Oliver Lubin – thredUp 2 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: What skill or talent do you possess that kind of makes it look easy, and what’s been hard, and how do you manage that?
 
Oliver: I think that’s the kind of question you ask other people.  I could probably tell you about my co-founders better, but I would say that the thing that I’m good at is knowing people, understanding people.  Figuring out exactly what works for them, what doesn’t.  What their reaction will probably be and not just kind of the immediate reaction, it’s the kind of underlying factor.  It’s kind of like if you make somebody read a line of text that’s too long they get tired by the end, and they want to stop reading.  They don’t know why they’re tired.  It’s just longer than what you would usually do.  So you have like [limelight's] or the spacing between lines matters. 
 
These are things that a lot times you have to think about, but sometime you just look at it and you have this gut reaction to it, and you just know.  So I’d say that knowing, or king of having a very quick gut reaction as to how things are going to effect people.  How people are going to feel about something is what I think I’m good at.  It’s not the kind of thing that you have to actually ask people questions about.  It’s the kind of thing that people actually don’t know the answer to.  If you say, so why does it feel weird?  They’ll say, I don’t know, it just feels weird.  So what you have to do is actually figure out what it is that’s making somebody feel weird about something because there’s something wrong.   
 
Chris had a great example the other day about the Lord of the Rings, or one of those kind of sci-fi movies.   They had run around the animation forward a bunch of times, and all the animators are sitting around looking at saying somethings off, we don’t know what it is.  And then they started running it backwards, then they could see the legs of people weren’t working the way that humans normally would expect them to, but only when the looked at if from a different perspective did they actually start to figure out what it was that actually felt weird.  That’s the kind of thing that we have to do, and sometimes it takes a little while.  You have to drop a lot of preconceived notions.
 
Matthew: Thank you, that’s really, really well put.  And so, what have you learned about your users or your business since you’ve launched that you didn’t know prior to launching?
 
Oliver: Everything.  That’s actually what’s really kind of fun about this for people like me.  Every single project that I worked on before thredUp was for people like me.  I would build something, I’d say, well yeah, click on that, I know what to do.  Or, yeah, that looks kind of cool and techie.  Well these are moms, I’m not a mom.  My co-founders are not moms.  We had go and hire a chief mom, that was one of our first hires, if not the first.  Building something for someone that’s not like you, that’s not the tech savvy web user, is a real challenge, but also it’s really kind of fun because you do a lot of figuring out. 
 
Like I said, there’s the preconceived notions of what people understand.  The big joke around here is stop double clicking the internet.  You don’t have to double click the internet.  Well our users, a lot of them do, and so we have to prepare for that.  It’s not a bad thing it’s just an experience thing.  Learning about our users, learning about what they know, what they don’t know, figuring them out has really been kind of fun.  We ended up having to do a lot of asking. 
 
I always say that our chief mom we hired her because well, one she was a mom, but two, she wasn’t the most tech savvy person when we hired her.  We’ve ruined that, she is now totally savvy, and it’s awesome.  But, that focus group for her is gone and so we have to keep finding new moms to ruin in terms of their focus group where they’re kind of helping us test things that we think we know how people are going to act, but we actually have to observe and see what happens.  
 
Matthew: What bit of advice or information would you like to share the audience?
 
Oliver: Nothing happens as fast as you hope it will, or think it will.  Even with the best planning you’re going to have to change it.  Hiring has been one of those things that’s a challenge.  It’s not a challenge, it’s the kind of thing that you don’t know anything about unless you’ve done it before.  Building a team of people that care about something as much as you do, or that you want them to care about something as much as you do.  
 
You go to sleep at night thinking about this thing.  You wake up thinking about this thing.  You hope and want the people that you hire to do the same exact thing, and so when you find those people it’s really exciting.  But it’s not that hard, it just takes time.  Just like the language, we speak it all day long, other people it takes a little time.  You learn things everyday, that’s the best I can say.
 
Matthew: That’s a good answer.  In terms of your professional development, has there been a mentor, or individual that’s played a positive impact personally, and then in terms of thredUp is there an individual who’s been a mentor to you?
 
Oliver: I would say my business partners have been very inspirational.  They’re both the Harvard business school guys.  When I think about a problem I think about it very differently from them.  I think that’s one of the reasons why we balance each other out so well.  We work really well as a threesome.  They’ve been great mentors and partners.  
 
I’ve got a bunch of professional friends.  When I worked at the law firm I worked with a bunch of [VC] lawyers.  Being able to talk to them, and see, or kind of experience the start up world from the other side, which is the, oh my god, we don’t know anything kind of thing.  Lawyers are there in that situation to make sure that people get started on the right foot. 
 
They’re there to answer the questions we have, and so being part of that, and seeing how much that, it’s not that they don’t know, it’s what you have to do, what you’re going to experience is so broad.  There’s no way you can think through all of it.  There’s a lot of people out there that will have great advice that will help you through it.  Lawyers, the family friends, we have a great family friend named Bart [Graff] who runs another start up.  Just seeing people that have done this, that are just one or two steps ahead of you, or ten steps ahead of you.  That can kind of sit there and say, oh yeah, I remember what it was like to be there.  
 
Matthew Wise: What do you think the key elements are to starting a start up? If you had to boil it down to few elements, what do you think they are?
 
Oliver: Patience, trust, patience in yourself, and in how people will understand what you’re trying to do.  I think that the one thing that I like to say about Thread Up is it’s not something that we had to convince people is something they should consider because they’re already doing it.  Some start ups will have to convince people that it’s a good idea.  We still have to convince people that it’s a good idea, but it’s not a new idea. 
 
Trust in the people that you work with, that work for you.  Trust that the people you hire have got it.  When you start a company, you hire people, you hire them to do jobs because you can’t possibly do them all, and you have to let go.  So those are the first two things that come to mind, there’s plenty more. 
 
Matthew Wise: Before we close, we’d love to get your vision of thredUp, and how you hope it will change the world.
 
Oliver: A long time ago, this was even during business school competition that we were in.  We had a slide that had Tivo, and Zipcar, we didn’t have Groupon on there but we could throw it up there now.  Those words are synonymous  with Google.  People say Google, they know it means search.  People who say Zipcar they know it’s this idea of a shared car.  People say Groupon they’re like that’s the online buying place where I can get a deal place.  Tivo, synonymous with recording, you don’t say DVR you say Tivo. 
 
We want people to think about thredUp as the experience for swapping.  The experience for sharing clothes, and toys, and books, and the whole world of other things that revolve around raising children.  One day it could be, you come online, you’ve got a bunch of stuff your kids have out grown.  All right, I’m going to list those.  I’m going to go see what’s out there that I can pick. 
 
Another day you could come back and join a conversation about the merits of spanking your children, or when’s the right time to start letting your children use makeup, or are organic sneakers worth it.  Cloth diapers versus regular diapers.
 
This is a community that engages themselves and so for us it’s about building that platform where people can come in and kind of experience child rearing with people like them in a way that fills many facets of that experience.  Whether it’s clothing, information gathering or sharing, the rules, all of them.  There’s a lot of opportunities there. 
 
Matthew: Oliver, we appreciate ,you being a guest on our show.  We hope you come back as a guest.  We’re rooting for your success at thredUp.  For those in our audience who would like to participate in the thredUp community, and register as a member you can visit them at www.thredUp.com this is Matthew Wise  at FounderLY.  Thanks Oliver.
 
Oliver: Thank you.

 
 

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