Paving His Own Road to Success Through eBay
Donovan Mitchell’s self-determination and work ethic outlasted the motocross accident that left him paralyzed, and drove him to create a thriving new career.
Editor’s note: In celebration of eBay’s 25th anniversary, we’re spotlighting a seller every week from our global community in our Mini Stories column through 2020.
After receiving his first dirt bike at the tender age of four, eBay seller Donovan Mitchell realized he wanted to become a professional motocross racer. Throughout his childhood and teenage years in northern California near Sacramento, he opted out of school dances and weekend hangouts with friends to relentlessly pursue his goal. Chasing after his dream meant long days training and practicing. By age 17, Donovan’s hard work paid off and he turned pro, competing on the national racing circuit. “It seemed unbelievable that my dream had become a reality,” he said.
The late 90s for Donovan were spent traveling around the country racing; he used his race winnings to help foot the bill. Donovan said he was thrilled when the Red Bull Factory KTM team signed him to race the 2000 Supercross/Motocross season.
But at 19 years old, his emerging career came to a halt when in a racing crash in 1999, he broke his neck and suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He was airlifted to the hospital and spent a month in the ICU on ventilator support, unable to breathe independently. “My mindset was still that if I worked hard enough, I would overcome this injury and return to my former glory,” he said. “I learned very quickly that spinal cord injuries don’t work that way.”
“After being independent for so long, the hardest thing to grasp was asking for help,” he said. “It wasn’t until a year and a half later that I was finally able to gain a little movement in my arm; it took several years to get in the groove and find a solid routine.”
Donovan found himself unsure about what was next for him. He spent the following 14 years “floating through life, trying to find a career that was compatible” with his physical disability, he said. He gave college a go, along with a handful of jobs in the racing industry, including a job as a coordinator for a race team, but none of those pathways truly sparked his passion in the same way motocross racing did. “In my heart and my brain, none of it brought any excitement,” he said.
Then, one day, Donovan’s curiosity around eBay was piqued after a conversation with an old friend, who was a former, motocross racing mechanic. His friend had quit his job to run his eBay store full-time; “He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you look at doing what I do on eBay and having an eBay store?’” Donovan said. His friend showed Donovan how to sell on eBay, including how to list items and add descriptions. “I was very fortunate that I had a pretty successful mentor in the early days to listen to all my questions and get me in the right direction to take off running.”
In 2014, Donovan started selling parts from his garage that were left over from his years around the sport of motocross. As long as he could find someone else to help with photos and shipping, he could handle all of the listings and administrative eBay store management independently.
“[Selling on eBay] became my new obsession,” Donovan said. “It was the first thing that reminded me, ‘Okay, I do have this passion, and I want to channel some of my competitiveness, my determination, into it.’”
Around the same time that Donovan discovered his love for eBay and entrepreneurship, he met Jenny. They had friends in common, and he learned they shared a mutual passion for motorcycles. Jenny worked for a motorcycle dealership nearby, and off-handedly, she mentioned her employer had a surplus inventory of parts available — would Donovan be interested? Saying yes would mean rapidly expanding his business operations, but he took the plunge. In 2015, with Jenny’s help, he sold $100,000 of inventory on eBay and tripled his investment.
His connection with Jenny soon evolved to something long-lasting — the two married last spring and are now running their BikeNow Motorsports store full-time together. “Without her, there’s a lot that’s impossible,” he said.
Donovan said their partnership thrives because their personalities are such a natural fit; while he is driven and strong-willed, Jenny is “easygoing and mellow, calm and carefree.” Through all of the store’s milestones, Jenny has celebrated alongside Donovan. He recalls moments when they’d achieve a goal for monthly sales: “We’d look at each other like ‘Wow, babe, that’s amazing. We did that.’ It doesn’t seem real.”
In 2017, BikeNow Motorsports became an authorized dealer with a motorcycle parts distributor and grew their inventory from “a few hundred items in our garage and spare bedrooms” to over 35,000 listings and a small office. The business has continuously grown year-over-year, since it started. This year, with people looking to fix up old bikes while in quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, BikeNow Motorsports has seen a sharp increase in sales over this time last year, a rapid uptick that Donovan said can sometimes make him feel like he’s on a “runaway train.”
On a normal day, Donovan wakes up around 6 a.m. “Immediately, I’m jumping onto my iPad to place any orders that are drop shipping through our distributor warehouses; I’m always answering questions and providing customer service.” Throughout the day Jenny handles inventory control, packaging and shipping of the items on hand, while Donovan processes orders, creates listings and continues to provide constant customer service: “I kind of always have my iPad in my lap.”
For Donovan, eBay has helped foster old connections with friends from his racing days. Sometimes, a customer’s name rings a bell or he notices that the shipping location is in his hometown. When that happens, he said, “I’ll wonder if that’s a person I used to race against when I was a kid, and I’d lost track of them years and years ago.”
He’ll send an eBay message, thanking them for their purchase and leaving his name. At least half a dozen times, he’s reconnected with an old friend or acquaintance that way. “There was one gentleman reaching out about some parts, and it turned out that we’d raced each other back in the mid-80s when we were eight years old,” he said.
Selling on eBay also stirs memories for Donovan, who recalls how fervently his dad would scour local bike shops if he needed an accessory or part before a big race. Before the days of the internet, if they couldn’t find the right part, racing was off for the weekend.
Today, if a customer needs rush delivery for a part before a weekend race, Donovan strives to make it happen. “They can’t be any more thankful, saying it saved their weekend. That’s close to home, because I knew that feeling growing up,” he said.
Donovan’s now an ambassador with the spinal cord research foundation Wings for Life, which also keeps him busy. “As an ambassador, I speak at events and mentor other newly injured individuals from all walks of life, advocating for continued research so that hopefully we see a day where others like me can get back on our feet,” he said. He added he feels a sense of purpose in advocating for a foundation that has given him a platform to spread awareness and which contributes 100 percent of donations directly to spinal cord research.
Through eBay, Donovan said he’s found a way to chase new dreams — and revved his talents through eBay entrepreneurship. He considers himself a model of the platform’s accessibility to all. “I truly embody what’s possible on eBay,” he said. “I’m able to run a business with just the use of one of my arms and no use of my fingers. I am a prime example that people with disabilities can have independence and be successful using eBay as a platform to better their lives.”
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