Seth Berger started, succeeded, and sold his Philly start-up before the city’s scene really existed.
He’s a Wharton grad who launched a product with nationwide name recognition and cashed out before he even turned 35. That achievement? Founding AND1.
You remember AND1, right? It made shoes, clothes, and video mixtapes and promoted street ballers like Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston. Berger and two of his friends created the company in 1993 and cashed out a dozen years later after AND1 had risen to the No. 2 basketball shoe seller in the United States. Only Nike remained ahead.
Now Berger is wading back into the startup waters. He’s coming out of retirement to lead a new company called Living Simple. For now, it is focusing on cell phones, and its first product is a line of protective cases that double as a wallet, allowing for more storage and protection than similar products on the market. Like almost everything in his life since he founded AND1 in 1993, this company has its roots in basketball. Berger’s new partner is 26-year-old Joshua Harris, like him a New York City point guard who made his way down to the Philadelphia area and crossed paths with Berger.
Berger and friends Jay Gilbert and Tom Austin took the idea to a major trade show in Chicago. The database may have earned a good grade from Wharton, but it failed in front of the people who mattered.
While there, they noticed something: None of the established brands were marketing to young basketball players, the ballers who hone their craft on playgrounds and in gyms and always think they’re the best player on the court. So AND1 pivoted, with the idea of starting an apparel line that spoke to this audience.
“We were at a pizza place and threw our business plans in the trash and wrote original slogans down on a napkin,” Berger said. “Within six weeks we were selling t-shirts.”
A year later AND1 had revenues of $1.7 million. They rose to $5.9 million then $14 million then $42 million to $70 million by year five. The company started with basketball star Larry Johnson wearing their shorts; by the late ’90s, they’d signed Stephon Marbury and Latrell Sprewell, not to mention Vince Carter, who wore the AND1 Tai Chi as he completed one of the most famous dunks in NBA history at the 2000 Slam Dunk contest.
A new chapter, after the sale
They sold AND1 in 2005 after its annual revenues had dropped from a peak of about $250M. Berger, now 47, wanted to spend more time with his three sons as they grew up. At the time they were 6, 3, and 1 years old. He got involved with two companies, including one that develops and markets gaming for casinos that went public, but they were temporary jobs. Instead, he turned his attention back to basketball. Berger became an assistant and later the head coach of Westtown School, a Quaker private school in West Chester.
A little over 10 years ago, Harris enrolled at Westtown as a boarding student. School officials notified him when he visited that they’d have a perfect host family for him. There was a guy who had happened to go to the same elementary and middle school as him and loved basketball. It turned out to be Berger.