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As I was looking for different people to be featured on this credit and funding case study category of the site, an old employee of mine called me back after I blasted an email to everyone on my contact list asking for leads on the matter. After catching up for a brief 5 minutes about the credit industry, he then began telling me of an ongoing client of his with a story that he felt would fit the criteria of what I was looking for. I cut him off before he could say another word, and told him that what I needed is a special kind of success story where the narrative is very captivating from start to finish, a unicorn type of story that’s both inspirational and educational, I reiterated to him. I don’t want the norm where someone gets a million-dollar credit line from $0 with just their credit scores then went bankrupt after(Believe it or not, it’s the dominant profile of the people who every funding consultant take in as clients in the industry). I told him I want real successful business stories that are still operational today. He was laughing hysterically when I said that because he knew exactly what I was talking about, bankruptcy is almost imminent because the debt load that’s needed to be serviced after is very overwhelming for a start-up business to handle(unless you’re a very talented Entrepreneur of course, but most aren’t). He proceeded to tell me that the story that he has for me is an outlier to the industry. With just $3,080 credit line to start with back in February of 2016, he was able to grow that credit line of his client to $14,360,000 across multiple banks as of October 2020. Approvals were driven by an online business that is making around $5,000,000 in gross sales a month, taking home around $800,000 after all costs and is growing year after year at breakneck speed. If interested he said, he could set up an appointment so that I could learn more about the details of his client’s operation. I replied yes right away and asked him to set one up ASAP hoping that I’d be able to get the story first before any huge media outlet does.
Below is the transcript of that interview, then you’ll see the breakdown of her Amazon business model and the funding process on how she was able to use just credit cards and lines of credit to finance her business from start to finish.
Also, a little heads up to those who have plans of starting a Merch by Amazon type of online business (anyone could start one worldwide with Merch by Amazon), during the interview, I was asking her questions to a point where it made me cringe sometimes because I thought that it was too specific and if she were to answer it, would give away the things she does differently that are crucial in maintaining her lead in that niche. I even told her she doesn’t have to answer it, but she insisted and told me that the worldwide market is big, there’s enough money for everyone, and she doesn’t mind at all. When she said that, I’ve got to be honest, I was taken back a bit by that selfless bigger picture kind of mindset of hers. It made me realize that she’s just operating on a different level mentally, that’s why she’s so successful. There are just too many know-hows that we covered in this interview to a point where you can almost use this article as your manual for crafting a strategy to start a similar operation of your own. All in all, it was a great experience for me interviewing her, I learned a lot about online businesses and the Amazon ecosystem.
Interviewee: Liezel Cayabyab owner of Yab Creatives a Las Vegas, Nevada-based Worldwide Artist Management Company.
Me: Hi Liezel! Thanks for giving me the chance to interview you and pick through your brain. Your story is very inspirational business-wise. You started pretty much from scratch, and look at you now, a multi-millionaire in just 3 years.
Liezel: You’re welcome! It’s my pleasure to share what I know. This is my first time doing this so I’m a little excited and nervous. I cringed when you said multi-millionaire a bit because there’s a novelty to the way it sounds growing up, and never have I thought in a million years that I would become one. The funny thing about it is that it doesn’t feel that novel at all(laugh). My life is still the same, just more problems (laugh)
Me: Well don’t be nervous it’s gonna be casual. Just like two friends talking on the phone(Laugh). Alex was just so ecstatic telling me about your story, and I’ve got to be honest, it got me excited doing this interview with you too. So you started with just a $3080 credit line with him and now it’s at $14 million? How were you and Alex able to grow it to that amount, and how did you even stumble into the credit building and funding industry?
