In 1998 when most of the population was still logging into the internet with America Online, Tom Johnson was creating the world’s largest curated marketplace for antiques and vintage goods.
Johnson’s first career was in computing, working for years as a programmer for IBM. When he decided to strike out on his own he took his love of antiques and combined it with his technology background to service a growing online demand.
“I was really looking for something I could do on my own and Ebay had just started,” said Johnson. “There were a few sites that were in the vintage and antiques market place, but they were all pretty bad.”
Johnson launched his first website, Ruby Lane, in 1998. The site allows customers to shop for antiques and vintage goods from a large number of vendors around the country. Johnson said that the vendors were carefully curated so Ruby Lane can guarantee that the goods are authentically vintage.
“Everything you find on our site has been curated so that you know you are getting an authentic antique or vintage piece,” said Johnson. “With most other sites it’s a free-for-all. You can list whatever you want and call it whatever you want. We have lots of rules about what you can and can not sell for our dealers.”
Having been established so early on, Ruby Lane experienced both the internet boom and bust of the early 2000s. Johnson explained that maintaining steady growth and avoiding outside investors with inflated offers were two of the key ways that the website survived an economic calamity that famously wiped out other big name sites.
“We’re a very organic company. I didn’t accept any money to start the company. It’s all been self-funded. A lot of others were not,” Johnson said. “The big dotcom bubble was just a few years after we started and a lot of our competitors died then. We didn’t do anything crazy with investors or mergers and we survived that whole time.”
In 2015, Johnson and his business partners began a new venture called Ruby Lux. Ruby Lux provides a high-end market for jewelry, watches, fine art, and more. Johnson said the site tends to focus on interior designers and architects, offering them an easy place to shop for high-end clients.
Johnson said he started to vacation with his parents in Naples 30 years ago and fell in love with the area.
“About 15 years ago I decided ‘Hey it’s pretty nice down here.’ Instead of only enjoying it in retirement why not enjoy it now?” said Johnson. “Why not move to paradise now?”
Johnson purchased a Naples home in 2002. He and his husband of two years split their time between Naples and New York City.
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