Welcome to Alex Pavlenko Podcast. In this first episode, I will share with you my different business ideas that I had to go through in order to find something that I enjoy, which are run today.
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My parents immigrated from Ukraine when I was just 9 years old. Being an immigrant my parents didn’t have much money to buy us kid’s toys. The only way to afford a toy that I wanted was to buy it myself. I had to figure out ways to earn that money, and so early on I had to work for it. I learned that my neighbors could afford toys for their kids and I could earn money by just going and knocking on my neighbor’s doors and offering them lawn mowing services. I would recruit my friends and that those friends worked with me.
When I was in high school, I was interested in website design and so I started learning the different frameworks and code websites. My very first official business was building websites for small businesses.
When I was building small business websites, I would also get a few clients who had issues with their computers. Back in the day, people used a custom-built computer and would have to upgrade them with a better graphics card, more ram, etc. I remember building a few computers for friends, for some extra money. That interest of mine grew and I continued to learn how the internet works and how online works.
I remember one day realizing that there was an opportunity in buying and selling gift cards. Back in the day stores would issue store credit for unwanted or returned items and people would sell the gift cards for cash. I ended up setting up a website called egiftcardexchange.com and I would have people send me their gift cards and exchange for me to PayPal them cash.
I would buy those gift cards at a discounted rate. For example, if somebody sends me a Home Depot card that had a value of $100 it would be worth about $80. I would buy them and realist them on my website for other people to buy it. When someone bought a gift card I would either convert that physical gift into an eGift card or just mail them the real physical gift card.
Early on, I realized eBay was a great marketplace to sell gift cards. They were a big auction website back in two thousand. With a growing eBay account selling gift cards, I started looking for other things to sell. I ended up was looking for bulk items that I could buy to resell individually. I remember a one time I bought a mystery box from Macy’s returned of returned items, they would sell it for cheap but wouldn’t list what’s inside. I remember getting a box and all of a when I opened the box it was just full of new underwear. That got me thinking, what am I going to do with so much underwear? surprisingly underwear was selling on eBay.
So that led me to basically build a website and then use eBay to kind of generate those leads first customers and hope that by selling on eBay I would earn a lifetime customer through email marketing, retargeting ads, and Google ads to have them return for more.
Well, that eventually led me to realize that it was fun to run an online store, but it wasn’t, something that I could figure out to earn a good reputation and consistent cash flow. With gift cards, it was just hit and miss because gift cards became in-store credit with restrictions. Where you have to buy a gift card, but if you return an item to a store, they would issue an in-store credit. And that credit card can only be redeemed with your license or your ID. That couldn’t scale, I couldn’t grow that business.
So eventually closed that business down and continued to pursue other opportunities. Right around that time, I discovered a new opportunity in screen printing. This new business was an interesting idea to me. This business allowed me to create wholesale accounts with clothing companies that sold blanks and I could resell them with my graphics or business/organization graphics on them. This business idea, came to me when I was searching for promotional merchandise for a few of my clients. Learning that what I needed to order seemed to be overpriced. I knew that I could cut out that middleman and offer that same service to my clients in addition to website services.
I ended up finding a local company that manufactured and sold kits. I ended up buying screen printing equipment and started my printing business. I named it; Threadesign, and then bought another domain name that was expired, by another screen printing company in Portland called Blue PDX. I joined those two and I started selling promotional items to different businesses, schools, and churches in addition to my website services.
During my first year in this business, I discovered that by creating a retail store for people to come and purchase from me made more sense and money, and it was a service most businesses were expecting from me. They would choose blank tee shirts and I would print it on the spot. To grow this business, I built a kiosk in Vancouver Mall, and set it up during the summer, you know, sell t-shirts and different promotional merchandise.
With that idea, I negotiated a short term lease in Vancouver Mall. I talked with the leasing agent and saw how excited she was for me and allowed me to do that over the summer break.
