Ben Edwards, founder of Swappa, talks trading in mobile devices, drinking bourbon, taking chair naps and more in The Pitch Questionnaire
Hometown: St. Joseph, where the Pony Express started and Jesse James ended.
Current neighborhood: The Northland
What I do: I started and help run a business called Swappa. It’s an online marketplace for buying and selling used mobile devices.
What’s your addiction? Brazilian jiujitsu. For sport and leisure, I like to roll around with other adults in pajamas and try to choke them.
What’s your game? Board games for playing. Baseball for watching.
What’s your drink? Bourbon, neat. And good beer.
Where’s dinner? The Majestic. Great atmosphere, service, food, drinks and jazz.
What’s on your KC postcard? Kauffman Center, Kauffman Stadium, Union Station, Liberty Memorial, Boulevard Brewery and Joe’s.
Finish these sentences: “Kansas City got it right when …” It elected Sly James, worked for Google Fiber and stuck with the Royals.
“Kansas City needs …” A better public-school situation.
“As a kid, I wanted to be …” Astronaut, artist, doctor, lawyer … you name it. Then came the World Wide Web (parlance of the times), and I started getting into computers and the internet. Then programming. Since then, I’ve just wanted to write software. Had my first job getting paid to code before I had a driver’s license and haven’t looked back since. I’ve always considered myself really lucky that I’ve been able to make a career doing something I love.
“I always laugh at …” Seinfeld reruns and internet memes.
“I can’t stop listening to …” Wilco. They’ve been making really good music for a long time. They are constantly evolving and experimenting.
“My dream concert lineup is …” Led Zeppelin. Queen. Talking Heads. Beastie Boys. Wu Tang. Wilco. Since it’s a “dream concert,” I took some liberties and stepped through the decades.
“I just read …” Too many e-mails.
What’s your hidden talent? Persistence. Not sure if that counts as a talent, but I feel like the only way I can get good at something is through determined effort. And by being stubborn. Swappa’s success is a good example of this, I think. It was a side project for a couple years with a lot of nights, weekends and sleep sacrificed. It’s still around and successful now, more than five years later, due to sticking with it even with a lot of failures.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Naps. Specifically chair naps. Sitting down in a comfortable chair and dozing off for a bit in the middle of the day is heavenly. And helps get my mind right for the rest of the day.
The best advice I ever got: Not sure, but whatever it is, I’m positive it came from my parents. Actions speak louder than words, so I tend to learn my advice by watching others in action.
Worst advice? It’s not exactly bad advice, but the idea that being an entrepreneur is about “being your own boss” is not really accurate. I work for my team, helping them serve our customers. It’s really hard work and not usually glamorous.
My sidekick? Again, bourbon and good beer.
Who is your hero? Bill Gates. Twenty-plus years ago it was because he was the ultimate computer nerd turned empire builder. Now it’s because he’s using his success for the greater good as one of the ultimate modern-day philanthropists.
What’s your greatest struggle right now? Getting enough sleep. There’s not enough hours in the day.
My brush with fame: I was in the same Atlantic City poker room as Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, back when they were Bennifer. Affleck was playing high-stakes hold-’em with a bunch of poker legends, and I got to stand there a few feet away and watch. And I almost bumped into J-Lo coming off the escalator.
My soapbox: Don’t buy a used smartphone using cash (via Craigslist). An unscrupulous seller can sell you a working phone in person and then get it blacklisted five minutes later. And if you paid with cash, there is no recourse. Swappa exists because this happened to me. Swappa is thriving because it continues to happen to others every day.
What was the last thing you had to apologize for? Probably taking too long to respond to an e-mail. “Apologies for the slow reply” prefaces more e-mails than it should.
Who’s sorry now? “You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister!” — George Costanza
My recent triumph: Waking up today (every day) and getting to work on something challenging, rewarding and that I love doing. Swappa’s marketplace is approaching $5 million worth of commerce per month. That’s a lot of people we’re helping with the modest mission of making buying and/or selling a used smartphone safe and easy.