Liezel: Yes that’s correct, when I first came to Alex, I only had three credit cards and I found their company through google. I’ve heard a little bit about that industry because I was researching different stuff about opening a credit repair business here in Nevada since it’s low capital to open one, so I kinda fancied of opening one before. I used to have a very bad personal credit and I found out about the credit repair dispute process using different legal dispute letters through web research and a credit repair book. I kinda started doing a DIY credit repair project on my credit report and was able to get overwhelming success, so kinda decided that it was a good business to start. I thought it was heaven-sent when it worked on me, and I started helping some friends after. It was very empowering and I loved it. I was fancying it to be my way out of my situation because during that time I was working as a stay-in caregiver, and I really didn’t like it (laugh). I thought that it was finally my ticket to a career change, but little did I know that it wasn’t it(laugh). So as I kept researching more about the industry I kept seeing ads about credit repair and business funding companies on different web pages. Called one of those ads then a receptionist forwarded me to Alex. Alex explained to me how the process works and emailed me the fee structure then after. Told him that I would like to do it but I really couldn’t afford the fees, I only have $1700 saved, didn’t hear from him for 3 weeks, then when he finally called, he told me that he was no longer with the company and opened his own in the same industry. We struck a deal that I wouldn’t pay anything in the front end but he would get bigger points in the back end, so that’s how everything started.
Me: Knowing Alex he probably charged you an arm and a leg on the backend(Laugh)
Liezel: Not really, well it was kinda like that at first, but I brought in way too many referrals so I kinda got it for free(Laugh)
Me: Well I’m glad that it worked out just fine between you two(laugh) So how much did you get the first round of funding? Did you already know that you were doing the Amazon business the moment you got the funding?
Liezel: In my first round of funding I got around $9,300 from 4 business credit cards, Alex didn’t send me an invoice until the 10th round of the funding, so that was a plus and it helped me a lot too because I was able to use more capital for my business. It grew to $23000 in the second round and we just kept growing it up to now. From time to time we would test different strategies with my company’s credit profile. It was the availability of capital that made it possible for me to grow the Amazon business fast. Sometimes when you have a lot of available capital you can just sweep those startup mistakes under the rug and keep going, and I had a lot of those since day one. I didn’t know much about Merch by Amazon beforehand. It was just during the funding process that I kept looking for low-capital businesses to start online and I stumbled into it. I wanted to go into the eBay-Amazon online arbitrage business at first because my brother was having success with it at a very small scale before, now he’s doing quite okay, but that was kinda like my first introduction to online businesses. I tried doing it 2 years prior but I didn’t get any success with it, so I was wishfully thinking of giving it a shot again, good thing I didn’t. I learned a lot from it though and used some of the multiple accounts strategies there to scale my Merch by Amazon operations. Without those past failures, and without stumbling into the credit repair industry, I would have never managed this amazon business the way I’m managing it right now and most likely would have been a failure too, but the man above got other plans I guess.
Me: Wow! So you actually started from scratch with your funding. Some would get $30k to $40k in the first round. I’ve heard quite a lot about that eBay-Amazon arbitrage business. I know someone who’s making a killing on that off rebates from gift card purchases. Maybe we could interview your brother too after this (laugh). I guess you came from an entrepreneurial family, that explains it.
Liezel: Not really, we’re first-generation immigrants here in America. Me and my brother are both very driven because our parents are still in the Philippines and life wasn’t easy for us when we first got started here in this country. We worked as stay-in caregivers and would take turns sending some extra cash to the Philippines for our parents. My father is a gov’t employee and my mom is a housewife, they’re not getting any younger, so it’s a blessing for me and my brother to be in a position to give back. We didn’t have an entrepreneurial bone in our bodies by the way we were raised, but circumstances forced us to be one.
Me: Wow! I was already inspired by you even just by your business successes when I first heard of it, but after hearing what you said now about where you came from, I’m even more inspired than ever. You’re an American success story. Kudos to you and I appreciate you telling your story.
Liezel: You’re welcome, and my hope also is that a lot of people could take inspiration from this.
Me: That’s a good one. So going back to your Merch by Amazon business, you’re grossing around $5 million a month and netting $800k from that?
