If logic had anything to do with it, One Kings Lane, the online shop with daily deals on luxe home furnishings, wouldn’t have made it beyond a friendly conversation about the dearth of destinations to shop for décor between founders Alison Pincus and Susan Feldman.
In 2009, U.S. home prices were in free-fall and foreclosures hit record highs as delinquent loans piled up. Yet the two entrepreneurs sunk their hearts and their savings into the launch and before they knew it, One Kings Lane was off and running.
In 2010, with a staff of 29, an ever-growing portfolio of brands and designers, and revenue galloping into the millions, Pincus (the biz dev and content specialist) and Feldman (the expert merchant) knew they needed to install a CEO to lead the expansion charge.
Enter Doug Mack. A veteran of e-commerce, Mack was just coming off a stint managing Flash and Photoshop for Adobe after it purchased his previous company Scene7, a platform powering websites for the likes of Nike, QVC, Macy’s, and Williams-Sonoma. For the guy who pioneered Goodhome.com, one of the first home décor sites on the web back in 1998, landing a job at One Kings Lane was like–dare we say–coming home.
Under his direction, One Kings Lane now has more than 200 people on its staff in offices in L.A., San Francisco, and New York City, raised $23 million in a second round of funding (and additional $40 million this September), has 2 million registered users, and is currently valued at $440 million.
Though sales are humming thanks to the holidays, Mack’s not spending any extra time dozing under Frette sheets. Here’s what he told Fast Company about the responsibilities of being a leader in the space, his management style, and his vision for what’s next.
The Big Idea
One Kings Lane’s flash sale e-commerce site is like porn for those obsessed with furnishings. Every day at 11 a.m. ET, a slew of new, beautifully photographed merchandise is revealed from luxury brands such as Calvin Klein Home, Christofle, Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren Home, Riedel, and Vera Wang at up to 70% off retail. Sales last for 72 hours.
Members also get to play professional decorator as they get cracks at buying straight from the personal inventories of world-class interior designers that used to be off-limits to anyone without industry credentials. Alongside flash sales, the company’s Tastemaker Tag Sales feature one-of-a-kind finds from preeminent designers such as Bunny Williams and Ann Getty at 50% or more below their retail value.
The Leading Edge
Though One Kings Lane may have started in the midst of the recession and its founders bootstrapped because banks weren’t lending at the time, Mack says funding was the least of the challenges they or any other startup has today. “The huge issue is the lack of original ideas. A lot of folks want to start businesses and have the motivation but lack the idea, so they launch some derivative of an existing idea. That is a dead strategy from the day it starts.”
According to Mack, what puts One Kings Lane in the winner’s circle is its leadership in the space. “Our founders had a true passion for changing the home décor industry and attracted people who wanted to join in the mission.” Now he says, “We are the only company that matters. Anyone else [in the flash sale business] is doing much more,” he says, referring to sites peddling multiple product channels from apparel to travel packages. “That doesn’t make for a competitor.”
What Mack Brought
Back when he was 12 years old (and tired of running two paper routes through Midwestern winters), an enterprising young Mack hit up the owners of a local computer store for a job. The caveat: He’d work for free to gain experience. Putting in time at the store through high school (yes, he was eventually paid) is where Mack learned a valuable lesson in retail salesmanship. “We would take the computers home and really use everything,” he explains. It was important to understand every product’s features and functions in detail to be able to effectively sell to customers. Before he became CEO of One Kings Lane, Mack says he shopped the site, made purchases, and interacted with customer service. “No matter what level [job] you are at, you have to really know and mine everything.”
When in doubt about any product or service, Mack says, just ask the customer. “They’ll always tell you what you can do better.”
Before he immersed himself in e-commerce, Mack did time at General Electric and McKinsey & Company, where he was a strategy consultant for tech companies. The experiences informed his management style.
At GE in the Jack Welch era, Mack learned about situational leadership. “You vary your style in every area of your business. When some areas are better, you have only a cursory involvement, while in others that are struggling you get into ground level detail metrics, root cause problems, and hiring,” he says.
Since he’s occupied a CEO chair, Mack says he makes a daily mental punch list. “Number one on the list is talent. I focus on how my team is doing,” he says, and that can range from recruiting the best and brightest to organizational design. “It’s like moving the chess pieces around to win.”
But a team doesn’t win without communicating its moves. Mack facilitates this by holding “fireside chats” where groups gather in conference rooms to dive deep into the state of the business, to Q&A sessions with managers, to posting thoughts, comments, and questions to the company-wide internal social networking platform.
“I’m a big believer in Newton’s Law of disorganization,” says Mack, as his employees come up with myriad great ideas each day. “The CEO keeps everyone aligned” and focused on one thing, he says. That thing is “How can we get better?”
Mack says the One Kings Lane is “in a fun growth phase right now,” but he’s got his hands full guiding that expansion. With experience at companies large and small as well as being part of an acquisition, Mack’s got firsthand knowledge of what not to do. “As you grow you have to remain externally focused,” he says, because big companies tend to get insular and departments get siloed. “Employees hate it. Literally what begins to happen is that enemies [form within the company] and you get in-fighting.” The antidote, he says, is the customer, which should be the guiding force pulling company in the direction it should grow in. “Then make sure everyone [on staff] is on the same side.”
Mack says that One Kings Lane has surpassed the aggressive plan set forth when he came on board. “We are so far beyond it, I should frame it,” he quips. Nevertheless, he’s kept a steady hand on the throttle. “I’ve never been a big fan of organizational ADD and chasing the latest idea. From the beginning our goal is to be most interesting brand in home market for a long time. The strategy is the same. Our execution is ahead of schedule.”
How to Stay in the Lead
“When you have a big opportunity, you should be aggressive,” says Mack. One Kings Lane’s explosive growth requires a certain level of commitment to stay ahead. He draws a parallel between an episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucille Ball is working frantically to keep up on an assembly line at a candy factory. “You need to invest in talent, technology, and infrastructure to stay ahead of that conveyor belt of chocolate. I’d rather over-invest than get swept under and miss the chance to change an industry.”
So for the forseeable future, Mack has a laser-like focus. “We are busy building the next great consumer lifestyle brand. Everything we do will be aimed at that.”