Jay is the CEO of Blinds.com, a company he founded in 1996. It has since achieved revenues surpassing $50 million and is ranked #192 of all US e-commerce companies. It is also the world’s top retailer for blinds, shades, and other window coverings.
SM: Tell me first about your personal background leading up to this venture.
JS: I was born in New Jersey and moved to Dallas when I was 11. In high school I had several businesses, but the main business was custom t-shirts. I always knew I was going to be in business for myself. I interviewed people when I was in high school whom I considered to be successful businesspeople.
I asked them what I should study in college so that I would be able to best be equipped to run a business some day. Almost all of them said that I needed a financial background and that I should study accounting, because once you have a fundamental understanding of numbers then it is really up to you what business you go into. I followed their advice and got a BA in accounting from the University of Texas. At the time it was the Big 8, and I worked for KPMG.
SM: What year was this?
JS: I graduated from college in 1976. I worked for KPMG for three years. I knew then that accounting was not something I was interested in. I did not want to count other people’s money or doing those CYA tasks. I did not like providing reports which gave as much information as was needed to minimize and eliminate liability. That was not creative or something that was inspiring.
After that I had the opportunity to move to Houston, which is where I live now. I worked for the national franchise Mieneke Discount Mufflers. I was VP of finance and worked there for seven years. When I started I was working with Sam Mieneke. I remember getting in at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. and being mentored. That is where I learned a lot about the fundamentals of business. At the time when I started there were only 35 franchises. When I left there were 900, and it was nationally owned.
SM: Where you only involved in finance, or did you get a broader perspective of the business?
JS: I got a much broader perspective. I actually worked on a targeted marketing program, which I developed. We would find holes where franchises were being developed. I would research and determine where we wanted to establish franchises to cover those holes. They were typically in smaller markets such as Savannah [Georgia]. I would advertise and seek managers who could eventually buy into the business and become franchisees. That worked well.
I was also involved in the selling process. Once a franchise was sold, we had a final filtering process in which we would review the contract with them to ensure that no misrepresentations were being made to that franchisee. If a franchise fails, the first thing the owner does is sue for fraud or misrepresentation. We tapped those meetings to ensure that there was no misrepresentation as to how the contract was sold. We wanted to have accountability.
SM: How were you tackling your original aspiration of owning your own business at that point of your career? Were you waiting and planning? How was that gestating?
JS: The business was growing, and I was involved in all aspects of it. At the time that satisfied my need, because I was learning so much. I was learning much more about businesses than auditing companies. It was inspiring for me and it was exciting. I loved seeing the growth. I loved seeing the ability to establish a formula of success, which is what a franchise is.