Greg has built three businesses and shares our philosophy of capital efficient entrepreneurship. Read on to learn more about his journey.
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?
Greg Besner: I was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which people think of as a small casino town although there were no casinos there at that time. My father was a taxi driver for 38 years. My mother was a housewife until the casino industry started in Atlantic City. She ended up having a 20-year career as an executive at one of the casinos. I dreamed of building a company. Back then, I remember that from the very beginning, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur although the word entrepreneur wasn’t in my vocabulary yet.
Sramana Mitra: How old were you when you had that idea?
Greg Besner: Atlantic City has a board walk and amusement parks. My father used to take me bike riding on Sunday mornings. Every time we would ride on the board walk, we’d ride by the amusement parks. One day, I saw a man with a logo on his back. It read, “Neil, The Balloon King.” Neil was holding a fistful of balloons.
As we rode by him, he was selling a balloon to someone. He had his money belt on as well. He had a wad of money in his hand, which was more money I’ve seen in my life. He was giving someone change. I remember thinking to myself, “Someday, I want to be like the Balloon King.” It was just so exciting as a young child.
A few years later, I ended up convincing my mother to drive me to the potato chips factory. We bought seven boxes of potato chips pretzels. I took a box and a stencil kit. I stenciled “Pretzels 25 cents”, “Potato chips 25 cents”, “Popcorn 25 cents”. I put holes at each end of the box. I started walking up and down the beach saying, “Potato chips, 25 cents.” I was modeling Neil. People would pay me 25 cents. I would be so excited that I created something. That was the beginning. I was probably 11 years old.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do for studies?
Greg Besner: I was the first person in my family and extended family to go to college. I ended up attending Rutgers. I worked for some years after and then did Wharton. I studied entrepreneurship. It was exciting to be in a classroom putting business plans together. That was the beginning of my more formal entrepreneurship journey.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you finish Wharton?
Greg Besner: 1996.
Sramana Mitra: That’s right in the middle of the first Internet boom.
Greg Besner: That’s right. Things were really starting to take off. In 1994 when I started business school, I had started little entrepreneurial ventures along the way. When I got to school, I got my first laptop. When I got to school, a lot of the students were international. Many of them showed up without computers.
Many people didn’t have personal computers yet. People were using computers at work, but they didn’t really have their own laptop or their computer. I started selling computers to other students that first few weeks of school. My point is that people weren’t really surfing the Internet yet. There was a computer lab and many of the students would go there for Internet access. The international students would be using the Internet to email family members back home.
In my second year, one of my entrepreneur classes had 40 students. We had 10 teams of four students. Of the 10 businesses that we were planning, our business was the only Internet-based business. Nine of the 10 businesses were not Internet-related.
Sramana Mitra: In 1995, the Internet was not very well-understood. It hadn’t quite percolated down to student level unless you were at one of the tech-focused industries. I was at MIT in 1995, which is when I discovered the Internet. We didn’t really understand it yet.
Greg Besner: I was a Summer Associate at Goldman Sachs that summer of 1995. Netscape went public. The bankers used it as a case study. Up until that point, the Internet was not very user friendly. The reason that students were in the computer lab was because broadband was not yet ubiquitous.