On this episode, special Guests Brian Zammit & Greg Kowalczyk share their stories of how they left the corporate world and created brand new streams of income with their eCommerce and Amazon.com businesses. Brian shares his journey that took him from the world of Linux and IT Systems to creating his own brands and flying to China to deal with manufacturers directly. And Greg shares how he immigrated to Canada, then left for a job in Germany, and then came back determined to create a better life for himself and his family. These guys are incredible, enjoy the show!
Tom Karadza: Hey, it’s Tom Karadza, and you know why I’m super excited about this episode of the “Your Life, Your Terms” show? With Greg and Bryan on the show, this defines why we started Rock Star Real Estate. So these guys started some Amazon and eCommerce businesses, and the reason it defines why we started Rock Star Real Estate, is because we began this entire journey in business to help people live their life on their terms. We strongly believe that real estate can be a huge part of that, but it’s definitely not the only option to any of us. Nick and I ourselves, even though we own a brokerage that helps real estate investors, we’re not tied to real estate as the one and only way to help yourself. We believe you want multiple streams of income from all different sources.
So we met Greg and Brian, and you’ll hear them share the story through Rock Star. We helped them buy some properties, they were real estate investors. And then they went off and started these very cool Amazon businesses, and have started eCommerce companies now, and they manage each other here at Rock Star. The whole Rock Star membership has been a place where like minded people who are all trying to do the best things for their lives kind of meet each other, and we cannot be more thrilled to play a small part in that. To have them now then share their story on this journey is really coming full circle for us. We’re gonna do more of this, of different people, different Canadians who are living life on their terms. You’ll hear them share their story, and some of the frustrations that we’ve all had working in the corporate world.
We had a good laugh over that. And if you’re listening to this, and you want to know more about the Rock Star inner circle membership, the place to go for that is Rock Starinnercircle.com, so that’s one of our websites. So www.Rock Starinnercircle.com/member. If you go to Rock Starinnercircle.com/member, you’ll see a quick summary of what you get as a Rock Star inner circle member. And the reason I’m sharing that specifically on this episode of the show, is that we have now started doing eCommerce classes here at Rock Star with Greg and Brian’s help. You’ll hear a little bit more of that in their story as well. We’ve also began some entrepreneur classes, and some building business classes. In June, we’re going to be doing the entrepreneurial summit. So stay tuned, we’ll have more details for that. But that’s enough of all that for now, let’s get to Greg and Brian, and me and Nick sharing their story.
Speaker 2: Are you ready to live life on your terms? Is it time to take charge? Real estate, business building, the economy, health and nutrition, and more. It’s the Your Life, Your Terms show, with Tom and Nick Karadza. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Nick Karadza: Good, so we’re live guys. So there you go. We’re on radio. Brian, you got all serious when we said that we’re live there.
Tom Karadza: Yeah, you changed the…
Nick Karadza: Yeah you really … quiet posture.
Brian Zammit: So serious.
Nick Karadza: So Brian Zammit, or we just learned that it’s Bryan Zam, I already forgot, “Zammeet?”
Tom Karadza: “Zammeet.”
Brian Zammit: Yeah, that’s the Maltese way to say it.
Nick Karadza: Maltese.
Tom Karadza: Bryan, we’re going to have to…
Nick Karadza: Right into the mic Bryan, right into the mic.
Tom Karadza: About 10 times…
Nick Karadza: You can move the mic, no just pull the mic to your … Yeah, yeah there you go it moves like that. Yeah, see how that works? Yeah, there you go.
Okay. Brian Zammit, Maltese. What, you can’t nod on a podcast. You have to speak. This is the miming show. Then Greg, how am I pronouncing your last name? “Kawalchuck.”
Greg Kowalczyk: “Kavalcheck”
Nick Karadza: “Kavalcheck.” Okay. Butchered that one, too. “Kavalcheck.”
Greg Kowalczyk: “”Kavalcheck.”
Nick Karadza: Great, “Kavalcheck.” Polish.
Greg Kowalczyk: That’s a Polish name, yes.
Nick Karadza: You came to Canada how many years ago?
Greg Kowalczyk: 97, 92. 1992. That was 27 years ago.
Nick Karadza: Right at the kind of the beginning of. No, right at kind of a big real estate crash right around 92. There you go, maybe you brought it. Did you get a take out here.
Tom Karadza: Did you get a good deal on a property?
Greg Kowalczyk: No, not really.
Tom Karadza: What did you do, rent when you got here? Lived with family.
Greg Kowalczyk: I couldn’t actually find an apartment at that time.
Tom Karadza: Really?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah
Tom Karadza: Why? Was there just nothing available?
Greg Kowalczyk: It was nothing available. We had to bribe the superintendent.
Tom Karadza: ‘At a boy. See I like people like that. Get stuff done. So you bribed the super to get first in line?
Greg Kowalczyk: No, just to get us in the apartment. The first month we lived in a basement.
Tom Karadza: What’d you bribe. So how much did you pay him?
Greg Kowalczyk: 400 bucks.
Nick Karadza: I thought you were gonna say with sausages or something.
Tom Karadza: But 400 bucks is a lot more, even then, than it is now. When there was vacancy he just put your application to the front of the line. That’s how it worked?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, oh yeah. We had to refurbish the apartment.
Tom Karadza: What part of Toronto.
Greg Kowalczyk: No, that was Mississauga.
Tom Karadza: Mississauga. Where?
Greg Kowalczyk: Hurantario and Dundas.
Tom Karadza: Hurantario and Dundas. Where that building just exploded.
Greg Kowalczyk: A little bit down.
Tom Karadza: Was that your old building?
Greg Kowalczyk: No
Tom Karadza: Got it, okay. Hurantario and Dundas. That was downtown Mississauga back in the day.
Greg Kowalczyk: But I should buy at that time. It was only five million.
Tom Karadza: Yeah, you should have. Cause it was five million then, it’s a whole heck of a lot more now. I don’t even know the building, but I know it’s more now. I just like the fact that you bribed the super. And Brian, born in Canada?
Nick Karadza: Who have you bribed?
Brian Zammit: I was, yeah.
Nick Karadza: Have you bribed anybody in your life? Our father bribed a police officer, or tried to once. Remember?
Tom Karadza: I was to small. Was I too small? I don’t remember it, so I’m just assuming I was too small.
Nick Karadza: Yeah, he got pulled over and tried to bribe the cop. Cop said “We don’t do that in Canada.” I think he threatened our dad with something further. It was worth a shot.
Brian Zammit: No no, no bribery.
Nick Karadza: No bribery in your life. Nothing that you’re willing to commit to?
Alright you guys. The reason that we have you on: We wanted to share a little bit of your stories. Don’t get all serious on us, but were you both in the corporate world?
Brian Zammit: Yeah
Greg Kowalczyk: Oh yeah, definitely
Nick Karadza: Greg, you were doing what?
Greg Kowalczyk: I was in engineering. Basically when I came to Canada, I didn’t speak a word in English. First I just went back to high school. I went to college, and then got my first job as an engineer, yeah.
Nick Karadza: You speak really softly. Don’t worry, you speak up. We want everyone to hear you.
So, engineer. What was the company in Canada that you were, just an engineering company? What type of engineering?
Greg Kowalczyk: It was a strip processing. Metal strip processing. Basically, we design and build heavy machinery.
Nick Karadza: And Brian, you? Born here, university?
Brian Zammit: Yeah, at Toronto.
Nick Karadza: Oh, you followed the dream path. Born here, university, and the corporate job.
Brian Zammit: Well I started a company actually, right out of school with a friend. It was a consulting company. We were doing Linux system admin stuff.
Tom Karadza: Oh my gosh, what year was that? When were you doing that?
Brian Zammit: So that was ’97, ’98, somewhere in there. ’99, in there. Ran that for a little while. We did some pretty cool stuff with stockbrokers on Bay Street, with a satellite company, some pretty cool stuff. It wanted something different. I wanted to see what I could do in the corporate world, see a bigger company. We were trying to educate people at the time. It was a little bit too early. Things had just started to take off for Linux, very early for Linux.
Nick Karadza: Yeah, I remember.
Brian Zammit: Too early. Education a marketplace is too slow.
Tom Karadza: Remember those first Linux graphical interfaces that Linux had? Oh my gosh, it made Windows look amazing. They were pretty horrible.
