Sean Broihier is the CEO and founder of FineArtAmerica.com. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in mechanical engineering, he worked at an engineering firm for 10 years. He started his first business, LocalAutomation.com, as an online marketplace for engineers in 2005. In 2007 he launched FineArtAmerica as an online marketplace for artist and photographers.
Sramana: Sean, let’s start at the beginning of your story. Where are you from? What is your background?
Sean Broihier: I am from a small town just outside Chicago. I was born and raised in the same house my entire life. My parents, two older brothers, and a younger sister lived there with me. My brothers are seven and eight years older than me. There were an old Commodore 64 and a Tandy TRS-80 lying around the house when I was a kid. I picked up a little book that taught me how to program BASIC, and I learned how to program as a seven-year-old on that Tandy.
I don’t know why, but I took to it and loved it. I considered myself a normal kid. I played sports like soccer, baseball, and basketball all the way through high school. There is something about learning a skill at a very young age that sticks with you. I think you are better off learning a certain skill very young than trying to learn it later in life.
Sramana: What about college?
Sean Broihier: I went to the University of Illinois. I studied mechanical engineering. I programmed on and off through high school and took a big chunk of time off at college. I was in college from 1996 to 2000, and the Internet exploded. That is right when Netscape came out. I just became fascinated with programming for the Internet around that time. I graduated from college and took a job as an engineer in New Jersey. I worked there for 10 years, but I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I attempted to quit that job multiple times. At one point I was trading stocks in Manhattan. Another time I was in Chicago trying to start my own engineering firm. Around 2005 I had my first good web business idea. I built a marketplace for engineering firms that allowed them to advertise their products on the Internet. They could advertise products, advertise upcoming events, and issue press releases. I built it, and it is called LocalAutomation.com. It still exists today, and for simplicity’s sake you can describe it as Facebook and an online marketplace for engineers. I built that at nights and on weekends while working a regular job. It was moderately successful.
My brother was working for an art gallery in Chicago. About a year later I was doing a basic website for the gallery he was working at. Every time an artist put out a new piece, was going to do an in-store appearance, or was changing a price on something, he was calling me to update his website. I realized there were artists and photographers all over the world who wanted an easy way to get their artwork online to sell.
I had an entire infrastructure in place from my engineering website that allowed engineers to upload items to the Internet. Back in the pre-Facebook and MySpace days, that was still a novel idea. I had that entire platform that had much better potential in the art space. I re-purposed the code from the engineering site and launched it as FineArtAmerica.com in early 2007. It just took off from there.