Meeting Stuart was a little bit different than how I usually approached meeting strangers.
I was working out at the gym one day and ran across an old boss of mine. His name is Todd and we started catching up and chatting about what we have been up to. Now Todd is in the staffing industry, specifically industrial staffing. As we were talking, we got to a point in the conversation where Todd mentioned a person he knew who ran an industrial machine classifieds website. I probed a little more and found out the name of the person is Stuart Carlin.
Since I’m in the web space, I was naturally interested in what Stuart did. So what did I do? I went to his company website (machinetools.com). Once there, I started to chat with one of the representatives and asked to speak with Stuart. She forwarded my message to Stuart and we communicated through email. I asked if he wanted to meet for coffee and chat about his experience as an entrepreneur. He said yes.
I showed up at the Starbucks in West Bloomfield. When Stuart arrived, I definitely sensed a feeling of confidence. A feeling of accomplishment.
We started chatting and something stuck out. Stuart wanted to know about me. He wanted to know my background and what I was up to. Now keep in mind, this is the first time I’ve ever spoke to him and he was interested in me. We chatted and I told me my background story.
Next came his.
So Stuart went to college at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. From a young age, Stuart was a hustler, an entrepreneur. He told me stories of how he would have comic book exchanges at camp when he was a kid. He would come back from camp and his mom would be greeted to Stuart with a pile of cash and a bunch of comic books.
When he was in college, he was part of a Fraternity. All of the Greek housing had vending machines but they were all broken or filled with just crappy stuff that no one wanted. He spotted this problem and went out to solve it. Stuart built relationships with local vending machine companies in order to get new vending machines into the housing.
Here’s a kicker though, he didn’t even need to sell the concept to the Greek houses. He hired someone to do it for him and he would pay them a commission. Stuart was the deal maker and the visionary. He aligned all the moving pieces to create a well oiled machine, aka a business. I believe he said that he was bringing in $1,500 to $2,000 from this venture.
Stuart then graduated college as a CPA and went to work at a machinery broker. He told me he hater either the job or his boss. I can’t remember at this moment.
Then after some time, Stuart’s brother Greg came to him with a business idea. Concession stands along the beaches in Chicago. They dubbed it On The Go Concessions and started selling concessions to beach goers. It grew from $150k/year to $200k and all the way to $1.5MM during a 5 month season.
Then… the city of Chicago decided to get rid of the concession carts. Their business was killed and they had to find something else.
Stuart, after having some experience in the machine tool industry decided to start a machine tool fax advertising company called Xchange Media Services. The idea was that he would fax blast different companies for his clients.
This however evolved in 1999 into his current company, MachineTools.com. At the time, Stuart had told me that there were ~30 different competitors in the space. I had to ask the chicken and the egg question in regards to how he was able to build a marketplace when you’re completely new. He told me that for the first year, listings were free. After that, he started charging monthly fees. A portion of the clients didn’t want to pay of course and fell off. The rest however stayed. The differentiating factor he said between him and others was that he didn’t charge a commission. Instead, he just charged ~$5 a month to list in the beginning.
The company had an expected revenue of ~$3.5MM in 2008 according to a Crain’s article. MachineTools.com is still doing well and continues to grow as it leads in the online machine tool marketplace industry.
Stuart had this very “excited to be alive” energy as we chatted and was very very generous with his time. We spoke for about 2 hours. He gave a complete stranger 2 hours of his time! He offered advice and was very open with any questions I had for him. Not only was open about his life, he was truly interested in mine and what I was doing.
I’m very grateful for meeting Stuart and thankful that he took the time to chat with me.