In August of 2022, my then 11-year-old son, Matthew, came to me and said, “Dad, I want to get into sports cards.”
“Like baseball cards?” I replied.
“Yeah, I’ve been watching this guy on YouTube who turned a penny into a car and I think I can do it with cards.”
“A car?” I’m not sure if my eye roll was audible, but my immediate response wasn’t favorable.
Like every kid in the 80s and 90s, I had my fair share of cards. In fact, they were still in boxes in my parent’s attic. Back then, we all thought we were going to have that one card that paid for college. Besides, we had all heard our dad’s stories of putting his Mickey Mantle cards in his bicycle spokes or the day grandma threw his cards away when he went to college. Unfortunately, due to the overproduction of cards and the general nature of supply and demand, our childhood hobby left us with nothing more than a closet full of cardboard and memories of trading for our favorite players with our friends.
But what my son saw and what I didn’t recognize is that the sports card hobby had changed drastically. Due to the influence of the pandemic and the rise of self-proclaimed entrepreneurial teens and young adults, the hobby of my childhood was now “The Hobby” with a capital “H”.
From $0 to $10,000
After my initial eye roll and a little research, I felt like this endeavor was something I was supposed to do. Over the past few years, I’ve learned to follow these spiritual nudges as they’ve always been the greatest source of growth – like when I wrote my book or left my career to start a business.
My son told me that he wanted to go from nothing to $10,000 in sports collectibles. It seemed like a lofty goal, but I was more than willing to indulge his efforts. Besides, I could see him coming to life every time we talked about it and his passion was contagious. So, he cut some grass for a neighbor, walked a few dogs and sold off some old gaming consoles to get his first $200. Then, I organized my old collection from childhood and began selling it on Facebook Marketplace.
I remember when one of our first cards sold on eBay for $35. I was shocked that someone would pay for it. But then when it happened again, and again, and again, I started to recognize a pattern. Once I saw that it was a viable transaction, my wheels began spinning. We didn’t want to put any new capital into the business, so I told Matthew to think about things we could sell out of the closet and the garage to help raise money to buy more cards.
Interestingly enough, I was navigating some health challenges at the time and the bourbon collection I had stashed in the closet wasn’t going to help the gout I was battling. It’s funny how the Lord uses pain to encourage us in the right direction.
The more Matthew and I stepped in, the more we learned and the more it grew. By Thanksgiving, we had roughly $6,000 in total profit. Along the way, we began sharing our journey on social media. As a result, people started reaching out for help and even asking us if we would help them sell their cards. One friend in particular had a sizable collection. The unexpected consignment opportunity allowed to learn and make money without our own personal exposure. It also accelerated our goal. We doubled by Christmas.
In roughly four months, we had gone from $0 to more than $10,000 and started the year with a new business and tons of energy.
5 Things I’ve Learned
Since the beginning of 2023, we have grown by nearly 7x and have sold more than $160,000 of sports cards, making close to $70,000 total profit in our first year. In addition, Matthew’s personality has blossomed and our social media content has helped us connect with a number of key people in the Sports Card Hobby. Now when we go to shows, people inevitably call out “Hey, Little Matt” across the show floor and I joke that I’m simply his camera man. Matthew even got to interview entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk at The National Sports Card Show (and he crushed the interview).
There will be more stories about our journey and all that we’ve experienced along the way, but today, I wanted to share 5 things I’ve learned over the past year that will be helpful for anyone who is already in business or is looking to step into something new.
1. There is No Business Without Risk
When my son first came to me, I was shocked that sports card sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars. It didn’t make sense to my logical mind and it seemed like an irresponsible risk to buy a collectible for that amount of money. In addition, there were a lot of people in my life who didn’t understand it either. But every business begins with someone who’s willing to take a risk.
Most people never start their business because they’re afraid of risk. The ones who do often don’t succeed because they take risk with improper motives. Risk for the sake of risk isn’t the wisest choice. And, risk that is solely based on a big payout as the motive isn’t sustainable. But when risk is tied to inspiration and you can see a pathway for adding value to others, it’s a recipe for success.
