Leading up to this year’s GeekWire Summit, I kept hearing one question: How in the world did you get Zulily co-founder Mark Vadon to speak?
It even happened minutes before our scheduled talk at the Summit when Gus Tai of Trinity Ventures — an early investor in Vadon’s first company Blue Nile — asked how we got the press-shy Vadon on stage.
It turns out that Vadon — who has built one of the most powerful e-commerce companies in Seattle since Amazon.com — consciously avoided press in the early days so as not to tip off competitors to the success they were seeing in the business.
“In a startup, if things are going well, you want to be really quiet,” he said. “Our customers at Zulily are not reading GeekWire. They are not reading The Wall Street Journal.”
Going out for business press may make sense if you are an enterprise software company or if you are having trouble raising money, two things that didn’t really apply to Zulily.
“When you are drilling and you hit an oil patch, the last thing you want is people coming and drilling right next to you,” said Vadon, adding that it is important to put press off as long as you can.
Vadon did admit that there were moments when other “mediocre” companies in the flash sales arena were grabbing headlines. At those moments, he and CEO Darrell Cavens discussed raising Zulily’s profile. But Cavens responded that everyone would find out how Zulily was doing when they filed to go public, which happened last year and showed a company with more revenue at the time than high-profile Twitter.
That’s exactly how things played out.
“We filed the S-1 and the reaction we got was: ‘Oh, my god, I had no idea how big it was,'” he said. Zulily is now valued at $4.6 billion, with Vadon holding 31 percent of the company at the time of the Nov. 2013 IPO.
Yes, as we noted, Vadon is perhaps Seattle’s least known billionaire. Part of that is purposeful, with Vadon saying that the other executives at Zulily are the superstars. Plus, he said with a laugh, “I don’t like when everybody knows how much money I have.”
You can watch all of Vadon’s interview below, including his comments about shipping times and possible acquisitions in the future.