Episode 23 / Getting Back to Basics
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In the broad scheme of things, direct-to-consumer e-commerce is still a fairly new genre of business, but it seems that the founders of Primary have been a part of it in each new iteration. 

Galyn Bernard and Christina Carbonell met while working at a Quidsi company, Diapers.com. Quidsi was an e-commerce parent company of many direct-to-consumer brands that were selling family necessities under product-specific domains like Soap.com and Wag.com.

Four years after the 2010 Amazon acquisition, Galyn and Christina left to start the kids clothing brand they'd always dreamed of, Primary.com — a source for affordable, foundational, quality kids basics in every size. On this episode of the podcast, Galyn and Christina share their brand principles, their newfound appreciation of a strategic supply chain, and the invaluable lessons they took away from their days at Quidsi. Read the full transcript of the conversation below.

Stephan: You're listening to Well Made. I'm Stephan Ango, co-founder of Lumi. My whole life I've been asking myself the same question. What does it mean to make things well? This is the show where we talk to creators, entrepreneurs, movers and shakers, people who have become experts in their field and can shed light on that simple question. What makes something well made? Christina, Galyn, welcome to the show.

Galyn: Thanks for having us.

Stephan: So I thought I'd start by asking if you two remember the very first day that you met. Do you remember where that was, and when?

Galyn: I do.

Christina: Yes. It was at Diapers.com, and Galyn was very, very pregnant with twins and could barely breathe. She was having trouble speaking.

Stephan: What year was that?

Galyn: That was 2009.

Stephan: So what was the context, exactly, for you two meeting?

Galyn: Yeah, so I was interviewing for a job on Christina's team at Diapers.com and she was interviewing me. I remember you were wearing a jean skirt.

Christina: That did not need to be shared.

Galyn: It was cute. It was the summer. It had to be the beginning of August, maybe? And my twins were born at the end of August, so I was like a house, and definitely couldn't breathe. Yeah.

Christina: But she interviewed very well, because she joined the company.

Galyn: Oh, my God.

Stephan: And this was 2009? You guys were in New York at the time?

Galyn: No, the office was in Montclair.

Stephan: That's in New Jersey? Where is that?

Galyn: New Jersey.

Stephan: Okay. Do you remember your first impressions of each other back then, or at least after getting a chance to work together for a little bit?

Galyn: It's funny. I have like a couple. I think when Christina interviewed me, I wasn't sure. She was a little hard to read. I wasn't sure if she was into it or not, and then when we started working together, I feel like it was just to me at least, like an immediate click. We sort of got what the other person was looking for without having to talk a lot about it, which I think worked really well for both of us.

Christina: I agree. I think from the moment we met to after her joining, it was clear that Galyn had all the things that you would want in someone to work with, and ended up being someone I wanted to have a pizza ...

Galyn: Wines ...

Christina: Or a beer, or many glasses of wine with on a regular basis, and so it was definitely a click from the beginning. And it was a very intense time at Diapers.com and Quidsi, because we were about to go through the Amazon acquisition, and Diapers.com and the other businesses were growing really quickly. So it was a lot of ups and downs, and we had to work really closely together through that time, and so it was a great way for us to get to know each other and realize how much we liked working together.

Stephan: So the reason I ask that is because actually my co-founder and I, Jesse, met right around that same time and became really good friends and have been pretty much in business since then together, and it was also very random.

We met going to school, and I never realized until a couple years ago how special that was. Because we ended up going through Y Combinator for Lumi, and it wasn't until I saw what other companies are like, what other founders are like that I realized I had been taking our relationship for granted this whole time. Getting the right chemistry, having the right kind of balance of complementary skills, and just plain getting along is something that is actually so unusual.

Christina: Yeah, totally. I think for us, too, like part of actually the genesis of us doing Primary was that we wanted to do something together versus ... like, I think a lot of times it happens the other way around, where it's like, "I have this idea. I feel like I need a co-founder or a few, and so I'm just gonna like slot some people in to do it with me," and it wasn't like that for us, and so I think that's a big part of it too, is that if we didn't sort of have each other, and feel really good about doing something really hard together then we probably never would have done it in the first place. So it wasn't like, "Primary's happening, like who's gonna be working on it?" It was like, "Christina and I are gonna do something together and we're really excited to launch Primary."

Stephan: Can you talk about that time when you first started working together at Diapers.com? You mentioned that this was just before the Amazon acquisition. What was the atmosphere like? How long did it take before it got acquired? What happened after that? What was going on at that time? It must have been pretty crazy.

