May 24, 2023

Learnings From Growing StockX w/ Jacob Fenton

We dive in with Jacob Fenton, VP of Customer Experience at StockX (ex-Amazon, Ex-GoFundMe) on what the successful components are that's made StockX scale so rapidly, the challenges of connecting and engaging a dual sided community, and the underlying framework that he's used in his career across different industries and products.

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The host

Nima Gardideh

President of Pearmill, ex-Head of Product at Taplytics, ex-Head of Mobile at Frank & Oak. YC fellow.

Our guest(s)

Jacob Fenton

VP, Customer Experience, StockX

About this episode

Jacob Fenton, VP of Customer Experience at StockX (ex-Amazon, Ex-GoFundMe) has helped scale the online scarcity marketplace for the past few years. StockX has raised $690M in total funding to date, operates out of multiple countries, and has become part of the cultural zeitgeist. His internal entrepreneurial spirit led him to create their Business Operations team launching vertical after vertical, to now deeply focusing on the overall customer experience.

More episode highlights:

  • How he constructed the Business Operations team and his hiring persona at StockX?
  • Managing marketplace dynamics with operational complexities and brand releases.
  • How they've operationalized brand partnerships and creating flexible marketing budgets.
  • How StockX culture works and the factors that make them successful.
  • The COVID e-commerce business accelerant and how it impacted StockX.
  • How does StockX culturally thinking about hiring growth candidates?

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[00:00:00] Jacob Fenton: There's a localization challenge. There's also a cultural challenge, right? Like it's one thing to operate in Italy, it's another thing to be in the cultural zeitgeist in Italy, right? And so that requires resources, headcount,  focus. And so that's one way that we look at growth., and, it, it's been kind of the foundation I'd say of. Of our strategy for the last several years. I think  what we've started to see at the end of 22 and we're certainly gonna be investing in and, and if you're super familiar with StockX, you've probably even seen us come to market with, is making like very concerted efforts to improve our experience for our sellers across the globe. 


Transcript of the episode

[00:00:52] Nima Gardideh: Welcome to another episode of The Hypergrowth Experience. I am your host, Nima Gardideh. In this episode, we have Jacob Fenton on. He's currently the VP of Customer Experience at StockX. If you don't know him, he helped launch the Kindle and has been across multiple industries and real estate and software and conser, so, It was quite interesting to talk to him about, first of all, why did he join StockX, sort of early in their journey and has been with them for quite a few years, helping them scale.

[00:01:28] And building effectively different teams that were needed in the organization at the time where he's kind of realized and come up with the solution to the fundamental problems that the company was going to face over time., it was a quite interesting of a conversation to have with him, given his background and systemic thinking and, It's always quite interesting to see how people think about the differentiation points of a product and company and, and StockX has gone through such rapid growth that it was interesting to see it from his perspective of why he chose to be there and going deeper into the different areas of StockX and what makes it very special and different compared to an eBay or other marketplaces.

[00:02:18] So we geeked out a little bit on that and, and I hope you enjoy it. We start with Jacob sharing really the underlying framework that he's used in his career across the different industries, and building teams in, in these companies that he's worked at. Here's Jacob.

[00:02:34] [MUSIC FADES OUT]

[00:02:35] Jacob Fenton:, without going back to the very, very beginning, I will say my path to where I'm at now has not been linear. I've been in many different industries. I started off in commercial real estate, which I did for six years., Before I got my MBA and then kind of moved over to the tech world.

[00:02:55], but, I essentially what happened is 2008 happened, which, maybe I'm aging myself a bit, but. The world changed., there was a huge, huge recession, the great recession, and I had just been doing, commercial real estate transactions for a while and was asking myself if this was indeed how I wanted to spend my, my life, if this was how I want, what I wanted to make my livelihood.

[00:03:23] And it was a very kind of antiquated business. I mean, it was very, it was very people oriented, right? But it was clearly in need of a lot of technological shake. There was a lot of, I guess, just, just relic leftover, that still, that still exists today. And so when I got my mba, I wanted to switch into technology, but.

[00:03:48] One of the things that kind of carried over was this idea of, of storytelling that was born outta sales, quite frankly. Right? So, knowing how to tell a story, how to craft a story, how to, sell something has always been really, a, a big kind of, feather in my cap, so to speak. And then once I kind of got out of, out of business school, I held several different roles.

[00:04:14] I did product management at Amazon for six years., I was heading up business operations for a company called Crowd Rise, which was, purchased by GoFundMe. They were in the, in the fundraising space., I was a COO for a short time at a startup called Tepo in Ann Arbor, which was a health multivitamin.

[00:04:36], startup and then ultimately, I've been at StockX for about, four and a half years. And, in addition to just the storytelling piece, the other thing I would add is that just, this might sound trite, but working cross-functionally is probably about the most important trait you can have in this line of work.

[00:04:56] Being able to influence without power necessarily., bringing people along with you on a journey, getting people inspired to do what's right for the customer. Those are all great skills that, I use every day.

[00:05:08] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, I want, I'll pull on two, two threats there., was just the choice of going to an MBA because there was just like a financial doom and that was just like a good way to do it. You think there is. Real value out of a program like that, would you recommend it to people that are trying to do career shifts?

[00:05:30] Is it a good move? Like, I'm just curious. I've, I've never even finished the first degree, so I'm, I'm always curious why people go down these routes.

[00:05:38] Jacob Fenton: yeah, no, great question. And we could probably have an entire hour discussion on this alone., cuz I have a lot of opinions about it. So, I. I did my degree part-time, which is what I would recommend to anybody who wants to get, a, an advanced degree., I kind of agree with you. I don't think the best thing to do is to leave the workplace for two, three years, give up all that earning power and experience to, to get an advanced degree when you can do it part-time.

