If you're going to get involved with ecommerce (or you already are!), one of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn from the experiences of those who have already walked the path ahead of you.
In particular, I'm talking about the people who have built the best ecommerce companies in the world.
Here's a list of great interviews I've found while researching ecommerce in general (click to jump down to the relevant person.)
Bonobos is an ecommerce-driven apparel company that's all about Fit, Fun and Service. Mostly pants.
"A great brand starts with a hero product."
"Denim is one of the most crowded markets, but if we do well there, we know we've got something exciting. At Bonobos, we started off a little too early in categories that weren't relevant. We moved into swimsuits and polo shirts early. The focus here is on getting a great start in denim, and then we'll go into sweaters and tops slowly. We want to establish credibility in one product first."- Inc.com – Bonobos Founder: Slow and Steady Growth Always Wins
"The greatest innovation of the past decade? The social graph!"
"It’s a funny thing how this digital tool is making the world a more personal place. Our brand wouldn’t be possible without social media. And because of the power of digitally driven brand-building, we are now creating an in-person store experience, which is arguably more personal than anything else in retail. It’s ironic when you think about it." - gsb.stanford.edu: Andy Dunn: "Passion Is a Prerequisite"
"If you’re the founding CEO, everything is your fault, which is simultaneously crippling and empowering."
"Being a founder is about the act of creation, about being driven to distraction because you want to put something into the world. But being a CEO is about focus and execution and being somewhat redundant and boring in your message. In short, the human traits required to be a founder are very different from the human traits required to be a CEO.
"You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well."
"The right way to build a brand is by delivering a great service. Customers learn about who we are as a result of interacting with us. A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn a reputation by trying to do hard things well. People notice that over time. I don't think there are any shortcuts."
"Word of mouth is very powerful."
We take those funds that might otherwise be used to shout about our service and put those funds instead into improving the service. That's the philosophy we've taken from the beginning. If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful." - Businessweek.com - Online Extra: Jeff Bezos on Word-of-Mouth Power
We loved Jeff Bezos's quotes so much, we dedicated an entire post to them: Jeff Bezos Quotes!
3: Sophia Amoruso, of Nasty Gal
Sophia Amoruso founded Nasty Gal in 2006. Nasty Gal was named the fastest-growing e-tailer by Inc magazine in 2012, had $100m in revenue in 2013. Social Media followers? 1.2 million on Instagram, 1 million on Facebook, 175k on Twitter.
“It’s incredibly important for us to be consistent."
"This generation is super savvy - it doesn't matter who you hire to run your social media if the person behind the scenes pulling the strings is far from the customer."
"Using social media allowed me to have a conversation with our customers - I would say it was the number one reason we created awareness. Every other fashion brand out there - including those that I call competitors - are run by mostly old white men, and the customer knows it." – Nasty Gal's Sophia Amoruso: 'Shoplifting saved my life'
Run controlled experiments and learn from the outcomes.
"Amoruso also tried a controlled experiment. Selecting her best shots for eBay, she also posted them on MySpace to get a more qualitative feel. If the bids were lower than she expected and the comments on MySpace were negative (“That model looks angry,” for example), she’d ditch the model and try to sell a similar item on someone new. When she wasn’t fine-tuning online selling, she was trying to expand her reach with friend-finding software that instantly sent out friend requests to, say, “friends of Nylon magazine” (a fashion rag). " – Forbes.com –Nasty Gal's Sophia Amoruso: Fashion's New Phenom
4: Jake Nickell, of Threadless
Threadless does crowdsourced t-shirt designs. People submit their designs, the crowd votes, and the best designs get printed. The designers then get a commission of the sales. They have over 2,000,000 Twitter followers.
"We’ve always been super early adopters of new technology."
