St. Louis Character: Antennas Direct's Richard Schneider steers his way around the globe – St. Louis Business Journal – St. Louis Business Journal

Richard Schneider never intended to be an entrepreneur. And when he did found his own business, he didn’t expect it to last long.
Schneider began tinkering with television antennas nearly two decades ago, a project initially meant to improve his home theater. He started selling the devices he created, but initially expected he’d run out of customers pretty quickly. However, the company just kept on growing.
“I really misjudged the market and we were probably in an inventory deficit situation for gosh, at least our first two years,” Schneider said.
Founded in 2003, Antennas Direct has grown to include 30 employees and more than $20 million in annual revenue.
Outside of the office, you’re likely to find Schneider behind the wheel driving one of the many cars in his growing collection of old school vehicles from the 1930s.
You didn’t begin your career with TV antennas. What did you study in college? I have not one, but two useless degrees. I have a degree in political science and another in geography. I was studying to be a map maker, so not terribly close to what I’m doing now. One of my early jobs was helping a company select sites for cell towers, which gave me a little bit of background into signal propagation and gave me a little bit of understanding to read antenna textbooks. That’s kind of a long, perfect road to get to where I’m at now. That gave me enough I could speak English in industry terminology. I’m not a properly trained engineer, but I’ve kind of been thrust into that role.
How did you launch your company? My hobby at the time was home theater. There were very few people who were able to watch high definition television on their very expensive home theater. These are people that had spent $50,000 to $100,000 on home theaters. There were really very few sources and one of them was over-the-air digital television. They were just starting to broadcast in St. Louis, but nothing on the shelf worked. I broke out some antenna textbooks and figured out some of the peculiarities of digital broadcasting and designed some antennas that actually worked better than anything you could buy at retail. I thought maybe there would be a worldwide market of maybe 20 to 25 customers a month and I could have this hobby and self-fund my own theater habit. There was a new projector I wanted to buy, and this could pay for my projector.
When did you realize it was time to focus full time on Antennas Direct? I was actually having more fun doing the antenna stuff. I would actually put antennas in my trunk and go to work and then I would get orders mailed and fill out address labels at lunch. I would go to the Chesterfield post office and then put the address labels on my way home from work. It might have been initially a couple every day, but then it was starting to become like 20 or 25. Then I actually did the math and I go “this is something.” Something clicked around 2003 that this is something I should really give my full attention to. I was earning more, having fun talking to people about high-definition theaters and over-the-air broadcasting. It wasn’t even like a job.
You were an accidental entrepreneur. What have you learned over the years about being an entrepreneur? Entrepreneurs make terrible managers and I will fight anyone who disagrees with me on that. They’re almost mutually exclusive qualities. I have been very fortunate in that people have actually saved me from myself. The entrepreneurs that succeed are able to recognize their limitations and I think that’s kind of the key.
What do you like to do outside of work? I collect pre-war British cars. I collect cars that are mostly sporting cars from the 1930s. I have about 22 cars. My wife and I participate in historic rallies and races. We usually do two or three of those a year. We’ve been doing The Great Race for the last seven years, which is a 3,000 mile race across the United States. We’re going to do one or two this year in Europe. We just got back from Scotland, where we did about a thousand-mile loop of Scotland. I have cars in Europe and in the United States. Generally at the end of the rally, we have to rebuild the cars.
What type of cars do you scout out to buy? I’m fascinated with cars that were ahead of their time and were special and remarkable at their time. I have six Lagondas and five Rileys. These are all cars that would’ve been grand prix cars back in the day. I have some British touring cars too.
You started Antennas Direct because of a home theater hobby. Did you keep up with that hobby? Yeah. I’ve got a new projector now, so it did work out.
More about Richard Schneider
Title: President and founder, Antennas Direct
Residence: Wildwood
Age: 51
Family: Schneider and his wife, Noel, have one daughter
Education: Schneider has bachelor’s degrees in political science and geography from the University of Missouri.
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