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Alee Pingol

The great thing about entrepreneurship is that you don’t have to be experienced to start a successful e-commerce business. Many entrepreneurs come from humble beginnings. Some of the most successful startups began in a garage, warehouse, or in Sean Kelly’s case, a college dorm room.

In May 2016, Sean Kelly was studying business at Rutgers University in New Brunswick when he founded his small company Jersey Champs, an online jersey store. But college turned out to be more challenging than he anticipated, and he took a leave of absence at the end of his freshman year.

But that wasn’t the end for Kelly and his business aspirations …

Today, Kelly has built his company to be the largest jersey store in North America, gaining a revenue of $1.2 million — all under the age of 22. Not only does he profit from his successful business, but Kelly also travels to speak on entrepreneurship and how he got started, inspiring young entrepreneurs around the world.

So, how did this 20-something college student do it?

Possessing an Entrepreneurial Spirit from a Young Age

While college dropouts’ success rate is generally low, various celebrities, like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, and Sean Kelly, have proven that success is possible.

From a young age, Kelly had an entrepreneurial spirit. In 5th grade, Kelley began using his talents to sell candies to his fellow students — a venture which also got him suspended. But what entrepreneur hasn’t experienced a little difficulty?

Fortunately, Kelly didn’t let this obstacle hinder his passion. Throughout high school and college, Kelly has always stood out from the crowd. “I would rather work than go to class,” he says in an interview with Forbes.

“I’d literally skip class to work on the business.”

In his freshman year, Kelly founded Jersey Champs right out of his dorm room. Soon after, Kelly left college to pursue his entrepreneurial calling and grow the business.

Starting the Business

Kelly came up with the idea for his business in college when he noticed how many people were sporting jerseys of their favorite athletes or sports teams. However, he realized it would require millions of dollars to sell regular sports jerseys and specific licensing.

Instead, Kelly resolved to design custom jerseys celebrating famous hip-hop artists, rappers, and classic TV shows actors. He planned to sell the jerseys online and arrange revenue shares with the brands he leveraged.

“I’ve always wanted to be my own boss … I like being on my own a lot and I felt like this was the type of job where you could just work on your own free time,” Kelly said. “I also just really like jerseys and designing clothes.”

Then, with just $1,000 in savings, Kelly hired a freelance graphic designer, created a Shopify site, and officially launched Jersey Champs. While the designs are made locally, Kelly uses factories in Asia, Pakistan, and the United States to produce his jerseys.

Utilizing the Power of Social Media to Grow His Brand

Much of Jersey Champs’ success can be attributed to their social media presence, specifically Instagram. “I made an Instagram page that posted cool jerseys at the time and eventually from there turned it into a page that actually sold jerseys,” Kelly said.

In his first year of college, Kelly studied marketing, where he learned the importance of using social media. Social media is a key tool for small businesses. Ninety percent of U.S. businesses use social media to promote their brand. Whether it’s generating sales, building trust, or establishing a brand’s reputation, social media is the most effective way to catapult your business to success.

After launching the business, Kelly started reaching out to influencers to promote his brand. Since starting his Instagram, Jersey Champs has gained a following of nearly 2 million people.

In an interview with My Central Jersey, Kelly notes the value of using influencers as a cost-effective way to market. “Take social media seriously as a business owner or look to start one because it is very valuable.”

Kelly has also secured partnerships with musicians and celebrities like Logic, Khalid, 2 Chainz, and Mark Cuban, contributing to the brand’s explosive growth.

Kelly Paced Himself on the Path to Success

Starting a business as a young entrepreneur is never easy. It takes dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. Kelly didn’t expect his company to be an overnight success. From the beginning, he applied himself to every aspect of gradually building the brand.

Kelley’s music-related jerseys sell for $40 to $60 each, while his custom NBA jersey ranges from $100 to $150. In Jersey Champs’ first year, Kelly built $245,000 in revenue; his second year grew to $450,000, and his third year brought in $1.2 million.

Though the company is young, Kelly has also learned the importance of properly managing cash flow. “If you get 100,000 followers, you’ll probably get tons of emails out of it and website traffic,” Kelly says. When an order is placed, Kelly makes sure he can effectively fill the orders and be prepared for sudden surges.

Keeping Things Low-Key

Kelly started his business in a small dorm room with just $1,000 in savings. Since then, Kelly has sought to grow the brand slowly. With an annual salary of $50,000, Kelly contributes most of his revenue to promoting and advertising the company.

His path to success hasn’t been easy, and Jersey Champs has certainly faced its challenges along the way. But Kelly strives to stay committed to his business.

Kelly continues to work from home which allows him to travel and tell his story to other aspiring entrepreneurs frequently.

While the company’s growth has been impressive, Kelly places an added emphasis on pacing himself. Jersey Champs is still a young brand, and Kelly is always searching for new ways to develop and expand his brand. So far, he’s achieved unprecedented success …

All before the age of 22, unbelievably.

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