Oliver Lubin – thredUp 1 of 2

“Trust in yourself and your team is essential to startup success.” thredUP is the leading social marketplace for busy parents to exchange kids clothes online.

Matthew: This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn more about building products and starting companies. It’s with great pleasure that I’m here today with Oliver Lubin co-founder and UX designer of thredUP. thredUP is the easy and inexpensive way to exchange great clothes you don’t wear any more for great new clothes you probably will. Their newest product is thredUP Kids, a place for busy parents to exchange kids clothing online. So, with that said, Oliver, we’re excited to have you here because you bring a design perspective. We’d love to have give your brief bio to our audience.

Oliver: Sure. Well, first of all, thredUP has evolved from where it started off. We thought maybe it would have multiple different kind of components. Kids is thredUP now. So, thredUP is synonymous with kids. My background is mostly in web design/web development. Right out of school I started doing that kind of stuff at a start-up in Massachusetts, ended up going back to graduate school studying Health Care Technology Management, came back to Boston and then one of my old roommates ended up being a neighbor of mine, said, “Hey, you want to start a clothing swapping start-up with me?” I said, “Sure, that sounds a lot like Health Care, so let’s do it.” I was working at a law firm at the time, so it sounded like a great idea.

Matthew: So, what is thredUP, who is it for, and why are you so passionate about it?

Oliver: Well, thredUP is the place where moms come to swap ideas, clothes, toys, problems. We want it to be synonymous with your families experience with raising children. That’s kind of the long-term thing. What makes it really exciting for us is that we’re working with a community that is very tightly knit outside offline and what we’re doing is we’re making it what would traditionally be a very small community that has to happen locally now it’s extended to the entire world, essentially. 

So, sometimes I like to describe it as what you would have thought of as your block, or your neighborhood. Now we have this long virtual neighborhood that anybody can be your neighbor and anybody can have a child that’s a little bit younger than you so that when your kids outgrow their clothes, you kind of hand it off to your neighbor and then you know that your other neighbor has a bunch of stuff sitting in their garage waiting for you to come over and kind of pick through it and say, “Yeah, that stuff looks great, Timmy’s going to love it, he’s going to look awesome in it.” 

So, we’re working, basically, with an idea that everybody already does and we’re just making it better, more convenient, more fun, cheaper. Consignment is not exactly convenient or actually that financially helpful because you don’t really get that much for your stuff. So, this way we’re just turning swapping into something that’s fun and easy. 

Matthew: Excellent. Now we covered your background and an overview of thredUP, what are- given your expertise in this space- what are some of the market trends, technology trends, that you’re seeing in developing the future in what you guys are doing?

Oliver: What we’ve seen is that people like to share online. People like to “Like” things. And so, there seems to be this growing trend of collaborative consumption. We were actually included in a few books recently that have been talking about it and this idea, we’re seeing it things like Groupon, that has had wild success, which is, “Hey, there’s buying power in the masses.” But also, these kind of experiences that happen, collectively and that are shared across people who don’t know each other. 

So, people are willing and eager essentially to kind of try things and meet people that have similar interest to them that they didn’t know before. So, what we’re seeing is that people, they traditionally would be swapping with their friends and family and friends of friends and they realize, “Hey, it doesn’t matter who I swap with, right? As long as I can get great stuff and I can give stuff to people who are going to love it just as me. That’s what I care about.” 

So, what we’re doing is actually, we’re seeing trends that people started making friends across the country; it’s outside of their normal social circle. And they’re having a lot of fun doing it because we’re providing this opportunity for people to find people like me, moms like me that have children that are my age or a little bit older or a little bit younger, that I can connect with and that I can share the experiences that I’m having with them. And you can kind of do it together.

Matthew: That’s great. That’s incredible. So, can you tell us what inspired you to start thredUP? Was there an “ah-ha moment”? Was there market research that went into identifying the research and what’s the story behind thredUP?

Oliver: So, it’s kind of a longer story, I’ll try to be short. The ah-ha moment, actually James had it, my business partner, where he was standing in front of his closet, or in his closet one morning and looking at a row of shirts hanging off hangers and saying, “I’m not going to wear that again. I’m not going to wear that again. I’m not going to wear that again.” And said to himself, “This is silly. I have all this stuff, it’s great, somebody else would wear it if it was new for them, but it’s not new for me. So how can we make it so that people would . . . Is there some way that we could kind of collect everything and then re-deal it to everybody so that it’s new to them and then all of a sudden, people will have this new experience of something that may have been old for somebody else.” 

