but if they couldn’t make the show anymore, I would have to try and get my money back by selling it to another person. Since the ticket companies don’t take refunds, I would try to find a buyer through Facebook event pages.
By the time I would sell the tickets, the current tier price would be higher than what I bought mine for. By selling mine for just below the current price, I would profit the difference between what I paid and what I sold for. I realized shortly after that this concept was similar to trading stocks, something I never thought about before.
Cost: 70 tickets at ~$38.54/ticket = $2,697.80
Revenue: 70 tickets at $53.78/ticket = $3,764.60
At first I didn’t really view it as a business, but more so a way to attend shows and concerts for free. Then, I started capitalizing on bigger events without even attending them myself, which is when I started questioning the ethics of my business. I didn’t want to be viewed as a ticket scammer. I eventually moved on to my next opportunity.
As an amateur photographer, I got into this business right when I had given up photography as a hobby. I was looking to sell my camera equipment, but I had no idea how much to sell it for so I turned to Kijiji (Craigslist for Canada).
I researched what equipment was popular on the market. Since camera equipment can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, it presented an opportunity to make more profit from a single sale than I could from reselling tickets.
First, I had to hunt for deals online. Instead of simply waiting for tickets to drop at their cheapest price point, I was constantly searching Kijiji for value deals, which included negotiating with sellers to see if they would budge on their price. I noticed that some sellers were more flexible if they wanted to sell their equipment quickly and didn’t really care about how much money they made back.
Then, I had to meet up with potential buyers and sellers around the city. Some days, buyers would cancel on the sale even after agreeing to meet up with me, which made me feel like I was wasting my time. I started to wonder if it was worth the investment.
I looked for deals that were undervalued and would profit at least 30%. I started to learn which cameras sold quickly, which lenses to bundle as a package and what prices to buy them for. After my first sale, I rinsed and repeated by looking for the same camera body or lenses to sell at the same price points. Thus, I was able to predict how much money I would make from a sale.
Cost: 7 camera bodies + 8 lenses = $2,715
Revenue: 7 camera bodies + 8 lenses = 3,960
The downside to flipping cameras was that I had to invest a lot more of my time and money than I did reselling tickets.
After a couple months of doing this, I took my profits and moved on to the next opportunity, which was by far my favorite.
During my last two years studying at the University of Waterloo, I drove almost every weekend between Waterloo and Toronto to visit friends. The 120-kilometer drive took anywhere from just over an hour to more than three hours in bad traffic.
In Waterloo, over 65,000 students attend three post-secondary institutions within 2 kilometers of each other. A large percentage of the Canadian students come from the Greater Toronto Area.
Every weekend, students flood the few Facebook groups that were created for offering and booking rideshares with other students. I first offered a rideshare during reading week, which was a popular time for students to go back home to Toronto. Within an hour, my car had filled up every seat for the trip.
I offered my first rideshare because I wanted some company during the trip. After realizing how much I spent on gas going back and forth (~$20) and how much I profited from a full car of passengers ($140+), I began to drive for the sole intention of making money. It turned out to be a very lucrative business as a student.
Opportunities were available to charge for additional services. I often provided door-to-door services for an additional $5 if the passenger was interested. Otherwise, I would drop my passengers off at Toronto Union Station and from there, they would make their own way to their final destinations. Helping students move their belongings between houses was also high in demand.
Cost: Gas at $20/trip for 10 round trips = $200
Revenue: 8 seats at $20/seat for 10 round trips = $1,600
Overall, this business required little financial investment but took up more of my time. The risk of not booking a full car could also cut into my profits for the day. But since I enjoy driving and meeting new people, this was by far my favorite way that I made money as a university student.
I started to develop my skills in graphic design by playing around with Paint. After numerous hours of online tutorials, I was able to create amateur digital assets with Adobe products. I gained confidence in designing marketing material for student clubs and eventually was ready to start my own business.
Unlike any other business venture I had done in the past, freelancing opened up a new world to me. After finding my first few clients online, I learned everything by trial and error, including how to price my work, market myself to prospective clients, complete a project from start to finish, and most importantly, get paid. I wrote a separate article on how I created a remote design business from scratch where I talk about all these things in more detail.
Freelancing opened my eyes to being a business owner, rather than simply finding a side hustle to make extra money. As my own boss, I worked on my own hours and set my own rates. When I first started out, I charged a mere $25/hour. Without having any overhead expenses, all the money that I made was profit.
Cost: Time and effort
Revenue: $25/hour x 40 hours = $1,000
This business definitely took a lot more work than any of the other opportunities I tried out. After about a year of charging an hourly rate, I changed my approach to project-based pricing, which made me a lot more money for the amount of work I put in. Although I currently work a full-time job, it’s nice to know that I can use my design skills to make my own money if I needed to.