It takes a lot to be the boss. A lot of hard work, many late nights in the office, and everything falling on you at the end of the day. However, in the end it all pays off. Just ask Karmaloop Founder & CEO Greg Selkoe.
Selkoe was awarded last month with the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award for the New England section at this year's Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards. The special gala ceremony was held in Massachusetts—coincidentally where Karmaloop was started 12 years ago in 2000.
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The unique award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. Not bad for a company that started as a small online store, and now serves millions of customers looking for dope urban apparel.
VIBE got a chance to catch up with Mr. Selkoe and talked to him about the award, what it means to him, and his non-profit organization Future Boston Alliance.
VIBE: Congratulations on the award! What inspired you to start Karmaloop?
Greg Selkoe: I was not that long out of college. I was living at home with my parents, I was working for the city of Boston—I was working, you know? Basically, [I had] a regular 9 to 5. The next generation of Internet sites were coming up, because the first one crashed in like 98—and this was the early 2000s. [Karmaloop] was the type of clothing that I was into. Clothing that was kind of inspired by hip-hop, street wear, skate, action sports, electronic music. It was sort of like this next wave of clothing with all these really cool underground designers. I saw that if you didn’t live in a major city like New York or L.A., it was very hard to get this stuff. I understood the Internet, so I just set up a little small shop using off-the-shelf software with 4 brands and the first office was in my parents basement and I just took it from there.
Now when you first started, the Internet was so much smaller than it is now. Did you feel like you would reach the amount of people that you wanted to or did it start local and grow from there?
It was never local, because even from the very beginning we were getting orders from Canada and all over the fucking place. Basically, I was investing in the future because I honestly believed that the Internet was going to become what it is today. I knew that it was going to keep growing, and a lot of people were like, “Why are you doing this? People aren’t going to buy clothing on the Internet! They need to touch and try it on.” A lot of people told me that, a lot of people were like, “Dude, you’re crazy.” I knew that it would work because catalogs had existed for 100 years and this was like a more dynamic, more interesting, better catalog where you could just go ahead and make the purchase right then and there. I just always believed in the future of the Internet, and I guess I was right.
You definitely were. Now lets get into the award: What was it like winning it?
It was amazing. There were like 15 other people who were nominated and I didn’t even prepare a speech ‘cause I just didn’t think I was going to win. But I’m pretty good at talking on my feet, so I just winged it [Laughs]. It was crazy and a big honor. The people who started Google have won it, [and also] Jeff Bezos—the founder of Amazon. There’s a lot of big names who have won the award before me, so it was super cool. I just didn’t think, given the kind of clothing that we sold and the culture—a lot of the kids that we sold clothing to had tattoos and stuff—that a lot of old business types [would appreciate it]. I thought that they might not be feeling us because of that, but I give them a lot of credit because they didn’t care about that stuff.
I know you’re really involved with the Future Boston Alliance. Can you talk about that and what you plan to accomplish with it?
Karmaloop’s based in Boston. We have an office in New York with 35 people, we have 200 people in Boston, we have 10 people in LA, and 25 people in Copenhagen in Denmark because we have Karmaloop Europe over there. We’re an international company and Karmaloop sells stuff all over the world, so Boston isn’t our market by any means. Boston is just one part of our global market. But I made the decision to keep Karmaloop here, a fashion company in Boston, and people always ask me why don’t I move to New York. I love New York—it’s kind of like my second home—but I wanted to do it here in Boston because it was different and we really mattered to the city. There's a lot of the sneaker companies here—Converse, Rebook, Puma, Saucony, Pro Keds, New Balance. They’re all here, but other than that there’s not a lot of stuff going on in fashion [in Boston]. We wanted to be apart of making a change, and I think we’ve made a big impact. A lot of the issues were that we were attracting people from all over the world and all over the country to come work here, and the bars close early [Laughs]. There’s a lot of restriction. The city has evolved in terms of who lives here, but the rules and regulations and the political power structure hasn’t changed. People were complaining, I complained, and so I was like, "Fuck it, I should just stop complaining and try to do something about it." The Future Boston Alliance is trying to pull together people with similar attitudes and outlooks to try and advocate for change and make the city more fun, more open, a better place for entrepreneurs, that type of thing. The response has been incredible so far.
So what’s next for Karmaloop and the next 10 years?
Karmalooptv.com is continuing to blow up. We’re launching our premium YouTube channel and we’ve been shooting a lot of music videos. Karmaloop.com is launching Miss KL, which is our women’s version of Karmaloop. We have womenswear on the site, but we’re making them their own environment. We also have Kazbah, which is our marketplace. We’re breaking that out into its own website so that we can have more up-and-coming brands. We’re doing a ton of stuff. We’re always growing internationally. We're doing a deal with a Chinese website, so we just keep building. Another 10 years, God knows we’ll be. [Definitely] in a very different place in 10 years, because we’re only a little over 10 years in it.
Can you give a quick message to entrepreneurs who want to win this award?
Well first of all, one of the things that I’ve learned is don’t assume you can’t win. I didn’t have that attitude when I started Karmaloop, and I was very successful. With this award I was like, “I’m a little different than a lot of the other people that have won in the past” but that doesn’t mean anything if you’re the best at what you do. You’re going to shine no matter what. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to be tough. I’ve gotten one award, but I’ve gotten many, many rejections in my life. You have to keep getting up everyday and keep trying and never, never, never give up because if I had listened to everybody that told me that I couldn’t sell clothes on the Internet, I wouldn’t have made it this far. To anyone, shoot for the stars and assume you can make it, don’t quit and get it done.