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The Way I Work: Jason Goldberg, Fab.com

In just two years, deal site Fab.com has reached $150 million in annual sales. But CEO Jason Goldberg tries to keep his team focused on why the company "sucks."
Full Transparency: Jason Goldberg's door is always open--the better to shout at his co-founder, Bradford Shellhammer.
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In 2010, entrepreneurs Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shane Shellhammer had to face hard facts: Their gay social network, Fabulis.com, had flatlined at just 130,000 members. Rather than throw in the towel, they refocused the business on their shared love of great design and relaunched the company as Fab.com, a flash-sale site that offers a spectrum of chic items, including handcrafted furniture and avant-garde jewelry. In less than two years, Fab has grown to six million members, adding one million--a 20 percent bump--in July alone. The company is on track to finish 2012 with about $150 million in sales. As CEO, Goldberg oversees more than 400 employees spread among Fab's New York City headquarters and international offices. Goldberg spends a lot of his time refining the website, interviewing job candidates, and strategizing about how to make Fab a $1 billion company. He spoke with Liz Welch.

My co-founder, Bradford, and I decided from the beginning that we'd never make a single decision about what goes on the website based on how much money we'll make on a particular product. Instead, we ask, Will it make customers smile? Excite them? Make them tell their friends about it? The biggest realization I've had is that if you really want to build a successful business, it's not about how much money you're making. It's emotional. For us, it's how do we make our customers smile? Every single decision we make comes down to that.

The two of us split our responsibilities--he chooses every item that goes for sale on the site, and I focus on the user experience. Currently, Bradford has 50 design scouts who look for products worldwide. I spend all day thinking about how to make our Web and mobile design better for our customers.

I start my day at 6 every morning, and the first thing I do is check overnight emails. Our technology team is based in India, so they're ahead of us. After I respond to any urgent emails, I do my morning run on the treadmill at a full steep incline for 30 minutes. I try not to think about work. Instead, I watch TV shows on my iPad. Currently, I'm watching Curb Your Enthusiasm--I'm up to Season Six. My other favorite shows are Top Chef, Dexter, and Mad Men.

When I get to the office a little before 8 a.m., I have a Skype call with the India team and several New York-based managers, which often lasts until 10. We discuss conceptual ideas that we might want to work on as well as the nitty-gritty details of what we want to accomplish that day. We'll look at mockups and see how certain features are coming along. I'm very hands on in the design process: I'll literally measure pixels on the screen. I really believe that for Web and mobile design, less is more, so I spend a lot of time asking, "Do we really need that? Can we find a way to do without it?"

I carry a Behance notebook everywhere, in which I keep my to-do lists and ideas. I use a Lamy pen, which I bought on Fab---I've bought a lot of things on Fab, including my desk. I start every single day by taking my to-do list from the day before and copying the things that I didn't get to. During the day, I'm constantly sketching out ideas for the site about how to improve the browsing experience. Then, I use Keynote on my laptop to make quick mockups that I can share with my team. I fill up about a notebook a month. I label them so I can look back and see what I did the previous month.

Bradford and I probably talk to each other more than 100 times a day. Our offices are joined by a small shared conference room that has glass walls and sliding glass doors. The doors are always open so that Bradford and I can call over to each other while sitting at our desks. He is louder than I am. We designed the entire office space to be open--all the walls are glass. There is no hiding.

Bradford and I share an assistant, Tom Trocola. I'm pretty self-sufficient, but I travel so much these days that it's great to have Tom help with scheduling. He's also very good at making sure I remember to do things. My schedule's on my phone and my computer, but Tom reminds me when I need to be somewhere or if someone is waiting to meet or talk with me.

Once a week, we have an executive-management meeting with the heads of all the departments to talk at a high level about the business. Then, throughout the rest of the week, I have deep-dive meetings with each of the department heads to discuss details about specific projects.

I have an old HP 12C calculator, which I bring with me to every meeting. I'm a numbers geek. If numbers come up, I want to be able to calculate, say, the conversion rates or percentage of products sold.

As CEO, I see my job as setting the direction of the company and then figuring out how to get where we need to go. I hire smart people and give them the freedom to do what they need to do. But I've seen businesses fail when there's a lot of talk at the top but no action below that--so I like to do regular meetings to hear how people are doing at reaching the goals we set together.

