All kinds of niche e-commerce businesses have been built over the last 20 years. Sam and his family have built a health and wellness products business that is doing quite well.
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?
Sam Wolf: I was born and raised outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I still reside there now. I grew up in a family that had ran, operated, and owned a family business since the day I was born. My father was fairly entrepreneurial. He inherited a family business from my grandfather. All of the family businesses had always been anchored in health and wellness. I ultimately went to college in Washington DC. I went to American University and graduated from there in 2004 with a Business degree with a specialisation in Information Technology and E-Commerce.
Sramana Mitra: When did you finish college?
Sam Wolf: 2004.
Sramana Mitra: Did you start this company right away?
Sam Wolf: Yes. I graduated and came home from college. For three months, I worked at a restaurant. I was actually going to go to law school. It all started by chance. In the 90s, my father and mother opened a health food store. Prior to that, they had been in the pharmacy business, which was started by my grandfather.
After a lot of changes in the industry, they left that business and went into a smaller business focusing on natural and alternative ways of living healthy. In the early 90s, my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was actually her second time dealing with breast cancer. They were looking for, “How can we live healthier? There’s got to be a reason this is happening. How can we change our lifestyle?” They got into a natural and holistic way for promoting a healthy lifestyle, which ultimately led to them opening this health food store business.
I was in middle school then. I grew up watching my parents run a health food store. I worked in that business as a high school student. I went to college without any aspirations to come back and join the family business. It was a nice little business that they had but it wasn’t my long-term plan. I was going to go to law school. I took my LSAT. That was my long-term plan but I wanted to take a year off.
When I moved back home, I was working at a restaurant. My father and I started talking about e-commerce. It was starting to explode. I spent a little bit of time while at school interning for a web development and design company. I had a little bit of e-commerce experience doing that. We were talking about the opportunity to take the family business and explore with an online division.
I got excited about that and was intrigued. It became a side project. I was going to launch this online website business that was an extension of the family health food business. At that time, I don’t think I fully envisioned what it would ultimately become today, but I knew that there was this opportunity to take this great business and expand it to a much larger audience and do something really good with it too.
There was a lot that we promoted in this brick-and-mortar family business around helping the community live healthy. We did a lot of seminars and training. We had lots of expertise—people would come in and talk with experts to setup a nutritional regimen or deal with any kind of health concerns. I knew there was this opportunity to figure out a way to extend it but I hadn’t quite sat down and done the full business plan.