Thinking About Thinking

How CSN Stores Is Educating And Transforming Boston

Posted in Organizations, Technology by larrycheng on May 10, 2011

With increasing frequency, I hear about people in the Boston community going to work at CSN Stores.  This is the mega furniture and home goods e-commerce company that everybody likes to describe as “the biggest e-commerce company you’ve never heard of” – even though now I think everyone’s heard about them.  It used to be once every 6 months, I’d come across someone joining the Boston-based company.  But, over the past 2 years, it’s increased to about once every 3-4 weeks.

Interestingly, there are some common characteristics of the people joining CSN Stores.  They are young, bright, well-educated – and perhaps most conspicuously, they have no e-commerce experience (how could they being in Boston?).  And, that’s why CSN Stores could be transformative for this town.  You have former private equity professionals, recent college grads, rising stars in corporate america, and other walks of life all going to CSN Stores to learn the nitty gritty of building an e-commerce business from a company that is succeeding to the tune of $380M of revenue growing 56% per year. 

In the same way DoubleClick taught a generation of New Yorkers about online advertising and fundamentally transformed the start-up community in that region, CSN Stores could teach a generation of Bostonians about e-commerce.  I say “could” because the story of CSN Stores is still being written.  If CSN Stores stays independent, goes public, and grows from ~1,000 employees to 10,000+ employees.  I fully expect that 5-10 years from now, the legacy of CSN Stores will be a vibrant community of next-generation e-commerce companies started by CSN alumni.  And, that’s exactly what Boston needs.

15 Responses

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  1. Have to stay anaonymous said, on May 11, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Having interviewed with those folks for a senior position and spoken to several friends who had misfortune working there… lets just say the place is not worth the praises from the human capital point of view. Horrible compensation, immature and inexperienced middle managers, outdated technology (you know they still run on ASP.Net and half the reporting is still done on spreadsheets), huge turnover. Instead of spending money on people and technology, they spend money on outrageous rent.
    Vendor relations there are atrocious too.

    CSN – great PR… horrible reality.

  2. David said, on May 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    ““the biggest e-commerce company you’ve never heard of” ….that right there is the Boston technology dilemma. As a region, we need to self-promote our successful companies better. Regardless of their reputation, a $350M / year online business is a big deal and the area should get credit.

  3. Rishi said, on May 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I’m a huge fan of CSN. Impressed with their growth.

  4. Jules Pieri, CEO Daily Grommet said, on May 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks for highlighting CSN Stores. I’m not an alum but I can say that their being in town already has broader benefits for the e-commerce ecosystem. I’ve learned a lot from CEO Niraj Shah and other members of his team. It’s terrific when the Boston entrepreneurs who are ahead of us on the growth curve reach back and give a hand up. It’s particularly helpful in the e-commerce space, where many of us are rewriting old rules.

    • larrycheng said, on May 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm

      Jules, I should have mentioned Daily Grommet as well for being an innovative and growing e-commerce player in Boston as well. Good to see people like you and Niraj changing the rules of the game.


  5. Niraj Shah said, on May 12, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks Larry for the nice post. We have been growing at a fast pace, seeing great increases in our repeat customer rate, and enjoying it. Our hiring focus – at all levels – is on smart, hard working, collaborative folks. For mid-senior roles (or any roles) we do not look for experience in ecommerce, and as a result a lot of the recent folks who have joined have experience in supply chain, management consulting, talent development, large scale data analytics and other fields that we can then apply to CSN and thus ecommerce.

    The culture here is one of smart thinking, fast decision making and well run execution, so it sometimes doesn’t fit everyone but we are proud of it, and we think we have the best team in the business. We look forward to continuing to win a lot of new customers, see them become loyal fans and customers, and as a result, grow at a fast pace. We think this will turn CSN into one of Boston’s first consumer internet platform companies… in the meantime we will just keep at it.

    • larrycheng said, on May 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm

      Niraj, I hope you guys go for the big win. Congrats on all of your success to date!


      • YUP said, on June 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

        Don’t buy into the scheme. It will bite you in the rear. The company will tank. Company morale is at an all-time low. You don’t know what’s going on internally.

    • Anonymous said, on June 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      What do you say about the high turnover rate for overqualified applicants/workers who have to live paycheck to paycheck? Answering phones is not learning about e-commerce.

    • YUP said, on June 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      All you care about is your money.

  6. Kim said, on May 15, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I love the convenience of shopping from my home – it fits into my busy life stayle. I would comment on Niraj Shah’s post – I agree with your strategy the fit may not be for everyone but judging from the employees that I have encountered with consumer relation type inquiries – the staff is also proud of the company and bend over backwards to address issues quickly, pleasantly and satisfactorily. I am a repeat customer and I have referred many of my Canadian friends and colleagues to CSN who have in turn referred friends and family. The repersentation of the products on the website is excellent and there are no surprises about what you pay when your purchase arrives at the door. When I want to buy a household item CSN is usually my first stop. Keep going and building.

  7. Rob Bergin said, on May 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I love the idea of Boston getting good eCommerce press. Besides CSN – keep an eye on Retail Convergence – great local eCommerce company that’s doing well and growing.

    Also Demandware in Woburn/Burlington (I think they moved) is really shining in the eCommerce platform space.

    • larrycheng said, on July 24, 2011 at 9:43 am

      Rob, nice add. And, Demandware is now going public. I’d add Daily Grommet, Rue La La (which I could see being independent again), among others.

  8. Anonymous said, on June 23, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    As a former employee…$380 million in revenue only produced a profit margin of 4-6%

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