Todd Trimakas could have been your average (or likely above average) consultant. But while working for big names like Wells Fargo and Accenture, he pursued his passion for building across numerous side gigs. These included selling the earliest video phones from Europe online, reselling auction goods from Macy’s on Amazon, and starting his own media company and magazine in South Carolina.
Despite successful business exits and becoming a local media mogul, the recession of 2008 sent him from local socialite back to working for banks.
Tired of being a cog in the machine, Todd quit working for corporations and coded a bridge between Shopify and Amazon. Now, his one-man tech product, ByteStand, has a fast-growing customer base and about half a million dollars in ARR.
Here’s how he faced ups and down, lucrative exits, and company collapse to teach himself to become a successful tech founder, totally bootstrapped.
Bouncing Between Startups and Corporate Banking
After finishing his IMBA at the University of Southern Carolina in 1996, Todd landed a coveted Senior Consultant position at Anderson Consulting (now Accenture). But that was only half of his career. You see, Todd had a problem that just wouldn’t go away: he always had a business running on the side.
“It’s like a tick or something,” he laughs. “Sometimes I wish I could turn it off, but it’s like almost everything I come across I think of whether I could turn it into a business.”
From the time he started at Accenture, Todd chased additional fulfillment in other enterprises. He ran a recruiting website and then sold unlocked cell phones he’d imported from Europe.
“I was importing some of the first video phones from Erickson and Nokia that were unavailable in the US,” he says. “You could unlock them for any major carrier and sell them for a premium over here.”
As video phones started making their way into the US market, Todd sold that phone business (the website and supplier contacts) and went back to banking at Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) … but that was only temporarily.
After six years at Wells Fargo, Todd left the bank and became a partner at a media company called Trafk Media. He also started a magazine, Uptown Magazine, under the Trafk Media umbrella. He describes Uptown as a glossy lifestyle publication about life in downtown Charlotte, South Carolina.
“It was a food and fashion publication similar to GQ and Vanity Fair,” he says.
Unfortunately, that was a tough decade for a small publication, particularly one whose revenue was primarily through ads from the real estate industry. After five and a half years of operation, the 2008 recession tore through Trafk Media and Uptown Magazine in just three short months. At its end, Todd headed back to corporate banking at Bank of America.
“It was hard going from being a high-profile business owner to another corporate employee, but you do what you have to do,” he says.
Jumping From Corporate to Ecommerce
Despite the setback, Todd’s itch was still there. He was just in time to hop into the rising world of Amazon sales while working as a “Cog” at Bank of America (at least that’s what his LinkedIn profile says).
“I hooked up with Macy’s of all people,” Todd says. “They had a shockingly huge backend overstock business. I don’t know if it still happens today, but they would auction off pallets of stuff and I’d buy and sell them on Amazon. They’d have thousands of lots. Hundreds of millions of dollars of stuff were getting sold at these sales.”
Quickly, Todd built a tidy ecommerce business almost a decade before the term joined the public lexicon.
“I had a little warehouse space and some employees,” he says. “We’d process for Amazon and ship it to them. I just kept growing and growing and growing.”
However, the longer he looked through forum posts online, Todd realized there were a lot of ways his business could fail just like his magazine did back in ‘08.
“In the forums, people kept talking about how Amazon shut them down for no reason. I saw the potential for Amazon to shut us down for any reason at any time – even by accident. I realized I needed to diversify,” he says.
Todd started searching online for a new ecommerce platform and came across an early Shopify. At that time he had about 1,500 SKUs. (An SKU is ecommerce jargon for a run of a specific product. For example, an SKU of size 12, 2007 red Nike Air Maxes. A typical Walmart will usually have hundreds of thousands of SKUs.) Todd faced all sorts of problems getting his growing product base over to Shopify.
“How do I enter product variations or images for variations? What about prices? What do I put in for extra fields?” Todd recalls asking himself. “I thought, ‘There has to be an automated way to do this.’ But I searched and there was no way to automatically and intelligently pull this info from Amazon to the store.”
