On July 1, we heard from Brad Bonham at RevRoad’s RevUniversity. Bonham is the CEO and Co-founder of Walker Edison, which is on track to earn about $800M this year, and was recently voted Utah’s 2021 CEO of the year. In addition to Walker Edison, Bonham supports several charities, teaches college-level courses, and is a board member for several political and local organizations.
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, Bonham had influential examples of leadership and management that fueled his passions. Bonham’s father was an entrepreneur, so naturally, he was a mentor and inspiration for Bonham. He has spent 15 years of his career owning and running businesses, and before Bonham started Walker Edison, he dabbled in other e-commerce businesses like selling tires on eBay, baskets, and is even a registered jeweler.
Bonham explained that he never saw his father work for anyone else his entire life, which naturally created an entrepreneurial spirit in himself.
“I felt like I had a bit of an MBA as a teenager just watching how he ran his business, observing his business partners and how he interacted,” Bonham said, “I’m not a college graduate. I was sitting in Asian art history at the University of Utah and I was getting text messages from my employees at Walker Edison and I remember standing up in the middle of class, closing my book, and saying ‘I’m gonna go run Walker Edison.’ I was a senior at the University of Utah.”
Advice to Entrepreneurs
Bonham advised entrepreneurs to focus on bootstrapping and validating the product and to not sell away the company too quickly. He described,
“I see too many founders selling way too much too early in the process. Proof of concept is key. If you’ve proven the concept and you just need cash to grow, that’s different than ‘let’s hope this works out”. You don’t want a board packed with just financial people that just put money into your business, you are the founder. You had the vision, you know what you want, stick to it. Find someone that believes in you and your vision that is willing to put their hard-earned capital dollars behind you so that you can execute and carry out that vision.”
Creating a Company Culture
Bonham explained how many entrepreneurs focus on the wrong things at first, like business plans and business core values, which although both good things, aren’t pertinent in the very early days. He explained,
“Oftentimes I’ll see entrepreneurs come up with their business plan and within the first week, and they’ve torn it to shreds because they’ve figured so much out within the first week or month or year that their business plan has just changed.”
Later, Bonham described his experience with company core values,
“We didn’t have core values assigned to our business until a year and a half ago—I’m fourteen years in. I asked our employees, based on how we’ve run this business in our lives within Walker Edison, what do you think our core values would be? And I left it to everybody to come up with what our core values were. They came up with nine, but the number one core value that they had learned during their time at Walker Edison was ‘We Give,’ and that is the thread that has bound our organization together.”
Walker Edison’s Rapid Growth
The fourteen-year-old e-commerce furniture company, Walker Edison, has seen incredible success recently. Bonham described how there were many skeptics of his idea, but in the end, he saw potential no one else did.
“We were in a space that no one understood—we were in a space that was kind of ‘un-sexy’ even though the margins were awesome, and we made a bunch of money doing it. No one wanted to put money into our business. I remember a couple of meetings where we had a couple of key names in the Salt Lake valley come in and they said, ‘We see no potential in your business and you will amount to nothing.’ And I was like— ‘I don’t like this meeting very much! Thank you for coming but please don’t come back.’
It was hard for us to hear but we knew what we had. We saw numbers going from $10,000 a month to $100,000 a month, to $1M dollars a month, and it happened relatively quickly. And we’re like ‘how does no one else see this?’ Fortunately enough for us, no one else saw it, and it allowed us to have that first move advantage in our space.”