Michael Salguero’s decision to get an MBA turned out to be much more practical than he’d initially anticipated. The 32-year-old Babson graduate runs CustomMade, a platform that allows buyers to connect with creators of everything from pendants to bookshelves. But Salguero didn’t build the site from scratch. His co-founder, Seth Rosen, was looking for a one-of-a-kind coffee table when he came across CustomMade.com. The website had gone up in 1996, and in about a decade, it had grown into a directory of about 350 woodworkers. Both founders knew it’d be a smart buy. “Custom furniture, custom jewelry are very, very big businesses that were flying under the radar,” Salguero explains. “We had a site that was really well-suited to being taken over, with a great domain name, with lots of traffic coming through already, and makers who were making a living on it.” But the pair had to get the owner to sell.
Fortunately, Salguero was uniquely equipped to make that happen. “I was actually in two classes at Babson about buying a small business,” he says. “I would come in and update people on where I was with the negotiation.” For a while, it wasn’t going well. Salguero consulted both of his professors and recalibrated his approach. Finally, in January 2009, he and Rosen bought CustomMade.com with $140,000 raised from “friends and just random people around the city of Boston,” he says. It’s now a sleek site with more than 100,000 buyers and nearly $26 million in funding.
Salguero’s bets have paid off. They’ll have to continue paying off, because he’s nowhere near the finish line. “We are not a lifestyle business–this is like, we’re trying to make a huge business,” Salguero says. “People don’t really want the cheap stuff from furniture stores anymore. They want to know the story of the piece and have a connection with it.” Well, some people do. “We’re starting to get to a place where our site is doing well with people who are landing on our site, but now we need to teach the masses about why they should go custom,” he says. With just a trace of irony, he adds: “We’re in it to win it.”