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

Posted on Thursday, Jun 15th 2017

If you haven’t already, please study our Bootstrapping Course and Investor Introductions page. 

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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