Liezel: Yes more or less, with the net profit it’s actually around $650k to $700k because we usually spend around $100k a month on Facebook ads, google ads, native ads, and amazon pay per click, but we’re constantly expanding though. As long as Amazon is growing, we’re growing too. It really varies per month, December last year we netted around $1.2 million in that month alone. We were projecting to grow some more this year but the pandemic happened, so maybe next year hopefully.
Me: Wow that’s amazing, is that only USA sales right? So I think the key takeaway here for your operations is that you actively seek customers too, you just don’t make designs and upload them and wait for sales to happen.
Liezel: Yes we actively look for customers, sales are all over the world. We’re also in Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain, and Japan. We’re barely scratching the markets in Europe and Asia though, even just in the US, we’re probably just at 10 to 20 percent market penetration with our designs. That’s the great thing about the Merch by Amazon business model you can expand worldwide as long as you know how to scale it. In the beginning, I was just uploading designs and waited for the sales to happen passively, but it was too slow so I started looking for other ways to drive traffic to our listings.
Me: So at its very core the Merch by amazon model is uploading your designs, set your price, then Amazon takes care of everything right? Then you get royalties after the cost?
Liezel: Yes at its very core it works like that, it’s a great platform, but to be successful with it you need to do a lot more. You need to upload multiple designs for multiple trending topics, you need to implement a multiple account strategy for scaling(this is to trick the Amazon algorithm of putting you on top and a workaround for uploading more designs), and scaling your marketing outside of the Amazon ecosystem. You need to do a lot of things that most people don’t do, you’ve got to go the extra mile. You can’t just open a merch by amazon account and expect to make a lot of money. There was a lot of trial and error from day one up to now with us, and I feel that for the past two years we’re finally getting it as a company , but the game is always changing though(laugh). I just feel lucky that we have the means now to hire people who can monitor the data on everything day in and day out in that way we could react right away if any changes happen, and if we couldn’t, at least we have the financial means to cushion any blowback (knock on wood).
Me: Okay that was a lot to take in, let’s go with the core fundamentals first. Is it easy to sell any t-shirt design on Amazon without any outside traffic? What’s your process for that?
Liezel: Not really, the first time I did it myself I didn’t get any sales for three months, some get lucky though, but that wasn’t the case for me. I had to strategize hard on the design and market research. It was pretty much a four-month trial and error process before I got any sales. You need to figure that out first because that’s the basics, you can’t move on to scaling without the mastery of it. The first shirt I sold was a Cinco de mayo themed shirt, around Cinco de Mayo(laugh) but a lot of thought went into it. I hired a bunch of artists from Upwork and asked them to churn out a variety of Cinco De Mayo designs. Nowadays, I have artists/designers for every nationality to take advantage of different cultural trends, and then we just bombard the marketplace with different designs and see what sticks. As soon as we pinpoint what’s working, we then focus more our marketing and design creation on that topic.
Me: I see, this is not as simple as I thought it would be. I kinda knew coming in that it was not as simple because I’ve asked around about it before this interview and everyone said that it was hard and wasn’t worth it. They all said if someone were making a killing on it, they may be doing something that’s not of the ordinary to crack the code.
Liezel: Well it’s both an art and science. A lot of trial & error and data analytics come with it. You’ve got to be resilient and analytical in this business. The Facebook ads and the marketing outside of Amazon are kinda like another beast to tame on top of the merch by amazon operations, but once you get the hang of it and you do this kind of stuff day in and day out it becomes easy.
Me: You mentioned earlier that you need multiple accounts to scale, does Amazon allow that?
Liezel: Not really, but you need to find ways to make it happen. It’s the only way to scale it fast. It’s also the same with buying ads from FB, you need to find a way to make it happen because there are systemic limitations for both platforms. That’s where the management factor comes in. A business is only as good as its operator or manager. Some people would just give up and say it’s not possible, for me I always have that “there must be a way, and if there isn’t, then let’s make one” kind of mentality. Getting different accounts is an operation by itself too though.