Christina: It was an exciting time because the business was growing so quickly, and we were really charged with leading marketing as sort of our primary responsibility there. And it was so much fun and also a lot of pressure, of course, to keep the growth going, and then also as we moved into the time when we were doing diligence for the acquisition, it was super intense. So it just was critical that we be able to work super closely together through all the ups and downs of it.

Stephan: Can you give a sense for the scale of the business at that time, and what you were responsible for in terms of leading the marketing?

Christina: At that time, which was around 2009, 2010, Diapers.com was doing over 300 million dollars in sales, and we were responsible for marketing and sort of front end retail, which is marketing, merchandising, and supply chain for Diapers.com, and then also for some of the other Quidsi websites.

Stephan: Yeah, that's pretty impressive. I mean, that must have been quite a task, but at the time ... So obviously the name, diapers. There were other products that were starting to be part of that as well, right? Part of the whole Quidsi portfolio.

Christina: Exactly, so the whole idea behind Quidsi, really, was to basically develop a relationship with customers by selling them all the necessities that a family with young kids needs, starting with diapers, but then everything that you would need for a baby, from diapers, formula, and wipes, to everything that the family needs from a health and wellness perspective. So we launched Soap.com in that space, as well as for your pets, so we launched Wag.com to serve that category.

And from there to sell them all the other things that they would also need, whether it be toys, or children's books, or sporting goods, or anything else, again, that a young family might need. And really to build on that relationship that we had built with the customer by selling them those necessities with great service, and the fact that they would continue to come back to us for those, and then also buy all of the other things that they needed.

Stephan: I want to come back to Quidsi and Diapers.com in a little bit, but can you just describe what were the steps that led from there to founding Primary?

Galyn: Yeah, it was pretty related, actually. I think that there were sort of two things that led to Primary. One was very much about Diapers.com, and Christina and I both spent a lot of time there thinking about, what is the sort of best shopping experience for busy parents? And obviously it ended up centering around these product categories that Christina mentioned. And I think for us, we were just sort of left wanting to be able to shop for our kids' clothes in the same way that Diapers allowed us to easily shop for diapers and wipes and sort of all the obviously replenishment items, and we sort of felt like we weren't able to do that in the market as it existed then.

We wanted to be able to buy our kids favorite essentials as they got bigger and sized up, but really the whole apparel market thinks about clothing in a very different way, which is really all about newness, which is great and another awesome way to market, and bring new designs to the market and things like that. But for us as busy parents what we were really missing was these essentials and the ability to order them, and so that was a big piece of it. Personally, we had two kids each and spent a lot of time shopping for all the stuff they needed, and just yeah, felt like there was a huge needs in our lives at least for a really easy replenishment oriented clothing experience that just didn't exist.

And so started thinking about if we had a clean slate and could design our most favorite kids clothing store, what would it look like? And Primary sort of fairly quickly came to be based on that. You know, the name came together quickly. It was all about kids. It was all about color, and it was all about the one best version of everything a kid wears. And so with that as sort of the basis, and what we thought was a pretty good domain name, we left Amazon in February of 2014, and then we spent three months sort of finalizing the business plan and starting to raise a seed round of funding.

At that point, we were working out of the Reebok Sports Club on the Upper West Side, which was just fun and easy, and actually a cheap alternative to a WeWork, and gave us an excuse to wear workout clothes every day, even though I think we only worked out for the first five days we were doing that. And then yeah, we raised our seed round in June of 2014, hired a CTO, and a creative director, and then basically were sort of off to the races with that crew, and then launched the site in March of 2015.

Stephan: And so before Primary, because I'm assuming your kids, if they're still in the age range, are wearing your clothes, maybe? Maybe not. I don't know. Maybe it seems weird for your kids to wear their parents' clothing.

Galyn: It did for a minute, but now they're head to toe every day.

Stephan: Okay, good, but what were the brands and places that you were shopping for your kids before then? And what did you feel specifically, aside from the ordering, but also from a design standpoint, could have been done better?

Christina: For me, it was all over the place. It was like Old Navy, Carter’s, Gap, Gymboree, Children's Place, Mini Boden, Crewcuts, Hannah Anderson, just kind of whatever came up or happened to be in front of my face at the moment. And so I really didn't have loyalty, and there was no like, "Oh, I need more kids clothes. I'm gonna go to x to get what I need." It was much more impulse sort of, "Here's a 40% off sale," or "I saw this thing on Diapers.com," or whatever it was. The biggest things for me that were missing were ... There were two of them.

