Hi Reddit! My story's kind of a long one but I'll try and be brief as possible.

As the title suggests, I've been doing eCommerce since eCommerce was really a thing. I launched Levi & Strauss' online store in the late 90s and had the honor of selling the very first pair of Levi jeans online on March 31st, 1998 at exactly 2:31 AM EST to a customer on the West Coast -- by the way, if you’re out there jeans-buying guy, I’d like to buy you a beer some day. I later went on to serve as VP of eCommerce for Williams-Sonoma and led the team that launched williams-sonoma.com, potterybarn.com, and potterybarnkids.com, the foremost of which became an important case study for the Harvard Business Review. I also oversaw, as President, Martha Stewart and Home Depot's eCommerce divisions from their youngest days, taking the latter from a few million dollars in sales to billions in four short years.

I've served as CEO for Norm Thompson Outfitters, Gumps, and the Blair Corporation and currently sit on the Board for shop.org and LuLus. I've also advised and worked with numerous companies ranging from Porsche and Audi to Hallmark to Proctor and Gamble and many, many more, either expanding or pushing their brands into the digital world.

My newest venture is The Ivory Company at http://theivorycompany.com, where I currently preside as CEO. We're a branded, home décor business that focuses on high-end products in shades of ivory, cream, and white. If you're into that sort of thing, please check us out! We also have a Facebookand new Pinterest page.

Really, I consider myself to be very lucky and I think I've been able to gain a lot of insight and experience throughout my career, which I'd be more than happy to share. I’ll be here for awhile, so feel free to ask me anything, from start-ups to building your own career path to business in general to fighting duck-sized horses (or vice versa)...you guys still do that, right?

Twitter verification: https://twitter.com/TheIvoryCompany/status/534041641162899456

EDIT: It's 9:10 EST and I'm still answering questions. Keep 'em coming!

EDIT: I've been at this for about 6 hours now so I'm going to take a break. Feel free to keep asking questions, though, and I'll do my best to answer them. In the meantime, check out the site and please follow us on our social media channels; it really helps a lot:

EDIT 'Twas fun, guys! I'm sorry if I didn't get to your question but feel free to PM me. Check out http://theivorycompany.com and follow us on our social media pages (above). Let's do this again sometime.

  • Shelley

Comments: 137 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

robreddity11 karma

Why do Levi's 550s have 5 belt loops now instead of 7 like they did back in '98?

I sure wish I could find those 7 belt loop 550s again.

snandkeolyar27 karma

Well, it's been over a decade since I've worked with the company and that would be a product management decision, but I definitely agree with you. The 7 loops are superior to the 5. After all, we all know belt loops are the real heroes.

chrisknauf10 karma

What the most interesting company you have worked with?

snandkeolyar18 karma

All of them have had their fun little idiosyncrasies so I can't really give you an answer to "most interesting." Williams-Sonoma was probably one of the most exciting -- however -- simply due to the fact that we took that business from 0 to $200 million way ahead of our business plan. The fact that it was picked up by the Harvard Business Review as a case study in eCommerce was definitely an honor.

AnyasCat9 karma

Tips for success?

snandkeolyar37 karma

The cold call. It's amazing what you can do with that skill, especially in this day and age where conversation is becoming less and less 'intimate'. So many people nowadays are terrified of speaking to someone they don't know on the other line, much less pitching to a corporate executive.

Every single successful entrepreneur I know can pick up a phone and make a pitch. None of them were good at it when they started, but however humiliating it was, they kept at it.

burtsbees6565 karma

How do you get through all the gatekeepers to get to that person that can make a decision?

snandkeolyar16 karma

Research. Try and figure out who it is you have to talk to. LinkedIn can be a great resource for this.

Persistence. Call back again the next day/week/month; you may get a friendlier secretary the next time around.

Take a different route. Ask for the department rather than the "person who does this."

