After Darrell Cavens helped take Blue Nile, the Seattle-based online diamond company, public in 2004 as CTO, he and founder Mark Vadon decided to launch Zulily, an e-commerce kids’ clothing company, in 2009. They took Zulily public in 2013. Cavens explains how he’s managed to preserve the chaotic and creative culture Zulily had at startup--though he now has shareholders.
--As told to Liz Welch
Mark and I started talking about this new company in September 2009 and we launched Zulily in January 2010. So many startups spend so much time on a business plan, then on building. My feeling was to just run at it. I’m still not sure how we did it in such a short period of time, other than just believing we could.
We launched with eight people, all doers. If I had to write code or call a vendor, I would. At first, we set up the fulfillment center in the office. Employees fulfilled the orders.
Over the years, we’ve hired managers who have tried to eliminate that chaos. They haven’t done terribly well here. That doesn’t mean we seek chaos, but we aren’t afraid to experiment.
Now that we’re public, I need to use my time efficiently. I have to spend time with investors, but I still love spending time on the site more than anything. More than ever, I want to really try to get into the customer’s experience. I still do our weekly company meetings, which we started our very first week with eight people, and now videocast to our four other offices. These meetings are the heart of who we are. I’ve tried really hard to not let that change as we’ve grown and become public.
I also try to go out every quarter to each of the fulfillment centers and spend some time on the floor. I had an experience recently where I packed a customer’s order into a box, but it didn’t quite fit. I pushed the sides of the box together to put tape on it, and I asked the person next to me, “Is this OK?” He responded, “Would you send that to your mom that way?” I put the order in a bigger box. That conversation made me happy. If that attitude resonates through the entire company, investors will be happy too.