But Todd was an entrepreneur and his years in the startup business had made him resourceful. He ended up teaching himself coding and creating the platform that would solve this problem. It became so successful he sold the Macy’s business.
Becoming a Tech Founder to Avoid Scams
When Todd started making ByteStand he had no idea how to code, but he didn’t think that would be a problem. He had worked as a project manager before and thought it wouldn’t be hard to hire a developer to do the work for him.
“It was a nightmare,” he says. “Development firms were a couple hundred thousand dollars and they just never really seemed to do it right. I decided that instead of paying someone else, I’d pay myself and learn it.”
In hindsight, Todd thinks no tech founder should ever enter the industry without knowing some of the basics of their technology. Otherwise, he thinks it is too easy to get taken advantage of.
“With a non-technical founder, you’ll always have an anchor around your neck. You’re always beholden to someone else to run your business. When you go to a car mechanic and you don’t know much about cars they can charge you $2,000 for a $1,000 part. The same thing happens with developers.”
So Todd taught himself how to code the basic MVP of ByteStand and then hired a professional developer to create it. Finally, he had the product he had been dreaming of.
Today, Todd not only has ByteStand. He’s created three apps in his niche: ByteStand, FreshCredit, and SnapSync.
ByteStand is one of the industry’s top apps for bridging stores from Amazon onto Shopify. More so now that Shopify has removed its ties to the Amazon store.
“Today we have over 4,000 sellers and we only run ads in Shopify,” says Todd. “We also had a major push with content and SEO. We have great search results on Google as well as the Shopify app stores today.”
The ByteStand suite of tools has evolved to solve other common issues Shopify sellers face. While ByteStand solves the simple problem of connecting Amazon stores to Shopify, SnapSync takes the solution further giving sellers better inventory management. It lets sellers connect as many Amazon Marketplaces around the world to as many Shopify locations as they like with real-time synced prices and inventory.
Another major headache Todd noticed was that Shopify doesn’t provide in-store credit like Amazon. He created his third product, FreshCredit to let Shopify stores perform more like Amazon. It gives buyers who return items on Shopify in-store credit to encourage repeat business.
Even with half a million in annual revenue and 50 percent year over year growth, Todd has managed to keep his staff small and fully remote.
“I have a couple of employees. One developer and Cara who runs my help desk. She‘s great,” he says.
Moving into the future, Todd thinks his position is perfect.
“I think things will just keep growing,” he says. “We have a relationship now with the head of Amazon’s multi-channel fulfillment program and they’ve even sent us customers. We’ve been really happy,” he says.
The Advantages of Running a Tech Company as a Small Founder
Todd’s decision to sell his Macy’s business wasn’t just because he was tired of working on it. He saw businesses like his as unsustainable at a small scale.
“In the magazine world, when we were selling ads, we’d have trouble getting buyers because they could get so much more from Google ads. I was competing with old technology and didn’t have an answer,” he says. “On Amazon, I saw the same thing so I asked myself, ‘Would I rather be in this physical world of selling with much larger companies or get in my own niche?’”
In light of the recession brought on by COVID, Todd feels vindicated by his decision. Instead of folding his business, he got even more profitable.
“Back in the day the economy crushed us, but now I’ve gotten bigger despite COVID. That magazine was so fragile in hindsight,” he says.
In closing, Todd advises:
“The biggest thing is to solve your own problem. We’re not as unique as we think we are.”
“The biggest thing is to solve your own problem. We’re not as unique as we think we are. Your problem may be someone else’s problem as well,” he says. “I couldn’t do this business if I hadn’t sold on Amazon. I didn’t know how to code but I did know the business problem and I generated revenue almost immediately. Also, I think it’s super dangerous to be a tech founder without knowing how to code.”
Todd is another founder who has figured out how to solve the biggest problems in his industry because he was a part of it. While tech products produce some of the most lucrative startups, they can become all but useless without insider knowledge. Sometimes that wisdom can only be found through a long career like Todd’s.
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