We have a saying at Fab: We focus more on why we suck than why we're doing great. The goal of those meetings is to find out what is working and what's not in each department. For instance, we have great products, but we are not getting them to customers fast enough. I'm on a mission to change that. Currently, 75 percent of products are shipped through an outsourced warehouse partner, which takes an average of 12 days to get products to customers. We can do it in one to four days from our own warehouse, so we're building a new one in New Jersey now. My COO, Beth Ferreira, and I have regular meetings about this. She currently has 80 people on her team and is hiring 150 people to work at our new warehouse.

One of my jobs as CEO is to make sure we have enough capital to get things done, to invest in our future, and to pursue our dreams. I look only for investors who share our long-term vision for Fab. We want to build a brand that 10, 20, or even 30 years from now, people will think of when they think of design. I'm overcommunicative with our investors and board members, because the more they know about Fab, the better they can help us. I send email updates on our successes and challenges often, and ask them for help if we have a problem.

Allen Morgan is an investor in Fab, a board member, and a tremendous mentor--I call him once a week to bounce things off him. Another person I rely on is Jeff Jordan. He took Open­Table public as CEO and before that ran PayPal, so he has managed many tough situations. I call on him if I am in a challenging spot. He always has great insights.

We have an all-company meeting every month--this summer, we shared our projected sales. I told everyone, "We're going to do $150 million in sales this year, but, frankly, I don't give a shit if our sales are $130 million or $170 million. I care about the brand we're building and the emotional bond we have with our customers." Those are both critical--and fragile. Right now, I'm focused on how to scale to $1 billion. The best way to get there is to stick to our business goal: If we make people smile, lots and lots of money will follow over time.

We call our customer service team members Crackerjacks, to describe people who go above and beyond. We look for young, hungry, smart people. We tell them up front that if they spend six months as a Crackerjack, they can go anywhere in the company. It's our mailroom. Both Bradford and I spend a few hours every month with customer service. We take calls from Fab users and respond to emails and tweets to make sure we're always in tune with what's going on.

Every day, I scan Twitter for Fab references--if there's a problem, you hear about it there first. I also read our app reviews in the iTunes store. We released a new version last May that got a few one-star reviews--usually we get five stars. So we dug around, and we found out from our users that they didn't like one of the features. It was a "Who moved my cheese?" kind of thing, but we decided to improve it.

I travel often--about two weeks out of every month. We acquired Casacanda, a design site in Berlin, in February. Since the acquisition, Bradford and I have been going to Germany every month. There are 105 people in that office. We also acquired the British design company Llustre in June, so now we are also traveling to London a lot. We're growing so fast that it made more sense to acquire these two companies doing similar things rather than build new ones from scratch. We've mirrored a lot of teams from here to there, so processes are the same. We really want Fab to be Fab everywhere, from the merchandise to the customer experience and the operations. Still, culture is the biggest challenge.

Bradford and I designed the culture here--we're the hardest-working bunch of misfits in the world. He and I spend one to three hours each week interviewing potential hires. If they're overseas, or if we're traveling, we'll Skype. The heads of each team interview for function, and then Bradford and I interview for fit. We want this person to be part of our family.

Bradford and I do the interviews together, and we always ask certain questions. I like to ask people what their parents taught them. And I have them tell me about the most stressful situation they've ever had and how they dealt with it. I also ask people to help me solve a problem I'm thinking about, and I'll often give homework assignments. And I always ask people what they've seen on the site that they liked recently. We're really looking to see, Do potential hires have genuine passion for what we do? Or do they just want a job? We also look for ambition. We don't want people who are just coming in to do a job--we want people who want to be the best at what they do. As a result, we say no to about 20 percent of the people that we sit down with, and we have very little turnover.

Sometimes, I joke that I have two wives. I married my partner, Christian Schoenherr, in August. But Bradford is sort of my first wife--he dictates more of my life. In all seriousness, Chris and I have one date night a week, and Bradford and I do, too, but the dates are very different. Chris and I spend that time getting our minds off work, going out to a nice restaurant, relaxing, and catching up. Bradford and I get out of the office to talk about what is going on in the office.

When I am in New York, Chris comes to the office to pick me up at 7 every night, and we go to the gym together. Chris knows that if he doesn't come here to get me, it could be 8:30 or 9 before I leave the office. But that's also our time together. We enjoy working out together. Then we go home, make dinner, and walk our dog, Rupey.

It's important to have downtime--to get out of the day to day and think about what's coming ahead. Part of my job is managing today, but a larger part has to be figuring out where we have to go tomorrow.


IMAGE: Mark Peterson
Last updated: Sep 25, 2012




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