Brian Zammit: Yeah, they’ve come a long way. Especially on the back end. So we did that, and then went to the corporate world. Linux system admin, and then as a manager of IT ops for companies, and ran teams in the Philippines and China. Some stuff with email and voice-over ID stuff. We sent a letter via email, one system was sending two and a half billion emails a day. I’m sorry for that.
Nick Karadza: You were an email spammer?
Tom Karadza: You were one of those guys
Brian Zammit: It was highly targeted.
Nick Karadza: Oh my gosh, it really was spam? How many Viagra pills are you responsible for?
Brian Zammit: Probably billions, maybe trillions.
Nick Karadza: Okay, so corporate world, both corporate world. Then you guys. Brian, you stumbled onto us. Were you still in the corporate world when you found Rock Star? Or you were gone already?
Brian Zammit: Yeah, I was a year or two out from making my own exit from the corporate world. I’d been investing in stocks. I figured out a few years before that doing what I was doing would not get me where I wanted to be. I started planning for that. I started buying stocks and reading about everything from marketing to all kinds of things to do with online marketing, and buying stocks, dividend paying stocks. Figuring out what else could I do with my time, rather than just sit at the shop and get better at my job, ’cause I’m not gonna get where I wanna be.
Nick Karadza: How many of us have taken that same journey? I’m going mad in my corporate job, what else can I do to make…
I remember leaving when I was working at my government job, I would leave every day pissed off. Some people love it, because I really didn’t have to do those stereotypes, at least to me, the stereotypes about government workers in my position, I won’t talk about any other government worker, but in my position they were kind of true. For me to look good, I didn’t really have to do a whole heck of a lot. But it bothered me because I just felt like I was wasting away there. It was really frustrating. That’s what triggered my whole journey into real estate. ‘Cause it was something else to do and I felt like I had the time and the psychos to do it, because of my current job, you know, where it was.
Tom Karadza: So then Brian, were you married with kids when you decided to quit your job?
Brian Zammit: Yep. I had one kid, and actually I was let go the day before my son was born. Perfect timing.
Nick Karadza: Oh, no way
Tom Karadza: Congratulations. Not congratulations on the son. Congratulations on being let go. On both.
Brian Zammit: Five years ago, March 30th.
Tom Karadza: No way. That’s awesome.
Brian Zammit: Yeah, yeah. At that point I realized that maybe my priority shouldn’t have been just to figure out who I wanna be, but also that someone else controlled my life. It really hit home at that point, like oh, I’m about to have another kid.
Tom Karadza: Were you freaking out about money?
Brian Zammit: Yeah. It was a year or two, I was hoping. I was probably further ahead in planning maybe than most people at that age would be, but it was still a full stop. I’m a couple years away from possibly, from being able to manage my own finances, on my own without a job. I’m in trouble. What am I gonna do? It really hit home that I was owned, basically, by a company. One department, one person. One person could say “You don’t get money next week.” They could tell me “You can’t go on vacation, or you can. When can you take your 15 days?” They can decide that.
Tom Karadza: You can’t see your son’s soccer game, your daughter’s dance recital, whatever it is.
Nick Karadza: That set you off, one time, when you wanted to…
Tom Karadza: That set me off.
Brian Zammit: That finally hit me. I don’t wanna be here anyway. This is not for me. This is not gonna end well for anybody, if I stay here. Or go back to this.
Nick Karadza: Let me ask you something. Do you think you got let go because people could sense your attitude was “I’m not going to be in the corporate world?” And because they picked that up from you, they realized you weren’t a team player, so when it was time to makes some changes they said “Get rid of Brian Zammit?”
Brian Zammit: I can’t say. I don’t know that it was related. There was some changes made at the company after, but I don’t think it’s related.
Nick Karadza: When I came out of school, I was recruited by Proctor and Gamble. I went through their interview process, which at that time was multiple stages. I was finally at, what I was told, was the last stage. The person that was basically taking me around the building for the day, they told me this is pretty much a formality. I went out to lunch with a couple of employees, so they would get to know me. Then I was, this would be in the IT department, I met with a couple guys. I don’t know if they were gonna be my direct bosses, or whatever. After the interview, or just the conversation, they said “Do you have any questions for us?” I said “Yeah. Can you give me an example of a couple things I would be doing. A couple projects, or the type of stuff that we do.” They just kind of looked perplexed. They were like “Yeah, but why does that matter?” I just kind of want an idea of what I’m doing. If I’m gonna be walking around the building and putting paper in printers, or if I’m gonna be coding something. I’d like to have an idea.
They were taken aback, and they explained to me, quite clearly, that I should want to work there for just the opportunity to work with Proctor and Gamble, and not know what I was doing. That’s all that mattered.
Tom Karadza: That’s the golden handcuffs of Proctor and Gamble
Nick Karadza: So I went, I think this was the fourth interview, and it just fell apart. I didn’t end up getting the job because the whole tone of the meeting changed at that time. To me it made no sense. I wanna know what the heck I’m gonna be doing. It wasn’t a fit, that type of thing. To your point. Sometimes you can see it.
Tom Karadza: Well I had something happen. I was at a major bank for one of my coop turns during school. They had, I don’t know if it’s the official name, but we called it the “Meet the Row” project. They had a center in Scarborough. If you can imagine a big square building, the middle of the square building is the elevators. Outside the elevators, the managers sit, and the two rows in front of them are the people that work for them. Two to four rows that work for them.
We did a meet the row project where we stood up with our manager, we went to the next row beside us, said “Hi, my name is, and this is what I do. I work beside you.” I am not kidding, the lady sat next to me, she met somebody in the corner. I could stand up and see the person. It’s a big building, but you could see the person in the far corner of the building. They met for the first time. This lady had been working there for over two decades. They’d been working together, to some degree, for a good portion of those two decades, where they said “Hi, I’m so-and-so.” “Oh, are you this person? Oh. Do we talk on the phone?” “Yeah.” “Oh, this is what you do?”
At that point I’m like “This should have been a clue, that this kind of thing is not for me.
Nick Karadza: It’s funny, because I’m having a flash back. I was in the IT department of the Royal Bank on Front Street. I remember I had just started, and I didn’t have. You know on cubicles, the little name badge that kind of goes over a cubicle wall? I remember one day, I guess my maybe sixth or seventh day working in this job after university. I thought I had hit the home run working for the Royal Bank. I guess the VP of the whole department came by, and he got there before me in the morning, and he left my name badge from the cubicle wall on my desk. Later on that day I saw him, and he said “Hey, did you see your name badge. I brought it to your desk.”
He was saying it like this was this awesome, big, exciting deal. It was, for whatever reason, I know this sounds ridiculous, but for whatever reason that conversation made me think “Oh my God. I cannot stay here. This is ludicrous. A name badge doesn’t really even matter to me.”
Tom Karadza: This is the peak of being here?
Nick Karadza: This is it. You got your name badge for your cubicle. That day, I remember thinking “Oh my gosh.” I started having nightmares about that job right after that.
Anyways, so you got let go, and then how did you start making money?
Is that too private? Did you survive? Are you?
Brian Zammit: I had been investing in stocks for a little bit before that, because I had been planning an exit. Or at least to be. The plan was to be free. How I worked or where I worked wasn’t the question. It was a “Can I be free of what I’m doing, or having to go into a normal job?” I had some stocks and some dividens that were paying out from the stocks, some savings, a lot of money saved. But we all know that that only lasts so long. It’s not making income. There’s no real interest. Shortly after, I found you guys. I had been interested in real estate for a while, and it looked like what you were doing made sense.
I had tried to invest a few years before, but I felt like there was road blocks all the time. I tried in Guelph a few years before, while I was still in school. The real estate agent wasn’t used to dealing with investors, and I was pretty young. I was basically a kid. He took me to this one student rental place. Went to the basement, bumped my head off the ceiling. I’m not that tall. He’s like “Ah, don’t worry about it. It’s fine here. It’s fine.” Then we walk around a bit, and I could see out of the foundation of the basement. It was an older place in Guelph, just outside of downtown. It was kind of cobblestones in the basement. You could see outside, you could see daylight. I was like, “Is that a problem? I don’t know much about construction, but is that gonna be an issue?” He’s like “No, no. Don’t worry. They’re all old houses. It happens all the time.” Mm, no. I don’t think that’s normal.
That’s as much info as I could get out of this guy. I tried a couple of agents, and got kind of similar road blocks. I just didn’t come back to it until a few years ago. Found you guys, bought a couple of houses right off the bat.