One was on the experience side, where if my kids had a favorite pair of leggings or a favorite t-shirt, there was absolutely no way for me to just buy that thing again in a bigger size six months later, because it didn't exist anymore. Again because of this like newness/design sort of orientation that a lot of brands really have, they're sort of reinventing things all the time, which means that if you have a favorite, it's gonna be different next time you go to buy it. And the second thing was that it felt like stuff had stuff all over it, that I didn't necessarily always want.

I think it's fun to have some characters, and some sequins and stuff once in awhile, but I felt like for the basic essentials that were the foundation of my kids' clothes, I just wanted easy pieces that went with everything that could be mixed and matched, and my kids could dress themselves and be comfortable. And that to me was really hard to find at any retailer, where instead it sort of felt like there were logos and slogans, and crazy graphics and prints, and all sorts of stuff everywhere. And so I was just wanting really well priced, high quality solid basics, and it was hard to find those things.

Stephan: Yeah, I love the design of everything, and how colorful it is. Jesse and I, when we started, sold dyes, actually fabric dyes. That's our first business that we built, and just trying to keep all the different colors that we made in stock was crazy. You guys are doing that with way more colors across way more products. How do you manage that? It just seems insane to me. I don't know how that works.

Galyn: It's funny, because I think that was the piece of the business that we learned the most about. It was the thing we came in with the least experience around, and that ended up just honestly being a lot harder than we thought it would be to both manage sort of quality production, but also maintain stock levels that were exciting and a good thing for our customers. I think honestly we ended up with our first year plus with really low in stock rates, and for a business that was trying to establish itself as like the go-to brand for essentials, like you have to be in stock, and so that was really hard for us.

I think we struggled to sort of land on a supply chain that felt good and that was reliable, and I think honestly, looking back, I think we just under resourced in that area from the beginning. If we had it to do over again, I think we would have hired a big gun in the supply chain role from the start to manage that piece of it, the sourcing, and the production, and the deliveries, and all of it. Luckily, we figured that out and brought someone on full time at the end of last year, and since then, new manufacturing relationships. It's been night and day in terms of our inventory levels, and in stock rates, and product availability, and quality, too.

And so I think it's definitely hard, but I think for us the color piece is such a big part of our value proposition that for now, I think we recognize that it is hard to stay in stock. Demand's not super predictable yet, but we're sort of willing, and have gotten buy in from our board to just kind of invest in carrying higher levels of inventory to make sure that the customer experience is a really good one, until we can sort of learn more and get better about managing inventory.

Stephan: What were the lessons? I mean, obviously you mentioned it would have been great to have someone who had that as their responsibility, but were there any things ... For some reason, my mind goes to United Colors of Benetton type of like supply chain model, where they're kind of dying the fabrics at the very last minute, pre-sewn, or things like that. Were there any things that you guys came to realize that maybe weren't as intuitive?

Galyn: Yeah, so there were two things I think that were the most meaningful for us in terms of learnings and things that we made sure to start focusing on in terms of the business. One was really on the fabric side, where kind of related to just thinking about how Primary was just different than other companies, and how we could leverage that difference in terms of efficiency of our supply chain and just our overall business model, and so that really led us to think more about investing in fabric and using it as much as possible across the whole assortment.

So right now we have about 80 styles in the assortment and 12 fabrics, and so by limiting the number of fabrics, it has enabled us to focus on what those fabrics are, why they're special, mostly 100% cotton, like striving to be incredibly soft, but also want to be flexible. So in using those 12 fabrics across our whole assortment, it gives us a ton of flexibility closer to when we're ordering to figure out how to deploy the fabric, because we can sort of buy it in advance. Our fabrics and our colors are used across the whole assortment, and so four to five weeks out from when productions leave the factories, we can decide what styles and sizes to use them in, but by having that dyed fabric on hand up front, it just gives us more flexibility and shrinks the lead time, which is great.

And then the other thing, I think, for us just in terms of learning, really, is how important relationships are on the supply chain side in particular. I think generally relationships are really important to us, and our network has been hugely instrumental in the fact that Primary exists today, but I think we had less experience on the supply chain side. You know, having seen both sides of it, where working with partners that haven't had a lot of history together versus now where we're lucky enough to have a chief supply chain officer who's had 30 years of experience, including running sourcing and production at The Gap, and someone who's worked with factory partners for a really, really long time.

Seeing what that means for the business in terms of reliability, and priority, and ability to change course and be flexible if something changes, but also partner with us in terms of quality and ideation and things like that is night and day. And so I think, yeah, for us it has just been totally night and day. I think the business now with Marienne's leadership on the supply chain side, with all of the relationships that she brings to it has just been incredible. So we feel really lucky, and yeah, we had sort of underestimated, I think, the power of that coming in.