[00:06:09] So it took me two and a half years to do my degree and I think I always. Wanted to get an advanced degree. When I was doing commercial real estate, I went to get my MBA essentially to help with fundraising cuz I thought I was gonna really start, a real estate fund is what, what I was kind of thinking I was gonna do.

[00:06:28] But it also, it just turned out with timing, it turned out to be a great opportunity for me to career change. And I think for people who are looking to career change, that's as probably as good of an opportunity as any, if you can, if you can do it and if it fits in with your, with your.

[00:06:44] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, and I think I've heard this, I guess narrative of, quite a, a lot around MBA being useful for that cuz you get tapped into a network of. Professionals that may be also coming from different industries. You get to know what their worlds are, are like, and, and, and decide if you want to go down a different path.

[00:07:01] Yeah, that's quite interesting. So the other thread is you, you mentioned something that I think I resonated with a lot, which is being cross-functional is very important to you., and then leading with influence. First of all, did you always knew that? Like, is that something that you just, like were in companies and, and you're like, oh, I want to be understanding the whole thing. Like what is the intellectual part for, for that? And then, I would love to spend some time on. How do you believe, I think you've also been at companies in wildly different sizes, so that's gonna be quite interesting to talk, talk about is what does leading influence look like in practice? Is it relationship building? Is it structure? What, how do you think about that as like a craft in itself?

[00:07:48] Jacob Fenton: it probably started with just my, My a d d, if anything, I love getting exposure to, to different, elements of the business. I can get bored easily. So,  I think at least in the tech space, what happened at Amazon is I, this wasn't necessarily planned, but I would do a lot of the product management of, of products get, work on ideation.

[00:08:16] Figure out how to get it built, what to build, even get it through beta and launch, and then I would usually move on to the next thing,  a new product or a new team. And, and that was, that's just the way my career at, at Amazon kind of grew. And I think I look back on it and it was great for me because I'm energized by new things.

[00:08:37] I'm an innately curious person, which is why I love this line of work. able to have exposure to different groups, different projects, I think is is what keeps me on my toes. And, and that is really the seed for cross-functional, support, right? Because you can't, you can't just say you wanna work cross-functional, you truly have to put, you have to really have a lot of empathy, right?

[00:09:03] You have to go in, you have to understand the other person's point of view. And one of the best ways to do that is by having been in these, in these different spots.

[00:09:10] Nima Gardideh: One thing, just curious out of that. So, first of all, I feel like I resonate with that a lot cuz I probably have similar tendencies, to you. Like feeling like I'm bored in a new role is often the driving force of me dis like creating new roles for myself in, in the org and, and that usually pushes the organization forward.

[00:09:30] How do you juxta, like, how do you sort of balance that rather? Depth in the areas. So I think there is like a lot of value in having breadth, in, in an organization as you're trying to solve these problems, but then there is also value in depth. And do you just think that someone else's role and that you just work partner with them to do that work?

[00:09:55] Do you go in and understand the depth of the different functions that you're interacting with? Like, are you,, as a random example, Understand that nuances of creative production all the way to, writing unit tests and, and code. Like how, how deep have you got into these functions as you have, journeyed around them and tried to sort of get them to coordinate and, and produced together?

[00:10:23] Jacob Fenton: I mean, I think earlier in my career, I would get very deep. So as I mentioned,  I started off at least in the tech world, in product management, where, I was, I did many things at Amazon. I helped, I helped build an enterprise solution for., for schools., I did a lot of work with smart devices.

[00:10:43] I helped to launch the Kindle, tablets, the fire tablets. And then I think the last project I did was more about automatic replenishment. So the DASH program, maybe you remember this. We, we launched these buttons, these little, do you remember those buttons?

[00:10:58] Nima Gardideh: yeah, I'm so sad that they killed them because I had 'em all over my house., and our offices for a while. It was great. Yeah.

[00:11:07] Jacob Fenton: Yeah. So,  I think like very, those projects each required various degrees of, of deep diving, right?, I needed to understand Bluetooth and, and hardware, and so I would dive in that., but as I've gotten. As I've gotten,, later on in my career, I, and, and have taken more of a leadership managerial role that you naturally have to pull up.

[00:11:31], but having said that, you have to be able to earn the trust of the people that work for you. So, It's a constant, right? the question of how, breath versus depth is, is kind of, ever present. can't be a subject matter expert at everything, but you have to know enough to be dangerous.

[00:11:51] And I think you, most importantly, you probably need to know when you need to dive deep and not just being in a, in like a strict zone of, oh, I can't go that deep cuz I'm at this level. And, sometimes if there's a problem that people are having trouble with and they're not able to articulate it, you might have.

[00:12:11] Kind of go back to those roots and, and go deeper. But I'm very much a generalist. I'd say, and that's been a function and it's probably a bit, honestly, it's been by design based on some of the stuff we mentioned earlier. But, it's just the way my career has worked out as well.

[00:12:26] Nima Gardideh: There's nuance into like problem solving with people when they need it. And in order to do that, you do need to sort of go deeper. But I feel like I do have these like mini projects sometimes where I'm like, okay, well I have to learn about this thing so then I can be useful.

[00:12:40] And so I'll just go and spend like a whole week reading a bunch of articles and books around the topic and then I'll show up to the meeting at least, like getting like, probably will never be as good as not probably for sure. I'm not good as the people. That I, I'm talking to, but at least I'm speaking the language and I think that really matters a lot.

