“What Fast Fashion companies such as Zara and H&M have successfully done offline, we are now taking online to the next level,” says Roman Kirsch, the founder and CEO of Lesara.com, one of the fastest growing online shopping platforms in Europe. In this interview, you will learn how he built this empire, what makes it so disruptive – and why he thinks it's so important to never compromise on hiring the right people.
Paulina, EC: “Trendy fashion and exclusive products don’t need to be expensive, ” – that’s the motto and the founding idea of Lesara. How do you make this reality? Where’s the catch that you’ve managed to bypass?
Roman Kirsch: We are a company that has a clear vision on how to disrupt one of the biggest and most profitable industries in the world, the one of fast fashion and mass-market apparel. During my travels as CEO of Fab Europe I saw the huge potential of the Asian market, so with the vision of revolutionizing the world of retail and online trading and making it more efficient, we started Lesara. Traditional supply chains with numerous middlemen prove to be time consuming, non-transparent and expensive. These are factors that Lesara bypasses through direct sourcing and cooperation with local producers, and unmitigated control of the supply chain. We managed to directly link suppliers and end consumers, which offers a clear benefit in every aspect to its end users: fast delivery times, high quality standards, best price guarantee and a consistent instant response to trends and the customer’s desires. Through vertical integration, we have successfully established Lesara in the e-commerce area as a pioneer in Agile Retail.
Lesara began as a startup. Did you take part in any venture capital or acceleration program? Or perhaps you have done everything on your own?
I started my entrepreneurial career with a souvenir shop when I was 15 and have been passionate about launching and developing businesses ever since. In 2011, I founded Casacanda, an ecommerce company for European design. It was acquired by Fab.com in the following year and I spent a year as the CEO of Fab Europe. I founded Lesara in 2013 - together with Matthias Wilrich (COO) and Robin Müller (CTO).
We have had four funding rounds at this point, where we raised $40M in funds during the last round led by various investors from the UK and the US. This last financing round has brought the total funds raised to $60M, and has allowed us to expand to new markets this year, such as Spain, Sweden and Denmark.
On your website, you mention that Lesara’s team grew from 5 to 300 employees. That’s an impressive growth – and an equally impressive number of employees! What were the milestones of your growth?
Our team is essential for our success. That’s why we never compromise on hiring. It is also very important to us, to maintain our unique spirit and company culture which is why we introduced our Culture Code earlier this year: To maintain the culture and the startup spirit that we had in the beginning, even as our team gets bigger and bigger. Our Culture Code consists of our company values and how we put them into practice within our teams on a daily basis. (Lesara Culture Code: https://www.slideshare.net/LesaraGmbH/lesara-culture-code)
A milestone was when we were awarded ‘Europe’s fastest growing Tech Startup’ last year. As our teams and employees are a key factor to keep growing as fast as we do, this award was really due to all the hard work everyone put into it and was both a reward and a motivation for the whole team.
If you were to summarise the growth of the team behind an online shopping platform like Lesara, in which areas of operation does the company grow the fastest? In other words, what are your most sought for specialists? Are these sales people – or perhaps customer service specialists?
Right now, we invest a lot in our Tech team, but as we are growing very fast and are constantly opening up new markets, we are still hiring for all our teams. It’s always a challenge hiring the right talent that are motivated, smart and ambitious enough to take on the major players in the industry. No matter which team we are hiring for, we are looking for the right attitude and for the right team and cultural fit. We believe, when seeking new talent, it’s worth taking some time rather than compromising. Our recruiting process is known to be tough and diligent: Only 1% of all applicants get hired - a rate that is more selective than Harvard.
What are your main competitors – and what is your current market position? What makes you different from your competitors from the point of view of your customers?
What Fast Fashion companies such as Zara and H&M have successfully done offline, we are now taking online to the next level: Agile retail is the fast moving, future kind of shopping and the next inevitable and promising step to a new level of international online retail, which combines the benefits of online and offline e-commerce and offers customers a unique way of a quicker, faster and better shopping experience. Agile Retail is about understanding through data what trends are popular with consumers at this very moment and being able to react on it instantly with a seamless integrated supply chain.
For our customers this means: We have in stock, what they are looking to buy! We guarantee the best price for a great variety of new, trending and high quality products launched on our website each day. Our delivery is fast and safe, and we offer the most secure payment methods. Our customer service is first-class, and we make sure you have an extraordinary and inspiring shopping experience!