Stephan: Yeah, the aspect of yardage, just like the amount of rolls of fabric that you can buy totally makes sense to me as something to prioritize, because as you mentioned in the design of some of the other kids clothes out there that have all these little features and details to them, now you're having to incorporate all these specialty fabrics that you might not use very much just to achieve some sort of effect. With the kind of design that you guys came up with, which are basic, and simple, and minimal, but really great looking with the colors, I think that is a very un-intuitive, but also something that you learned that you could really apply to all kinds of different businesses, so that makes a lot of sense to me.

Galyn: Yeah, totally. I think for us that was the magic of this opportunity for us was the fact that the customer experience we wanted to build, which was really centered around evergreen, replenishable, essential clothes for kids married so well with a really efficient business model that was different than any other company in the space. Where yes, to your point, being able to use the same fabrics across a big part of your assortment, not only for a season, but forever just means that you can order into scale quantities at a relatively small size. And so our costs are just inherently lower than really big companies, because we're ordering, like in terms of fabrics in particular, we're ordering in higher volumes than some companies that are like 100x our size in terms of top line revenue.

Stephan: One thing that you keep repeating, which I want to explore this a little bit, but it's the replenishment aspect, and I don't have kids yet, so maybe this is something that becomes a lot more important, and it actually reminds me of something else that we talked about with Gabby Sloan who was on the podcast and worked with you guys. Because she's running this company Ollie that makes dog food, which has an interesting parallel, which is you're both trying to sell something that the kids will wear, but also that the parents will like, and those are two different kind of customers that you need to balance, and I'm assuming the replenishment factor is somewhat more important to the parent than it is to the kid. Can you describe a little bit about why that's so important?

Christina: The insight definitely came in part from our Diapers.com experience where it was so easy to buy those necessities and consumables that you did need over and over again, and when we looked at the kids clothing market, we did feel like there was a part of it that was very similar, where some of the clothing is almost consumable in nature. Kids are going through it so quickly, and as they grow, you shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel every time. So we certainly wanted to be able to go back and buy the essentials that they need all the time easily, and also kids have their favorites, whether it's a favorite color, or a favorite style, so for both parents and kids to be able to know that there's a place that you can count on to go back and buy the same thing that you loved before felt like a value that we wanted to be able to provide, that would make families' lives easier.

Stephan: How do you fight what some might like to call the princess industrial complex? The Disneys, the things that are attracting the kid's eye are probably the prints of their favorite Frozen characters, or whatever it is. Is that something that you think about in terms of making clothing that's both appealing to the kids and to the parents?

Christina: It's interesting because we think of what we're doing at Primary as a bit of a revolution, and we talk about it as a happy revolution. It's not that we are against characters, or princesses, or anything like that. Our kids like those things too. Our view was just that not everything needs to have that, and that it felt like within kids clothing, it has become over complicated and overdone, where everything has those things, and not everybody wants it. And whatever your style is, you need things to go with it, and to complement it, and so we built Primary in part to play with everything, and we believe that it does.

So we do make jokes about the fact that not all baby clothes need to say Lil Slugger or Mommy's Genius, or kid's clothes need to say things like, "I'm so Baller," and obviously we have a point of view in our clothing to not have those things. But really we just want to be a place that you can count on to get the clothes that don't have slogans, aren't covered in sequins, because some people want that, and no matter what your style is, you need some of those things to be the foundation of your closet.

Stephan: Another aspect that we didn't talk about is that, correct me if I'm wrong, but everything is under $25 including shipping. Is that right?

Christina: Yeah, our styles are basically everything is between $8 and $24 and we actually just launched free shipping, no minimum. So in thinking a lot about what we wanted the experience to be, and again, sort of this north star of if we had to design our dream kids clothing brand and experience, what would it look like? For us I think, with that lens, a shipping minimum started to feel hard, like something extra to worry about and we didn't want that, and so we just moved to free shipping, no minimum, and are really excited about it. So yes, we can say 100% that everything on the site including shipping is under $25.

Stephan: I mean, it's such a powerful constraint because, for the customer, you know what you're getting into, and I feel like it really makes it easy to try things out on an impulse, or ... You know, you get in the door for a really affordable price point, but do you ever feel like there are items that you wish you hadn't set that constraint for yourself?

Galyn: Yeah, I think it's a good question. I think, not yet, but I can imagine as we start to think about, potentially, outerwear, or shoes. There's lots of categories that customers have asked us about that, yeah, that I think would be really hard to do in a quality way at that price point, and so I think it will be a question for us. At this point, we're not running into any constraints in terms of assortment we wish we could have, but we can't because we can't make it for less than $25.

