Matt Connolly started his first e-commerce business as a teenager out of his garage at his home in Troy, New York. The budding entrepreneur came to Northeastern eager to take advantage of the university’s co-op and entrepreneurship programs. Not only has his own business grown while he was at Northeastern, but Connolly, DMSB’16, worked on co-op at Amazon and has landed a job there after graduation. On co-op he was a member of the eCommerce team and helped identify and propose a solution to reporting gaps that were leading to millions of dollars in under-capitalization of software development costs.
How did you get started with your first e-commerce business, Worldwide Discount Emporium?
I started working in e-commerce when I was 14. I was looking for a job, but couldn’t find a typical teenage job like working at a grocery store. I remember being on eBay and seeing that someone was selling grocery coupons—the coupons you’d cut out of the Sunday newspaper. I figured I could do that too and make some money. So on Mondays I would go to the newspapers and get all the extra coupons they didn’t put in their Sunday papers, and I would sit there all week and cut out coupons and auction them off on eBay.
How did the business evolve when you got Northeastern?
The company evolved into M13Y around freshman year. Before then I was selling anything I could find. But I didn’t have any relationships with wholesale vendors; my mindset was ‘what can I find at retail and sell.’ That’s also when I started transitioning from selling on eBay to selling on Amazon. I decided to refocus and start going for wholesale relationships where I could move a lot of one product in bulk. I partnered with a warehouse in Michigan. The four main pillars we have today are Gatorade, restaurant supplies, Jelly Belly, and recycled wine corks used mainly for crafting.
Growing up I was doing this all out of my garage. When I got to Northeastern, for some reason I thought I could keep doing this from my dorm room in International Village. I was moving a lot of stuff in and out, and always running back and forth from the packaging store. By Christmas break, it became way too much to handle. That’s when I started looking for warehouse space.
What was your co-op at Amazon like?
We actually use Fulfillment by Amazon at M13Y, so when I started working there on co-op it was really interesting because I got to see the back end of things, visit the warehouse, and understand how all of Amazon’s automated services work.
I wasn’t working in that area, though. My co-op was on the e-commerce platform team as a financial analyst intern. Initially I remember being upset because I wasn’t going to be doing what I knew and what I loved. But it turned out to be a great opportunity in the end because I already had a lot of knowledge about those areas of Amazon, and on co-op I picked up a ton of knowledge on a lot of things that were very foreign to me. I saw a whole different area of Amazon, and a whole different area of business.
One of the areas the e-commerce platform team manages is internal technology procurement, which involves employees’ laptops and desktops. I did a project that took into account the costs of new laptops, and fixing them and the downtime associated with that. From that project, I proposed that Amazon change its procurement policy. Employees were given laptops every four years, but through my project I showed that it would be cheaper to give them new laptops every three years. I presented that to my manager as my final project, and it actually ended up getting incorporated into a report that went up to (Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos, and they’re changing the laptop procurement policy as a result of that project.
What will you be doing at Amazon after graduation?
I’ll be a financial analyst, and I asked to be placed on a different team so I could learn more about new areas of Amazon. I still don’t know what team I’ll be on; I won’t find out until a month before I start. But for my preferences, I put down the Amazon Prime team, the transportation team, or Prime Air team.
At Northeastern, you participated in and later served as a mentor for the Entrepreneurs Club Husky Startup Challenge. What were those experiences like?
In the fall of my freshman year, two other students and I won the Husky Startup Challenge. We developed a startup called Coherent Clothes, the aim of which was to help men dress better using machine-learning algorithms. It would match them with clothes that fit their personalities and body types well, and were within their price ranges.
Later I became a mentor for the Husky Startup Challenge, working with a few companies including New Grounds Food. It was interesting to see how they had great ideas, but all seemed to be missing one piece of the pie. So it was nice to sit down with them and provide a different perspective. Some needed to talk to more customers about their businesses, and others waited too long to get their products out there. And I could also help by leveraging my warehousing and transportation connections.
What will be your fondest memories from your Northeastern experience?
I chose Northeastern specifically because of co-op, and how it was different than traditional schools. There was an entrepreneurial focus, and winning the Husky Startup Challenge was pretty cool. That made me realize I fit in here, I’m doing well here, and I belong here. I’m also very good friends with the two other co-founders. Getting that big check from the business school dean was something I’ll never forget, and also the friendships that came out of it are something that is very powerful.
And I can also say I’ve never had a bad professor at Northeastern. From all my professors, I can point to something that they taught me that I’ll continue to carry forward.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
I would say if you’re passionate about something, follow it and find someone else who is passionate about it or someone who can help you with it. At Northeastern, there are people from many backgrounds and who are doing a ton of different things. You’re bound to find someone who can help you with something, or find a professor who can champion you for that cause. Take advantage of the network that is Northeastern.
Also, seek out people from all different backgrounds. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school. It was very homogenous. When I came to Northeastern, I tried to break that homogeny. Having friends from all different places and backgrounds helps you to see things a lot differently. And from an entrepreneurial mindset, it allows you to see a lot of new opportunities.
This article originally appeared on Northeastern News