mediocre laboratories

Woot’s Founding Team Returns As Mediocre Laboratories To Experiment With E-Commerce

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A little more than a year after Woot founder Matt Rutledge left the revolutionary daily deals company he sold to Amazon, he’s bringing the team back together to hack e-commerce once again. The new company, called “a mediocre corporation,” is being designed to build up and test out new ways of selling products to customers online.

Mediocre brings together a number of folks from the founding team behind Woot, the long-running e-commerce site that created the daily deals category of online commerce. That includes Matt’s brother Dave Rutledge, who served as the company’s creative lead, as well as lead developer Shawn Miller, both of whom left Amazon in May. Also joining them are former Woot CFO Derek Chapin and IT director Luke Duff.

“We really tried to lower expectations with the brand,” Rutledge told me. The team drew inspiration from Ev Williams and Biz Stone’s Obvious Corporation, but since “obvious” was taken, they decided to set the bar low with “mediocre” instead.

Launched in 2004, Woot made one item available for sale every day. The site started with consumer electronics — putting a limited number of TVs, PCs, and other items on sale for well below their usual price. It also garnered a following for selling a monthly “Bag of Crap” made up of leftover inventory and (sometimes) office supplies.

Over time, the offers improved and inventory began selling out in minutes. And before long, Woot began introducing new vertical categories with which it could make new items available. Then Woot hit the big time in 2010, as it was acquired by Amazon.com for $110 million.

The Amazon deal helped Woot to reach massive scale, but it also meant that some of the things that made it great (like focusing on one deal a day) began to fade away. As Amazon added more categories and items, the original reason to visit Woot — i.e. to find out what’s on sale and grab it quick — disappeared.

With that all behind them, the guys are ready to test out new models of selling goods online, through a series of “experiments” that the company will incubate through its “Mediocre Laboratories” division. Each of those experiments will have its own consumer-facing site, which will test out some hypothesis or online business model.

Structuring the operation that way will give Mediocre the ability to be nimble and try different things out — something that it wasn’t really able to do at Woot. Given the constraints of “one deal per day,” as well as the subdomain structure that it set up when it launched new categories, Woot didn’t give itself too much wiggle room to experiment.

This time things will be different. The company currently has about a dozen employees, with its headquarters in Dallas, and the team already has some ideas for what it wants to build. Rutledge wouldn’t give me a timeline for the first launch of an experiment or an estimate of how much time will be spent on each.

That said, what they do know is that they will be very transparent and seek input from the community — you know, the way Woot used to. The first thing that the company will build is a forum, where its customers and users will be able to make suggestions for things that it can build and provide feedback on experiments that are currently in progress. Back in the day, it was the sense of community that really set Woot apart. Well, that and the hilarious descriptions of the items it put up for sale. That creative touch will be back as well.

Regardless of what they might come up with, at least we know it’s not going to be boring.