And so, so far we're in good shape and feel really good, like you said, about just the power of it and giving people confidence before they know us really well kind of what we're all about, and what they can find here, and what they won't find here, which is what I think we found a little bit in our own experience , which was things that were really cute in the market, but felt really, really expensive for how long we knew our kids would be able to wear them. And so I think it's just a big confidence boost for people who are getting to know our brand, so we feel good about it.

Stephan: So if someone buys an $8 item and gets the free shipping, are you guys able to make money on that order, or do you think about it as a lifetime value of that customer, or is there something that you did to get the shipping to be as low-cost as possible?

Galyn: So two things. One, in general, we definitely think about the lifetime value of the customer. The business was created to build a customer relationship by being this place that parents can count on to buy and replenish their kids clothing as their kids grow, and so we think a lot about what that relationship will look like over time, and what the value of it will be, and are willing to make investments up front to invest in the customer experience, including free shipping. Having said that, we also believed going into it, and have found that customers stock up when the come to Primary.

Our clothes are essentials. They're all under $25. They're very collectible. We have a broad array of colors, and customers have fun shopping it, so we are seeing that customers come and buy five, six, plus items in an order, regardless of whether shipping is free or not most of the time. And if there are times when customers need to get a couple of things in between, we want to be able to do that for them.

Stephan: Yeah, that makes sense. Also, I happen to know this because we're involved in a little bit of it, but the poly mailers I think are a pretty great move, because the shipping costs make it just so much lower, since that basically weighs almost nothing, right?

Galyn: We love Lumi's poly mailers!

Stephan: Well, it wasn't trying to be a plug, it's just something that is not necessarily intuitive. A lot of companies just don't even think that that's an option, but it seems to have worked well for you guys.

Christina: We do love them. We get to apply all of the fun design and branding that's a big part of what Primary is. And so the bags are fun and beautiful, we think, but they are much less expensive than designed boxes, which is something we had done previously at Quidsi, and you know, gets hard to do from a financial perspective.

Stephan: Yeah. You mentioned before we started to record ... and you mentioned a little bit about this with your supply chain person that you hired. You have a team that is a little bit more experienced. We talked about your guys' experience. How did you go about building this team of maybe veterans, people who have been doing this for a while? What were the approaches that you took and choices that you made in the people that you've brought on?

Galyn: It was a little bit of like follow the breadcrumbs for us, I think, in terms of starting to feel out talent, and experience, and cultural fit, to be honest, that we felt like was hugely complementary to what Christina and I could bring. And so, on specifically the product and the supply chain side, we were introduced to Patrick Robinson through a mutual friend. He ran design at The Gap for a number of years and has had just incredible, incredible design experience in the apparel industry for a long time. This also just happens to be the nicest person, I think, on the planet. And so spent a good bit of time with him, like from the moment we met, basically talking about how he could work with Primary.

He is currently designing his own brand called Pasco, but was excited about what we were doing, and excited to be a part of it, and so he came on board as our designer at the beginning of 2016, maybe? And also was just able to weigh in and give us his gut reaction on things we were exploring, from manufacturing partners to basically everything, and so as part of that introduced us to Marienne Treadway, whom he worked closely with at The Gap, and just sort of felt like, "You know, I think you guys would really enjoy chatting. She's like the best of the best, and also I think she would be a great cultural fit here, like you guys should just grab a drink." And so we did that, and had a few more conversations with her, kind of waded into it, to be honest, on both sides.

She came on as an advisor at the beginning, and then sort of gave her kind of a consulting project in terms of managing the supply chain and thinking about that for us, and then after about six months just sort of felt like on both sides it was a really, really good fit. And so at that point, she decided to join us full time, and so that's really how that came together.

Christina: It's interesting, because people often ask us what kind of company we are, whether we're a technology company or a marketing company, and we don't have an easy answer for that, but we definitely feel strongly that we're building a brand, and really a service for these busy parents. And so, we of course had to think about what some of the most important areas would be to invest in from the beginning with a very limited team, and they included creative, having an in-house creative team, and we have someone leading that here who we had worked with previously at Quidsi, who's amazing and has built a small team here, but we do all of our creative in-house. Of course, technology. We have an amazing CTO from Etsy, as we said, and an amazing team of engineers here.

It's so important to building the right customer experience with the kind of functionality that will make shopping and replenishment easy for families over time. Customer care, we have our own in-house customer care team here led by an amazing woman who metaphorically walked in off the street and asked for a job because she thought the company was really cool and wanted to work for people like us, and women specifically. She started as an associate and is now the manager of the team, so that's also a critical part of the team here. And then of course, as Galyn has talked about, getting the right veteran experience and team behind the clothing itself has been key. And there are many other positions that are also super important, but we've had to be very selective, because we aren't a huge team. And we grew from under 10 last summer to now just approaching 30.

