Entrepreneurship Q&A

Marissa Saporta ’99: Revamping the world of e-commerce with a firm grip on fun

Marissa Saporta

Marissa Saporta ’99 followed in her father’s footsteps toward the family business before reimagining her future and the world of e-commerce. After earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural, resource and managerial economics from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (the department is now the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management) in 1999, with a minor in food industry management, she found her niche in entrepreneurship. In 2014, Saporta co-founded Gorilla Commerce, using competitive research and market analysis to develop affordable, high-quality home, pet and office products based on consumer needs. Saporta’s multimillion-dollar business now ranks in the top 20 of private-label sellers on Amazon U.S. with a suite of brands and three offices around the globe.


How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

Although I did not realize it at that time, my entrepreneurial journey began as a child through my upbringing. My parents divorced when I was young, and my mom instilled in me her belief to never be dependent on a man. She wanted me to have it all – success, family and a happy marriage, and if life took an unexpected turn, she wanted me to be ok financially. My dad, whom I adore and who is also a Cornellian ’73, told me there is nothing I cannot do or accomplish. I spent summers working at his food plant, mesmerized by his charisma and intelligence. I wanted to be exactly like that when I was older. I then worked commission-based jobs and shined in that environment, where financial reward was directly linked to my effort. All of this was the perfect foundation for what was to come.

Did you intend to become an entrepreneur when you started Cornell?

My plan when I was at Cornell was to go into the family business, Blue Ridge Farms. My major was agricultural, resource and managerial economics with a minor in food industry management. I had a simple plan – work two years outside my family business to learn everything I could and then take over for my dad one day. I had the wonderful experience of working for my dad for a few years and learning from him before we ended up selling our family business. At that point, I had to reimagine what my career life would look like and knew, after working for my family, that I never wanted to have a boss again. My first taste of independence came as a residential real estate agent, where I had total freedom, no base salary and earned commission based on my sales. My first year in the business I was named rookie of the year after converting 23 for-sale-by-owner properties into listings. I quickly learned that I thrive with less structure and larger earning potential.

Entrepreneurship is all about taking calculated risks. What is the most pivotal risk you have taken and how did it change your path?

I started my business, Gorilla Commerce, in 2014 with my co-founder, and we were fortunate that it never felt like we had to take a huge, calculated risk. With only a small amount of money invested we made conservative decisions, but with a sound business model, we were able to quickly drive revenue through rapid product expansion. Today, we are one of the top third-party sellers on Amazon.

The less glaring calculated risk is the impact of starting a business as a mom. I missed a few Halloweens and dance recitals when I was on business trips, but I was fortunate that I had a supportive family, which allowed me to work as hard as I did for so many years. And on the bright side, my kids figured out how to set their own alarm clocks!

Gorilla Commerce’s first product, the Gorilla Grip Rug Pad.

How has your experience at Cornell impacted how you approach your business?

My experience at Cornell was wonderful and represents, to this day, the best four years of my life (do not tell my kids or husband I said that!). Cornell provided me with such incredible confidence. I learned I was not only smart enough to be competitive with my peers, but I also learned the joy of laughing and having fun. I joke that if you were at Cornell between 1995 and 1999, you may remember me as the blonde girl dancing on the bar at Dino’s. I approach business with that mentality – if you cannot have fun while you are working, then immediately stop what you are doing and figure out a way to bring the fun back in. I try to bring levity to even the tensest situations.

What was your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?

My proudest moment as an entrepreneur is seeing the incredible reach of our products across so many homes in the United States. Over the last decade, our products have reached tens of millions of consumers. Our flagship brand Gorilla Grip has become a go-to brand for high-quality, functional and reasonably priced products. This brings me incredible joy.

If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be?

It is important when you start a business to understand your strengths and weaknesses. For the skills that are not in your wheelhouse, it is important to use third parties initially, and then as you expand, hire individuals for those roles. Also, my other advice when starting a business is not to hang on too long if the business is not taking flight. You can always start another business, but if years are passing and it is becoming a huge emotional and financial drain – it is ok to walk away and try again.

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