Eric Grosse | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Eric Grosse

Background:  

Chairish makes it easy for design lovers to buy and sell used furniture and home decor online. Once the company's curatorial department approves an item for sale, Chairish handles marketing, payment and shipping to the buyer.

"What we do is focused on providing you with all the resources you need to sell your piece as quickly as possible," says co-founder and CEO Eric Grosse, whose former roles include co-founder and president of Hotwire, president of Expedia Worldwide and CEO of TaskRabbit.

The Mistake:

Change consumer behavior at your peril.

When I was at Hotwire, we got really excited about finding new ways for travelers to find great deals. And we built what we thought was a wonderful product, called "The Weekender," which allowed shoppers to find great deals within a 50-mile radius of their home city. For example, if you live in Oakland and you want to escape town last-minute on a budget, we could show you great deals simultaneously in Sonoma or Santa Cruz or Carmel on an interactive map. 

We thought it was fantastic, but the problem was that travelers are pretty hardwired to search for travel via traditional search box. They just weren't that comfortable with new ways of searching—even if it was far more efficient. So the initiative we tried was a bit of a bomb, even though I and the rest of the staff at Hotwire loved it.

We launched it and iterated with it for several months before we realized that, as much as we loved it, the benefit wasn't worth the cost of the additional complexity. Perhaps our excitement sort of outweighed what the data was telling us.

At the end of the day, people liked doing what they were comfortable with, which was a traditional search box and the flexibility to change parameters themselves versus being told where the great deals were. 

Change consumer behavior at your peril.

The Lesson:

For us, the big lesson was to continue to innovate and try new things, but to do it from a construct of consumer behavior, whether it was through focus groups or iterating the initiative in real-time once it launched. That's a lesson that I live every day at Chairish. We're constantly innovating and adopting new functionalities. But we're taking a really fast-twitch, iterative approach, heavily driven by customer feedback.

One example that leaps to mind of how we adapted quickly at Chairish was with our mobile app. We initially had a mobile app experience that was very similar to our desktop experience. We had lots of inspirational collections and content that was taken from our desktop, but the smaller screen size made it difficult for a lot of our mobile shoppers, who at the end of the day, just wanted to cut to the chase and check out our great inventory as soon as possible. The mobile app now is much more streamlined and focused on showcasing the inventory we've got right away—and our shoppers love it. 

It's very important to keep that fresh perspective in mind and not assume too much of your shopper. Listen to how they're using the site, not how you want them to be using your site. Stay curious about how people love what you do and where they get frustrated. Sometimes, people get frustrated because you're pushing them too hard or asking them to do too much.

Consumer behavior is a powerful thing, and I've learned to respect it. 

Follow Eric Grosse on Twitter at @ericgrosse5.

Pictured: Eric Grosse. | Photo courtesy of Chairish.

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