Tom Karadza: You’re one of those crazy people that we meet, and you buy properties right away.
Brian Zammit: Yeah. I think it was within a couple of weeks. We were out looking. We closed within about two months of my first night here. I closed on one, and then a month later closed on another.
Nick Karadza: Who did you work with on our team? I forgot.
Brian Zammit: Leslie Kitchen
Nick Karadza: Oh, that’s right. Awesome. So, you bought properties, and then what? That wasn’t enough cash flow. I’m sure they made cash flow, but it’s not gonna support a growing family.
Brian Zammit: That’s right. Then I started playing around with some other stuff online, some online marketing stuff. We did some stuff with, put some calls, marching calls stuff, stock market. That stuff is much more risky than I wanted to play with. Then I found Amazon in 2014, I guess it was. Sometime around October, I kind of discovered “Oh, you can be a seller on Amazon. Neat.” I didn’t know about that.
Nick Karadza: Did you have a product to sell?
Brian Zammit: November, I bought the first, I think it was three products that I bought, online. It was basically an online arbitrar stuff. Basically, from discount stuff, from Walmart and Target and a bunch of other places online. I bought about 60 dollars worth of stuff. I sent it to Amazon. I sent it to a prep center first, and then it went to Amazon. Then the first sale was the beginning of December. Yeah, it was the beginning of December of that year, 2014, was the first sale. By the end of December, by the 31st, I hired a VA from the Philippines to basically source products full time for me. It was New Year’s Eve that I hired her, and she worked for me for most of the next year. Basically looking up products every day. Then, by the first week of April, we had the first 30 day period where we made $10,000 sales period in 30 days.
It went pretty quick.
Nick Karadza: Wow. It went from six months to… But that prep site, you know when you first bought. So wait, you bought just product from Walmart? …And when you sent it to a prep center, what do you mean you sent it to a prep center? Was that to repackage it?
Brian Zammit: You got it. Basically they make sure that there’s no price stickers on it. They make sure that it’s in good condition.
Nick Karadza: Such facilities exist?
Brian Zammit: Yeah. There’s a lot …
There’s a whole bunch. Some are better than others, but I found one and started sending product.
Nick Karadza: That’s pure arbitrar. This reminds me of search engine optimization. 2000 and I don’t know, three. 2004, when you could see, “Oh my gosh.” For me, the big one was, “Oh my gosh, all these people are looking for digital cameras, and there’s not really that many site dedicated to digital cameras.” That sounds ridiculous now for two reasons. Everyone uses a camera on their phone now, but at the same time it was all magazines that had how to buy a digital camera.
So I went and just put information online, with keyword optimization, and I got tons of traffic. I got checks from a website for five or six years, hundreds of dollars a month, from affiliate links.
It reminds of the same thing. That was just pure arbitrage. You’re doing the same thing, but now in 2014. Prep center, and then what. The VA just then searched for products, same kind of things? Supply, demand, see where there’s a little bit of an opportunity?
Brian Zammit: Yep, yep. Because Amazon does provide you a “best seller” rank, so you can get some idea. You can infer what kind of sales any given, most products, how they’re doing on Amazon, by looking at this ranking. If you have enough data points, you can piece together where that product will fit in. How many sales it should make. That’ll tell you how many you should buy. Basically
Tom Karadza: Were you doing anything else at this time? Was it full time on Amazon at that point?
Brian Zammit: I basically went in full time pretty quick.
Nick Karadza: What’s your wife saying about all this? I’m going to buy products from Walmart. Think about the first conversation. “I got a good idea. I’m gonna buy products from Walmart, for $60, and then I’m gonna sell it on Amazon, and Darling this is going to support our family.”
Brian Zammit: I think at that point, she wanted me to do something, because I was driving her crazy at home. I can’t sit still for very long, whether it’s something to do with the gym, or business, starting businesses. I gotta do something. I got myself through university by selling computers.
Nick Karadza: I thought you were gonna say by selling something else. I didn’t know what was coming out, but at that age I was like, “This could go anywhere.”…
Brian Zammit: I feel like you’re watching a lot of Narcos
Nick Karadza: So you’ve always been a bit of a hustler. In a good way, I mean that in a very good way.
Brian Zammit: There’s always something happening, yeah. I did some lending in high school. Somebody wanted to start up a t-shirt company, I lent them some money.
Nick Karadza: So would you say, is your primary family income now Amazon? Like eCommerce stuff.
Brian Zammit: Yes
Nick Karadza: Are you building your own brands off this?
Brian Zammit: Yep. Both our own brands, and also
Nick Karadza: We’re getting to you, Greg.
Brian Zammit: And also wholesale.
Nick Karadza: What do you mean wholesale?
Brian Zammit: Any of the big brands that you see, anything that’s branded that you look around, that you could recognize. Basically, you can be a seller for this stuff online. Some brands might have restrictions, but let’s say it’s Gillette, or whether, it’s Nestle, or whatever. They need people to sell their stuff, and you can buy stuff wholesale. Basically you buy cartons of it, and you can sell it as singles.
Nick Karadza: Do they have their own store on Amazon?
Brian Zammit: Most don’t, no. Most of these big companies have shied away from Amazon, or becoming an official Amazon seller.
Nick Karadza: It’s so funny you say that. I just bought this, finally. What’s this thing called, that levels out your Iphone when you’re recording video? A gizmo, a g…
Brian Zammit: Gimbal?
Nick Karadza: Thank you. Gimbal. That’s what it is. When I went on, I was so confused because there was a certain brand of this product, but I went on, there was so many resellers of it. So I think that’s what’s happening. These guys don’t have their own Amazon store, and they’ve opened it up and there’s a bunch of people selling it. ‘Cause I could buy the exact same product from a bunch of people. So then the competition is what, getting the best number of price point, or… Is everyone selling it for the same price in that type of situation?
Brian Zammit: For the most part, it’s going to be price, but there’s also a number of metrics that Amazon will take into account. Are you selling through FBA? So is it coming out of an Amazon warehouse, or are you selling it, are you shipping it from your own location? Typically, if you’re selling it from Amazon’s warehouse, shipping it from Amazon’s warehouse, you’ll get a slightly higher preference.
Nick Karadza: Is that what you do?
Brian Zammit: Yes. Basically, right now, everything’s going through FBA. They’ve got warehouses, logistics, they handle most of the return process, and customer service for most of the products.
Tom Karadza: Why wouldn’t people do it? Just because it probably costs you more, right?
Brian Zammit: Yeah, that’s right. We’ll call it, say about a third of your sales price, Amazon’s gonna end up keeping in the end, but you don’t have to touch a thing.
Tom Karadza: No, I mean that’s huge. All the logistics are taken care of. You just have to send it there.
Brian Zammit: So they take a bit more, but you can go have a life. That’s the thing. Just sell more volume, and it should make up for it in the end.
Tom Karadza: So you then, now have your own stuff that you are creating your own brand off of? Are you branding the stuff you’re selling now?
Brian Zammit: So that’s two different, separate things. It’s the branding, yes. We’ve actually had stuff produced in China.
Greg Kowalczyk: It’s a private label.
Brian Zammit: Private labeling, yeah. So it’s not taking, it’s not saying, “Oh, Nestle’s got a great chocolate bar, and I’m going to copy it.” It’s saying, “What’s selling on Amazon that has maybe some issues I can improve, that will then cause my product to sell as good or better than this other product.”
Nick Karadza: Are you guys partners on stuff? I don’t even know. You guys run your own businesses?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah …
Nick Karadza: We’ve invited you here, we don’t know anything about what you’re doing.
‘Cause when you were saying we, I wasn’t sure. So I wasn’t sure if it was you and Greg, or you and your wife, you and someone else. I didn’t know what it was.
Greg Kowalczyk: We do a lot of stuff together, but we have two separate businesses.
Nick Karadza: Did you guys meet through Rock Star?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah
Brian Zammit: Right next door, in the training room.
Nick Karadza: Then we must have part ownership…
Tom Karadza: ’cause we have an equitable stake here.
Nick Karadza: Did you guys review the membership agreement? I think we should go pull it out and look at it again.
Tom Karadza: No, that’s cool.
Greg Kowalczyk: There’s this small print with a star beside it…
Tom Karadza: And it’s scratched off
Nick Karadza: Just for you guys. And it’s handwritten in, and the ink’s still wet.