So that was where it all started. That was all men’s and women’s shirts, and we played with that for a while and then we started to think- we started to realize actually that there’s a much more natural connection between kids clothes and the kind of cycle that they go through for them because it’s not about taste or use, it’s about the ability to actually use it. Once you outgrow something, you cannot use it anymore. So, there’s this natural cycle to wanting to get rid of stuff as opposed to feeling like, “Eh, maybe I should or shouldn’t.” 

So, we stopped doing men’s and women’s stuff and we focused entirely on children’s clothes simply because there’s much better need there, there’s much better fit and pardon the pun, but once they don’t fit into the stuff anymore, you need to get rid of it. And once they don’t fit into the stuff anymore, and I need to go find them some stuff that they’re going to fit into and I can go spend a lot of money, or I can swap it. 

Matthew: So, who- briefly, who are your co-founders, how did you find them and what qualities were you looking for in your co-founders?

Oliver: I have two co-founders. The first is James Reinhart. He was a college roommate of mine at Boston College Undergrad and we connected again. We’ve always stayed in touch after school. We connected again because my sister sold us both houses in Cambridge and we ended up being neighbors. While he was going, I was at a law firm, he was at Harvard Business School. One of his classmates what Chris Homer. 

So, James and I started this in 2008 in the fall, and by the summer, we had convinced Chris that he didn’t want to go start his own web development consulting company and that he actually wanted to be one of our co-founders. We slowly but surely roped him in and he bit hard and we couldn’t be more proud or more excited if he did so, because, you know, couldn’t have done it without him. But one thing about co-founders is, you have to have them. No founder can do this on their own. 

So, beauty of having co-founders is that you share the burden of what individuals are very good at. So, knowing that your co-founders have your back, you can trust them and that they’re going to take care of what they’re really good at, is incredibly important.

Matthew: So, what are some unique metrics or social proof about thredUP that you’d like to share with our audience?

Oliver: Well, I can’t share specific numbers about our membership except for the fact that we’re having thousands of people join now per day. We’ve doubled our new member rate and a lot of it is around just word of mouth. We’re not spending a lot of money on this to promote it. We’re doing some stuff like that but really it’s the kind of thing that if you hear about it, you say, “Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I do it? I’m already doing it with my friends? I can do it online? Cool.” 

In terms of other numbers, we’re swapping hundreds of boxes a day and that includes thousands of items in them. So, we’re saving thousands of dollars a day that people could go out to the store, hours that they could be spending with their kids throwing temper tantrums in the middle of a Target or wherever you shop. We’re saving headaches, we’re saving time, we’re saving gas, we’re saving money, and I think that’s why people really like it.

Matthew: So, we know founders face unique challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the hardest thing about starting thredUP for you and how did you overcome the challenge or the obstacle?

Oliver: James is really good at saying no and that’s what good CEOs do, so the biggest challenge is staying focused, I think. Because everybody, on any given day you can have a great idea that is entirely distracting, it’s not what will be the core product, it’s not what promotes you and what will lead, kind of to the real success that you’re hoping for. Always the danger in these things is to get distracted by something that’s really fun and it sounds like a great idea but then you end up kind of if you follow too many of those things it because disjointed, it becomes kind of a little random. You start to end up spending too much time on things that don’t matter to the real core experience. 

So, I think that’s always been the challenge, which is, “What really matters to people?” And as somebody who really focuses on the experience that people have, constantly we have to look back, take a step back really and say, “Okay. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Pretend I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never even heard of thredUP, I don’t even know what a swap is when thredUP says, “This is a place where you can swap. I hit the site, what do I know? What do I know if I’m brand new? What do I assume?”

And how do we kind of help you through that process so that you feel like you know exactly what you should be doing all along the way? That’s really the hardest part for us because we’re so familiar with the language that we speak. And we think it’s just kind of second nature, everybody knows what a swap is, everybody knows what a pick is. Well, they don’t. 

So, as the user experience person I always have to take a step back and just say, “What are those assumptions that I make every single day? Throw them out the window and let’s just take this a little bit slower.”


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