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Darrell Cavens is the CEO of Zulily, the Seattle-based daily deals site for moms, but his history in the online business goes much further back, as an executive at online diamond retailer Blue Nile and before that at Starwave, working on properties such as and

At the recent Seattle 2.0 Startup Day, presented by GeekWire, Cavens drew on his experience to discuss the importance of startups developing a clear focus, and how they can create that focus.

For anyone who missed the event, or wants to relive the highlights, we’ve been rolling out video and related content from talks by Startup Day speakers, concluding today with this talk by Cavens. Watch the full video of his talk above, and continue reading for a few of our favorite takeaways. You can also access the audio here as an MP3, for listening on your favorite device.  A big thanks to the team at Bootstrapper Studios for their help on all of this content.

Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens at Seattle 2.0 Startup Day.

Telling an ‘edited story’ to cut through the clutter: Over the last 10 years, e-commerce has been all about more. Amazon is a great example. It’s been all about more, more, more. We very much felt like there was an opportunity for curation and focus, to tell a real edited story every single day. As we started launching the business, it was all about finding a category that met the private sale model well for us.

Connecting with customers by focusing on what they want: There’s probably a lot of you going, seriously, he sends an email (to customers) every day? I will tell you that when we started the business, I had some of those doubts there. Could we really send an email that would drive a 10 percent open rate every day? I will tell you the answer is yes, if you focus, if you get relevant content to people, if you’re delivering something that is truly unique, special, and that offering that they care about every single day.

Lessons from Blue Nile: We had a ton of people tell us it would never work. Diamonds on the Internet? When I quit my perfectly good job to go to a startup at the time called Internet Diamonds, a bunch of my friends pulled me aside and said, are you nuts? We really, really felt that we could be best in the world at that, and we became that. We had a lot of competitors that went out and instead of focusing on what they could be great at, went and said, we could be luxury. We can throw in some other products. We can go after handbags. And they just lost their focus. Those competitors for Blue Nile are now gone.

Focusing on the right customers: These moms are very social. They go out and tell their friends about it, if we do a great job. If we suck, they also go tell their friends about that. So we’ve got to deliver an amazing experience every day, and it’s all about fresh and new every single day. If you talk to the team, they will tell you, “mom, mom, mom, mom.” We are obsessively focused on that.

Focusing on the right metrics: As much as I would love our employees to take salaries in visitor counts, or members, it doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to be focused on driving a business. We’re a very, very metrics-driven organization. As we look at that focus goal, how do we drive sales, it’s a couple key things for us. It’s member acquisition. Get people to sign up. … As we get them to be a member, get them to come up and buy. … But it’s not all about getting somebody to buy. We’ve got to make them love us. … So we focus again on repeat. Taking that customer who buys once, and getting them to come back again and again and again.

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