I'm Alex, I co-created Emerald Scales and with the help of many others, we rehomed and sold hundreds of exotic pet reptiles and amphibians to and from all 48 contiguous US states.
As of the end of 2022, Emerald Scales is no longer an active project. It was exciting to explore but my conclusion is the concept simply isn't sustainable. However, the past 5 years have been undeniably eventful!
81 species taken in & Sold
African fat tailed gecko
Chinese cave gecko
Madagascar day gecko
Standing's day gecko
White lined gecko
Sulawesi water skink
Kei Island BTS
Monitors & Tegus
Asian water monitor
Argentine B&W tegu
Chinese water dragon
Curly tailed lizard
Mexican alligator lizard
Amazon tree boa
Brazilian rainbow boa
Colombian rainbow boa
Hog island boa
Kenyan sand boa
Mexican rosy boa
Peruvian Longicauda boa
California king snake
Eastern (black) rat snake
False water cobra
Honduran milk snake
Puebloan milk snake
Mexican black king snake
Mountain king snake
Northern pine snake
Ridley's cave racer
Rough green snake
Sinaloan milk snake
African side neck turtle
Chinese pond turtle
Eastern box turtle
Mississippi map turtle
Ornate box turtle
Red eared slider
Yellow bellied slider
Red foot tortoise
Colorado river toad
Fire bellied toad
Smooth sided toad
While you mostly just saw one dude unboxing reptiles, there were between 2 to 5 people hard at work at any given time. It was an ever-changing team behind-the-scenes handling animal care, logistics, customer support, video production, social media, local pickups, deliveries and much more.
a complete timeline
In late 2015, a guy named Ethan discovered my YouTube channel and we became avid viewers of one another's videos.
In May 2016, we happened to run into each other at a local frozen yogurt shop.
We began collaborating on projects including herping videos over the next year.
In September 2017, a viewer asked me to take a ball python who I then offered to Ethan. This person was not local and shipped the snake in the mail.
This sparked the idea to breed our ball pythons together, sell and ship the hatchlings to our subscribers. However, we didn't have a way to fund the project.
In October 2017, I wanted more reptiles but couldn't afford animals from breeders. Instead, I began buying cheap animals on Craigslist. This gave Ethan an idea.
By the end of October 2017, we had compiled a hundred potential Craigslist listings and designed a website, "Into the Jungle Exotics".
In November 2017, we changed the name to "Emerald Scales" and purchased a breeder ball python online after realizing Ethan's wasn't sexually mature yet.
We quickly discovered the new ball python had health issues, shipped it back due to a lack of funds and cancelled the project as it was too late into breeding season for another.
Instead, we began buying reptiles on Craigslist, OfferUp and NextDoor in December 2017. We bought 2 ball pythons and recorded an announcement video.
Emerald Scales went live January 30, 2018 with 10 reptiles. The website went public during a livestream and we sold one animal at launch.
In July 2018, we attended our first reptile expo as sellers with about 15 animals.
By the end of the year, we had acquired over 80 animals and made a profit just under $1,000 with the help of two part-time employees.
For the first half of 2019, we had a surplus of animals and a huge audience, but no revenue because animals were too slow to recover from their prior issues.
The animals quickly became too expensive to turn a profit despite selling at 2x the market value and by June, Emerald Scales ran out of money.
Ethan and I couldn't come to an agreeable solution, so we parted ways in an attempt to find solutions individually and under separate brands.
In July 2019, I began increasing prices and specifically advertising Emerald Scales as a place to send reptiles for a fee.
In August 2019, I leased a townhome and allocated 1,100 of the 1,300sqft to reptiles and workspace while living in the spare bedroom.
By the end of 2019, we had taken in over 300 animals and sold over 200. Despite raising the cost to rehome and increasing the sale prices to 3x the market value, we were still only profiting $3.50 per animal before taxes.
In January 2020, I began posting unboxing videos which very quickly became popular.
In June, 2020, I rented a second home to live in while using the first rental property exclusively for Emerald Scales.
By November 2020, reptiles were being sold at steep discounts to clear space for new intakes, the primary source of revenue. Animals were being shipped in and out 5 days a week.
At the end of 2020, Emerald Scales broke even (a second time) with $80,000 in revenue but only $1,500 in profit.
In January 2021, There were 50-100 people waiting to send animals at any given time and our wait time to rehome increased to over a year. I raised prices of intakes and switched from full-size enclosures to simple tub and rack systems to lower costs and open up space.
In March 2021, I used the Reptile Unboxing video earnings to put a down payment on a home.
By July 2021, I ended both rental leases and was receiving up to 5 payments to rehome animals per week, which we could not fulfill fast enough.
