Nick Swinmurn, 27, admits, "I didn't know anything about shoes" before starting Zappos.com Inc. (formerly ShoeSite.com), where you can find every size, style and color of footwear manufactured by about 100 brands. He was a film major in college, for heaven's sake-and before getting a taste of e-business, he worked for the San Diego Padres.
Knowing his career with the Padres had peaked, Swinmurn moved on to AutoWeb.com, where he witnessed another recent college graduate enjoy the venture's speedy growth. Swinmurn absorbed as much as he could while conceiving of ways he could successfully utilize the Internet for his own means. Following a trip to the mall when he couldn't find the boots he wanted, Swinmurn wanted a site where consumers could get every style from every brand.
To get footing, Swinmurn got a few retailers to partner with the then-ShoeSite.com. The concept was still limited by retailer stock rooms, but he knew he could make inroads-like adding a former regional merchandising manager and regional buyer from Nordstrom to his team. "Just putting the site up rather than waiting until it was perfect was the smartest decision we ever made," says Swinmurn, who went live with his San Francisco-based site in June 1999. "There were people at that time thinking of doing something similar, but they kept waiting, and some are still waiting, whereas we decided to just let something evolve. It's never going to be perfect."
In changing the company name and having people with 15 years of experience back him, Swinmurn saw 12 manufacturers quickly sign on. Now the 30-employee Zappos.com offers 30-million pairs of shoes, and recently, the site ranked eighth-most visited of all clothing sites by PC Data Online. Perfect? Hard to say. But it's not too shabby.