Overstock.com Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs
Brigham Young University Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
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How did you get to where you are today? What is your story? What incidents and experiences shaped your career path?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
I would say, I have a little bit of an unorthodox path to getting where I am today and it's actually a really good lesson for students. I started out my career with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, I was working on asbestos litigation reform, doing econometric modeling there. I had always envisioned myself, at some point going to law school. I was getting ready to leave the committee because I was engaged and needed to join my fiancee in Utah for a year before moving on and going to law school or whatever the next phase of my career would be and landed at Overstock who happened to be lobbying the committee at the time to tread water for a few months until we were ready to move on to a new location. I got involved in the early days of something called Web Analytics, which was tracking and analyzing what goes on on a website, finding ways to improve the business accordingly. And as I did so, I discovered I really loved that segment of the industry because we just had much better data than anybody else has and much more to work with and so I continued chasing that and ended up finding a great career for myself in the analytics and e-commerce strategy space and I would never have envisioned that but I followed the opportunities that were available. I think the key in all of it was and it's part of Overstock hiring philosophy, "Don't think of yourself as having a specific rule or a position in your career path. Don't think of yourself as an analyst. Don't think of yourself as a supply chain guy. Don't think of yourself as Human Resources. Think of yourself as a skill set". In my case, I was good at solving problems with data that's what I was doing at the Judiciary Committee with asbestos litigation reform but that was also the same thing I was doing with Web analytics in e-commerce and so think about what your skill set is, what package of abilities you bring to bear for an employer and think about, how did I maximize a career using that skill set not a career and a position, and that gives you the flexibility to follow and chase opportunity without siloing yourself into a fixed career vertical in a given company.

What were the responsibilities and decisions that you handled at work? What were your working hours like?

Based on experience at: Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs, Overstock.com
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
So my responsibilities, I manage a strategy group, formerly I also managed all of the analytics resources. The responsibilities that revolve around that are really any time there's any problem in the business, we're a data-driven company, and so we're looking for analytics and data to solve the problem and so I have to be prepared to jump in wherever the fire is the hottest to try and find data-driven solutions and make sure we're adequately resourced, prepared to handle the challenges that are emerging. The working hours accordingly are kind of volatile. There are some days where I can get away with a six-hour workday. There are some days where I need a 12-hour workday and I just have to be prepared for that volatility and prepared to respond when things were needed. But also, when I'm not needed, have the discipline to step away from work and go and spend time with family and do the other things that need to be done in life. So I have to be prepared. The work is very volatile and so I have to be prepared to jump in and when there's a fire, work extended days, 10 or 12 hours, but also have the discipline not to do that when there isn't a fire and take the time out for family and all the other things in life and so in that regard, it's somewhat volatile how that workday plays out, and I think that's true for most executives.

What qualities did you look for when hiring? How did you interview candidates?

Based on experience at: Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs, Overstock.com
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
So in my position, we have both sort of objective criteria for hiring candidates as well as more subjective criteria on the objective side a good analyst and somebody who is going to excel in the analytics field typically needs three attributes. One is mathematical proficiency and that could be tested objectively. Another is your technical proficiency, databases and you need to be prepared to work in spreadsheets or in R or in SQL or whatever the proper coding language or systems are for the kind of role you are in and we can test each of those things objectively and finally, logical reasoning, there is an element, there are those who are great at math who, when given sort of a logic problem, can really struggle and so we also need to make sure you have the logical reasoning to apply the math to the business problems accurately and to translate business objectives into mathematical equations. So those three things we test for objectively when we're doing the hiring. You don't need to be great at all of those things. Some roles require one more than another. In some cases, if you have great logical reasoning and great math, we can teach you the technical skills or vice versa but we test for all three of those to find where you're strong. In terms of interviewing candidates we are really interviewing to find out one cultural compatibility, are you assertive enough to really push the data and make sure that the business is acting on what you learn and understand as well as can you take good direction and extract needs out of the business to turn around and solve through data. And then finally, from an interviewing standpoint, we're also testing to make sure that you have the right social skills to be able to take the insights you find and convince people to follow them and adopt the practices that you uncover.

How did you inspire and motivate your team-members? How did you foster creative thinking? How were ideas shared and implemented?

Based on experience at: Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs, Overstock.com
Summarized By: Jyotsana Gupta on Wed May 13 2020
So when we find the right kinds of candidates, people who are driven by solving problems with data really are motivated by seeing their work brought into practice so that's the biggest point for me in terms of inspiring and motivating my team is making sure they feel like, one that they're heard and listen to and appreciated but two that they have a real chance when they do great work of that work actually changing consumers habits and experiences and when they can see their work actually make concrete changes in the business that really drives the kind of people were looking for. I really work hard to make sure that our analysts understand data drives the business and data is a center of the business and if you're doing good data-driven problem solving, you're really going to move the results of the company in a material way. In terms of fostering creative thinking, we do something that I call painting for a goal time. In the analytic space, you get a lot of requests from the business saying, "I need a report that tells me if this initiative I'm doing is successful" or "I have this problem and I need a way to solve it" painting for goal time is really more about starting in the data and finding the business improvements in the business hypotheses out of the data. So you can think of it almost as inductive versus deductive reasoning. And we want to make sure that the analysts have time to rather than taking orders, have some period of time where they're able to proactively search the data and try and find business insight unrequested from the business because if the business knew what it was doing wrong, it would have already done something to solve it and so it's finding problems here in the data that the business can tackle together with the analysts and that really helps foster the creativity and make sure that the analysts are playing a more proactive role in driving the business.

How did you set targets for your team-members? How did you measure their progress? How did you incentivize them to meet their targets?

