Boxed: CEO Started Near Billion-Dollar Business from Garage

Chieh Huang, Founder and CEO of Boxed, started the company in his parents’ two-car garage in 2013, but within three years, the company had grossed revenues exceeding USD 100 million! But it wasn’t a walk in the park. In fact, Huang reckons that starting a company from a garage only sounds exciting until you actually do it!

Huang, now 40, was actually born in Taiwan but immigrated to US with his family as a baby. He attended Johns Hopkins University before getting his law degree and working as a lawyer for three years. In 2010, he cofounded Astro Ape, making real time social media games that became popular. Zynga acquired the company within a year and Huang used the proceeds, along with seed money from family and friends, to start Boxed.

At the time, Huang lived in Manhattan, where there was no space for bulk buying warehouse-based discount clubs that he used to visit during his childhood. Huang decided to build an online tool that would allow people to bulk buy household items at a discount, setting up shop in his parents’ garage. Although the primary motive was to offer an avenue for people to access discounted rates, convenience would become a major benefit for his platform’s users.

However, in early days, the business struggled to establish reliable procurement channels and Huang had to buy products himself to resell. Soon enough, however, the company started partnering with large manufacturers to create sustainable sourcing channels.

Although technology was used to aid with human effort early on, the company quickly began to innovate and develop technology that improved efficiency and automated processes. After the pandemic began in 2020, and with the company looking for alternative streams of revenue, Boxed began to license its software. The licensing business has since grown up to contribute around 10% of the company’s earnings since then.

But even as Boxed has grown, Huang has not altered his employees focused approach. The company pays for employees’ children’s college tuition and life-changing events like weddings in addition to competitive wage rates, ranging from USD 12 to USD 15 per hour. Huang views these investments in human capital as primary values on which he has always wanted to build the company’s environment and culture. These investments have also born fruit for the company: the average time an average floor worker spends at Boxed is three years. Such retention periods are almost unheard of in the retail industry.

In December 2021, the company went public through a SPAC or special purpose acquisition company, raising around USD 320 million through the deal that also involved a merger with the SPAC Seven Oaks. The deal enabled the company to attain a combined equity value of around USD 900 million. Before the IPO, the company also acquired Manhattan based MaxDelivery, which offers a selection of more than 10,000 food and grocery items. The acquisition can allow Boxed to grow beyond its wholesale business model to more diversified offerings.