Retrospective: Fireside Chat with Niraj Shah, CEO of Wayfair

October 16th, 2020

Topics: AI & Machine Learning Culture Customer eCommerce Entrepreneurial Tech Operations Supply Chain

CDS MBA Fellow, Sarthak Vaish T’21

On October 7, the Center for Digital Strategies hosted Wayfair co-founder and CEO Niraj Shah for a fireside chat with the center’s Faculty Director, Professor Alva Taylor. It was a very informative conversation that covered a lot of topics and some key takeaways are highlighted below:

  1. Maintaining culture gets more critical the larger your company gets, but it harder to implement. Wayfair’s culture emphasizes an intense focus on the customer, being comfortable taking risks, and believing in data. Niraj believes that this has led to a collaborative and ambitious environment at Wayfair.
  2. E-commerce (in physical goods) is a challenging business model, because one has to be a “well-rounded athlete.” The aggregate moat is built by being good at all the various functions (logistics, operations, customer service, etc.)
  3. Building a great team pays off in times of crisis. You have to be prepared even if you don’t know what you are preparing for.
  4. Wayfair likes to build tools if they unlock value. Otherwise, it makes sense to buy tools.
  5. Niraj doesn’t think of Amazon as a competitor. This is because Amazon is optimized for the 60% of the dollar volume that is in general merchandise. With the acquisition of Whole Foods, they are expanding into the 20% of grocery. For the home and fashion markets (markets with more nuance) it is hard for Amazon to compete, and they don’t necessarily want to because you can’t optimize for that as well as general merchandise.
  6. Wayfair prides themselves on working together and sharing information with their suppliers that might not have the same scale and capabilities.

Niraj’s advice to MBA students is to find what you enjoy doing and giving it your all is critical to your success. He encouraged Tuckies to go somewhere that is growing and where new opportunities are being created.

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