It’s no surprise that many young people hope to make bank on the internet as digital entrepreneurs and look up to their peers who are making serious cash while becoming famous.
Search interest for the term “how to make money on the internet” was at an all-time high in 2009, right in the middle of the U.S. economic recession, according to Google Trends. And the term is on an upswing right now, as well.
Video kingpins like 27-year-old Ninja are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month by playing video games, and internet entrepreneurs like 42-year-old Gary Vaynerchuk are embracing e-commerce and consulting as ways to grow their net worth and become famous.
But at just 18 years old, e-commerce entrepreneur and Northern Kentucky University (NKU) freshman entrepreneurship and marketing major Paolo Franchesco is working on building his brand P. Franchesco Ferrucci into a household name.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Franchesco’s interest in entrepreneurship was cemented at a young age. “I remember in fifth grade, I would buy big boxes of Coca-Cola cans, and I would go out into the park in my neighborhood and I would resell them for more money,” he says.
“I kind of come from a family of entrepreneurs. But their businesses are different from anything I do or see myself doing, except for maybe real estate.”
Franchesco emphasizes that growing and running a business isn’t easy. “I’ve had months where I’ve made less than $100,” he says. But business has certainly picked up. In the month of September, he brought in $2,345.40 in revenue. “I’m hoping for a $10,000 to $12,000 year at my current rate,” Franchesco says.
Franchesco’s business is that of selling a lifestyle. Much of his business plan is based on marketing his products to an audience not unlike himself. That is to say, young, vigorous people looking for high-quality, timeless bags and accessories. His brand uses Italian influences to create a line of clothing, handbags, and jewelry.
His company name, P. Franchesco Ferrucci, combines his own name with his grandmother’s last name, Ferrucci.
Franchesco, who's inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, says that, “I watched a bunch of documentaries about da Vinci, and I saw him transition from a regular person to someone who has a bigger picture.”
He enjoys how Leonardo could focus on innate details while considering the broader implications. “I try to keep that mind-set,” Franchesco says.
His company also shares part of its name with Francesco Ferrucci, an Italian captain who was born in 1489. Although there’s no relation to Franchesco's knowledge, “Ferrucci was a man that was alive during the Renaissance, so I take inspiration from that period, and that European-style branding,” Franchesco says.
“My products and design are always a work in progress, but I want to get it to the point where I feel they are complete enough to be left alone.”
How to Start an E-Commerce Business: Behind the Scenes
Franchesco started his website while he was still in his senior year of high school. “I created it (the brand) before anything else was established, and then it was the beginning of this year when I launched it,” he says. “I really started grinding and doing most of the work that’s gotten me to where I am between June and now.”
“Before I started the brand, I worked in a Fossil store, and I bought a Fossil bag,” Franchesco says. “I liked the feel of the leather and the look of it, and that’s how I got passionate about the bags.”
He adds that, “I won best dressed in my high school’s senior class, so I’ve always enjoyed looking sharp.”
He’s established direct relationships with manufacturers to produce and brand most of the products he sells on his website.
Although the relationships with his manufacturers aren’t exclusive, “I’m the only one I’ve found so far who sells these bags,” he says. “I just Googled different terms and eventually ran across a manufacturer that I thought seemed to be overlooked and contacted them. That’s how that relationship started.”
Franchesco’s company is a streamlined form of an e-commerce business.
“I can work from anywhere in the world, as long as I have an internet connection,” he says.
Since his manufacturers fulfill his orders for him, he houses no inventory, which cuts operating costs significantly. His built his site on Shopify, an easy-to-use online e-commerce platform. The platform integrates site building, order and payment processing, and analytics into one place.
An Affiliate Program
One of the keys to the e-commerce business’s growth might be his affiliate program. Franchesco partners with social media influencers to help market his products.
Partners receive a commission of 25 percent on all sales they make, which is much more generous than other similarly structured programs offered by companies like Amazon or eBay, whose affiliates generally make six to 10 percent on sales they’re responsible for.
He tracks individual influencer sales by giving them each a unique coupon code to share with friends and on social media. (For instance, the coupon code “CentSai30” will get you 30 percent off the company's merchandise. Tracking the sales on each coupon code lets Franchesco know how much to pay each influencer and how many sales they made.)
Franchesco says that he finds his affiliates mostly on Instagram. “I comb hashtags that are relevant to my brand, trying to find people who match the brand image from different parts of the world,” he says. “Instagram is my main marketing platform, without a doubt.”
How to Start an E-Commerce Business Yourself
Franchesco is certainly on the right track to building his successful side hustle into a booming full-time pursuit. His formula can be replicated to suit many different brands. Plus, Shopify makes it easy to build a site that is clean and simple to navigate. Franchesco is an inspiration to many young people, particularly because he came from an economically disadvantaged situation.
“My household is low income. It was just me, my mom, and my sister,” Franchesco says. “I moved here from Peru when I was 6 and learned English, so I’m bilingual.”
He recalls that, “I had a conversation with my mom Friday night, and I told her that I made more money than her. It was a conversation I never thought I would have, especially at 18. She was proud but told me to still finish my degree at NKU.”
I see a lot of myself in Franchesco in that he, too, hails from a low-income background. It certainly isn’t easy at all, growing up with the distractions that come with that. But he has been able to overcome his disadvantages, not only by starting an e-commerce business, but also by earning a full-tuition scholarship through Northern Kentucky University’s Educational Diversity Scholarship program.
Nearly Anybody Can Do It
It sounds cliché, but if Franchesco can make it happen, nearly anyone can. Coming from a disadvantaged background, teaching himself e-commerce from the ground up, and having it blossom into a full-time pursuit is the result of hard work and a vision.
He’s just one of many self-taught internet entrepreneurs going into the future.
Resources like YouTube make it easy for anyone with an internet connection and a phone to learn about anything their heart desires, and today’s youth are certainly taking advantage of it.
I’ve personally been able to teach myself several trades — such as computer building and troubleshooting, branding, and social media marketing — that have made me thousands of dollars, and that continue to help me make money to this day.
It takes dedication, drive, and passion, but almost any business can make money.
Disclaimer: The author is not affiliated in any way with the P. Franchesco Ferrucci brand.