Why Conshy beats Cali for this ecommerce company - Technical.ly Philly

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Feb. 21, 2018 11:56 am

Why Conshy beats Cali for this ecommerce company

Yes, ShopRunner is building a team in the Philly area to battle Amazon.
Team members chat at ShopRunner’s expanded Conshohocken office.

Team members chat at ShopRunner's expanded Conshohocken office.

(Courtesy photo)

When CEO Sam Yagan joined ShopRunner in 2016, he examined the current state of the company and where he wanted to lead the members-only service that connects retailers and brands to online shoppers.

After close scrutiny, Yagan — who is cofounder of OkCupid and SparkNotes and the former CEO of Match.com — decided to move its headquarters from San Mateo, Calif., to Chicago, as well as strengthen its longstanding Conshohocken, Pa., location.

“When you work for a company out in the Silicon Valley, people tend to bounce around from job to job a lot,” said Bill Carpenter, tech lead in Conshohocken, who has worked at ShopRunner for six years. “Attrition is just a way of life.”

The same fact doesn’t hold true here, though. Looking at the data, ShopRunner found employees tend to be more committed to their jobs in this region compared to out west.

“We want to build a culture,” Carpenter stressed. “We want to find the best engineers in the Philadelphia area and have them for a long time to grow this company.”

So far, ShopRunner is making good on its word. Its staff jumped by approximately 70 percent in 2017, and management plans to hire “pretty aggressively” quarter over quarter in Conshohocken this year, Carpenter said.

Gaining customer insight

Jenn Pfluger, head of QA, is one of the newer faces at ShopRunner. Hired in 2017, she said the company will actively seek developers and Senior Quality Engineers, as well as positions that focus on the collection and optimization of data. “When you have 140 merchant partners,” Pfluger said, “you learn what works well for selling products.”

“We’re heavily invested in data science, and we expect a lot of data-related product features to be launched in the coming year,” Carpenter added.

Founded in 2009, ShopRunner’s 7 million members enjoy benefits like unlimited free two-day shipping, no-cost returns and other special deals. On the flipside, the company works closely with a variety of stores in all sizes and specialties — including the likes of Neiman Marcus, Express, Kay Jewelers, Peet’s Coffee, Timberland and Newegg — to help them increase their business by drilling deep into consumer behavior to gain valuable insights.

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Carpenter considers ShopRunner an extension of the technology teams at every retailer it partners with, especially the smaller businesses that may not be able to invest heavily in data science on their own.

“We bring that next level of sophistication,” he noted. “We can help them to continue to grow and be as successful as possible.”

Setting a high bar

The secret to ShopRunner’s upward trajectory comes from its strong company culture, Pfluger said.

“Innovation is encouraged,” she said. “Communication across teams — and up the chains of management — is open and easy. You will find yourself sitting down with the people who run the company and sharing ideas over lunch.”

ShopRunner isn’t prescriptive with how its teams build their technology, Carpenter said. While they must follow certain fundamentals, management takes input from all the engineers, regardless of the amount of experience they may have.

“We literally have people who during their first week here said, ‘Hey, have you tried this?’ and we’ve picked it up and ran with it,” Pfluger said. “It’s cool to see all these creative people coming on board.”

Carpenter says setting a high bar for new hires is key. Not only does the company value success, but hiring managers are thinking big-picture: savvy technical talent is the basis for thriving tech scenes. Turning Philly into the next Seattle, Austin or Silicon Valley requires investment in the broader tech community. That’s why the company is building a more visible presence at area tech meetups, for example.

“We have a lot of smart people, and we want them to be facilitators, not just participants,” Carpenter said. “There’s really an opportunity to help the technology community grow.”

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