Connect through a different medium. Again -- LinkedIn. Consider connecting with an influencer instead of the decision maker right off the bat.

wilson0078 karma

As someone who's sold both Levi's and now high end decor, what is the biggest difference between selling more commoditized goods vs. luxury goods? I imagine that the sales structure is very different for $50 jeans compared to $20000 sofas.

snandkeolyar8 karma

Well, the mediums are certainly different for high-end luxury goods. The demographics tend to be in the older age group, so we often have to go old school -- as in mail-in catalogues. It's pretty amazing how many conversions we get off of Bing, Yahoo!, and even AOL, also.

KingBim7 karma

How do you try to factor ethics into your business model?

snandkeolyar13 karma

I'm going to go ahead and guess you mean from a supply chain perspective? As in worker's rights? Environment?

Now and in the past, I've tried to be more conscientious of where my products are coming from, who's making them, what the conditions they are making them in, environmental damage, etc... This is significantly easier when working with higher-quality products with a higher price point (such as luxury home decor) where my vendors might be in the States or local and therefore bound by worker's laws. Ethics has definitely been easier working in this niche industry than before.

In general, though, it's smart to be cognizant of your supply chain, especially recently. And this doesn't just make sense from an "ethics" position but from a business position, as well. With information explosion, consumers can very easily see where companies are sourcing their products from. I won't name them but quite a few brands have been pretty badly tarnished from a PR perspective due their sourcing practices.

Frankly, I'm glad these changes are happening and I encourage consumers to keep on researching where their products are coming from. Ultimately -- the power lies in the buyer's hands.

Spyder5507 karma

You have a storied background, so what made you to decide starting up an e-commerce from scratch?

snandkeolyar9 karma

Mid-life crisis? Haha. Just kidding.

Really, I saw a niche in the market, wanted to fill that niche, and had the funding and resources to do so. So I made the logical choice of pursuing it. I also have the entrepreneurial 'spirit', so to speak.

jobsnthings5 karma

what's the best marketing mechanism, best ROI, out there, ie. Facebook ads, Google Shopping, Google Ad Words when you first start out selling products online?

snandkeolyar6 karma

Your best marketing mechanism is going to be your marketing manager and his/her team. The best tools are useless in the hands of someone who doesn't know what they're doing.

That being said, Google AdWords easily has the most flexible and in-depth interface with the largest reach I've ever seen -- I mean, it's Google's #1 source of revenue. Still, I've seen a lot of people waste a lot of money on poorly coordinated campaigns. Understanding the search/display networks, negative keyword tool, A/B testing, DKIs, proper keyword research, CPC, CPM, CPA, phrase versus broad versus exact match, etc... is crucial to your success.

jhdeval5 karma

This is actually in my wheelhouse and have a valid question. Why do so many e-commerce companies like Gumps use vendornet as their choice for EDI service? Every experience I have had with them which is about a dozen times now has been less then thrilling.

snandkeolyar5 karma

Well, I'm not going to talk bad about Vendornet, but typically companies ubiquitously use sub-par services because of branding. "Everyone uses it, so I guess I'll use it" sort of mentality. Branding is a very powerful agent and it typically outweighs efficacy in many cases. But that's where a smart company can get the upper-hand; switch to the lesser-known but more effective service.

uptowner275 karma

Oh man I love hearing from business leaders like you.

  1. People say you learn the most from mistakes. What was your best mistake?

  2. Any amazing turn around stories of you fixing online presence (no specific company names required!)

  3. I adore E-commerce and have built a few sites for fun (I'm an algorithmic trader for a large bank currently) what do you think the next shift coming is? Do you feel people like me (day jobs and selling stuff on the side) is really changing the business?

Amazing to read the answers here and appreciate the ama!

snandkeolyar8 karma

  1. I've made quite a few like everybody and all of them have contributed in someone to making me a better marketer. I will say that the biggest mistake most people make is creating a product and then trying to find a market for it rather than vice versa.
  2. I've definitely turned a lot of companies around, but I don't think I could turn into any exciting narrative per se.
  3. In general, I think a big shift might be coming in procurement and sourcing. Quality -- or perceived quality -- is becoming more important to the average consumer; even over price. This isn't eCommerce (yet) but just look at how Whole Foods and Chipotle have been doing compared to their old-school predecessors. Their supply chains are completely different from anyone else out there in the market.

gulpeg5 karma

What's the biggest obstacle you've had to overcome to achieve your success?

snandkeolyar8 karma

Funding is always a pain to any entrepreneur. Even companies built off great models and ideas sometimes fail simply due to growing pains/not being able to hold on long enough.

