Niche e-commerce still produces compelling success stories. Read on to see how CEO Brian Lim built iHeartRaves.
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?
Brian Lim: I was raised in LA County. My parents immigrated here to escape communism in China and Cambodia. I grew up very poor. We bootstrapped our company back in 2010 with $100 and turned it into a $20 million a year company.
Sramana Mitra: Were you born in the US?
Brian Lim: I was born in China. My parents owned a donut shop. They were basically working 24 hours a day. If you wanted to get anything in life, you really had to earn it yourself.
Sramana Mitra: What about education? What kind of education process did you go through?
Brian Lim: We went through the normal public school system. I got accepted into UCLA. I did my degree in Business Economics with a minor in Accounting. I got exposed to a bunch of different internships and consulting. Ultimately, I went to Deloitte Consulting after graduating.
Sramana Mitra: Were you working for a big firm as far as consulting is concerned?
Brian Lim: The main client I was on was Southern California Edison.
Sramana Mitra: What years are we talking?
Brian Lim: In 2008, I interned during the summer. Then in 2009, I had a full-time offer. I stayed there for about two years. During my second year, I was exposed to gloving. I had started Emazing Lights on the sides.
Sramana Mitra: What was this company that you were trying to build on the side? What was the concept? How did you come up with it?
Brian Lim: My girlfriend at that time, who’s now my wife, got me into gloving. It’s basically an LED dance art form. I was able to entertain 5 to 10 people around me. I fell in love with the art form. Me and my girlfriend would go to these music festivals. We fell in love with the rave scene and with each other.
Sramana Mitra: Wonderful story. How did that drive the company?
Brian Lim: We wanted a better product so that we could practice our art. It simply wasn’t available. I would buy off-the-shelf products and resell them. That’s how we turned our $100 to millions. We would then take our profits and reinvest and create the best products that we personally love and would use.
Sramana Mitra: What does that mean?
Brian Lim: Gloving is a dance art form like breakdancing. It’s when you have LED lights at your fingertips and you’re dancing to the beat of the music while being able to control and manipulate light.
Sramana Mitra: There’s a product involved. There are products that are necessary to make this kind of experience happen. What are the components of that product?
Brian Lim: The first gloving lights were basically keychain flashlights that people would attach to their keychains. You would put them in white gloves. They were very bulky and not customizable. We had to develop our own products specifically for the gloving art form.