Boston-based flash sale retailer Rue La La underwent some major changes last year.
Recently, Rue La La announced another shift in management — a new VP of Product.
Saurin Shah (pictured right), was previously VP of Product at Care.com, which he said gave him valuable experience in bringing mobile UX and data analytical focus to a product team, improving end user experience, key metrics and the speed of successful product launches — all factors he hopes to bring to his role at Rue La La.
Prior to Care.com, Shah was the founder and CEO of mobile shopping app Sift, and VP of Social Games at Digital Chocolate, a mobile gaming company.
We caught up with Shah to learn more about his plans for Rue La La in 2017 and beyond.
BI: What brought you to Rue La La?
Shah: It was a bit of serendipity. Rue’s CTO Anthony Accardi and I were serving on a panel together as startup judges. We were introduced to each other and I was impressed with his approach to business, so we got to know each other over the summer. He told me about Rue over dinner one day, about the team and culture he was building, and it seemed very exciting. One thing led to another and here I am.
BI: How would you describe yourself?
Shah: I think anybody talking to me for two minutes would know that I pride myself on trying to think outside of the box about how things could be. I’ve had a couple of funded startups (and not-funded startups) and spent most of my career at small- to midsize-startups, and I want to bring that sense of entrepreneurialism to Rue and accelerate it.
I take a lot of time to develop talent and think there’s an incredible product here. I’m very fortunate to come in and meet a team that’s already strong. My goal is to help mentor them — to drive them through these goals to the end. I believe teams are the key to success, not individuals because complex problems require cross-functional approaches. I’m going to use my experience to make that happen. Rue bringing me on board is a sign that they believe in the ability to innovate for the future and the opportunity that’s there.
BI: How did your last role prepare you for your new one?
Shah: My last role at Care.com brought me in contact with an exceptionally forward-thinking company. One of the things we did at Care was be very aggressive in trying new technologies to make the lives of our customers easier. I had to learn about large-scale products at a rapid clip, which was good preparation for Rue.
BI: What excites you about Rue La La's product?
Shah: Rue is a very innovative company and the retail space is undergoing rapid change. There are weekly headlines for things happening in e-commerce – about the shift from traditional retail to mobile commerce — which is taking the industry by surprise. The way Rue handles innovation is a great opportunity for me to leverage my entrepreneurial side and deliver big consumer products to market with the company focused on innovating in a rapidly changing space. In 10 years, we will look back and think, ‘How did we shop before our smartphones?’ It will seem so antiquated and Rue understands this.
I’m going to use a combination of data science and great consumer technology and UX to build an experience in retail that’s built for customers who are mobile-first — the customers of tomorrow. I’m passionate about that and the company’s allocation of resources and recent hires are a sign of where we think the market is going.
BI: What are your first priorities as Rue La La's new VP of Product?
Shah: We have a few major goals as a company. Right now, I am looking to assess how our product strategy fits into the goal, which is to be a leader in leveraging data science as a method of driving customer experience, as well as delivering a mobile-first experience built for shoppers on the go. Between these two goals, there is a lot of opportunity for us. Right now, I’m looking at our roadmap and delivering toward that.
BI: Any tech trends that you anticipate playing a huge role in the future of Rue's product?
Shah: Yes, I cannot underscore enough that mobile commerce is disrupting retail in general, and I think that shopping is starting to be seen as an entertainment activity. People enjoy browsing. It’s fun to shop. The activity of wandering a mall is being translated online. So we’re working on the combination of building a fun and enjoyable experience while using big data to influence customer experience.
I’m looking to build an experience that users enjoy and come back to, even if they’re not going to purchase anything right away. We know that people do this from personal experiences of staying in the mall all day, but it’s exciting to see that translated to an online and mobile experience. We leverage our strong editorial voice and brand, combined with a fun experience to represent a shift in how consumers are shopping. People are not just going in and buying an item, they’re looking for an experience.
BI: What do you think is the key to success for an e-commerce company like Rue?
Shah: Rue prides itself on having a strong brand and offering fun and enjoyable shopping experiences. They make bite-sized shopping experiences even when you’re on the go. My background having been in mobile games and having launched several No.1 apps is that having an experience does matter. As a brand, we want to translate that into product by using data and product design.
BI: Is there anything unique or advantageous to being based in Boston?
Shah: I’m a transplant from the Bay Area, so everyone is joking that I’m making a reverse commute. I love the New England area. I think it’s advantageous that we’re not as well known here. The talent is Boston is just as good as the Bay Area and I would definitely say there is room for consumer-facing tech companies to grow in Boston. I’m hoping my work at Rue helps make Boston a hub for talent and makes more consumer-facing companies successful.
BI: Where would you like to see Rue La La's product in five years?
Shah: The retail space is evolving so rapidly that I’d like to see us eventually be able to reach out to customers wherever they are. We have a great app and website, but there are other great channels for reaching customers. We expect that chat and messaging and maybe the intersection of someone’s physical location could be leveraged in the mobile space.
As far as experience goes, we hope that when a user comes in, we use our data science and understanding of each customer to design an experience that truly feels one-on-one, built for that individual customer. We might not get that right right away, but over the course of a few years, we’d like customers to come in and feel like we know them. We want to build a shopping experience in 30 seconds that used to take an entire afternoon.
BI: What is the product culture like at Rue?
Shah: The culture at Rue is that no bad idea is off the table necessarily. There’s the term ‘scale fast,’ and that’s one of the things that I like as an entrepreneur — the willingness to try new things. As a company, we are not okay with staying where we are knowing the marketplace is changing and we are comfortable with changing to keep up with the marketplace. Rue also has a team-based approach and is aggressive at doing things quickly in a way that will make products and the product team successful.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos via social media