About this episode

Brian Burke is the founder of SellYourMac.com, a website that helps you to sell your Apple products in a way that ensures you receive top dollar. Brian recently received an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year nomination. Ernst & Young is one of the largest firms in the world and since Brian’s firm was nominated, I definitely wanted to invite him to unpack his story on this podcast.

Brian and his business have a very grassroots storyline, which we go through in its entirety. Why? It helps us understand what it’s like to grow a business without investment capital. Moreover, it allows us to see what it is like to startup a business that is so cash flow dependent. How do you recover from a situation that steals five years of profits from you? We’ll find out in this episode.

Brian shares his encouraging journey, which I hope will give you enough strength to continue on yours, if you are already running your own business. His journey had very clear indicators from his early childhood that SellYourMac.com was going to be his destiny. But I will let him share it all with you and allow you to connect the dots. This is Brian Burke’s startup story.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • Brian’s early childhood, how his father’s work ethic left an impression on him, and his early aspirations
  • Creating an income for himself through selling beaded jewelry as a kid and selling cellphones in college
  • Brian’s interest in the stock market and trading at a young age, his desire to work in an investment bank or for a hedge fund after college and what actually happened once he graduated
  • His start with selling items on eBay, how it happened, what he sold, and how it paved the way for his future business, SellYourMac.com
  • The importance of finding something you're passionate about and figuring out how to make a business out of it
  • Working to prove that his phone business idea was viable to his parents (who wanted him to continue to find a career in finance)
  • About the burden that debt can play when desiring to launch your business and how it is a ball and chain that will slow down anyone's progress
  • Getting kicked out of his parent’s after his phone business inventory started taking over their basement, what he learned, how it motivated him, and the eventual birth of SellYourMac.com
  • How and when his attention turned from phones to Apple products, from selling phones to Apple products on eBay, and what happened next

“If you are building your business in response to your ego it will inevitably fail.”
—Brian Burke, Sell Your Mac

Resources from this episode

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianburke4/
Sell Your Mac: https://www.sellyourmac.com/
Sell Your Apple Products at SellYourMac.com/startupstory and receive an additional $10 bonus when you sell your item.
The Startup Story on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestartupstory/

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Special Guest: Brian Burke.

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Brian Burke

Brian Burke: Hi, I'm Brian Burke, chief Mac man at SellYourMac.com, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

James McKinney: There are some incredible things happening with The Startup Story podcast and I cannot wait to share them with you when the time is right. We're finalizing a fall lineup of founders that will blow you away, and we are even trying to piece together a live event that would deliver a tremendous amount of value to you. The Startup Story is about creating an environment where entrepreneurs help other entrepreneurs, and one of the best ways to do so is to get in the same room together, with each other as entrepreneurs. I'll have more details on this as we get them squared away. In the meantime, if you have thoughts on how I can best serve you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly on Instagram @Thestartupstory, or on LinkedIn. Simply just search for The Startup Story. I want to serve you best, so please reach out to me, let me know how.

And I hope you'll consider contributing to the growth of The Startup Story by leaving a review on Apple Podcast. Those reviews really matter for the Apple Podcast algorithm, so if you wouldn't mind leaving a review, that would be really helpful. Also, if you have a product or service that would be of value to an entrepreneurial audience, please visit thestartupstory.com/advertise.

Now, let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Brian Burke, founder of Sellyourmac.com. Sellyourmac.com is a way for you to sell your Apple products in a way that ensures you receive top dollar. Brian extends and incredible offer to you, The Startup Story listener, at the end of this episode, so make sure you listen all the way through. I connected with Brian because of his nomination as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. EY is one of the largest firms in the world and seeing Brian's firm nominated by such a prestigious firm definitely gave me cause to pursue him to unpack his story. Sellyourmac.com has a very grassroots storyline to it, and I love that we get to unpack it in its entirety because it helps us understand what it's like to grow a business without investment capital. Even more so, it allows us to see what it's like to startup a business that is so cash flow dependent, and how do you recover from a situation that steals five years of profits from you. Brian's story will truly encourage you as you seek to startup your entrepreneurial journey or give you enough strength to continue on if you're already running your own business. Brian's entrepreneurial journey towards sellyourmac.com had very clear indicators from his early childhood that sellyourmac.com was going to be his destiny, but I will let him share it all with you and allow you to connect the dots.

Brian Burke: No one in my family has ever been an entrepreneur. I will say my dad did split off from his hospital practice and started his own business. It's not a traditional entrepreneurship journey for him, just because having a doctor practice in general I don't think, you know you don't have the control of an entrepreneur to grow it and stuff like that. So it was kind of just continuing what he was doing for his current patients. I always modeled my work ethic as an entrepreneur off my dad, because he's worked so hard his entire life to give back to all the kids that he's helped, and still be there for the family and stuff like that.

So they set me on a good path. When I was young, I had everything I always wanted and I had time to not start a business necessarily, but just time to tinker. I was always kind of building things that I could sell. In the very, very early days, it was lanyards that I made at camp. I would hock these lanyards on the sidewalk of my neighborhood for $5 a piece or whatever I could get for them. Then that slowly turned into making and selling jewelry. This is probably back in elementary school, fourth and fifth grade. I'd go to the local bead shop. I'd be buying all these different earrings and necklaces, and buying all the beads and putting them together, and selling those in school and on the street. It wasn't a glamorous income, but definitely just kind of the idea of learning how to sell something, how to talk to people, and I think that kind of set myself up to be the salesman that I am today. I have never had a problem talking to anyone, so developing the skills early on to not be shy and go up and confront people and try to sell them something I think is very key to the entrepreneur journey.

