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Secrets of Success: Cori O'Steen

There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Cori O’Steen, the founder of UPak, a full-service customer packaging and shipping supply business. As a single mother of two young children who wanted to stay at home with her children, O’Steen began selling clothes on eBay, but eventually transitioned her business model to selling shipping supplies.

Her business has now expanded out of her home into two locations, one each in California and South Carolina. UPak participates in eBay Giving Works, donating proceeds and running numerous auctions for charity. The business has averaged growth of 35 percent per year over the last few years, and is currently adding new and innovative product lines and hiring new staff. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Cori O’Steen: A psychologist. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. Why did you start your own business?

O’Steen: To make ends meet while I was home raising my young children. I actually didn’t even think of it as starting a business. I began selling my kid’s outgrown clothing on eBay. At the time, there was a lack of shipping supplies available anywhere. I had family in the packaging industry and bought a few cases, used the mailers I needed and sold the extra on eBay. I had actually tried to start a different type of business a few years prior and failed. Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

O’Steen: Yes, and it will sound a little silly. It was a big goal of mine and it is simple—to be able to leave work for more than a day, ultimately for a vacation. That happened in 2008 but for five years prior that was my dream—to have the business stay running while I was away. What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

O’Steen: Being an entrepreneur is not about what you are selling, so do not get overly fixated on “the product.” It is about being a business owner, and there is nothing else I would rather do to earn a living. What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

O’Steen: Don’t imitate—create. I sell commodities and I know it can sound impossible, but if you want to make a name for yourself you have to find an angle to make your business stand out from the rest. Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?

O’Steen: I don’t. There have been so many changes that greatly impact our industry already this year. All I know for sure is we are ready to snap into action and problem-solve any new challenge that comes our way. What’s your favorite book?

O’Steen: My favorite business book is How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

O’Steen: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi