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MIT entrepreneur automates e-commerce ordering process

After trying to solve a problem he had while running another business, an MIT computer science student found himself launching a startup.

By , Network World
May 01, 2013 11:19 AM ET

Network World - Doug Feigelson is a true entrepreneur, one who has built a successful business out of a custom solution he designed as part of another venture. He says he’d rather "fail completely" than sell his company, and, as a third-year computer science student at MIT, he regularly turns down job offers so he can focus on his startup.

But he hates the word “entrepreneurship.” It’s a title too many people adopt these days, he says, and it attracts too much unwanted attention. He’d rather be working than talking about his work.

“The very worst startups, even if they have a good idea, they just don’t work,” Feigelson says. “There are people who talk and talk and talk, and they don’t work. That’s part of why I don’t do a lot of interviews. I’m always scared that I’m going to spend more time talking about something than doing it.”

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Especially recently, the success of his startup has landed him in the spotlight at several MIT events focused on entrepreneurship.
“Between today and yesterday, I’ll probably spend more time doing tangential things than actually working,” he says.

Regardless of whether he likes the attention, Feigelson will have trouble escaping it. He’s the founder of Zinc, an API for ordering products from online retailers. Zinc’s origins date back to Feigelson’s high school days, when he made good money exploiting price discrepancies on e-commerce sites. He would buy college text books on and sell them on eBay, where book sellers were over-charging college students. By under-cutting the high prices on eBay, Feigelson was able to steal some customers and turn a profit.

As demand grew, so did his frustrations. By his freshman year of college, Feigelson found himself spending too much time simply ordering books from Amazon to sustain the business he was attracting on eBay. When he couldn’t find the solution to his problem elsewhere, Feigelson built it himself. That’s when he realized that he might benefit from refocusing his efforts.

“From the very beginning when I made this, I was looking for an existing solution, and it always struck me how many people were looking for it as well,” Feigelson says. “So I thought there might be something there even three years ago. We were still running that other business, and we said ‘there’s a lot more opportunity doing this, so we should start to do that,’ and that was a couple years ago. And that was a lot of work, a huge amount of work.”

Feigelson is glad to take on the extra work for a business that fits his model for a good startup.

“I think the best startups are the ones that found a very specific problem that hurts a lot for people, and then they solve it,” Feigelson says. “And then people, even if they’re hesitant or it seems unfamiliar, they’re willing to embrace it because it fixed a pain point.”
Without actually establishing a working relationship with Amazon, Zinc has been able to simplify the ordering process down to just one call to the API. The customer only needs to set up an account with Zinc, add money to the account, and then set up Zinc’s API to order and ship the products they need. As long as they have the Amazon ID for the products they need to order and the addresses where they will be delivered, customers can set up recurring automatic orders.

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