Sunday, May 30, 2010

Markuza's Folly?

Weighing the options between another depressing post (and I have one) and something different...

Depressing post...

Something different...

I'm going to write something different.

I don't write much about what I do, how I make money, what fills (or empties) the coffers. And I'm probably not going to do so tonight, because at this point the topic in question is merely a concept of wealth, a figment of income, doing more emptying than filling of coffers.

I recently built a website called, or if you prefer,, as I registered both names. I'm trying to fill a gap I discovered here in the virtual Brazil, that being the absence of a fully functional online store to buy graffiti supplies. There are several websites for graffiti stores here in Brazil, but none of them offer a shopping cart and online payment except for one, and they don't even have spray paint. I'm trying to change that by building an attractive, easy to use store with everything a graffiteiro might want, from spray paint, to big fat markers, to respirators, etc.

So why is this a folly? Well, mostly because I don't think there's a lot of money in it, at least not yet. There appears to be demand, this country is filthy with graffiteiros and the stores to buy decent supplies are few and far between, so interest in theory should be substantial. Problem is that profit margins are low, material is difficult and expensive to obtain, and the stuff (spray paint at least) is allegedly spontaneously explosive.

Not to worry! My first ill-fated attempt at e-commerce, which never actually made it to the 'e' part, involved exporting material related to Capoeira. Although there's lots of stuff you can buy related to Capoeira, shirts, bells, stretchy pants, the principal item of interest is the berimbau, which is nearly impossible to ship internationally because it is just a tad too long. Since this new project is not an international endeavor, shipping little pressurized paint bombs around the country is a relative cake walk.

I got into this whole thing when I agreed to create an online store for my friend and ex-owner of the only graffiti shop in town, Bomb Bahia. Like a fool, I agreed to do this for nothing, an agreement that in retrospect I would have had to back out of. Not because I've shelled out a lot of cash- building and maintaining my site will be quite inexpensive for me, and I have very little in the way of operating costs at this point. The program which manages the whole store for me I downloaded and installed for free, and I'm almost smart enough to know how to use it. The real problem is the time involved in putting everything together, which is substantial. And filling orders so far has been quite time consuming, all three of them.

What makes this project so great is that I'm enjoying it. Thoroughly. Mostly because it's a change of pace for me, and ties in to my other interests. The problem is that it robs me of the time to pursue those other interests, and, as my wife keeps reminding me, it distracts me from making real money. Which is true. It does distract me. But the other reality is that my other work has dropped off substantially in recent months so I need to be pursuing other avenues. And what about my previous observation that there's probably not much money in this? Well, my mentor at college was fond of telling us that we could never see the end from the beginning- that by working on something for countless hours ultimately we would arrive at a conclusion that was far more interesting than that which we had conceived at the outset. Perhaps that will be the case here as well, with the hopeful addition of the word 'lucrative' right next to 'interesting.'

After Bomb Bahia closed its doors, I decided, after much internal debate, to proceed with the project on my own. Truth be told, I'd spent a lot of time with the owner thinking about how I would run his business differently, sometimes making suggestions to that effect, some of which he followed. I briefly considered opening my own retail store, but that plan was upended by two things: first, I didn't have the money to invest in inventory or the means to take on a lot of operating expenses, and second, two stores opened in the city while I was mulling it over. I was ready to call it quits when I had an epiphany of sorts- why not put their inventory on my site? That, my friends, is what I did and what is today. Their stuff (mostly), my site (entirely), and a small commission on each item sold.

So far, so good. As I mentioned previously, there have only been three sales so far but the last one was a biggie- over thirty cans of paint. It was a ridiculous amount of running around and phone calls and emails but I learned a lot even if I didn't make much money. I have people checking out the site from all over Brazil, and some inquiries, and an active social-networking component on Orkut, by far the most popular social networking site in Brazil. People aren't buying, yet, but at least they're having a look. And they appear to be interested.

Before I wrap this up I have to give a shout-out to Fabio, frequent contributor to this blog, who has been an immense help in proofreading and straightening out my sometimes strangled Portuguese. I can speak Portuguese fluently, even if I still screw up the gender of nouns and misuse prepositions from time to time- I doubt I'll ever stop doing that 100%. But writing it is another beast entirely, and I don't want to come off as an uneducated fool. I doubt I could learn to write Portuguese properly without a serious effort that would probably involve taking classes. Very frustrating! But then it occurred to me that Fabio might be the perfect person to help out, as he is also bilingual, and his primary language is Portuguese. He proofread the whole site and made numerous corrections. Thanks Fabio! You rock.

To conclude, this is the plan for the future of the project. I'm going to pursue this for a year. If it's too much of a hassle, or it doesn't make me any money, or I decide to move back to the States, I'll ditch the thing and move on. I doubt I'll lose much money as anything I invest in merchandise will be relatively easy to recoup, as it's in high demand. Maybe I'll end up selling the whole system to one of the stores I buy paint from.

But maybe, just maybe, it will be a success.

I think I'd enjoy that.


Fabio Bossard said...

Yay!! You're welcome, buddy! I wish the best for your business career.

markuza said...

Thanks Fabio!