Sindhya Valloppillil’s article about consumer retail, titled “Why Consumer-Facing E-Commerce Is BROKEN,” created quite a storm on Twitter this past weekend. Venture capitalists invested in the noted firms were instantly on the defensive and entrepreneurs attempting to develop new retail models felt attacked.
While Valloppillil created a robust conversation about online retail and venture capital funding, the article failed to talk about the challenges online-only retailers face when trying to simultaneously craft a brand and establish a differentiated business model at the same time. To use a popular visual, these entrepreneurs are building the plane while flying it.
As an ecommerce marketer with several upstart scars, I know firsthand the challenges involved in flying, repairing, building, and trying to keep a business aloft while driving sales. The ability to focus employee excitement into a valid business model requires saying “no” to 90 percent of the projects that appear urgent. Moreover, focusing founder and employee passion into a clear, differentiated brand message takes just as much backbone. One’s ability to articulate a brand’s mission, vision, and values in each customer touchpoint – based on the customer’s context and device – and to then inspire them to propagate your message, is a thrilling and exhausting challenge.
While Valloppillil is enjoying what she termed the “shit show,” the larger discussion is around teams and people. Mike at the Dollar Shave Club lives the mission, but he needs a (or more) merchandiser, a strong technical lead, and omnichannel marketers that can help guide product development, merchandize the assortment, and diligently measure and optimize performance. Sometimes you pick the right team and sometimes a strong board of directors steers you well. If you’re fortunate, great people bring equally great people with them to your organization.
We know that DSC was surprised by the volume of interest that their first video created; they didn’t have the supply chain nor the product catalog to capitalize on the surge of customer interest. That said, they have a believable ethos that many of their competitors don’t. They have a story to tell and sell.
Yes, retail upstarts need to understand business, brand, and audience insights – all businesses do – but these elements can’t stand in isolation; they need to result in a roadmap that is executed on time by a coordinated team. DSC clearly did not execute fast enough. Amazon did and so did Zappos. As is Fab with their announcement today. So, before we start slinging mud about what these startups aren’t doing, let’s be prescriptive about what they should be doing.
I’m here to help. jason /at/ jasonmichaels /dot/ com.