While we’ve learned from the likes of Bill Gates that you can drop out of Harvard and still be a billionaire, you might assume it’s not quite so easy when you drop out of eighth grade. But Ben Federman, CEO of 1SaleADay.com, is out to prove a junior-high dropout can make millions.
Federman launched 1SaleADay.com in 2007, focusing on the idea that instead of trying to be everything to everyone like Amazon.com, he would try to sell just one item a day at really deep discounts. “I figured I could buy more at a better price and pass that savings on to customers,” says the 29-year-old, who quit school in the eighth grade and admits he spent a fair number of his teenage years playing guitar and getting into trouble with his friends.
But when he saw some of his friends getting into drugs, he decided he didn’t want to go down that path. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and then began working in customer service and sales after his enlistment was up. “The fact is I was always a gadget geek, and I was always price-matching,” Federman says. “I had a clear sense of what sells and what doesn’t.”
He decided to apply that knowledge to start his own Internet business, which grew the first couple of years solely by word-of-mouth. “My customers know they will get the best price for a high-quality item on my site,” he explains, and they pass along to their friends the great deals they’re getting, which include everything from fine watches and jewelry to camcorders and wireless equipment at discounts of up to 90 percent.
With the explosion of social media in the past few years, however, Federman says he has seen his business really take off. When he started, he was happy to make 50 sales a day. Now he makes 20,000, and that’s due in large part to the viral effects of social media outlets like Facebook, where 1SaleADay.com has 340,000 followers. Federman now requires the help of more than 100 employees. “Social media is one of the most powerful ways to access your customers and get the ball rolling,” he says.
> Make giving back to the community part of your business model. Federman gives 51 percent of his profit to charity. He says it has helped him stay motivated to know his work has meaning beyond himself.
> Make sure your employees always smile. For Federman, that means catering lunch for them every day of the week.
> Take advantage of the interactivity offered by social media and create a community, not just customers.
> Let your customers know you are regular folks just like they are. Federman wears shorts and a sweater to work every day and posts pictures of himself and his employees on Facebook.
> Give your customers something for free now and then as a form of appreciation; if they feel valued, they’ll keep coming back.