StockX CEO Josh Luber Explains How a Passion Project Became the Stock Market of Sneakers

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Josh Luber, co-founder of StockX / Photo courtesy of StockX

If you're just starting to get into the shoe game or still can’t wrap your head around why people stand in front of a Foot Locker or Nike store early on a Saturday morning in order to get their hands on new sneakers, Josh Luber, the CEO and cofounder of StockX, can tell you. Luber has cracked the formula for people who engage in “flipping”—buying rare, exclusive products and then selling them for double, or more, their original cost.

StockX is a website and app where you can buy and sell products—but it's nothing like eBay or Craigslist. It's light-years ahead of what those sites offer; similar to the stock market, users have the ability to make an offer based on the market data collected and made visible on the site. Started in 2015, it's been the place where you can see the market value of a product, like a pair of highly coveted sneakers, "in real time."

Since its inception, it has become the de facto hub for selling the coolest footwear this side of the Back to the Future Nike Mag. Say you really want to buy a pair of sneakers that were impossible to find IRL and were sold out everywhere online. Instead of buying them from a shady website that happens to have the sneakers (marked up to an outrageous price and unclear if they are even legitimate), you can visit StockX to find the going rate and sales history, and get a guarantee of authenticity.

Users can make offers based on that information and get the sneakers they've been thirsting for. The idea attracted billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures—and the other co-founder of StockX. It has also gained traction with high-profile co-signs from Eminem, Mark Wahlberg and Wale, who have invested in the platform. StockX and Eminem teamed up to raise funds for the Marshall Mathers Foundation, giving everyone an exclusive opportunity to take home the never-before-seen Eminem Air Jordan 4 Encore (2017), and many other prizes from Eminem’s personal archives. All it took was a $10 donation for a chance to win. (FYI, the shoes go for a whopping $40,000 a pair right now.)

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Eminem Air Jordan 4 Encore / Courtesy of StockX

We had to know how Luber did it. Here's what the entrepreneur and self-proclaimed sneakerhead had to say about what it takes to start your own business and be your own boss, and what's in store for the future of sneakers.

For someone brand-new to the sneaker game, or just in general, what is StockX?

Josh Luber: StockX is about access to products that, otherwise, people wouldn’t know how to get—limited sneakers, streetwear, watches, handbags, products that sell out, products that you can’t just walk into a store and buy. And access means many things, but at the heart of it, [it means having] a marketplace where you know the products are authentic, where you know the price is fair. StockX is an actual stock market, and that’s the unique part about it.

We’re the largest marketplace for sneakers and streetwear. The way that we connect buyers and sellers is the exact same way the world’s stock markets connect buyers and sellers. And there’s a whole lot of nuance underneath that, but it’s about data. It’s about understanding what the true market value of an asset is, and once you have that, the whole idea of MSRP or retail price goes away, and it’s not about market price, it’s about true value.

What was the initial spark for you to start this business?

Luber: Any big idea or big company is usually a series of many small ideas and small steps, and this is 100 percent that. We never said we should go create a multibillion-dollar company that’s gonna change all of e-commerce. In the beginning, it was literally just: Can we create a price tag? Can we understand value? Can we create what is the real market value of any pair of sneakers?

As you might know, StockX was the original. It was founded as Campless, the company that I created before StockX that was a price guide. All we did was scrape eBay to understand what the true value of a pair of sneakers is. What are sneakers actually selling for? And Campless was a price guide, it was a data company, it was the Kelley Blue Book/Beckett for sneakers. And once you have that, it becomes a very logical next step. I could look at someone’s whole sneaker collection the way you look at a stock portfolio, and it will tell you the value of their whole sneaker collection and be able to track that value over time. And the logic is if you understand asset prices, you understand portfolio construction, and you can create an active stock market for sneakers. So that’s how we got to that idea. It was that natural evolution of the understanding of value.

Got it. And you were fairly young when you did this, right?

Luber: I guess it really depends on who you compare young to. I am closing up on 41 in about a month, and we started StockX on the side while I was working at IBM in 2011, so whatever that is.

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Photo courtesy of StockX

Did you have this idea floating in your head or did it evolve into what it is?

Luber: I’m a startup guy. I’ve started companies that have nothing to do with sneakers almost intentionally. I have collected sneakers since I was eight years old, so from a personal standpoint, I’ve always separated business and sneakers, and business and pleasure.

I had taken a job with IBM in between startups and needed this side project while I was there. At the time it was purely "can we create a sneaker data company just to see if we can do it," just to have a side project related to sneakers, because I like sneakers. It was very much a natural evolution of me as a startup person, me as a sneakerhead, but the timing of it I don’t think at all was random.

Yeah, I can see that now.

Luber: At the end of 2011, you had the Nike Air Jordan 11 (Concord) release, and in February 2012, you had the Nike Air Foamposite One (Galaxy), and the whole All-Stars news around that. Twitter and Instagram emerged, and Instagram was just being bought by Facebook going through its own rocky road. So you had all these factors contributing to the sneaker world as a whole becoming a lot bigger, a lot more mainstream, a lot more data-oriented, a lot more social-oriented. It was a good time to be more into what things are worth.

I remember not being able to grab the Concords in 2011. As far as guidance for the next generation of entrepreneurs, are there any key moments you would share with someone who has a fairly good idea and wants to take it forward?

Luber: My two pieces of advice for any entrepreneur at any point [are] super basic and simple. First of all, ideas are worthless and execution is the only thing that matters. So you should talk to everybody about everything. Don't worry about someone stealing your idea. Talk to everybody, get feedback and find people to work with and collaborate with. And just talk to everybody about everything.

And then the second one is just do something, which sounds like the most basic possible thing there is, and somewhat cliché. Just do it or whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is, you have to be doing something or you’re gonna be bored just sitting around hoping that something will happen or change. For me, for StockX in particular, for the longest time all I was doing was sitting in Excel spreadsheets and cleaning data and building these models to figure things out. It was one shoe at a time, super slow, writing all these theories by hand. All the working was cleaning data, which was enormously tedious and manual, and there were many times when it was like, "What am I doing?" I spent about five hours sitting here after work in one spreadsheet and one query for one Air Jordan 7 from 2008. Like, "What?" But the alternative is, what, watching TV or something?

So in 2019, we’re not that far in, but is there anything that you feel is going to be the next big release?

Luber: Well, I have no inside knowledge and no expertise. I have spent no real time studying 3-D printing, but I think 3-D printing is going to be the future of the entire world, not just in sneakers. I feel like everyone is going to have a 3-D printer next to their refrigerator, and you’re going to want butter so you’re going to print 3-D butter. You’re going to run out of forks; you’re going to print 3-D forks. You run out of Q-Tips; you’re going to print 3-D Q-Tips. I think that’s going to be the next, like, internet.

The people who are going to be the real big winners in that industry are the material scientists who are going to figure out what material to put into a 3-D printing machine to create a sneaker, or laces, or butter, or Q-tips or whatever it is. I haven’t even looked too much into releases beyond the next couple of months, but that’s my eye-level thesis on the next internet.

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