SM: Fast forward and compare where you are now. Back then you were filming videos in your bathroom, and now you are using artificial intelligence. What else are you doing?
JS: Some people know exactly what they want. We want to provide them with the type of filtering that will let them find what they know they want very quickly. If you go to Blinds.com, you will also find a ‘help me choose’ feature. In that case we know we are working with somebody who does not know what they want at all. By asking six questions, we will narrow hundreds of opportunities down to fewer than five. That really helps.
We have also found that in many cases people did not know what product they wanted, but they knew what results they wanted. Specifically, they wanted to cut the glare in their room, or they had a kid’s room that they wanted to make dark. That led to the ‘I Want To’ section, which is on the left side of the page under other buying options. That is really our shop-by-need feature. We pre-sort the products so that the top sellers for people who have similar needs can find the products they want rather than wondering which products will satisfy their needs.
SM: How did you come up with that type of clustering?
JS: We know this business. I have been in the business for almost 25 years. I had sold over 10,000 jobs when I was going to people’s homes back in the day.
SM: So it is based on your knowledge because you know the business inside out?
JS: Yes. It is not that I am great at technology, because I am not. I do know my product and I know how to sell it. I also know how my customers buy it.
SM: How did you take your domain knowledge and transfer that into your ‘shop-by-need’ features?
JS: We do everything, our entire platform, in-house. It is a combination of my marketing team and my IT team. We have a vision document, and we set the parameters of our desired features. From the vision document we developed use cases and did a whole development process.
We got our people from the call center to give their ideas. We used them as our beta testers. We brought them into our meetings and asked them what they thought of our questions. How would they answer? We would refine questions and change them if they came up with incorrect results. We had to keep changing until our customers were actually providing the answers that they intended to provide instead of misinterpreting our question and answering the wrong way.
We AB test everything. We have a person who is in charge of customer intelligence. He must have seven or eight tests going on at a time. Half the country sees one feature and the other half does not. We look for a lift, and if we notice one then we know it is working so we try to do it even more. If there is no lift, then we don’t need to put more resources that way.
SM: Tell me about how you built the team around you if you did not know technology well?
JS: I knew very little about all that. I was worried. I read a lot. I tried to hire people like Danny Sullivan, who is now one of the SEO experts. Everything he taught me was direct from an expert. The things you do not know really require you to hire the best people you possibly can. Do not use an amateur. You will get what you pay for.
SM: What about your CMO? Is that someone you hired early on who has stayed with the company?
JS: It is someone I brought on later. We could not afford it. I did all the advertising myself. We made an acquisition in 2005. At that time we doubled the size of the company, and we knew we needed to bring in staff. That is when I started bringing in my C-level people. Prior to that, the company was run very flat. It was a pancake with a toothpick in the middle. I was the toothpick.