Lesara has its headquarters in Berlin, but it also has another office in Guangzhou, Southern China. What part of your sales comes from the Chinese ecommerce market? How important is your presence in China in relation to your presence on all the other markets?
We don’t have Chinese market presence at this point, but we have a second office with a staff of 70 people, which is located in Guangzhou and which we opened up in 2015 to ensure a good overview of the entire supply chain. The sourcing and production of many of our products is done in China, as well as most of the product photography and the quality control. We are in control of everything beginning to end, and by cutting out the middlemen and establishing long-lasting, good relations with our suppliers, we are able to ensure a faster, better and more efficient delivery system as well as a great product quality.
How diverse are your customers from different European countries? What helps you to notice, understand and react to these differences?
We want to ensure a unique and localized shopping experience for all our customers, wherever throughout Europe. This starts with offering localized storefronts per country, and providing our customers with a tailored selection of products that fits their preference.
Another factor is that we focus on working with local partners for more localized payment options and delivery methods. We have return warehouses in many of our key markets to ensure faster and better returns for our customers.
Take Italy as an example: It’s currently our second biggest market, and it’s very different from our home market Germany. The experience with online shopping as well as the trust in E-commerce companies is much lower than in Germany or in Nordic countries for example, which is why we invested a lot in trust-building activities. We worked with local celebrities and partnered with Trusted shops, but we also invested a lot in a big and reliable customer care team to assist our Italian customers the best we can.
In 2017, Lesara won the ‘Criteo’ award for the most innovative performance marketing campaign. Can you share more details about this? What were the origins of the idea for this campaign? Who were your rivals in the run-up to this prestigious award?
There is constantly a lot of innovation and change happening and we always aim at staying ahead of the trend in performance marketing.
We launch 2000 new products online each week, and in order to find new potential top sellers we needed to automate the detection process. For this reason specifically, we created the campaign that won us the Criteo award. The campaign we created is agile, and helps us to identify trends within trends. We used the new prospecting with dynamic ads feature to automatically test new products & old bestsellers for their marketing potential. These feed-based ads are shown to our high potential target groups and the best-performing products were used to create additional, conventional prospecting campaigns.
Our competitors in the category for most innovative performance marketing campaign were Campanda and Telefonica.
What are Lesara’s plans for 2018? What do you want to do to ensure Lesara’s equally impressive growth in the future?
One of our goals is to continue our vision of creating a more fashionable world for everyone. We want to continue expanding across geographies and customer groups. As a company we also want to continue investing in technology, especially with respect to personalization of customer experiences: we want to be on top of innovation such as voice and augmented reality, and invest in our infrastructure in terms of logistics, sourcing and marketing.
And, finally, a bit of privacy. You have impressive education background and work experience. This article from The Telegraph serves as a great summary of your so far achievements. If our readers wanted to try walking in your shoes to become an ultra-successful entrepreneur one day, what tips would you give them? What should they do – and what should they avoid doing?
First, build your network before you need it - be proactive about getting in contact with other companies and entrepreneurs to share experiences and knowledge.
Second, thinking big wins - at Lesara we believe in putting action first and working fast and efficient.
Third, company culture wins long-term. The first hires are very important in getting the culture and trajectory of the company right, so don’t compromise when it comes to recruiting and invest a lot in your company culture. Write down the values of your company culture, make them visible and share them to make them a core belief among all staff.
On 9th November 2017 the E-Commerce agency Flagbit from Karlsruhe will host the 31st E-Commerce Forum Karlsruhe as a special edition. The #ecommka XXL will take place in the Kesselhaus Färberei in Karlsruhe and is going to present a lineup of high-class / top C-level speakers from the German-speaking e-commerce and marketing industry. The highlights on the #ecommka stage: Philipp Westermeyer (CEO Online Marketing Rockstars), Alain Veuve (CEO Accounto Technology AG), Alexander Graf (CEO Spryker and Kassenzone.de) und André Morys (CEO Web Arts AG and KonversionsKRAFT).
The E-Commerce Forum Karlsruhe has grown to one of Germany´s largest e-commerce events on a regular basis. On 9th November it will already be the 31st forum, which is also the final event of the E-Commerce Forum Year 2017! Therefore the event is going to have a much bigger frame and is going to be an XXL version in a classy event location to discuss current ecommerce and marketing topics with the speakers and attendees.