Okay, so. It’s two different things, you’re doing this stuff, and are you then taking customers off of Amazon and trying to get them to buy from you directly, from your own website. Or is that “No, not gonna touch that?”
Brian Zammit: Amazon’s terms of service says that you are not to do that, that the customers are Amazon’s customers. You don’t even get their real email address. It’s an Amazon email address that then…
Nick Karadza: Well, let’s say I buy something, I see your logo on it, and I just Google up that brand.
Brian Zammit: Oh yeah, then you’re mine. That’s okay.
Tom Karadza: Yeah, of course. How can you stop that.
Brian Zammit: Amazon just doesn’t want you blatantly taking the customer, but you can nudge people towards your brand, your website, your email list. You can definitely do that.
Nick Karadza: Is that why I get those follow up emails from certain sellers saying, “Hey, we would like you to rate your experience with this product?” ‘Cause they’re trying to get me over to their website?
Greg Kowalczyk: And you will get some inserts inside the package with the website.
Tom Karadza: Yeah yeah, like a little flyer inside saying, yeah, okay.
Brian Zammit: Usually those emails, you can’t actually include an email address or website outside of Amazon. But if you mention the brand and you really like, you might be … willing to go. That’s right.
Tom Karadza: Tempted to Google it
Brian Zammit: That’s right. But the inserts, like Greg said, that’ll be the place to go. It’ll have a register here for warranty, lifetime warranty. You go to their website, no they’ve got …
Nick Karadza: ‘Cause the better value to you as a business, because now this is a business, is to create an asset of customers off of Amazon, that you own a direct relationship with. No?
Brian Zammit: That’s right
Nick Karadza: ‘Cause then Amazon doesn’t control it. So you’re basically arbitraging another way, using Amazon, because they’re the best resource of combined buyers on the planet. Right…Everybody on Amazon’s a buyer.
Greg Kowalczyk: Amazon is just a platform…
Nick Karadza: You’re obtaining the customers from Amazon. It’s quite brilliant. You’re obtaining the customers from Amazon, then you can do that repeatedly if it’s profitable, which I anticipate it is?
Brian Zammit: It is
Nick Karadza: You take them off of Amazon if you can, if it’s possible, longer term.
Brian Zammit: Yeah. So private label stuff, it’s 20 to 30% return, typically, somewhere in there. People talk about some bigger numbers, it’s unlikely they’ve got all their costs figured out, and much lower there’s something not quite right, or maybe it’s arbitrage or wholesale.
Nick Karadza: You mean 20%, 30% margin of what you’re doing?
Brian Zammit: Margin, yep. Yeah
Nick Karadza: That’s really huge.
Tom Karadza: Oh yeah, I thought you were talking return on product. That is pretty nice.
Brian Zammit: No, that’s margin.
Nick Karadza: So if you feel that you’re running it…
Tom Karadza: Nick, we’ve gotta get into Amazon
Nick Karadza: If you have an idea of what you’re doing, you’re about 20 to 30%
Brian Zammit: That’s right. It should be somewhere in there.
Greg Kowalczyk: Even wholesaling, you can do around 20%
Nick Karadza: Really?
Tom Karadza: Wow. That sounds pretty good
Nick Karadza: Really?
Brian Zammit: It’s a different kind of hustle, for wholesaling
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, it is really competitive
Nick Karadza: So you guys both have engineering type personality backgrounds, if you were computer guy, you were an engineer. ‘Cause you’re crunching data here. You’re basically looking at what product is being sold, and searched for, and seeing a gap that you can step into.
Brian Zammit: That really attracted me to this model, because it was a lot of analytics and numbers. The data’s available from Amazon, so you should be able to draw a line from what’s selling, and figure out what can you sell as well…
Tom Karadza: Yeah, you work it backwards.
Nick Karadza: I love it when business is like that.
You know Greg, I wore yesterday, I was skiing and I wore the first product, I think it was your first Amazon product. The back…
Tom Karadza: I can’t say it either
Nick Karadza: I always say baklava, but it’s bala, not it’s balaclava, right? Yeah, okay, there we go.
Tom Karadza: How do you say it?
Nick Karadza: “Baclava”
Greg Kowalczyk: Balaclava
Nick and Tom: Balaclava
Nick Karadza: That’s it, okay. My wife always corrects me.
Tom Karadza: Ba-la-clava
Nick Karadza: There we go. But it was good. Was that, so was that your brand, or was that someone else? I was looking at the logo, yesterday. There was a little orange circle type thing, and I was like, “Hmm, I wonder if this is one of Greg’s brand, or if at that time if you were just reselling something else.” I don’t think you probably started that..
Tom Karadza: Greg, you have to talk into the mic.
Greg Kowalczyk: We started with that product first.
Nick Karadza: So that was just, it wasn’t your brand.
Greg Kowalczyk: No, it was our brand. We started with, basically with coming up with a name and logo, and everything.
Nick Karadza: Oh, cool. That was a number of years ago now, wasn’t it?
Greg Kowalczyk: That was 2014, they same year.
Tom Karadza: So you guys started pretty much at the same time.
Greg Kowalczyk: Almost at the same time
Nick Karadza: So Greg, how was your journey to start? Did you also get fired the day before one of your children were born?
Greg Kowalczyk: Actually, I wasn’t fired, but I went to that level of frustration, that I got myself fired. So I basically quit.
Nick Karadza: Yeah, you were one of those.
Greg Kowalczyk: I went from my student position in that company to a manager position.
Nick Karadza: Over how many years?
Greg Kowalczyk: Over ten years, I became a third person in the company. I was managing a whole engineering department, about 60 engineers. Then, our German owner decided that we are not profiting enough, ten percent wasn’t enough, so they decided to close the company.
Tom Karadza: Yeah, ’cause they saw the margins you guys make on Amazon, and they said 20 to 30, and they said ten percent?
Nick Karadza: Right, we’re paying you too much, get lost.
Greg Kowalczyk: No, they actually invited me to Germany. So we moved, actually the whole family moved, to Germany.
Nick Karadza: Did we know you then, already at that time?
Greg Kowalczyk: No, because that was 2009. 2009, we moved to Germany for, I was there almost two and a half years, and then I got to a point that basically I couldn’t stand this anymore. That was just…
Tom Karadza: Head through the wall moment.
Nick Karadza: The other day, you shared with me that, at that time, they suggested to sell your house. He didn’t sell his house, he kept his house, and then moved back. You were pretty happy you did.
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, exactly. Like, 2009, everybody were, even we got the appraisal, and the guy says “Oh, if you are moving out, you should sell.” And I said, “No, we are not going to sell.” Even the employer, they also said, “Why are you not selling the house? We’re gonna pay for your agent fee and all this stuff.” And I said, “No.”
So we get ourselves tenants, and they were there for the first year. The second year we had another one, and everything went fine. The house was in perfect condition, just little scratches here and there. Then I realize that you can make some money out of real estate. So when we came back, that’s what I was doing.
Nick Karadza: How many years went by ’til you came back?
Greg Kowalczyk: 2011, we came back.
Nick Karadza: So two years. You hated the Germans?
Greg Kowalczyk: Not Germans, but it’s different.
Nick Karadza: I’m joking. We all have German friends. So you came back, two years.
Tom Karadza: That’s when you started your consulting?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yes. At this time was just basically, I said “I’m not going to work for anybody else.” I like to be my own boss. Even with consulting, you still have somebody else as a boss. I was still searching for a different thing. At that time I think, because I wanted to get into real estate, so I tried one course with somebody from… and then I find you guys. We bought first house, the second house, third house.
Nick Karadza: You guys are great people, look at that. Just buy properties with us. Either that or we have no idea what you were doing.
Brian Zammit: Maybe it’s a numbers thing for us, too. Like oh, this worked…Let’s just keep going
Nick Karadza: It’s just kind of math.
Okay, so you bought a couple properties, and then you stumbled. When did you stumble into Amazon?
Greg Kowalczyk: I was actually looking a lot for different things that I can involve my kids, at that time my daughter. Obviously engineering is exciting stuff for me, but for a young girl it wasn’t. My son, it was still too young for doing any business. She was in the second year. Then, I was looking to create a product for myself, that I can do it. That’s where I found courses offered online. At first I thought that it’s a scam, but I was sitting on the fence. Didn’t buy the course for four to five months. Then I was studying this courses, and I saw people that are basically making money off Amazon. 2014 I actually pulled the trigger. We bought the course, we created the first product. My daughter, she joined me.
