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An adult's lemonade stand

Dec 23, 2020 · 6 min read

I’m terrified of selling. The idea of having to convince someone else to buy anything at all is enough to make my heart race.

I’ve always been the person that frustratedly hung up 10 seconds into an advertiser’s cold call. I hate buying branded clothing because it feels like I’m paying the company to advertise for them. My online ad blockers are so aggressive that they often even block actual features. The only time I’ve listened to TV advertisements in the past 5 years was once in a hospital waiting room where I sat uncomfortably jiggling my legs and I haven’t been back to that hospital since.

Knowing how much I hate being sold to, I don’t really want to be the person selling either.

Here’s the catch-22.

I’m trying to create a sustainable lifestyle as a creator. Creating things hasn’t been a problem for me. I’ve always loved building things at home via DIY and at work as an engineer. But, for this lifestyle to be sustainable, I need to be able to find customers who are willing to pay for my work.

If I can’t sell, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Playing with selling

As an adult, you have to be selling yourself all the time to get a job or promotion or to even lead at work.

But, have you ever seen kids running a lemonade stand?

As a child, “selling” is more like a rare treat. It is play; not work. They don’t need to make money (one would assume). They don’t fear rejection. Instead, there is an openness and curiosity in their approach. Who will buy the lemonade? How will it make them feel?

I decided to isolate my fear by mimicking a child’s mindset. The opportunity I discovered was in the things my family has managed to accumulate over twenty years of living in America.

We already bought the things. It was too late to return them. And we weren’t using them, so maybe someone else could instead. If I could sell even one thing, then it would create extra space in the house.

It was the perfect low-stakes opportunity for me to play with selling. There must be something in your house that you don’t use that could be rehomed while you improve your ability to sell.

The weirdness of selling something I owned

The #1 rule to selling is to know your customer. I already had a huge advantage there because, at some point, that customer was me. Every item transported me back in time to answer questions like: Why did I buy it? How did I feel after buying it? Did it solve my needs?

I was surprised to discover that we had often bought things to match the people we wanted to be or that we had too many of the same kinds of things to truly cherish them. It felt tragic to me that an overwhelming number of the things we owned were still useful, but just not for us.

As I cleaned up the goods, sometimes repairing them, and positioned them for pictures, I remembered a minimalist trick my friend taught me: when you’re getting rid of sentimental items, take pictures to remember them instead. And although I was unable to cherish them before, I found myself valuing these items as I prepared them for sale, took pictures, and wrote their descriptions.

Problems are potential(ly) fun

Although problems sometimes cropped up, I interacted with my problems with a play mindset and discovered multiple possibilities to move forward and grow.

I didn’t know how to take pictures, write descriptions, or price things to start but I was able to learn a lot by searching for similar items listed in the online marketplace.

After my first couple of sales, I had run out of small Amazon boxes and couldn’t ship anything else until I had the right-sized more expensive boxes. But then I discovered how to cut up large (cheap!) moving boxes into custom sizes and I was able to start shipping again.

While a majority of potential customers were kind, others berated me for quirks of the specific selling platform. Especially after I started listing clothing, I became the subject of some sexual harassment. I might have shown my frustration back to them before. But after putting myself into my customer’s mindset by re-selling my own things, I’m always reminded of myself when I interact with my customers and find it easier to be understanding and move forward rationally.

Pricing is not set by the seller

It may seem like the price is set by the seller. As a buyer, whether you go to a supermarket or Amazon, you already see a price tag on every good. As a seller, when you list something, you’re asked to enter the price.

But that’s an illusion.

In reality, pricing is set by the market. That’s why if demand decreases, prices tend to drop. That’s why sellers participate in holiday and other promotional sales discounts.

In the resale market, items are usually discounted to 20-80% of the original cost but sometimes go for much, much higher. People also bargain.

When I started reselling, I had a firm notion of the value of my things. I wanted to sell for close to the original cost. But, then as I kept selling, I developed a finer eye for timing and a neutral, no-assumptions mindset when it came to pricing.

The potential of niches

I only knew of Craigslist when I got started. But after I explored, I’ve discovered a couple of platforms that do really well for specific kinds of items. eBay is great for branded items, electronics, and random piles of junk (for real!) because the eBay Buyer protection is very established and there’s a lot of serious and eclectic buyers on the platform. Depop is a good fashion marketplace with a fantastic Instagram-like shopping feed and fashion specific filters. Facebook Marketplace has been my go-to for everything else because you do local or shipping very easily, their shipping + seller fees are the lowest across online marketplaces, and there’s a LOT of people on Facebook.

There will likely be more such platforms in the future. New features will better support niches as people evolve and trends change. I’ve noticed people build large followings on these online marketplaces as they resell existing products or create new physical products. So this experiment with selling something online could even result in a future career.

But all that just starts with something simple. Find something you don’t use or never used at home and list it on a marketplace.


Thanks to Bea, Parthi, Piyali, Joey, Anant, and Shawn for reading early drafts.