Sometimes the entrepreneur’s path is obvious. But rarely does it follow a straight line.
Don Nelson’s journey took a curvy road that led him several times to entrepreneurship, then away, and now back again. His career has traveled from Big Box retail to Main Street.
“As both an intrapreneur and entrepreneur, I truly enjoy the energy, the excitement and solving problems quickly without a lot of resources, figuring out what’s working and then devoting resources,” said Don. “Now as an ‘older’ entrepreneur, I want to give back. I want my team to experience new challenges and opportunities and share my experiences.”
Don started his career at Home Depot and then launched his first startup eight years later, selling toys and educational products online and via direct mail. That experience led to a career-long focus on digital commerce, marketing and sales. The toy gig turned into overseeing business-to-business ecommerce for a large industrial supply distribution company. He parlayed that into a sweet role producing live online broadcasting shows for a children’s education company.
Don got his first taste of Main Street success after helping a family friend turn around their brick and mortar operation, and by helping other companies develop simple and executable digital plans.
But corporate life came calling again. Only this time, Don had to decide between Walmart and the Small Business Administration in Washington, DC.
Ultimately, he was enticed by the data value behind Sam’s Club (a Walmart, Inc. entity) and its small business clientele. Later, he was recruited by ToysRUs to lead digital marketing across its enterprise. He followed that with another startup vision, founding a company which incentivized consumers to take control of their advertising.
“It was a great idea with a great team, but it was too big of a challenge for the capital we had,” said Don. “In the summer of 2014, I helped everybody on the team get new jobs. I got a great job, too, leading the global practice of a business consulting and outsourcing firm with offices in London, New York and India. I was based in New York and spent a lot of time in great towns and cities across the US, in Europe and Asia.”
Traveling 90 percent of the time had its disadvantages. His wife (a Walmart exec) and young family had relocated back to Arkansas. But his extensive travel had an unforeseen advantage that only came to light as Don recognized that he needed to make a change.
Said Don, “I needed to start something where we wanted to be verses where recruiters were sending us. Charlotte began to make sense.”
Don’s new venture grew out of a problem he experienced and witnessed during all those years of travel. Trying to find gifts that could fit in his suitcase, he started noticing and frequently talking to other travelers about leaving behind the treasures they can’t get home.
That’s when his Main Street retail expertise and desire to share his learnings really kicked in. Seeking to support small businesses and artisans, Don founded SeeSnapGet, which he describes as being in the treasure fulfillment business. The company serves as a virtual concierge service for traveling shoppers and shopping travelers.
“Unique treasures are attached to an experience,” he says. “It’s all about the one-of-a-kind story behind the artisan or the community you visited. Say you see an awesome treasure but it won’t fit in the suitcase or you don’t have time to talk to the merchant about shipping. So you skip the purchase – and often regret it later.
SeeSnapGet steps in to take away all the friction that keeps you from making the purchase,” he noted. “You just snap a picture and we do the rest. You approve the quote, pay and it’s on its way.”
For Don, building the application and solutions hones his extensive retail and digital background. More importantly, he is inspired by the huge opportunity to help small businesses recover lost sales and customers. And he sees plenty of opportunity to partner with others who serve Main Street merchants, the traveler and the shopper, ultimately supporting the local community and culture in this digital mobile age.
“There is nothing better than having conversations with merchants,” said Don. “We’re definitely helping merchants and artists recover sales and gain more customers. And yet, we’ve just scratched the surface. There is a bigger vision coming.”
Don recently shared that vision at 1 Million Cups Charlotte, an organization he believes in for its dedication to small business.
Just like him.