CEO Supper Club: Does technology even matter in ecommerce right now?

By Sarah Lacy , written on February 15, 2013

From The News Desk

Earlier this week, I announced our month-long series on ecommerce by raising a bunch of questions. Our first stab at getting answers was to pull together founders and CEOs of four of the more interesting ecommerce companies and ask them.

It's the second installment of our CEO Supper Club series, and this time, we did it in New York at Felice Restaurant at Gild Hall.

Our dinner guests included Doug Mack, CEO of One Kings Lane, Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox, Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker, and Ben Lerer of Thrillist/Jack Threads and Lerer Ventures.

The goal of a CEO Supper Club is simple: To bring four founders together to talk honestly about the challenges and promises of their industry. And, as the dinner goes on, give them enough wine that the evening ends absurdly. (This clip was at the very beginning of the evening, although I'll warn you now that the ecommerce crew held it together a lot better than our previous dinner around enterprise software. No one, for instance, heard voices.)

We began by talking about our location: We shot this dinner in New York, because that's where most of the promising ecommerce companies are. When we asked Marc Andreessen why that was a few weeks ago, he suggested the merchandizing and editorial strengths of the ecosystem but said eventually they'd all need the best software programmers in the world and those are largely in the Valley.

Our guests respectfully disagreed. "Technology plays a smaller role," Lerer said. "It's the products you are selling and the stories you are telling that matters."

Even the CEO of one company at the table that is based in San Francisco -- One Kings Lane -- pointed out that half of their operations are in New York. He said if they'd been totally in San Francisco, they wouldn't be where they are today. "We got to a $30 million run rate with no technology," Mack says. It was all outsourced.

Outsourcing didn't go so smoothly in the early days of Warby Parker, as Blumenthal explains in the clip.

We'll have more clips from this dinner later today and throughout the month on topics like funding, showrooming, cofounders and much more. We hope you enjoy!