A college dropout, Sean Kelly, uses social media to turn his company, Jersey Champs, into a multi-million dollar business.
~Courtesy of Jersey Champs’’
BRIDGEWATER – Even though the chances of success for college dropouts are low, the few who prevail join the ranks of Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
New Jersey’s own, Sean Kelly, 20, CEO of Bridgewater-based Jersey Champs, has joined their ranks by leveraging the power of social media, mainly Instagram, to take his company from a small business to a multi-million dollar success.
Kelly’s company started as an idea he had as a freshman in his dorm at Rutgers University, where he was studying marketing.
“I made an Instagram page that posted cool jerseys at the time and eventually from there turned it into a page that actually sold jerseys,” Kelly said.
Kelly graduated from Bridgewater-Raritan High School in 2015 before dropping out of Rutgers in 2016, during his freshman year, to start his company
He started with a $1,000 — just enough to pay for the first 100 jerseys; he got the funds by selling those jerseys without carrying any actual inventory. The company then sold them for $30 per jersey.
“I’ve always wanted to be my own boss … I like being on my own a lot and I felt like this was the type of job where you could just work on your own free time,” Kelly said. “I also just really like jerseys and designing clothes.”
Kelly said the key to his success is marketing, but having a killer work ethic doesn’t hurt. When he first started out he worked from 15 to 18 hours a day until he could finally outsource some of his responsibilities.
Now the company has two full-time employees, eight graphic designers, eight people fulfilling orders and a lawyer.
Kelly said that while the designs are made here, Jersey Champs has “have factories in Asia, Pakistan and in the United States.”
“During the holiday season, we use our domestic factory, even though the cost
is higher we want to ensure deliveries are made in time,” Kelly added.
“Take social media seriously as a business owner or look to start one because it is very valuable,” Kelly said. “In 2018 … influencers (are) a cost-efficient way to market … it’s really undervalued.
He added, “As of 2018, Instagram completely dominates them (Twitter and Facebook) — we post on them but it’s not as valuable.”
Jersey Champs explosive growth is partially thanks to the numerous celebrity partnerships the company has secured.
“I used to send out emails to all their managers like once a month, Instagram direct messages, even phone calling some of them,” Kelly added.
Kelly added that the company’s contract with rapper 2-Chains and getting Mark Cuban to endorse the firm were the biggest turning points for Jersey Champs.
Despite his current success, Kelly recalled that there were still challenges he encountered, like when the company tried to get into music festivals in 2017.
“We sent them 100 jerseys for the festival — stitched ones so they cost a good amount — and then they never paid,” said Kelly.
He added that switching the company’s website domain to a new domain fixed the issue of the site crashing, allowing customers a better shopping experience.
When asked what the toughest part of his journey was, Kelly said it was turning down several early investors.
“It was only $25,000 at the time but it would have been for 50 percent of the company,” Kelly explained. “Now that equity is worth a million dollars.”
One of the biggest appeals of Jersey Champs jerseys is the myriad of different designs adorning their products: basketball, baseball, dog, football, hip-hop/rap, ice hockey, movie/TV show and youth jerseys; they also carry hats, shirts, shorts, hoodies, joggers, phone cases and cheerleading uniforms. Customers can create their own jersey design by uploading an image.
“When we first started with hip-hop designs we would partner with rappers,” Kelly said. “We basically look for what’s trending and then from there, we’ll brainstorm what to do, so it’s kind of on the spot; we (also) get tons of emails, tons of direct messages on social media.”
While Jersey Champs can’t feature professional sports teams yet on its regular jerseys, it does have them on dog jerseys.
Going forward, Kelly said Jersey Champs is looking to branch out its designs, starting with e-sports.
“We do want to get into professional sports jerseys, hopefully down the road — that should be great,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that Jersey Champs tries to focus on quality over quantity and when they retire underperforming jerseys they donate them to charity.
He advised aspiring entrepreneurs to build a team to support them when they’re starting out instead of doing trying to do everything by themselves.
“It was not efficient at all … I was (also) having a ton of panic attacks,” he explained.
Despite all the press saying otherwise, Kelly doesn’t consider himself a success yet.
“I don’t know if I can consider myself a complete success yet just because I can live on my own now,” he said. “I’m not at that point where I can just be at a good, comfortable place.”
For more information about Jersey Champs, go to email [email protected] or send Sean Kelly a direct message on Instagram at: @jerseychamps