You can’t keep Matt Rutledge down. At least not for long.
And goddammit, if he wants to sell you one item a day at an unbelievably discounted price, and to accompany that item with irreverent and sometimes nonsensical marketing copy that will make you decide to buy it (or maybe not), then he’s going to do that.
Rutledge, who founded e-commerce site Woot a decade ago and is generally considered the granddaddy of the daily deal, is back and ready to do it all over again. He and his team of Mediocre employees returning to do another flash sales site which will have basically the same concept as that previous endeavor.
But while the Woot! name carried all the irrational exuberance that came with what was once a daily online event centered around the commercial transaction involving one single piece of merchandise being sold, the new site — Meh — reflects the feelings of an e-commerce veteran who has been on the inside and knows just how the sausage is made. (Note: Rutledge’s ‘Meh’ is not in any way associated with the Meh app currently being created by TechCrunch editor-at-large Mike Butcher.)
“After going through the experience of being acquired by the largest and best online retailer, you see the worst of the industry,” Rutledge told me by phone. “The inside-the-industry view is not that enjoyable, and you don’t view the industry with the allure that you did once you’re in it.”
Rutledge, of course, sold his baby to Amazon in a nine-figure deal back in 2010. That sale made him fabulously wealthy, but it also thrust him deep into the Amazon machine. And the view wasn’t pretty. (For more on that, check out this excellent profile of Rutledge in local publication D Magazine.)
For one thing, there was a fundamental lack of understanding about what Woot was, or tried to be… what made it work, why it attracted a million visitors a day. Its fundamental raison d’etre.
And there was the way that Amazon kept trying to optimize the fun out of Woot, how it tried to make sense of metrics that Woot didn’t care about, how it kept adding more things for sale, and more ways to reach potential buyers. By the time Rutledge left Amazon — two years into a three-year contract — Woot was a far cry from the site he founded.
So he sat out his non-compete and eventually assembled a team, made up in part by some of the folks who were on the founding team of Woot. And they created a new company called “Mediocre Laboratories” focused on running a series of e-commerce experiments.
Meh will be one of those experiments. But it will be one that the team is already pretty familiar with.
In a lot of ways, it is a return to the founding principles behind Woot, but with the intent to keep it pure, to keep it from becoming bogged down by the pursuit of commerce. It will present one item for sale a day, nothing more, nothing less.
Along with that item, Meh intends to host a video description of what’s for sale that’s designed to be brutally honest, including what’s good about it and what’s bad about it.
Other than that, the Meh team doesn’t plan to do any marketing. No daily email newsletters, no posting on social networks like Facebook. If buyers show up at the website, it’ll be because they want to see what’s for sale, not because they were sent some crappy e-mail.
“In many ways Meh is our own view of retail,” Rutledge said. It’s not going to be a site for everyone, but he tells me “we really like selling to reluctant shoppers or people who don’t like being pitched to.”
You can probably expect goods for sale across a number of categories — not just consumer electronics. That said, there are no plans for Meh to launch a series of different verticals or subdomains in the way that Woot did.
And hey, if they don’t want to buy something, there will be a “Meh” button to let them show their disinterest. And forums, for angry purchasers and non-purchasers to complain about whatever’s for sale on a given day.
While the planning for Meh has been underway for a while, and the domain was purchased about a year ago for the sum of $100,000, the team still decided to do a short Kickstarter campaign. With less than a day left to go, that campaign is now oversubscribed, although you can buy early access to the site for $1.
Considering initial interest from Kickstarter, it seems likely that Meh could replicate that same success of Woot, even if Rutledge isn’t counting on it.
“We’re taking a ‘build it and hope someone comes’ approach,” Rutledge tells me. The team is targeting a mid-July launch of Meh, which will help iron out some of the site’s bugs. “We want it to work at least in the half-assed state that we’re used to,” he says.
It sounds like a plan, from someone who’s been there, and done that.
But then again, what’s that thing they say about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?