If you have a business idea or a passion project, make sure your motives are pure. Then, figure out how it genuinely adds value to others and take the leap.
2. Business Should Be Fun
I’ve had the privilege of being involved in a number of different businesses in my 41 years, but I can honestly say that starting this sports card business with my son has been some of the most rewarding of my life. And while it has had immeasurable value in teaching him life lessons and business acumen, it reminded me that business doesn’t have to be so serious.
There’s a sweet spot in business between doing what you love and being able to make a profit. For many, the tension of that sweet spot is burdensome. We sacrifice what we love to make money and we feel like a sellout. Or, we stick with what we love and don’t know how to actually run a sustainable business. With Matthew and I, profit wasn’t the main focus. There was a goal of getting to $10,000, but that goal was measured by experiences, not revenue. Whether it was going to card shows or the boys trading for Pokemon cards at school and selling them on Facebook Marketplace, each transaction was celebrated.
If you’ve lost the “fun” in your business, get back to your roots. What got you started? What is it about the business that you love? And sometimes it helps to expose yourself to others who are having fun because, quite honestly, having fun is contagious.
3. Business Isn’t Always Fun
On the flipside, business has it’s challenges. For Matthew and I, we had to deal with being scammed, losing money, putting up with unruly card dealers and even withstanding criticism for our efforts. The truth is, every deal doesn’t make money and quite honestly, not every person you deal with is easy. Each time one of those situations came up, I encouraged Matthew to keep moving and not get burdened by the details.
There was one time we lost $2,000 on one individual card. It was devastating. However, we took the loss and reinvested our principal into another card that we sold for $6,000. The point is, we turned a $2,000 loss into a net $2,000 gain by simply moving forward and not getting bogged down in the mistake.
The bottom line is, business isn’t always fun. But in those moments, you have to pause, take it in stride and get back to the things you love. If you learn from a difficult moment, you can apply that wisdom to future experiences. It’s less about avoiding mistakes and more about letting mistakes propel you forward.
4. Businesses Without Passion Don’t Work
When you’re dealing with a 13-year-old it can be tough to find sustainable passion. But I’ve learned that whether you’re 13 or 41, it doesn’t work without passion. Too often we tether our passion to an outcome instead of the process. If we make the sale, we get excited. If we don’t close the sale, our passion fades. With our sports card business, I’ve had to consistently find new ways to engage passion.
Initially, there was a honeymoon phase where everything was exciting. But then, as we grew, it always took more and more to keep the passion alive. I saw this as dangerous because bigger cards meant bigger risk. So, to alleviate the need for more, we shifted gears. We introduced grading cards, we added interviews and we started a Q&A segment.
Businesses often become stagnant because they do the same thing ad nauseam. One way to spark passion is to inject creativity and variety. Think about adding a new element to your business. That newness and challenge can spark passion that helps get you over the hurdle of monotony.
5. Your Next Thing is Closer Than You Think
A year ago, I had no idea that this business idea would be what it has become. But I learned that you have to follow the feeling rather than a calculated strategy. Too often, our next thing is right in front of us but we’re unwilling to recognize it for a variety of reasons. We have to become adaptable and let go of certain things in order to embrace new things.
I love seeing people pursue their passion and step into their purpose. I also see too many people who are in it for the wrong reason or they’re terrified to step out. The truth is, the next thing is right in front of you, but you’re likely missing it because you’re looking for something else.
I loved cards when I was a kid, but I grew up and forgot. My kid taught me how to become a kid again.
Fathers and Sons
My experience with Matthew has opened up a world of creativity about helping parents connect with their kids and helping entrepreneurs thrive in their ideas. It has also made me painfully aware of how much this next generation of kids needs to come alive, develop great habits and live life beyond the confines of a screen.
There will be more of that in the future as we continue to develop this site and our business. For now, I hope you recognize that something amazing is just around the corner if you’re willing to take on the perspective of a child.