Nick Karadza: I remember you talking to us like, “Hey, can you give us a review of our first product. I think I remember buying your first product and shipping it to my New York
Greg Kowalczyk: Yes, you guys bought a few, I think.
Nick Karadza: We definitely have equitable stake in your businesses. We’re customer number one
Tom Karadza: Dig up the receipts.
Nick Karadza: But we shipped it to our New York post office box, that we had. ‘Cause I guess you were selling only into the States?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, it was into the States, at that time.
Nick Karadza: So then you were consulting at Amazon, and then?
Greg Kowalczyk: So at this time, I was just full time consulting
Nick Karadza: And doing this on the side
Greg Kowalczyk: Doing this on the side. Usually, from seven to two o’clock in the morning.
Tom Karadza: Yeah, that’s how it works
Greg Kowalczyk: Studying it, bumping up the values, checking different products.
Nick Karadza: You know how Brian just kind of did some stuff, originally as a little test from Walmart. It sounds like you created your product right away.
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, we went with a…
Nick Karadza: Did you go with China, right away?
Greg Kowalczyk: No, not at that time. We went to a regular way, that people are using. Going to Ali Baba and just searching for different suppliers. We found a supplier.
Nick Karadza: Did you do what Brian did, where you were analyzing
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, you have to do this. It is part of a course, that they taught you how to do it, the basics. But then we have to find ourself, how to improve the product and how not to create exactly the same. We basically did summary design work, then we talk with the manufacturers. Different manufacturers, they give us…
Nick Karadza: In China?
Greg Kowalczyk: No, in Pakistan, actually.
Nick Karadza: Pakistan. You called them, Skype?
Greg Kowalczyk: Skype them, and emails. Then we chose one, which we still are actually working with this guy. We have really good relationship. That’s part of the success, as well, to have a good relationship with you…
Nick Karadza: What’s that mean, your getting terms?
Greg Kowalczyk: You’re getting really good terms
Nick Karadza: You’re getting good terms, so you don’t have to pay what you pay…?
Greg Kowalczyk: I don’t have to pay until the product is shipped to Amazon. Normal terms are, basically you have to pay up front, 30%, and then 70% when the product is ready. I don’t usually pay this.
Nick Karadza: So they just trust you now.
Your product comes over from Pakistan on a shipping container?
Greg Kowalczyk: Either on shipping contain…
Nick Karadza: So it comes over on a container, and then what? You hire some kind of import/export company to get it through customs and over to the Amazon fulfillment center?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, we have a company in L.A. that basically receives those products in their warehouses. Then they store them for as long as we went. We just shipped to Amazon whatever we are required. If I require for two months supply, 300 pieces, I just ship 300 pieces, keep the rest in the warehouse.
Nick Karadza: Do you do private and wholesaling stuff, too?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yes, I started actually two years ago the wholesale, as well.
Nick Karadza: So you guys didn’t start with wholesaling, you added it on. ‘Cause you saw the opportunity. ‘Cause you had the skills already.
Brian Zammit: Basically it all snowballs. Same with the arbitrage. I wouldn’t recommend people really to do that, just because it’s a tireless slog. It’s nonstop.
Nick Karadza: Yeah, the margins aren’t really there.
Brian Zammit: Yeah. For arbitrage, the margins are in the ten percentage range, and it just wasn’t worth the work at the time. And it was nonstop. From morning to night, as soon as a sale went through on Amazon. So, you get paid every two weeks on Amazon, now. Old the accounts you get paid more often, but now it’s every two weeks. When a sale happens, you can see that it happened, but you don’t get paid right away. So I would go online, I’d see or I’d get an email saying “Oh, you sold something.” I’d go right back to suppliers, buy equivalent amount of stuff, nonstop. Basically all day, all night. That’s why I went from $60 into the system, to Amazon stuff, to $10,000 in 30 in four months. Then we got to 220 something products in about six months.
Tom Karadza: Wow. How many products are you managing now?
Brian Zammit: A lot less. Those products, those were what was actually on sale. There was hundreds more that we cycled through. But now, basically, there’s just a handful. So there’s about 60 to 70 total, across a couple different accounts.
Nick Karadza: Then you’re constantly looking for new opportunities?
Brian Zammit: Nonstop
Nick Karadza: Do all your products fall into the same category, or are you across niches?
Brian Zammit: No, they’re all over the place.
Nick Karadza: They’re all over the place. Okay. And then Greg, that’s the same for you, too?
Greg Kowalczyk: With the wholesale, yeah. We sell almost everything
Tom Karadza: We were just talking before we went live here, that you have one consulting client left? So Amazon allowed you to, you’re not doing engineering consulting anymore?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah. Right now, I still have one customer that I’ve been working with them for many years.
Tom Karadza: Who helps you? Brian, do you do this by yourself? No, Nick just asked you. You do this by yourself.
Brian Zammit: Yeah, so…
Tom Karadza: But Greg, you’re with your daughter?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, I’m with my daughter, and we have two VA’s in the Philippines.
Tom Karadza: You know what’s really cool about this, is your daughter moved… One of the reasons you started you said was to do something with your kids, right? So your daughter started doing this with you, which that alone I think is pretty cool. Just the lessons you’ve been able to teach her through this. But it’s also allowed her to travel half way across the world, live there, and still be involved in this business and have a business there, so have the complete flexibility for her, as well…
Where does she live?
Greg Kowalczyk: Right now, she lives in New Zealand, but last year she was in Fiji. She travel a lot, a lot of places.
Tom Karadza: And she’s managing this business, ’cause it doesn’t matter where you are.
Nick Karadza: Or Greg’s doing it all, and he’s just not telling us. She works a half hour a day, but Greg works 14.
Greg Kowalczyk: She sends me nice pictures nice pictures from her office, a nice view.
Nick Karadza: Look Dad, look where I’m working. And you’re in your basement, staring at the electrical panel.
Brian Zammit: I’ve seen some of these pictures of the mountains, or the beach.
Greg Kowalczyk: Like right now, in New Zealand, is beautiful. And she can see nice mountains. During last summer she went to, I think for two months, to Switzerland. I think that was even better.
Nick Karadza: How is it training your VA’s? Is that tough?
Greg Kowalczyk: On the beginning. One of my VA’s is with us almost, this June is going to be four years. Then we hire his brother, and right now we’re probably gonna hire another brother… It’s like a family, it’s like a family business.
Nick Karadza: So basically you’re a football family.
Greg Kowalczyk: And they only work for us. That’s their full time business
Nick Karadza: Are your VA’s also, same situation, you’re hiring the whole family?
Brian Zammit: No, no… I’m not using the same VA
Nick Karadza: How rude of you, Brian.
Brian Zammit: So initially, to give them a document basically, this is what I want you to do, but there’s always changes, and better ways to work. The VA I was using, she suggested to me, “Hey, this is what you said to do, but I found this way to do it. I get the same result. Is it okay if I do this?” She was really good about doing that, kind of going on her own a little bit. Saying “This is faster. I’ll do it this way.”
Nick Karadza: What are some of the tasks the VA? The research? They’re crunching numbers on opportunities?
Brian Zammit: They’ve got the criteria, and they’re looking for the product that fits criteria. How many sales? What are the competitors look like? We give them basically a whole list of criteria. If they fit, okay, put that on the list and I’ll vet that at the end.
Greg Kowalczyk: But not only this. My idea is always to learn the system yourself, and then delegate. That’s what we did, for example, with the customer service. Because it takes a lot of time to answer emails, and talk to the customers. Different issues, different things. I don’t want to spend time doing this, so we just learn ourselves how to do it, and then get the VA to do it. We have Standard Operating Procedures that they follow, standard emails, and…
Nick Karadza: You guys are like legit businesses.
Greg Kowalczyk: And they just go with the business.
Nick Karadza: We talk, all the time we tell everybody who will listen, even in real estate, the value in everything is systems. The idea itself, of real estate by itself, it’s not really that great without systems to find tenants, and handle issues, and find more properties. It’s all about the systems. Every business, the value’s in the systems. It takes us so long to convince people of that, and you guys obviously get it.
Once someone has identified a new product opportunity, what? You call up Pakistan and say, “Hey, can you make this thing?”
Brian Zammit: That’s not far off.