1m2n4 karma

What do you think about Bezos's Amazon drone delivery service idea?

snandkeolyar7 karma

Some people called it a marketing gimmick; I'm not so sure. If he can get it past the FAA and if the overhead costs aren't too much, I think it could be big.

Itscaramel4 karma

What advice would you give to women just starting out in the workforce?

snandkeolyar8 karma

Don't undersell yourself. Being the odd man -- or woman, I should say -- out can be intimidating, I don't care who you are. But don't let that affect how you value yourself as an employee. If you think you're being underpaid, counter-offer. If you think you deserve a promotion, ask for it.

Companies are all about one thing: ROI. And if you can make a compelling argument for that and demonstrate it, then any reasonable manager will give you more to ensure you stay on.

BrainDamageLDN4 karma

As a pioneer in eCommerce, can you see a massive potential for digital currencies, namely bitcoin to disrupt the online payments space?

snandkeolyar6 karma

I actually had a friend who tried to start her own digital currency with millions in funding; it didn't succeed. I was blown away by how utterly complex the model was and how marred it was by red tape. I think right now there are too many simpler models (with far less hoops to jump through) with a higher guarantee of ROI.

Bitcoin was certainly genius but, in the current state of affairs, I can't see it being revolutionary or reshaping the currency market.

Kayma4 karma

What's your secret?

snandkeolyar12 karma

No real secret. Just work hard early on and take strategic risks. Obviously, being innovative and playing the game "smart" is important, but the most successful entrepreneurs I've known literally slept at the office in their younger years. When you don't have children or a spouse or a mortgage or other major responsibilities, you can do these kinds of things. Act now when you're young.

_LMiller4 karma

How do you have your coffee? I prefer mine black.

snandkeolyar7 karma

Real men drink their coffee black. So yes. Black.

Eyal23023 karma

What got you in to the online world?

snandkeolyar6 karma

It was an exciting industry during an exciting time! Everyone was jumping onboard the eCommerce train in the 90's -- we thought it was going to be the next big thing; and it was, although it took some time for the technology to catch up (the Dot Com bubble taught us that).

RinSki3 karma

What do you appreciate when you meet someone who's looking for a job? I'm thinking about getting myself a summerjob and i wondered if you could give me some advice on what employers like in a person searching for a job.

snandkeolyar7 karma

Find a way to display your work ethic. I recall a potential interviewee who wanted a position, although he lacked knowledge of a marketing automation platform that we used. When the in-person interview came around, he was able to demonstrate that in a week he had learned all he could about that particular platform. It was easy to realize that his work ethic and drive would quickly outweigh the cost and time of training him.

mreg2153 karma

Have you encountered failure prior to your success? and what kept you going ?

snandkeolyar6 karma

Of course! What kept me going was "that fire in your belly", as people like to say. There's nothing wrong with working the 9-5, but I wanted to do something different. And I was willing to sacrifice a little bit of stability and pursue my goals relentlessly. I don't know if it was something ingrained in my personality, but it was there.

DrNastyHobo3 karma

Thanks for ama!

What do you think is the best way to get a no name brand jump started through ecommerce?

snandkeolyar6 karma

Engagement. Slow, painful engagement. There's a reason social media skills were some of the most sought after in the market last year. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs...these things might seem silly on the surface, but you can't tell me Virgin would be as well known without Richard Branson's incredible online presence or Starbuck's would have its customers as engaged without their amazing social media management.