Me: I see, so how do you go around that? Well, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to.
Liezel: No it’s totally fine, we use different firefox profiles with different dedicated proxies for each amazon account. It never changes throughout the life of the account so we’ve partnered with a very reputable IP provider for it. We have an entire system in place for that. The most important thing is not to get spotted by amazon that all accounts are run by a single organization. We are starting to transition into a mobile phone method though, it’s more dependable, but the bulk is still with desktop and firefox.
Me: Oh I see, I think I understand it, but I’m a nontechie so I may need to ask someone to explain that to me some more (laugh). How about the Amazon accounts are they all under your name?
Liezel: As with the Amazon accounts we deal with different partners. We probably have close to 780 partners worldwide now with accounts that can upload from 50 to 4500 designs each. We don’t go to another country without at least ten partners in there, and then we start building from those ten. Me and my team have total control of the accounts.
Me: That’s a lot, how do you manage all of that? I could imagine the hassle of getting partners from different countries.
Liezel: I’m Filipino so getting partners from different countries is never a problem. There are Filipinos all around the world so finding a partner has never been an issue since day 1. As with the management, I have eight virtual assistants from the Philippines whose sole role is just to manage partners and artists, they do a very good job with it and I pay them very well by Philippine standards. I think I’ve finally figured it out a bit, but there’s still a lot of tweaking that is needed to be done. We’re constantly tweaking with everything every day. It doesn’t feel right if we’re not for some reason.
Me: How many artists do you manage right now? I think the constantly tweaking culture of your business operation is one of the reasons for your success.
Liezel: We manage close to 400 worldwide. Half of them are from the Philippines and the rest are scattered worldwide. We are currently capable of producing 800 to 1000 designs every day. Yes, I think I agree with you on that. In retrospect now, I was lucky to have that mindset and it kinda got transferred to our business culture. That wasn’t intentional though, that I could honestly say(laugh). Constant tweaking has always been a part of my personality since childhood.
Me: Whoa! That’s a lot. This is no small-time operation you have, no wonder you’re getting really good results.
Liezel: I know, to be honest, I didn’t intend it to make it grow this big. I was always just playing catch up and being reactive to the number of artists who were creating content for me at first. I started with 4 artists from the Philippines then it kinda just spread like wildfire within the artist community in that country. I was getting emails and designs from different artists out there so I was kinda forced to expand the operation because they were sending me quality designs that sell. There were some instances at the beginning that they would consign their artwork just so that I would consider them to work for me. It was crazy, I didn’t actively force the business to be successful. There was a market for it already, I was more like a mediator/curator connecting the supply side to the demand side. I got no complaints though, I’m happy that it was me rather someone else, I got lucky.
Me: Amazing! You were able to tap into a worldwide trend when it was still in its infancy. Do you think that this trend will last?
Liezel: Well I think it will, as Amazon expands some more in the other countries the market will keep expanding. People are not gonna stop buying T-shirts at all. The way we do things in our company is that we’re always updated with different world events and the virality of the different designs that are connected to them. If something really interesting happens right now, we’ll have an original t-shirt design about it 30 minutes to one hour after, and if you are a consumer from America and the UK, you could have that T-shirt delivered to you also on the same day so that kinda favors our business model a bit. It’s one of our competitive advantages.
Me: All I can say is that’s one hell of a market that you were able to tap into. Can you email me some of your designs so that I can add them to the article when I publish it?
Liezel: Sure, I’ll send you a dozen of different kinds on different topics. We have shirts about politics, memes, and just about different cultures.
Me: Is it also okay if I ask Alex for some more information about your credit building process with him so that I’ll have more data to base my analysis for the article?
Liezel: Sure, I’ll let him know that’s it okay to share it with you for this article.
Me: Is this the only business that you do or are you involved in other online businesses as well?