I ended up opening a little kiosk right in the middle of Vancouver Mall, selling tee shirts and all that promotional stuff. It was fun for the first month or two until I realized I was chained to that kiosk, I had no options but to stay there from open to close. During that time, I learned that I wasn’t a person that was happy being stuck to a single location or a room for that long. I ended up skipping a lot of days and receiving a lot of fines from the leasing agent leasing office due to being late or not there during business hours.
That being such a burden, I was able to get out of the contract and ended up opening in office space instead. I started screen printing for my clients who I would find online. It was a fun year until I realized how difficult it was to hire someone for the role of screen-printer. You see screen printing is not an easy job, it requires you to be by the press unit that produced over, 400 Fahrenheit, that cure ink on the shirt. That’s the not so fun part of the job.
It was also right around the time when I was pursuing my bachelor’s in business. I thought to myself, I should rethink this whole business, what am I doing? If I can’t find a person to do the printing for me, how am I going to grow this company? I mean, I can’t do everything myself.
You either have to focus on sales or you become a very good operations manager and you find a salesperson. I didn’t want to do the operations side of the business and be stuck in screen printing for life. I ended up, pursuing other ideas, and right around that time, I had an uncle who was in a window covering business. He went was manufacturing, shutters. These are wooden shutters that would go on the windows.
After talking with him and offering him my website design service, I thought that I can assist him with his web design and online marketing and find an opportunity to sell them for a commission. Since I don’t have that much interest in manufacturing what if I just sell them for him. With the idea of selling shutters, I started looking into other manufacturers for additional products. With the manufacturers in place, I established a new business in window coverings called Blinds Northwest which I ran for over five years selling window coverings to new and remodeled homes.
I built the website and would advertise online by offering free in-home consultation. During the free in-home consultation, I would go measure their windows, show them samples, and explain to them how our product is different from other manufacturers and how they should order with me.
That ended up being a very lucrative business for me, that lasted for a very long over 5 years. I ended up opening an office space working from Vancouver downtown and another coworking desk space in Portland, OR
I enjoyed this business and there was an opportunity to grow. But like all previous business, my passion or love for it stopped growing. That led me to start looking for another idea of a business that I could start, something on the side. Right around the time, I was renting an office space in Vancouver downtown, and I had extra desk space. I came up with an idea to sublease it.
I placed an ad on Craigslist and within a day, that same day, I remember getting a few interested people in renting from me. I was able to find a guy who wanted to rent and desk space. It was convenient because now I didn’t have to pay for the whole lease. You know, my name was on the lease for several years, but I could sublease desk space, and that way cover my lease for the month of rent.
One day, I remember sitting in a coffee shop in an old friend of mine, just decided to walk in. We sat down, we talked about the idea of renting subleasing desk space to others. We realized there was a market opportunity for that in Vancouver downtown. The idea was to launch a coworking space in Vancouver downtown, which became Columbia Collective.
We ended up opening a fairly large office space, right on the main street of downtown Vancouver right below us was a coffee shop called Boomerang.
We opened our business and started subleasing office space to others, remote employees, freelancers, and other companies. The idea was to divide the space into different membership tiers, (flex desk, dedicated desk, dedicated office, private office space) also rent per our event space, conference rooms, and our flex desk space.
It was an interesting time and period in my life, where I ended up starting this business with a friend of mine that we ended up selling to the owner of the building, our landlord decided, to have the same kind of business in our area.
After selling that business my wife and I, started looking for another idea to pursue. Which we still run today, which was our coffee shop called Preso Coffee Co. it has been over two years now, three years of running our coffee shop.
We started with a catering business which helped us to open a physical local in North Portland, OR. It was a growing little community, a historic downtown of North Portland. To this day we have opened another location in Vancouver, Washington.
The lesson from my experience is that when you start a business and you tap into an existing need. That need drives the business. Then it’s easier to find other businesses, other people who are like that, who have that same need, and it’s easier to sell to them, you know, and create more business.
Today marks another chapter in my life, I’ll share that in my other episodes, but this new beginning is Real Estate and Digital Advertising.
If you guys have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me. Just direct message me on Instagram or my website, and I would love to feature your questions on my next episodes.