Do You Sell Products Online?

I spent the past two days at the Innovate Conference in San Francisco put on by X.commerce, the new “open” eCommerce platform created by Magento, GSI Commerce, Paypal, Ebay, Adobe and with deep Facebook, Kenshoo (online marketing), Milo (local search) and Redlaser (barcode scanning) integration.  Magento and GSI Commerce are the two leading platforms for online merchants to set up their website and sell their goods online.  The launch of X.commerce is a game-changer for online retail in several ways:

  • It is a veritable one-stop shop for anyone who sells product online to create their consumer interface and upload inventory, integrate with Ebay, obtain user analytics from Adobe, create advertising and social outreach campaigns and track conversion, launch international (multi-language) platforms, create a Facebook store and enable single click payments through Paypal.  These things alone are not special, but now merchants have the ability to set all of this up with nearly single button clicks.  A merchant can go from having no online presence to having all of these features and more literally in an afternoon.
  • The X.commerce platform is “open”, which creates opportunities for developers to create new applications for merchants and sell them through the app store.  Some lucky few will have the opportunity to partner with X.commerce directly to offer services to merchants.  This is where my new company, BlackLocus, intends to focus.  Because we provide merchants with a pricing engine, including insight on competitors pricing across the web and recommendations on how to price each product, we are a natural and valuable participant on the X.commerce platform.  The benefit to us?  Instantaneous access and distribution to hundreds of thousands of merchants on the current Magento and GSI Commerce and future X.commerce platforms.

This was an extremely useful few days enabling me to quickly get up to speed on what’s happening in eCommerce, the importance of social, the blurring of online & offline and the trends focusing on mobile devices.  I’m beginning to form a point of view about how and where BlackLocus fits into this ecosystem and am energized to get started with the founders to build a great business.  There is much to do!

Advertisements

Mission Accomplished!

Jack seeing me off just before the race

This past weekend, we took a family trip to Las Vegas for three reasons – to visit some of Renee’s family, to do a “dry run” of having Jack in a car for a 5-hour stretch in anticipation of our upcoming move and finally, so that I could participate in the Las Vegas Gran Fondo, a road cycling race through the Red Rock Canyon area.  Believe it or not, we actually had a great, energizing weekend on all fronts.

Jack did great… as long as the car was moving.  He only started to get fussy when we returned to LA and hit the inevitable stop-and-go traffic that defines this place.  Renee really enjoyed seeing members of her family, including some that she had not seen since her childhood.  And I had a great race on Saturday, completing 100 miles and 8000 feet of climbing in just over 6 hours.  Somehow, I managed to finish in first place among roughly 60 riders.  Jack wanted to enter the race as you can see, but was disqualified since he had 4 wheels instead of 2.

 

Jack disqualified for using 4 wheels

All in all, a wonderful trip which gives us some confidence for our upcoming cross-country move  to Texas 9 days from today.

What’s Next? Part 3: Moving to Austin, TX!

I am ecstatic to announce that I’ll be joining a promising young startup in Austin, TX called BlackLocus as their President effective November 1.  BL was founded at Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 by 3 incredibly smart and innovative individuals – Rodrigo, Francisco and Lukas.  They’ve built technology that enables retailers who sell products online to optimize pricing at the product level in an automated way and in real-time, based on what competitors are charging, internal margin requirements, profit goals, etc.  It’s clear from customer interest, even among large retailers, that they are on to something unique and valuable.  The broader mission is to simplify, automate and profit maximize eCommerce.  A lofty goal indeed and I love how these guys think big.  The team was recently funded by VCs Silverton Partners and DFJ Mercury.

My role with the company will be to run the day to day operations and go-to-market strategy and execution, including hiring the leadership team (Analytics, Product, PR/Marketing, Recruiting/HR, Support and Sales/BD), acquire customers, generate meaningful revenue and establish the company as a thought leader in its space.  I couldn’t be more excited to join Rodrigo, Francisco and Lukas to help them execute on their vision.

