Interview With Sean Belnick – Making $50,000,000 A Year Selling Business Chairs
I was inspired to create BizChair.com through my fascination with selling things on the internet. Before selling office chairs, I would sell Pokemon cards and other things on eBay. Over the summer, I worked with my step-father and saw how simple the business model that he was involved in worked. I was able to capitalize that business model and use it to sell office chairs online. I started with $500 advertising and $100 for website hosting and I designed the original site myself. I was 14 at the time it was created.
You are just 20 years old and in 2006 your revenues were $24 Million. What are your ambitions for BizChair.com now?
In 2007 our revenues grew to $38 million. This year our goal is to reach $50 – $54 million in sales. We have very ambitious sales goals and are expanding our wholesale and retail programs aggressively. By maintaining our position as a market leader, we are able to focus on our growth and continue to expand our business with an excellent selection of products and customer service.
Tell me, what does a 20 year old entrepreneur spend his money on?
I like to think that I live a relatively modest lifestyle. My one splurge was a 2008 Range Rover Supercharged. Other than that, I don’t spend much money (other than for college tuition). I enjoy trading stocks with what money I have left.
You have over 75 Employees, What do your employees think about working for someone so young?
I think most employees think that it is “cool” to have a young boss. We have a more relaxed work environment and it is not as stressful. Employees are also less intimidated with a younger boss and are more likely to come to me with ideas and their true feelings which ultimately help the company.
I understand that you study business at Emory University and at present your stepfather oversees day-to-day operations – seems like a very good arrangement to me. Tell me, how does the THEORY of business compare with the practical side of business that you have experienced creating BizChair.com?
It’s a great arrangement–but don’t think that I don’t spend any time working while I’m at school! Much of the theory that I’m learning deals more with aspects that I don’t really know. For example, I never knew how to properly read and create a balance sheet or income statement or how to create pro-forma financial statements. These are all things that I’ve come across while in school those have helped me ultimately run the company better. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be taking the entrepreneurship class!
I first came across you on the INC.com Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30 feature. I was very impressed. Tell me what has the feedback been about this feature? How did INC.com "discover" you? Has it created any new openings / opportunities for you?
This brought great publicity to the company. I had been featured on CNN about a year and a half ago, but this was a welcomed increase in publicity for the company’s sake. The publicity has been a domino effect—stemming from an article in Emory’s school newspaper. The Atlanta Journal Constitution picked up the article and then CNN saw that one. Presumably INC saw the CNN segment and so on. The increased media coverage has brought many customers as well as new business opportunities such as investments and board opportunities.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started. What business related advice would you give yourself?
Wow, wouldn’t that be nice. Most likely it would be to expand our product selection faster than we did. We really stayed in the office chair market for a while before expanding into office furniture and home furniture as well as some other segments. If we had done that faster, we could have cemented a larger position as a market leader.
Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?
I think it’s a bit of both. You have to have the desire to succeed and take risks to get there–It’s not for everyone. I love the excitement and the future growth prospects as well as watching the company grow and prosper. You have to have ambitious goals.
Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on?
Instead of one person, I’d rather model myself from various, successful entrepreneurs and business people and blend them together. Some of them include the “Google Guys” (Larry and Sergey), Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffet.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Always have a backup plan in case something goes wrong—because it will.
What advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneuer setting up their first business?
Don’t’ be afraid to take risks. It’s your first business and you have your whole life to succeed. Make sure they are calculated and not careless risks.
What are your plans for the future? Do you believe in goals (for example anything that you want to do before age 30)?
Immediate plans are to finish college and come and work full-time at BizChair. I believe in goals, but if you were to ask me what my goals were just 7 years ago, I don’t think I would have said anything like I have now. I’m just trying to make this business the best that it can be and 10 years is a long time away!