Liezel: Mainly this, but I’m also trying out Amazon FBA selling, though I have no success with it yet. Honestly, if this Merch by Amazon were to end today I would take a long break and then just come back to starting businesses when I’m inspired again. My main thing is as long as I have enough savings and I continue to build my business credit I could always find my way back into the entrepreneurial landscape. My family and I are not high maintenance people, we could easily survive with just a minimum wage income here in America. My initial dream was just to eat three times a day and still have extra cash to send to my parents in the Philippines. The amount that I was able to save the past 3 years is already more than enough for me until the day that I die. Like I said, we’re simple people.
Me: Well said, most are stuck with keeping up with the Joneses. Thank you for granting me this interview and hopefully, we could interview your brother too on his eBay-amazon arbitrage operation.
Liezel: Sure, I’ll let him know. His numbers are nothing like mine but it would also be a great case study for your site and your readers.
Business Model: Merch by Amazon
At its very core, the Merch by Amazon business is an upload your design, and Amazon will do the rest kind of business model, though it’s quite new and revolutionary, Amazon wasn’t the first to do it, what made it so enticing though is the pairing of it with their logistics infrastructure and their continued expansion to different countries. You could easily be an overnight international business operation when you hitch your operations with them, so the opportunities for expansion are just endless once you master it. As I’ve done more research about it, the cost to margin structure of the program is actually quite amazing. Amazon shows you the total cost of the shirt(from design to shipping)then makes you decide whatever price you want to sell the shirt for, and then the spread would be your royalty payment. So the way I’m seeing it, with Liezel’s operation, what they do is just keep uploading a lot of designs on a certain topic that they think would sell, then focus all their artistic resources on the shirt design that sells the most, create variations of it, then do massive pay per click marketing campaigns on different online platforms. It sounds quite simple, but I think to be successful at it you need someone first who knows what kind of designs that artists under your roster should focus on that sells. You can keep churning designs all you want but if it doesn’t sell then your operational cost just gets bigger and bigger. Second, you need to know how to place and buy pay-per-click ads from different platforms. You need to be proactive with your sales process, I feel that you’re not going to be very successful if you would just depend on Amazon traffic. Third and last, you need to be able to implement a multiple account scaling process. Using multiple accounts under different names, and making sure Amazon doesn’t find out about it is just a next-level skill set that arises from a lot of trial and error. So based on my analysis, the things that set Liezel and her operation apart from the rest are the sets of multifaceted systems she created to drive more sales. Her creativity and resourcefulness in creating those multiple systems that make everything work like clockwork are the reasons for that $800k a month difference-maker, and I can see her expanding more in the coming years as Amazon keeps expanding to other countries. It’s quite an astonishing business she has, and the narrative on how she got to where she is right now is quite inspirational too.
Here’s a screenshot of one of the many accounts Liezel’s company control.
Funding Process Breakdown
I’ve discussed with my previous employee Alex who’s been running his finance operations for years now on the processes he implemented to get Liezel up to a $14 million credit line in just 3 years. He told me that most of the increases only happened the past year and a half when he implemented the credit union strategy and her company’s tax filings started to hover around the multi-million mark. He admitted to me that the success of her business operation was the major driving force for the banks and credit unions to offer her very high limit business credit cards and business lines of credit at an astonishing rate. All he did was structure it the right way for her to get the maximum lines in a very short amount of time. The first year(2016) he said they only got a total of $47k of lines of credit. Around $145k in 2017,$685k in 2018,$3.2 million in 2019, and $14.5 million as of October of 2020. He said their goal at the end of 2021 is to get it to $30 million and double that by 2022. The continued increase in revenues from Liezel’s Merch by Amazon business is triggering constant lines of credit increase and high credit limit offers from different banks and credit unions nationwide. It’s quite an amazing achievement really, at my very peak the most I’ve gotten one client is $4.5 million worth of lines of credit. I’ve gotten a family $15 million at one time, but they were like 7 individuals in that business with high credit scores so that doesn’t count.
