|By Gathering Clouds||
|May 22, 2013 09:55 AM EDT||
Recently we had the pleasure of sitting down for an extended conversation with Lon Binder, VP of Technology at Warby Parker. We discussed a range of issues central to how Warby Parker approaches IT, including going beyond the standard customer experience, utilizing outsourced expertise, the challenges of finding talented hires, and much more.
This is the second of 2 parts. Check out Part 1 here.
Thoughts? Feedback? Let us know on Twitter @CloudGathering.
GC: How are you looking to go beyond like the standard e-commerce experience, and how are you using cloud to actually enable that. Already people are tracking the development of Warby Parker for a number of reasons, but the standout stories so far has been the business model itself and the industry that it’s in. Being the leader of the IT organization, what are you looking to build here that’s going to be looked at in the same way?
LB: There are a number of things that we’re doing in cloud that enable customers to have a better experience and that differentiate us from a typical e-commerce company.
Most e-commerce companies – at least traditionally – think about getting a lot of customers on the site and then converting as many of them as possible. It’s a numbers game. And the longer they’re on the site, the more risk there is for them to not convert, and so actually most e-commerce companies are trying to get you to buy as quickly as possible on the site, which is not the way we think about ourselves.
We actually operate more as a lifestyle brand than as a direct response retailer or as a typical e-commerce site. We love customers to come on the site and luxuriate in the brand, as it were. They should come on and enjoy browsing the gallery pages and reading about us – it’s super-important for our mission to come through, which is to help those who need help. And so we love our customers to go and browse around the videos and hear about what’s happening with our non-profit partners in the developing world.
That’s very different from the typical e-commerce site, and I’ll give you an example of how cloud comes into that: we’ve got a lot of press over the last year and it’s been exciting for me as a technologist to try and support that and make sure that I’m making it possible for us to get as much press as we can.
And then the site went down as a result of people learning about Warby. So we partnered with Akamai, which is a great cloud provider; they provide a number of different services, all on their own infrastructure that we can take advantage of.
One of the big questions we had was whether to enable full page caching. If you enable full page caching, there are some downsides in terms of how thoughtful you have to be from an engineering standpoint when you roll out your features. The upside for the customer is that the page loads much faster. On the Warby side, we can scale faster when you have traffic coming onto the site from press. Working with Akamai was also great because they also have mobile offerings that we could think about as well for more rapid acceleration.
The conversations we have often come down to whether a choice adds complexity to the engineering process. But at the same time, it makes the customer experience better, so that’s what wins. It’s just one example that differentiates us.
We want customers on the site longer, and we went to a cloud provider to help us make it happen. We want to hire really smart engineers, but we don’t necessarily need to have all the world class infrastructure engineers in the world in our office.
GC: So you’re really embracing then the sort of outsource technical bench model?
LB: Our approach is the differentiator; we want to build that up. We don’t need to be the best infrastructure company in the universe when we have a provider right there at a great price point.
GC: What is your approach to mobile and how does that make what you’re doing more complex or less complex, or do you see it as sort of a necessary evolution?
LB: Everybody’s going mobile, and if you look at the trends in the US, the typical e-commerce site is experiencing 25% of its traffic from mobile, and we’re no different than that. In other countries it’s substantially higher; in some countries it’s as high as 75 to 80% mobile.
To answer your question, I’m actually going to focus on social media, which sounds a little unrelated, but I’ll explain.
The way we approach interaction with customers is to put ourselves where the customers want us to be, and again, it’s always customers first. So if customers want us to be on Twitter, we’re on Twitter, answering their questions. If they want us to be on Facebook, asking us for typical case support, like if they have a question about their frames, we’re on Facebook. They want to post to our wall, and we’ll be there to respond.
Now if they want to do live chat, we do that. We’ll be anywhere customers want us to be, to make it a great customer experience. That’s how our social media became so large and why we innovated running video Tweets as a customer service – we’re one of the first companies to ever do that.
And so when it came time to think about mobile, we took the exact same tack as we had for our social media – we put ourselves where customers want us to be. And so we started thinking about mobile web, mobile app development, and about what features need to be available on mobile devices. We took time determining which platforms would make the most sense. It has been of utmost importance to ensure that our other channels were running well, which they were, so we’ve recently launched a mobile website. The mobile website immediately did very well, because we were trying to put ourselves where customers want us to be.