James McKinney: That is awesome. I have to ask though, because and I love the elementary and middle school hustle. I love the I call them the bubble gum hustlers where we take that milk money, go buy a pack of gum and sell each piece for a dollar and just kind of upsell, upsell, upsell. But in those areas, and everyone has a different approach to it, but for you in these friendship bracelets, these bead bracelets, were you just at school selling these or were you going door to door? How hard was the hustle?

Brian Burke: So I think the bulk of my sales were probably on the sidewalk in front of my house. Our neighborhood had about 350 homes. My house was towards the start of the neighborhood, so a lot of people had to drive by it. Just people walking around the streets in the summer, and I was just selling them there. I'm probably spending $2 or $3 on the beads and selling them for $10 or $20.

James McKinney: That is amazing.

Brian Burke: Good margins.

James McKinney: You were selling them for $10 or $20, that is great margins. You understood margin at a young age and I love that.


Brian Burke: But they actually like looked nice. People said these are good looking earrings. I don't know why I had an affinity to make these things. I think I almost just stumbled into it like I have a lot of things in my life, and it worked out so I kept going.

James McKinney: That is awesome. I love that. So as we come to the end of high school, we all have an idea of what we want to become. Well, we don't all have it, but we have a leaning towards what we want for a career. You were raised by a doctor, so I assume that-

Brian Burke: I never wanted to be a doctor.

James McKinney: Right? And we tend to either lean towards our parents or we're like, "No, I don't want to do that."

Brian Burke: Yeah, far away. I would never take over his practice. I actually wanted to be a stock trader. I had an affinity for trading stocks and arbitrage sales. I even won some stock trading contest while I was in high school and I made a good amount of money trading off my Bar Mitzvah funds. I think in about three or four years I grew my $2,000 of my Bar Mitzvah up to about $15,000.

James McKinney: That is awesome.

Brian Burke: Yeah, that was going pretty well and I was like, "Oh, I should do this for a living. I understand the concept of going against the market. When people think it's the time to buy when it's red hot, that's when you sell. And you have to kind of put those processes in place." Also, just following stock news was always of great interest to me. I loved reading about technology, so that was fun. But I never got the stock job.

James McKinney: So, but in high school, this is why I love The Startup Story is all these breadcrumbs of life that we can see patterns. You talk about arbitrage sales and commodities were part of your story very early on. It was always retail sales, it was exchange, it was transactional exchange of I want to give this, I want to make this. Granted, stock as are a little bit different, but there's still the same premise in it. But how did you, in high school, because most people are not, you may take a math class and hear about the power of compound interest, but most high schoolers have no awareness of the power of the market. Who or how did you come across the market at such a young age?

Brian Burke: I think I started reading about Jim Kramer.


James McKinney: Oh, there you go, Mad Money.

Brian Burke: Yeah. this is pre Mad Money. I think the initial book was called The Life of a Street Addict. And it was talking about how he started and he was trading on paper for a while, just learning how to do it and then he kind of got his knack during college, working with some of his professors and started trading oil and making a bunch of money, even while he was basically homeless in his car. It was just a very powerful story and it seemed like a potential to live your own life, on your own terms. I was like if you're a stock trader and you could be anywhere in the world, and that was definitely intriguing to me.

James McKinney: Oh, that is awesome. That is incredible. So high school comes to an end. What's your next step? Again, you're raised by a doctor. My assumption is college was not an option, it was almost mandatory, but I could be wrong. So what was your next step outside high school?

Brian Burke: I would say it was pretty mandatory. If I didn't want to go to college, I think my parents would have been pretty upset. Fortunately, I got almost a full ride to Tulane University, so I went there to continue my studies. It wasn't an unbelievable academic experience, but from the standpoint of building my network and lifelong friends, that was certainly huge for me.

My senior year of college when Hurricane Katrina hit and we all got displaced and ended up going to Boston University first semester of senior year, and it was interesting because I was a fulltime student, but the one right I was not granted was to meet with any of the recruiters on campus. I even went so far as petitioning the president of the university, and he said it was a scarce resource only for fulltime students. I said, "Yes, I am a fulltime student according to your records," and it was some weird situation of the way they let us in that did not qualify me for that. So I didn't meet with any of these finance recruiters I really wanted to talk to, and when we went back to Tulane second semester, about 90% of people came back, but the city was under military control. It was a little bit scary down there at the time of how much damage and stuff was going on. None of the recruiters came down second semester. They all cancelled their visits.

James McKinney: Wow.

Brian Burke: So it was kind of on me to outreach from there to see if I could get a job, and I spent countless hours applying for jobs online. I really wanted to work at a big investment bank or a hedge fund, and I did get a lot of interviews up there but didn't get the big jobs I wanted. It seemed like one of the pitfalls was not going to Ivy League school. They immediately thought of Tulane, like how could this kid be better than the Harvard or Brown or Princeton student, and kind of never got the trial that I wanted to at one of these companies. That kind of forced my hand to start my own business.

