How These Former Merrill Lynch Bankers Got Some Big Investors For Their Startup

Co-founders Shane Robinson and Allen Steigman (right)

[credit provider=”Soletron”]

One of the best times to launch a startup is when you’ve got a cash flow coming in.That’s exactly what Allen “A.J.” Steigman and Shane Robinson did, when they left their investment banking jobs at Merrill Lynch to start sneakerhead and streetwear platform Soletron, a social networking and e-commerce marketplace where designers, retailers and collectors can buy, sell and discuss with one another.

The company launched recently with more than 1,000 products from brands like Nooka, Kanvas Kings, entree, Bobby Fresh, Strip Brand, JLAB, Counter Balance and Storm of London. They’re currently at the top 99.7% of all sites worldwide on Alexa, which translates to around nine million impressions per month.

Steigman compares their business model to Amazon, eBay and Etsy since the company doesn’t hold any of its inventory, but keeps a percentage with every transaction.

But what makes Soletron different than Amazon is that it combines e-commerce with social networking. Users are able to receive live updates from brands and product releases in real time. They’re able to see the buying patterns of their friends and community members. It also provides a platform for lenders to reach out to vendors.

“Time and time again, people are saying they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Steigman told us. “There’s a huge demand internationally for this, especially in Japan, China and Europe.”

The idea came to him in 2010 when he was an owner of a sneaker store at the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida. A year before, he had left the energy and power group at Merrill Lynch because he’s “always wanted to become an entrepreneur.” What Steigman discovered was that when talented artists came to his store with hopes of displaying their products, he wasn’t able to provide the space to house all of their designs.

“Basically, there is a bottleneck in the entire industry for artistic expression by the limitations of a store’s square footage,” he said.

So he sold his company and focused his energy on a “Sneakerhead Destination” for aspiring artists. Robinson soon came into the picture and Soletron was born.

“It’s a huge industry, the growth is phenomenal. It’s almost a demographic demand and that’s why I decided to get into it,” Steigman said. “It’s a massive platform and we can sell the vendors who we think will be hot in an international market. We want to protect the small brands and give a voice to the artists.”

But to get the vision to become a reality was going to be a long road. After many months of fundraising, the co-founders found themselves with more than $265,000 from investors such as the NY Angels, prominent bankers, and John Friedman, founder of Easton Capital.

“My partner and I were sleeping on couches in six different cities when we were raising capital,” Steigman said.

Then came the board members which includes Bruce Chizen, former CEO of Adobe; Santonio Holmes, football player for the New York Jets and Superbowl MVP; Tom Austin, co-founder of AND1 basketball; John Friedman; and Bob Rice, founder of Tangent Capital and NY Angel member.

To conserve their limited funds, Soletron reached out to several universities — including Morehouse, Emory and New York University — to create summer internship programs which led to the creation of Soletron’s iPhone app, the first ever sneakershop database which locates more than 3,500 stores in the nation simply by plugging in a zip code. Steigman rented an apartment for his interns as they wrote codes into the night.

When vendors learned about the operation, they came “knocking down [Soletron’s] doors” and the company currently endorses more than 50 vendors. Next came the models: “At first, we wre trying to get exclusive interviews with models and athletes to help us, but now we have people reaching out to us.”

An international chess champion ranked 1% among all professional players in the nation, Steigman is finally living out his entrepreneurial dreams.

“Coming from Corporate America, it’s really rewarding in to be in something like this. It’s important to have a lot of fun as a entrepreneur.”

We wish Soletron a lot of luck.