What a journey its been over the past 4 months.  And I really do mean journey.  You can read the two previous installments of this process, Part 1 and Part 2.  I have actually really enjoyed the process, re-connecting with folks and meeting really interesting people in the various geographies I was pursuing.  It has been refreshing to take an external view and build some meaningful relationships after being so heads down at TrueCar for the past 4 years.  I’m looking forward to keeping that external focus and really getting involved in the Austin tech community.

This was a really tough decision given that there were multiple opportunities and they were all quite different – different geographies (Boulder, Austin, LA, SF), different roles (CEO, President, COO) and different stages of development (Seed, Post A-round, Pre-IPO).  An oversimplification, but it came down to two primary criteria for me – 1) the quality of the idea and absolutely huge market potential and 2) the team at BL, including the investors at Silverton and DFJ.

And, it will be great to be located in Austin with my brother and his family.  The Taylor caravan departs Los Angeles for Austin in just a few weeks.

Thanks to all my friends, family and others who were supportive and helpful along the way.  Let the new adventure begin!

My 10 Favorite Startup and Tech Blogs

I subscribe via RSS to way too many blog feeds, most of them in the tech/startup/VC world.  Some of the authors contribute daily, others may write once per week but provide unique and well thought out content.  I’m focusing here mostly on non-news blogs (Techcrunch, Mashable, etc. not on this list) and instead on individuals with deep experience as entrepreneurs.  For a broader perspective on popular blogs by category, check out TechStartHub.  If you run a startup, are seeking funding, beginning a company and seeking advice or simply want to stay apprised of opinions and discussion happening in the tech startup ecosystem, then here are my recommended 10 must-read blog subscription feeds, in no particular order (click on the links to subscribe to RSS feeds):

Feld Thoughts.  Daily blog by VC Brad Feld, he mixes both personal and professional insights into his writing.  Brad has been an immensely successful VC, particularly over the past few years.  Naturally, he’s enjoying life and it comes through in his writing.

Startup Lawyer.  There is a wealth of archived content by lawyer Ryan Roberts that talks about how to structure your company, approach valuation, taking in money from Angels and VCs, etc.  He’s a pretty infrequent poster, but the archived content is valuable.

A VC.  Daily blog by legendary VC Fred Wilson.  Fred is usually on the bleeding edge of technology and has a point of view on just about everything technology, particularly trends in the use of technology and startups that are emerging in line with his thesis.

Both Sides of the Table.  Daily blog by another nationally recognized VC Mark Suster.  Mark is probably the most actively engaged and networked in the tech startup community outside of Robert Scoble and spends a lot of time and energy on his blog writing.  No short posting here, usually his writing is very comprehensive and with a strong point of view on his subject matter.

Ask the VC.  Separate blog curated by Brad Feld, he scours all of the VC blogs and re-posts what he believes is the most useful information that day.  Tremendous archived content here as well.

Digital Quarters.  A pretty infrequently posted blog by Ben Elowitz, founder of Blue Nile, but although infrequent, his writing is insightful and comprehensive around whatever topic he is addressing.

Steve Blank.  A serial entrepreneur and founder of E.piphany and eight or nine other companies, Steve Blank (now a professor) has a large following and impeccable reputation in the startup community.

Blog Maverick.  Always a contrarian view on many subjects by this now famous owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban.  He’s a pretty infrequent poster, but his comments are usually pretty insightful whether you agree with him or not.

On Startups.  Blog dedicated to the entrepreneur and written by Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot and several other companies.

SplatF.  Combination news and blog site by technology writer Dan Frommer, he usually posts multiple times per day on whats going on in tech.  What distinguishes him from other writers is he injects his own point of view into news and current events.

Honorable Mention.  Robert Scoble.  Probably the most prolific and connected tech writer on the planet, so much so that its impossible for me to keep up with him and his posts.  He gets an honorable mention because he writes TOO much, but he typically is on the front lines of reporting.

Where Were You 10 Years Ago Today?