James McKinney: That is amazing. I want to unpack that education piece just a bit for some of our listeners. I know we have some business school listeners and we have some even some high school listeners that have hit me up on Instagram, letting me know about some of the startups they're working on. So I know we have people that are in that world, and we may even have some 9 to 5 employees that are contemplating going back to school because they think that is a trajectory n order to better their life. I'm not going to disparage higher education, but one of the things that I think your story reveals and for anyone who's been listening to The Startup Story, you know my thoughts on college that if you do go, it's all about leveraging the network. Your time at Boston College I think speaks to it. Them not letting you speak to the recruiters because you were a Tulane transplant for a period of time, because of Katrina, they knew their commodity. They knew what was hot for them and that was their network, the recruiters that came on campus. That is what you universities have nowadays, period. I've seen too many people that got into MIT and decided not to go to MIT and they went to some local, state level university. So it is not the caliber of the people per se, it is the alumni base, the network, and the brands that will come to those universities because of how the universities have marketed themselves in it.

Here you are, with a successful business, couldn't get a look on a Boston University recruiter base because you were not a Boston University-

Brian Burke: Yeah, it was pretty upsetting.

James McKinney: Yeah, but you took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and that's where the entrepreneurial journey began. But my question is, was Sell Your Mac birthed out of that experience, or was there another startup at that point in time?

Brian Burke: So Sell Your Mac didn't come about for a couple more years.


James McKinney: Okay, so what was that startup then?

Brian Burke: So senior year, I was already buying and selling a lot of people's cell phones and other random electronics, whether it be their game systems or TVs. It kind of started because people didn't want to spend any of their time to sell their own items and get their cash back, so I would offer to do it on commission or just make them an offer and that kind of quickly spread around to all the fraternities and sororities that they knew I was the phone guy. So I would just show up at a sorority meeting and collect like 30 or 40 phones from the girls, and just hand them $10 a piece, and then you go on eBay and sell them for $60 or $70.

James McKinney: That is awesome. What year was this? Let's put a timestamp on that so the listeners know what kind of phones we're talking about.

Brian Burke: This would be 2005.

James McKinney: So before the iPhone, so we're talking the Motorola Razr, right?

Brian Burke: Yeah, a lot of Razr's. These were hot.

James McKinney: That's awesome. Is my assumption that you were selling these on eBay or another platform?

Brian Burke: It was. I started my eBay account back in 2000. My initial hot items I was selling were Audi car parts, and I was super into Audi at the time and I could buy them on these forums and sell them on eBay for a pretty hefty profit.

James McKinney: Oh my gosh, I love this. The fact that you had an eBay background is super compelling because I truly believe in today's day and age that whether you're bootstrapping a startup, whether you are struggling financially, if you want to make money, there are ways to make money.

Brian Burke: Absolutely.

James McKinney: And I truly, I think right now for all those listening, reach out to Brian Burke. He's got a dozen different ways on how to, his journey's taken him how to make money.

Brian Burke: I would tell your listeners find something you're passionate about and figure out how to buy it at a discount and resell them on eBay. There's just so much opportunity on there. Not everyone considers eBay to be a great platform anymore, but there's still 160 million eyeballs on there. Things sell themselves, to be honest.

James McKinney: Yes. It's absolutely crazy. So you have this phone business, and again I can see how this just keeps rolling and rolling. So let's talk about the growth of the phone business and what was that transition to whatever startup number two was, all the way to Sell Your Mac. Take us through that journey.

Brian Burke: So when I came back from college, I was still technically looking for a finance job locally, basically because my parents were pushing me in that direction. So in my head, I had to prove that the phone business was viable and could be my life. I made one great purchase off a car dealership of like 70 Nextel phones. This is the first or second week I came back in town. Made a few thousand dollars selling them just that week. That was kind of a turning point mentally that I knew this could be a business.

From there, I started going around to the malls and meeting all the salesmen at the kiosks there. One of them in particular, Brad, he really opened up his network on the internet and pushed me as the phone buyer to everyone, and within about a month I had these reps hitting me up and coming to my place to sell me bags of phones that they had collected.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Brian Burke: And back then, the customers were trading in their phones for free. There wasn't a trade in program at the Verizon store, so the rep takes the phone for free, comes to my apartment with 50 phones and walks out with $500 or $600. So it was a huge win-win for everyone.

James McKinney: Unbelievable. Again, date stamps, so this is 2005?

Brian Burke: This is now we're back in 2006, late '06. I was in my parents basement selling these for a few months until I got kicked out for doing my eBay everywhere in the basement. My mom said I was taking over so I had to go find my own place. Probably within I had a two bedroom with a storage unit there, and within probably six months you couldn't even see across the living room and the dining room. The place was full of boxes of phones and chargers and cases. One of the learnings I want to pass on with that is kind of upselling your product and just by slapping on a 30 day warranty and a free car charger and a home charger and a case increased the value exponentially.

James McKinney: Oh, packaging, oh that's beautiful. I love that.

Brian Burke: Yeah pack it up.

