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How Jon Crawford built and sold Storenvy: his tough lessons learned [Podcast]

In this episode of Secrets for Scaling, we spoke with Jonathan Crawford, founder and former CEO of Storenvy, an e-commerce marketplace for indie brands. Jon was with the company from day one for six years and learned some hard lessons along the way.

He was kicked out of Y-Combinator on the first day. He built his first team only to let them go all at once. He heard many “no”s from investors. He learned about what’s important to him - what he wants to do as a founder and what he doesn’t. He learned what makes him happy.

When he left in 2016 after selling the company, it was at 30 team members with 130,000 stores open on the platform and millions of dollars flowing through it per month. Hear the whole story in the full episode below!


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Episode Highlights

Pitch what you have to investors, not something that doesn’t exist yet. When Jon was pitching, he talked about a feature he was planning to launch in three months. Because investors were excited to see that, they waited to invest. There was too much mystery around what he was building. Jon reflected, “You can’t walk into an investor meeting with a card you’re about to flip over. They’ll wait until it’s flipped.”

Hire for a sustainable team, not “cool” individuals. In the early days, Jon wasn’t interviewing for culture fit or design process. He was hiring the people who had internet popularity or large followings. The result was a toxic culture of procrastination, blowing through a third of their funding without shipping anything, and worst of all, letting most of the team go. He learned the hard way that you need to hire trustworthy people who excel where you don’t.

CEOs have to learn to teach people the how and the why. Jon was used to being a one-man show. He previously never had to teach people how to think about their work. He’d just swoop in and give them the solution, which doesn’t support a productive or engaged team. He had to learn how to teach them the how and the why behind their work, and then let them come up with the what. To do that, he hired an executive coach who taught him how to delegate and manage effectively.

If you don’t like managing managers, then hire an operations person or president. Someone has to be in charge of making sure the ship is running on time. Jon said that if he was to do Storenvy over again, he’d hire a partner to lead operations so he could work more on product - his passion. He didn’t do this and ended up getting burnt out.

Talk about the vision as much as humanly possible. Jon found he could never talk about it too much. Team members probably weren’t thinking about it all day long like he was - they were thinking about the bug they needed to squash. In addition to reiterating the vision, one-on-one meetings were an effective way for Jon to become of aware of issues team members wouldn’t have told him otherwise. Eventually, as Storenvy grew, managers did one-on-ones with their team, then reported back to Jon. For him, it was important to continue meeting with his management team at least once a week. It was the only way to keep his ear to the ground.

Listen to what your intuition is telling you. When reflecting on his time at Storenvy, Jon figured out how to optimize his life for happiness. During those six years, he learned what makes him happy and what doesn’t. He suggested paying attention to how your mind and body are responding to the work you do and trying to shift your focus to what you find fulfilling. Or hire to fill the gaps for the activities that are draining you. Looking ahead, Jon added, “I’m excited about work serving me instead of me serving work. That’s a lesson I had to teach myself.”

Good, fast, cheap - pick two. A lot of companies try to be faster, better, and cheaper than their competition but Jon noticed that rarely works. He recommends picking two and focusing on being as good as possible on those two to become the leader. “Play your game, not theirs,” Jon advises.

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