We had a chance to sit down with Jay Steinfeld, CEO of Blinds.com, to talk about his career and the growth and sale of his company. This is the first part of a two part interview. You can find a hasty transcript and his bio below.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to the show. Texas Business Radio. Texasbusinessradio.com is the Web site. See the entire thing in beautiful high definition video and get your questions in. A couple of ways to get your questions in. Get there… get it to us there on the Web site. 844-814-8144 is our 24 hour call in line. Or we monitor #TBR on Twitter. Jay, we have done this once before. This is our second one.
Jay Curry: That’s right.
Matt Register: Where we have a segment we like to call legends in leadership. These guys are rock stars. These guys are the people who have grown business. Who have exited a business. Who have grown something quite spectacular. We like to bring them in here, because there’s a whole lot of lessons you can learn. When you find somebody that has done it, done it right, very obviously. I always find it fascinating. Get these guys in here, pick their brain a little bit. Figure out what it is that they’ve done, that everybody else hasn’t been able to figure out. And today is no different. So, this segment, we got them here for a couple of segments. The blind man, the head blind man is the CEO and founder of Blinds.com. And we’re going to get to him here in just a second. You host Matt register, in the co-host chair Jay Curry. Jay talked to me.
Jay Curry: So,we’ve done, we’ve done, the legends. This is only our second time but I’m already seeing a trend and I think we’re going to see it here with Jay. And that is culture. Watch what he has to say about culture and culture being key to the success. Your core values, the type of people you hire. That whole thing. I mean there’s huge lessons to be learned from these and I just love them. Because he’s a very successful people and we can all learn from very successful people.
Matt Register: Yep no doubt. Jason Steinfeld is the current CEO and the founder of Blinds.com. Guys, if you’ve ever bought window coverings lately, you have probably bought them from this guy. If you didn’t you probably paid too much. Jay welcome to the show, sir.
Jay Steinfeld: Matt good to be here. Jay thank you.
Matt Register: Talk to me about Blinds.com. What do you do? Who do you do it to?
Jay Steinfeld: We sell blind’s online and been doing it since 1996.
Matt Register: Since 1996 at the very birth of the Internet age.
Jay Steinfeld: We actually started in 1993 was just a little web site for my store. Didn’t sell blind’s online but it was a way to get conversant on it. It was the year before Amazon started and we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We didn’t even know that you could sell things online. But when Amazon started selling books we thought why not, let’s sell some.
Matt Register: If they can sell books on line clearly, we can sell blind’s online. Right?
Jay Steinfeld: Well, not clearly. But it was worth a shot.
Jay Curry: I think it’s a lot harder and it’s amazing that you pull this off so well.
Jay Steinfeld: It is harder but it was an experiment. It wasn’t like we had this vision. There was no vision as to what this could become. It was just a way to potentially get some more prospects, some more leads for our store. And appeal to a different kind of audience. So we just said that it’s worth $3000 experiment. That’s about how much it cost to run in some newspaper ads and that’s how it got started.
Matt Register: So, from a start where the intent was that it was an augment to your brick and mortar store. Has ended up morphing into a very sizable business and a game changer in the home sales of complex purchased items. Right? I mean this is has absolutely changed the game on how a lot of this stuff is bought. Not only blinds but even beyond blinds. But to be able to take a very complex sale. Right? Where, where you have to measure… there’s a lot more to it. It’s not an impulse buy to go buy blinds. To be able to do it online and do it effectively. Walk me through a little bit the timeline on this. Because you didn’t start your career as a blind guy. You started it as a… as an accountant, right?
Jay Steinfeld: Right, I was a CPA got my BBA in accounting from U-T Austin and for about a year and a half I endured being an accountant. And then eventually became V.P. of finance for Meineke Discount Mufflers. The national franchise that was based here in Houston.
Matt Register: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: I got fired from that seven years later when the company came in and bought it. I was doing due diligence. I saw the org chart and my name was not on it.
Matt Register: Because they wanted to bring their own financial people in. Happens occasionally. Right?
Jay Steinfeld: Right. So that was devastating. I can laugh about it now and know it was a great opportunity for me. And my wife was in the blinds business and I decided hey, why not. I want to always be in business and here’s an opportunity to do it. She had a store in West University, in central Houston. I went to Southeast Houston in Clear Lake and started this second store there. Over time we saw the Internet come about. Actually in 1993. Launched that site for the store. A few years later started selling blinds. And then in 2001 we were selling as much online with two employees, as we were with a seven day a week in our original store and it was a lot easier to do it online than the store. I was working seven days a week. I was in my car traveling all over the city. Never saw my, my kids at all. I said “What the hell am I doing”. I need to go online. So, sold the store. Made an acquisition from Florida brought it over here to Houston and went full time. Jumped in and people still looked at me and said “I don’t know what you doing and that can’t work”. I did it. I started and I never stopped.
