Zulily’s Mark Vadon: ‘This is more QVC than Amazon’

I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the meteoric rise of Zulily, the Seattle daily deal site which now boasts more than four million members who turn to it every day to get discounts on baby gear, kids’ clothing and maternity wear. But is a Zulily a fast-growing technology company or just a flash in the pan?

I was asked that question the other day during a presentation, and it was hard to argue with those folks who wondered whether Zulily had any real defensible IP.  Now, comes word from Zulily chairman Mark Vadon who actually confirms that Zulily is more of an execution play.

In an interview with Forbes, Vadon says that Zulily — which has grown to 310 employees and 10 photography studios — is “more QVC than Amazon.”

It is fascinating comment, in part because most entrepreneurs (including Jeff Bezos) do everything they can to tout the technological aspects of what they do.

But Vadon, who previously founded online jewelry retailer Blue Nile, appears to be saying: “Hey, it’s OK to run a business that’s about serving a need.”

Zulily isn’t profitable yet, but the company is looking to top $150 million in revenue this year. (Making it one of the rising stars of the Seattle startup community).

The story also makes a passing reference to my previous report on Zulily’s $43 million financing round, in which I noted that the valuation topped $700 million. Vadon doesn’t dispute that number, which interestingly is more than $200 million more than where Blue Nile is currently valued.

Asked whether Zulily can become bigger than Blue Nile, the 41-year-old tells Forbes: “It’s growing much faster already. But that’s like asking someone if they like their second child better than the first.”

Previously on GeekWire: Meet Darrell Cavens: The guy who just raised $43M and wants to change how moms shop for kids

  • Jonah

    Would also argue that just because they have a website to sell products, they are not a tech company; the are a retail company who hired a web developer to build a website.

  • Mark

    John-  I would say that we are a retailer that uses a lot of technology, but, no, we are not in the business of creating new technology.  While we are extremely good at execution, I have never said we are “an execution play.”  I’m not even sure what that means.  I do tend to believe that execution is the most valuable asset in a startup.  There are tons of great ideas out there that lack the execution skills to build the idea into a business.  And without the execution, they will always remain as good ideas and not good businesses.  Being good at execution (and not creating new technologies) does not mean we aren’t a defensible business.  Since when is tech IP the only (or even the best) defense against competition?  Would you say that Starbucks and Costco aren’t defensible because they don’t have unique tech IP?  You can build moats around a business in many ways.  At Blue Nile, we have always had much the same approach as we have at zulily – we found a consumer need and we built the best possible model to answer that need.  To this day, there are hundreds of people who compete against Blue Nile, but I can’t really even say that there is a #2 player in the space… the barriers to entry we have created there have been significant, despite the fact that we aren’t a technology company.

    • johnhcook

      I do think most people associate “defensible” businesses with a technology advantage. But you are right, filling a deep consumer need and doing so with strong execution/branding/etc. can set companies up for success. (That’s what I meant by being an “execution play,” though I agree even technology companies need to execute on what they are doing).

      Anyway, I really enjoyed the story and your comments here and it is great to get your insights on startups. 

      I’d also just say that we are trying to follow that blocking and tackling playbook pioneered at Blue Nile and Zulily here at GeekWire. There’s no shortage of tech news sites out there, as you well know. And we don’t have any real defensible technology, given that we built our site in a weekend on WordPress. 

      But I am hopeful that we too can meet with success. Onward!!

      Thanks again for the comment.

  • Pat Reader

    Zulily is a scam. i received my order and I am very dissatisfied {i sent another order to my granddaughters and their complaint is the same].  I think you are an outlet for goods shipped directly from China.  The quality is just awful.  I am embarrassed to leave at the thrift store, let alone to give as a gift. I truly overpaid.Even though your site indicates items will be shipped by a certain date, shipping was very slow -another reason i think goods come directly from China.  I guess that’s also why you don’t take returns/refunds.I will complain to every complaint board i can until your site closes.  shame on you!  if you want to sell overpriced cheap goods, then advertise as such. Shame on you for deceiving people.

    • Anonymous

      Pat, we are sorry to hear that you are unsatisfied with the quality of your order. 

      We work to ensure zulily customers have a great experience from start-to-finish when shopping on our site. Our customer service team will gladly work with you to address your concerns and make sure that your feedback is shared within our organization. Customer service is available at 877-779-5615 or by submitting a request here: http://www.zulily.com/index.php/contactsWe are different from a standard online retailer. We work closely with many different vendors to host sales events on our site. When one of our 72-hour sales events ends, the vendor ships to us and we then ship to you. This does add additional time to our fulfillment process, but we are always working to improve shipping times and the shopping experience. Information about the brands we feature, including product features and origin, are listed in each sales event for you to review.We value your feedback and, as our reps are unable to reach out to you personally without contact information, we hope that you will give us a call or send a contact email very soon.