Scaling Up Startups: Takeaways from Gemvara, Kayak, LogMeIn, Wayfair, and More at MassTLC UnConference

10/31/11Follow @gthuang

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be the e-commerce companies of yesterday,” Lauzon said. Instead of focusing on A/B testing and only hard stats like how many people bought from what page, Gemvara starts with customer experience and a set of core values that include being humble and amplifying passion and curiosity, he said. (Sounds a bit like Zappos.) Lesson: company culture is job one.

Some other tidbits from the ensuing discussion about missteps and difficulties, which are always more interesting anyway:

—Scott Griffith of Zipcar talked about the importance of planning for growth by distributing decision-making and delegating authority to company managers. Gail Goodman from Constant Contact asserted that “leadership and management are two different things.” What’s more, she said, managers are born, not made. “You’re not going to anoint them. If they aren’t people managers, don’t push them into it.”

—Jeff Taylor, the founder of Monster.com, had a different viewpoint. “You have to give everyone a chance to manage,” he said. “People would either fail or win on their own.” He talked about switching from a pyramid management scheme to an upside-down wedge (“make the teams manage themselves”) once Monster.com grew to more than 300 people.

—Colin Angle of iRobot talked about waiting too long to hire a chief financial officer. “I was making do where I needed expertise,” he said. As engineers, Angle said, “we think we know how to do everything. But that’s not the point.” Simon from LogMeIn added that he was slow to move people out of senior roles as the company grew and professionals with more experience needed to be brought in.

—On the tradeoff between fundraising and focusing on the business, Goodman from Constant Contact talked about raising a big VC round in 2000—“a big valuation is not always good if you can’t back it up,” she said. Constant Contact went on to raise two more “painful” rounds in the early 2000s as the company slumped. “It was a slow, ugly, continuous drain on my energy,” Goodman said. “I lived to tell the tale, but it was ugly. It was also necessary.” The company grew from a post-money valuation of just $5 million around 2002 to about $600 million now (see this recent Q&A with Goodman). “When you’re sure you’re onto something, just stick to your guns,” she said.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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