Ground Zero, taken from where the towers used to stand

Obviously today is a day of reflection for all of us, and a day of remembrance, mourning, hope and many other emotions for those closest to the tragedy.  I was in Arizona that day, just getting up to start my day when I turned on the TV to see the first tower up in smoke.  I was transfixed to the TV and at a complete loss for what to do.  It was surreal having a complete feeling of helplessness while watching it all unfold minute by minute.  I’ve spent this morning scouring social media and online news reading and absorbing countless stories from those who lost the most that day and thought I would share a few of the most impactful from my point of view.

  • The one must read story about  a town most impacted by 9/11 and events over the past decade:  “Hit Hard by 9/11, a Piece of Queens Struggles to Let Go”
  • An interactive map that lets you pinpoint and comment about where you were on 9/11.  Thousands of entries from everywhere on the planet.
  • A ten year interactive timeline of the evolution of ground zero, complete with pictures.
  • An article about the complex algorithm that was used to order all 2,983 names on the ground zero memorial.  It certainly wasn’t alphabetical, rather based on the complex relationships that existed among the victims.  Really interesting.
  • Jeff Jarvis, a survivor of 9/11, is at the memorial site today tweeting live about his observations @jeffjarvis

The Love For My Son

I’ve always heard the comment “you’ll never understand the love you can have for someone else until you have a child” and while I appreciated the point of view, I never really understood.  Now I do.

During Renee’s pregnancy, I never really had a deep bonding with this baby that I’d never seen and only periodically thought about throughout the day.  For Renee it was entirely different since she had this being growing inside her.  He was always present for her and there was a special bond developing and growing over those nine months.

It began for me in one precise moment, a moment I will never forget.  When his head first appeared in our world, that 1 second moment, I knew he was mine and that I already loved him in a protective and sacrificing way more than anything else in the world.  It really is hard to explain – unless you’ve experienced it then you know what I mean.

What’s so strange about this for me?  I don’t even know him.  I mean, even now after three weeks, he can’t talk to me, engage me or reciprocate my love in any way.  He can’t yet even look me in the eye.  All he does is sleep, eat and poop and while he is the master of all three, it’s all he can do and my interactions with him are exclusively caring for those three needs.  So why this deep, overwhelming emotional connection?  There is one attribute of a child that is unique about any other relationship or connection we can have – with pets, friends, partners, parents – that our children came from us, we made them, they are uniquely part of us and for me there seems to be an innate “protective and sacrificing” love that does not and cannot apply to anyone or anything else in exactly the same way.

There’s another new and exciting realization from this experience – a deeper appreciation, understanding and bond with my own parents, particularly my mother, for the sacrifice, commitment, guidance and love that she had and continues to have for me.  I never really even thought about what it meant to be a parent, much less having an appreciation for the 42-year sacrifice, protection and guidance that has dominated my mother’s life.

My favorite time with Jack now is when he is awake and alert while I’m holding him, usually after feeding.  In the span of one minute, his facial expressions gyrate across an entire spectrum that seems to communicate happiness, sadness, laughter, fear, constipation, joy, anger, wonderment, confusion, rage, contentment, exhaustion and anticipation.  I watch him intently seeing not only the physical features that are uniquely Renee or uniquely me, but also the emotional expressions that resemble us as well.  I think about him growing up and visualize various stages of his life when we can play together, when I embarrass him in front of his girlfriend, seeing him graduate, imagining what his personal and professional passions will be and worrying about whether he will be happy in life.

But for now I’m content to cherish each day, as every day that passes is one that he is growing up and that is forever in the past.

One thing is for sure, I love my son.

What’s Next? Part 2: Finding the Right Opportunity

In Part 1 of What’s Next?, I discussed my ideal search criteria for finding my next professional role.  In this post, I’ll talk about my process of uncovering, narrowing and choosing the right opportunity based on that criteria.

So, here’s the process I’ve been following –

Determining my ideal search criteria.  Geography, role, stage of company development, industry and cultural attributes were all important to consider during this self-assessment stage.  Part 1 of this series was devoted solely to describing in detail this first step.