[00:12:59], and so you, so you've gone through this, like, product has a pretty decent path to generalization, so that makes a lot of sense., 

[00:13:09] when you arrived at StockX, Can you level set us a little bit like what was the, where was the company at, where were you at in your career at this point? Why did you even decide to join?

[00:13:22], yeah. Give us, give us an intro.

[00:13:24] Jacob Fenton: Yeah, I had had my eye on stock. So StockX is about seven and a half years old, maybe seven years old at this point right now. And I've had my eye on them since the day they launched, y because they were in my hometown of Detroit., it was started by a guy named Dan Gilbert, who was very successful.

[00:13:45] Businessman owns rock, owns the Cleveland Cavers and just has, has been a great steward for the city. And so, I knew of this, it was very much like this strange idea kind of off in the corner that I was interested in at a, on an intellectual marketplace level, but, not really from a, oh, I could see myself working there.

[00:14:10] Level cuz it, because we'll talk about it a little bit. We, we do some things pretty unique and different. And so in that regard, I've always been interested in the business, but I met, the coo Greg Schwartz when I was moving back from Seattle to the Detroit area. And at that time, they were brand new company we kept in touch.

[00:14:31], they ra I joined them right after they raised their series B and had what I'd say. Runway to like take that really next big step in hypergrowth. I was, I think the 300th employee or something at the company. But you have to understand that a lot of, the company is, is authenticators and frontline customer service.

[00:14:54] So we were still really lean, in management. And so,, it was, it was still early days and. Yeah., it was a completely different company. I tell people, I feel like I've been at four or five companies since I started here, but when I came in, we were hitting our stride. We just raised, I wanna say like 40 or 50 million in a series B.

[00:15:17] We still hadn't hired, gone through that like next level of hiring from raising that money. And, we were really just trying to figure out how to deal with all this growth. And so I came in and my title when I first came in was, was Vice President of Business Operations. And I pitched them on that title because.

[00:15:37] After talking to the C e O at the time, Josh Luber and the COO Greg Schwartz, and hearing what they had to say like it, there were just all these projects everywhere and a lot of people who didn't necessarily know how to do it or didn't have the frameworks in place to think about it in, in maybe some more sophisticated ways.

[00:15:56] And so I came in and I started a group called Business Operations, which I had done at some previous companies where we were essentially, Internal consultants, we would come in and we'd BirdDog a problem or we'd launch a vertical., the first thing that I did when I got the StockX was actually run our handbag vertical. And, on day three, our CEO at the time, Josh said, Hey, we, we run this vertical. And I said, sure. I don't know anything about handbags,, like literally nothing. I've never bought my wife a handbag.

[00:16:30], I don't know about the brands, but we were at that stage. What was really important actually, is that we were setting the framework for how to run a category business, what metrics to track, to track, the cadence for meetings, understanding opportunities versus threats, figuring out how to prioritize product improvements, things like that.

[00:16:48] So, business operations was as much about some bigger projects like that. Like, hey, go run this, this vertical for five months., I helped to launch our trading cards vertical, which was a lot of. I helped to set the first,  data really for the company using Tableau to kind of figure out what we were gonna evaluate as a company and set some of those first metrics that we started really, I think, using in, in more sophisticated ways.

[00:17:16] And then we would do tons of different special projects, helping ops with. Claims processes, customer service, BirdDogs, different problems. So we were, we were really all over the place., but as we grew and as we hired out people with that money, we were hiring people who knew, knew how to do a lot of that work.

[00:17:36] And so I did that work for about a year, year and a half. And we had hired our new cmo, Dina Bari, a couple months before this, and. And, and Scott Cutler, who's our current c e o had had also come in around this time and it was very clear to me that we were moving in a direction that was very much trying to be customer centric and, We had a lot of work to do to get us to a place where we could claim to be customer centric, where we were listening to customers taking action, and, and really, and really leading with their voice first and foremost.

[00:18:15] And so I pitched the idea, to my CMOs like, Hey, actually let me start a product marketing. Team under you. So one of the, one of the things we did in business operations was voice of the customer. So we were always kind of like doing readouts and reports and like, Hey, what's, what are customers saying on social?

[00:18:35] What are they saying, on review sites? What are they saying to us in surveys? So we always did that. But, we, we really had this challenge with, with security and, and trust. And coming out of that, we were working on how do we tell better stories about that? And so that's where I made the jp to say, Hey, we need a product marketing arm where we can think about this holistically from the customer backwards and think about how we wanted to craft that narrative.

[00:19:02], and then that, that, so it went from VOC to to product marketing and then, coming out of that, the final kind of,, leg of the stool was customer experience management, where we said, Hey, let's start looking at journeys and let's start doing a better job of, of, of actually managing the experience for customers throughout their journey for buyers and sellers.

[00:19:25] So we rolled that up. Under, under one remit, which is my remit now., so I look after VO c I also look after all, customer research., we have a small but mighty customer research team and, as well as marketing analytics. So it's kind of grown over time, organically, but, I'm, I've been thrilled with, with the support I've been able to get from, from our leaders and, and in.

[00:19:51] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, but it all sounds pretty cohesively around this idea of how do we use the voice of the customer to then design the organization or the product and the experience such that it sort of fits well within what they're looking for and how they want to interact with the, with the marketplace. ,

[00:20:09] Jacob Fenton: Absolutely.

[00:20:10] Nima Gardideh: just going back,, a couple of steps here on the BIS ops team.

[00:20:17] What types of people were reporting to you? Like how, how did you construct that team? I'm just curious., basically it's, I asse it was a team of generalists just like yourself who were like given any problem and they can figure out how to solve it. But how do you even look for those types of people?

[00:20:32] What was like a good, persona that fit that sort of, utility in the org?

[00:20:40] Jacob Fenton: Yeah, I mean, I think some of our best hires, we, we, we had a variety of different people come in through that group. I think by the time we disbanded it, we were about 10 of us. But I think some of the people who did the best were maybe trained classically as consultants and understood this kind of client interaction of, of kind of zooming in, zooming out as needed, and then ultimately, Providing a solution and then moving on to the next thing.

[00:21:09] So I think that was, that was really successful., also just analytical people, but above anything, above anything is, is curiosity. That's even today when I hire, I hire for people who are curious, who, want to understand different aspects of the business. Who are comfortable not being the smartest person in the room, and actually see that as an opportunity to learn more, to bring different points of view.

[00:21:35] So, yes, there's certain skills like analytic competence and, and the ability to, service clients and, and be able to do presentations and communicate really effectively. But I think a lot of that stuff can be taught, and I think the harder skills are sometimes, that, that what, what's driving them internally?

[00:21:56] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. How do you test for that? How do you talk to someone and figure out if they're curious?

[00:22:02] Jacob Fenton: Well, it's not a perfect science, and if you figure that out, be sure to let me know. But I think you can learn a lot from talking to people. I think you can learn a lot by looking at people's career trajectories., like it's one thing, some people might look at my career and say, well, this guy's all over the place.

[00:22:20] Right., but if when they talk to. They would know kind of the story of why, of why it happened, and, why. And what, what drew me to each next step in that stage. And I think like when I'm, when I'm talking to people and, and testing for that, I wanna hear that story. I wanna understand why they made the choices that they made.

[00:22:42] I wanna understand like what they do in situations where they do not know the answer. Do they, do they like dig themselves in a hole?, do they, are they paralyzed? Which can happen to a lot of people. Are they comfortable asking for help?, that's a question I ask all the time. Like, tell me about a time when you just needed. What did, what did you do? And so I think you can, you can kind of, you can kind of triangulate around curiosity in those ways.

[00:23:09] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, and it's a curious one cuz I think I also feel strongly. This tends to be a, an important trait for generalists., and funny enough, what I look for is, curiosity in other areas. So I asked them about like if they like music or art or anything like that, and then see how much time they've spent just being curious in that other space that's not maybe their work.

[00:23:38], and so I think that, and, and, and funny, I think I'm just like projecting my own. Definition onto other people in a lot of ways in that sense of just like seeing, okay, like this is what I do. Cause I'm curious about like, as a, as a base han being, I'm curious. So if I like something, I'm going to be very curious within that space.

[00:23:57], but I think the story of how people have gone through their life is quite interesting., I think I should probably include that in my, in my process of, of, of talking to people., so. Before we go into it, I think, and I really appreciate it. For those who haven't maybe read this, there is an EC one from TechCrunch on StockX that, you had me read before.

[00:24:22], we did this, which I'm very grateful for because it was, it was very well written and, gave me a lot of context on the company. But, just to just, kind of address that a little bit, could. Tell me in your words what you think makes StockX special and, has gotten it to where it, where it has other than like, obviously operationally executing, very well over the last seven years or so.

[00:24:49] What are the sort of components that now you have learned that have come together that made this company scale so quickly and so rapidly?

[00:24:58] Jacob Fenton: just for the sake of maybe some of your listeners who aren't familiar with StockX, I'll just give a real quick 22nd on, on what it is. So, StockX is a live marketplace for what we call items of current culture., things like sneakers, street wear, and apparel, electronics, trading cards, collectibles, and it's unique in that.

[00:25:22] It we do really well with things that are hard to get where there's scarcity, limited edition sneakers, for example, PlayStation fives over the holidays when you couldn't get them. And, we facilitate the trade between sellers and buyers. So we hold no inventory, but every trade that comes through our marketplace is sent to one of our 14 authentication centers around the world and is actually hand touched.

[00:25:46] By an authenticator. We make sure that it is the product that the customer expects, that it's in the right condition, that it has all the right accessories, et cetera. And then we ultimately send that to, to the buyer. So, I believe we're the only marketplace that still kind of commits to doing that with a hundred percent of the items that come through our platform.

[00:26:07] So, that's generally what StockX is. And if you were to go to StockX for the first., on, on, on, on the internet you might say, oh, it reminds you of eBay. And I think there's some truth to that in that,  eBay is a, is a, is a garage sale for kind of everything, right?, but I think once you get into the details, You see how differentiated and different it is.

[00:26:34] And so,  one example I'll give you is, is our product detail pages. So if you were to go search,  I don't know, what's your favorite band 

[00:26:45] Nima Gardideh: My, favorite band, let's say Muse, cuz. Listen to bands as much anyway.

[00:26:51] Jacob Fenton: Fair enough. Fair enough. Let's say, let's say you loved Muse and you wanted to find, a muse poster from, from a concert you went to, you would go and you'd search, muse in Chicago or New York or wherever you were, and you'd probably have like, 10, 20, maybe 30 or 40 listings, right?

[00:27:08] It's listings based. And you'd go through and you'd look at the pictures and you'd find out like which one is, which one is the one you want, which is priced right, vis-a-vis that quality, et cetera. Stock Act simplifies all that down, so we're not a listing site. There's one product page and you go there and we show you every sale that's ever happened on our platform and how much it. So,  it's very easy for you coming in to make sure  that there's pricing transparency, the quality is standardized and, so that's how, I just wanna make that clear to your readers cuz that's something I I hear a lot. Excuse me to your listeners cause that's something I hear a lot, when I'm explaining the business, to people for the first time.

