The Spanish taxi drivers who became millionaires without leaving the house
Two partners with no formal business training started selling products on Amazon and three years later they have sold their online company for ‘more than a million euros’
In 2018 two taxi drivers in Terrassa, in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia, felt they needed to change their line of business. Joan Bartra, 45, and Joel Cuscó, 42, had started out together in the real estate sector but their company went under when the financial crisis hit in 2008. They then switched to driving taxis, which was good until boredom and the arrival of ride-hailing apps such as Uber pushed them to look for alternatives. “The arrival of Uber makes you more alert, and at 40 years of age you don’t want to be driving taxis until you are 65,” says Bartra.
The business partners spent months researching on the online retail giant Amazon what products worked well in the United States and were not yet available in Europe. The product they chose was a foam bumper used to stop children over the age of two from falling out of bed. They created the brand Banbaloo, contacted a manufacturer in China, adapted the product, created a website and in January 2019, the baby bumper was ready for sale on Amazon. Now, two and a half years later, they have sold their creation to Yaba, a new Spanish company that buys up Amazon sellers and takes them to the next level. Yaba did not want to reveal the exact price that was paid, but the pair say they received “more than a million euros.”
And they’re not the only ones who have had wild success on Amazon. According to data from the retail giant, 150 companies in Spain made more than €1 million in revenue in 2020. Although Bartra and Cuscó did not reveal the exact figures of Banbaloo, they were making up to €100,000 a month last year, which would put the company in this group.
Despite this, there are still a lot of doubts about this kind of work. “People don’t see it as a powerful business and it is very serious,” says Cuscó. “When you said that you sold products on Amazon, it seemed like it was just for a little extra money. People don’t talk to you about it because they don’t understand it or recognize its importance.”
The success of Banbaloo also highlights how technology has dramatically changed the way businesses are set up – all you need are two computers, a bit of English and a lot of dedication. You don’t even need to leave the house. “Before, only companies did it [set up businesses on Amazon], but now individuals are doing it,” says Sergi de Pablos, a co-founder of Yaba.
Cuscó first heard about selling products on Amazon in mid-2018 during a yearly catch-up with a group of friends, one of whom had done some research into the subject and even completed a course in English. He spoke to Cuscó about what was involved but never launched a project himself. When Cuscó returned home that day, he got on YouTube to watch videos. He had a lot of time because the taxi was being driven not by himself but by two employees: one car was feeding four families.
The 42-year-old has no formal training in economics or business. “In my second year of secondary school, I started selling beer at concerts,” he says. But YouTube was there to help. The business partners bought two courses from two experts in digital sales from the channels Libertad Virtual and Hermo Benito, which cost them around €1,500. They also bought the program Jungle Scout, which estimates the sales of Amazon products in different countries. With this program, they were able to see what products worked well in the US that weren’t available in Spain. “We narrowed the list to 20 options, but we decided on the bed bumper for babies,” says Cuscó. “Finding a product, a goal. That’s the most important work,” adds Bartra.
When it came time to find someone to make the foam bumper, they looked to AliBaba, the largest online retailer in Asia. In an internal chat, they began to look for foam manufacturers. They found one that they liked and asked for a sample. Bartra and Cuscó then slept for a week with the bumper. It worked. They created an Instagram account to promote the product, but what was really key was buying advertising in Amazon linked to the search term: “Bed barrier.” At that time, the only barriers on offer were made of wood and metal. The Banbaloo foam bumper could make a niche for itself. And it did.
“We had a softer product, one that didn’t hurt you, that you could take with you,” says Bartra, who adds that professional photos were also key.
Banbaloo was on the right track, but there was much more that had to be done: they needed to diversify. Now the company has around 30 different products, including different kinds of bumpers, cushions and blankets. But while the partners increased their range, they also had to make sure that Amazon didn’t run out of their stock. When a product didn’t arrive from China and the rest was all sold, its price went up, one euro at a time. But that didn’t stop sales from rising. The business partners saw that there was still margin for growth.
When they were making €100,000 a month in revenue, Amazon called them to ask if they wanted to pay for a coach to help them meet their next goals. They declined.
So what are Bartra and Cuscó planning now? “We are going to set up another one,” says Bartra. Or more than one, according to Cuscó. “I know what keys to press this time. There are a lot of niches out there, enough for 10 years more of business. Although you have to know how to do it and you do know more if you have three years of advantage.”
The emergence of companies like Yaba is an indication that this type of business has a future. When it came to selling Banbaloo, Bartra explains: “You have to be aware of what your limit is and for some time, we had been seeing that our resources and knowledge had reached their limit and we needed something else. Either you hire [new people] or you stagnate. The day-to-day overwhelms you and doesn’t give you space to think about the good of the company. We did not want to strain ourselves financially as happened with the real estate sector.”
As for Yaba, it has decided to buy five companies on Amazon and plans to grow even more. “It is risky to solely depend on Amazon now, but we believe that not a lot will change in the coming years, nor will Amazon’s fees rise, because if sellers stop being profitable they will leave [the platform],” says De Pablos.
Five years ago any product that was sold on Amazon had a great advantage, but even now there is still space for new products. “In 2016, Amazon was the gold standard: the question to ask was ‘what product do I have in my life that is not on Amazon’,” says De Pablos. “And today you can make millions in income with this product just for being the first to sell it and for having three times as many reviews and many more sales than the second seller to come along.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.