Stephan: Wow.

Christina: So it's grown a lot even, really, just in the past nine months.

Stephan: Did you find it challenging at all in terms of investing in these people because presumably when you're bringing on people who have experience as senior people within companies like Gap or wherever it might be, Etsy, etc., you're talking about people who have a certain expectation in terms of salary that maybe for a startup is ... You know, especially one that has things that you have to invest in inventory, investing in people. Was that a challenge, or were you able to compensate them through equity? What were the things that allowed you to actually attract these senior people and then also make it work financially?

Galyn: I'm gonna speak for both of us. Christina, tell me if you disagree. I think there's this interesting place where once you, or at least in our experience, once you get to a certain place in your career, you're sort of looking for different things that aren't necessarily a big title or a huge base comp, and so I think we've been lucky that the talent and the experience hires we've been able to bring in were just a good fit for what we were doing, which is trying to build something. And I think in the instance of Marienne, and Patrick, and John, and some of the others that Christina mentioned, I think they were excited to sort of take all of the experience that they had had and the things that they had learned over the course of their careers to date and apply it to something totally new, sort of stretch themselves in a different way, which wasn't anymore about managing a team of 200 people, or delivering big, massive projects on Etsy, or things like that.

I think it was just really being here from very, very early on and being able to put a big stamp on something totally new that I think had a shot to be really different than other companies they had worked for, or other things that were sort of known in the market, and so I think that opportunity just ends up appealing to some people in a way that maybe it doesn't for others and it did in this case, which was lucky for us. I think certainly you have to be willing to invest in some comp there, too, that is different than a sort of very junior person or someone sort of right out of school, for sure. But equity matters as well, I think. Yeah, it's different than going to work in a big established company where it has more risk attached to it, but the upside is very much tied to successfully building something together, which is just a big draw, I think, for some people.

I think, too, that the other benefit of people at that level is that they've almost been out of the day to day, nitty gritty, detailed executional work for a long time that it doesn't feel bad to come back to it. Like even for Christina and I, I think when we started the company we were doing so much, like ordering the lamps and getting the cleaners set up. There's just some stuff with a startup that is part of the job, and I think it feels like people who are in the middle and still trying to prove themselves are just less excited to go back to that more administrative work than somebody who's already been through it and has maybe less to prove.

Stephan: Yeah, I think there's always people who are more builders and people who are more into optimizing, and when you're someone who's a builder, you want to get back to that, and that means going to something small by nature.

Galyn: Yeah, totally.

Stephan: Going back to Quidsi for a minute, I actually sourced some questions from some people that we know in common, including the only other person on our board aside from me and Jesse who is Satya Patel, who is an investor in you guys, and he asked a question. I don't know if he's ever asked you this before, which was, what was it like to work for Mark Lore and do you guys regret not joining him at Jet? Jet.com, for people who are not familiar with it, it's a huge ... I guess they're trying to compete with Amazon and were recently, or a few months ago, acquired by Wal-Mart. So that's a pretty big project, and I think a lot of Quidsi people ended up going with him at that company.

Christina: We would say in general that our experience at Diapers.com and Quidsi was the career opportunity of a lifetime and such an amazing experience, but so much of that was actually the opportunity to work for Mark Lore and Vinit Bharara, the co-founders of the company. We learned everything from them. Neither of us had come to this with specific experience in eCommerce, or in these categories, or in how to build a company. We became entrepreneurs because, I think, in large part of our experience there. Watching them do it, seeing what it took to build a company, learning together what it took to scale a business, and what it takes to build a team and a culture that will live on as you get bigger. So many things we carried over to our experience at Primary.

I mean, fundamentally the business is about serving a similar audience of these busy parents with things that are very essential to them with kind of an unexpected level of service. And we learned a lot about how to do that from Mark and Vinit, including on one hand, knowing what to be extremely analytical about to manage the business efficiently, and just know what matters in terms of metrics, and how to operate the business in the best possible way. But at the same time, they also knew when the numbers didn't matter, and it was about driving passion from your customers. And they actually constantly reinforced that was the most important thing, to ensure that our customers are truly passionate about us, and to invest in service, and again, sort of when the numbers didn't matter, because you just had to do the right thing for the customer at any cost, really. And so, these are the kinds of lessons that we brought with us here.

