Nearly every day, I get messages saying: “Justin, I love following you online and watching your videos; it must be awesome to breed Ball Pythons for a living,” or “Can you tell me how you got started with your business?”
So here’s my story.
When I first discovered Ball Python morphs, the industry titans were already rocking it. By almost any measure, I was late to the game (although it seems early now!) I would visit the websites of RDR and NERD during my senior year of college and dream of being like them, creating these fantastic animals.
I was breeding a few kingsnakes at the time and had one normal Ball Python as a pet. When you’re in college, many people ask what you’re studying. I would always reply, “My degree is in marketing, but I’m going to be a Ball Python breeder!” (I can’t imagine how crazy this must have sounded to non-reptile people.)
When it came time to actually spend the money, I was SCARED. I’ll admit it. After all, these were just snakes, right?! There could be no way they were actually selling for these obscene prices. It could all be a trick, and the guys at the top were the only ones making money. This was 2005, and lots of naysayers were already crying that the whole thing would collapse in a year or two and we would be left with beautiful pets. (The same arguments we’ve heard yearly between then and now.)
I obtained financial backing and jumped in with both feet. My initial investment was about $75k (about 20 animals + caging and supplies). Having just graduated, that was a fortune to me.
I kept my full-time day job and, for the next 3 years, did only two things with profits: I bought out my financial partner and reinvested every extra dollar, and this reinvestment amount was likely as much as my initial investment.
The collection grew, and so did overhead and time costs. Spending weekends and evenings cleaning and feeding hundreds of snakes wasn’t always fun. Finding the time to care for customers to my high standards was even more challenging. I was working a 30-40 hour/week job without compensation, just building my dream.
In the end, I couldn’t do it in my spare time. I remember the night my wife pointed out what I was too busy to see: I had to quit my job. I told her, “There’s no way. The snakes couldn’t support that.” I still hadn’t taken one penny personally from my profits.
However, it quickly became apparent that I needed help to keep the animal care and customer service up to my standards. Just like when I decided to invest, I was at another critical decision: give up or push forward. The reality was that I couldn’t live on the current sales the business was generating, but I knew that quitting my job would give me 100% more time to focus on the company, both animals and sales. It was a big gamble, but leaving my job was my best decision.
That was in the fall of 2009. Over the next decade, I dedicated myself to growing the business. I built a better collection, sold more snakes, made more customers, and reinvested more profits. I built an expanded facility, then built another one, then rebranded the company!
KINOVA now has thousands of customers, 10 million YouTube views, an incredible team of employees, and a fantastic income – one that has allowed my family to comfortably live doing what I love. (Thank you, customers!)
In short, this is the dream, but it didn’t come easy and didn’t come fast. It was always in doubt all along the way. A hundred times, I thought about quitting. Anyone who sells you snakes and suggests that you can get easy money or that success in the reptile world is a shortcut compared to success in any other business is dead wrong.
The reality is that the margins are there, significant margins sometimes. What’s not guaranteed is the human factor. Only some people are going to be good business owners. If a local Ford dealership down the street closes its doors, that doesn’t mean there’s no money in the car industry.
Can you do it in today’s Ball Python market? Absolutely! Will it be easy? No way. As any market matures, it becomes more challenging to break into it, and established players expand to fill the demand. Nothing is permanent, though; if you’re willing to take a risk and work your butt off, it could be the best experience of your life.
Maybe it’s not for you. Maybe you want to pursue the projects you love purely for enjoyment. Maybe you want to stay small and work just enough to make a bit on the side. Whatever your goal, go for it! Keep realistic expectations and have fun! There are very few hobbies that can legitimately pay their own expenses. Nothing is as rewarding as creating living artwork. Know what you’re getting into and embrace it!
P.S. To learn my proven strategy for Ball Python breeding and business success, check out KINOVA University.