The digital transformation of companies and commerce is in full swing. New business models and startups are emerging at an unprecedented speed and thanks to their digital DNA they are putting traditional companies under high pressure. At the same time, large platforms, the so-called GAFAs (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) are increasingly gaining influence on consumers and bundling customer access through their channels, devices and operating systems. The internet is not only constantly revolutionizing our way of communication, but also the way we trade and exchange goods and services. Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Voice Assistants, Blockchain, Internet of Things (Iot) – these are the current topics of digitalization, but quite often just buzzwords!
With Alexander Graf, Alain Veuve, Philipp Westermeyer and André Morys four absolute experts and prominent faces from the various ranges of e-commerce and marketing will be on the #ecommka stage in November presenting what really matters in the online trade and the digital transformation and where growth potentials hide. The already proved serveral times at numerous congresses, events and on their own channels, that they not only deliver an entertaining show, but above all high-quality and relevant content!
Alexander Graf is one of the best known personalities in German e-commerce industry. He is CEO and Founder of Spryker Systems, a still young and innovative commerce operating system, and author on his blog Kassenzone.de and of the “E-Commerce Book”!
Alain Veuve is CEO of Accounto Technology AG and Member of the Agile & Digital Transformation Advisory Board at AOE. He is an expert on agile development and agile company culture and blogs regularly about the digital transformation on alainveuve.ch.
Philipp Westermeyer is founder and CEO of Online Marketing Rockstars. Each year he organizes the Online Marketing Rockstars Festival in Hamburg, where he hosts Marketing Stars from around the globe.
André Morys is Mr. Conversion Optimization! He is CEO at Web Arts AG and founder of KonversionsKRAFT also lecturer at Fachhochschule Würzburg and author of the book “Conversion Optimierung”.
9th November 2017 – the e-commerce highlight in Karlsruhe!
The program for the E-Commerce Forum Karlsruhe XXL in 9th November is set up and also the appropriate ambience for such an event is ensured! To round off the evening, Flagbit and its partner Inxmail will provide drinks and excellent finger food from the Kessehaus kitchen, which is all included in the ticket price.
You will find tickets and more information on www.e-commerce-forum.de/xxl-forum
Secure your spot in the E-Commerce Berlin Expo 2018 agenda on February 15, 2018 at Station, Berlin and share your knowledge about e-commerce! Take part in the Call For Papers-Contest 2018 now and present in front of more than 4000 industry professionals and 100 exhibitors.
The biggest pure e-commerce event in Berlin which gathered more than 3000 visitors and hosted over 85 industry leaders, such as DHL, Idealo, Otto Group, Rakuten, Alibaba, Meet Magento Association and Google, in the past edition is announcing its comeback this coming February 2018.
The E-Commerce Berlin Expo creates a space for small to big e-commerce companies and professionals to network and share insightful information about the industry. Covered Topics include e-commerce in social media, sales channels, performance marketing and programmatic marketing, SEO tips for e-commerce businesses and data-driven e-commerce.
This coming February you can get the chance to be selected as a speaker at the E-Commerce Berlin Expo 2018. Take part in the Call For Papers - Contest now and submit your idea here → https://ecommerceberlin.com/submission
Submissions are free of charge and accepted until October 30, 2017. Speakers can qualify for the agenda by the number of registered votes.
First confirmed Speakers:
● Luka Brekalo, E-Commerce Manager, L'Oréal
● Daniel Kramer, Manager - E-Commerce & Sports, Facebook
● Lior Barak, Senior Marketing Analyst, Zalando
● Rob Cassedy, General Manager, Ebay Kleinanzeigen
● Rowan Merewood, Developer Advocate Google
● Victoria Chirita, Founder, DeinDesign
The E-Commerce Berlin Expo will be taking place for the third time on February 15, 2018 at Station Berlin. Doors will open at 10 AM and is expected to welcome more than 4000 visitors. The annual fair has become one of the leading e-commerce events in the Berlin with representatives from Google, Otto Group and Alibaba Group as past participants. Learn more at: http://ecommerceberlin.com
“Think of a different nomenclature: Everything is, or will be, digital to some degree,” says Stefan Wenzel, Digital Executive and CEO with 18 years of experience in Ecommerce executive roles. In this interview, you will learn how he perceives the evolution of the industry and what tips he has for those who would like to try walking in his shoes one day.