[00:27:53] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, it's almost as if like you have aggregated the product in itself. Like I actually just want the product. Right. I don't care so much for the seller who's selling it. I just want the product. That's one aspect. And then this like trust aspect, which, you allude alluded to with this verification process or authentication process.

[00:28:14] Resolves the seller part. So it's almost as if like, I'm going on an Amazon and buying it, but there's a lot more depth there because you're going after these sort of specific products that have, and the way I sort of like walked away from trying to understand your business is they have like either brand value or scarcity or both, beyond its utility and.

[00:28:40] This feels like wildly different to, than eBay to me, when I started looking at it. So, 

[00:28:45] Jacob Fenton: It, it, it is wildly different. It's, it's completely different business., but, I I actually, I forgot your original question. You asked, you said, I think you asked me what, what's made it kind of

[00:28:58] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, what's 

[00:28:59] made 

[00:28:59] Jacob Fenton: relevance other than our operational,

[00:29:01] Nima Gardideh: exactly like, I I then in executing on the plan, what is the parts of the plan that have made it, become this big and become this foundational to, to the culture.

[00:29:13] Jacob Fenton: Yeah, so I think you really gotta step back and you gotta remember what was going on before StockX existed. So let's just talk, take sneakers for example. For example, if you wanted to get a pair of sneakers, you used to have to camp out outside of a sneaker store or had to have some plug in a store or.

[00:29:31] Find a, a connection that, and do a one-on-one trade. It was not simple. It was, rife with kind of., inefficiencies, right? Like how did you determine price? And, and so it, there was plenty of room for improvement. So when we came in and we introduced this kind of pricing guide, this, this market data, it really changed the game entirely.

[00:29:56] And that's why we were able to grow so quickly because it was such a useful utility to collectors., it was like, kind of like, wow, how did I do this before? Infinitely easier. I feel I trust these guys cuz I know they're not selling me fake stuff., and I don't have to deal with sellers.

[00:30:13] That's the other thing, at eBay if you have a problem, you have to deal with sellers. He, here you deal with us. So we, we take care of all that., so I think, it started off very utility based. I think as we've grown. We, generally, of course, we wanna try and develop a deeper emotional connection.

[00:30:33] We've done that by, by really expanding internationally, by expanding across categories., I mentioned handbags, I mentioned apparel and accessories, trading cards, collectibles, electronics., we just launched women's luxury shoes. And so it's about kind of finding other passion areas and, and making sure we're, we're up and running when things get, get scarce.

[00:30:59] So like for example, over the holidays, ugs were huge. And people couldn't find ugs, but they could find 'em on StockX and it was one of our largest sellers over the, over the Christmas holiday. And that wouldn't be something you'd necessarily associate with StockX, right? You, you wouldn't necessarily associate slippers with StockX.

[00:31:18] But the truth is that the model really does well in these, in these, items that are scarce., of course if there's brand equity, that's great., but one other thing I wanna add to your framework is I. It is about community, it's about authenticity. And so, we're deeply respectful of the community that that uses our, our product.

[00:31:44], they're incredibly passionate and, I think showing up where they are is super important to our brand health. And, that's something that we think about all the time., how are we, how are we promoting voices that aren't heard? Or how are we, helping brands that are trying to break through breakthrough?

[00:32:07] And so we ask ourselves that question a lot. We're trying to build our brand because we really want this to be the marketplace for current culture, not just for every big current culture.

[00:32:18] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes a lot, a lot of sense. As I start sort of looking into your brand more, it just feels like you're thinking of it as like a cultural phenomena, like can it be part of the zeitgeist on how people talk about all of these things? 

[00:32:35] What are the challenges with this community aspect that I think it's very hard to do this at scale.

[00:32:39] You're across multiple categories, multiple countries. Is, does that fall within customer experience for you? Like how does, how, how do you think about this concept in general?

[00:32:50] Jacob Fenton: Well, I mean, yes, it is complex., but I mean, I think it's, this won't surprise you to hear it starts by listening to them. Right. And, also being able to separate the signal from the noise, like anything else. Cause you're right, there's, there's a lot of, there's a lot of noise out there., and it's important for us to.

[00:33:12] Truly kind of mine for those insights that help us to determine, what we need to do, what we need to prioritize. So,  I think we're, we're always trying to engage with that community. We're trying to listen to them. We talk to 'em all the time. We, we have a pretty robust surveying program.

[00:33:31] We have robust user listening programs., we bring sellers,  as a reminder, right? We're a marketplace for both buyers and sellers. So the sell side is, is very important. So we have to make sure we're, we're nurturing those relationships and so we work really closely with them. Actually. That's been, an area of a lot of focus for us.

[00:33:51] Over the last year and, and will be certainly going into 23 and and beyond. So,  we, everything from excellent customer experience to nurturing relationships because if you think about it, because we don't hold inventory. The actual product that we're selling is our experience,

[00:34:11] Nima Gardideh: You mean you don't hold in inventory?

[00:34:13] Jacob Fenton: no.

[00:34:14] Right. We're not holding

[00:34:14] Nima Gardideh: you, me, you mentioned because you do hold inventory. Because you don't

[00:34:18] Jacob Fenton: Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah, because we don't hold inventory. I'm sorry. We don't hold inventory and so when we don't hold inventory, like our product is that experience and, that buyers and sellers are stakeholders in that. And so it's very important that we're hitting both ends of that.

[00:34:32] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense., just looking at it from a different perspective, I think that the cultural aspect is quite clear to me. 

