We’re pleased to announce the newest member of the StackCommerce executive team: Natalie Tarpinian. Natalie is a key addition at a timely moment here at StackCommerce, and a reflection of our success in Q1 and Q2 of 2018. Most notably, she will be spearheading our recently-launched media division, StackMedia, which provides brands yet another tool to reach highly-engaged audiences directly on the sites they visit most.
Natalie brings over 15 years of experience serving in leadership positions at a wide range of media and ad tech companies, including SitePoint and BuySellAds. Her proven track record in building and scaling sales organizations is the perfect recipe for taking Stack to the next level.
I sat down with Natalie to pick her brain on adtech, her very first job, and the future of StackMedia.
Katy: What inspired you to join StackCommerce?
Natalie: I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with StackCommerce over the years, and it’s been incredibly impressive to watch their offering evolve into a diverse portfolio of solutions for advertisers and publishers. When I was given the opportunity to join the team and build out the new media division, StackMedia, I jumped at the chance!
Katy: You have an impressive array of experience in the ad industry. What excites you most about our offering in particular?
Natalie: StackCommerce’s core strength is creating compelling content that moves readers to purchase products and services on their favorite websites. Extending that solution to include media is a natural progression.
It’s no secret that the shifting media landscape has created challenges for stakeholders on both sides of the business. Publishers must consistently create entirely new sources of revenue, and advertisers must find creative ways to reach their target audience. StackCommerce is able to provide a well-rounded solution that speaks to both sides.
Katy: What do you think is the “next big thing” for the industry?
Natalie: We’ve moved beyond surface metrics into an era of content marketing. Marketers will become laser-focused on reaching the right people, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. More specifically, they will be looking for relevant content that is custom-created for their target audience. This makes distribution and engagement strategies essential.
Katy: What was your first job, and what lessons do you still use in your day-to-day?
Natalie: My first job was actually in radio sales. When selling radio advertising, knowing your audience, the station, and your client’s needs is vital.
Katy: What keeps you up at night?
Natalie: Easy: the ever-changing media landscape. I’m excited to join a like-minded organization that isn’t afraid to evolve with the times.
The State of Native Commerce: Publishers Are Opening for Business
The times are a’changing in the world of commerce for publishers. Just this May, Digiday held a Hot Topic Conference in New York City devoted to the subject of commerce alone. It’s clear that publishers are hungry to replicate the success of their peers like Gizmodo Media Group and Business Insider, and to fill the growing revenue gap caused by a shifting digital landscape ruled primarily by Facebook and Google. Commerce for publishers is no longer a foreign concept as it was only a few years ago when we first launched our white-labeled shop product. But let’s skip the nostalgia, and move right to the state of publishers and commerce today in 2018.
Affiliate Rules, But Proceed with Caution
As part of the above-mentioned Hot Topic conference, Digiday surveyed 53 publisher executives on commerce initiatives. Of those publishers, just over half reported that at least 75% of commerce revenue came from affiliate programs.
And for good reason. When it comes to harvesting a new commerce strategy, affiliate commerce is the most straightforward path to revenue. More and more brands are offering direct affiliate links, which leaves publishers tasked with a familiar role: producing content and linking to products that will interest their readers. Simple, right?
Not so fast. Affiliate revenue streams, while relatively easy to implement, can amount to pennies and dimes when you subtract the cost of an expanded editorial team. Affiliate margins are notoriously small; Digiday reports that Dotdash’s affiliate commissions were as low as 2 or 3 percent. In addition, there are well-documented issues with purchase attribution on mobile that further depresses effective commissions for publishers. And while producing a higher volume of content may appear to be the solution, publishers are then left with the cost of growing full editorial teams devoted to writing commerce articles. Buzzfeed reported a full-time commerce team consisting of 19 writers last November. Scaling commerce content in an efficient, revenue positive way — while remaining faithful and authentic to the core mission and voice of the brand — is the needle publishers are attempting to thread.
Amazon Is Risky
Where does Amazon, the king of all e-commerce, fit into all this? While Amazon may be the most obvious choice for quickly scaling a commerce program, publishers are beginning to grow weary of depending on digital behemoths for consistent revenue. Just consider how much a single Facebook newsfeed algorithm change rocked the online publisher landscape this past January.
Instead, publishers are looking to lean into their strength: the readers, i.e. the fans. As Christopher Vollmer put it, “Fans watch more, listen more, participate more, share more, advocate more, and create more. Most important, fans spend more.“
This is where owned stores and proprietary merchandise come out to play.
