Here’s a sign of how hot the once-moribund e-commerce sector is looking: Venture capitalists are chasing down experienced CEOs to run the startups they’ve invested in. Take, for example, One Kings Lane, which announced Thursday that it had hired Doug Mack, the former CEO of GoodHome.com, to run the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers-backed discount home-furnishings site.
San Francisco-based One Kings Lane, founded by Ali Pincus and Susan Feldman in 2009, is part of the private-sale trend that’s reinvigorated e-commerce in recent years. Luxury brands dispose of excess inventory in flash sales to a defined membership, rather than trying to move it in conventional e-commerce channels like Amazon.com, eBay, or their own stores. The hope: By creating an air of exclusivity and urgency, brands will command better prices and preserve a luxury image.
Though One Kings Lane grabbed an early lead in the home-furnishings category, it’s facing aggressive competition from Gilt Groupe, a New York-based startup which has branched out from apparel. That rival has even purchased Google ads targeted to people searching for “One Kings Lane” promoting its Gilt Home store. (Gilt has a recently hired trophy CEO of its own: Susan Lyne, the former CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.)
Mack knows from hard experience the challenges of e-commerce’s old model: He spun GoodHome.com out from Broderbund Software, where he ran a consumer-software group that included a home-design tool. GoodHome merged with FurnitureFind.com, then undid the deal as the e-commerce sector imploded. In 2001, with the dotcom bust in full force, Mack turned GoodHome.com into Scene7, a rich-media tools startup. He eventually sold it to Adobe in 2007, where he became an executive.
Kleiner Perkins recruiting partner Juliet de Baubigny sought out Mack. “It’s a venture-backed CEO’s dream to work at a Kleiner company,” said Mack.
The challenge for Mack now: Expanding One Kings Lane beyond the private-sale model.
“We launched One Kings Lane in a marketplace where flash sales made a lot of sense,” said Pincus. “One Kings Lane is a brand in and of itself. So you can imagine there are initiatives where we could tap into the brand we created.”
Interior-design blogs have been buzzing about One Kings Lane’s “tastemaker tag sales,” which highlight lesser-known designers selected by One Kings Lane’s merchandisers, rather than big luxury brands seeking to offload inventory. Pincus, asked if One Kings Lane might release its own branded merchandise, said that was a possibility.
Pincus and Feldman, neither of whom had previously held the CEO title, plan to remain actively involved in the business, with Pincus heading up marketing and business development and Feldman overseeing merchandising. Pincus, who is married to Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, is expecting twins in August. She said she plans to return to work as soon as possible afterwards, even making a crack about bringing her iPad into the delivery room. That’s entrepreneurial steel.
Kleiner Perkins, First Round Capital, and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman invested an undisclosed amount of money in One Kings Lane in December 2009.