[00:34:41], let's talk about it just as a marketplace. So you started in one category., there is clearly, at the very least two parties here, or the sellers and the buyers.

[00:34:51] I'm sure there's overlap between those folks., What are the aspects of this marketplace that you are paying attention to? Is it liquidity in specific areas? Is it how efficient it is in terms of accuracy of pricing? Does that fully, is that fully automated and you're not doing anything there? Like how are you sort of managing these levers in the sort of like more traditional marketplace sense?

[00:35:19] Jacob Fenton: it's changing in many ways for us. So, being a marketplace and being very transparent, we don't want to, manipulate the market in any way, right? Like, we want the market, we want supply and demand to find its its level. And so we, we're not involved in, in anything that would, that would run counter to that, as.

[00:35:44] But you're absolutely right. As we think about things like liquidity and sell through for our sellers, we have to figure out ways to make that more efficient. So, making, one of the, one of the biggest things that, that we do is we are a global marketplace. So we operate in over 200., countries and territories.

[00:36:03], I mentioned we have 14 authentication centers around the world. And when you have that sort of complex supply chain where buyers and sellers might be in different places and you have things like, taxes and duties and customs, you start asking yourself, how do we make these things more efficient?

[00:36:19] Not just for us and for our bottom line, but for sellers and for buyers who have to either, who might have to pay some of those fees. And so, there's a, there's a huge. Entire arm of our business that's very focused on optimizing that logistical, maze really, for lack of a better term., and yeah, I mean also the other, the other element I would mention in response to your question is that we are still a heavily a release driven business.

[00:36:47] Meaning, Nike has a release, we see a big pop on StockX., so that's, I, that's important, right? So we have to, in terms of pure market, We have to make sure that we're in the right places to drive the tra the right traffic at the right time for, to address those, those releases. 

[00:37:06] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I think that the operational complexity, I hadn't thought of the cross-country issues., and then authentication still has to happen even if it's something in the US and then so it has to get delivered so that, that seems like you're running a mini Amazon there, basically.

[00:37:23], and, and yeah, I'm, I'm, I'm sure that team is big, if not incredibly good at what they're doing., w

[00:37:30] this, this, launch part is quite interesting. Do you feel like there is a, it sounds like the answer is yes because you're here and we're having this conversation, but there is like a repeatable process there where, you are you partnering with these brands ahead of time, when the launches are coming.

[00:37:47], and I asse that information is generally somewhat public and people know about these launches to some extent. Like has that been operationalized in a way within your marketing organization?

[00:37:59] Jacob Fenton: yeah, certainly. So, we, we obviously have our ears to the ground in terms of releases., sometimes there are shock drops that we don't know about that happens, but generally speaking, we, there's a release calendar If there, if there is a release, especially a big release, we wanna make sure that, like I said, we're in the right places. We're, we're in the right channels, whether it's Google shopping or social. And so we have, mechanisms in place across those channels to make sure our. Our budgets are tuned so that we can flex for the, for those sorts of products and in those releases., and then of course we have a lot of, quote unquote traditional tactics., leveraging crm, push,, properties on our, on our website homepage, banners, things of that nature that, that help support that release cadence.

[00:38:54] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, and that feels like such a cohesive problem because it's not just your paid ads people or your sort of like life cycle., marketers, but also an operational feat to get, get these things going., just to maybe go back into your role now, and maybe there's some of this, like, I think we've touched on a bunch of stuff that your team's working on, but, How does the role manifest or the team sort of work manifest in the organization?

[00:39:24] You're, it sounds like one of the things is you now have context on what the customers are saying, what they want. You have some marketing apparatus, some operational apparatus internally within the, within your org itself., but how does this manifest outside of your organization and what are the things that you explicitly own, even though.

[00:39:45] It's the customer experience team and not necessarily the authentication team or the marketing team and so on and so forth.

[00:39:52] Jacob Fenton: Yeah. So, I mean, right. No one own, no one person owns customer experience, even though that's in my title, right? So, Jacob is not in charge of all things customer experience and StockX, I'd argue every single person, every employee, from every single employee here owns, owns customer experience.

[00:40:10] And it's about fostering that culture. So if you ask me what I own, I'd say I own fostering that culture and driving that culture of customer centricity from our lowest levels to our highest levels, and making sure that we have the data in place to, to support that end., we,  we're, we're a company that uses OKRs, which I'm sure you're familiar with, and, so, we're in charge, at least my team's in charge of, of something called our True Love OKR this year, which is really about making sure that we are in fact driving great customer experiences throughout our, throughout the journey for customers.

[00:40:51], and that's everything from. NPS to, buy our time to serve stellar time to serve csat and working with those, those other organizations to make sure, that we're, that we're all viewing this from a holistic manner, not like a siloed manner.

[00:41:11] Nima Gardideh: Mm. CSAT being customer satisfaction. Correct.

[00:41:15] Jacob Fenton: That's right. Yep.

[00:41:16] Nima Gardideh: And so the OKRs around, is that, is it sort of like composite into one metric or it's just these are like some of the key results that your overall objective is sort of tied to?

[00:41:27] Jacob Fenton: I love that you want to geek out on this stuff. That's awesome., but yeah, it, so the way we structure it is we have, one kind of key metric, which is transactional nps, and then we have lots of, l what we call L two or site tier, tier two metrics. It's not that they're less important, they're just kind of in their inputs to, to that other metric and their.

[00:41:50] Cross-functional, or, like csat for example, is owned by our customer service team., buyer time to serve, for example, is owned by our operations team. And so, the way we structure this under these OKRs, it's very much, matrixed out, but it, it works well within the function, the broader functional structure of, of the company, if that makes.

