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How Kemar Newell Started Flip

How Kemar Newell Turned His Obsession With Sneakers Into a Business

We’ve partnered with Nissan to reveal Flip founder Kemar Newell’s road to success, and find out how he managed to merge his passions for style and technology.

The stereotype of a tech founder isn’t exactly glamorous: you’re more likely to think of hoodies, stained T-shirts, and dad shoes than graphic prints, sharp slacks, and sleek kicks. But Flip founder Kemar Newell defies those clichés. Not only is Kemar incredibly stylish, but his fashion sense actually inspired his company. When he realized that sneakerheads were reselling the latest kicks on a variety of websites to find the best price, Kemar knew he could turn his hobby into a full-fledged business.

Unlike other online platforms, Flip guarantees that every item will sell within 90 minutes — or they’ll buy it. It’s a pretty attractive proposition for sellers, and it’s clearly popular with buyers: Kemar said that one person recently spent as much as $125,000 for a single pair. So how did the young entrepreneur turn two of his favorite things — coding and sneakers — into a bona fide business? Read on to find out more about Kemar’s shoe collection, hear his style inspiration, and learn what’s next on his road to success.

Dual Passions

Kemar first fell in love with technology and style around age 6. After his mom brought home a PC, he became so fascinated by the computer that he decided to take it apart to see how it worked. She was less than pleased — especially since she hadn’t paid it off yet — but that kickstarted Kemar’s interest in technology. Not long after that, he began experimenting with programming, learning everything from early Fortran to C++.

At the same time, Kemar idolized Michael Jordan — especially his style. Just like that, Kemar’s obsession with sneakers was born. He started trading and selling shoes not long after — he even put the money he earned from selling his first two pairs towards buying a laptop. “When I was growing up, back in Brooklyn, and in some parts of Atlanta, it definitely felt like I was a closet nerd,” he said. “Now, you know, there’s no better place to be [than in tech].” Even as a boy, Kemar had an inkling that technology would become important in his life. "I couldn't live without it,” he said. “It's like the DNA of everything now — everything we use, from the iPhone to apps to technologies in cars. It's all around us."

Street Style Star

Then there’s the other side of Kemar — the fashion obsessive. “Style is very important to me because, if there was no style, there would be no me,” he said. It all starts with his shoes. Since he has somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 pairs, it can take a while to choose the right ones. “I pick my shirt, pants, and any other accessory around what shoe or kick I'm gonna wear that day,” he said.

Though his style doesn’t fit into one clear category, Kemar said its always reflective of what’s going on in hip-hop culture at the moment. “I like to look at myself as a trendsetter,” he explained. “I'm always trying to do things that are really ambitious, slightly scary, outside of my comfort zone, but help inspire somebody else to find that same confidence.” Of course, he’s also a businessman. “The compliment that I never get tired off is, ‘How much do you want for them?’” he said. “I would definitely sell a pair of sneakers off my feet each and every time, if the price is right.”

Taking the Leap

Though he started his career at several large technology companies, when Kemar had the idea for Flip, he knew he had to go for it. “I started my own company basically to control my own destiny,” he said. It wasn’t easy: he had to leave behind a stable job for a lot of hard work and uncertainty. Kemar spent a solid nine months coding the app — he estimates that it has to be more than 500,000 lines of code.

Even now that Flip employs several full-time staffers, Kemar still said his average day can be hectic. “I've had probably anywhere from five to 10 meetings by the time 1 p.m. rolls around, and I’m still not done with half of the things I need to get done with that day,” he said. Still, he doesn’t see it as a grind. “I really don't believe in a work-life balance,” he said. “When you do what you love, and you're passionate, it doesn't feel like work.”

The Hustle Continues

Running your own company isn’t a standard office job: Kemar said he’s constantly on the go, driving between meetings in his Nissan Kicks, shipping out items, and even going to stores to source shoes himself. Buying inventory and stashing it in the trunk of the car might not seem glamorous, but Kemar said it's actually one of his favorite parts of his job. “When I'm walking out of the store with a pair that everybody's trying to get their hands on, I'm the man. I'm the plug. Everybody wants to know me, my name, my phone number, and have access to that,” he said. “Having the newest shoes is better than cash.”

Another perk of spending a lot of his time working on the go? He can find inspiration in his surroundings. “It's a daily reminder that, again, the world is just bigger than our environment, our immediate setting, or the problems we might face,” he said. Kemar is also always looking for the next problem to solve and summit to scale. The ultimate goal? “Global domination,” he said with a straight face. We believe it.

A Day with Kemar

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Credits: Photography: David Higgs; Styling: Vivian Fernandez; Hair and Makeup: Kendall Bennewitz; Production: Bryan Carroll; Talent: Kemar Newell

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