"I was actually the 1,500th user on Twitter. I mean even Instagram, we were the first brand on Instagram and we’ve got hundreds of thousands of followers on there. With Twitter, we even did a deal early on with them. We ran a Twitter tease and they promoted our account for a long time so we got our following up but what’s crazy is that even though that doesn’t exist right now our follower count is still growing." – adrinkwith.com – Jake Nickell
"With our company, it's all about trust and honesty and we just don't like the idea of pushing our brand on people who otherwise wouldn't hear about it."
"We like the idea of it spreading via word of mouth, organically, naturally. It's not that we don't market, we just don't advertise. I'd rather somebody hears about Threadless through an article in a magazine than an advertisement in a magazine." – techradar.com – The Secrets Behind Threadless's Success
"One of the things that I find most satisfying looking back is just the culture shifts I’ve witnessed that allowed Threadless to grow as large as it has."
"When I was growing up, my only options for clothing, especially t-shirts, were to wear big corporate logos and brand names across my chest. Threadless is all about the art on tees. There are no logos, no branding… so I find that really exciting, that you can wear t-shirts that just have amazing art on them, you don’t have to wear a logo." – Teehunter.com – Threadless Co-founder Jake Nickell Interview
Marc Lore co-founded Diapers.com with Vinit Bharara. Diapers.com was acquired by Amazon.com in 2010 for $545 million dollars.
"All 25 of our customer service folks are in-house. We have a 24/7 operation, and we empower the reps completely to take care of the mom at whatever cost."
"Really, the fewer rules, the better. The concept is just if Mom calls and there's an issue, do whatever is necessary to make her happy and really wow her. (We got into the habit of referring to all of our customers as "Mom.")
"If we don't have a product you're looking for, we'll get it from a competitor."
The day before yesterday, a mom really needed a car seat for the weekend, and there was no way UPS was going to get there on time because UPS comes late on that particular day. But UPS comes to the customer service rep's home in the morning. So the rep had it shipped to her house in the morning, and then she drove it over to the mom's house. We're doing 6,000 orders a day, but that stuff still happens all the time." – Inc.com – The Way I Work: Marc Lore of Diapers.com
Do things that don't scale.
"Unable to buy from the major manufacturers, Lore and Bharara forged a practical solution. When an order came into the website, DePaola (a college friend of Lore’s) would run down to the local BJ’s Wholesale Club in her minivan to pick up diapers. Then she would ship them out. Orders started to come in almost as soon as the site went live. By the end of the first week, she was shipping 20 to 30 packages a night.
The partners lost money on every shipment but learned that there was a market for diapers on the Internet.
In fact, they didn’t mind losing money because selling bargain diapers is only a hook to build a long term relationship with mom.
Bonus: Get our FREE Ecommerce Growth Ebook! We've put together an extensive guide to help you break through your next revenue target. Check it out here.
6: Susan and Eric Koger of ModCloth
ModCloth is an American online retailer specializing in vintage, vintage-inspired, and indie clothing, accessories, and decor.
"We know our customers exceptionally well. Because we're digital, we're able to keep track of things better than any brick-and-mortar retailer is."
"When Zara or H&M or Urban Outfitters [want to test demand for a product], they do a pilot run in pilot stores. If they sell out of all the smalls immediately, they know it's popular, but don't really know how much demand they have for a small. With our Be the Buyer program, we get a more precise read on demand because people are on the waitlist for specific sizes.
On top of that, we have all this historical sales data on products, and we're also interacting with customers on Pinterest and Polyvore and other external sites to see what [our customer] is saving and playing with, the styles that are inspiring her. Combined with Be the Buyer and Make the Cut, we're able to anticipate what she'll want down the line." Mashable – How ModCloth Went From a College Dorm to $100 Million a Year
"To me, it felt natural to use MySpace (remember, we’re talking about 2002!) and Facebook to build a community around ModCloth rather than simply selling fashion, and this helped the brand grow organically."