Based on experience at: Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs, Overstock.com
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
So one of the ways that we have our analysts' incentive is that they're embedded with active business units, and if they're doing their work well, the business unit itself improves. So, for example, if I am the analyst embedded with email marketing, I may get an objective where and it may emerge out of when I was talking about terms of painting for the gold time of, say, the open rate for emails in our abandoned cart email isn't as good as we would have hoped. And so if they discover that, will then give them the objective to improve that target and that measure so they need a higher percentage of people who receive an abandoned cart email to open it and then they work with the business unit to actively test and experiment around the subject line or around the copy or around the time that we send those emails and then they're evaluated based on how well they make improvements there. And then we have a bonus incentive plan around those teams where they capture a bonus around some percentage of the improvements they're able to make beyond their financial plans and the analysts participate in that in terms of performance improvements.

What major challenges did you face in your job? Can you discuss a few accomplishments, and challenges that you overcame and felt proud of?

Based on experience at: Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs, Overstock.com
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
One of the challenges we face is that you really want to make sure that as an analytics organization that both the analysts and the business feel ownership for what they're doing. If the business feels like analytics is dictating something to them, they're going to resent it, and you're not going to get good cooperation. If the analysts feel like the business is dictating strategy to them, they're not going to do their best work, not going to be creative and innovative. And so it's a management challenge to make sure from both the business side and the analytics side that people are really bodying on what they're doing and feel ownership for their work and that, they feel that they own the result of the business and not just the process. I think lots of major business problems come out of the fact that people feel ownership around executing a process, but not that the process has the right output. And so, a concrete example we had years ago, business unit, where the business was giving the analysts a steady stream of reporting work to report back on initiatives that they were doing. But they were just taking the feedback and using it as a checkpoint to say the process is still on track. And this particular business unit, they were working on returns and the returns number remained the same for years, and returns didn't go up, but they didn't go down so the analysts became a sort of order takers and no longer were an active part of the business strategy. We worked really hard with that team because as we gain scale and improve the size of the business, we would ideally like to see those costs going down, not just going sideways, to start diving deep and have the analysts identify areas where the business had either degenerated and underperformed or where we were seeing improvement and where we thought those best practices could be spread. But then they gave those insights through to the individual managers of those segments of the business in order to execute on and improve and rather than the analyst being recognized, we went through and then reported on those results of those business managers improving their programs. But the analyst was able to do that and kept in the meeting, calling out the results in the improvements, and by doing so, they were able to have both the analysts and the business unit being given credit for their success and being recognized for their achievements.

What strategies or approaches did you find to be effective in working with coworkers, customers, suppliers, investors, or other stakeholders?

Based on experience at: Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs, Overstock.com
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
One is encouraging ownership. We have what we call an accountability culture here, where everybody tries to own a number an objective measure and your job is to improve it and it's not always a bottom-line measure. If you are a customer service agent you're not being held responsible for the profit of the customers you work with, but you are held responsible for how often are you able to complete their problem or solve their problem on the first call or how long do you have to leave them on hold while you resolve their issues? Or measures like that, that measure the customer satisfaction of the customers' you're talking to, and we want everybody to have one of those measures and what gets measured gets improved. And so wherever you find a problem, whether it's with a supplier or co-worker or stakeholder in an initiative if you start measuring and publicly reporting your success on that measure, that measure gets improved.

What was the hiring process like for your job? What were the roles of people who interviewed you? What questions were asked and how did you answer them?

Based on experience at: Senior Vice President of Analytics and oLabs, Overstock.com
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
So I first came to Overstock almost 12 years ago as an entry-level analyst. The process for me was a number of questions trying to figure out what my skill set looks like. What were my competencies as an individual because they liked me and thought I could be productive for them. But they wanted to understand what's the best fit. And how do I best integrate into the organization at the most value so, that interview really focused around teasing that out around understanding what my skill set was rather than what my fit was in the role and then making sure that my work environment was structured to leverage that skill set and add a lot of value. Additionally, we did have a lot of sort of objective testing, understanding logical reasoning, understanding technical proficiency to make sure I could complete the objectives that we're going to be given to me. People who interviewed me at the time I was doing Web analytics and so they were both something called a product manager that's the person in charge of sort of the roadmap for building a piece of software and in this case, the software was the shopping website as well as our marketing personnel to understand how well I could evaluate the effectiveness of the marketing that's feeding traffic into that website and how well that's being utilized?

How did the program prepare you for your career? (This may include courses, advising, exposure, career resources, career events, class visits, networking and so on)

Based on experience at: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Brigham Young University
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
The things I would encourage. I studied political science, which one might look at and say is very unrelated to what I do and after a fashion it is. But this gets back to the point around building a skill set and not a job title. In political science, I knew I wanted to be involved in analytics and quantitative work and I would actually encourage anyone with an interest in the business to build that skill set. If you want to be involved in the business, build your quantitative reasoning, your logical reasoning, your logical problem solving those are the skills that will make you successful in business and the rest can largely be picked up along the way. But make sure that the work that you do if you're not in a specialized field is the kind of work that builds those general utility skill sets that can be applied in the career you want to pursue.

Do you have any parting advice for young professionals? Is there anything you would have done differently in your life?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed May 13 2020
I would have probably spent more time in quantitative work if I had it all to do it again. The professional world 15 years ago is totally obsolete now. Increasingly, math and machines are taking over roles that used to be done through human management and human decisions, and that's only going to accelerate from here. And so the better grasp you have of those skills, the more prepared you are for the new economy. Technical proficiency, quantitative proficiency, and good logical reasoning are the foundation of most fields today. I spent a good portion of my career in marketing, the old world of Mad Men Marketing is gone. The art director has to have quantitative abilities now and so as that world increasingly lapses being prepared for the new economy instead of the economy of 10 years ago is probably the most critical thing you could do at this stage in your career.