[00:42:11] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. 

[00:42:13], and now I feel like we're gonna go back to the beginning of this conversation a little bit, because, talking about leading by influence, now you're talking about multiple orgs that own some of these metrics., and you, you alluded to sort of cultural change or cultural, ownership of this, of this general philosophy.

[00:42:36] How do you think, how are you, I guess, thinking about that? Is it forms of communication?, is it cadence of thinking? Is it, just surfacing the data, talking about how these things go together? Is it all of it? Like what are the, I mean, and things I can't think of on the spot right now. How are you thinking about, building this culture internally?

[00:43:02] Jacob Fenton: I get, I ask, get asked that question a ton, and I think it, it's a, it's a couple things how I think about it. One, the, I know this sounds obvious, but it can't be, it can't be underestimated. Quality of work has to be super high., I think everyone wants to have great quality of work. I feel like team, our team has to have even a higher bar.

[00:43:28] Why? Because they aren't the subject matter experts. We have to be able to add value to the people in the group and bring that. That, those insights to people. So we have to have really high quality of, of data and presentation and storytelling., we need to, I totally agree with your, you mentioned cadence, so this is something I really believe in strongly, which is that even, and I give this advice to people who are like just starting, starting up in something like this, which is don't be afraid to create a cadence for something, even if you don't know if it's the right.

[00:44:07] Nima Gardideh: Mm-hmm.

[00:44:08] Jacob Fenton: throw it out there, start with it, and then you can iterate. Because I think building the muscle in an organization to talk about these things is so important. And having the real estate or the, or the time set aside to have these real discussions is, is, is paramount. So you have to have high quality, you have to have a, a cadence in place. And I think really you need to have support. The CEO and your C-suite, you can, you can have the best team with the best of intentions to do this, but unless your leadership team is, is paying, as, no one's gonna pay as close an attention to it as, as your team. But unless they're fully bought in on the value and on what the goal is and the strategy behind it, really hard to get that influence to like, for that to percolate throughout an organization.

[00:45:05] And so I'm very, fortunate in that regard., our C-suite is, is, is fully bought in., we believe this is how we win in the long term and, everyone, every employee works at StockX feels the same way. And we're gonna continue to kind of improve that and, and, and, and build and build.

[00:45:26] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, I think that much of what you just mentioned feels very true to what I've like been studying in, in companies. It feels like this part, this customer experience part is so hard to get right within one team that, You clearly notice that it needs to be led by at least one person, if not a whole team, to think about this cross-functionally.

[00:45:50], we work with all sorts of companies. The most sort of obvious ones that have issues with this is e-commerce because there is like such a disconnect. Between people who are like, press the buttons on the ad networks, all the way from the people that are delivering, the products and packaging them.

[00:46:11] And this cohesive view of this just makes so much sense, especially where your product, it feels is that experience, as you mentioned., and so owning it, makes a lot of sense, is one of the most important parts of the, of the gas that fuels the fire. If you were to sort of zoom out a little bit from your specific role, the customer experience seems like quite foundational to growth to me.

[00:46:41], what are the other levers that, the company's kind of in a similar fashion betting on? Right. So having a great customer experience is one. Maybe these like sort of, Having different verticals that you're in is sounded like, is an interesting one. Just geography seems like an interesting one. How are you guys thinking about that now?

[00:47:04] Going to the, into the future?

[00:47:06] Jacob Fenton: Yeah, well, I mean, I think, so you hit on two of them certainly. So, category expansion, appropriate category expansion and, and geographical expansion. And not just expansion, but improving those experiences within the countries in which we operate. Right. There's, there's a localization challenge.

[00:47:25] There's. There's also a cultural challenge, right? Like it's one thing to operate in Italy, it's another thing to be in the cultural zeitgeist in Italy, right? And so that requires resources, headcount,  focus. And so that's one way that we, we look at growth., and, it, it's been kind of the foundation I'd say of. Of our strategy for the last several years. I think  what we've started to see at the end of 22 and we're certainly gonna be investing in and, and if you're super familiar with StockX, you've probably even seen us come to market with, is making like very concerted efforts to improve our experience for our sellers.

[00:48:13] Across the globe. So we, just recently we, we've launched our APIs so sellers can now programmatically tie into our marketplace to do things faster, which opens up a whole slew of use cases., we, we've released a, a. Product called StockX Pro, which is for kind of mid-level sellers who wanna do a lot of actions in bulk.

[00:48:37] So,, it's a very slick tool. Last, or maybe it was two years ago, we, we acquired a company called Scout, which is a, kind of an, an app that facilitates inventory management for these businesses. As well as multi marketplace, commerce. And so we're integrating that into our experience., it already is integrated, but we're constantly improving that and we're looking at new ways for, for storage and to facilitate kind of an easier transaction for the seller.

[00:49:13]  how, cuz ultimately what we wanna do for our sellers is make it easier and less expensive for them to transac. That just feeds our flywheel, brings more buyers, et cetera. So I'd say those are the things we're really focused on right now.

[00:49:28] Nima Gardideh: Is there and I'm just, Speculating here, is there a percentage of your transactions that are purely market making transactions where people are doing the work that it takes to basically create an efficient market, by creating transaction vole and, and. Doing arbitrage. I asse there's some of that.

[00:49:52], cuz the moment you just said api, the part of my brain that like lit up and is like, oh, this is like a features market. So all I'm doing is just like trading and, and there will be a world where there will be warehouses, that hold the stock just like in a features market where no one actually like.