James McKinney: And I think too, one of the things that I love about this is that it is… this is grass roots we're talking about. I know I said it in the intro, but for the listeners, we're talking to someone who is recognized by EY as an entrepreneur of the year candidate, so we're talking to someone who has built a business, and we're hearing the early days of his business, selling out of the basement, growing an electronics resale business. Understanding the idea of how to buy low, sell high. I mean, the tricks and nuances of packaging and upselling. I hope listeners right now, what you are hearing is almost like a how-to book on how to make money. Whether again you're looking to do this as a business, or whether you're looking to fund something that you're doing, or whether you're just looking to get rid of all your debt so that you can start your startup, because debt is a ball and chain that will slow down anyone in progress. Whatever the purpose of it is, Brian is bringing to us such rich information. So let's continue on with this journey. So now-

Brian Burke: Yeah. Talking about debt, this could be a great side hustle to pay down your debt.

James McKinney: 100%.

Brian Burke: Just sell all your stuff on eBay.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness, 100%. And Gary V. talks a lot about that. Gary V, the guy's a multi, multi, multi millionaire and he's still doing garage sales because he just loves selling on eBay and he loves that. So again, if anyone out there things they're beneath the hustle, this is not the podcast for you, let's just put that out there.

Brian Burke: It's all about the hustle. If you don't have pigheaded determination and hustle, you're not going to make it as an entrepreneur.

James McKinney: And humility, right? You've got to know when you need to reach out to people. You've got to know that it doesn't come quick. Again, we're talking about your story in 2005, 2006 and we're sitting in 2019. So we're talking a good 13-

Brian Burke: Geez, has it been that long?

James McKinney: A good 13, 14 years. Time flies, man. A good 13 or 14 years, and that's what I love about The Startup Story is that people tend to think now things happen like a light switch, you just turn it on and all the sudden success hits. I know within that journey, nationally we had an economic crisis in those 13 or 14 years that I am sure had an impact to your business, and maybe because the place you stayed, maybe it was an uptick for your business. But I know there was an impact. So let's continue on this journey as you're moving from phone guy to Sell Your Mac. What were those next steps as you got kicked out of the basement?

Brian Burke: At this point, I left the basement. I'm in my apartment selling the phones and I did that for about another year and a half or so. Then I stumbled into a Mac deal. It seems to be these things kind of just present themselves, and I've always been super passionate about Apple products so it made sense that I would swoop up these Macs and try to resell them. So that first time, I had five Mac Pros, made some money on them. Like oh, I really love selling the Macs, I should do more of that. So I started doing some arbitrage sales on eBay, buying the Macs low, selling them high. The best times to buy these things were usually in the middle of the night and I couldn't sleep. Over the course of the next five to six years, I probably was working until about 4 a.m. most nights. So yeah, a lot of grinding. After a couple years of not getting any sleep, I figured I needed to build an inbound sales channel and that is really when SellYourMac.com was born.

So I wanted to figure out a way, get people to a website, and they could trade in their Macs seamlessly and I wouldn't have to be searching the internet trying to find them on a nightly basis.

James McKinney: What was that inbound strategy early days? My mind thinks SEO, Google Adware.

Brian Burke: All SEO, 100%. We built up a huge trove of Mac guides and just so much information that would lead people to the website.

James McKinney: What year was this now?

Brian Burke: This is 2009.

James McKinney: So really 2009, you're pushing content marketing before it was… really before it was a vocabulary word for most marketing people.

Brian Burke: I didn't know it was even called that.

James McKinney: Right, but that's what you were doing. You were providing all this value.

Brian Burke: I got a great web guy. He understood it, so he helped me on that SEO journey. We encoded the website correctly. If you have the content but it's not SEO specific terms, it's not going to work.

James McKinney: And how long was that, when you started pushing out that content for inbound, how long until you started seeing some results?

Brian Burke: I mean, results were starting to happen immediately, but within about six months we were number one in the world for most Mac terms.

James McKinney: Really?

Brian Burke: And we still hold that today. If you type in Sell My Mac, we're number one in the world.

James McKinney: Oh my gosh. That is-

Brian Burke: That's a lot of traffic.

James McKinney: That is awesome. Oh my goodness. So that was 2009. The economy takes an absolute dump.

Brian Burke: It was actually good for the business.

James McKinney: That's what I was going to ask.

Brian Burke: People wanted to cash in their old MacBook Pros at that point. They get $500 for them and they needed that money to pay the rent or send their kid to school. The flip side, selling the used Macs was great because people didn't want to spend $2,000 on a new Mac. They were happy to spend $1,000 on one that was two years old.

James McKinney: Yeah. Oh my goodness.

Brian Burke: So yeah, our business thrives in time of need.

James McKinney: I mean, it's funny right when we talk about your life in a compact time and space that we're having this conversation, your high school stock journey was about enduring and understanding this buy low, sell high. And now, at that point 20 years later your business is thriving in a similar environment when people are having a fire sale on things because really for a lot of people, including myself, the world was falling apart, and we had to liquidate as much as we could.

Brian Burke: I always offered a great value for people. I never want to take advantage of anyone, so we try to be one of the leaders in terms of price for trade in.

James McKinney: And I love that. Again, having gone through that season, we lost everything during those years. I remember as we were losing our house, taking the ceiling fans off so we could sell the ceiling fans on Craigslist so we could get $35. I remember that period, so having a resource like yourself to sell off computer equipment, and again everyone has electronics in their drawer that are just sitting there because they don't know what to do with it.

Brian Burke: There are billions of devices in drawers and closets. People are still sometimes amazed. I hand them my card and they're like, "I didn't know you could sell your Mac."

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Brian Burke: People don't know there's these resources out there and they just haven't Googled it apparently.