Paulina: Let’s start by reminding our readers that you are in Ecommerce since 1999 and have been leading digital businesses for household brands like eBay, brands4friends, Otto, Mexx and McLaren Formula 1. How did it all get started?
I wrote my first email in 1993 and managed my first professional website project in 1999 - for Otto, where we built an online community for a best-customer loyalty program.
Digital intrigued me from the first moment with its rapid iterations and the ability to learn from user data and optimize for better results. Plus, the people were special back then, and still are – smart, open and entrepreneurial.
Different to the engineers and business economics folks around me, my background is in human sciences and psychology, coupled with a decent understanding of and passion for technology. Turns out to complement very nicely and add a competitive edge compared to most molded, ‘one-trick-pony’-teams.
When looking at the roles you had, it’s a broad mix with a golden thread around fashion & lifestyle. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
I was fortunate to experience digital commerce from various angles (brands, retailers, marketplaces), through various sizes (from start-up to multi-billion revenue) and out of different geographies (Germany, 5 years UK, 5 years Netherlands).
Fashion & lifestyle happened to be a somewhat golden thread simply because that’s my natural bias, but you can imagine the missions have been very different: Starting and scaling direct-to-consumer businesses and multichannel-integrations for a fashion as well as a motorsport brand; transforming a large-volume catalog-business into a successful online pure-play; integrating and scaling an M&A-asset as part of a large tech company; defining and implementing growth strategies for one of the largest platforms in Germany.
The combination of that width and the close to 10 years of working and living abroad helps me a lot in business as well as in leading large teams, highly appreciating true diversity.
How would you describe the competitive landscape in German Ecommerce?
Ecommerce has come a long way and accelerated its level of professionalism exponentially, driven by the rapid development of technology and its adoption by users. This makes it very difficult for smaller players to prosper, hence we see consolidation but also ‘coalitions of the willing’ to fight the all-dominant players.
Ten years after the launch of the iPhone we are looking at a mobile world. And whilst for example voice has started to take over the human-to-machine interface, lots of companies are still thinking desktop.
Having said that, I see a lot of tech-centricity in our industry. And customers – not only but especially in fashion & lifestyle - want more than speedy, flawless fulfilment. That leaves opportunity for players who are truly customer-centric to grab land. Large players focus on ‘science’ as things must be efficient at scale, small ones on ‘art’ but hardly anyone sees it. The intersection between ‘science’ and ‘art’ is where new opportunity at reasonable scale is. That’s why ‘one-trick-pony’-teams will fail in the long run.
What has had the fundamental impact on the direction of your professional career? What would you recommend to those of our readers who work and dream hard to rocket up the career ladder in Ecommerce?
First, think of a different nomenclature: Everything is, or will be, digital to some degree. Hence, there is no such thing as Ecommerce, it’s simply commerce. Also, moving boxes as the differentiating formula is long over, we are in the business of building and managing relationships with our audiences. Audiences that have more choice than ever, but still not more time at hand. So, getting their attention and exciting them wherever, whenever and however best possible is the game we’re in - technology-agnostic but inevitably highly digital.
Lots of today’s CEOs get caught-up in side-line transformation plays because digital is not part of their own DNA, hence not at the centre of their company. This will change over the next 5-10 years as more and more digital natives enter the C-level suites and former corner-offices.
You are in a good spot but keep learning and stay hungry. And, promotions typically follow impact, so keep pushing.
What are your plans as you are leaving eBay?
I’ll be leaving eBay technically by the end of the year. Key in that decision was, after years of business craziness, to get some deeply desired quality time with my wife and young daughter and take it from there. There is plenty of opportunity but I really haven’t decided yet, there is no need for a rush. As a side-activity, advising businesses is good fun too.
If you want to reach out, don’t hesitate to message me via LinkedIn.
Since the fulfilment of the American dream of GANT’s founders nearly seventy years, ago, the company has grown into a global brand. In this interview with Swana Walters from GANT Germany you will learn how the company is adapting to the ultra-dynamic online and retail reality without discarding its heritage.
[Paulina, EC] You work as Marketing Manager eCommerce at GANT Germany, a branch of an American lifestyle brand offering premium clothing, accessories and home furnishings for men, women and kids. The history of the company started in 1949, but when and why exactly did GANT start to sell online?
[Swana Walters, Gant] In Germany, we started our online business with our own online shop de.gant.com at the end of February in 2013. So we’ll celebrate our jubilee of five years in 2018.
