Rebels defy the convention and that’s what John Caplan was born to do. Raised in the tumult and grit of New York City in the late 1970′s and early 80′s, Caplan is a product of his time. He grew up believing that anything was possible and that authority should be more than questioned – it should be challenged. A die-hard champion of the underdog, his parents thought he was going to become a public defender. It’s not surprising that he’s now at the helm of a company designed to empower the small business owner with an unabashed nose thumb to big box retailers. “The little guy is getting squeezed out everywhere,” he tells me. “OpenSky was created to give small business a fighting chance against the big guys.”
Caplan’s contention is that consumers would rather buy a lot of their stuff from small business owners; people that care and put heart and soul into the products they sell. But, the major retailers own distribution. That makes it harder for artisans to sell their wares and find customers. “I’m not afraid to say that I am anti-Walmart. Walmart and big box stores are about scale and volume. So are the chains. A very important part of America gets disempowered in that equation.”
Owning a small business is linked very closely to the American dream. Talk to most people and they have a business idea simmering on a back burner somewhere in their consciousness. Caplan’s mission has a certain zeal to it because he believes that small business celebrates individuality and that diversity is the first casualty of big box distribution. Homogeneity is not good for culture and culture is something else that has a spell on Caplan. “I grew up going to museums. I love art and creating things.” That love of creativity is a powerful driver for Caplan. “At the end of a day I feel the same satisfaction as I imagine painters to feel. You step back from the canvas and take in what you have created that wasn’t there in the morning. It’s like a high. I’ve created a platform in OpenSky that allows people to be endlessly creative. That’s very fulfilling.”
What about family? How does he manage being a super cool CEO and a Dad and a husband? Here, he admits that it is tough. I’ve never known a CEO that didn’t want to spend more time with family and Caplan is a passionate family man. “I want my kids to feel like I loved them enough to show them a man that followed his dreams.”
Why is empowering the small business such a passion for Caplan? “Innovative, creative people are creating and discovering amazing products but can’t seem to get them to market. The OpenSky platform empowers those people. I love that. I want to be the Robin Hood of business. I want to steal market share from the soullessness of the mass retailers and restore some humanity back to shopping.”
Hats off to Mr. Caplan for busting up an old way of doing things for a new way that restores vitality and possibility to the backbone of America: small business.