James McKinney: Oh man. So let's talk about the personal side of your entrepreneur journey. I don't want to get to Sell Your Mac just yet. I know we got there a little bit.

Brian Burke: We touched it.

James McKinney: We talked about the content marketing. We kind of teased it a bit, but I want to fully unpack it. From the time that, that's 2009 when Sell Your Mac is really starting to grow, are you still single at the time? Were you married? Because now we have responsibilities to kind of layer on to the entrepreneurial journey. What was your personal life like in 2009?

Brian Burke: I think I had a girlfriend at the time that did not live in town. I didn't meet my wife until 2010. Not having a serious relationship with someone that stayed at my house everyday was helpful to grow the business. Thinking about how busy I am with two kids and my family, it's not… it would definitely not be as easy to start a business. It doesn't mean it can't be done, but working until 4 a.m. doesn't happen if you have two kids at home.

James McKinney: That is 100% true, and I think that's a great message for the listeners in general, to seize the opportunity based on whatever season you're in, right?

Brian Burke: Yeah. When you have the time, go for it.

James McKinney: 100% because things do get a little more complicated, right? So let's talk about the stage you're in now. You just had your second child, congratulations.

Brian Burke: Thank you.

James McKinney: Obviously sleep is that commodity that there's not enough of.

Brian Burke: I'd love to buy some more sleep.

James McKinney: Now as an entrepreneur, how… what have you noticed shifting in the way you approach your business because of the personal responsibilities of a spouse and kids?

Brian Burke: Probably a little bit less risky at this point, just to help protect my family and also the families of the team members here at my company. Overall, very focused still on the growth aspects and stuff like that. So I don't think it changed entirely. Just having a more seasoned mindset, more planning and budgeting at this point. Just more of a framework around it. Back then, I was just running by the seat of my pants. I didn't really second guess any decision. I just went with everything. Now, I have a team around me to bounce ideas off of and help kind of guide the path.

James McKinney: Awesome. That is awesome. So let's jump into the growth of Sell Your Mac, because again nominated by a global firm like Ernst & Young as entrepreneur of the year, and that's really how I came across you on LinkedIn was seeing the announcement of your nomination, and I thought, "That's interesting, Sell Your Mac being nominated by Ernst & Young." Did a little bit of research, and it's an incredibly impressive business you have. So I want to talk about that journey in growing to how you got to that national recognition, to being nominated for entrepreneur of the year. In 2009, start pushing content marketing. You start having some volume with your inbound resources as well as your reselling, outbound. What is the growth of Sell Your Mac and what were some of the challenges early on as that growth took place? Because now you have employees, which early days you probably didn't. so let's talk about some of the growth challenges you had with Sell Your Mac early on.

Brian Burke: So at that point, we were about five people and we were working out of my basement. First of all, it was hard just to get packages in and out of the house. You're carrying, lugging these things up and down the stairs and stuff like that, so just the challenges of not having a true warehouse and a dock or bay door to get items out. That was certainly tough. One of the next things that happened too was I had a cease and desist order from the city. They said you could only have one employee working out of your home.

James McKinney: Oh wow.

Brian Burke: So we had to kind of quickly scramble. I had two weeks to find a warehouse and get setup to keep the business going. I reached out to a couple friends I knew in real estate and found a 2000 square foot place pretty quickly. We were setup within that two week period. So everything kept going and I kept my team together, but that was kind of one of the first points that the business could have folded in theory, or had a major hiccup.

James McKinney: Before we continue on with Brian's startup story, I wanted to share about a great podcast app that pays you to listen to podcasts. I know it sounds insane, but it's true. I just discovered this free new app called Podcoin, and it literally pays you to listen to podcasts, and here's how it works. You listen to podcasts, like The Startup Story, and you earn Podcoin while you listen. Then you turn that Podcoin in for gift cards or places like Amazon or Starbucks, or if you're a person that would prefer to give rather than receive, you can even donate that Podcoin to charity. The more you listen, the more you earn.

So here's what you do. You download Podcoin app right now on iPhone or Android. And I have a special code for you. Simply use the code "startupstory" and you'll get 300 Podcoin just or signing up. Again, use the code "startupstory" and if you listen to enough of our episodes, you can get a frappuccino at Starbucks. So yes, listening to The Startup Story can actually get you a frappuccino at Starbucks, or an Amazon gift card. So go ahead and go listen to The Startup Story or virtually any podcast on Podcoin and sign up with the code "startupstory." I swear, it'll change the way you listen to podcasts. Now, let's jump back into Brian's startup story.

James McKinney: As you're growing, I have to ask a question though, how big is your business at this time? Because now I'm thinking okay now you've got a footprint. You've got five employees. This must be substantial and not just a couple units here or there. What volume are you pushing in this era when you get your own place?

Brian Burke: I mean at this point, we're probably just over 1,000 or 2,000 units a year. 2009 I think we did about $1 million in sales.

James McKinney: That is awesome. Are your parents still wishing you were a stock broker at that time?

Brian Burke: It took probably two years of me being on my own until they stopped asking me about a job.

James McKinney: Did you ever find your ego to be a hindrance throughout that journey? Because I feel like for someone who is self made, someone who's driven and ambitious, we can sometimes allow our ego to force us to run faster than we probably should. Was that ever an issue for you, or have you always been able to maintain a humble and real spirit about it?

