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Meet the 19-year-old who earned $100,000 on Etsy and paid for college

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

LeiLei Secor is a 19-year old University of Virginia student. She’s spending her summer working for her local congressman near Albany, New York where she grew up. She’s also the owner of Designed by Lei, an Etsy store that has made more than $100,000 in three years. She’s using that money to pay her way through college.

Secor first opened her store in the summer of 2012 after an unsuccessful job search (Sound familiar? Check out our interview with millionaire makeup sensation Michelle Phan who began her career after being rejected by Lancome). “I liked making jewelry as a hobby and then I came across Etsy and thought it would be perfect for me,” she tells Yahoo Finance. Secor began studying how to sell online with a particular focus on what worked for some stores and didn’t work for others.

The Devil is in the detail

What did work on Etsy was simple-- high-quality photos. “When you’re looking through the search engine, that’s the first thing people see and they have to want to click on your product compared to all the other results,” she says. That advice maybe seem obvious, but it’s also what Sophia Amoruso, creator of online retailer NastyGal credits with giving her an initial edge when she started out on eBay. Secor also focused on titles and keywords in her listings.

Persistence is key

Secor has no plans to close her store anytime soon. She expects to continue even after she graduates college. “This is really something that I love,” she says. Her love for making jewelry also allowed her to persist and adapt when her store wasn’t immediately successful. “I didn’t make any sales in my first week so I started looking for things that were trending on Etsy and came across wire jewelry,” she says. Secor began creating wire jewelry and orders poured in. The most important thing, however, is taking risks, says Secor “I’m young and I have my whole life ahead of me. I can make a few mistakes—so if you’re passionate about something just go for it.”