Fab Europe’s Maria Molland: 7 ways to create a global success

Maria Molland
Maria Molland

Tasked with growing what’s already the fastest growing eCommerce site in the world, the sky’s the limit for Fab.com’s Chief European Officer Maria Molland. She’s looking to help co-founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer build the flash designer sales site into a Google-esque empire.

Maria Molland

Since launching in the US in September 2011, Fab now boasts a total membership of 11 million users with sales having tripled in a year to January 2013. After branching out into Europe in February last year with the acquisition of Berlin’s Casacanda and later, London’s Llustre, the site now services 24 countries across Europe and is making a cool killing. “We had several million dollar days over Christmas – globally,” Molland tells us.

We’re on an unbelievable run-rate and this year Europe makes up about 35 per cent of the business… we’re ramping up significantly.”

Molland, who’s been stationed at Fab Europe’s main base in Berlin since May 2012, has also worked in lead management roles at Yahoo, Walt Disney and Thomson Reuters (to name a few).

Here, she reveals her top seven ways to create a global success, with new insights into Fab’s hot new plans, biggest offline competitor, and her reaction to the rise and fall of the Samwer brothers’ Fab clone Bamarang

1. Think global from the get-go

think global

“The reason they (Goldberg and Shellhamer) bought Casacanda was that from the very beginning, they had global ambitions for Fab,” begins Molland.

“It was really important to buy them early on, because it’s easier to integrate. The workforce was small and malleable, so you could change it to be more ‘Fab’ as time went on.

“Fab’s never been one of those startups where you prove the model and then flip it; it was always ‘I want to create a global brand’. Obviously being global means branching out of the US. Its success comes from this global ambition, which is missing from a lot of other startups I’ve worked with.”

2. Hire top talent. Don’t settle for second best

Passion fuels productivity. “One of the reasons why we’re successful is that we pick people who love design and who love the emotional connection with the products we sell on site,” says Molland. “We’ll also be hiring a bunch of big names of the next couple of months.”

Having someone know the complex nature of Germany’s corporate tax laws (for example) is invaluable: “We’ve got to layer on the intricacies of Europe, especially the operations side and understanding what the differences are. We try to make sure that people who’ve dealt with those issues are part of the team and can figure what processes have to change. It’s really about being detail-orientated and hiring the right people to solve these sorts of problems.”

3. Market research, market research, market research [in flashing neon lights]

Expanding across a continent is one thing. Choosing the right city and country as your operating base is another. When it came to using Berlin as Fab’s European headquarters, choosing Germany over other big, design-savvy regions like France and the UK came down to four top reasons: cheap costs, competition, Casacanda and a design-minded market.

“We picked Germany for a couple of reasons. The first is that Ikea – one of our biggest offline competitors is a $30b dollar business and 18 per cent of it comes from Germany. The country also had this real increase in clones because at the time – the Samwer brothers were about to start up Bamerang and we needed to move fast in order to cut them down.”

Using what you already know is also invaluable: “We really try to learn from the US as much as possible because they tried a bunch of stuff. Some worked, some didn’t. We had the luxury of just trying things that worked and avoiding what didn’t to move faster,” says Molland.

As for Casacanda – the operation was left alone with Fab marketing dollars until Molland joined to scale the business in May last year.

“Fab really changed as a result… Europe’s now moved from a very small percentage of global sales to 35 per cent. And in September – 90 per cent of that was generated by Germany. Now we’re really split between the UK (25 per cent) and Germany (55 per cent), with the remainder divided between the Nordics.”

4. Stay six months ahead of the competition and beat the clones

Bamarang

Since Fab made its mark on the world of flash sales, there’s been an influx of startups looking for a slice of what’s become a lucrative market. “I’m a big fan of competition… When anyone tries to copy us it can be irritating, but the onus is on us to keep thinking what we need to do next to be bigger and better and how to push harder and innovate faster. That keeps us ahead,” says Molland.

As the saying goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. But creating an identical clone is another thing. When the notorious Samwer Brothers’ Bamarang shut down after six months online, it didn’t win-over much sympathy: “I won’t lie, it was quite nice,” laughs Molland. And as for similar models such as popular private shopping club Monoqi (also based in Berlin): “It’s our goal to stay at least six months ahead of them and the rest of the competition.”

So, how is she keeping ahead of the competition?

Fab-branded products: the big one. “We’re going to start this in March – here in Europe with products mostly sourced for the home category,” says Molland. “We’re not going to compete with designers, we’re just going into categories where we’re finding it really tough to source unique products… Our products will come from mostly India, Thailand and Taiwan and will be sold on for really good prices.”

Fab’s also exploring opening up its own warehouse – to be based between Europe’s biggest markets: Germany and the UK. So, instead of Fab notifying the designer to ship their product to Fab for it to re-package and ship off to the customer, Fab’s looking to stock designer products in one central place to cut down on waiting times. “We opened our own warehouse in the US in July and we saw a vast improvement in shipping times to customers,” says Molland.

A TV ad campaign, which started in November in the UK last year, will be launching in Germany soon.

5. Create a mobile experience

“This is the most interesting part of eCommerce right now,” says Molland. In October 2011, the app launched in the US on iOS, and has since seen mobile go from 10 per cent of sales to up to 40 per cent on regular days. A similar trend was reported when Fab launched on Android in Europe in October last year. “What we’re seeing across the board is that we make three times more from a mobile user than a typical web user,” she adds.

So, what is it about Fab’s mobile app that’s attracting millions of users and dollars? “A lot of it are features we’ve developed and taken to the web rather then having the web features determine what our mobile app should look like,” explains Molland.

“Last year we redefined the mobile experience and launched new apps… We looked at what people are really trying to experience with their mobile. You can search by colour, price and it’s very easy to just flick through. It’s all touchable, sortable and design-centric, and I think it goes back to the fact that the products look really good on a mobile device. Mobile had almost determined our web experience.”

6. Being successfully “social” helps if you’ve got a good looking product to work with

Fab.com dog dress-ups

Whether it’s your startup product or actual products available through your platform, slick design should never be underestimated. Around 25 per cent of Fab’s users come from Facebook: “The products we have are things people can share around easily – it’s something to talk about and laugh at,” says Molland.

User experience should also be clean and easy to use: “If you add Fab to Facebook, it’s part of a social graph so you can see all the photos and it’s very easy to flick through… There’s a better user experience embedded within Facebook as well.”

7. But don’t pat yourself on the back too much

And after all that’s said, done, and achieved, Molland has one parting message: Don’t pat yourself on the back too much…

“It’s a big part of why we’re successful,” she says, reflecting on Fab as a startup compared to the larger companies she worked at. “We’re constantly pushing ourselves to another boundary, which keeps us on top of the competition and keeps us innovating because we always want to be better. It was a bit shocking for me to realise how important that is to help create a successful startup.”

Image credit: Flickr user jdhancock  

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VIDEO: Fab founder Jason Goldberg – “We want to be like Facebook, Coca-Cola or Google”
Bamarang closing shop: Samwer brothers drop Fab clone in favour of Westwing
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