Now we’ve looked at that and we’ve learned some lessons and we’re getting ready to roll out another major step, which is coming soon.
We’ve already started working on a mobile app, which is actually ready to go out. We’ve held it back because when we think about how customers use it, we feel it could be better and we want it to be really excellent before that goes out the door as well.
GC: And do you anticipate customers being able to purchase essentially through the mobile app as much as they would through the website?
LB: When we talk to customers about how they want to interact with us, they want to shop on the website, and we’ve found a whole number of reasons why that is. For the mobile app, it’s more about what drives the need to have an app. We realized that there were some features that your phone offered, like the advantage of the camera and other things that were better in an app than they would be on a mobile website. So the app is for customers who want certain functionality that would only be available in an app versus the website, which would have all the typical shopping and browsing functionality. So we differentiated it, again based on customers.
I’ll just give you an example of this data: When customers go on their phones and open our emails, they’re there to shop or learn about whatever it was that was advertised in the email.
Another example: customers may go to Google or another search engine on their phone to search for frame information, but they are on the web looking for web information. This process is very different from people who have a very specific need that they’re trying to fill, where they go into their app store and they’re looking for a certain functionality. That’s a different need that we’re trying to fill with our mobile.
GC: You have a number of compliance concerns now. How do you balance giving your customers the choice of where they want to have access with making sure that everything is functioning safely so that they’re not going to have a bad experience?
LB: It’s a huge challenge. We have to be PCI compliant, because we process credit cards and of course Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is something that everybody should be thinking about.
We try to bring in engineers who are very security conscious, very focused on customer information and how to secure it. Most of our technology is already extremely secure. There’s always more you can do – you’re always a target when you’re online. And the more visible your brand is, the more people want to mess with you.
We try to do everything we can to secure customers’ information. The mobile point of sale, of course, increases the potential risks associated with somebody trying to get at customer data. We layered in five different layers of security there, ranging all the way from physical security up through software security. We are balancing that with the fact that customers also want to check out in a store very quickly. There were some systems where the sales associate would have to put a password – or two passwords or three passwords – on every checkout, which would slow down that experience in the store.
There are things that you can do, for example, on a mobile point of sale device. We can remotely wipe it out, or we can do all sorts of time-based triggers. When a customer is downloading an app, there’s things that we can do in controlling the app, versus on the website, where we can only do what the browser can do. So we can use layers of SSL – which of course we do – password protection, and then not storing certain information to ensure that it can never be accessed. We also tokenize credit card information so that we don’t hold the credit card data, but we can still make sure the customer information we do access is safe. The high level answer is, we try to secure as much as we can without hurting the customer.
GC: So when we talk about engineering quality, there are many different qualities being discussed and analyzed, from cloud engineers to the DevOps role. Does your perspective focus on the individual, or is there a profile that you’re trying to attract or trying to develop within your organization?
LB: It’s funny that you ask that – nobody’s ever asked me that before and I think it’s a really good question. We are very individual-focused, which makes our technical recruiter’s job a nightmare.
Some of the recruiters who I’ve worked with for a long time know me: that I’m always about the individual and I’m hiring people who think that same way. There’s no template resume that describes the engineer that we want; we’re looking for someone who fits our behaviors, which means they’re considerate of other people, they’re really passionate about some of the initiatives that we’re focused on, like helping others and creating a great experience. So if an engineer doesn’t either have that already or want to have that, they’re not going to be a great fit.
And then we’re looking for people who bring that objective view that I mentioned before, who are open to questioning everything. So for example, I interviewed a candidate who said, “I love Ruby; I’ll only write Ruby.” And I said, “This is not the job for you.”
And there’s nothing wrong with Ruby – we love it as a language – but if you’re that glued to one technology, you’re not an objective thinker and you’re not for us. We look for that in candidates, that ability to be objective, rational, and considerate of other people. We also want to have fun, which is really at the core of our brand. It’s meant to be a really fun place to work.
Some people don’t like that – the environment can be kind of noisy in the office. It’s not a party every day, but it’s a pretty fun place to work. Collaboration is important to us as well. We run agile teams, so if you’re an engineer in our organization, whether you’re on production or you’re on development, you’re going to be on an agile team with six to eight people, which is a very tight-knit group; you’ve got to enjoy that.