Developing Publisher-Owned Stores
Increasingly, publishers are opening their own online stores in hopes of forging an even tighter bond between themselves and their readers. Of the publishers surveyed, Digiday reported that 40% have an online store.
Proprietary shops not only allow publishers to sell products in line with their site ethos, but to engage their readers in a complementary manner. POPSUGAR recently announced a branded makeup line, doubling down on their time-earned reputation as a beauty expert amongst its readers. theCHIVE has owned the t-shirt game since 2011.
But not all publisher shops have been Cinderella stories. A significant handful of publishers have tried and failed at the e-commerce game due to the high-cost and logistical nightmare of running an e-commerce shop. Merchandising, operations, customer service, shipping — opening a shop means essentially opening a new business, and new businesses can fail.
Where Does StackCommerce Fit In?
The above challenge is exactly what drives our team to do what we do. We fill the gap. We offer publishers of all sizes the branded shop — and even the content — so they can scale their commerce efforts while focusing on their actual core business of creating great content. With seven years of experience in e-commerce, and extensive data, we’re able to provide a custom shop experience (site design, merchandising, operations, customer service, etc.) for our publisher partners with virtually no risk. And best yet, we’re able to offer much more attractive economics compared to typical affiliate, which can make a significant net impact on their monetization portfolio.
We’ve been riding the eb and flow of the commerce wave since the beginning, and are incredibly inspired to see the success publishers are having within the past year. There’s no place we’d rather be than helping publishers succeed financially so they can continue to provide valuable content to their readers every day. With all the rapid change, the question is: what will 2019 have in store for us?
StackCommerce’s Own Josh Payne Named Semifinalist for EY 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year
Update: Josh Payne has been named a finalist in the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Greater Los Angeles Awards program! Stay tuned for more updates on Twitter @stackcommerce.
Six years ago, Stack’s CEO and Founder Josh Payne put everything on the line to launch what’s now known as StackCommerce — and from his living room nonetheless. He inspires the StackCommerce team with his infectious entrepreneurial spirit every day, which is why we’re so pleased to announce that he was selected as a semifinalist for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2018 Greater Los Angeles Region Award! Josh was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Greater Los Angeles Region Award, making this his second consecutive semi-finalist nomination.
“I’m incredibly honored to be in the company of such inspiring entrepreneurs from across Los Angeles. There’s no shortage of awards to strive for, but celebrating and encouraging entrepreneurship is something I value to no end. My name may be on the nomination, but this is truly a reflection of the hard work of the entire StackCommerce team.”
As the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs, Entrepreneur Of The Year has been at the forefront of identifying game‑changing entrepreneurs for more than three decades. The program has honored the leadership of such entrepreneurs as Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee Company, John Mackey of Whole Foods Market Inc., Pierre Omidyar of eBay, Inc., Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn Corporation and Mindy Grossman of HSN, Inc.
Learn more about the Entrepreneur Of The Year Greater Los Angeles program here and stay up-to-date on Josh’s journey on Twitter by following @StackCommerce and @jnpayne.
About Josh Payne:
Josh Payne is an entrepreneur, investor and startup advisor. He is currently the Founder & CEO of StackCommerce, the leading native commerce platform helping online publishers to monetize and engage audiences through the integration of content + commerce. Prior to founding StackCommerce, Josh managed business development for several leading technology companies including Yahoo!, Meebo (acquired by Google), and Intel. Previously, Josh was an investor in early stage technology companies as a venture capital associate at Aurora Funds. Josh earned his MBA from Duke and his bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Indiana University. He is a member of Young President’s Organization (YPO) Bel-Air Chapter and was named a 2017 Finalist for EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Greater Los Angeles. Josh is a startup mentor for venture firms Amplify.LA & 500Startups. Josh also currently serves on the board of Trubrain.com, a venture-backed biohacking startup. He is a husband, father of two daughters, triathlete, and avid-explorer having traveled to over 40 countries worldwide.
Fresh off our seventh company-wide Hack Day (pictured above), the team here at StackCommerce has never been hungrier for what’s to come. We played hooky from our normal tasks and spent the day indulging in company-sponsored meals — well that and thinking up out-of-the-box ideas to push StackCommerce to the next level. From a content showcase website for our in-house brand studio (the winning project!) to Slack hacks for coffee-making instructions, the day was a bona fide success.