Brian Burke: You know, it didn't really get in my way at all. It pushed me to work harder and work longer. Looking back, I'm not sure I should have foregone my sleep and health, but I did push myself to work at 4 a.m. to make sure my customer service was always on point. And the customer service really helped grow the business. We're virtually 100% across the board on every single rating network there is. Without that ego telling me I needed to be number one, I probably wouldn't have worked as hard on the customer service aspects.

James McKinney: Oh, that's awesome. What a great perspective on how to leverage that, because I know a lot of times the ego will force us to make decisions just to compete against someone that we're not running our own race anymore, we're trying to run someone else's. So that's a great way to harness that energy and that ego, so that's awesome. Thank you for sharing that. So as the company grew, what were some of the challenges you had though? Now, getting your own footprint, we're talking nine years in the making and I have to believe there were some missteps in that, there were some challenges, some points of frustration, and maybe even-

Brian Burke: There's a lot of missteps. You cannot go through life and not make mistakes as an entrepreneur. Maybe by the time you've done your fourth or fifth business, you've learned a lot and you make less mistakes, but as a first time entrepreneur, there's mistakes around the corner every time. You've just got to keep pushing past them.

James McKinney: when you look back now, and again we all have those scars so when you look back on let's say the last nine years, this decade, what is one of the mistakes that was such a significant learning for you that has impacted the trajectory of your business?

Brian Burke: Probably the biggest issue or mistake I had was prepaying for a very large phone deal that seemed 100% legitimate and everything checked out, but unfortunately we never received the product that we paid for. I had wired over a quarter million dollars overseas to secure this huge, huge phone deal. After it didn't show up, I was stressing out, and the guy is telling me, "Oh, it's coming soon." He had a legitimate business. He was a well respected member of the community. Nothing looked wrong. But unfortunately, these phones just never came. He tells me that he's the one that got screwed by the other business, and he wasn't trying to hurt me, but unfortunately he did not refund my money. I ultimately hired a legal team overseas there, and won the lawsuit, and won triple damages. But this guy fled the country. So I've never seen a dollar of that.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Brian Burke: And I've bootstrapped the business since day one, so I did not have the funds to really cover this expense. I had virtually lost everything I'd worked for, for five years. So it was pretty rough.

James McKinney: What was your mindset during that time? Because that's a kick in the pants right there. That is a punch in the gut. I don't care how many cliches I can use. What was going on in your head at that time?

Brian Burke: I couldn't sleep. I was having terrible nightmares. I was worried my life was coming to an end, that my business was going to go under, that I wasn't going to be able to continue as an entrepreneur. I thought I might have to go back and get a real job, which I really did not want to do. It was really scary.

James McKinney: How did you recover from it?

Brian Burke: It definitely took some self talk and family and stuff like that pushing me to, "Hey Brian, you've got this. You can keep going." Ultimately, just getting my head back on right and continuing to do what I love, and talk to people and make more Mac deals. Got above water within the next couple years.

James McKinney: Something you said in that, that I want to unpack because I feel like there's a lot more to it than just the few words that were answered there, and that's that the people you talked with, the family. I'm assuming there's probably mentors in there, other community group. As we pause to reflect on that seasons, how critical were those people in your life during that season, when you thought this was the end, this was quits?

Brian Burke: So critical. My parents were there for me, especially they've always been my biggest supporters. Without them kind of helping me out of that situation, I don't think I would be in business today. That's really the biggest turning point where things could have gone south.

James McKinney: And I want to talk about that, because I think one of the things that entrepreneurs mistakenly believe is that you don't discuss challenges and weakness with other people, that you have to push through this yourself. When I think obviously social media and media outlets speak to all the success stories that are out there, and so the challenges and hardships of entrepreneurship really aren't shared a whole lot unless you read a full-blown biography book.

Brian Burke: Most people are not posting the failing stories.

James McKinney: You don't, right? And the reality is, on the other side of that hardship is an incredible growth opportunity for the entrepreneur learning, who's sitting in the mess but also the one hearing it, and that's why I love The Startup Story. We just had Michael Littig on a week ago with the Zuckerberg Institute, and their entire premise is about creating community around entrepreneurship so that there are moments where other entrepreneurs can help pour into other entrepreneurs in those moments, because aside from family and the people you shared with, you probably felt really alone because this was your business, right?

Brian Burke: I felt like I did it to myself. I was the only one to blame. I'm very critical of myself and especially in a time like that, I beat myself up pretty bad.

James McKinney: And I love that you took that learning and kept going forward. Again, I think your community that poured into you during that season, because I know in my own journey how important my community was to me during mine. So as you started recovering from that, and again it's a scar that you'll carry forever. It will always season and flavor your decision making with other large deals especially. How have you seen that season play out throughout Sell Your Mac's growth?

Brian Burke: I try to protect myself in every deal since then. I have contracts for these large deals. I won't pay for a deal overseas unless it's going to be on my Amex credit card so I'm fully protected. So I kind of go to every length I possibly can to protect the business and my family now. It stuck with me for so long. It took me over five years to pay off that debt, and last year I finally paid it off.

James McKinney: That's awesome.

Brian Burke: It's crazy. As I mentioned, I bootstrapped the business so I'm constantly funneling back the profits to keep things growing at this rapid pace, so trying to pull out cash to pay off a $300,000 debt is tough.

