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Chapman graduate keeps eye on prize

Published: Oct. 23, 2006 Updated: Aug. 21, 2013 1:17 p.m.

FINALIST: Mike Brown's site specializes in auto accessories.When Mike Brown enrolled at Chapman University in 2003, he had no entrepreneurial plans. The Brea resident expected to graduate in three years and find a corporate marketing job.

Then opportunity knocked.

Brown and Ron Hay, who played on the same professional online computer game team, started a Web site in 2005 to sell parts for modifying BMW vehicles.

Today, modbargains.com is approaching $1 million in annual sales, and Brown, 21, is one of 10 finalists for Global Student Entrepreneur for 2006.

On Nov. 3 and 4, Brown will pit his entrepreneurial success against that of ventures stretching from Sweden to Canada to Iowa. He's the only finalist from the Western U.S.

The competition is sponsored by Mercedes-Benz Financial and Entrepreneurs Organization, whose members are under-40 business owners with million-dollar companies. Judges, including billionaire Coca-Cola bottler Marvin Herb, will be looking for "success with both course work and cash flow."

Brown, who graduated in June, can demonstrate both.

When Brown launched modbargains.com, he had classes from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He answered customer e-mails between classes and after he got home until 4:30 the next morning. The other days he worked full time on the company.

That first semester was also his best academically, he said. He earned all A's except one A-minus.

P.K. Shukla, director of Chapman University's Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics, is not surprised that Brown is a finalist for the international award.

"Mike was a very disciplined student with excellent time-management skills," Shukla said. "(In business), Mike had a focus upon reasonable prices that maintained profits. â?¦ He was cost-effective. â?¦ He has created a mature and clean site."

modbargains.com started simply enough. Brown got a used BMW, and Hay encouraged him to add some accessories.

"I was looking for products, and no one was doing a very good marketing job," he said.

He approached aftermarket parts makers with the passion of a customer and knowledge of a marketing major. modbargains.com now features more than 4,000 products, mostly for BMWs and Volkswagens, from 25 companies.

modbargains.com doesn't have proprietary intellectual property, so it stresses customer service, he said. The site tries to respond to customers within 10 minutes, provides advice on what to buy and offers links to free stuff.

Brown and Hay didn't have much cash, so they limited their initial product line to BMW parts in order to carefully target their marketing.

His site pays to be a sponsor of five or six Internet discussion forums for BMW owners and one for Volkswagen owners.

The company's profile on MySpace.com attracted 4,000 friends in three weeks.

modbargains.com is adding parts for other car brands, so Brown looks for passionate customers to hire. Brown recently hired college student Lottie Siann, who had 4,000 posts, more than 10 times the average, on a Volkswagen discussion board.

Growth is forcing the company to move out of Brown's house and into a commercial office in Fullerton by the end of October, he said.

"Our vision is to be the No. 1 source of all aftermarket car parts for all brands," Brown said.

Published: Oct. 23, 2006 Updated: Aug. 21, 2013 1:17 p.m. |OC Register

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