Now is the time to get in the native commerce game — with virtually every online publisher and media company working commerce into their revenue strategy. In fact, Digiday recently reported that commerce programs account for a third or more of total revenue for some of the world’s largest publishers.
If you’re ready to dive in and help brands and publishers monetize via amazing products and content — take a look at our job openings below. From sales to creative to engineering, there’s a wide range of opportunity and we can’t wait to hear from you. Check out a recent piece on the StackCommerce story in DealCrunch — and read more about our job openings on Built in LA or on the StackCommerce career site.
Six years. The tweet below from Jason M. Lemkin pretty much sums it up. You start, you hustle, you make progress, you grow, the market shifts, you start all over again albeit on a new level within the same game.
What makes the start-up game the greatest game on earth is that the chess board recreates itself every day in new unanticipated ways. Nothing stands still — there are new entrants below you, bigger companies above you who now see the opportunities you’ve unearthed, and all the while you must change the tire on a moving car.
Given those challenges, I document a few lessons learned (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5) for other entrepreneurs on the same arduous path. There is nothing that can fully prepare you for the journey that lies ahead, but this is some of what I’ve learned and I hope it helps you in your endeavors.
Why listen to me? I’ve been in the thick of launching, running, and growing a start-up for the past six years as the Founder and CEO of StackCommerce. In that time, we’ve grown from $0 to $40m in annual revenues, profitably, on less than $1m of venture capital raised. In 2017, we acquired one of our competitors, Joyus.com, who raised over $65m in venture capital.
1. Cannibalize Your Current Business
Given how fast technology evolves today, you must shift before the market does. This seems like an obvious point, but while you’re in it…you get caught up. There are countless examples of “temporary” business models or hacks that work for a while, but then that trend or technology gets passed by in what feels like a blink of an eye. Think about historically top performing companies like Zynga (fb apps), Groupon (daily deals), and Blockbuster (dvd’s) — they dominated until the game changed and were caught focusing on the “old way”.
The only real shot you have of overcoming this is to cannibalize your current business with a new product/feature that leapfrogs your current offering. There will be a lot of pushback from your team because most of them would rather improve “what’s working” in lieu of the challenge of losing focus on the core business. It’s a valid argument and takes a lot of trust on both sides to get through.
One thing we do to flush out these types of “moonshot” ideas is running bi-annual “Hack Days”. People get a chance step away from the day-to-day and work on side projects / features / culture hacks that they don’t typically have time for. This year, our hackday resulted in one of the most important features we’ve every released!
2. Life Will Happen to You
When I started Stack, I was single and could spend 100% of my time however I wanted. I dedicated almost my entire thought process 24/7 to my start-up — happily. A few years later, I got engaged. Then I got married. Then we had our first child. Then we a second kid. All within three years! Talk about life happening.
For me, the transition to fatherhood initially felt like an attack on my identity as an entrepreneur. I simply couldn’t juggle everything. But in time, I saw how the challenges of constraining my time and energy forced me to be more purposeful and hire more talented leaders to push forward.
Whether your life event is the birth of a child, the loss of someone important to you, a health scare, etc … realize that you are not a robot. You are not immune to life outside your start-up. When life does happen to you (and it will), the important thing is that you’ve built a team that can carry your vision forward with or without you. For many years, I made our business dependent on me and manifested that in my team. I’m still untangling that mess. But, now I have other life priorities that outweigh what I believed was my only priority for so many years.
3. Concentrate Your Resources
When building your initial MVP, it’s crucial to ensure that you’re building for a large, growing market. For instance, when we first built StackSocial it was purely for desktop Mac software apps. I didn’t know it at the time, but that market would get eviscerated by the shift from desktop to mobile app adoption. We quickly expanded into other categories such as online learning, games, gadgets, etc…but instead of going deep in one area, we went wide across categories. This is incredibly tough to do.
Starting in a niche is smart, but if the market you are in is “too small”, then you constantly have to chase new buckets of revenue. Going deep in one category enables you to “do less, better”. So, while that new field looks like greener pastures, it will be much harder once you get there than simply improving upon and expanding within your current market.
4. Better, Faster, & Cheaper?
Not a chance. You’ll be lucky to be one of those and if you are great, you will likely be two of the three. Know which ones you are and own it. Your company values and mission should align to your priorities and will ensure that everyone in the company knows which ones you’ve chosen.
For us, this involves taking the team for a full day off-site where we take a look back and see how we’ve evolved as a team and how our mission, vision, and values need to evolve as well. This year we hired an Executive Coaching Firm, Novus Global, to run a workshop on the topic with us.
