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Success Files: Shawn Nelson, Founder and CEO of Lovesac

Shawn Nelson launched his career almost on a whim—an 18-year-old thinking it would be “funny,” he says, to make bean bags for pals. Over the next twenty years, he watched his Lovesac furniture brand go in and out of bankruptcy, earned the moniker “The Rebel Billionaire” (he beat 15 contestants for $1 million and was appointed by Sir Richard Branson for a three-month stint as president of Virgin Worldwide), moved the company from Salt Lake City to Stamford, CT, and took back the reins. Nelson’s once spiky hair is now shorn, and his story is now less the lark of a teen sewing sacks on the weekend than that of a seasoned CEO with a plan for the future.

Photo by Mike Majlak

Is risk a key component to success?
You cannot have remarkable success without taking risk. The word remarkable to Lovesac is specific: remark-able. We put a hyphen in it. Because then it’s easier to understand. Remark-able causes people to remark. I have a much higher tolerance for risk than most people do. I am not really scared of things that make others nervous. I’m not saying that to be proud. I’m saying that to be matter-of-fact. To me, I almost look for risky situations, because that’s where opportunity is.

In your career you’ve been faced with many tough decisions. What advice do you give on making those choices?
Many times in life you’re faced [with a choice] without a clear answer. It’s very hard to tell which is right because they’re both good or bad, or similar or just different. I think people get caught in indecision. When it really comes down to it, especially to business instincts, whether it will cost money, or you’re not sure you can afford it, you have to dig deep and ask, ‘Are you at 51 or 49 percent?’ I think inherently everyone knows that nothing is 100 percent. But if I ask myself, ‘Do I feel kind of 1 percent better about this, or 1 percent worse?’ usually the answer becomes clear.

How has being located in Fairfield County helped your company to grow over the past few years?
I think there’s no place like it in the sense that there are a lot of successful people here. They’re here for the right schools, the right businesses. They’re here for the right lifestyle, and there’s a lot of success around you. When you expose yourself to successful people, it’s more likely you yourself will be successful.

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