2014 was quite a year for William Wolfram, from Finland, who at the young age of 21, has just won a prestigious award from Ernst and Young for Entrepreneur of the Year for Finland.
Wolfram was only 16 years old when he founded his penny auction company, DealDash, which despite the rough market for penny auction sites in the last few years (since the big boom of these sites in 2009, many of them have gone bust due to financial and legal problems, such as profit loss and pending lawsuits) is still going strong with millions of customers and auctions per day. His site has also patented their own bidding models, another factor leading to their success. Meaning, while many of his competitors struggle, Wolfram’s penny auction site is growing, expanding, and increasing revenues.
So what sets DealDash apart from other penny auction sites? Why has it survived and thrived where others have failed? Well, one of the reasons is probably that while there are generally no refunds on bids on these types of auction sites (if you bid on an item and lose the auction, you say goodbye to those bids and the money you paid for them, forever), on DealDash, users can buy the item they are bidding on through the “buy it now” button and get all of their bids back into their account if they lose the auction. Wolfram believes that this option has increased customer loyalty, as well as customer retention. Wolfram also claims that his company is completely transparent, provides good customer service, and refunds customers when necessary. These are other ways they beat out the competition.
Another unique aspect of DealDash, in comparison with its competitors, is the progress bar on each user’s account. This bar progressively fills up every time you win an auction (when you are the highest bidder) and after multiple wins the bar fills to the top you are allowed to win more auctions each week (most websites, to keep auctions fair, limit the number of wins during a certain time period). This new feature is just another improvement that Wolfram has made to set DealDash apart from the competition and make it more engaging for its customers. He says that this new feature has increased the time that users spend on the site by quite a bit.
So, you are probably thinking, how in the world does a 16 year old get the funds to start his own company? The story is that Wolfram, when he was only 15 years old, used to buy YouTube accounts and insert affiliate links into the video descriptions, earning him a referral fee every time a sale resulted from someone followed one of those links. The money he made he then invested into DealDash. He came up for the idea for his company when he himself participates in a penny auction site and lost money on an auction. His experience made him want to create a better version of that type of site with fairer rules and practices for customers. Although he was warned that there was too much competition in the penny auction market in the United States, he trusted his instincts and belief in the power of word of mouth in the digital age and went for it. He’s probably glad he did considering the success of his company today.
Wolfram’s company DealDash works the same as most other penny auction websites: a customers buys bids (they cost about $.60 each), which they then use to participate in penny auctions. Each time a user bids on an item up for auction, it raises the bid price by a penny, which also adds time to the clock. When the clock timer runs out and no more bids have been placed, the final bidder is the winner and has the option purchase the item at the final bid price, and usually at substantial savings.
So then, is DealDash the perfect penny auction site? Well, no. This penny auction site, like so many others, has been the focus of poor reviews and complaints online. For example, there have been instances of delayed deliveries of products (apparently one year around Christmas time they had too many orders and not enough merchandise to fulfill them all) or non-deliveries due to overstock (all customers were refunded of course, according to Wolfram).
Wolfram promises that there are no scams going on with his company, and that employees and family members are not allowed to bid on the site, nor does the site allow automatic or “bot” bidding (which some sites use to compete against their own customers to keep the auction going and the bids high).
DealDash has a partnership with Best Buy (a lot of the merchandise comes from them), which is why part of their operations is in Minnesota, near Best Buy headquarters. They also have teams in California, Finland and elsewhere. Although DealDash is still a Finnish company, their audience is predominantly in the United States.
So why did Wolfram deserve the award for Entrepreneur of the World for Finland 2014? Well, aside from that fact that he has been amazingly successful at such a very young age, especially when you consider the sheer size of his company, DealDeash is the most talked about brand on Facebook (more than Coca-Cola even). Also, he has almost quadrupled his revenues every year. The government of his home country of Finland has also recognized him for creating jobs for youth.
Today, Wolfram is a successful entrepreneur, and a student as well. Although he had quit school to pursue his path as a business developer at the age of 16, he went back to school recently and will soon graduate from Harvard University’s Owner/President Management Program. This young and successful entrepreneur is an inspiration to many and the world should expect big things from him in the future.