And so we don’t really care whether you’ve written .NET for the last five years, or if you’ve written Python; we’re looking for smart engineers who fit those qualities and those behaviors that we’re looking for. And that’s why it’s kind of a headache for our technical recruiter, yet we’ve found some great people.
We had somebody – Adam – who came into our retail store, trying on some glasses. He said he had seen the office, thought the place was really cool, liked the product, and liked the mission. He said he’d like to apply for a job here, and we hired him about three days later – he now works for us as a Senior Software Engineer, and he’s amazing.
After working for us for about a month, he realized Warby Parker really is as good as he thought it was going to be; he recommended his ex-boss come in and interview. So his boss Dan came in for an interview and about two weeks later he became our Chief Architect. He’s absolutely unbelievable. That’s kind of what’s been happening in technology, is that some people would just find us and then we’ve got them.
GC: And why did you choose to set up here in New York?
LB: We’re New Yorkers. Neil, one of our founders, was born and raised here in the city. There are five senior managers in the company and I’m the only one who actually doesn’t live within a few blocks of the office. I live in Long Island City; I’m a native New Yorker – I grew up in this neighborhood – my whole life. So we’re very much New Yorkers.
We’re a Made in New York company, as well, and we fully support that program. We think what the Bloomberg administration has done is fantastic for New York. New York City is one of the most impressive places to work or run a company in the world. We have access to some of the brightest and smartest people here, we have great services available and it’s clear that New York City wants to do even more, but still has a long way to go. But there are a lot of great schools that are creating great programs here.
New York is an amazing place to run a business: you can find great talent and you can attract people here. It’s also, from a brand standpoint, a great place to build a company. It’s certainly where fashion lives, and given our focus that’s always a good thing.
We’ve also opened up our showrooms around the country and we have stores that are opening, like the one that just opened in Boston, so we’re spreading beyond just here. But New York is a wonderful place to call home.
GC: What about cloud has enabled you to hedge costs more closely in line with revenue? A lot of what’s talked about with cloud is its benefit in terms of being able to save money, but is that the limit, or has it fulfilled a greater purpose for you guys?
LB: I think it’s unfair to judge cloud as one unit, to say it works only when you’re smaller, bigger, growing, stable, etc. There are different providers who offer different types of services and an array of different ways of dividing the space. And so cloud serves a range of needs for different purposes.
For example, when we were just launching, we launched on a hosted e-commerce platform, integrated with ERP, which enabled us to launch really quickly. And actually, Brett, the consultant who built the very first piece of technology that Warby Parker used was found on oDesk. We used the website to find him, hosted the whole thing on somebody else’s platform… it was just incredible.
That was perfect for then, but I wouldn’t say that just because we’ve grown bigger now we need to host the website ourselves. Actually the hosting still happens in a managed service environment. There are many other cloud services that we use, such as our hosted voice-over-IP phone system. As we grow there are many other systems available for us to take advantage of, that help us get through growth phases quickly and then can also provide areas of value where we don’t need to have core competency.
So I’d say at every level there’s always a partner for you.
GC: And then, I guess to wrap up, looking ahead for how you see your company developing over the next two to five years? What developments in the industry are you looking forward to the most in terms what can be leveraged to obtain maximum value for your company?
LB: That’s a great question. I would say in technology there are a number of changes that would have great value to us. We’re hiring a ton of people in engineering specifically, and across the company as well.
There are all sorts of different websites coming together and collaborative groups online for finding great talent and for people to find us, and where we can participate. We love open sourcing technology and we give back to a lot of open source projects.
Exposing what we’re doing and seeing what other engineers are doing is a great way for us to get to know each other, kind of like a date, before somebody decides to work for us. And so I would say that’s probably the most exciting, because that’s how we meet a lot of smart people who we hope would want to work for us.
I’m also really excited about the rate and clarity around new technologies. We’ve come out of the period of time where everybody was making their own framework, so you had 20 competitors for MVC models in every language, whether good or bad, and we’re finally starting to see them collapse downwards.
Part of that is because people are getting comfortable in learning new technologies faster, merging technologies together, borrowing from each other and sharing. For a company – just in the same way with cloud – we have great visibility into what these platforms and open source frameworks are doing, and how we can take advantage of them, whether we use pieces of them, or borrow from them with a license, or give back to them and help the community. I think that’s the charitable part of the technology community, and it’s also really empowering as a company because we don’t have to build everything ourselves.