Another one relates to culture, where as driven a culture as Quidsi was, and people worked incredibly hard and wanted to win, but at the same time, the way we treated each other mattered there, and that was something that came top down from Mark and Vinit, in terms of core values of the company that included kindness and respect in the way that we collaborated. So there was real balance at Quidsi in terms of that sort of drive in hard skills as well as the soft skills around kindness and empathy that mattered and were part of the stated values of the company. And again, that's something that we brought here with us to Primary, very important to our culture, another reason why I think that people are attracted to the company and will take reduction in compensation, because they want to work in a place like that.

Stephan: It's interesting that you mention becoming entrepreneurs out of learning all that stuff at Quidsi, because there are quite a few companies that have emerged from there. I think ELOQUII comes to mind. There's a few others from entrepreneurs who kind of learned how to do it by being at Quidsi.

Christina: It's true. It's a really fun network, and we really know each other, and support each other of course, from Minibar to Manicube, which has since been bought. Yeah, we have friends at ELOQUII.

Galyn: UrbanStems.

Christina: Right. It's great because we have this common history. We can really support each other, but I do think that everyone was inspired by watching Mark and Vinit build the company, and being part of that experience. And it gave everyone confidence to be able to go and pursue their own venture. It almost felt like, we often say this, that if you have an idea that you have absolute conviction in and sort of the people to lead it, in our case our partnership was a big part of it. Having come from the experience we had, and seeing what it took, we almost felt like we had to do it. How could we not do it?

We had had this really unique experience of being able to see what it took, and then we had the idea. There was just no way we couldn't do it, and I think other people felt the same way, and Mark and Vinit were very supportive of everyone doing it. And you had also asked about us going to Jet, and that's an interesting question. Of course, we love working for them so much that that would have been really fun, and was something we could have done, but again it goes back to this point that we had absolute conviction in this idea that it had to happen, and wanted to do it together, and thanks to them, had the confidence to do it.

Stephan: Yeah, it's sort of a wide open. We haven't really touched on kind of the obvious thing of the direct to consumer model that you're working on. That's pretty much everyone who we talk to on this podcast is doing something in that area, and it does feel like a moment in time where there's so much opportunity. There isn't an established brand doing what you guys do yet, so it makes sense to me that so many people that got to see that first hand by being at Diapers.com or working in any of these companies is now seeing all the opportunities that have yet to be explored.

Christina: Yeah, I think it says a lot about the customer orientation that we had at Diapers, where that was part of the magic there, too. I think we talked about it, but selling these very basic diapers, wipes, and formula at the beginning, but with an elevated experience that invested in customer service, and fast free shipping before anyone was really doing that, and just made sure you were always thinking about the customer when you were making decisions. And so I think that a lot of people that we worked with and who came out of Diapers and Quidsi just has that sort of inherent passion for making customers happy, and so I think it’s interesting to see the different ways and categories that they're applying it. But the same fundamental, I think, goal is there, which is just how can we make this experience easier? How can we think about this as a solution instead of just a transaction?

Stephan: Amazon just announced that they're shutting down Quidsi. Did it evoke any emotions or anything when you saw that news come out?

Galyn: Yeah, I think we were said. It was, as Christina said, just the job opportunity of a lifetime, and such a formative experience for both of us, not only because of what we learned there, but the friendships that we made, and the people that we got to work with, and so yeah, I feel a little nostalgic and sad to see it go. And certainly, as customers we'll miss shopping there.

Stephan: And you guys have been involved in the eCommerce industry for more than half a decade, almost a decade, I guess. How has it changed? How has ecommerce evolved over the past five to ten years? What are you seeing for the future of eCommerce?

Galyn: The obviously one is, even when we were at Diapers, it was all about more stuff, generally. You know, sort of the Amazon perspective on being able to offer everything to customers, because having choice and availability of every product under the sun is one way to drive passion and deliver a customer experience that's great. I think Diapers started the other way, which is more about curation, and definite availability of product, but in maybe less of an everything, everything sort of way. And it feels like, and maybe this is just because this how we're going at the kids clothing market, but it feels like curation has become more important, and specialization, both in terms of product and also experience, is more important to customers and something that they're looking for. Even you see it in brick and mortar. Instead of going to the massive grocery store, there's an awesome strip of your butcher, and your fish store, and your cheese shop, and things like that. So I think maybe more sort of specialization coming up.

Christina: Yeah. Related to that, and this is obvious, but service levels have obviously increased across the board, and so they've become more the ante than the source of differentiation, and so the way to really differentiate is increasingly through brand, and to do that, of course, you have to control the experience. And of course, that's why direct to consumer, and why vertically integrated brands can be very powerful. I think more of that will happen. Some of those brands will really emerge, and curation will be a part of that specialized experience, while some of the market places and platforms, as of course is already happening, may continue to consolidate. But I think some of these owned brands will become very strong and powerful for many consumers, and I think they will live alongside them.