DrNastyHobo3 karma

Cool. How do you think this could be applied to b2b where there seems to be less social media influence?

snandkeolyar4 karma

Influence is still there; you just have to find the right mediums. LinkedIn just opened their publication platform and sites like BizSugar exist. Even reddit has its share of entrepreneurial/business-oriented subreddits. The communities aren't as big, but then again, the business community in general isn't as big as the general population.

virnovus3 karma

Why did you name your company "The Ivory Company", considering that most people tend to think of dead endangered animals when they think of ivory? It just seems like kind of an odd name choice. And why did you go with that particular color?

snandkeolyar6 karma

Because the "white" or "cream" company didn't quite have the same ring to it, haha. I think the term "ivory" exudes elegance, which is what our brand is kind of about. You often hear "ivory wedding" or "ivory decor" and I think our target market -- which is a bit older -- perceives the word with a slightly different connotation than the younger crowd.

I went with the color because it was a niche market. A lot of people demand ivory, cream, or white-colored home decor, and you lose brand value when you spread yourself too thin.

BitchGoddess3 karma

What is your educational background? Where did you pick up your skills?

snandkeolyar4 karma

I have a BA from St. Stephen's and a post-grad in international business management from St. Xavier's. Skills came from good ol' work experience -- like most people. Started out as an account manager and then moved into middle then upper management, then to the executive level.

snandkeolyar2 karma

'Twas fun, guys! I'm sorry if I didn't get to your question but feel free to PM me. Check out http://theivorycompany.com and follow us on social media (links in the post section). Let's do this again sometime.

  • Shelley

wilson0072 karma

What did your career path look like before you took on the Levi's gig?

What qualified you to lead sales for such a developing market?

From my generation (mid-20s), I take digital shopping for granted. Did you have to shift from the category management, shelf facing, plan-o-gram driven, non-digital world to the web marketing? If so, what were the biggest challenges?

snandkeolyar5 karma

A bit more sales-oriented initially -- account management/executive.

For Levi? Probably the breadth of the business I had worked in/with. I had worked on almost all sides of marketing: marketing planning, merchandising, retail operations and retail store marketing. I was with the company for some time before leading direct initiatives.

I often had to do the two concurrently. Biggest challenges was probably the lack of technology. We didn't have the fancy CMS's and automated order fulfillment processes back then.

alaqazam2 karma


snandkeolyar7 karma

Levi 550's. Of course!

chtucker182 karma

What do you think about the evolution of online shopping?

snandkeolyar5 karma

It's definitely gotten better. I don't think this is necessarily due to the online retailers themselves but due to evolving technologies that supplement the consumers. Back in the day, when SEO became a thing, a lot of less reputable retailers began to exploit loopholes in search engines -- paying off "backlink farms" rather than letting their products and brands speak for their business and grow naturally. Smart developers and evolving algorithms quickly put a stop to that.

Spam laws have kept unethical marketers from destroying people's inboxes and sites like PriceGrabber have forced retailers to slash their margins and compete more effectively. There's also been a lot of exciting new business models which have propped up in the last decade, such as flash sales sites or sites that focus on overstock or white glove products.

snandkeolyar2 karma

I've been at this for about 6 hours now so I'm going to take a break. Feel free to keep asking questions, though, and I'll do my best to answer them. In the meantime, please check out the site and follow us on our social media channels; it really helps a lot:

wang-bang2 karma

Hi, I'm interested in statistics. The "R" language, MatLab, and extracting value from massive amounts of data.

Can you tell me a good story of when statistics made a difference in the business?

snandkeolyar3 karma

Pretty much everything about marketing is stats and data analysis. Keyword research, for example, is built around algorithms that take into account different variables to a search -- commercial intent, competitive indexes, trends, etc... and prioritize them based on what will give us the highest return. Search engine marketing is often built off bidding systems where one has to take huge chunks of data, measure conversion rates, and define an average bid that will optimize sales while also hitting within a targeted cost per acquisition.

I can't really give you a good story of when stats has made a difference in business (particularly marketing) because it's such a fundamental component; every day is stats. If you're interested in the marketing end of stats, familiarize yourself with Google Analytics. That's a tool that so many businesses use for their data analyses and such a rare skill to find -- especially for new college grads.

0ritfx2 karma

How can I tell if the IT company I work with is going south?

How can I convince my maneagment that they should do something different?

