PCS Wireless is anticipating $1 billion in sales this year, it says, all because its then-teenage founder had a gift for selling cell phones. Especially the phones that nobody else wanted.
It was the year 2000 when a high-school kid named Ben Nash dropped out of boarding school and got a job at a wholesale distributor in Manhattan selling cell phones to retailers.
He discovered a love for selling that he never had for school.
“I was 17 and I was the company’s top salesperson,” Nash, now 32, told Business Insider.
“I was spending $100 a week living on my parents’ couch,” he said. “And when I turned 18, they tried to cut my pay.
“I was really arrogant back then,” he added, laughing. “I was going to go into real estate, and I had three job offers.”
But before he accepted one of those offers, he and a couple of friends were talking about the cell-phone business and how so many perfectly good but unwanted phones were sitting in backrooms and warehouses.
Everyone had overstock. Some of the phones didn’t sell well and had been dropped by the carrier. Some had been returned practically new but without the original stickers. Other gently used phones needed minor repairs.
So an 18-year-old Nash and his buddies founded PCS Wireless to buy those phones, fix them up, and come up with creative ways to sell them. One market was companies that wanted to buy cheap phones for employees. Another was retailers who were interested in selling them at a discount.
Nash had already earned a reputation in the “tight-knit” wireless-phone business as that go-getter kid, so he talked some people in that community into investing in his idea.
The business took off
“We were profitable in the first month,” Nash recalled. “We paid back the investment in less than a year.” Within a couple of years, Nash said, he bought out one of his partners and all of his investors.
Flash forward to 2014. The company hit $740 million in sales, about double its 2013 revenue, and will cross the $1 billion mark this year, Nash said.
“If we only do a billion in 2015, I’ll be really disappointed,” he told us.
Nash was helped along by the booming smartphone market and by new-device lust, where people trade in phones annually.
And Nash was helped by a certain knack for guerrilla marketing. For instance, when the second iPhone came out, he sent vans of buyers out to the lines of people waiting to buy them.
“We had guys sitting outside all the Apple stores telling people, ‘We’ll give you exactly $200 cash to take your old phone,'” he said.
PCS Wireless says it will buy, process, and resell about 10 million new and used phones and tablets in 2015, across more than 20 countries through a network of 2,500 distributors.
And Nash says he has only just begun. Rather than sell off a chunk of his company to equity investors, he secured a $100 million loan from White Oak Global Advisors to fund more expansion.
In addition to PCS, Nash and his business partner, Praveen Arora, have launched or invested in dozens of other companies in the wireless industry. They employ about 2,000 people globally and expect to generate $2.5 billion in revenue in 2015, Nash says.
Almost crashed it all
Nash doesn’t like to talk about the rough parts of his career. While other people were growing up in college, he was growing up as a boss of a company. For many years the company’s growth was “inconsistent,” he says, and he blames himself.
Part of the problem: He never gave up the dream of being a real-estate mogul. He had a real-estate company and grew “distracted” by it, losing money and, as he describes it, “trusting people and getting hurt.”
He says: “I was running around the business world trying to find myself. I got distracted with ego and shiny things. I lost money in real estate, but losing money isn’t the problem. That’s a minor issue. I’ve always personally made money. The issue was my energy and focus was going to my other businesses and not to PCS.”
About two years ago, the PCS executive team sat Nash down and gave him the “are we going to do this or not?” talk. (It’s “very important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” is how Nash describes his team.)
Nash says he “found” himself in that moment. While he was trying to prove himself in real estate, he was already a big cheese in the wireless industry.
In 2014, PCS launched Posh Mobile, a line of new Android phones, phablets, and tablets. It has expanded the line this year.
As to how Nash describes his success: “If you believe in God, it’s God, and if not, it’s luck, probably dressed in a little charisma.”
The ultimate irony
While Nash jokingly describes himself as “arrogant,” getting him to talk about himself was like pulling teeth. He came off in an interview as humble. (He wouldn’t send us a photo that didn’t include another member of his team.)
But the ultimate irony was that as we were chatting with Nash, his phone kept dropping the connection.
He had just bought a new iPhone 6 for his birthday — and hated it, preferring his old beater phone.
“I just bought this iPhone,” he said. “It was a terrible idea. I used to use a really old phone that was much better, more reliable. But my girlfriend likes to chat on FaceTime, so I bought this.”
“Now you have an idea how important good-quality used cell phones are that are tested and reliable,” he added, laughing.
And we believed him.