By the end of 2021, I profited $17,500 by avoiding renting, not accepting ill animals, not purchasing new supplies and streamlining customer support and animal care to be more efficient.
I went into 2022 with the plan of drastically decreasing the number of animals at any given time and began declining all new intake payments.
2022 was a game of catch-up, trying to fulfill the pending orders while Emerald Scales saw declining sales and engagement. This was likely due to minimal inventory, higher prices, infrequent unboxing videos and being banned from social media due to rules against selling animals.
To achieve the goals we had for Emerald Scales, I think a complete restructure of everything from the ground-up would have to happen.
"There are many unexpected bumps in the road while keeping exotic pets. If you're no longer able to suitably care for yours, finding a safe new home is very difficult. Most keepers are forced to resort to giving them away to people they know little about and have to hope it was the right choice. Emerald Scales is available to put minds at ease. We make it easy to relinquish your animals while being affordable. Once we ensure they're happy and healthy, reptiles are listed for sale to keepers around the United States. Unlike almost any other sellers in the pet trade, we verify every customer before sending a reptile off, ensuring they meet our standards. We aren't afraid to decline concerning buyers." This was ultimately the most up-to-date, yet unattainable goal we had for Emerald Scales.
I've given consideration to solutions from thousands of people and there are very few projects I've felt a similar amount of passion towards. But over the past few years, I undeniably lost my passion for reptile keeping and exotic animals as a whole. And at the same time, I've been so laser focused that I'm left with few other interests.
When people ask for advice on starting "their own Emerald Scales", I've developed the habit of just saying "Don't". I don't think this concept is possible to turn into a profitable endeavor. I'm not saying you can't do a better job than I have, but my 5 years of daily, first-hand experience at least gives me confidence in what does not work. Not only is it a product based company, it's also service based. Both sides rely entirely on living animals and a lot of human cooperation.
Think of reptile breeders as car manufacturers and Emerald Scales as a used car lot, except all the VINs have been scratched off. I don't know how the animals were raised or cared for. What are we going to find under the hood this time? How many owners had there been? How many underlying issues do they have? What's their genetic background? I don't even know how old the far majority were. We can't just have a bunch of identical setups for identically healthy breeder ball pythons. The fact that we accepted so many species of various conditions and different backgrounds meant we had to adapt everything for every animal. And then there's the selling part. A dealership will happily persuade you to achieve any sale from anyone. To do that with a reptile would violate the promise we made the person who rehomed to us, which resulted in constantly refusing buyers, despite lowering our standards many times.
For a while, I thought we'd just need to take the common approach that other companies do: Your main product/service is not your profit. It's simply how you attract customers to spend money on other stuff you offer. After all, this is what I did by accident. The animals were a resource to create "Reptile Unboxing" videos, which is how I actually paid the bills. But YouTube in itself is ridiculously unpredictable. To rely on advertising revenue from a company that doesn't even know I exist to support dozens of exotic animals, fulltime employees and myself is risky. You can see this risk going in
So I explored other products and services, which I couldn't even fit into the timeline. We bred amphibians, invertebrates, created and sold unique products and even drop-shipped. We considered boarding animals, exotic pet-sitting, and paid events. But each plan had unforeseeable complications that created more instability than the original problem I was trying to solve.
Normally, when somebody creates a new company, it will be suggested by smart people to re-evaluate what you're doing at the 5 year mark. 60 months of experience, experimenting and adjustments should be enough to form a realistic roadmap and clear vision. To most people, spending so long on something just to learn whether it might work sounds like it's not worth the time, but now been over 5 years and it flew by so fast. I also learned that, no, it does not work.
To spend even another week trying to do things the way I have would be a complete misuse of time. Maybe someday, I'll give it another go. If I do, it would be under the same brand but every single piece of the system would be gutted entirely. Emerald Scales would go back to nothing but a JPEG file of a sideways green square. It would likely take another 5 years just to see if it might work, again.
In a way, this sounds exciting, but I still can't figure out how to re-kindle the flame of passion that I haven't felt since 2019. The break I've taken the past few months has made me feel much more free, but the freedom comes with a feeling of directionless.
I'm also a very different person from 5 years ago, largely because this experience taught me a lot about myself, and what my goals are. And this ain't it, chief.
Thanks for reading!
I'm not currently working on any big projects like Emerald Scales, but we'll see what happens. Until then, I'll continue to be very active on YouTube, posting new videos and livestreaming frequently.
The best way to contact me is by becoming a YouTube channel member and joining the Discord server where myself and others are active every day. You can email me too, but who likes dealing with those? firstname.lastname@example.org
And thanks to everyone that rehomed, purchased or just stuck around to support Emerald Scales.