Five years ago there were almost as many technologies being developed, but there wasn’t any visibility into them. People were hosting them on their own sites, you know, and the documentation wasn’t really that great, and the community wasn’t quite as active.
By Jake Gardner
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Aug. 3, 2015 06:45 PM EDT Reads: 541
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
Aug. 2, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 371
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Aug. 1, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 347
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
Jul. 30, 2015 07:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,432
MuleSoft has announced the findings of its 2015 Connectivity Benchmark Report on the adoption and business impact of APIs. The findings suggest traditional businesses are quickly evolving into "composable enterprises" built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. Most are embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and microservices technologies like Docker. A majority are integrating wearables, like smart watches, and more than half plan to generate revenue with APIs within the next year.
Jul. 30, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 151
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Opening Keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, d...
Jul. 30, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,092
In his keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Rodney Rogers, CEO of Virtustream, discussed the evolution of the company from inception to its recent acquisition by EMC – including personal insights, lessons learned (and some WTF moments) along the way. Learn how Virtustream’s unique approach of combining the economics and elasticity of the consumer cloud model with proper performance, application automation and security into a platform became a breakout success with enterprise customers and a natural fit for the EMC Federation.
Jul. 30, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,182
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Jul. 29, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,305
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect their organization.
Jul. 29, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,215
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
Jul. 28, 2015 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,780
Converging digital disruptions is creating a major sea change - Cisco calls this the Internet of Everything (IoE). IoE is the network connection of People, Process, Data and Things, fueled by Cloud, Mobile, Social, Analytics and Security, and it represents a $19Trillion value-at-stake over the next 10 years. In her keynote at @ThingsExpo, Manjula Talreja, VP of Cisco Consulting Services, discussed IoE and the enormous opportunities it provides to public and private firms alike. She will share what businesses must do to thrive in the IoE economy, citing examples from several industry sectors.
Jul. 28, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,055
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
Jul. 27, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,052
Akana has released Envision, an enhanced API analytics platform that helps enterprises mine critical insights across their digital eco-systems, understand their customers and partners and offer value-added personalized services. “In today’s digital economy, data-driven insights are proving to be a key differentiator for businesses. Understanding the data that is being tunneled through their APIs and how it can be used to optimize their business and operations is of paramount importance,” said Alistair Farquharson, CTO of Akana.
Jul. 27, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 338
Business as usual for IT is evolving into a "Make or Buy" decision on a service-by-service conversation with input from the LOBs. How does your organization move forward with cloud? In his general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Maravei, Regional Sales Manager, Hybrid Cloud and Managed Services at Cisco, discusses how Cisco and its partners offer a market-leading portfolio and ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and application services that allow you to uniquely and securely combine cloud business applications and services across multiple cloud delivery models.
Jul. 27, 2015 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,914
The enterprise market will drive IoT device adoption over the next five years. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Greenough, an analyst at BI Intelligence, division of Business Insider, analyzed how companies will adopt IoT products and the associated cost of adopting those products. John Greenough is the lead analyst covering the Internet of Things for BI Intelligence- Business Insider’s paid research service. Numerous IoT companies have cited his analysis of the IoT. Prior to joining BI Intelligence, he worked analyzing bank technology for Corporate Insight and The Clearing House Payment...
Jul. 26, 2015 09:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,595
"Optimal Design is a technology integration and product development firm that specializes in connecting devices to the cloud," stated Joe Wascow, Co-Founder & CMO of Optimal Design, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 25, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 406
SYS-CON Events announced today that CommVault has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A singular vision – a belief in a better way to address current and future data management needs – guides CommVault in the development of Singular Information Management® solutions for high-performance data protection, universal availability and simplified management of data on complex storage networks. CommVault's exclusive single-platform architecture gives companies unp...
Jul. 25, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,980
Electric Cloud and Arynga have announced a product integration partnership that will bring Continuous Delivery solutions to the automotive Internet-of-Things (IoT) market. The joint solution will help automotive manufacturers, OEMs and system integrators adopt DevOps automation and Continuous Delivery practices that reduce software build and release cycle times within the complex and specific parameters of embedded and IoT software systems.
Jul. 25, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 490
"ciqada is a combined platform of hardware modules and server products that lets people take their existing devices or new devices and lets them be accessible over the Internet for their users," noted Geoff Engelstein of ciqada, a division of Mars International, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 25, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,563
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.
Jul. 25, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,509