Jewel Burks Solomon launched Partpic, a startup that makes it easier to find industrial parts, in 2013. She sold it to Amazon in 2016 for an undisclosed amount. Inc. spoke with her about starting the company, deciding to sell, and transitioning from owner to corporate employee.
Where did the idea for Partpic come from?
I started my career at Google in California, but after a couple of years there, I decided to move closer to home, to Atlanta. I got a job at McMaster-Carr, an industrial-parts distributor. We had thousands of parts, but I found working in customer service that people often didn’t know what these parts were called or how to describe them. I thought there had to be a way to organize all the products so they could be searched easily. That led me to found Partpic, a way for customers to search for and order parts using computer-vision technology on their smartphone.
Did you consider returning to Silicon Valley to start the company?
Silicon Valley is not the be all and end all. When I was fundraising, potential investors told me I should move there, but I was firm about wanting to stay in Atlanta. In the end, we were able to go so much further with our money and take advantage of the incredible talent pool at Georgia Tech.
When did you seek outside funding, and when did you decide to sell?
We originally bootstrapped, and then we raised a $2 million seed round. We were trying to raise a second round but weren’t happy with the conditions that investors wanted to set–I was worried about growing too fast and giving up too much control. Amazon came to us around that time and said it wanted to acquire us. We weren’t looking to sell right at that point. But we had always thought about selling, and the offer was good, so we decided to do it.
You stayed with Amazon after the sale. How tough was the transition from being a founder?
It’s been hard. It was definitely an adjustment to go from working for myself to working for a big company, but I’m happy I can continue some of the work that we started with Partpic. And outside of my job, I do angel investing and mentor other female entrepreneurs. My advice to them is, if you can, decide in advance whether you want to sell your company. Then, if an offer comes, you will be really prepared.