Contrary to expectation, shopping is not one of Pete Sheinbaum’s favorite pastimes. In fact, he admits, “I’ve always hated shopping, especially in stores.” So it’s not surprising that this longtime catalog shopper (“I grew up on L.L. Bean.”) would grow up to become the manager of electronic commerce for entertainment megasite E! Online’s recently launched retail venture: shop.eonline.com. The site offers every sort of entertainment related geegaw from videos and coffee mugs to Star Trek refrigerator magnets.
“I watched the explosion of Internet industries in the early ’90s,” says Sheinbaum, 28, “and a lot had changed since I was on CompuServe in high school. I saw a lot of opportunity for online businesses and I said, ‘I’ve got to get there.'”
But getting there was harder than the Westport, Conn. native thought. After graduating from Colgate University with a dual degree in philosophy and economics, Sheinbaum was bumming around and working as “the worst waiter in Utah” when, out of the blue, a patron suggested that he would make a better banker than busboy, and gave him a lead to qualify for Chemical Bank’s corporate finance program in New York. By 1995, after holding financial analyst positions at both Chemical and Lehman Brothers, Sheinbaum was fed up with his banker’s pinstripes. “I hated the monkey suit,” he observes. Thus, he decided to get out of corporate finance and into e-commerce.
“The problem was, with my banking background, when I started coming up with these great e-commerce ideas, no one listened to me,” he laments.
To learn more about the business and gain some credibility, Sheinbaum enrolled in UCLA’s Anderson Business School in 1996. Sheinbaum and a group of fellow MBA students fulfilled a course requirement by building an e-commerce business proposal for E! Online. They pitched it to E! Online president Jeremy Verba, who bought the plan in January 1998.
With six months to go before graduation, Sheinbaum spent his mornings working on executing his plan and his afternoons in class. When fall rolled around, Sheinbaum says, “I said to the E! folks, ‘If you’re really serious about this, you have to get going because you need to make the Christmas rush this year!'” Shop.eonline.com launched in November 1998, just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Does Sheinbaum regret leaving the buttoned-up world of New York banking for the unpredictable milieu of Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach? Not a chance. “In Los Angeles, people are encouraged to try new things and live outside the box a little bit,” he explains. “Here you can wear jeans and flip-flops to work and if you’re smart and you get your job done, it doesn’t matter what you look like.”