And I think we otherwise hear about interesting things coming ahead that are not what we are focused on, but I think things around virtual reality, VR and things like that are interesting, and everyone wants to be thinking ahead about how best to make the experience rich and meaningful, but also super convenient for customers, so it will be interesting to see how things like that start to affect eCommerce going forward.

Stephan: I'd love to end on the note that we started with, which is your relationship with each other. Is there anything that, I guess, you two learned about each other in recent times that you didn't know about each other, things that you started to realize or appreciate more about working together over time, or the strengths and weaknesses that you discovered about yourselves, maybe?

Christina: Something that I strangely didn't know about Galyn before this experience was just how much she likes to eat guacamole and drink margaritas.

Stephan: That's a good trait in a co-founder.

Galyn: Oh, my God. I can eat it all.

Christina: So important, everyone should be looking for that. But here at Primary, that has become one of our traditions of what we do when something doesn't go right. Really though, of course, that's just more knowing that we have the kind of partnership that works through the ups and downs, which is so, so key.

Galyn: Part of that too is, I think, for myself — we just talked about this the other day — but I don't really like to talk about things. This is like very bad, but I'm like more happy to just let it go, and move on, and it will just go away, but Christina's really good about making sure we talk through stuff when it happens. And so I feel like I, hopefully, have gotten better at it, and sort of recognized the value of addressing something right away, talking through it. And then it comes out sort of better on the other side, because things aren't allowed to really repeat, or fester, or any of that stuff, so that's been a good learning for me, and something that I think Christina's really good at making sure we do.

Stephan: Yeah, I think what I've learned after working with the same person pretty much every day for the past seven years is eventually you start to see the patterns. You start to see this is the type of response, or the type of analytical thinking that I should expect from this person, and maybe if you're looking for a different answer, ask somebody else. Or on the flip side it's very helpful because I've only recently started to understand what works about the dynamic that I have with Jesse, which is that I like to sort of organize things, and she likes to sort of break things and try new things, and so that little ... It's like a little self-perpetuating motor. One thing feeds the other and I've found that in other teams that work well those sort of complementary skills and complementary ways of looking at the world help drive the whole machine forward, so I don't know if that's something that you find in each other or not.

Christina: Definitely, and one example for us, I would say — it's a little bit of generalization — but I think that one way that we're very complementary is that I tend to want to do fewer things, which helps us focus sometimes. Galyn tends to want to consider and entertain more things, and that ensures that we think out of the box a little more, and don't miss out on great ideas to do things differently.

Stephan: Yes. I'm like you. See, that's really interesting, because we had the founders of Cotton Bureau on the show recently, and they had a similar dynamic. One likes to take risks, and one is the opposite, more conservative, and somehow those two things kind of balance each other out, or cause arguments, but useful arguments that get the conversation going.

Christina: The other funny balance that we've discovered is that we write really good emails together, and so sometimes you just ...

Stephan: Together?

Christina: There's like a hard email and it's sort of sensitive, and you're not really sure. And so Christina will start a draft, or I'll start a draft, send it to the other person, a couple changes, and then within five minutes we're all set, but it's good to have some collaboration on communications that way. It's real effective.

Stephan: I totally agree with that actually. Whenever we write our investor updates, or big updates to our customers, or stuff like that, that's exactly how it goes, where Jesse and I will just ping pong on it, and by the end, we're like, "Who should sign this email? I guess both of us." All right, well thank you so much. I really appreciate your time and all your insights. If people want to find out more about Primary, they can go to Primary.com, great domain. If they have anything else that they want to learn about you guys, is there any other resources that you want to send people to?

Galyn: Just our email addresses are easy. It's just Galyn@Primary and Christina@Primary. We're happy any time.

Stephan: Wow. Is that a service you offer? I might email you.

Galyn: It's not a service we really offered until right now, but we really are ...

Christina: I may need to mention that I have like 80,000 unanswered emails.

Galyn: Oh, my God.

Christina: No, we do love to talk with people about their experiences, trade stories, and compare notes, so any time.

Stephan: All right, well thank you so much.

Christina: Thanks so much.

Galyn: Oh, shit. I just hung up on him.

Christina: Oh, my God.

Galyn: Sorry.

You can follow Christina and Galyn Bernard and Christina Carbonell on Twitter and Primary on Twitter and Instagram.  


Mentioned on this episode: 


    Header image via Forbes.


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