Sean Pour: Autodidact programmer to successful businessman

Sean Pour started out as a self-taught 14-year-old coder, and now, at 25, his proprietary tech helms his successful car-buying service SellMax.

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It's easy to imagine 25-year-old San Diego, Californian Sean Pour telling his journey during a well-attended Ted Talk. Pour, who developed watershed tech for his car-buying company, SellMax, built his business out of need. "I started working on the company [SellMax] when I was 14," Pour explained. "I chose car buying because it's an industry I grew up with. My parents ran a used-car dealership, and they were completely self-made. The main contributing factor to me creating this tech and becoming a business owner was to help provide for my family."When I was 14, our family was struggling with the economic crisis.  We needed a competitive advantage -- we weren't selling enough cars. So, my response to this problem was to create the company, which eventually became SellMax." 

He added, "no one in my family is tech minded. Although, my parents were entrepreneurial, so I think that ultimately sparked my interest in becoming a 'creator,' and tech was my way to get there."

SEE: 10 books every small business entrepreneur should read (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Pour set forth to teach himself code. "I always enjoyed spending my time on computers, but I had no coding experience. At the time there weren't as many good resources, but with a lot of trial-and-error, I learned HTML, CSS, then PHP, and MySql.
 
"I would spend my evenings writing simple programs and then connecting to databases and learning how to build bigger things," he recalled. "I decided to study CS in my last year of high school. I was originally taking engineering courses. When my business started to grow, computer science seemed like the most beneficial to manage the growth. As a result, I felt I should get a proper programming education."

Start of SellMax

Even before Pour graduated high school, the seeds of SellMax were planted. "I created the idea for the tech relatively early on," he said. "It was something that I knew would streamline the business, but it was complicated to deal with and source such a significant amount of data. But I wasn't able to act on it and get a demo up until I was about 17."
 
Eventually, Pour became a competent coder and graduated from San Diego State University (SDSU) with a degree in computer science, all while running the business--no easy feat. Pour also studied marketing "religiously." 
 
"While coding was very important for the business, marketing was just as significant," he said. "I started to take what I learned from marketing and combined that with tech, and it was the winning combo for us. This led to the proprietary tech that runs the company."

CS lessons applied

At SDSU, Pour learned several important concepts. Here's how he explained it, "For one, I learned how to write code that scales. What I mean by this is a lot of the code I was writing previously was easily understood by myself. But if I were to ask someone else to help me with the project they would have no idea what was going on. So, I revamped the code by using proper naming conventions, and I added code comments so any competent developer could work on the code. Ultimately it taught me to think like a large organization. 

"Secondly, studying computer science allowed me to have educated conversations with other developers," he continued. "Previously, I didn't understand a lot of industry terms. Being able to talk shop with others allowed me to expand my knowledge significantly and allowed for paradigm shifts to happen.
 
Lastly, it gave me the confidence boost to know that the code I was writing was good enough to push out."

All of these concepts come into play today at SellMax.

"In the business there are a lot of moving parts and our tech helps solve those problems," Pour said. "We have to come up with an offer that is fair to pay a customer. When you're dealing with thousands of customers, it's hard to devote a significant amount of attention to each individual car."
 
Pour turned to tech to help expedite his car buying service. He "built a scoring algorithm,"where, he explained, "When a customer fills out the information in regards to the car we give it a score. We then have a database that stores all past auction data for a current vehicle in particular geographies. When we use this data we are able to predict a fair price to pay, the majority of the time, and it ends up being profitable for us. Of course, with automation there are times when we lose, we just aim to win a higher percentage of the time. We've got several other custom systems and tech built for our company."
 
Pour said his proprietary tech differs from potential competitors in that, "We've got decades of data on used car sales. We've got a lot of proprietary data that we obtain from various sources," he said. "This data is important, but we've also created a formula that has proven to work a significant portion of the time for us. So, for example if we buy hundreds of cars a month, and we win on a high percentage most of the time--think 70%--the losses don't really matter."
 
Pour compiled  a network of thousands of local providers that have been synced into the tech. "This network has taken years to build," he said. "Additionally, it has streamlined our process and allows us to pickup vehicles typically the same day, even at times within a few hours.  

"Lastly, we use ACH through stripe, to payout our local providers. So, we don't have to spend countless hours going through payments. So, all the payouts happen automatically."
 
SellMax is in contact with 7,000 customers a month, and purchases about 4,200 vehicles with the tech Pour created. He estimates buying about 6,000 vehicles monthly by the end of 2020. 

The future of car-buying

Pour predicts little change in the car-buying industry in the next decade, but admits the industry is "certainly growing rapidly." 
In addition, Pour has kept a close eye on self-driving cars, for which he has "a bit of concern." While he's prepared for them to become relatively popular, he predicts that "the car ownership will be a much smaller percentage," because "Uber, and Lyft will be able to give tremendous deals once no humans are involved."
 
Currently, Pour is finishing up a lead management SAAS with the goals of taking it to the public.  

"If there's one thing the economic crisis taught me, it's to always be prepared," he said. "I feel our company will be able to pivot and thrive with whatever the future holds for us."

Also see

Sell or buy car

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