It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth the investment.
People who are inspired with a deeper mission will continue to fight long after those who are only focused on the tactics. If you notice your team zoning out, it’s likely because they aren’t connecting the dots of their “daily grind” to a more meaningful reason to do the work. Connect your personal reason for being to a shared goal and you will see a different response.
Last piece of advice, own your trade-offs just as much as you do the traits you are claiming and pursuing. The more you attempt to be everything to everyone, the less people will know who you are and it will dilute your brand and your mission.
To wrap things up, here are a few #humblebrags on my team and some accomplishments over the past year:
The sugar high of Halloween has not yet begun, let alone dissipated, and yet the holiday season is upon us ladies and gentlemen. Black Friday articles are up earlier than ever and holiday gift guides in October don’t so much as raise an eyebrow. This is our reality and it’s time to make the most of it. As you scramble to throw together the gift guide of the century, check out 5 ridiculously cool gift guides that graced our presence in 2016—and what we loved about them— picked by your very own StackCommerce Content Team.
Apart from the fact that this guide is freaking amazing to look at, The Verge delivered a welcome departure from the typical persona-driven gift guide formula. Rather than breaking up gifts according to the usual suspects (e.g. Gifts for Soccer Moms, Gifts for the Man Cave, Gifts for Besties, etc.), they focused in on where and when a gift might actually be used. Interesting, right?
Friends with a bunch of homebodies? Buy them something to use at home. Shopping for coworkers? You might (choose to) know absolutely nothing about them, but you’re positive they come to work every day. Buy them something to use at work!
By taking the road less followed, The Verge’s guide becomes not just another gift guide, but a totally fresh resource for shopping the season.
There are two universal truths we can all agree on: holiday shopping sucks and people don’t read. Agreed? Great. Refinery29 took that to heart and made a unique gift guide experience that renders both those things insignificant.
Firstly, their interactive gift guide handholds you through the gifting process like a “Which Friends Character Are You” Buzzfeed quiz. It’s pleasant, engaging, and best of all, easy. Once you graduate from the questionnaire phase, you’ll land on a clear list of gifting options, curated specifically for your shopping list. The large, clear on-white imagery and single sentence descriptions are just simple enough to work. Thank you Refinery29, for the gift of easy gifting.
They say content is king, and CNET takes that idiom to heart with this gift guide. Their content-driven guide adds one more wall before getting a customer on an actual sale page, but it also invites them to browse a much larger inventory, while still catering to their personal preferences. Better yet, if you really do just want to scan products rather than read a full post, CNET provides a “Gifts” button that opens the article’s featured deals in a slideshow format for you to preview without leaving the main Buyer’s Guide page.
You could very easily fall down the shopping rabbit hole in the CNET Buyer’s Guide, and that’s exactly how you want a gift guide to be.
Unlike CNET, CR opts for a far more basic design which befits their no-frills style throughout the rest of the year. While it’s a basic guide, it makes a lot of sense. They have a smart, quick intro to the Gift Guide that reminds the reader that their entire M.O. is to “buy and test all year long, so we can tell you which excel in performance, safety, efficiency, and value.” In a hot second, they’ve reaffirmed why you want to look at this guide—they’re true authorities.
Their categories are exceedingly general and don’t always lead to productive commerce articles (See: the entire Food & Drink section) but it’s easy to peruse and maintains a friendly tone that doesn’t try to force sales down your gullet.
Why I Loved It There are things to love and things to hate about this gift guide. On the one hand, I can’t stop clicking refresh to see the gorgeous multimedia page descend from the snowy heavens into an interactive urban cityscape of clickable gift buckets. It’s an undeniable attractive main page, and while the animations on some of the headings draw your eye, there are too many “Where’s Waldo” elements. If you can find the “Tech” bucket in less than six seconds I applaud you. “Experience” is even cut off at the bottom in such a blatant QA whiff that it cheapens the whole page just a tad.
However, click into any of these buckets and you’ve got a beautiful outlay of just straight PRODUCTS. Each page is extremely friendly to browsing—especially on mobile—with simple product images on white and quick 1-2 sentence descriptions of the product with a subtle, yet still unmissable CTA.
It’s mildly irritating to have to go through the special animation each time you want to review the buckets again, but at least it keeps you in the holiday spirit. The main page may suffer slightly from over-design, but each bucket is practically and purposefully put together for easy browsing, with smart, curated picks leading the lists.