[00:50:09] Cares about the delivery of it, just the pointer to who owns the product changes in that warehouse., and, and there may be some of that happening already, but I'm just out of curiosity.

[00:50:20] Jacob Fenton: you don't own, if you own oil futures, you don't own a barrel

[00:50:22] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, you don't own it, but, and, and, and some of these exchanges hold warehouses with like the oil in there or the nickel in it, and all they do is just change the pointer on who owns it after the fact that the thing is sold.

[00:50:33] Right. 

[00:50:34] Jacob Fenton: yeah. No, that, that's right. So I mean, that's, that's the right way to think about it in terms of market making. We really don't do that. I mean, I'd say there maybe rate, rate at a very early day of launching a new category if we're trying to like, build some moment. Maybe that's a tactic that, that we've, that we've used in the past where we'll actually, try and acquire it and, and, and try and make trades in that regard.

[00:51:00] But it's, it's not part of our, our general operating procedures.

[00:51:05] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, but I was asking if there are sellers that are market making, not you, 

[00:51:10] Jacob Fenton: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, these sell, these sellers are margin hunting, and they're, they're trying to find any, any margin that they can., so we have a lot of people who are, who are running some sophisticated complex, arbitrage models,, versus others who are just trying to, buy low.

[00:51:32] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So some of this tooling that you're talking about is kind of enabling folks to do some of that easier and,

[00:51:38] Jacob Fenton: Yeah, but just to be clear, we don't have, like, we don't have options. We we're not an options trading platform. Right., so you can't, you're, you're not doing swaps and, and, and things of that nature. Like we do have bids and asks. So it's, it's purely like an ownership model, but, they're able to do arbitrage with their own supply.

[00:52:01] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense., And so, yeah, I would love to maybe ch go back a couple years before you've arrived here. you're a cultural phenomenon and a lot of it, and correct me if I'm wrong, was in the physical world, and you're sort of like building on top of that, was covid a accelerant for you or the opposite?

[00:52:24] Jacob Fenton: Well, I think just to clarify, like I think in terms of phenomenon, like I think we were always, it was less in the physical world. I think it was always really digital., covid, like a lot of e-commerce companies was a huge accelerant for us., people, the stimulus money in particular people were buying sneakers and, and flipping that on stock acts, our business saw a huge amount of growth.

[00:52:48] I think actually about half of. Company was hired during, during, COVID. So we saw, we saw tremendous growth. I mean, we, we opened up authentication centers in, in country in far flu countries with, with people that we didn't get to meet, in person. So it was, it was a wild, I mean, just a wild time in general, but, one in which we sought huge growth, mostly from, I think a lot of the influx of money in, into the.]

[00:53:18] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense., I have one last question for you., and it's more of like a. Curiosity slash philosophical thing around, the types of people you need to go from this like hyper-growth, growth at our costs mentality to the let's make money and become profitable. And I think, in the, maybe let's say management literature, people talk about wartime versus peacetime managers.

[00:53:51], and., do you feel like there's truth, truth to that there's a personality type or do you think it's just a mentality and people can sort of adopt it?, and then maybe like a follow on around that is how is that sort of manifested itself in Stock X where, the context in which you had hired sounds like half the team was this 0% environment of let's grow as fast as we.

[00:54:16], where now you're, you're focusing the company on profitability more than before, so, yeah. I wonder how, how you think about that and, and, I actually don't have like a strong opinion on this one. 

[00:54:28] Jacob Fenton: I think to a large extent, it depends on the type of culture you're trying to build. I mean, I know that when we interview we, we wanna make sure we're hiring people who are. Flexible and adaptable. Right., so, generally I don't think people are, are coming to StockX who have like a very specific point of view in how exactly it's gonna go.

[00:54:50] Right? We're still a startup or scale up, whatever you wanna call us. Things change, market dynamics change. And so it's really important that somebody coming to work here understands that and actually gets energized by that. Like I get energized by that sort of stuff, which is why I like working in this kind of size of a company.

[00:55:06], I think that there's also. It's kind of a self culling, like if people aren't comfortable with that, I think they naturally might look to other places to, to go and work., maybe something that's more stable, or something where that's more in line with what their career goals are., but at the end of the day, like. I think our team is like all in on, on our value prop and what we're trying to do. And, one of our cultural, values is so called hungry for what's next, which is this idea that like, Whatever's coming next, we embrace it might be different from what we're comfortable with, but we're gonna go in fully, we're gonna adapt as needed.

[00:55:54] We're going to, work together as a team to come out on the other end,  more successful than, than before. So, I think it comes down to the type of people you bring in. I think we, we've done a great job of hiring even during the pandemic. And so I think everyone who's here is like fully focused on that mission and, and, and,

[00:56:13] Nima Gardideh: Well, Jacob, thank you so much for this time. I appreciate all the wisdom you've missed on upon our listeners and me., it's very clear that you're a thoughtful leader in the in Ed StockX and I'm so excited to see what you all achieve over, over the coming years., thank you for the time and, thanks for coming on.

[00:56:32] Jacob Fenton: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. 


[00:56:34] Nima Gardideh: All right, and that's a wrap. Thanks for listening. As always, if you like these episodes and enjoy the podcast, please like and subscribe on Spotify or, or Apple or YouTube, wherever you're watching The next stop, we're gonna have Alexi, who used to be the head of Growth engineering at Masterclass, and previously it opened door.

[00:56:55] He's a good friend of mine. We've known him, I've known him for quite a few years, and, and we've really geeked out about growth engineering throughout our careers. so we end up having a very deep conversation about how to build these teams and how to think about, the flow of data and the importance of analytics in companies. So stay tuned for that and see you on the next one.