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Best of Bootstrapping: Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M

Posted on Friday, Oct 25th 2019

CEO Sal Akbani has bootstrapped Gateway Classic Cars to over $10 million in revenue. This is a great story of how a two-sided marketplace was masterfully seeded and scaled in a niche market.

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?

Sal Akbani: We have the same ancestry. My parents were from India. I was born in Pakistan. My mother is from Calcutta. My dad is from Bombay.

Sramana Mitra: I’m from Calcutta.

Sal Akbani: Oh. She was born and raised in Calcutta, but migrated to Pakistan in 1947. I was born in Karachi. I was raised in Karachi until I was 17. I finished high school there, came to the US for college, and got my degree in Aeronautical Engineering. I became a pilot. Then, I worked as an engineer for about three and a half years.

Sramana Mitra: Where did you do your engineering degree?

Sal Akbani: Parks College, which is part of St. Louis University. I did not like being an engineer. I quit that and went out and bought a restaurant and failed miserably.

Sramana Mitra: Then what?

Sal Akbani: Within a year after that, I came across a manufacturing facility in Southern Missouri and ended up buying that facility through highly leveraged buying. The bank was holding on to the property and equipment that they had foreclosed. For anybody who would walk in and say, “I will start making payments to you in the future,” the bank would give it to them.

I walked in and said, “I have no money but hopefully will make payments in the future.” They handed me a complete factory with equipment and supplies. They loaned me some working capital, and I went into the polo shirts business.

Sramana Mitra: What year was this?

Sal Akbani: This was 1985.

Sramana Mitra: Pre-internet. What happened then?

Sal Akbani: I did that for about 13 years. Then my fellow Indians and Bangladeshis took my business away through NAFTA and outsourcing. I gave up that business and came back to St. Louis. I started a consulting company. I had a lot of contacts at the bank and within the Department of Economic Development for the state of Missouri.

I did that for about a year and a half and came across this opportunity in classic and exotic cars. Cars and airplanes have always been a passion, so I just blindly jumped into it not knowing what I was doing.

Sramana Mitra: What were you trying to do with cars?

Sal Akbani: It was the internet that propelled us. I took over this company that was struggling to sell classic and exotic cars in the local market. We took over and put it on the internet. At that time, Netscape was still alive.

Sramana Mitra: You wanted to sell luxury cars on the internet. That was the concept?

Sal Akbani: Yes – old Jaguars, old Lamborghinis.

Sramana Mitra: What year was this?

Sal Akbani: The concept was started in 1998, but I didn’t open my doors until February 8, 1999.

Sramana Mitra: I assume you were bootstrapping this from St. Louis. At that time, there was no capital available.

Sal Akbani: Absolutely. I took all the capital that I had in my resources and borrowed money from my brother who’s an oncologist in Texas. Our seed money helped to get this thing started. We wiped that money out in the first 12 months and almost went broke.

Our discussion continues here.

This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping


. Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Why is Bootstrapping Important?
. How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently?
. Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings
. Excess is NOT Required for Success
. Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later
. Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies
. The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping
. Bootstrapping to Unicorns
. Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million
. Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue
. Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million
. Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy
. How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million
. Bootstrapping with a Paycheck
. How Algo.ai CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan
. Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses
. How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million
. Bootstrapping with Services
. How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million
. How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana
. How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million
. Death by Overfunding
. How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+
. How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck
. TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage
. The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance
. BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering
. Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania
. Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million
. SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida
. Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK
. Ownership Matters
. Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland
. Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado
. Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada
. Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia
. Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand
. PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina
. Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits
. Ultra Mobile Founder Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M
. Can You Bootstrap a Virtual Company to Over $5 Million?
. Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turn $1M into $80M
. Discussing the Journey Through Failure to Success
. From a Small Town to $12 Million
. Bootstrapping to Y Combinator and $10 Million Series A
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace to Over $10 Million

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