Interview with Firas Kittaneh (One Mall Group)
I interviewed Firas Kittaneh, One Mall Group co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the second in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Firas!
Describe yourself in three words.
Passion drives everything.
Tell us a bit about your background. What made you decide to set up One Mall Group?
I was on track to become a medical doctor. There was an intense itch to create something larger that went beyond myself. I wanted to create jobs, not just have a job. I wanted to create something sustainable which delivers incredible value and service. I wanted to be learning for the rest of my life. Being an Internet Entrepreneur, which is a constantly changing field, forces me to stay nimble and on my toes. We’re still little babies swimming in the huge internet, and its very much the Wild West – it can be very scary, exciting, overwhelming and yet empowering all within the span of a few minutes!
In your experience, what’s the best way of choosing a supplier?
Remember, they work for you, too… so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Be honest about business problems so you can work them out together with your supplier. They rely on you to bring in sales just as much as you rely on them to deliver the product. Never forget that you’re in a symbiotic relationship, where everyone is helping each other to succeed.
At One Mall Group, we’re never in competition with our suppliers. We are successful because we make it clear that we’re all looking out for each other, all the way from the manufacturer, to the supplier, to the retailer to the customer. It’s an inclusive, positive relationship where everyone can win.
Has One Mall Group got the growth you expected?
My expectations are very high so I’m tempted to say no. But if you travelled back in time and found the younger me and said “This is what you’ll be doing in 6 years,” there’s no way I would have believed you.
Where do you see One Mall Group in another 6 years time?
I want to discover new talent through crowd-sourcing, help bring this raw talent to a big market that they can’t reach on their own, into the retail stores and on the big box shelves.”
What do you think the e-commerce industry will look like in another 6 years?
Crowdsourcing is taking over. Small-time designers can get a million hits overnight with a breakthrough product. People everywhere vote on the design and give instant feedback to the designer.
The supply chain is going to change in a big way. eCommerce sites will be able to know right away what’s hot and what’s not, based on the amount of social attention a new product gets. Hopefully this means a lot less waste, because we’ll know a product is hot BEFORE we bother to stock it in our warehouse.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?
I shut down our flagship retail store even though it was profitable. I knew without question the internet was going to dominate the marketplace. Looking back it seems silly, but 15 years ago nobody would have predicted the sheer volume of money passing through the ‘net. The single decision to shut down our retail store and concentrate our efforts online eliminated hundreds of headaches in one fell move. It let us avoid the hassles of dealing with running a brick-and-mortar outlet. There is no question that it took us to the next level. We were able to focus ALL of our energy towards the online customer experience, which exploded our growth.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Getting customers to pay for high-priced items without touching and seeing them in person has always been our biggest hurdle. Luckily, we’ve become experts at showing them “virtually”.
Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were both were doing very well and worked together in Edison’s company. But Ford was so focused on his own inventions, he was forced to leave his job and file for bankruptcy. He just kept going. Almost exactly one year later his invention – the Ford Motorcar – broke the land speed record. The press he got helped him launch Ford Motors.
He was driven by an intense passion for his product, putting everything else aside to build the best product he could dream of. It helped him build a company that has stood strong for over 104 years. If he’d let a little thing like bankruptcy stand in his way, this story would have been a lot less interesting.
As an entrepreneur and e-commerce expert, what advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?
Build value into your brand. No matter what you sell, you are in the CUSTOMER business. Your job is not to sell things, it’s to create evangelists… people so incredibly happy with your company they rave to their friends and family.
Don’t sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself and don’t cut corners. Make something you are proud to put your name and face on! You can’t convince people to buy a lousy product, no matter how great your web site is, and it’s 1000 times harder if you don’t believe in the product yourself.
And have fun. Create the ideal job for yourself. If something doesn’t “feel” right, do it differently and do it the way that makes you feel good about building a business. Make sure your employees love their work, too!
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I think that the next evolution of the internet will be more and more high-resolution 3D graphics inside a regular browser. Instead of browsing flat pictures on a store’s web site, you are transported INTO their store in 3D, thumbing through racks of clothes or virtually picking up a pair of shoes. Later, we’ll be able to create a digital version of ourselves and our homes so we can see, “What will this couch look like in MY living room?” It’s coming sooner than we think, with advances in WebGL and the newest HTML5 standards.
What should we look out for from One Mall Group in 2013?
Shopping in 3D. :-D
Finished reading? Check out One Mall Group!