Chatting with Thomas DeSernia: Forbes 30 Under 30 winner started SA Company from an Instagram account
This post was written for Palm Beach Tech Association and republished with permission.
By Nancy Dahlberg
Thomas DeSernia started an e-commerce company out of his bedroom with 50 T-shirts and an Instagram account in 2013 and turned it in to what it is today – an outdoor lifestyle brand.
Through SA Company, headquartered in Boca Raton with about 150 employees, consumers can purchase apparel, gear and accessories for fishing, hunting, boating and other outdoor activities. DeSernia also launched Alpha Defense Gear, a brand selling military-themed outdoor wear. Because of the company’s success marketing products – that Instagram channel now has a million followers – DeSernia also started a marketing company called SA Marketing, or SAMA.
This year, DeSernia was named to Forbes’ prestigious 30 under 30 for his success in the retail and ecommerce sectors.
His entrepreneurial story started while he was in dental school. DeSernia had already graduated from Nova Southeastern with a business degree and from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in biology.
But while she was supposed to be studying dentistry, DeSernia found he was always thinking about what he could invent and patent. He invented an accessory for fishing that protected the bottom of a fishing rod so it wouldn’t scar the deck of a boat. But he knew very little at the time about branding and marketing and the product did not sell.
But as DeSernia learned more about social media, he opened an Instagram account and put his first T-shirt up. Salt Armour, the name of the company then, received about 10 orders that day and that marked the birth of the company. “At that point I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
With a strong social media following, the company began expanding its product lines and selling all over the country. It changed its name to SA Company in 2015. “We believed Salt would not resonate with users in Middle America that were into hiking or hunting.”
So what started as an outdoor apparel company became a lifestyle brand as accessories and other consumer products were added, including a website for military-style apparel. Because SA Company owns its own manufacturing facilities (all in Boca Raton) and sells completely online, it is able to sell at better quality and more affordable prices than competitors, the company says.
“So we took the inception of one product, grew the brand to a successful e-commerce business, diversified the e-commerce, and then we saw that we had this unique opportunity and the talent to do marketing that also helped other companies. And that became our marketing agency,” DeSernia said.
SAMA calls itself the anti-agency. SAMA is now also launching an incubator for entrepreneurs and private equity fund.
“It’s a little of everything now,” DeSernia said, admitting it wasn’t a premeditated business model. “It’s about a passion for helping people. I’m a big believer in positive energy.”
SA Company has never raised capital; it is self-funded. It has been growing at a double digit rate since inception, DeSernia said. The company is hiring about 12 to 15 people a month – everything from fulfillment to graphic design, video editing, creative directing, digital marketing, research and development, sourcing, merchandising and logistics.
“A lot of people say to build a technology-based company in Southeast Florida is difficult because of the talent pool, but I think the talent pool here is amazing,” DeSernia said. “People are much more loyal, much more passionate. Being sunny 350 days of a year is really important for overall morale. We may not be a big tech community but I think we are disruptive in our own way.”
Growing into other similar direct-to-consumer markets and investing more into SA Company’s people and infrastructure are business goals for this year.
Longer term, DeSernia plans to continuously diversify SA Company, mirroring the Berkshire Hathaway model. “That’s the goal — so my children’s children and hopefully my employees’ children’s children can one day work in the same organization.”
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