Kevin Sproles is the founder and CEO of Volusion, an online e-commerce solution for the SMB market. He began his career by coding and designing in high school. Most of his clients had a common need, a shopping cart system, so he developed the first version of Volusion before graduating. Today Volusion has over 150 employees, and Kevin has won several business awards for his success with Volusion, including Businessweek’s “Best 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25” and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s “40 Under 40 Leadership Award.”
SM: Kevin, take us back to where you story begins. What is the background information we should know that leads to the Volusion story?
KS: I started Volusion when I was sixteen, when I was still in high school. I started the company as a custom Web development company, and I created various websites for clients. That was in 1999, which was when the dot-com boom was going on and everyone wanted websites. I realized that it would be difficult to scale up the business by doing all of the services I was doing on an individual basis. I realized there was probably a better business model that I should be following.
Bill Gates was the most obvious example for me. He had built some software once and sold it many times. I thought about my skillsets and wanted to know what I could do to create a product that I could write once and sell many times. I knew that it would have to be some type of Web-based software. I was not a salesperson so I figured if I could develop something that helped a website owner make money it would make the sales process much easier. At that time I developed the first version of Volusion, an e-commerce engine. I built a basic pre-generation software release, but it was enough for me to get some clients and some feedback.
SM: What was going on in your life and with your family that enabled you to start a company at sixteen?
KS: My father ran his own business. It was nothing related; it was in the construction industry. My grandfather was also an entrepreneur who ran a furniture business. I grew up in the small business mindset. It was interesting to see my friends whose parents were in the corporate world. I always thought it made sense for me to start my own business. It seemed natural versus trying to get a job and work up the corporate ladder.
SM: Did you quit school as you built the company, or did you do it in parallel?
KS: I was hedging my bets both ways. I was a dedicated student who was preparing for the college path. It was not until the last semester of my senior year that I decided I had a business with enough of an opportunity to forego college. I felt college would be a really big-time commitment, so I decided at that point to go ahead and finish high school but not make college a priority.
As soon as I finished high school I decided to hire some people to help me with the custom Web development work. That gave me another source of income, which made skipping college an acceptable choice. It was a hard decision to make.
SM: How did your parents feel about it?