Click on the button below to listen to this episode of the Start Fierce Business Podcast…
My podcast guest today, Connor Gillivan ran a million dollar e-commerce business right from his college dorm room. Aside from being an e-commerce entrepreneur, Connor loves reading, running, and wants to make a positive impact on others through his passion.
Connor’s path to entrepreneurship started in high school when he followed in his cousin’s footsteps and built his own landscaping business.
In college, he teamed up with his business partner Nathan Hirsch and started selling textbooks on Amazon. Within one year, they were able to grow to a $1 million a year business.
As their business grew, Connor found a problem with the way people hire e-commerce freelancers. So it was only natural that he start a new business, FreeeUp, to help commerce companies hire freelancers that are reliable and skilled.
In this podcast episode, Connor and I discuss how he grew his first business to sell over $20 million in products on Amazon. We also talk about the problems with hiring freelancers from job sites. Connor also gives tips on the best way to start making money for your business quickly.
In This Episode of the Start Fierce Business Podcast:
- We talk about how Connor started running a multi million dollar business right from his college dorm room.
- We also discuss how his first business, led him to start a second business, FreeeUp.
- Connor talks about the role his parents played in his entrepreneurial path.
- He also shares his greatest challenge of not getting things off his plate fast enough.
- We discuss some awesome nuggets from Connor’s book, Free Up Your Business.
- And we talk about what ignited his passion for social businesses and sustainability.
Connor’s Favorite Online Apps:
Mentioned in this Episode:
(Some of the links listed below are affiliate links, and I will receive compensation for you signing up for service using my links.)
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Reach Out to Connor:
- Connor’s Website
- @Connorgillivan on Twitter
- Connor Gillivan on Facebook
- Connor Gillivan on LinkedIn
- Connor’s Book: Free Up Your Business: 50 Secrets to Bootstrap Million Dollar Companies
Give Us a Rate & Review!
Thank you for listening to the Start Fierce Business Podcast! I truly appreciate each and every one of you. If you have any questions or comments about the show, please feel free to leave a comment below.
If you found the information and interviews shared on this podcast helpful, please head over to iTunes to subscribe to the show and leave your honest review!
Note: Transcripts are created automatically and are not 100% accurate. However, they help our visitors find relevant content using our website’s search feature.
Welcome to the show, Connor. Awesome, how’s it going? Thanks for having me. Good.
Thank you. I’m so happy to have you on tell us about yourself outside of your business. So I am originally from Albany, New York, upstate New York and moved down Orlando in 2012. But before that, I went to school in Connecticut at Quinnipiac University had some some pretty awesome experiences there that we’ll talk about in a little bit. I started my first business there and met my first business partner who I continue to work with. And I was in college exit at some pretty awesome experiences to travel abroad. I spent two summers in South Africa, and then also one, one week period in Nicaragua. We’re learning more about social businesses as well as sustainability. So that’s a big passion of mine. That kind of led into what I’ve been doing, like I said, I moved down to Orlando and 2012. And then since then, I’ve been building a couple businesses and I’m sure we’ll get into and, you know, my free time I I’m a big reader, I love absorbing new books about business, about self health, and just people who lives but I’m also a runner, so I run pretty often. And I really enjoy that the kind of balance while it cool. What are you currently reading right now? I’m reading start with y by Simon the neck. Okay, have you heard of this?
I’ve heard of it. I think it’s on my to read list. Nice. Yeah. So silence. And that key key first, kind of got famous with this whole idea of starting with why from his TED Talk, okay. I think it’s like a 10 minute TED Talk, where he kind of breaks down this whole idea, starting with why and how companies and organizations have done in the past this book really goes into depth that he spent his whole philosophy Okay. Sounds interesting. Yeah, I think I’m pretty sure I have that in my to read list. I just have to get through like, 200 other books to get to it.
Exactly. It doesn’t mean less is always unless, Yes, exactly. Um, tell us about your business and how you got started.
Sure. So like I was kind of alluding to tell you about free app, which is what I’m spending most of my time on. Now, I just want to kind of introduce you to the first business that I started because I they let them very naturally into the other. So I was a sophomore at Quinnipiac University, and I met someone in my my college walk back. And he was he said that he was starting a business fell in textbooks on Amazon. And this was around the time that Amazon was really starting to blow up and become a big player, and especially the books base. And so I had always been looking for opportunities to start different businesses. So I kind of hopped on it, and what it led to him, and I ended up creating a great relationship isn’t anything. Hirsch. He’s also located here in the Orlando area, and has been, you know, feature on a good amount of podcasts. And we just kind of ran with this idea of building a business around selling textbooks on Amazon. So we would just go to people on campus, offer them cheaper prices, and what the bookstore was offering. And we would then sell them on Amazon, and then pick pack and ship them right for the customer. So you know, within a year, so I’m starting business, we’re running a million dollar business out of our dorm rooms, just shipping textbooks.
So so that that business as we continue to go through college, we Amazon was expanding into other product categories, specifically toys and baby products, and home goods to really capture the mothers that were starting to shop online, we started to just follow, we kind of follow their trends. And so what we started doing was creating relationships with manufacturers and suppliers around the United States. And we we help them sell on Amazon because it’s something that was new, and people hadn’t really figured out yet.
So that’s the kind of kind of fast forward a little bit he moved down here to Orlando after graduating. And we’re really focused on building this first business, which is called spotlight. And we ended up building it into a company with over 60 employees. And that was that has sold over $20 million on Amazon. So that that was kind of my first foray into e commerce and really understanding industry, learning who the big players are learning how everything works, understand the operations.
So as that’s kind of the mess the start of my cat in e commerce. So just to kind of push forward, one thing that we’re doing with for light was we are firing a lot of people overseas. So we, we found out about a fork, which is a, you know, an online hiring platform where you can post jobs and recruit workers from all over the world, and then hire them to help you with your business. Yeah, and so we we had around, I think 30 freelancers are helping us run for life at its peak. But we, we just weren’t happy with the process that was available to hire these freelancers, right. So we had to go on up work or other site, we had to treat the job posting post the job, we had to talk to the applicants, interview them, make sure that they actually had the skill and then also make the decision who is the best person hire. So we ended up spending a lot of our time going through these hiring processes. And at the end of the day, we didn’t really know if they were going to be a good hire not and in a lot of situation, because we are new to it. And we ended up hiring the wrong person, we train them two weeks later, they disappear, or they just ended up not being a good fit. But we went through a lot of a lot of kind of ups and downs with this hiring experience. And so we kind of thought to ourselves, you know, why isn’t there a better solution? Why isn’t there a place where you don’t have to do the post in the jobs and interviewing? Why isn’t there a place for e commerce businesses where you can just hire freelancers that are reliable and have the skills easily and that’s that’s what we that’s what we created with free up. That’s exactly what free up is. It is a online hiring platform for e commerce businesses. And so that’s where I spend the majority of my time now on a day to day basis.
When did you know you were an entrepreneur?
Yeah, that’s a tough question. So it’s been, it’s been pretty ingrained in the for for most of my life.
I personally, I appreciate the way that I was raised. And my parents never pushed me down any certain cast, they they encouraged me and made sure that education was of high importance. But it wasn’t, it wasn’t any specific track that I was supposed to take, which I think kind of open the app to just doing whatever I was most passionate about. And that also obviously could create a living out of it. So it’s been most of my life. But I think the one defining moment would be when I was in high school, I was working with my cousin who owned his own business, a landscaping business, and I worked with me, I worked with him on the weekend. And I really learned how he ran his business and treated his customers and did the work of landscaping. And so I decided that on the side, I would go ahead and try to start my own landscaping business and in my direct area. And so throughout high school, I ran this business that had maybe, you know, 20 accounts and 20 mile radius of where my house was, and I, I was able to use that money to, you know, get through high school, and then had some savings for college. So I love that experience. I love being able to build something right from the ground up. So I think as exciting moments, that would be the first time I was like, this is really what I wanted to I wanted to build my own company, I want to work with great people and try to do something great. That’s really cool. What’s been your greatest entrepreneurial challenge. So this is one of all of me, I’ve definitely gotten better at it. But it’s, it’s been with me the entire time, it’s more of just a personality trait, but one that I work on, and that is not getting things off my plate fast enough. So you probably know, right, as an entrepreneur, there’s constant work that’s always, you know, that’s your play. And there’s more and more projects to be working on, there’s more things that you could be doing. And so I think my greatest challenge all throughout my, my journey has been making sure that I take a step back at times and path off work to other people, and give them the power and and, and empower them to do great work with me. And that’s, that’s a big a big thing that’s been that’s been a reason why I’ve worked so well with Nate is because his whole thing is prioritization. And so at anytime, he’s always looking to be as productive as possible and use our internal team as much as possible. So he kind of keeps me honest in that in that fact, now, and I’ve also just seen how, how effective and productive you can do and you have a team of people around you that complement what you do, and they also do their job really well.
Yeah, I’m the type that I do end up putting a lot of things on my to do list, a lot of things end up getting put on the back burner and take on to the next week. And the week after that. And the week after that. I’m really bad with that. So that actually, we all struggle with that.
Yeah, that’s the couple. Mm hmm. What’s your favorite business book, my favorite business book right now is one that I just recently read. And it is called shoe dog by Phil.
It’s the story of how Nike started the and then grew into a billion dollar company. And Phil Knight is the CEO of Nike he’s been at since day one. And so it’s a memoir, written by him all about his journey may have to check that. Yeah, it’s a I’m a for biographies or memoirs.
And his the way he writes his is just very captivating is a really cool story. He did a lot of traveling before he started Nike. And a lot of a lot of the ways that he writes and the situations that he writes about is very relatable for entrepreneurs. He talks a lot about the times where he was questioning himself or he he thought the company was actually going to go down and, and just a lot of the, a lot of the tough things that you don’t usually hear about and, you know, more of a business philosophy book or something along those lines to really get into the dirty details of how they’ve made it through.
Yeah, I’ve actually accidentally been reading a lot of bye graffiti type books lately. memoir type things like I got this one. Yeah. Um, it’s called creativity, Inc. It was an accident that I read it. Hold on.
It’s actually Yes. Sorry. Every Pixar.
Yeah. So the reason I got it is because it’s creativity, Inc, overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. So I thought it was a book about, like, overcoming, like, designers block. And since I do web design, I’m like, great.
This is the perfect book and it’s the story of Pixar. But it’s, it’s good, because, I mean, he talks about all the times that they failed. I’m only halfway through it. It’s the audio books really long. But um, it’s, it’s great, because it’s not exactly what I thought it was going to be. Maybe they get to it later. But, but I need to know that these people failed and got back up again and failed, kept doing it and kept doing it because it makes your own struggles not seem as bad as Tara later.
Yeah. There’s also I really liked that book too, because it gives a really interesting perspective on Steve Jobs. Unlike biographies that have been written about them, which is kind of cool. Yeah, if you could follow just one business thought leader who would it be sure so for me this the answer to this is Ilan Musk, he he’s been selling that I’ve followed it for quite a while in the house.
He’s been running both Tesla and SpaceX. And obviously he has his background with paid out his solar energy company as well. But I just love the crossroads between for profit companies and social missions he has and how he’s approaching and he’s also just an extremely admirable person who works off to make his dream come true.
What advice do you have for someone just getting started in business?
But so it’s funny you ask. I actually just, uh, just opened a book that I’m publishing on April 26 for pre order today, that is 60 secrets to bootstrapping million dollar companies. That’s all about advice for young and also growing up yours. So a few pieces from that, I guess one one of the big for me and that I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think about as they’re starting is making sure that you have an absolute domain expertise and what you’re doing so sure, example, right. If you’re going to go into e commerce, since we’ve been talking about that, you you want to go into that and knowing exactly what’s going on you granted, you don’t need to be, you know, the most intelligent person faith should have a good idea of what you’re doing the point where you can start making money with that business pretty quickly works and we get that book so you can I can give you a link where you can go and pre order the book right now. It’s available in ebook or paperback and audio book. And it’s also going to be selling on Amazon on April 22, Okay, awesome. By the time this interview time, you guys are hearing this interview, it’ll already be available on Amazon.
And I’ll link to it in the show. No OS perfect aside from not wanting to work for someone else. And aside from your family, what is your why so this is this is something I’m extremely fortunate to have discovered at a younger age in my travels. And living in South Africa, I experienced a lot of poverty in the just living at a much simpler life, though, I’ve never really been attracted to money. And so my, my y has been to, to make a positive impact on others through my passion. So I love building businesses, the e commerce and online hiring pretty much bringing people together from all over the world to work together and build the great companies. Those are all those are a huge passion of mine. And the way I kind of defined making a positive impact on anyone that I’m able to reach, right. So you always have different stakeholders, mid your employees that might be your customers might be partners, but always trying to find ways to to make a positive impact and to kind of give them a lasting impression and also kind of inspire them to do what they want to do as well.
What’s your favorite internet resource or app that just makes your life easier.
So this is a very popular walk, but it’s one that I use 12 to 14 hours a day Skype so I communicate with all by workers, all my team office, a lot of guys a couple others that are great. I use Canvas pretty often it’s the kind of a, you know, dulled down version of Photoshop. But if you’re not at the level or using Photoshop, it allows you to easily edit images, ad tech change background at overlays. So that one’s pretty amazing. And then the third is JIRA dear as a task management software. I’ve played around with a bunch of different task management software. But this is the one that I like the most you’re you’re very easily able to create to do is ask people into them, leave comments and kind of manage what you’re doing.
Where can listeners find you online? What’s your social media links your websites Um, so you can of course, find me at www that car Guild. And that’s my website where I write about building e commerce businesses and creating these startups You can also find me free up calm and that is with three G’s. So f r e dot com and you can also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Okay, awesome. We’ll Connor thanks so much for sharing your story with us today. Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. I’m glad to chat.
Yeah. Awesome. It’s been great getting to know you.
Cindy Rodriguez is the host of the Start Fierce Business Podcast. When she’s not interviewing awesome entrepreneurs, she’s working on growing her startup, going to Disney World with her daughter, or reading a book.