Background: I work for an IT company located in DE.

snandkeolyar3 karma

Layoffs. Cut salaries. Some of the more obvious things. Honestly, though, I've always felt any company worth working for should be transparent with their employees if things are getting rough.

Just be straightforward. Tell your boss you'd like to discuss some strategies/changes and make sure you have your pitch (draft up a script if you have to) and everything in order. Consider any weaknesses to your plan and any questions he might have in advance and have something ready for those.

Also, make sure to go up the chain of command. If your boss isn't the decision maker, ask permission from him to speak to the person that is.

Vaultoro2 karma

What do you think of the internet's native currency bitcoin and global micropayments? Here is 1000 bits to see how it works :) /u/changetip

snandkeolyar3 karma

Thanks! I think I answered a similar question above. I think it's a genius idea but given the current state of things, I don't think it'll considerably change the currency market.

bulletprooftampon2 karma

How long will it be before jean shorts make a comeback?

snandkeolyar6 karma

Dunno. But they will always live on in my heart, at least.

Dao_Drones2 karma

As more and more Ecommerce companies/stores develop due to less friction in starting up, and the ease of logistics with 3rd party solutions. How will ecommerce stores/companies compete amongst themselves in order to differentiate from the competition?

Is it more ad spending? more relationship/community building? Competitive pricing(although they can't compete with Amazon on this) Or perhaps look at other sales/marketing channels?

snandkeolyar3 karma

The smart ones -- and long-lasting ones, I'd wager -- will likely bury themselves into deeper and deeper niches. And I imagine more organic and creative engagement with communities will become key -- copywriters, marketing gurus, content creators...these folks will drive the market. And, naturally, new organic marketing channels will always be of heavy focus.

As you said, competitive pricing is almost impossible with sites like Amazon around, and most suppliers have i-mapping restrictions in place which protects their markets and prohibit retailers -- especially small ones -- from pricing more competitively. I really think price point (with a few exceptions like the flash sales model, but even then that's only short-term) will become less of a factor in the future. Quality, content, and niche will likely be king moving forward.

PatShoney1 karma

What's one item you would not buy online?

snandkeolyar4 karma

Probably something that might be potentially hazardous if I didn't "test" it.

hiddendatsun1 karma


snandkeolyar5 karma

The more important question. Who doesn't like bell-bottoms?

Johnnybazookas1 karma

Currently I am in the first position to succeed my father in our business, I feel that although he has gotten us to the point that we are currently at, he is the one preventing our growth. Can you give me advice on how to talk to a stubborn to change CEO/president?

shelleynandkeolyar14 karma

There are many different approaches you can take - one way is to work with him and develop a plan that will show him that you have the company's future in mind and together with his mentorship you can build a growth oriented company and also at the same time let him slowly move out of the driver's seat. Its not easy for the person who has built the company this far to either give up control or recognize their own limitations. What approaches have you taken so far?

showmm2 karma

If this is Shelley, why have you logged on with a new log-in name rather than the one you started this AMA with?

snandkeolyar4 karma

Sorry about that. I accidentally created two accounts to do this AMA and inadvertently logged into my other one. Whoops!

Johnnybazookas1 karma

So far I have tried to work with his plan for growth, but from how it is playing out the plan isn't fully developed. I have suggested an outline for changes in leadership and a fixed timeline for implementation. I have also created guidelines for the business to be operated within, hopefully to be put in place by Jan 1st 2015. I don't want to come off as the son who just wants to take without putting in the work, which is not the case. I'm deeply committed to the corporation and my future with it. I just want things to be done properly while he is charge now so that when it does become my time I'm not left with a fire too big to put out.

snandkeolyar9 karma

I might be wrong, but it seems to me that you might be working from a father-son perspective rather than from a business perspective. You're asking him -- a businessman -- to change his model. Pitch him your idea like you would pitch any other corporate executive.

Don't "present" your changes. Sell them.

eatsbabydingos-2 karma

If you only had one cheese in life, would you choose and Emmenthaler swiss or a grana podana and why?

snandkeolyar6 karma

Only one cheese in life? That hypothetical is simply too terrifying to explore.