Going to grad school is not a light decision to make. While the average cost for a year of graduate school can vary drastically, you’re looking at anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 a year. Tack on your student debt from your undergraduate degree, and you’ve got a hefty burden to bear.
This is the story of 32-year-old Peter Lovisek, who ditched graduate studies in neuroscience and turned his childhood hobby of collecting fossils into a full-time enterprise.
Some of Lovisek’s fondest childhood memories involve prospecting for minerals and collecting fossils with his family. Both of his parents worked at the Royal Ontario Museum and ran a nature camp together. So of course, Lovisek was hooked on all things natural from a young age.
At age 13, Lovisek learned an early lesson in entrepreneurship. He attended a gem and mineral trade show in Detroit, where he spent his savings on items that spoke to him, including a huge trilobite from Morocco.
Soon after he returned to Ontario, he sold the fossils for double the price he paid!
In 2002, during high school, Lovisek decided to sell fossils online. The idea came to him after he talked to another fossil dealer in Tucson. The dealer mentioned that selling items on eBay was very easy to get into. In fact, his daughter was driving a Lexus after selling collectibles for a few years. “I was very happy to learn it was so easy to do and not very costly.”
Lovisek realized that he had a keen eye for what was “eBay-worthy,” and soon enough, he got his business – Fossil Realm – up and running. He felt confident in taking a gamble on a few more expensive items if he could roughly double his money. For instance, he once purchased a fossil of a bear skull from Romania for $1,400. It was a well-preserved, 40,000-year-old specimen, and he sold it for $2,400 a few months later.
Lovisek would spend a few hours on weekends, taking pictures of the specimens and writing descriptions and sales copy. After getting the pictures and descriptions together, it took just a few minutes to list an item on eBay.
Sometimes, he only needed to post an auction for one week, with a reserve price of around twice what he paid for the fossil.
“I was always doing it on the side, but it was gradually growing,” Lovisek recalls.
A Choice Between Two Loves
But he also had another love: cognitive neuroscience. And although the money he was making from Fossil Realm was roughly the same as a decent part-time job, Lovisek took a year off from his business to focus on his studies.
By the time his undergrad career ended, he was dead set on pursuing graduate work. “A ‘normal’ job in academia – as a researcher and professor – made so much sense to me,” Lovisek explains. “I thought it was a sure thing. So did other family members, fellow students, profs, and friends. However, for some reason I just couldn’t imagine Fossil Realm staying a minor hobby business.”
It wasn’t until he did some deep introspection – thanks to one of his professors – that he realized that he'd be happiest as an entrepreneur. “It became clear that I could approach the business in such a way that matched my skills, personality, and general outlook on life,” Lovisek says.
So he took the plunge and hasn’t looked back since. In 2012, he launched Fossil Realm and focused on his company succeeding as an ecommerce business. His customer base and sales have been growing ever since.
A Happy Ending
“The freedom and flexibility that can accompany entrepreneurship was something that I know was worth striving for,” Lovisek says. “It’s worked out as planned!”
He points out that paying off his student debt – which took him five years – was a lot easier to do than it would've been if he'd gone to grad school.
Lovisek’s business has grown quickly since 2013. The fossils that he lists for sale are now more expensive, with many pieces costing well over $10,000. And while Fossil Realm still offers items in a lower price bracket, he now focuses on promoting bigger-ticket, museum-quality offerings.
For those who would like to pursue turning a hobby into a full-time business, Lovisek offers the gentle reminder that being an entrepreneur is a lot of hard work. “Starting a business based on a hobby can be very rewarding, but just because your business revolves around your passion doesn’t mean that it will take off easily,” he warns. “Nor will it necessarily be enjoyable or fulfilling.”