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Startup CEO New Years Resolutions January 6, 2011

Posted by jeremyliew in 2011, culture, growth, HR, new years resolutions, product management.

I asked the CEO’s of the companies that I work with,  “What are your company related new years resolutions?”. Each had a different spin, but they mostly fell into a few themes of:

  • Great people
  • Improve the product
  • Stay Lean
  • Grow fast
  • Internalize culture and values

Lisa Marino of RockYou,  a leading developer of social games and advertising solutions for social media, is focused on building a great team with more gaming DNA to improve the quality of the games it publishes:

Make RockYou the place talent wants to be.

Many of the companies had resolutions focused on their product management and development. From the social gaming companies, Will Harbin of Casual Collective, which publishers the popular game Backyard Monsters, said simply:

Mo’ money, mo’ fun

As games like CityVille have shown,  mo’ fun usually leads to mo’ money! [And congrats to Alex Le, cofounder of a prior investment, Serious Business, whose first game since the Zynga acquisition is CityVille.]

Scott Albro of Focus, a knowledge sharing community for business people, has fully embraced the idea of constant iteration for 2011, taking the best practices of social media to the business media world.

Plan big, increment small. Meaning: set big, audacious goals for the year, but understand how the little things you do every day link together so you can achieve those big goals.

Ed Baker of Friend.ly, a fun way to meet new people, is focused on driving innovation:
Encourage more product suggestions from our engineering team. Our engineers often come up with great ideas, and they are the most productive when they work on these ideas. in 2011, I’d like to encourage a culture where this happens as much as possible.

Shawn Gupta of OhLife, a personal journaling tool over email, has similar sentiments in using metrics to drive product innovation:

Make metrics a core part of our product development. It will be a lot easier for us to make improvements to our product when we have data-driven discussions and decisions.

Although the industry is in much better shape than the dark days of 2008 and 2009, many CEOs have fully embraced the continue to internalize the lean startup principles that came out of those years. Joe Greenstein of Flixster, the leading movies app on all social and mobile platforms, wants to take big risks with small dollars.

Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Steve Semprevivo of RetireEasy, a  company helping baby boomers manage their retirement, is also focused on staying lean:
Pursue our passion, build lasting strategic relationships and most importantly use our cash wisely.
Other companies are fully focused on growth. Tim O’Shaughnessy of Living Social, a local deals site, says simply:

Put the pedal through the floor.

Glenn Rogers of CarDomain, a community of auto enthusiasts, concurs:
Traffic,traffic,traffic! For media sites like ours you are either growing traffic or or you are dying. Our whole focus this year will be on finding new users, improving the user experience and increasing their engagement with our sites.

Two ecommerce companies that have seen tremendous growth are paying attention to their core values and culture to keep their organizations coherent as they dramatically increase in size. Andy Dunn of Bonobos, a vertical web retailer, will be driving attention to one of their core values in 2011:

Focus on self-awareness, the core trait of leaders, both people and firms.

We will measure our traction in three ways:

1. Knowing we are becoming self-aware as a team. Measure of success: 360 degree reviews done smartly (meaning efficiently and not dreaded by all involved).

2. Marketing who we are, not who we may want to be one day. Measure of success: more than doubling our customer base without doubling our cost per acquisition.

3. Developing products based on knowledge of our strengths and curating products based on knowledge of our weaknesses. Measure of success: sales growth and gross margin return on investment.

Brian Lee of Shoedazzle, a personalized fashion etailer for women, is also focused on one of their core values, great customer service:

Treat every client like they are part of your family.

Scott Brady of Project Slice, a stealth company helping to simplify online shopping, also has cultural values core to his new years resolutions:
Simplify – Challenge ourselves to simplify, we can strive for perfection in the next version.
Celebrate – Take the time to celebrate small wins in all areas of the company, and do it every day as they happen.
Feedback – Continue to foster an environment where everybody on the team communicates feedback, good and bad, in an open and honest way.

What are your new years resolutions?

Why Lightspeed invested in Bonobos December 16, 2010

Posted by jeremyliew in apparel, bonobos, Ecommerce.

Today we’re announcing that Lightpseed and Accel are investing in Bonobos, a vertically-integrated men’s apparel etailer. Bonobos was founded in 2007 by a couple of Stanford Business school students, selling better fitting pants out of their dorm room. Initially their focus was on pants, cut for modern American men who had played sports growing up. Not the too skinny Euro cut that doesn’t work for men who had some muscle in their legs, but not the baggy and pleated looks that Brooks Brothers made the staple of American style. I am happy to say that I have a lot of their pants in my closet!

The company has since moved to the web and grown substantially, both adding product lines under their own brand (shirts, jackets, polos, shorts and sweaters), as well as carefully curating products from other brands that fit their style and aesthetic. Their growth was initially steady, but has really taken off in the last few quarters as they got a better handle on Customer Acquisition Cost versus Lifetime Value. As I’ve mentioned before, companies who understand these customer level economics can quickly reach millions in monthly revenue as they can confidently spend on marketing to grow their customer base. Our investment into Bonobos will enable them to ramp their growth rate in just this manner.

Earlier this year Lightspeed invested in Living Sociaand in Shoedazzle. Both investments were premised on the idea that making shopping fun is driving this current generation of ecommerce companies. Unsurprisingly, both companies have a primarily female customer base.

Bonobos is different. Andy Dunn, Bonobo’s CEO,  captures some of the differences between the way that men and women shop for clothes like this:

Basically, this says that for many women, style, trend and fun are the most important factors. Time and hassle is acceptable if the style, trend and fun are high enough. Shoedazzle certainly focuses on style, trend and fun.

For many men, the equation is different. They do not like to shop, but they do care about looking alright. They focus primarily on fit, but want time and hassle to be minimized. For an e-commerce website, this means that fast, free shipping and returns are important factors to drive men’s apparel sales.

Furthermore, men develop a certain loyalty to brands and retailers that have clothes that fit them. If they have confidence in a particular brand, they can make their annual shopping fast and easy, and they don’t have to cross shop from other places. Whereas the lifetime value for female clothes buyers comes from their frequent purchases driven by entertainment shopping, the lifetime value for male clothes buyers comes from the brand loyalty engendered by meeting their needs for clothes that fit, in a fast and easy buying process.

I’m very excited about our investment in Bonobos. We believe that they are the leading pureplay vertically-integrated men’s apparel etailer, and are well positioned, and well capitalized, to expand on their leadership position. In Shoedazzle, we are also investors in what we believe to be the leading pureplay vertically-integrated women’s apparel etailer as well. JCrew, Lands End and others have grown to be billion dollar businesses in the vertically-integrated catalogue led apparel space, and have transitioned well to the web, but the advantages of being a pureplay etailer will allow for very valuable new companies to emerge.

If you’d like to check them out,  grab something for work, the weekend, a party or the holidays. Use my discount code – SECRETHANDSHAKE, and get 20% off through the holidays!