James McKinney: Oh man. I can feel this weight on my shoulders for you. I'm just like oh man.

Brian Burke: I'm kind of getting the tingles. I'm getting a little stressed out thinking about it.

James McKinney: So now let's talk about the growth of Sell Your Mac, because I think I really do believe that season strengthened you in such a huge way for the growth of Sell Your Mac. Again, the listeners know this conversation we're having right now is the first conversation we've had when it talks about Sell Your Mac, so again me not being a journalist, I'm an entrepreneur. I know how that hardship strengthened you and created a determination in you once you got through the self whipping that we all go through during that time.

Brian Burke: Things seem less scary once you go through something like that. Small little issues, having a $1000 error here or there doesn't seem like much in comparison, so you just keep forging ahead.

James McKinney: Yeah, it's all perspective, and I think you've had huge perspective learning early on, and I think that was a tremendous blessing to you in spite of the hardship that it was because now you have thicker skin.

Brian Burke: Very true.

James McKinney: So let's talk about the growth. What have you seen take place with Sell Your Mac over the last five years since that occurrence?

Brian Burke: So the Apple industry has grown a ton. The iPhone definitely helped spur a lot of Apple's growth, so we've kind of grown along with the Apple industry. I've been an Apple fanatic since I was very young, so being a part of that brand has really helped drive my passion as an entrepreneur, and I really think that is kind of key to the success is that if I was selling something that I didn't love and wanted to share with others, I wouldn't be wanting to get out of bed in the morning. That has helped fuel the growth and help connect me with other likeminded people to bring onto my team. In the last five years, I've hired five people from the Apple Genius Bar, and these people are also super passionate about Apple obviously, so bringing more people into our space like that, that then connect with our customers, certainly helps. I think it's that combination of having that Apple expertise and that passion and love for the brand that's kind of helped the growth from there.

James McKinney: Oh, that is awesome. How did you come across the EY nomination? That's a big deal. Getting nominated by a national firm, and again, and you're a small business for those that are listening. Every industry code has its own category of small businesses, but really across any industry, $50 million is that threshold for a small business. So yes, you can be a $49 million company and still be considered a small business. And so how did you get the eyes from EY?

Brian Burke: Well someone nominated me last year and I went through the process, and did not make it to the finalist level. So I learned a little bit about the process back then and I was re-nominated this year. A couple of the EY representatives come on site. They do a very in-depth interview, and from that review you move on to the next stage. Then you have to do some pretty serious kind of panelist interviews to see if you can make it to that finalist level. They loved my story and the growth that we've had. I think the combination of the growth and the kind of just continuing to drive this business forward despite all the hardship, I think that definitely played a part into it. Yeah, it's been a fun journey. So they picked up on that and ultimately made it to the finalist level. I didn't win. There was a bunch of amazing candidates out there, so no surprise, we can try again next year.

James McKinney: that's awesome. That is awesome. I know there's another award on the horizon that we can't speak to right now because of timing, but I know for our listeners, don't worry, in a couple weeks I will be promoting it via social media, so you'll definitely hear about what's going on with Sell Your Mac at a national level once again. They're doing amazing things.

Brian Burke: It's kind of been the year of awards. I feel like I have so many things to announce right now. I got finalist for two more awards a week ago. I'm trying to space out these announcements. Doesn't seem like we're going too crazy here, but we're kind of firing on all cylinders.

James McKinney: But now you are 14, would you say what Sell Your Mac is 14 years old?

Brian Burke: Sell Your Mac was born in 2009.

James McKinney: 2009, okay, so you're 10 years old this year.

Brian Burke: The three years before that, that was more the phone selling.

James McKinney: So Sell Your Mac is 10 years old and within just the first couple years, you were doing 1,000 units, I forget the dollar you said.

Brian Burke: Started around $1 million back then.

James McKinney: So now at 10 years, how many units are you pushing a year?

Brian Burke: Last year, we did a little over 25,000 units.

James McKinney: 25,000 units. That is unbelievable. When you started this, could you imagine that type of volume?

Brian Burke: I think I knew I had potential to grow the business pretty large, but I didn't really know how fast it could grow or how big it could get. I do feel at this point that we're honestly scraping the surface.

James McKinney: Really?

Brian Burke: I think we're probably 1% of how much we could handle, and obviously it'd take a long time to grow that much more. I think that is the potential out there. There's tons of large companies in our space in the recycling industry, for instance, that don't offer great value but they have the relationships. So I think that if we focus more on larger deals, corporate clients, and stuff like that, that we could significantly grow the bus in the near future.

James McKinney: That is awesome. I love that. If we were to do a "where are they now" episode in three years, what is the update on Sell Your Mac that you think you'd be giving in three years from now? Unit wise, employee headcount, maybe some new verticals. What are your thoughts on what Sell Your Mac looks like in three years?

Brian Burke: Three years, we're probably 40 to 50 employees, doing $25-30 million in a gorgeous building, where you can see the light and we have tons of very passionate Apple Team members, and we're in similar verticals but doing a lot more on the corporate side, and kind of educating these Fortune 500 companies about the lifecycle of their Apple products, and making sure they can stay up to date with a cost effective solution. I see myself working more directly with the C Suite to help educate them in that and ultimately give them great value back for their Apple stuff. I think that they'll love to talk to me because I'm passionate about it, and hopefully they see some good dollars back in their business when they trade them in.