Looking at GANT’s sales figures (both, globally and in Germany alone), how much of your sales comes from your online presence?
Actually, I am only allowed to speak about the German performance. We noticed, especially in the last two years, a huge increase of online sales. However, we will not abstain from our retail stores. Although our online business is really successful I think that there’ll be a progress of an increasing conflation of online and retail.
You have your own online shops, but you also sell on third-party marketplaces such as Zalando. Why is it important for a brand to be available in different places online? Does it mean that even such a big, global brand such as GANT cannot rely on its custom online shops only? Why is that?
That’s quite simple. It’s important for a brand to be omnipresent. Because of that we are able to target different customer groups and intensify our online presence.
GANT is present in over 70 markets, 750 stores and 4,000 selected retailers. These all are located in very diverse markets such as the USA, the UK, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Germany, to name just a few. How different are your online customers from these countries? Can you see any specific patterns of preferences or behaviour among them?
Surely, there is a difference between the German customers and customers from the Asian countries. Mainly, this focuses on the different preferences concerning the visual communication. In general, it’s possible to compare the behaviours of the European shoppers. There’s always the need for simplicity regarding the handling of the menu, check out etc. of the online shop to generate a great shopping experience for our customers.
As a global company, how do you work out best ways to target your customers online locally, that is, in each of the diverse markets? Is there a global brand sales strategy that you have to accommodate to the individual market requirements?
Of course, there exists a global sales strategy. We adopt this strategy and match it to the German market. We are working with different ad services such as retargeting, affiliate, SEA and SEO and Social Media Ads.
How do you know which methods of targeting the customers are most successful in a given market? Do you exchange your experiences with colleagues from GANT working on other markets?
We are in steady communication with our global HQ in Stockholm. Especially, when there are brand campaigns, we are planning and discussing the online presence in advance. After that we are always doing a debriefing about all assets and actions that were used which I think is really important for optimizing the presence of further campaigns.
Would it be possible for you to share an experience when GANT’s eCommerce strategy or a marketing project developed in one market has been particularly successfully (or unsuccessfully) planted onto another market? Is there any specific success or failure story that you could share with our readers?
We had a quite huge brand campaign at the end of 2015 that focused on our history as a shirtmaker. Spreading globally and using a lot of different BTL and ATL advertising efforts, we were able to strengthen our image as the shirtmaker in all markets. But to be honest, there’ll be an almost bigger marketing brand campaign that will start in October this year. So stay tuned for the upcoming campaign ;-)
For quite some time so far, selling to China has been a hot topic in the European eCommerce. Since GANT is available there too, I must ask this question: what experiences does your company have on the Chinese market? Be that a stereotype or not, especially in terms of clothing, China is perceived as a market flooded by low-quality cheap products. GANT, on the other hand, offers premium products.
Of course, there does exist a large social divide in China. On the one hand, I agree that low-quality products are a huge topic, but on the other hand there do also exist the typical GANT customers who prefer premium quality and are willing to pay for it. Even so, China isn’t one of the focus markets for the brand yet.
Let’s get back to the wider perspective: what are the key players – and your main competitors – in your industry sector (both, globally and in Europe). What is your current industry position?
Selling Lifestyle American Sportswear our competitors are brands as Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Marc O’Polo and also the premium sector such as Hugo Boss. In Germany, we are currently working to establish GANT as a brand as well-known as it is in Sweden.
In your opinion, at the moment, what is the hardest part of selling online for such a big brand as GANT? Have you noticed any specific new challenges that have recently arisen in the clothing sector?
As everywhere in the retail and fashion business, we noticed the rising customer need for variety and being offered something special. It’s no more just selling products and fashion, today it is all about selling experiences. So we set ourselves the task of providing our customer with a unique shopping experience online as well as in our stores. For instance, we host different events in our stores such as flower workshops which is a cooperation with bloomon, or gin tasting.
Let us focus a bit on Germany alone. Your position at GANT Germany is definitely a very demanding one. How is the brand doing in the German eCommerce? How would you describe this market based on your experiences? What do you perceive as the most difficult part of your job?
We are really successful with our online business in Germany, so we are satisfied and happy about that. The market is really fast-moving, so it’s important for us to catch up with the newest trends and developments of the industry. There are so many digital opportunities that it is hard for us to prioritise. But we are confident to widen our online activities and advertising efforts in the future.