Sramana Mitra: I try to trace the journey chronologically. Tell me what you did after coming out?
Sean Dawes: Towards my senior year, panic set in about what I was going to do. I realized that I was going to be making $12 an hour and have student loan debt. I ended up working in real estate because my aunt was running a real estate firm. I ended up getting my real estate license just to have a backup in terms of cash. In 2008, the real estate market was still not great. I was brand new in the industry. It was hard to generate business.
Being skilled in marketing, I was able to penetrate the market and actually secure a good chunk of business by leveraging non-traditional marketing that didn’t really exist at that time. I would handle web design for a lot of real estate developers. I did three-dimensional rendering. A lot of stuff that the seasoned real estate professionals didn’t really do. I used that as leverage. I never had a passion for real estate, but I was passionate about the marketing aspect.
That pushed me down the path of, “If I’m going to pivot my career away from Zoology, marketing is the direction I want to go.” I was browsing and looking for entry-level marketing jobs.
That’s when I found my last actual job working for someone else. I worked for a company called Turn5, which is a holding company for a series of automotive online retail businesses, most notably, americanmuscle.com, which sells aftermarket performance parts for Ford Mustang. I started an entry-level job there. I think I was making about $9 an hour plus commissions. It wasn’t that exciting early on.
Within months based off just commissions, I started to bring in serious revenue for myself. After working there for about a little over a year, I started saying to myself, “There’s a real opportunity here.” Noticing some turnover internally, going to other positions, and getting paid larger six-figure salaries, I said to myself, “This seems to be a path that, long-term, makes good sense for me.
Rather than going to another employer, I said to myself, “I always wanted to be in business for myself.” My father and grandfather have always been business owners. I said, “What opportunities do I have here?” That’s when I actually joined forces with two of my co-workers. The three of us ended up quitting our jobs and starting a company that I now own.
Sramana Mitra: What was the concept that you were leaving your job for?
Sean Dawes: We wanted to launch an online retail business similar to where we were working but for a different vertical. We said to ourselves, “It is an Inc 5000 company. Our background was search engine marketing. That’s paid and organic search, as well as paid social media advertising.”
We said to ourselves, “You can only make so much for working for someone else. If you can get all of the revenue from all the customer acquisition that you’re doing, you can be much more successful. We wanted to launch an online retail business ourselves but in a different automotive vertical. It ended up being European cars.
One of the challenges, which led me to where I am today, was that you can’t just quit your job and have a successful business tomorrow. It does take some time to build it up. Unless you have large amount of cash set aside to pay yourself a salary to live off of until you can get that business generating money and profitable, you have to figure out what to do.
Given our marketing and sales background, we figured we could do a two-fold process. The first process was we would start a marketing company because the startup cost of starting a marketing company is practically nothing. We ended up starting our marketing company. We leveraged that to pay ourselves.
As we were consulting for various online retailers and service-based businesses, we not only agreed to pay ourselves, but we were also able to take some of that money and invest it into our online business. We had advertising budgets and development budgets, so we could get the business going and get a proof of concept. As the business scaled, we just let go of all our marketing clients and closed the business. We made the transition over to the online retail business.