In this exclusive interview, you’ll learn the ‘secret sauce’ that has helped to make Rick Watson the prolific business success, public speaker, and podcast mastermind he is today. You’ll also learn how his unique insights into what many would consider ‘traditional wisdom’ helped him to pave his own way to success in a budding new tech industry.
Can you describe your job in one line?
I run an e-commerce consulting firm and I work with private equity-backed brands to help improve their e-commerce businesses.
What do you love about the retail industry?
I think the thing I love most about e-commerce is how dynamic it is.
The big players are always introducing new innovations. There are always new startups that are trying to change and improve the industry and consumer experience as well.
What are some of the key challenges that you see facing retail at this point in time?
There are a couple of top challenges.
One is talent, attracting the right people to the company, and having a mix of experienced and new people is important. Experienced people who are able to basically do things more efficiently. And then new people who have kind of the energy and willingness to learn new things. And so I think that balance is important.
Profitability is also a big challenge that I see with companies.
Sometimes there’s overinvestment in new ideas before they have been proven. And ironically, there are some times when you can invest too much early on before you’ve proven that you have a proper business model and business case for investing additional dollars in marketing.
From your first day at work to now, what are some of the biggest things you’ve learned?
The first thing is to be patient.
That’s not always easy, but recognize that advancement in any industry doesn’t come overnight. It comes after you have more experience and after you’ve gained some knowledge and experience with launching and being successful with new projects.
The second is really understanding before you launch any new initiative to understand who your customer is. That’s a key challenge that many companies get wrong, where they have a very vague idea of whatever product that they’re launching is for.
There’s no faster way to kill a project or to waste money than to not be sure about who the customer is and why they come to buy your product versus some replacement or competitor.
What is your vision for the future of our industry?
Although there are lots of new changes, the fundamentals of retail really have not changed in many years. It’s about having the right product at the right price in front of the right consumers at the right time. E-commerce is really just an acceleration of that.
So, how can we get products to consumers faster? How can we develop products more quickly? How can we market them more efficiently and make it easy for brands to develop lasting connections with their customers? I think regardless of the type of new technology innovations, those fundamentals were all the reasons why it’s happening.
For instance, if you look at some innovations that are still yet to play out, like virtual reality or augmented reality. You started to see some early applications of these inside dressing rooms at retail stores, experimenting with that. And also, on your phone, you can potentially see if a couch or how something would look in your room on certain websites.
It’s really all about helping consumers decide more efficiently. Is this purchase for me? I think those general principles aren’t changing, but the technology that’s used to advance them is. It’s always exciting to see new ideas as new computing power and new formats become available.
It’s about having the right product at the right price in front of the right consumers at the right time. E-commerce is really just an acceleration of that.
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity to me, really means understanding the goal of why something new is happening.
The way I think about it is, businesses have certain goals at different times. Whether it’s to gain more sales, reduce costs, or to surprise and delight a customer. And so creativity is really the engine any new innovative ideas that you have such that you’re able to direct the efforts of a business in the right way.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership means a lot of things. Number one, it means focus.
Understanding where the company or business, enterprise, or products are, where we should be spending time, and what is not important. So understanding that there’s a clear vision is important.
Second, it means alignment of the people on the team. Selecting the team members that are most suited to whatever innovation or project that you’re working on. And then working with that team every day and being patient to understand what you’re looking for over weeks, months, or years, depending on how big the project is.
Really being that kind of stable, guiding force for a project. I know a good idea can come from anywhere and improvements to a project can come from anywhere – and having that kind of culture is another huge point that’s required from a leader.
The ability to create that culture where the team gets closer together over time and is able to enjoy not just the end result, but enjoy the journey along the way.
Do you have any insights or advice for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
I think early in your career, a lot of times, it’s very hard to start a new company from scratch without any experience.
The best entrepreneurs have worked in a small to medium-sized company for a number of years and were able to understand how business works. They understand what good leadership looks like and what bad leadership looks like.
I think there are very few people in the world who are like Bill Gates—someone who can drop out of college and start a business that becomes a huge success. I think for a normal person, and I definitely would put myself in this bucket; it’s very much helpful to learn from others for some period of time before you are able to develop enough confidence or capital or faith in yourself to be able to start your own business. Whether it’s a consulting firm or a product company, or a service provider, wherever you are.
So I think big companies are really good for learning structure which is good at certain parts of your career. But early on in your career, finding a good small to medium-sized company is a faster way to get more responsibility than working at a big company because you’re trusted to do more. As a result, your learning process can become much faster.
Creativity is really the engine any new innovative ideas that you have such that you’re able to direct the efforts of a business in the right way.
The Convrt Award is about authentic, independent recognition. Why do you think that’s important?
A big part of it is, many awards are paid for across different types of industries, or they’re influenced heavily by big companies or who has the most press or something like that, rather than having an independent look at it. So I think it’s a unique program.
It’s one of the reasons I was interested in being a judge, because I liked the idea of having an independent type of award that wasn’t, oh, you have to pay some money to get in or something else. You don’t see that a lot in many industries.
What would you like to see from participants entering the awards?
I think the biggest thing I would love to really understand from each participant is how they came up with the idea.
Number one, I love hearing sort of the origin stories of ideas, what customer this is for, what pain they are solving.
And then, some kind of metrics or progress that they’ve had to date on their idea.
Also, what is their vision for the next few years as their next steps?
Those are probably the biggest things that I would be looking forward to seeing.
I think to have an idea even considered by kind of an independent award is good validation and should be seen as encouraging that the team could be on the right track or want to take some good next steps.
Any words of encouragement for entrants?
I would just encourage every entrant to just have an open mind about the process.
Starting a business or launching a new idea is very difficult. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get all the feedback that you like or if you’re not getting recognition for your idea.
Most people have to work for many years without any recognition before something is recognized. I think to have an idea even considered by kind of an independent award is good validation and should be seen as encouraging that the team could be on the right track or want to take some good next steps.