When we were putting together “10 Successful Ecommerce Founders, 21 Great Interviews, A Whole Lotta Wisdom”, we found ourselves trawling through many, many interviews.
As we searched for gems of insight, we found ourselves being repeatedly amused by the stories of founders BEFORE they built their now-famous companies. We thought we’d put that information together for you, for your interest and enjoyment. 🙂
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Ever wondered what the founders of your favorite ecommerce businesses were doing before that fateful spark of inspiration? We did too, so we compiled a list of 12 founders with the coolest career transitions:
1. Dumpster Diving Sandwich Artist – Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal
Sophia Amoruso has been a Subway Sandwich Artist, seller of stolen books and art school security guard. She dove into dumpsters and haggled at thrift stores, selling her finds on eBay under the name “Nasty Gal Vintage”. The author of “#GIRLBOSS” has since turned her eBay store into a $100 million fashion business.
2. Extreme Sewing Enthusiast – James Lillis of Black Milk Clothing
James Lillis lived in a little yellow house in Brisbane surrounded by mango trees, working odd jobs to cover his rent. Overcome by a sudden urge to sew, he pawned his CD player and bought a sewing machine. Subsisting on mangoes to fund his passion, Lillis soon found himself selling leggings at flea markets. The business went online and became Black Milk Clothing.
3. The Man of 1,000 Odd Jobs – Markus Andersson of Tatchies
Markus Andersson grew up in a family who encouraged his creative side. He started out as a freelance designer while working on various startups. For additional income, Andersson worked as a nightclub photographer, image retoucher, sound engineer, event manager and a DJ. He went on to become the Digital Art Director at Stockholm’s The Viral Company, where he founded Tatchies.
4. The Titans of the Toy Industry – Vinit Bharara and Marc Lore of Diapers.com
Executive Vice President of Sanwa International Bank, Marc Lore and Wall Street Lawyer Vinit Bharara co-founded The Pit, an avenue to trade sports memorabilia as you would stocks. Toy maker The Topps Company acquired The Pit and appointed Lore as Chief Operating Officer while Bharara became their General Counsel. The duo went on to create Diapers.com, the world’s largest online retailer of baby products.
5. Harvard’s Pizza Peddler – Tony Hsieh of Zappos
While at Harvard, Tony Hsieh managed the Quincy House Grille selling pizza to the students in his dorm. Post Harvard, Hsieh worked for Oracle Corporation then co-founded and sold internet advertising network Link Exchange to Microsoft in 1999 for $265 Million. Tony Hsieh joined Zappos and his number one customer from his days selling pizza, Alfred Lin, became his CFO and COO.
6. Multi-Career Man – Eric Bandholz of Beardbrand
Eric Bandholz worked as an Account Executive at Sunset Direct and Boingo Graphics before moving on to become a graphic designer at Wakomo. He spent a year as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch then did marketing at Sovrnty, a graphic design firm. Inspired by feedback from the beard community, Bandholz founded BeardBrand in 2013.
7. Dynamic Diamond Dealing Duo – Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon of Zulily
Darrell Cavens developed large web properties at starwave during the internet boom such as ESPN.com, NBC.com and ABCNews.com. Cavens met eventual business partner Mark Vadon while the pair served as CTO and CEO respectively at Blue Nile, the largest online diamond and fine jewellery retailer. Cavens spent a year at Microsoft working on the BizTalk Server product before the pair Co-founded Zulily.
8. Burnt Out Programmer – Tobias Lutke of Shopify
The year was 2004, and Tobias Lütke was tired of developing financial backend software. He wanted to sell snowboards, but was frustrated by the existing ecommerce platforms. Then he discovered Ruby on Rails, and with newfound enthusiasm, built the software he wished existed. That software is called Shopify, and now powers 100,000 stores worldwide.
9. Professional Funny Man – Michael Dubin of The Dollar Shave Club
Fresh out of college, Michael Dubin moved to New York City and worked as a page at NBC. For about a decade, Dubin was a student and performer of sketch comedy and improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade. His experience undoubtedly contributed to the success of The Dollar Shave Club, which exploded in popularity after its hilarious promotional video went viral.
10. Talent Agent + Manager – Ryan Babenzien of Greats
Ryan Babenzien embarked on his curvy career path as an agent and manager in the entertainment business, during which he also consulted for streetwear brands. He burst into the sneaker industry as the Head of Entertainment Marketing at PUMA before lending his talents to K-Swiss. Babenzien staged a revival of sportswear brand Boast USA before teaming up with Jon Buscemi to bring beautiful, reasonably sneakers to the masses through GREATS.
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