Putting myself “out there”.  This step involved several activities for me, most important (and most surprising) of which has been this blog.  While I didn’t anticipate or intend it, there’s been a positive reaction to my personal and professional transparency, perhaps I’m coming across as more genuine and “knowable” than a typical candidate, I don’t know.  My original intentions for the blog were simply to enable  my close friends and family to keep tabs on me and the important things in my life, to motivate myself to form and articulate points of view on certain subjects and finally, to keep a journal of sorts.  While readership is not substantial, my blog is discoverable during the recruiting process and it has helped, not hurt my search efforts based on feedback I’ve received.

Another important component of this step was to take ownership of my personal brand – ensuring consistent, comprehensive and current information and messaging everywhere online.  Updating and staying active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and this blog ensures that I’m easy to discover and the message I want to share is consistent across all platforms.

Firing up the network.  To be clear, this is not (yet) to target specific companies although several companies have emerged opportunistically directly from my network right from the get-go.  This step is really about a discovery process of re-connecting with folks in my existing network to 1) get introductions to others in their networks that either I want to meet or they recommend, and 2) to get perspective and insight into what is happening in the marketplace for the types of roles/companies I’m interested in.  I reached out to friends, current and former colleagues, VC’s I’d met while raising capital for TrueCar and Pricelock and tried to prioritize the initial outreach according to my search criteria in step 1.  So balancing access to both geography and to types of target companies I am seeking helped to focus the first round of contacts.

This has been the most fun part of the process for me, re-connecting with people that I’d lost touch with and also forging new and interesting relationships.  The more conversations I have, the more I notice trends in advice, perspectives and prospective company names.  Having “insider information” or knowledge of specific companies that others believe would be a strong fit really provides an efficient, targeted leg up on identifying interesting and high probable fit companies.  This outreach process started nearly 3 months ago for me and I did no real specific company targeting for the first two months.  I had conversations and/or met with roughly 100 individuals during this phase, half of which I reached out to directly and the other half came through introductions from the first half.

Creating a target list of companies, researching and narrowing.  After several rounds of networking conversations and research, I had well over 50 companies across 4 geographies that were mentioned somewhere along the way or came up in my own research.   Without getting too scientific, I matched up the opportunities first against my criteria and second where I thought I could get a personal introduction.  This trimmed the list by half to roughly 25 companies, a healthy portfolio recognizing that a portion of the remaining wouldn’t be a fit from a role perspective, meaning no senior ops leadership role is currently available.

Another important output of this step was to identify the “key influencers and connectors” from all of the prior networking activity that have credible access and can make quality introductions to the “short list” of interesting companies.  There are less than 10 of these connectors on my list, but most have provided multiple introductions or referrals.

Circling back for introductions.  Folks in my network really appreciated that I was specific when I reached back out to them for introductions.  Instead of contacting them for another general conversation or update, I asked for referrals to specific companies.  In many cases, I crafted the introductory email that they could forward to their contact with personal comment.  While I deeply appreciate the time people have invested in collaborating with me, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to this smaller group of people who have put their own personal credibility on the line by introducing and recommending me to others in their networks.

Eat your Wheaties and dig deep, time to interview!  While every conversation is ultimately an “interview”, this stage is the most grueling and requires a lot of energy – actually going through the interview process with specific companies.  I’m finding that EACH company that I enter the process with as a candidate involves 3-6 rounds of interviews and requires interviewing deeply with 5-10 individuals at the company, Board and investor group.  Total interview time alone, excluding travel time, can top 25-30 hours per company.  This is the stage where I’m spending the preponderance of my time now across a “handful” of companies, although not every opportunity is in the same stage of development.

It is important to note that my approach has been a very personal one – reaching out to my network, extending that network and getting personal introductions and referrals to companies.  I did not post my resume anywhere online or respond to any job postings through traditional channels.  My experience shows that where supply outstrips demand (limited roles available, many gunning for them) and the more senior the role, the more critical a referral and personal introduction becomes to even be considered for a role.

I hope and expect to complete the process and make a decision within the next 30-60 days and dive into the next exciting role on or around October 1.  If I’m lucky enough to find and land the right opportunity, I’ll post Part 3 and let you know who it is.  Stay tuned!

%d bloggers like this: