Brent Gensler began traveling to China at age 19 to explore new fabric manufacturers for his parents’ upholstery business, which has been in the family since 1950. A few years down the road and fresh off a business degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Brent started going back to China…only this time it was to scout manufacturers for his own company.
In April of 2008, Brent launched Defy Supply — an e-commerce company headquartered in Minneapolis which sells furniture directly from Chinese manufacturers to customers across North America. “Throughout my experiences, I realized just how many middlemen are between the original manufacturer and the end customer,” he says. “Our company basically defies that traditional supply-chain using an e-commerce model.”
In the beginning, Brent hit the books and learned an entire new industry — from global logistics, currency fluctuations, taxes, tariffs, import, export, etc. . “I remember sitting in the library for months, learning everything I could. Eventually, I was so proud of myself [that I figured out how to get the products to the end user] — then I thought, “Hell, I don’t know how to make a website…that was probably hurdle number 12.”
Starting with$50,000 in personal savings and two transactions (four bar stools), Defy Supply has since expanded to include 3,700 unique products from 45 suppliers. The company currently has 10 employees in China and five in the U.S. between Minneapolis and Chicago; Brent expects 2010 sales to double up from last years $2.5mm.
His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? “It’s not a path that I would recommend for everyone by any means…”
Tune in for an intriguing conversation around how one local success story began with an incredibly motivated entrepreneur who seized the opportunity.