It’s little surprise that a guy who likes to move fast is helping lead a shopping site that pulses with urgent deals for customers. For seven years, Luke Friang has been chief information officer for Seattle’s Zulily, a $1.5 billion company that just celebrated its eighth birthday.
The business offers discounted prices on clothes, toys and housewares, promising “new items everyday” and enticing shoppers with Flash Finds — a so-called “micro-deal” offering 70 percent off prices for only an hour.
Under Friang’s leadership, the technology team has grown 20-fold across Zulily’s offices in Seattle and the company’s three fulfillment centers. And note to tech job-hunters: they’re posting new positions in 2018.
“We’re currently making huge investments in our Big Data platform, our AWS migration and our proprietary warehouse management software,” Friang said. “We’re looking to make significant technology hires this year — currently hiring across product, data science, supply chain and operations.”
Before Zulily, Friang was vice president and CIO at Drugstore.com and senior director of e-commerce technologies at Costco Wholesale.
We were able to slow Friang long enough to chat with him for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: “Seattle, at our headquarters in the Belltown neighborhood. I also travel to our other offices and fulfillment centers in Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania on an ongoing basis, which is encouraged throughout the company, but especially of our technology team. The first month on the job, all software developers visit the fulfillment centers to understand how the supply chains work and return on a regular basis to work side by side. We believe deeply in sending team members in-field to ensure we’re developing the right solutions and products that the teams enjoy using.”
Computer types: “I use a Macbook Pro for work and home as well as a Chromebook.”
Mobile devices: “iPhone 7S and iPad Air”
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “BigQuery, Amazon EC2 (elastic compute cloud), OneNote, ESPN app, Fitbit app, Instagram, Spotify FIFA Mobile, Google Photo, podcasts and Zulily.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “My workspace is extremely minimalist — I hate paper and clutter. I keep a clean and clear space, which increases my productivity and helps me focus. However, I do have a few of my favorite Zulily purchases on my window sill — mostly Star Wars figurines, Boba Fett being my favorite.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “It’s a marathon not a sprint. At Zulily, we do move at an Olympic marathon pace or as we call it here ‘Zulily time,’ but it’s important to have balance, interests outside of work and other things that challenge your thinking besides your day-to-day.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “Instagram for personal and LinkedIn for industry trends and networking.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “By the end of the day, I always get the read email down to zero, but prioritize my inbox based on priority projects. Not every email needs a reply.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “On average I have 20 meetings on my calendar, but this can vary from week to week depending on the needs of the business. Since it’s our eighth birthday this week, we have some special events including a fun night at the Museum of Pop Culture.”
How do you run meetings? “I always kick-off meetings by stating the objective and desired outcome, so everyone is clear from the get-go and the discussion has a true purpose. I encourage all my direct reports to do the same and discourage team members to schedule meetings for meeting sake.”
Everyday work uniform? “A pair of jeans, an untucked button down shirt and my Nike Air Force 1s is my go-to.”
How do you make time for family? “I try my best not to compromise my time with my family, especially on the evenings and weekends. When it’s necessary, I do, but that should be the exception and not the rule. It’s a constant balance, but prioritization and planning helps.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “My stress relievers are family, soccer and snowboarding. I’ve played soccer every Wednesday evening with the same group for more than a decade and love snowboarding with my 14-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter. As you know, I’ve described myself as a ‘speed freak’ before and love to move fast on the field, slopes and in the office.”
What are you listening to? “On my way into the office today, I was listening to Radiohead. Lately I’ve been listening to Nine Inch Nails, Kendrick Lamar and Red Hot Chili Peppers. As any true Seattleite, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden are always in the rotation.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I do most of my daily reading first thing in the morning and then again before bed — typically Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch and GeekWire, of course. I also keep a close eye on other technology companies by reading their blogs, testing new features and observing the people around me, especially my kids and their friends. Today’s teenagers are tomorrow’s customers.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “I’m currently reading ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir for fun and ‘The Ultimate Question 2.0’ by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey because we’re customer-obsessed at Zulily and are always looking for ways to continue enriching the customer experience and develop brand advocates.”
Night owl or early riser? “I prioritize sleep because I know I do my best thinking when I’m well-rested, so I aim to be in bed by 11 p.m. and in the office on the earlier side.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “I get my best ideas from discussing complex challenges with my team. At Zulily we believe great ideas can come from anywhere and any level. We host quarterly ‘Hack Days,’ where employees across all departments — not just technology — are encouraged to come up with new ideas and the top winners are implemented into our plan and given resources for their ideas to come to fruition. Flash Finds, our newest deals, came out of a Hack Day and launched on Black Friday.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “We have a strong history and culture of growing and moving fast, so I’d have to say entrepreneur and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. I’m an avid listener of his podcast ‘Masters of Scale’ and believe wholeheartedly in his philosophies around testing often, iterating quickly and innovating for efficiencies.”