Moved to Nevada from the Philippines. Started working as a live-in caregiver 2 months after arrival
Started dabbling into an eBay-Amazon arbitrage business model because her brother started seeing results($150 to $400 a month) doing it. The business model didn’t work out for her, so she stopped after giving it a shot for one year. She didn’t get any traction, and she had to concentrate more on her Job and not spend extra cash on unprofitable ventures because her Dad got sick in the Philippines and she needed to be the breadwinner, accumulated a bunch of debt in the process, and defaulted on most of them.
Liezel started cleaning up her credit by herself using this book as her guide. She had 3 collections and multiple late payments. She closed her credit card with late payments, then disputed it for 3 months straight before it was removed. As for the collections, she disputed it for 5.5 months before it was removed. When all the negative items were removed she was left with 3 low-limit credit cards that are 2 and a half years old.
Met Alex (Credit builder & Funding expert) through a sales call under Funding company(Now defunct). Built a relationship and became one of the first clients of Alex with his newly opened financing company. Went on board with the financing program with 4 credit cards with a $3,080 credit limit. Opened a holding LLC for credit building and 2 aged high limit tradelines were added to her account.
Applied for 3 Business Credit Cards and got approved for a total of $9300. Opened a secured business credit card for $5k credit limit.
Applied for 4 business credit cards and got approved for a total of $13700 credit limit
Applied for 3 business credit cards and got approved for a total of $21k credit limit
Ended the year with a total of $47k of lines of credit
They requested for a credit limit increase for the 3 Business cards we got approved for in Feb of 2016. After the increase was granted they ended up with $27100 total from $9300 the year prior. Liezel started selling on Merch by Amazon around this month.
Applied for 3 more business credit cards, got approved for all, plus a business line of credit. The total credit line approved for the credit cards and the business line of credit is at $58k total
Requested for a line of credit increase for the 4 Business cards that we got approved for in May of 2016. After the increase was granted we ended up with $33800 total from $13700 the year prior.
Got an automatic increase on 1 of the 3 business cards that we applied for in Oct of 2016 the total now is at $26100 from $21k the year prior. Ended the year at $145k in total lines of credit.
Opened business bank accounts to 4 different credit unions. One of the credit unions was the main bank account for the business, all the Amazon earnings are remitted there.
Tax documents from Amazon for the business arrived
Applied for a business line of credit from the credit union where the Amazon earnings were remitted too. Showed the credit union the 2017 taxes on earnings from Amazon. Got approved for an 80k business line of credit plus a 28k business credit card. So we got 108k total.
The bank account where the Amazon earnings will be remitted was moved to another credit union bank account to build a relationship again.
Applied for a business line of credit again to the credit union where they transferred the Amazon operations. They received $75k business lines of credit and a $10k business credit card totaling 85k in lines of credit.
They just kept transferring their main business account to the next credit union where they will be getting applying for business lines of credit next, and as always the business credit cards come as a bonus.
Applied for Business lines of credit to another credit union got approved for a 95k plus business credit card of $18k = $113,000 total
Applied for business lines of credit and credit cards on 2 credit unions and got a total of $234k
By the end of the year, the total lines of credit are at 685k
As soon as the tax documents arrived from the IRS where a significant jump in revenue was shown, they started the whole process of applying for different lines of credit again. Only this time around the approved amount of the lines of credit were way higher. They also kept asking for a credit limit increase on all their previous lines and business credit cards.
They ended the year with a total of $3.2 million in lines of credit
$14.5 million in lines of credit total
If you’ve noticed closely, all the credit cards and lines of credit were under an LLC and there were rest periods in between applications(that were batched by groups). Without giving away too much, there are tricks of the trade that most funding consultants use to get you a big amount of funding. There’s a reason why he structured it that way. It was the only way to take advantage of some systemic legal lapses in the credit system.
Also, having tax documents that show your business income from the previous years are very crucial to get approved for high limit business lines of credits and credit cards. Not that you wouldn’t get approved if you are a start-up, but having revenues of a year or more will speed up the process.
For more questions about this topic email me here: