Born with an obsession with design and improving processes, EMU alumni Chris Kaufman has been able to use his creativity to build one of the fastest-growing online marketplaces. Kaufman along with other co-founders Dan Gilbert, Josh Luber, and Greg Schwartz created StockX, a Detroit-based online sneaker resale site worth $3.8 billion.
Kaufman has always had a mind for entrepreneurship and design. At a young age he gained an interest in drawing and designing letterforms, and realized he could apply his talents to solving business problems. This is what led him to get his Bachelor’s in design at Eastern.
“For me, graphic design was always this perfect intersection of art and business because largely graphic designers are solving problems that involve some kind of economic model. Whether that is brand design or product design, websites, apps, things like that. I've always been really interested in both of those things,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman largely credits the professors in the design program for giving him the knowledge he has today.
“The three professors that I had were Ryan Molloy, Leslie Atzmon, and Andy Maniotes. It was still the same three people running the program 20 years later. What they do is they bring unique perspectives to the table where they are thinking about these things,” Kaufman said. “I think the program at EMU has a history of doing a really good job at that. That was my experience and I know that continues to be the experience of the program.”
Following his graduation, Kaufman found himself interning at Quicken Loans, now known as Rocket Mortage. There he worked on marketing user interface and experience projects which is where he met the founder, Dan Gilbert.
“He was super interested in design. I got to know him pretty well and I got to sit in a lot of meetings with him and talk about design and how that impacted business,” Kaufman said. “I moved within the company, was promoted to interactive design director, started a company internally in marketing called Quizzle with a couple other people that we spun off into its own company.”
Kaufman was involved in multiple startups in his early career which is also where he met Schwartz. At one point when business started to plateau, Schwartz and Kaufman received an offer from Yahoo to acquire the company and leave Detroit for Silicon Valley. However, thanks to the support of Gilbert they decided to stay home.
“Dan basically said, hey, you are Detroit guys. You have always told me you want to be a part of revitalizing the city by building businesses, creating jobs, being a part of what we are doing down here. And I've been thinking about this job and I do not like the idea of you guys moving to California, not being able to do that anymore,” Kaufman said.
Though the idea of turning down this deal was scary, Kaufman felt relieved at being able to stay where it all started. The next Monday, Kaufman, Gilbert, and Schwartz put their brains together and came up with the idea of using stock market ideas and applying them to retail. Later focusing on sneakers they brought in Luber who had already created the “Kelley Blue Book” of shoes called Campless.
Eleven months later in February of 2016, they officially launched. In the early stages they used a 10x10 janitor closet as a sneaker authentication room and used to carry hundreds of sneakers up and down an elevator. Now seven years later, StockX has a host of facilities around the world in New Jersey, Mexico City, London, Hong Kong, and more.
Today StockX is one of the premier shoe reselling site. Allowing thousands of individuals to anonymously sell and buy verified clothes, electronics and accessories.
Kaufman still takes time to come back to Eastern and find ways to interact with the community. From visiting design classes, working with professor Sanjib Chowdhury on management strategy and innovation, and working as an advisor for the Entrepreneurship Certificate and Graduate Certificate program.
“I think the university gave me a lot and I feel like I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in. The least I can do is to provide some time and resources to be able to give back and hopefully afford people some opportunities,” Kaufman said.
As many students celebrate graduating this time of year and move onto the next steps of their career, Kaufman offered some advice to the graduates.
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“The power of your network cannot be underestimated. Making connections, reaching out to people, asking for help, asking for advice. I think you will be surprised how many people say yes. Some people will not respond to that, that's okay. But there are more people that will respond and will be more than happy to talk and tell you about things from their perspective, because we've all failed at some point,” Kaufman said.
“The biggest thing for me is really just focus on the people. Businesses are about the people and if you are going to start a business, the most important thing you will do is building your team and backing your partners and that's absolutely critical. If you're going to go work for somebody else, the boss you work for is going to make or break that experience. So choose wisely and carefully, and it will make all the difference.”