Woot Founder Dishes on New Venture and Amazon Stewardship
By Kenneth Corbin
Matt Rutledge, the founder of the popular daily-deals site Woot, is gearing up for his return to ecommerce.
Rutledge's new venture, dubbed Mediocre and set to launch next year, is billed (still somewhat vaguely, at this point) as an online platform for what figures to be a variety of Internet retail outlets focusing on specific verticals.
"When we say that we'll be doing experiments as separate Web pages, we're talking about distinct store/commerce businesses that we will test and launch as ongoing concerns," Rutledge said in an email interview.
He explained that the company aims to establish a bevy of channels that will span niche product categories as well as what Rutledge terms "event-driven" sites that will offer flash sales, daily deals and other formats.
"Some models will fail to be of interest and others will survive long term," Rutledge said. "Mediocre Corp. is intended to stay in the background (hence the name) and provide login and infrastructure support to consumers and vendors."
At this early stage, Mediocre is still very much in the process of building. The site, branded Mediocre Laboratories, with the tagline "Experiments in ecommerce," is inviting visitors to reserve a username for the websites anticipated to emerge on the platform.
Rutledge envisions Mediocre operating both as a set of consumer-facing ecommerce sites, as well as a middleman for vendors and wholesalers, offering services to help them manage and move their inventory across other, already established channels.
"In the near term, we will focus on vendors and wholesale interactions with existing "alternate channel" sites by providing white-label procurement, warehouse and fulfillment services. In 2014 we will introduce some test online commerce models, but we have a lot of infrastructure to build first," Rutledge said.
Mediocre is heading to market with Middling.com as its white-list procurement provider, and invites manufacturers and vendors with products to sell to get in touch via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
So whatever happened with Woot? Choosing his words carefully (and declining to elaborate), Rutledge offered some thoughts on the fate of the site after it was acquired by Amazon in 2010.
"There are layers of strategic ability at Amazon. Bezos and his SVP team are extremely capable and able to comprehend the dynamic value of liberal arts like you see in content, art, wine and even product design," he said.
"This team appreciated the strategic approach of Woot as different than Amazon's and yet still successful. Unfortunately, as you move down a layer or two, those made responsible for the goal-based tactical needs of Amazon were unable to appreciate a (relatively) small artful business model with different growth drivers."
Rutledge allows that, while with Amazon, he was not as effective an advocate for Woot as he might have been, saying he was "unable to represent our needs in a succinct, convincing manner."
But the mid-tier managers - Rutledge refers to them as "tacticians" - who were overseeing the day-to-day operations of Woot pressed for rapid growth, and in so doing paved over the quirks that had made the site so distinctive and garnered it a devoted customer base.
"There is still productive activity and value generation to appreciate in what's left of Woot's strategic model (I have many friends happily employed there and occasionally purchase myself), but the culture and innovation are as watered down as the selection of products," he said. "It is impossible for me to view the business without sadly longing for the collective enjoyment we had with our customers, vendors, employees - all legitimate fans of the innovation and culture they helped create."
About the author:
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.
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