April 13, 2024

Enterprise JM

Do the Business

Millennial Built $700K Business Afraid He’ll Lose It All

  • Joshua Lucas, 29, credits TikTok for his online gem business’ over $700,000 in sales in 2022.
  • He says a US ban of the app would paint “a very scary picture” for his company.
  • He doesn’t have large followings on other platforms, where he says it’s harder for small businesses to thrive.

Joshua Lucas is scared he’s going to lose everything he’s worked so hard to get. 

Last week, after speculation about a TikTok ban escalated following CEO Shou Zi Chew’s appearance before Congress, the 29-year-old took to the platform he credits for his business’ success to share his fears with more than 53,000 followers.

“I’m serious you guys, I’m kind of scared to lose y’all, to lose the community,” he said. “Like, where are we gonna go?”

Lucas works full-time as the owner of Crystal Pacifica, an almost exclusively online seller of various types of gems, crystals, and minerals. He and his wife started the business in 2019, but Lucas told Insider it didn’t take off until they joined TikTok in the spring of 2021. Since then, they’ve seen their revenues grow from under $30,000 in 2020 to over $700,000 last year, according to a document viewed by Insider. Lucas says after business expenses and paying staff, they made between $80,000 and $100,000 in pre-tax profits. 

Sales on his website spiked the month he joined TikTok, according to a graph viewed by Insider. The Oregon native estimates that over 90% of his customers find the business on TikTok because he hasn’t spent a “single cent” on marketing elsewhere. He says the majority of sales happen during his weekly live selling shows on TikTok. He usually works from “10 a.m. to about 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.” on these days with “good breaks” mixed in, but says the long hours are worth it.

“Without TikTok, none of us would be where we are today,” he said, referring also to his wife, who quit her job to work on the business and now helps on a part-time basis, and their three employees. 

But with a potential ban looming, all of this could come crashing down. 

Lawmakers have raised concerns that TikTok’s Chinese parent, ByteDance, could give the Chinese government access to US user data, and that the government could pressure TikTok to show or restrict certain content to American users for its own interests. Some experts say a ban is nearly inevitable, though a forced sale or spin-off — which would serve to isolate the company from Chinese government interests and alleviate some national security concerns — could potentially allow the app and its users to continue business as usual. An outright ban would be bad news for TikTok’s 150 million active US users, in addition to the nearly five million businesses — many of them small shops — the company says use the platform to reach customers. 

 

Lucas says that if a ban happens, it “paints a very scary picture” for his company.

“I’m afraid to lose my team, my dream, and the financial stability that we’ve built through something we love,” he said. 

His biggest concern is that he doesn’t know where he’d pivot to reach customers. He hasn’t built large followings on other social media platforms like Instagram, for instance, where he has less than 3,500 followers

Even if some of his customers follow him to Facebook or Instagram, Lucas says he thinks small businesses have to “pay to be successful” on these platforms — meaning he might have to start spending a lot on ads to generate sales. In March, Meta began offering paid verification subscriptions which can provide users greater audience reach.

While Lucas says TikTok is the best platform “for a small business to flourish” — a feeling other business owners share as well — it’s unclear how much it truly provides an advantage, as many entrepreneurs have also found success through Facebook and Instagram. 

“This has been our dream for a long time”

Joshua Lucas

Joshua Lucas at a gem show in Tucson, Arizona

Joshua Lucas



Before the business took off, Lucas worked as a full-time wedding photographer for several years. But after the wedding industry plunged in 2020 due to the pandemic, he says he began actively looking to leave his profession due to the “financial instability.” Joining TikTok in 2021 was a “pivotal moment,” he says, which enabled him to officially “retire” from photography last summer. 

Initially, Lucas says he was hesitant to download TikTok because he thought it was just a “bunch of kids doing dances,” but it only took two months for him to realize it was a great decision. Multiple videos of him mining, “rockhounding,” and “tumbling stones” racked up hundreds of thousands of views, with one reaching over one million

After seeing his TikTok follower count rise to over 15,000 in just three weeks, he decided to set up photography lights, two tables in his kitchen, and try live selling, which he started in May of 2021. 

“From 1 p.m. until midnight or later sometimes, we would stay up laughing, talking, selling, and educating our customers on stones of all types,” he said. “This has been our dream for a long time, to own a business we have passion in, and to make people happy.”

Before going forward with a ban, Lucas say he hopes members of Congress realize how important TikTok is to so many people.

“Our representatives have no problem throwing all of our lives away,” he said. “I don’t feel represented, and neither does anyone in our community, especially those whose livelihood is on the line. I am truly afraid for the future of my business and especially my team who all rely on full time employment and full benefits.”

Are you a business owner worried about a TikTok ban and willing to share your story? If so, reach out to this reporter at [email protected].