Technology Gets Personal with Trunk Club
Trunk Club is one of the few Web 2.0 startups focused on physical goods as old fashioned as clothing. Tech leader Mike Cruz shares how it stays innovative, particularly as it transitions into its acquisition by Nordstrom.
What is your main focus as Trunk Club Vice President of Engineering?
My role is to make sure our organization is innovative and productive. Some of the biggest questions are, ‘How do you bring tech to the table with a tactile business selling physical goods?’ and ‘How can we create a culture of innovation while we can scale towards a five-year vision?’ We want to keep that sense of wonder through a shared trust and thirst for learning.
My role covers IT and engineering, but it is more about carrying the cultural banner. I’ve been here for 4 and a half years: There were 25 of us when I started, now there are over a thousand. When we began, you had the brick and mortar retailers and you had Amazon online retail, but no bridge between them. We decided, ‘Let’s occupy this space and give more choice and more curation.’ It’s easy to create culture when we were small, but when we scaled, the decisions we make today affect millions rather than thousands.
So how does tech play a role in such a traditional, tactile business?
This year in particular has been about security and tactical considerations as well as integrating with Nordstrom, who acquired us recently. We really blend the tech and the tactile: We have five physical stores, too, and give each customer a stylist that is assigned to you forever. The goal is to replicate that physical experience through technology wherever you want us: On the train, in your house or in the stores.
How is technology helping Trunk Club gain customer trust for physical products?
The goal is to create warmth. With advanced AI and customer support, people now always assume the person is a robot. We actually assign a real person to help you. The challenge now is proving that the person is real! The goal isn’t to replace the stylist, but to augment and assist the stylist. We are making sure the stylist can scale, which, again, is really easy when you are small. Now when they get a phone call, text or message, we give the stylists all the information they need to be prepped.
How has Trunk Club’s view of security evolved since the launch in 2009?
On the tech side, we bet on the cloud early and have always had customer info in the cloud. As we scale, we are now limiting the access, control and auditing of that information to a smaller group.
Post integration with Nordstrom in 2014, the physical stores are getting stronger security to make sure we aren’t the weakest link. To me, it’s a trade off: You want a single user experience, but that creates a higher security risk. It is a balance.
What is the biggest challenge you’ll have in the next five years?
The biggest one is probably around the business model: ‘How does technology help make this feel more like the individualized, personalized relationship that it is?’ That’s why our big push has been in mobile: We want to be there when you wake up and help you get dressed, and that’s not going to happen on the laptop.
Security is a top concern, too: We focused on buying the best tools, rather than getting suites, and the question has been, ‘How can we become the best integrators?’