Building a Business In The Shadow Of Giants

david and goliath

I woke up Sunday morning, flicked open twitter on my iPhone, and read the latest tweet was from Scott Kirsner (@ScottKirsner, Boston Globes columnist and blogger). The tweet and article were both titled Up-and-Coming Sites Make Boston a Leader in e-Commerce. “Here we go again” I thought…another article touting the only few companies that anyone in Boston can write about these days, CSN, Staples, Karmaloop and Rue LaLa. All of these businesses deserve their accolades- and in their own way all have been nothing short of genius in their respective industries. I am in awe of all of them, and they are led by some of the smartest minds in the space, their growth inspirational.

But they are not the only ones.

Our business Olejo Inc runs a collection of some of the top tier boutique specialty mattress and bedding sites online (UsBeds.com, LatexMattress.com, MemoryFoamMattress.com to name a few) We launched our first site in March of 2009. This year our business will grow over 100% from 2010, and over 1000% from 2009. In 2011 we will sell more specialty bedding than most of our online only competitors in the rest of the country. The best part, we are just getting started!

But it is very hard to talk about what we have built because the New England area is so enamored with these giants. It can be easily forgotten that there can be growth and success in other industries, with other businesses. The Internet is large, the Internet is still new, and it is here to stay. Our business model shares some of the best traits of the most successful online retailers- but we are not them, and they are not us. We have our own focus, and we have dedicated ourselves to growing within our given niche. Our small, steadily growing business easily be overshadowed in this town.

Although this is a tough reality of building our business in this city I could not be more excited. Scott properly identifies that CSN, Karmaloop, Rue LaLa and Staples have put Boston on the map for e-commerce which is good for all of us, big and small, but the best point of Kirsner’s article is actually made by Larry Cheng- who Kirsner quotes in his piece. Cheng’s argument is that the biggest benefit the presence of these giants will have on Boston is not necessarily that they will draw attention to Boston’s e-commerce scene from the outside world, it is that the intro level positions at these giants will spawn some of the best and most experienced talent in the area in the coming years leading to more qualified middle and upper management (the true drivers of success for these e-commerce models). I couldn’t agree more.

Inevitably upward mobility for rank and file employees at these giant businesses will become increasingly harder as they get larger and larger, and their legacy employees will remain in their top spots creating an excess supply of talent in areas like customer service, sales management, marketing, and business development, all fighting for higher level positions where they can take their learned skills and apply them (and make more money).

What you currently read about for talent wars in terms of development and software engineers you will see occur in Boston in regards to some of the top e-commerce minds that will end up moving on from these giants and will take positions in other businesses where they can inject their knowledge into the business and make an immediate difference.

Building a business in the shadow of some of these giants is a daunting task, and only for the thick skinned. For now we will keep our heads down and continue to push our business forward, and I am overly optimistic that there could not be a better time and place to be building an e-commerce business. Just remember there is more to Boston’s e-commerce scene than just the good ol’ boys.