143: Building a Multi-Million Dollar Ecommerce Brand on the Side

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If you’ve ever been frustrated with the products in your life, and thought “there’s gotta be a better way!”, this conversation is sure to hit home.

Jeremy Michael Cohen and Fred Perrotta created Tortuga Backpacks after an awesome trip to Europe — and a less-than-awesome experience with their luggage.

The shoulder strap on Jeremy’s backpack broke on the first day of the trip, and Fred, using a cylindrical backpacking pack, was annoyed by constantly having to dump everything out and repack to access stuff that was at the bottom.

They resolved to create a better travel backpack, and did it.

The fun part is Jeremy reached out to me last month when Bryn and I were on vacation in Turkey and Italy, and I was carrying around the same REI backpack I’ve had since college. It’s a little smaller than I’d like for longer trips, but the next size up is too big to carry-on so maybe I’m in the market for a Tortuga :)

As the business grew, Fred eventually left his job at Google, but Jeremy continued his full-time work as a filmmaker, supporting the business as a side hustle.

In this conversation, we dive into their idea generation process, what it takes to actually make a physical product, and how they’ve managed to market and sell the bags over the last few years.

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  • How they came up with the idea for their first product.
  • What it’s like to “invent” something in the 21st century.
  • Their initial design and manufacturing process.
  • How Fred and Jeremy raised the money for their initial development and prototype costs — and what they might do differently today.
  • Why they didn’t stress too much about “validating” the market or the idea.
  • Why they thought they could steal market share from the big brands like Osprey, Deuter, and REI.
  • The distribution and marketing channels they found most effective.
  • Fred and Jeremy’s #1 tips for Side Hustle Nation.


What do you think? Think you’ve got a product idea that could carve out some profitable white space in the market?

I think getting back into the Amazon channel will be huge for Tortuga over the near-term and as they expand their product line.

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

13 thoughts on “143: Building a Multi-Million Dollar Ecommerce Brand on the Side”

  1. Great episode Nick,
    Setting up an ecommerce site and making it successful is never easy because of all the competition out there.

    I’m already downloading the podcast and can’t wait to hear all the goodies.

    Thanks for sharing.

      • Yes. Getting a manufacturer from China and not wasting time on samples. Not spending a lot of money on design and logo.
        What stood out for me when I listened to the episode was finding the gap. So your tip on looking at what the big companies were doing and going after something that was not their focus was also a take away for me too.
        All the best in your future endeavors.

  2. Fred/Jeremy, thanks for sharing your story, very insightful! A few colleagues and I are working on a project and are running into similar difficulties in finding a manufacturer. To provide a few details, we have completed Auto-CAD renderings, 3-D printed the prototype and previewed the idea to prospective buyers. I’ve attempted to reach out to manufactures listed on Thomas Net that are closely aligned to our prototype, but despite my efforts, they aren’t responding.

    Would you mind providing details on the industrial designer you used to help launch your prototype? I could be mistaken, but it sounded like they had a role in your story with linking you guys to a mfg. Any additional insight would be happily received!

    • Hi Louis,

      You can also try Maker’s Row if you’re looking for US manufacturers.

      The designer we mentioned was referred to us. You can use a site like Coroflot to find designers with experience in your niche.


  3. I have nothing to add re: side hustle (I found this blog randomly while looking up amazon FBA on Pinterest and somehow landed here!) BUT! I own a Tortuga and it has changed. my. life. I would HIGHLY recommend purchasing one ASAP (if you haven’t already, haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but now I want to!). Bought it for a trip to Italy last year (10 days, traveling mostly via train, Venice > Florence > Rome > Naples > Capri > Milan) and I have used it for MANY trips since because it is that great of a bag. I find roller boards annoying now. Anyway, just my 2cents on the Tortuga – I shall listen to this podcast tomorrow at work!

    • Hi Emily, Thanks for checking out the podcast. I’m glad to hear that your Tortuga has served you well. Good luck with Amazon FBA. We’re still learning the ins-and-outs of Amazon too.

      Co-Founder, Tortuga Backpacks


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