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The $200 or less e-commerce startup club


I’ve always been a massive fan of the concept of starting a business with next to nothing, and being able to grow it into something. Not necessarily the next multi-million dollar sell out to Facebook, but a challenge to create something that actually generates some kind of revenue. This might help out my income or potentially just fund the next idea.

To me entrepreneurship isn’t just about game changing technology, or raising funding from investors. It’s about finding creative ways to build businesses of any size.

In the online space I have an advantage of understanding how to build websites, but with so many options available today at very little cost, there is nothing stopping anyone from starting an e-commerce startup business.

Here are some ideas that I have either attempted myself or have in the pipeline.

The T-shirt Startup

There are literally thousands of online t-shirt stores. It’s appealing as a business because just about anyone can wear a t-shirt, you can market your product simply by wearing it, and you get to express you creativity with your designs.

The key to success is having fantastic designs that appeal to a niche audience. You will need to differentiate yourself from your many competitors so by choosing a unique topic or theme with original designs, you’re creating something that will stand out from the crowd. The more niche, the better.

But before you go out and purchase a thousand blank t-shirts to drop off at your local screen printer, consider Printful. Printful can print your designs on a range of high quality apparel and other goods and then ship them directly to your customer with your own branded shipping labels (known as drop shipping). No need to hold stock, no need to do anything other than take the sale. Your customers will be unaware, and the quality is great.

This is an ideal way to get your business off the ground with no outlay other than your website which you could get through WordPress or Shopify (they have perfect integrations with Printful) for a small monthly fee. As your business scales, the profit margins might become less appealing but by that point you could probably comfortably invest in manufacturing and holding some stock.

  • 12 months of website hosting on wordpress.com $62.16 (USD converted)
  • Domain name registration on namecheap.com $11.58
  • Printful account $0
  • Optional t-shirt designs sourced from Freelancer.com $50

Total startup cost $123.74

Alibaba Reseller Startup

The world’s biggest wholesale marketplace is the perfect place to source low cost items with big time mark ups. Whilst you need to purchase large minimum order quantities on Alibaba, you can purchase single items from sister site AliExpress at extremely competitive rates.

My philosophy has always been to get as wide a range of stock as possible for my budget. This will make my online store look more established and also help me gauge what customers actually want to purchase. So focus on variety over the quantity of each item. If I sell out immediately of something, I know what my next order is going to be.

Some items with good margins and good marketability are

  • fashion accessories,
  • tech gadgets,
  • and phone accessories,

but there are loads more to be discovered and again, niching down will be advantageous.

A word of warning however. At this level you won’t have a budget or way to ensure that your products are of Australian standards so I would stay clear of anything that relates to children, electrical items like globes or things you ingest or put on your skin. In my opinion it’s just not worth the risk and I would stick with something safer. I once had baby teething toys manufactured in China, but when I realised the cost involved to have each batch chemically tested in Australia, I had to dump the stock. Lesson learned.

  • 12 months of website hosting on wordpress.com $62.16 (USD converted)
  • Domain name registration on namecheap.com $11.58
  • Initial stock budget $126

Total startup cost $200

Online Courses

Online training from university degrees, to technology related short courses through to fitness personal training is at an all-time high. If you have experience and knowledge in a topic that people want to know more about, you can capitalise on this with an online course.

You can sell your course on websites like Udemy who actually have a rather generous revenue model (you will receive 97% of the sale price if you generate the sales lead yourself). But being a web developer I prefer to have full control and want to build the brand asset that is my own website.

Sensei is a WordPress plugin that manages courses and students and is free if you don’t need support from the developer. You can break down your course into modules and lessons that you can add video content, written content and quizzes to. It also integrates with WooCommerce to make selling access to your course easy.

All you need is your smart phone to record videos and to create a bit of a course outline breaking down your subject into multiple lessons. If you want to ‘pro’ it up a little, get a $10 smart phone tripod on eBay.

To protect your videos from being shared around without being purchased, use Youtube’s commercial product Vimeo. This can lock down the videos so they can only be played from your website, and it removes the ads which looks a lot more professional.

  • 12 months of website hosting on wordpress.com $62.16 (USD converted)
  • Domain name registration on namecheap.com $11.58
  • Existing smart phone for recording $0
  • Smart phone tripod $10
  • Vimeo Plus account $69.95

Total startup cost $153.69

Execution is everything

These are just a few ideas, but there has never been a better time in history for anyone to become an entrepreneur. You don’t need a huge budget and you don’t need investors. The internet is the great equaliser where you can have as loud a voice as a multi-billion dollar international company if you get it right. All you need is a passion for a challenge. For those that enjoy the struggle of starting with nothing and climbing to the top, now is the time to create your e-commerce startup.