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Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Brand: Big Barker CEO Eric Shannon (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Jun 15th 2017

We’ve talked about niche, proprietary e-commerce brands and how entrepreneurs are building businesses around different concepts. Eric shares the story of Big Barker, a dog bed for large dogs.

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?

Eric Shannon: I was born in Pennsylvania in a suburb about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I went to Temple University. I was a Finance major. After school, I moved to California and took a job in banking. I hated it and was terrible at it. I had a couple of other jobs and eventually discovered the Internet side of the economy. I became very attached to it. I started in that industry in 2004.

Sramana Mitra: What kind of company was that?

Eric Shannon: When I was still at Bank of America, I discovered Google AdWords and I started buying ads and sending them to affiliate products. That was a fun game. When I saw the first dollar coming in, that was very exciting. I was building very terrible websites and making a couple of dollars with AdWords. I just got hooked with it. I ended up getting a job at a catalog company outside of Philadelphia called Taylor Gifts working in their e-commerce department.

Pretty soon, I became in charge of their entire e-commerce department. It was a very old company. They had started in the 50s. They were primarily direct mail and catalog-based. It was a large company. I think they were at about $30 million to $40 million in annual revenue at that time.

I, with very little experience, was in charge of the whole e-commerce division. It gave me a lot of freedom to try things and figure out what worked and what didn’t. It was a great opportunity for me. That’s where I learned what I needed to know before I started my own business.

Sramana Mitra: How long did you do that for?

Eric Shannon: A little over two years. While I was there, I started my first business on the side. It wasn’t really even supposed to be a real business. I was at a conference back in 2006. I met another guy who was in charge of e-commerce for a furniture company. We just got to talking. We were talking about opportunities that might have been available.

We both had a big interest in the pet market. We both thought that there was an opportunity in starting a business that offered products that you couldn’t find at a pet store. This was back in 2006. There was a much higher quality of stuff that was being made but wasn’t being sold at your Petcos. Those are mass-market retailers. They weren’t really carrying any upscale products. We thought that if we started a business that did offer that kind of thing, it might be somewhat successful. We only viewed it as a side business.

Within about a year, we were ranking at the top of Google for pretty much every major phrase in the dog supply industry. We were getting a ton of Google traffic for all these terms. By the end of 2007, neither one of us needed a job anymore. I left my position to focus on building that company full time. That company was called Oh My Dog Supply. I ran that from 2006 until about 2012 when I decided to start something different.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Brand: Big Barker CEO Eric Shannon
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