James McKinney: Oh, that is awesome. What are your challenges now that the company is 10 years old that really were not a challenge in the first couple years? What are the things that keep you up now?

Brian Burke: Personally, just trying to manage the business. Being more of a true entrepreneur. I don't think I have a lot of great managerial skills, nor do I like it. With a growing team, it is tough and I'm a people person, but I don't like getting to the details of how to handle all the people problems, people opportunities. As you grow, there's so much more kind of red tape to deal with. So it makes it not fun. So trying to inject more fun back into the business, that is something that I'm working on all the time but it is a challenge.

James McKinney: In three years when you're looking at 50 employees, the culture is going to be so important for employee retention.

Brian Burke: So key.

James McKinney: And these are things that entrepreneurs need to think about. We have our strengths and it's about staffing to help fill our weaknesses. I know you will nail that as you continue to grow and you start looking to hire the culture and people person.

Brian Burke: The culture, definitely I've been more mindful in the last five years compared to when we started. When you start, you kind of just need people to help out, and not necessarily hiring for culture fit. But at this point, if you're not a culture fit there's no way we're going to bring you on. You have to be passionate about Apple. You have to be willing to talk to our customers about Apple products.

James McKinney: Yep. Oh my gosh, I love this. I love our founder stories. I feel like I can always sit with them so much longer than the hour long episode, but they always do have to come to an end, and there's two questions that I ask all founders that are on The Startup Story, and I think they're so critical. And really if I had to synthesize The Startup Story down to 20 minutes, obviously it would accelerate the entrepreneurial journey side of the story, but we would always have these two questions because of how key they are. The first one's about gratitude. You have had an incredible journey, and many people have poured into your journey to help contribute to where you are today. I believe that if we forget those people that have contributed, we'll begin to isolate ourselves because we think it's all our own effort. Inevitably, that will lead to our failure. So when you think back on your journey, who do you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your journey?

Brian Burke: It started with my family. I wouldn't be the man I am today without following my parents and the examples they've set. They've helped me out in my dire times of need when I've been frauded. Beyond my family, I would say my team. I still have three of my early team members here today. They're on my executive team now. They've worked tirelessly to help keep the lights on and keep things growing over the years. Honestly, without their support we wouldn't be where we are today.

James McKinney: That is awesome. The last question that, you know we've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners as we share your story, as we've been speaking to just a broad audience. But right now, I want you to speak to just one listener. This is just you having a coffee chat with one of the entrepreneurs or want-repreneurs that are listening. Maybe the person that you want to speak to is an existing entrepreneur but is incredibly frustrating with the lack of traction and growth, and maybe they've had a gut punch like you went through losing a quarter million dollars, but they haven't recovered from that. Or maybe you want to talk to the entrepreneur who's been defeated time and time again and about ready to call it quits, and they aren't sure what they're going to do with their life. Or maybe that want-repreneur. Whatever the persona is that you want to speak to, I want you to have this chat with that one person and what do you have to say to that person?

Brian Burke: I would tell you to find your passion. If you are working on something you're very passionate about, it's not going to feel like work anymore, and you'll push ahead and work tirelessly on that passion project. If you can turn that passion into an opportunity to bring wealth to your family and to bring happiness to others, that will ultimately bring you true happiness. It takes a lot of pig headed determination to get there, and I would not be where I am today unless I had been working my butt off, year in and year out. These awards did not come in the first 10 years, so it takes a long time to feel like you've really achieved something. If you're doing it for your own ego, it's not going to happen. You have to really be passionate and love what you do. So find something you love and it'll bring you happiness in life.

James McKinney: Listening to Brian's startup story reminds me of all the ways there are to make money. While Brian has built an entire business generating tens of millions of dollars selling used Apple products on eBay, that may not be your method but it goes to show what is possible. One of the things Brian and I discussed was how much of a burden debt can play when desiring to launch your business. There are so many challenges that come from launching a new business. A concern of debt should not be one of them.

Oftentimes I hear from entrepreneurs that they would love to start a business, but it's their debt that holds them back. Hearing Brian's story about selling beaded jewelry as a kid or selling cell phones in college are just a few examples of how we can create an income source for ourselves to pay down the debt that is stopping you from moving forward on your business ideas. In fact, Gary Vaynerchuk is a multi, multi millionaire who still this up garage sales and collects baseball cards for the sole purpose of reselling them. Often times, he resells them on eBay. If an individual worth hundreds of millions of dollars doesn't find garage sale arbitrage to be beneath him, why would you turn your nose to it? The truth is simple. If you want to make money to pay down debt so you can launch your business or fund your startup, there are numerous ways to do so. It just requires intention. Until you act on a truth that you learn, it is simply academic. Once you act on it, that is when it becomes real.

I hope you found value in Brian's startup story and I hope you found it encouraging and insightful. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So if you did find value from Brian's startup story and want to make some extra money selling those used Apple products laying around your house, then make sure to visit SellYourMac.com/startupstory. You'll receive an additional $10 bonus when you sell your item with him. There are hundreds of millions of used gear pieces around our home, ready to be sold for some extra cash. So help support our featured founder, Brian Burke, and visit SellYourMac.com/startupstory to sell your Apple products. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for Brian and SellYourMac.com in a very big way.

And now for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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August 06 2019
Brian Burke, founder of Sell Your Mac

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