Greg Kowalczyk: A lot of stuff, even my supplier from Pakistan, he sends me catalogs from different companies, like from Belgium. He says, “Oh, I can produce this for you.” Then I just pick up and choose, and we can change colors, we can change different things, and work with him. If I want to…
Tom Karadza: Where does this all end? Right now, this opportunity’s there. Do you think this opportunity is gonna be around for a while.
Greg Kowalczyk: Big time
Brian Zammit: Yeah. It’s just starting. This is really the beginning. It might feel like we’ve, sometimes it feels like, “Oh, I missed a boat,” but then you look at some stats, and it’s what, ten percent of all global sales are online? Something like that?
Greg Kowalczyk: And this is growing. We talking only North…
Nick Karadza: I actually looked at some stats a while ago. I think it’s even less.
Tom Karadza: It’s low. I think it’s single digits.
Brian Zammit: For us, ’cause we’re all used to buying stuff online, kind of digital savy, but most people aren’t. My wife has to remind me of this all the time.
Tom Karadza: Not on my street. On my street, everyone is buying off Amazon. The post guy at Christmas has a cart that he walks up the street with full of Amazon boxes. I kid you not. I think I was telling you guys this, right? That they load up the cart, and it’s full of Amazon boxes.
Brian Zammit: Soon it’s not gonna be the postal guy. It’s gonna be an Amazon guy
Nick Karadza: …I think they have same day deliveries now, which is kind of weird. Have you guys been driving around Oakville and noticing cars, like just a Honda Civic. This happened to me last night, taking my daughter to dance. Full of Amazon boxes?
Like the whole car, the whole back seat, floor to ceiling is Amazon. If this guy, he was smoking a butt this guy, if he rolled down, accidentally, the back window instead of his window to let the air out, these boxes would have come flying out onto the street. You guys have all seen these cars?
Brian Zammit: First time I saw this was in Detroit. A guy came into the hotel we were staying at with Amazon boxes. Hey, where did you come from? You’re not UPS or FedEx guy. No, I’m with Amazon.
Nick Karadza: That’s how they’re delivering. They’re employing all these guys.
Tom Karadza: Have you also gotten the calls from them? I’ve had calls from them basically saying “Hey, I’m at.” ‘Cause they’ve come to Rock Star before, but on a Sunday when we’re not here. Then they realized that it’s a business, and they’re calling saying “Hey, I’ve gotta drop off this box. I’ve gotta drop it off.”
Nick Karadza: Well, they get paid by the parcel, right?
Brian Zammit: Yeah yeah, if it’s a non-deliverable
Tom Karadza: The guy was kind of upset, but I’m like “Dude, I’m not there. You’re gonna have to.” But he called me three times. I didn’t answer my phone. After three calls I finally listened to the voicemail, and this guy was just in a panic. So I called him back and said, “Hey man, it’s Sunday. There’s no one there.”
Brian Zammit: Amazon’s got this Shipping with Amazon that’s coming out. They’re going to be competing quite seriously, I think, with FedEx and UPS
Tom Karadza: So what’s that?
Nick Karadza: You can pick it up, they’ll pick it up from your business. Where are they launching it? There’s a few cities they’re launching it first, right?
Brian Zammit: Yeah, there’s 20 cities, I think. Or 21 cities across the U.S., mostly, it looks like.
Tom Karadza: So they’ll pick up your package, as well? So essentially, they’re a FedEx or a UPS. ‘Cause they built out this, not just a distribution center.
Nick Karadza: So I buy something from Lulu Lemon
Tom Karadza: Courier service
Nick Karadza: They’ll go and pick it up at Lulu Lemon, and dr…
Tom Karadza: I don’t know about that. Let’s say you have Tom’s Hardware store, and you have a wrench. You sell a wrench, and you have to ship it some place. You can get Amazon to come pick up that order and ship it to the person who bought it for you. So they’re your online shipping, delivery service. Is that it? I’m probably butchering it, but it looks something like that.
Brian Zammit: Yeah, it looks like the details have been pretty thin from them, but it makes sense that that’s what’s going to happen. They don’t want people to use the Amazon warehouses as a storage unit. They don’t want people to use their warehouse as a regular warehouse. They just want it to be very short term, to turn over the product. So the more they can sort of push that thing off to you
Tom Karadza: So they’ve realized that’s their barrier to growth, basically. They can’t fill these warehouses and handle all that inventory.
Brian Zammit: Last year, for how many tens of millions of square feet of storage that they added last year, and it’s nowhere near enough. They’re multiplying their storage fees for goods and FBA warehouses, because they don’t want us to use it as storage, especially around Christmas.
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, storage is very expensive.
Brian Zammit: It’s crazy.
Nick Karadza: There’s a Rock Star member who works at Amazon, I won’t share his name right now because, secretly we’re working behind the scenes to get a tour of the Amazon warehouse. They don’t do tours, they’re just opening them up. I’m hoping we get that soon. I wanna see the little robots moving stuff all around.
Brian Zammit: Oh, that’d be cool.
Tom Karadza: Okay, so that’s coming. Then have you guys heard about, I was desperately trying to find this news article, where Amazon is test piloting a cubed box service, or something. They branded it, where these university and college students in the U.S., they don’t have to tell Amazon what they want. Amazon just ships them a box of stuff.
Greg Kowalczyk: We were just talking about that.
Brian Zammit: Greg was telling me about this.
Tom Karadza: Yeah, have you heard of this? And then what you don’t want, you put back in the box, and Amazon will take it away. Then it learns through its algorithms what you like and don’t like. Then it basically knows more about you than you know about you, and just starts telling you when you need toothpaste and toilet paper…
Brian Zammit: They’re a very aggressive company
Greg Kowalczyk: That’s the AI
Nick Karadza: That’s weird to me though. When toothpaste and toilet paper just starts arriving at your house. We’ve determined that your house needs toothpaste and here’s the toilet paper. You know what, you guys are going through a lot of toilet paper these days.
Tom Karadza: Did you guys have an Amazon, and Echo? The Alexa device?
Brian Zammit: No, I’ve got a Google Home
Nick Karadza: It’s really strange that you have a Google Home, doing stuff through Amazon.
Brian Zammit: So much stuff that we do for the business is in Google, so I just…
Nick Karadza: I got one just because of the popularity in the States. I was like, “Okay, let’s try this thing out.” When you’re setting it up, and I’d imagine that Google is probably similar, because the way it works, as you guys know, is that thing alone doesn’t actually have any processing power. Any request, it goes to a central Amazon computer. So when you set it up, it basically gives you this big disclaimer about how it can be listening to your conversations, whether you’re asking it something or not. They’re totally eves-dropping on everyone’s life to see what they’re talking about, what they’re buying. Then they’re just gonna start shipping it to you. I wouldn’t put it past them. I’m not saying that that’s what they’re doing, well yeah…
Tom Karadza: We have an Alexa, and it’s freaky when Alexa speaks ’cause it thinks it heard its name, then it’ll just. That just freaks me right out.
Brian Zammit: These boxes are supposed to be smart enough to do a little bit of filtering, so that they know if you say “Okay Google,” versus something else. They’re not supposed to be sending everything off. Who knows if that’s true?
Nick Karadza: Exactly, who knows? And it’s moving faster and faster, right? This whole online space you guys are playing in.
There’s the technical side of it, but what about you’re frustrated, right? So you were frustrated at your job. Greg, you were getting to a breaking point, as well. What’s been the biggest different for you guys in running this. Because the downside of running this kind of business for yourself is that it ultimately falls on your shoulders. If your products aren’t selling, it’s up to you. Your VA’s not going to be like, “Well, we gotta make sure that we’re making enough money for Brian’s family, or Greg’s family.” So what’s been the challenges, and what’s been the upside for you guys compared to the situations you came from that you wanted to get out of?
Brian Zammit: I think the biggest challenge that I’ve seen overall, in the big picture, is there isn’t a lot of help for people doing this, especially in Canada. There’s courses out there, but a lot of them are U.S. based.
Greg Kowalczyk: U.S. based, yeah.
Brian Zammit: There’s a handful that might be U.K. based, but there’s very little for Canada.
Nick Karadza: Why does that matter?
Brian Zammit: Our laws, our shipping costs, everything here is a little different than the States. We’re not quite the same. There’s only a handful of, a couple warehouses here for FBA, for example.
Greg Kowalczyk: Even setting up a business, we…
Brian Zammit: Incorporating
Greg Kowalczyk: it’s different story.
