You Can Start Your Own Amazon Business. Yes, You!

Photo: Kaʻala Souza and his son, Isaia Souza
Kaʻala Souza and his son, Isaia Souza, offer prospective entrepreneurs alternative pathways to success and opportunity through a new program called Māpunawai. – Photo: Courtesy

By Kaʻala Souza

What if you had no business experience, less than $1,000 dollars, and no ideas for a product? Does that sound like a recipe for entrepreneurial success? Not to most of us.

But there’s a new program called the Māpunawai Entrepreneurial Accelerator that in just six months, with support from Kaulu by Kamehameha Schools Digital, has jumpstarted folks with no business background and very little startup money to launch their own Amazon e-commerce product and brand.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our lāhui. ʻGo to college so you can make a good livingʻ doesn’t work for everyone. And our changing world offers so many other pathways to success,” said Kēhaunani Abad, director of Kealaiwikuamoʻo at Kamehameha Schools. “Kaʻala and [his son] Isaia Souza, who lead Māpunawai, are trailblazing mentors who can help folks along one such pathway.”

Māpunawai aims to provide the average person an opportunity to own their own business and generate cash flow to increase their financial resiliency.

“The overarching vision of Māpunawai is to help Hawaiians make enough money to help them stay here in Hawaiʻi, in our home, our kulāiwi,” said Isaia Souza. “Māpunawai provides a viable option for us to make that happen.”

The process isn’t complicated. If you can follow a recipe, and power through challenges, the system can work for you.

“My goal is to be an independent business owner,” said Ipo Davis from Molokaʻi. “This program gives me that chance. The hard parts for me were the independent and distance learning. Being on Molokaʻi, those are two things that I had to figure out. The program’s coaches helped a lot.”

Participants perform guided market research with their coach and use advanced data analytics to choose their first product based on levels of market demand and competition.

One of the participants, Kūlia Naipo, a 23-year-old avid book reader and library volunteer on Oʻahu, is selling something right up her alley. She describes it as a “book page holder thingee.” It’s an item that has a proven demand and is in a space where she can be competitive. She was able to get started with just $300 dollars of inventory.

“At first it’s only natural to be confused, frustrated, or even lost like I’ve been,” Naipo said. “But the coaches helped and supported me through the whole process and helped me shift my mindset to know that I can do it if I put my mind to it.”

Māpunawai is not a “get rich quick” scheme. In fact, even though most people will start making sales, and even be profitable, within six months of starting, it will usually require 12 to 18 months to develop sustainable cash flow that will make a difference here in Hawaiʻi.

“This is a great opportunity for our lāhui,” said Brandon Makaʻawaʻawa from Waimānalo. “It’s a way for Kānaka to build some economic independence for ourselves instead of only seeing ourselves as consumers and employees. With this program, we can become producers and business owners.”

You Can Help These Budding Kānaka Entrepreneurs

Two things make successful products and brands on Amazon: sales and reviews. Visit And if anything catches your eye, please kōkua by making a purchase AND leaving a review. Reviews are gold on Amazon. Even one more review can have a huge impact on the success of fledgling businesses.

We are always saying, “shop local.” With Māpunawai we’re expanding it to “shop from local online sellers.” Amazon is a competitive marketplace with sellers worldwide. The best way you can help our budding Kānaka businesses compete is to purchase an item and share a review.

Josiah Akau, executive director of Kinai ʻEha, a program serving Native Hawaiian ʻōpio, talks about how youth can take their street smarts and ingenuity and transfer them to these new types of business efforts to make a living. Akau shared this ʻōlelo noʻeau to sum it up:

“He ula no ka naele, panau no ka hiʻu komo i ke ale; That is a lobster of a sea cave, with one flip of the tail he is in the rocky cavern. Said of an independent person who knows how to take care of himself.”

“E-commerce can be that flip of the tail,” said Akau.

A new Māpunawai cohort is starting in June. If you are interested in participating, please go to to learn more about applying for the program.

Kaʻala Souza is a public speaker, corporate trainer, and author of the book, “Pono: A Hawaiian-Style Approach to Balance and Well-being.”