I’ve always been bullish about niche e-commerce. Here’s yet another story of an entrepreneur who has successfully bootstrapped a company in high-end light fixtures.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Steven Annese: I’m a child of an Italian immigrant. I was born in New Jersey. It was in the 70s when most of the Italians migrated.
Sramana Mitra: What about college?
Steven Annese: University was interesting. I wanted to migrate somewhere out west or south. Unfortunately, since my parents were immigrant, they didn’t want me to leave the house. So I had to go to school locally. I attended St. Peters University in Jersey City.
Sramana Mitra: What happened after college?
Steven Annese: I was actually working through college in the IT field. I started my career at United Parcel Service and then I went on to work for Sara Lee Coffee and Tea, a division of Sarah Lee Coffee, which today is known as Hillshire Farms.
Sramana Mitra: That brings us to what year?
Steven Annese: From 1994 till about 2005.
Sramana Mitra: What happens after 2005?
Steven Annese: The American division of Sarah Lee was going to divest the coffee division. They had asked me to relocate and remain with the organisation in one of their facilities in Illinois. I like warm weather, so I preferred the North Carolina area. Then I later figured that if I wanted to do something on my own, which was what I always wanted to do, that was the perfect time. They were basically moving and I didn’t have to go with them. To me, that was the perfect point in my life where I was able to draw the line and say, “I’m going to try something on my own.”
Sramana Mitra: What was that thing that you wanted to try on your own?
Steven Annese: I wanted to get into the Internet. I wanted to do something in e-commerce with decent margins. I heard of everyone starting to sell things online. Of course, Amazon was just starting to flourish. There were a lot of these e-commerce businesses that were just exploding. I looked at a couple of opportunities and basically looked at something that wasn’t really all over the net per se. I thought of going into lighting initially because it offered decent margins. It wasn’t really a covered field yet on the Internet. There were several stores but the competition wasn’t as fierce as electronics at that point.