Sean Caverly

Ecommerce Innovator: Sean Caverly

CEO, National Equipment Parts (New York, NY)

M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2015

B.S, Biology, Cornell University, 2007

Sean Caverly will be the first to tell you that when he signed on with National Equipment Parts (NEP) in the summer of 2015, he knew next to nothing about the HVAC and plumbing industry.

 

What made him a strong candidate for the leadership role he holds today with NEP is that he knows so much about systems and operations, having earned his master’s in Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) at Lehigh University.

Your bachelor’s degree is in biology. Why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh’s TE master’s program?

As I neared the end of my undergrad years, I realized that I really wanted to go into business and was able to make that happen. I spent five years working at two prominent hedge funds on Wall Street – Barclays Capital and Apollo Capital Management – before deciding to exit the corporate world. After talking to Lehigh professors and students, learning about the courses, and, in particular, seeing the Creativity and Innovation Lab in the Wilbur Powerhouse, I just knew that this was what I wanted to do.

And did the experience live up to your expectations?

Definitely. The TE program was clearly the right next step for me. It provided a good balance of theory, skills, and application. I actually developed two prototypes while in the TE program. Neither came across the finish line, but I learned an incredible amount in the process. I should add that, as an older student with what I saw as a defined window of opportunity, I took advantage of every chance to network with funders, attorneys, and accountants tied to the startup world, as well as to interact with TE alumni.

The TE program was a great fit for me because it’s so hands on, practical, and specific. By the end of the year, I was more than prepared to apply all I’d learned and get to work.
What skills did you develop in TE?

Oh man, where do I start? Software, software, software was the focus for me. For example, I learned how to use enterprise-grade ecommerce platforms and payment gateways on the web. And I connected with developers and designers in North America and abroad. The real issue is finding developers who believe in your vision. Once I crossed this chasm, ideas became reality.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

Establishing a business, setting up a website, and all the rest seemed so impossible before TE – where does one even begin? Things changed for me as entrepreneurs who had launched startups came into class to tell their stories. I was amazed. TE gave me the roadmap not only to start, but to put myself in a position to succeed.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

I landed an incredible opportunity with NEP. I met the founder, Zeiad Hussein, during my TE year. That’s yet another example of the many benefits of TE, by the way. Students gain invaluable access to entrepreneurs on an upward trajectory.

 

Zeiad had launched NEP in 2014, the year before I completed my master’s degree. He brought me in as a consultant, and within months I was named VP, CFO, and COO. As the company has grown and expanded into new markets, my role has escalated. I now serve as CEO.

Can you tell us more about the company?

NEP has been described as the soon-to-be Amazon for industrial parts and equipment. Selling online, NEP provides contractors and other end users with plumbing, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning supplies.

 

The company is privately held and currently employs 15 people, including Zeiad and myself. Our goal is to revolutionize the marketplace by eliminating the need for tradespeople to begin their day by going to a brick-and-mortar vendor, waiting at the counter, and hoping the supplies will be available.

You mentioned growth and expansion. Talk a bit about that.

Well, when we started out, we were focused solely on providing an ecommerce platform for HVAC supplies. Today NEP is bringing in $800,000 to $ 1,000,000 in revenue each month by leveraging wholesalers’ inventory out onto the web. It’s a huge market, a $50 to $100 billion industry, depending on who you ask. We have yet to tap into its full potential.

 

Phase one of our business – the HVAC ecommerce platform – gained traction early and is doing extremely well. It’s been proven. Given that, we recently pivoted to several new ventures. One is RocketIAQ, a brand-specific ecommerce platform operating in the indoor air quality arena. The other is NEP Web Services, which is developing middle-ware API connectors to sit in between HVAC wholesalers and contractors. We will become the standard platform for contractors and create transparency in the industry.

Where are you headquartered?

We’re headquartered in New York City.

 

But this is new. NEP actually started out in Zeiad’s garage. In a relatively short period of time, NEP moved from the garage to a startup incubator in West Chester, PA to an office in Malvern, PA. Then everything changed this summer when Zeiad won a pitch competition at a FundingPost venture capital and angel investor conference in Silicon Valley. NEP was awarded the opportunity to work with a high-profile accelerator called Build/Grand Central Tech. So, just recently, we moved our headquarters from Malvern to New York City where Grand Central is located. Doing so places us in the financial capital of the world as well as in close proximity to tech ecosystem developers.

 

We also have a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Valley Forge, PA and hope to extend our reach in the near future by opening two more fulfillment centers, possibly in Houston and Los Angeles.

What are your responsibilities with NEP?

As CEO, I’m responsible for planning out our new products in the pipeline, as well as for allocating resources and personnel appropriately. I also spend a lot of time developing relationships with banks and venture capital firms in an effort to obtain financing.

What is your philosophy regarding entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship really means going out and acquiring the skills or personnel you need to reach your goals. It means HUSTLE. In this field, you can’t rest on your laurels.

 

Some entrepreneurs waste time and money by waiting until the product is perfect rather than launching and iterating quickly. I’ve always been a lean startup guy – implement fast, launch, and adapt. You’ve got to move it along.

How would you sum up what TE did for you?

I have to say that, first and foremost, it gave me a departure point, a skillset, and a realistic pathway for a career. I knew I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship but had no idea how to get started. The TE program was the best investment of time and money I could have made…and what it did for me in one year simply can’t be overstated.

 

November 2016