"As for customer interaction. I didn’t have a background in fashion or retail, so my approach was really instinctual. People entrenched in the fashion industry at the time didn’t think about social media as a way to authentically connect with your customers; they thought of it as a way to do marketing." - DesignSponge.com – Biz Ladies Profile: Susan Gregg Koger of ModCloth
"The fashion industry is changed because of us, partly. It is no longer top-down."
"They don’t say, “six months later everyone should wear this!” The Internet changed all of that. We let customers have a voice and let us know what they want and need. They name our products, they help us figure out what to offer on the site, and we get them involved in other ways. We’ll still be doing that in five years. – nytimes.com – Modcloth Shows How to Win by Losing
7: Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox
Birchbox is a popular subscription service that delivers beauty samples to its customers every month. They raised US$60 million in April this year.
"First, we thought there was a real void in one thing for women — people had come up with a great way to sell women's fashion online, but beauty hadn't been really cracked, in our opinion."
"And the reason was that it's extra challenging to develop an online business for beauty, because it has a touch, try and feel element to it. So that, coupled with the fact that Hayley had a best friend [Mollie Chen] who was a beauty editor, really inspired the idea because [Hayley]'s a very passive beauty consumer, but she always had the best products, and I always noticed it. I would ask, "Why do you have the newly launched Benefit mascara?" And she would say, "Oh Mollie gave it to me." All the time! – Mashable – Beauty Delivered: How Birchbox Is Disrupting the Cosmetics Industry
"As consumers, we read magazines or blogs and we get excited about a product, but then there are so many hurdles in the way of actually going to find the product."
We think it doesn’t make sense to have those silos in between these things: E-commerce and editorial should live together and be equally important.
CEO Michael Dubin might be quite the comedian, but the success of Dollar Shave Club is anything but funny. They got 5000 subscribers on the first day alone.
"If you can create content that goes viral it's going to be cheaper for you to build your business."
I'm not going to call ourselves a content company. That would be arrogant. But whether its video, or Facebook content, or other kinds of content, we are going to make a strong commitment to telling strong stories in creative ways and just giving our audience and our customers fun stuff to play with. That's part of the fun of being an Internet brand. – BusinessInsider.com – Dollar Shave Club Interview
9: Eric Bandholz, of Beardbrand
Eric Bandholdz has an epic beard, and his Beardbrand products and philosophy have gotten widespread news coverage- even winning over SEO whiz Rand Fishkin.
"I am able to talk and get to know other beardsmen around the world at a personal level."
I was also involved in various communities online, from Reddit to Beardboard.com and BeardedGents.com. [...] I think it helps that I’m passionate about what we are building and people see that in me. With my YouTube videos, I’ve made a lot of how-to videos that people have really liked. – interviewswithmakers.com – Eric Bandholz of Beardbrand
10: Ryan Babenzien of GREATS
GREATS is a really cool brand of sneakers that was born and raised online by true-blue sneakerheads, Ryan Babenzien and John Buscemi. The interviews are a particularly great read because it's incredibly clear just how thoroughly Babenzien lives and loves sneakers.
"We’re from the industry, all our friends work in the industry and we feel like we’re invited to the party."
I think the sneaker collector market is really closed. You can’t just make sneakers and be accepted – that’s not enough. You need authenticity. I think Jon and I deliver that. [...] On the other side, we’re making really high-quality products and we’re offering it at a lower price because we don’t offer it to wholesalers. That’s a really compelling story. To be able to buy a really good looking shoe at $59 when you would normally pay over $100 for a similar shoe? That’s tough to argue. – NiceKicks.com – Industry Interview: Ryan Babenzien Talks Greats Brand & The BAB
"In Williamsburg, we’ll have our own space that is more of an experiment, the difference being you’ll be able to buy shoes in that space since it’s ours."
That's the end of what I got! I hope you found these interviews as enlightening as I did. You can (and should!) totally do your own searching for interviews with eCommerce founders, especially those who might be operating in a similar niche to yours. Happy learning!
Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.