a complete timeline
In late 2015, a guy named Ethan discovered my YouTube channel and we became avid viewers of one another's videos.
In May 2016, we happened to run into each other at a local frozen yogurt shop.
We began collaborating on projects including herping videos over the next year.
In September 2017, a viewer asked me to take a ball python who I then offered to Ethan. This person was not local and shipped the snake in the mail.
This sparked the idea to breed our ball pythons together, sell and ship the hatchlings to our subscribers. However, we didn't have a way to fund the project.
In October 2017, I wanted more reptiles but couldn't afford animals from breeders. Instead, I began buying cheap animals on Craigslist. This gave Ethan an idea.
By the end of October 2017, we had compiled a hundred potential Craigslist listings and designed a website, "Into the Jungle Exotics".
In November 2017, we changed the name to "Emerald Scales" and purchased a breeder ball python online after realizing Ethan's wasn't sexually mature yet.
We soon discovered the new ball python had health issues, shipped it back due to a lack of funds and cancelled the project as it was too late into breeding season for another.
Instead, we began buying reptiles on Craigslist, OfferUp and NextDoor in December 2017. We bought 2 ball pythons and recorded an announcement video.
Emerald Scales went live January 30, 2018 with 10 reptiles. The website went public during a livestream and we sold one animal at launch.
In July 2018, we attended our first reptile expo as sellers with about 15 animals.
By the end of the year, we had acquired over 80 animals and made a profit just under $1,000 with the help of two part-time employees.
For the first half of 2019, we had a surplus of animals and a huge audience, but no revenue because animals were too slow to recover from their prior issues.
The animals quickly became too expensive to turn a profit despite selling at 2x the market value and by June, Emerald Scales ran out of money.
Ethan and I couldn't come to an agreeable solution, so we parted ways in an attempt to find solutions individually and under separate brands.
In July 2019, I began increasing prices and specifically advertising Emerald Scales as a place to send reptiles for a fee.
In August 2019, I leased a townhome and allocated 1,100 of the 1,300sqft to reptiles while living in the spare bedroom.
By the end of 2019, we had taken in over 300 animals and sold over 200. Despite raising the cost to rehome and increasing the sale prices to 3x the market value, we were still only profiting $3.50 per animal before taxes. [Full 2019 breakdown]
In January 2020, I began posting unboxing videos which very quickly became popular.
In June, 2020, I rented a second home to live in while using the first rental property exclusively for Emerald Scales.
By November 2020, reptiles were being sold at steep discounts to clear space for new intakes, the primary source of revenue. Animals were being shipped in and out 5 days a week.
At the end of 2020, Emerald Scales broke even (a second time) with $80,000 in revenue but only $1,500 in profit. [Full 2020 breakdown]
In January 2021, There were 50-100 people waiting to send animals at any given time and our wait time to rehome increased to over a year. I raised prices of intakes and switched from full-size enclosures to simple tub and rack systems to lower costs and open up space.
In March 2021, I used the Reptile Unboxing video earnings to put a down payment on a home.
By July 2021, I ended both rental leases and was receiving up to 5 payments to rehome animals per week, which we could not fulfill fast enough.
By the end of 2021, I profited $17,500 by avoiding renting, not accepting ill animals, not purchasing new supplies and streamlining customer support and animal care to be more efficient. [Full 2021 breakdown]
I went into 2022 with the plan of drastically decreasing the number of animals at any given time and began declining all new intake payments.
The entire year was a game of catch-up, trying to fulfill the pending orders while Emerald Scales saw declining sales and engagement. This was likely due to a lack of inventory, a social media ban for rules against animal sales, infrequent unboxing videos, higher prices and losing passion for the project.
"There are many unexpected bumps in the road while keeping exotic pets. If you're no longer able to suitably care for yours, finding a safe new home is very difficult. Most keepers are forced to resort to giving them away to people they know little about and have to hope it was the right choice. Emerald Scales is available to put minds at ease. We make it easy to relinquish your animals while being affordable. Once we ensure they're happy and healthy, reptiles are listed for sale to keepers around the United States. Unlike almost any other sellers in the pet trade, we verify every customer before sending a reptile off, ensuring they meet our standards because we aren't afraid to decline concerning buyers."
That was ultimately the most revised goal.
I've given consideration to solutions from thousands of people and there are very few projects I've felt a similar amount of passion towards. However, I undeniably lost my passion for reptile keeping and exotic animals as a whole.
When people ask for advice on starting "their own Emerald Scales", I've developed the habit of just saying "Don't". I truly don't believe this concept is possible to turn into a profitable endeavor. I'm not saying you can't do a better job than me, but my 5 years of daily, first-hand experience has given me confidence in what does not work at the very least. Not only is it a product based company, it's also service based. Both sides rely entirely on living animals and a lot of human cooperation.
Think of reptile breeders as car manufacturers and Emerald Scales as a used car lot, except all the VINs have been scratched off. I don't know how the animals were raised or cared for. What are we going to find under the hood this time? How many owners had there been? How many underlying issues do they have? What's their genetic background? We never even knew how old the far majority were. We couldn't have a bunch of identical setups for identically healthy breeder ball pythons. The fact that we accepted so many species of various conditions and different backgrounds meant we had to adapt everything for every animal. And then there's the selling part. A dealership will happily persuade anyone into any sale. To do that with a reptile would violate the promise we made the person who rehomed to us, which resulted in constantly refusing buyers, despite lowering our standards overtime.
For a while, I thought we'd just need to take the common approach that other companies do: Your main product/service is not your profit. It's simply how you attract customers to spend money on other stuff you offer. After all, this is what I did by accident. The animals were a resource to create "Reptile Unboxing" videos, which is how I actually paid the bills. But YouTube in itself is ridiculously unpredictable. To rely on advertising revenue from a company that doesn't even know I exist to support dozens of exotic animals, fulltime employees and myself is risky and the popularity of the series was undoubtedly temporary.
So I explored other products and services. We bred amphibians, invertebrates, created and sold unique products and drop-shipped. We explored ideas including boarding animals, exotic pet-sitting, and paid events. But each plan had unforeseeable complications that created more instability than the original problem we were trying to solve.
Normally, when somebody creates a new company, it will be suggested by smart people to re-evaluate what you're doing at the 5 year mark. 60 months of experience, experimenting and adjustments should be enough to form a clear vision and realistic roadmap. To most people, spending so long on something just to learn whether it might work sounds like it's not worth the time, but now been over 5 years and it flew by so fast. I also learned that, no, it does not work.
To spend even another week trying to do things the way I have would be a misuse of time. Maybe someday, I'll give it another go. If I do, Emerald Scales would go back to nothing more than a JPEG file of a sideways green square. It would likely take another 5 years just to see if it might work, again - because everything would be done differently.
I'm also a very different person from 5 years ago, largely because this experience taught me so much about myself, running a small business and how I want to spend my time. And this ain't it, chief.
Thanks for reading!
I'm not currently working on any big projects, I'm just taking it easy for now. In the meantime, I'll continue to be very active on YouTube with frequent new videos and livestreams.
The best way to contact me is by becoming a YouTube channel member and joining the Discord server where myself and others are active every day. You can email me too, but I don't check very often.
And thanks to everyone that stuck around to support Emerald Scales! :]