Diary of an entrepreneur: How Marc Levin turned his office furniture business into a $5 million online retailer

Diary of an entrepreneur: How Marc Levin turned his office furniture business into a $5 million online retailer

Name: Marc Levin

Company: JasonL

Based: Sydney

Marc Levin’s father sold office furniture. His father’s father sold office furniture.

But when Levin and his brother Jason were growing up, there was no pressure placed on the boys to inherit the family business.

“Our father said to both of us, please don’t get into office furniture,” laughs Levin. “He said, there’s a wide world out there, don’t get into office furniture!”

But the brothers had other ideas.

“It just so happened that we really identified a significant niche and opportunity within the online space, which is something he knew nothing about,” says Levin

At the time, Levin’s brother Jason was unemployed but brimming with creativity and innovative ideas about business, off the back of his commerce degree. Levin was working as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, but was itching for a new challenge.

With their dad’s experience, his brother’s entrepreneurial spirit and Levin’s business smarts, the three launched an online office furniture website out the back of their dad’s warehouse in 2009.

“At the time, no one was doing a good job in the industry online,” says Levin.

JasonL now lists clients including Channel Seven and Facebook, and is on track to turnover $5 million by the end of this year.

The South African native sat down with SmartCompany to chat about early morning TED talks, work/life balance and turning JasonL into the next IKEA.

Mornings

Levin gets up at 6.30am before the rest of the house. He likes to have a little time to himself and he’ll often spend that half hour doing something inspiring like watching a TED talk.

“It sets my head in the right frame of mind,” says Levin.

He also likes to get down for a jog along Bondi beach to clear his head if he can and spend a bit of time with his 10 month-old before he’s out the door. “I always try to cuddle my little one.”

Levin is not a breakfast person, so he’ll pick up a strong coffee before he’s in the warehouse by 7.45am.

Daily life

Levin starts his work day with a list that he’s written out and prioritised the night before.

“Typically, I try to do whatever is that’s the most challenging first thing. I’m a morning person and tend to have my head on shoulders then, so it’s my best time to complete a hard task,” he says.

While Levin finds himself doing a range of different operational tasks throughout the day, he and his brother have split roles up according to each of their strengths – Jason handles the creative side, while Levin keeps the business’ finances on track.

“I make sure we aren’t selling the chairs for free,” he laughs. “We complement each other.”

Levin is two years older, and admits he often takes on the role of the sensible older brother.

The duo always try to get out of the office for lunch to chat, give each other feedback and clear their heads on any pressing issues together. If they’re not grabbing some quick sushi, they like to head to their favourite café, Kitchen by Mike, near their warehouse in Rosebury.

On Fridays, the brother put on lunch for the whole JasonL team.

Leisure time

With a new baby at home, Levin admits finding a work/life balance is a challenge.

“I find it incredibly difficult,” he says. He found it particularly difficult in the first six months after the birth of his child, as he felt he was missing being a part of the new baby’s life if he stayed at the office too long.

“It’s a tough balance, but I try consciously to not bring home work with me,” he says. “As our business grows and my relationship and family grows, we’ve just had to find a way.”

While he sometimes gets in trouble for checking his emails or following movements in the office furniture industry on his iPhone, Levin and his wife have made a deliberate effort to spend time together, instituting ‘Sunday date afternoon’ each week.

“We found date night wasn’t quality time because we were so tired from the day. On Sunday afternoon, we still have energy, so we get a sitter and spend three or four hours just reconnecting.”

The Future

Levin’s vision for the future of JasonL is unapologetically ambitious, saying he has thought hard about the company’s BHAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal.

“We want to be the IKEA of the office furniture industry,” says Levin. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

And while he says he would never say never to an acquisition if the right person with the right number came knocking, the company’s strategy for now is to build its Australian presence and look at taking that presence overseas.

“If you don’t set those goals for yourself, you can’t shoot for the stars,” he says.

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