Tom Karadza: But you are selling into the States, too. You just mean that there’s some stuff that affects…
Brian Zammit: We sell, primarily in fact, into the States, just because of the bigger market. And they buy more online as a percentage than Canadians do, by a good margin. We just find that anything we need help with; taxation, accounting, the people here don’t really get it…currency exchange.
Tom Karadza: Because you’re getting paid in American dollars, but based on currency fluctuations that could be good or a bad thing.
Greg Kowalczyk: Not only American dollars. We are also, because we sell in Europe as well. So in British pounds, in Euro.
Tom Karadza: So just currency management has become an issue…
Greg Kowalczyk: It’s all the time something.
Tom Karadza: Yeah, just something you’ve gotta pay attention to. Typical business problem.
Brian Zammit: I’d say once a week we probably talk to each other about a new bank account that’s available, that might have less expensive fund transfers, or maybe they have a better rate of exchange. Something comes up pretty.
Tom Karadza: I thought you were gonna say once a week you talk to each other just to bitch. Bitch, complain about something.
Brian Zammit: Well, we do pretty well.
Greg Kowalczyk: But a lot of stuff is just, even from Amazon’s side, there are so many things are changing over the years. They changed the algorithm at least two, three times a year, and we have to adopt.
Tom Karadza: That’s just the nature of business though, right?
Nick Karadza: So with all these things changing, and you guys are engineer type guys that like processes and systems and all that stuff. I guess this is a little bit of a leading question, it’s not meant to be. But obviously you prefer what you’re doing now versus what you guys were doing before. Before we started, I think you said “You could never go into an office on a daily basis again.” Right?
Brian Zammit: No. I’ve only had to drive in traffic maybe handful of times in the last couple of years. Just the few minutes extra in traffic drove me crazy. Just a couple weeks ago, we went to a trade show in Toronto. We had to sit in traffic, and it’s just a good reminder. I don’t wanna do this again. No thanks.
Greg Kowalczyk: We were looking at the people that, they had to drive to the office in Toronto.
Tom Karadza: It’s funny how quickly you go from just shuddering at the idea of driving in traffic.
Brian Zammit: Well it’s the norm for so long. It’s the norm, right?
Nick Karadza: And then if you have to do it for one day. If anyone asks. They’ll say like, “Can you meet me in Atobico,” you know we live in Oakville, Atobico at like nine A.M., or something like that. Are you crazy? I’m not gonna do that.
Brian Zammit: Greg probably doesn’t know this, but when we went to the trade show, we were like, “Oh, it’s on Saturday, Sunday, Monday.” I think we were busy on the Saturday. I’m like, “Well, maybe the Sunday.” He’s like, “How about Monday. I thought maybe we could go Monday.” I’m like thinking to myself “There’s traffic on Monday.” There’s no one around on Sunday.
Nick Karadza: I find just doing any chore now is just all around, against the trend of what everyone else will do.
Brian Zammit: Especially around the Toronto area, traffic’s gotten over the last few years, traffic’s gotten noticeably worse. I don’t know, more cars, more people, a combination of both, more spread out. Maybe it’s everything, but it’s definitely worse.
Nick Karadza: What about your families. They’re obviously happy with this, or do they think it’s a sustainable thing. What do they think?
Greg Kowalczyk: I’m actually, right now, a house wife.
Nick Karadza: You just never leave home. You’re wife wants to get you out of the house.
Greg Kowalczyk: I got upgraded from the basement to one of the bedrooms that my daughter had.
Brian Zammit: Oh, whoa. That’s why you’ve got her traveling.
Greg Kowalczyk: So right now I have a window, at least, that I can look out. But just sitting at home and cooking dinner.
Nick Karadza: It’s funny how life changes. It’s cool that you guys know each other, because we always talk about this, being a business owner is a very lonely life.
Greg Kowalczyk: It is.
Tom Karadza: And no one really knows that. That’s a cool thing about Rock Star, is that overall, we’ve brought a lot of real estate investors together, a lot of business owners together, that we can all kind of bitch and complain about stuff…
Brian Zammit: It makes a difference. Even help each other.
Tom Karadza: Like how you guys have just the little tid bits of stuff. It makes a big difference, right?
Brian Zammit: Sometimes just one comment is enough.
Tom Karadza: Just to know somebody else is going through your pain. Then Brian, what about your family. Were you also upgraded out of the basement? Or are you still in the basement?
Brian Zammit: I’m still in the basement. I’ve got three little kids.
Tom Karadza: Keep working Brian, keep working.
Nick Karadza: So you’re in the basement out of strategy. Close the door and hide.
Brian Zammit: I try
Greg Kowalczyk: You have to give yourself a raise, you know. Just go up.
Brian Zammit: Yeah, I’ll try. The kids are all up there, so it’s taken.
Tom Karadza: Guys, I have to take off quick. I have that other interview I gotta do. So I’ll talk to you guys after.
Nick Karadza: Brian, so your wife. How’s your immediate family, what do they think of this?
Brian Zammit: I’ve always been kind of the Chandler Bing of the family. They don’t really know exactly what I do. They never really did. It was hard to explain to them the tech stuff that I did. Even 20 years ago, connecting to the internet. I was telling Greg about this. I tried to explain the internet to my parents, or connecting to bulletin board services, and dial-up.
Nick Karadza: Bulletin board services, you really are dating yourself.
Brian Zammit: Oh yeah. I don’t think they understand exactly. It’s fun to hear my wife try to explain what it is that I do. I think she was trying to explain to a neighbor, a couple weeks ago, “He designs stuff, makes it in China, it goes on a boat, and then he sells it in the States.” Then confusion kind of happens. Okay, how does it get here? How do you sell? Do you have a store? My kids don’t fully get it. They know that Daddy has a store, but it’s not exactly a store.
Greg Kowalczyk: A virtual store
Brian Zammit: Yeah, they don’t really get it.
Nick Karadza: I love those moments. When we started the whole Rock Star thing, we started a membership, I heard people try to explain our business. They kind of teach some real estate stuff, and then they work with people who buy properties. But they never said that we were a real estate broker. It was always just… We prefer that we not be considered that, that we run this thing. It’s fun. I enjoy it when people can’t figure out how you live and work and make money.
Brian Zammit: At first it was hard to be able to explain to somebody what it is that I do, and not have something to tell them. Before I’d say, “Oh, I manage IT operations.” That’s pretty straight forward. Now…
Nick Karadza: It’s just a societal norm. That’s how you answer the question.
Brian Zammit: Now, it’s well, I make stuff in China. I travel to overseas. I resell stuff. I just say that I have an online business. I just boil it down usually, it’s just an online business.
Greg Kowalczyk: Or online distribution. The same as when we went to Toronto, to the trade show. People were asking us do we have a store. No, we have an online distribution.
Nick Karadza: Why? Sorry, you went to a trade show for what?
Greg Kowalczyk: Finding products, finding distributors, and different ideas.
Nick Karadza: Is that why you went to China last spring? No, sorry. Was it spring or summer?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, last year we went three times
Brian Zammit: Three times.
Nick Karadza: Three times. Because you’re looking for product, new manufacturers, new trends
Brian Zammit: New products
Greg Kowalczyk: New products, yeah
Brian Zammit: Here in Toronto, that’s…
Nick Karadza: When’s the next time you’re going to China? You told me, and I forgot.
Brian Zammit: Looks like it’s gonna be the end of August.
Nick Karadza: End of August, you’re going again.
Brian Zammit: This year, yeah
Nick Karadza: And you’re gonna take people again?
Brian Zammit: We’ll take people this year.
Nick Karadza: You’re gonna take people again. That’s the cool thing that we haven’t brought up, and we feel very fortunate guys, that you’re hear today because right after this you’re teaching a class at Rock Star, to Rock Star members, about eCommerce and using Amazon as a platform to build a business. We’re forever grateful for that, you have no idea. The fact that you guys have gone and figured this out, and now sharing it with Rock Star members. That’s something we can offer as a class here. That’s fulfilling a dream for us.
Because we started this business, not with the intent to just be about real estate, but to really help people live life on their terms and open up opportunities, and how to do that. Real estate happened to be one of the mechanisms where we could make it a business, because we had our real estate licenses while we were working in software, and we thought “Oh, we’ll quit our jobs and we’ll make some money out of this, and we can help people.” But it was never about selling properties, ever, even though we own a brokerage now. That’s secondary to us, other than helping people to do what they wanna do.
