CSN Stores, Amid Rebranding and Financing Rumors, Looks to Become “Amazon for the Home”

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to a broader extent, consumer Web systems. To that end, CSN uses a blend of traditional and open-source software for its toughest jobs—and it’s looking ahead to future platforms. To handle huge volumes of click-stream data and customer-tracking information, for instance, the company has started using Hadoop, an open-source storage and computing system, in addition to more traditional SQL database technology from Microsoft. “We’re just starting to get into how to deal with 50 terabytes of raw data,” Conine says. “Learn from today and plan for tomorrow.”

Stepping back a bit, there’s also an overarching lesson here about how and when to start a tech-based company. “People believe that to build a big business, you have to have a big idea,” Shah says. “We said, we’re going to build an e-commerce company selling stuff that others aren’t selling. The [usual] reaction is that other people must have done it.” Sure, there were plenty of companies trying to sell home furnishings online, but the devil is in the details—and the business fundamentals. Indeed, Shah says, the core idea behind CSN Stores is “not that exciting. We’re not creating Twitter. There’s an under-appreciation for [going after] a big market and executing well.”

In talking with entrepreneurs, Shah adds, “sometimes it’s as simple as get out there, start doing a good job, and keep your eyes open.”

Nevertheless, CSN Stores, like most successful companies, has had its share of difficulties. “Sometimes you’re growing fast, you wish you’d done things sooner,” Shah says, looking back over the years. At times, he says, “we were slow to bring people in who could help the company.”

One of the most challenging times was the recent recession. The company’s traffic, conversion rates, and the amount of money customers were spending were all declining fast. “We sell consumer discretionary products, and we’re also correlated to housing,” Shah says. “We took a step back, but we figured out what we were going to do, and stayed profitable through whole thing.” CSN went through a round of layoffs in late 2008 and early 2009, cutting about 40 people—10 percent of its staff at … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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