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The Midas Touch Can Be A Self-Taught Skill E-commerce expert and The Gold Gods founder Cam Love's advice on how to tap into trends

By Jake Strain

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The Gold Gods
The Gold Gods

It's a common misconception that most startups disappear into the abyss after the first year. It may come as a surprise that only 20 per cent of new businesses fall at the first-anniversary hurdle.

Admittedly, after surviving the honeymoon period, failure figures begin to stack up. By the five-year marker, 50 per cent of small businesses close their doors. It was at this milestone that Cam Love found himself in 2013.

In 2008, halfway through his freshman year at the University of Missouri, Love had $600 to his name. Needing to earn some spending money for college and with self-taught skills in Web and graphic design, he decided to design and sell t-shirts.

Within two years, what started as a hobby gathered momentum, and Love was fast heading toward having to make a decision. While the rest of the students in his junior year fretted over where to send their resumes, Love decided to continue his entrepreneurial journey and continue to grow his clothing line, by 2011, he was fully committed.

Fast on his feet

The self-taught graphic designer could spot urban and pop culture trends, and at first, the business thrived and soon expanded to a full-on clothing line. Incorporating hats, belts, and hoodies, but it wasn't long before he reached a plateau .

Pre-Instagram and Facebook, driving traffic to an e-commerce site was an uphill challenge. With most companies using ad display agencies, a sales message was in danger of becoming an also-ran amongst a constant flow of flash and text. "It was at this point I decided to cut out the middleman," Love says.

"After finding the most relevant music and entertainment websites for my demographic, I reached out to the webmasters and negotiated deals directly with them to place my ads." This move helped Love establish his brand and set it apart from the competition.

Go hard or go home

Shortly after this expansion period, the market became swamped. With market share decreasing, another crossroad loomed. "My partner in the clothing business was an old high school buddy of mine named Alan Davenport," says Love. "We realized it was time to go hard or go home and made a move into cut and sew. We invested almost all our capital. Unfortunately, it bombed, taking us right to the edge of bankruptcy. At this point, we were at an all-time low."

Teetering on the edge of financial oblivion isn't always the end of the line, as Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, and Cyndi Lauper can testify. It is, though, a tipping point, and with the inevitable downfall of the clothing company, Love began to search for alternative opportunities.

Love recalls seeing urban jewelry sites advertising on the same platforms as his clothing company. He felt they lacked direction, solid branding, or a strong corporate presence. "I also felt like I could create a better product, too," he adds.

In the span of one 24-hour brainstorming session, he came up with a name, designed a logo, devised the bare bones of a web site, and bought the domain.

After exhaustive research, Love found a manufacturer aligned with his exacting quality and design standards. In November 2013, with only four products, he and Davenport launched their new company.

In seven short years, the Gold Gods' unique range of urban, designer gold plated jewelry is now sold in over 1,000 stores worldwide, earning $50 million in retail sales.

But what lessons does the former eBay-flipper take from his near failure? "More often than not, your first business venture won't be successful. But it's the moves you make afterward that define you," says Love.

Don't try to re-invent the wheel!

Primarily self-taught, Love is realistic about his capabilities when it comes to re-inventing the wheel. "Instead of creating a product and hoping it will sell, try instead to identify a trend and determine if it's possible to capitalize on it."

Advocating a hands-on approach, Love believes that it's essential to learn all the skills necessary to run a new startup. "The Internet is full of free resources," he says. "I taught myself the basic elements of retail, wholesale, how to build a website, run email marketing and advertising, as well as design."

"No one will work harder for your business than you," he says resolutely. "By grasping the basics of your company, you can stay in control of your destiny. To become an entrepreneur, you have to wear all the hats all at the same time."

Only then can someone bring in partners and delegate some of the business's operations. He says that doing this frees them up to focus on the bigger picture and grow the business.

Identify your business strengths and weaknesses

"When you're building a team, it's critical to not only know your strengths but also to know your weaknesses. Starting The Gold Gods, I knew that selling wholesale to retailers could be a huge opportunity. From trying this myself, though, I knew it was not one of my strengths," Love explains. "It took a few false starts to find the right person for the job," he admits, "but when James Hudson sat in front of me, I knew he was the right fit."

Thanks to Hudson, the results came within months, and the doors to two of the US's largest youth retail chains opened. One year later, goods were being sold in 800 locations.

With the gold-plated jewelry line established, the growth led the team to successfully expand into other jewelry categories . "We're now one of the premier destinations for affordable solid gold jewelry, too," says Love proudly.

"Start by learning to do everything yourself. Discover what you're good at, and find the best people to do the stuff you're bad at. And remember, you don't have to create something from scratch. Identify a trend, and be fast enough to capitalize on it," he advises would-be entrepreneurs.

From a $600 startup to near bankruptcy, The Gold Gods have notched up $50 million worth of urban jewelry retail sales. A journey that for Love has best described as a roller coaster, but worth every second

Jake is a market research analyst who consults various artists on industry trends.

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