Matt Register: Well, but I tell you what at that time that was very, very forward thing. Because a lot of people didn’t get the power of the Internet. And the ones that did, ended up being first movers and something that changed the world. Right? Changed everything, changed everybody’s buying habits. How they bought. What was it you saw about the Internet that made you jump so early, when most people didn’t.
Jay Steinfeld: Low cost. And for me I’d not see what the Internet was going to be. I am not a visionary. I’m just a person who was willing to take some chances, small chances, I’m risk averse. This to me wasn’t risky at all. Because I was already making more money online than I was in my store. So, with less time and less cost. So, there were no real barriers of entry for me. So, I wasn’t risking a lot, other than some time. But, of course, with low barriers of entry that meant a lot of other people could do it too. But the market was fairly small. People would never think you could do it. So being a first mover and this was an advantage because nobody thought you could actually do it. Nobody believed I would ever make anything of this. So, I was able to kind of fly under the radar until eventually we were doing pretty significant business. But a lot of the big money never came into it, which was a big help.
Matt Register: Well, but you did figure out how to take a complex buying process and to be able to condense that to where somebody was able to do it online. To be able to educate the customer on what they need to do. To get you the information that you needed to be able to to sell them the right product. Right?
Jay Steinfeld: It is about removing the fear, uncertainty and doubt. Because people are worried, are they going to make a mistake? Will they know how to measure? Can they install? Is the merchandise actually going to be high quality or is it junk? Will I be concerned about putting my credit card online? People didn’t even… banks would not even give me an account because they didn’t know if not having a signature on file, would generate a illegal transaction. That’s what… that’s the way it was. There was no broadband at the time.
Matt Register: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: So we made. We were. We had videos. We had installation videos. It was me actually installing blinds in my bathroom and the videographer was the one that did the voice over. Cost maybe, I don’t know 300 bucks. I did three or four videos on how to install. Each video was maybe 15 seconds.
Matt Register: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: Says blind’s come in the box. All your instructions are they’re put in the brackets. Snipped your blind into the bracket. It’s a no brainer and that’s… that was it. And so we did that, we did testimonials, we had fake testimonials but they were from like Paul Bunyan and Abraham Lincoln. It was funny.
Matt Register: Sure.
Jay Steinfeld: We were having a good time.
Matt Register: Well, I’ll tell you what, the end state of this, as far as Blinds.com was concerned, as you grew up to the point that you ended up selling the home depot…
Jay Steinfeld: Yes.
Matt Register: And in 2014. Yet you continue to run the company. Right?
Jay Steinfeld: That’s correct.
Matt Register: Tell me a little bit about that transition. Because now all of a sudden you’re going from you being the guy that is, and it’s a great problem to have, you being the man in complete control. To all of a sudden you’re part of a much bigger team and a much bigger multinational corporation.
Jay Steinfeld: Yeah, $100 billion multinational corporation.
So, yeah I gave them the keys, I gave them full control. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Because when I was building blinds.com. I had a board, I had investors and at one point I did not have majority control. Back, for the longest time I lost that majority control but I had effective control. Because I was doing a good job. Our numbers were doing well. So, the company became much more valuable as a result of bringing in the outside investors and running it like a professional company with their outside guidance. And so, it was not this shock that all of a sudden I have to report to other people. That training of having a board and a legitimate board that had… who could kick me out, would do me well. I had some investors who were kind of ornery and not particularly cooperative. And I had to learn how to deal with, with them.
Matt Register: No, understand…
Jay Steinfeld: It was good training.
Matt Register: Well if it and if it was easy everybody would do it, right? I mean this is something that’s very complex. Guys we’re talking to Jay Steinfeld who is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com. We got to get… we got a hard break coming up. We’ve got to go pay some bills. But I tell you what. When we come back I want to talk a little bit about the culture of your company. Because that’s really the secret sauce behind all of this, is how you built a culture that allowed you to grow the the way that you did. I want to get a little deeper into that. Guys we’re going to go to a break. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go anywhere.
Jay is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window covering sales that was acquired by The Home Depot in 2014. Jay is a passionate advocate for amazing (and profitable) company culture.
As founder and CEO of Blinds.com, Jay was an early mover in e-Commerce, in 1993 bootstrapping his website built in his garage into the world’s #1 online window covering store. In January, 2014, Blinds.com was acquired by The Home Depot. Jay is still active as CEO, driving and integrating the Blinds.com platform into Home Depot’s interconnected retail strategy.
Jay earned a BBA in Accounting with Honors from the University of Texas in Austin, after which he worked for KPMG Peat, Marwick. Jay is a 10-year member of Vistage International, The Houston Technology Center Tech 100, Houston Jewish Community Center board member, American Leadership Forum, and on The XPRIZE Innovation Board.
He is an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year and writes for Inc. Magazine a column entitled Chief Effective Officer, about becoming a more effective leader. In 2013, was ranked globally as one of the Top 60 CEO’s on Social Media. Jay is an advocate and frequent speaker on how company culture and authentic core values drive profitable growth.