So to see you guys now doing that, that’s come a complete circle for us. That is huge. So thank you.
Brian Zammit: We’re really thankful for the opportunity. I can’t thank you enough. It gives us a chance to get in front of people to let them know that this is possible. That it’s there. It’s not just something other people are doing.
Nick Karadza: That’s what I love…
Greg Kowalczyk: The opportunity is so big that we talk with Brian many times, and that was the idea already from the beginning, last year. That we would like to share this information with a lot of people.
Nick Karadza: You’re still considering launching your own training for people around this stuff, shortly, right? I know we’re gonna be talking about that, and we’ll let everybody know about that when the time is right. But sooner than later? Are we gonna leave it as that time frame?
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah. The idea is to launch this very soon. We have already what we would like to do, but this is going a little bit more deeper with the local community. Because what we found, what’s going on in a virtual space, there is a lot of gurus all over the place. Most of the time they is somewhere in the U.S., or who knows where. You don’t really know who they are and you don’t meet with them on a regular basis. We would like to create something local, that we can meet physically, we can know each other, we can help each other creating, building businesses. That’s where we have to grow the middle class. Just help to do this.
Brian Zammit: There’s a benefit we found in being in front of the other person. Being able to sit down for a few minutes and talk about issues, it seems you can really figure it out faster. I’m used to online stuff. I spent my life doing online things, building things online.
Nick Karadza: You learn. You learn a lot
Greg Kowalczyk: You learn a lot.
Brian Zammit: People’s body language, and just the details you get from someone being right in front of you. For some reason, it’s still not the same as being online. It’s just not. That’s something we wanna really focus on.
Greg Kowalczyk: But there is a power in a group, because everyone will bring something else to the table. We learn from each other. Even us, as a duo, is a complete game changer.
Nick Karadza: So when you guys do do that, let’s make a commitment now. We’ll bring you back on this podcast and talk about what you’re doing, to let everybody, you know. I think there’s just such a huge need for all of us helping each other. Even open up opportunities, because you might not know. The way I look at you guys, the way I was telling my son the other day, is that “Hey, I want you at some point, I’m gonna get you to sit in front of Greg and Brian, because even if you’re not gonna launch your own Amazon store, I just want you to know that that’s an opportunity to make money in life. Even if you don’t use it, know about it. Because just knowing about it can not only give you peace of mind, it might ultimately give you freedom if you choose that path.”
Greg Kowalczyk: People don’t know what’s in front of them, until they see the whole picture. Even when we explain during the two classes here, it’s a completely eye opener. When you go into the store, it just changes your perspective, how you look at things. How the things are created, and how you can help yourself to build business. Right now, comparing ten years ago, to create a new business, it’s a completely different way. We have to adapt to those new ideas, new ways of building the business, and it’s much easier.
Nick Karadza: The crazy part is, I think these trends are going to accelerate. Those who don’t adapt into learning some of these, quote on quote, new skills, will unfortunately be left behind. I truly believe that. The things you guys are doing are going decimate a lot of other businesses. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean that’s just the natural course of life. Some of these big changes are really gonna have major impacts on the way, the availability of different jobs. We haven’t even talked about some of the artificial intelligence that go into this kind of stuff, and the algorithms. That’s maybe a time for another. What? You guys are looking at each other.
Greg Kowalczyk: We were just talking, before we came in here.
Nick Karadza: I know, and we’re digging in.
Brian Zammit: AI’s a game changer. Even for product selection, there’s a lot of algorithms out there already to help pick winning products. The smarter that these algorithms get, the smarter that. Maybe they’re not all called AI, but they’re all algorithms in a computer of some kind. The smarter they get, and the faster they get, the more profitable you can become.
Nick Karadza: Were you at this last event that we did, last Saturday? Two Saturdays, last Saturday? Where we talked about AI, and that that South Korean company put that algorithm on its board of directors, with equal voting rights. That’s still just shocks.
Brian Zammit: Yeah, that’s crazy. It’s crazy for us today, but it’s almost like if you told a cave man that you can fly in an airplane, it just seems like magic.
Nick Karadza: Yeah, ten years from now it won’t be a big deal.
Brian Zammit: That’s kind of what I feel like is happening right now with some of the AI stuff. It looks like magic to us if we’re not in the industries, to see what possible.
Greg Kowalczyk: Even looking at what’s magical about creating a business, like an online business. Ten, 15 years ago, this option was only available for big companies with a lot of money available to create a business like that.
Brian Zammit: And a lot of risk.
Greg Kowalczyk: Yeah, a lot of risk, as well. Right now, with a really minimum capital, you can start a business.
Nick Karadza: Huge opportunity. I really believe the next 10 years, it’s freaky, I believe the next ten years is important for real estate in this particular area of Toronto. I believe that it’s going to get so populated in here that the price of properties will really get out of reach for many people. But at the same time, there’s this whole other trend online, in eCommerce, that over the next ten years you’re either gonna put a stake in the ground and kind of own some of that space, or your not. In so many ways, there’s so many opportunities in front of us. I wanna ask you guys something, because I know we’ve gotta wrap because people are arriving for this class. If looking back ten years ago to yourself in your corporate life, what would you tell yourself now. Would you tell yourself “Hey, Brian, Greg, don’t worry. Just quit your job and you’re gonna figure it out.” Is there any advice you’d go back and give yourself, about any concerns or frustrations that you’re having?
Greg Kowalczyk: You will be frustrated every single day, that’s only the day is changing. I remember when I became a manager of engineering, I was so proud of myself. Right now, I’m looking at us, and I even said to myself that if I can work in this position or this kind of job for the rest of my life, I would be happy. Times are changing, and we have to adapt to it. When I look at some people that basically rely and put they’re own life in somebody else’s hands, it’s really risky.
Nick Karadza: Single point of failure. Brian, similar for you?
Brian Zammit: It’s a great question. I think it’s, I would probably tell myself to look at what the real risks are. One is, if you only have one job, one source of income, like you said it’s a single point of failure. Two, put yourself 20 years in the future and look back. Can you get to that 20 year point? What does it look like 20 years from now? Can you get there by doing what you’re doing now? At the very highest point of what you’re doing now.
Okay, so Linux system admin, became a manager. Okay, then what if you’re the VP or the director. Can you get to where you want to be? If you can’t, start acting right now, so that you can be where you wanna be. What is it that’s most important? Is it a big bank account? Do you wanna be like Scrooge McDuck and jump into a pile of money? Is that all, what it’s about? Because you quickly figure out that it’s not. I went from, I worked for a bank, I was always told go where the money is. Don’t do that. Go where you can have a life, as well as make a living. It doesn’t have to be your own company, but now looking back, that’s the place where you’ll most likely have the freedom to really do what you want.
Nick Karadza: Cool. Thanks guys, we feel honored to have crossed paths. Really kind of special that you guys met the way that you did. It’s really just a great story. So thanks for doing the class. Thanks for sharing your story today. We’ll pick this up again and do round two of this at some point. Really appreciate this guys.
Brian Zammit: Thank you, appreciate it.
Greg Kowalczyk: Thank you.
Tom Karadza: Okay, it’s Tom Karadza, guys. Hope you really enjoyed that talk. As I mentioned, we’re just really thrilled to work with people like Greg and Brian. The whole Rock Star inner circle membership has just been more than we could’ve ever dreamed of at this point. If you want to learn more about becoming a Rock Star member, or what it’s all about, Rock Starinnercircle.com has a lot of different resources, and blog posts, and links to our YouTube channel, and videos. We have a few free books now, that we give away on that website, the digital versions of those books. You can learn more in general about what the Rock Star inner circle is about. But if you wanna cut straight to the chase and get a summary of what the membership is all about, if you go to Rock Starinnercircle.com/member , you’ll learn all about it.
Hopefully you enjoyed this episode, guys. We’re gonna be doing a lot more of this. I just said guys. I think I should be saying guys and gals. Everyone. I’ll just say everyone. Hopefully you enjoyed that, everyone. We’re gonna be doing a lot more of this kind of episode, going forward, where we share people’s journeys and their stories of how they went from where they were to the place they really wanted to be. Whether that involves quitting your job and starting a whole other journey, or just enhancing your career and kind of making your career adapt to living life on your terms the way you want your career to be in a corporate job. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. We are going to do more of these episodes. We’re thrilled. These are the kinds of things that gets us excited. Until, next time: Your life, Your terms.