Sean Glasser was born in Jersey City, as the youngest of three brothers. Through the lessons his parents instilled in him and his hard work he went on to earn the coveted Vice-Presidential nomination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, one of only 2 per year. Sean would later transfer to Seton Hall University on a full academic scholarship to major in Criminal Justice with hopes of being an FBI Agent.
During his sophomore year, Sept 11 shocked the nation and especially impacted Sean, living less than 10 minutes from the World Trade Center. As the world grappled with the realities in the weeks to follow, Sean found purpose in raising money for the NYPD and FDNY funds through the sale of memorial related apparel on eBay. Even though this experience was for charity, it gave Sean his first glimpse into the world of online selling. A few months after the charity work ended like any broke college student, Sean started looking for ways to make extra cash while in school.
Sean discovered a company selling Tirefly wheel lights that would screw onto the valve stem of bicycles, motorcycles, and cars and within short order began buying and selling their items on eBay. Through hard work, attention to detail and a knack for marketing, Sean was able to dominate the eBay landscape and grow his modest business, all while attending class during the day.
As the years went on Sean balanced earning his Criminal Justice degree with this side business by working late nights (sometimes through the night) and offering potential customer’s discounts for leaving voicemails when he was in class. As graduation neared, he approached his college friend, Sage Katakura, about joining him and opening their own print shop.
Sean and Sage opened up shop in West New York, NJ, not knowing a thing about printing. They spent 80-100-hour weeks learning how to print, how to best pitch their items to customers, how to market online and just all the fundamentals of business. There were many hard years with them making only $100 a week in pay, sacrificing their early 20s working in the office when their friends would be at happy hour and at the bar. Little by little they started gaining the trust of bigger brands building a loyal base of 40,000 customers, including Google, Nike, Netflix, Disney, and the NFL.
Today Sean Glasser and Sage Katakura are the CEO and President, respectively, of the company they started with only $600 in college. Having sold tens of millions of dollars of items they truly achieved what every entrepreneur hopes to while bootstrapping it the whole way. The future is bright as they continue to expand their inventory and are opening a new corporate headquarters in Montclair, NJ.
1. Why did you decide to create your own business?
I have always been entrepreneurial. In high school, I created a Geometry study guide to help my fellow students prepare for the SAT and would sell them for $12 each. I didn’t really plan to open a business at first, though. It was just something I did to earn money in college while I pursued my goal of getting into the FBI. However, the more I did it, the more I loved how it was a blank slate I could create into something great and I decided that my future was in entrepreneurship.
2. What keeps you motivated?
I have been through a lot of trials and tribulations over the years. There have been numerous times when I should have quit and times when I wanted to quit. The most important thing to ever get where you are going is to keep going. For me, having a successful business means the freedom one day to do the things that others only dream about. I have yet to achieve all the goals I set out for myself, but I know that nothing can stop me except for me and it’s just not possible for me to quit anymore.
3. Who has been a role model to you and why?
I think my father is my biggest role model. Unfortunately, I lost my dad when I was in my 20s and we were really close but the lessons and example he laid out for me will never be forgotten. My dad was a brilliant man who was tough as nails. Nothing could stop him. When I was in high school, I remember complaining to him that the football coach didn’t like me. Expecting him to support me, my father instead told me to work harder to gain his respect. I followed his advice and ended up winning an award that year from the same coach. This is just one example, but he led by giving me sound advice, not by telling me what I wanted to hear. I couldn’t quit if I truly wanted something. I had to rise to the occasion, and it made all the difference in my life.
4. How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
Balance is a continual struggle. You can never have it all. I try to keep focused on what’s important to me and put those things first, cutting out as much of the small things as I could. It’s rare for me to watch TV or waste time. I put family first because that’s something you cannot replace. Then I work smart and hard on the most important projects that could benefit us long term. After that, I try to do things that relieve stress like working out or going for walks.
5. What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?
I am a really good listener and I care about those I lead. I try to put myself in their shoes as much as possible, but I also don’t like to sugarcoat things. If something needs to be known in order for them to come out ahead, I tell them honestly, but with respect. At the end of the day, the people I lead have lives and priorities that are different from ours and that’s something I always try to remember when balancing what we need as a company.
6. What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
The death of my father. I was the youngest of my brothers and really close to my dad. We used to go on car rides together or sit and talk for hours. I would go to him for advice when I would face problems. His death was my greatest fear and came about really quickly in a matter of months when I was in my 20s. I struggled for a long-time making sense of it and still do in some ways today. However, I think it also afforded me the opportunity to grow and I am stronger today because of it.
7. What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
In my first year outside of college I read a book that basically talked about the question you ask determining the answer you get. It really changed how I think. We all think something is a certain way but there’s really an infinite set of answers to everything. It just matters how you ask it. For example, if I want to be someone’s vendor, I could ask them “Can I be your supplier?”. You probably will get a yes or no answer. However, if I instead ask “What can I do to be your supplier? What would your ideal supplier do?” it will usually open someone up to giving you the keys to success. Granted, you may not be able to give them what they want right there and then but you have the answer that you can work on to get there. This principle can be applied to all aspects of life and is probably one of the most important reasons why people will spend 50 years stuck in the same position in life while others soar. They don’t ask others or themselves the right questions for the situation.
8. Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
I am an avid learner and thinker. I love absorbing as much as I can and exploring new things. I ask ‘why’ for everything I encounter. It really fulfills me deep inside my soul to understand how things work and see the beauty that life has to offer.
9. Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?
We are pushing the boundaries on many fronts right now so in about 5 years I hope to see us become a household name and the prime source for marketing products. I would like the shopping experience and the way we treat customers to be an example for other companies to follow and catch up to. On a personal side I hope to see my family continue to grow and also go back to school part time to get my graduate degree, something I have been putting off for years because of how busy we’ve been in building the business.