Jody Sherman – CEO and Co-Founder of ecomom.com

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Jody Sherman co-founded ecomom.com in 2009 out of a desire to help moms with the myriad decisions they face on a daily basis.  Sherman felt that helping them sort through the confusing and often misleading information about what is safe to put in, on, and around their families would be the best way to help effect change that would be good for children and also good for the planet. Since its founding, ecomom has evolved into the leading e-commerce web site and brand dedicated to educating and assisting women and families with products, services, information, and support about how to instill eco-friendly living into their daily lives.

Before co-founding ecomom, Sherman served as Co-Founder and Executive VP at Virgin Charter, Inc., an online air charter service. Prior to this venture, Sherman spent time managing business and corporate development, fundraising, mergers and acquisitions work, and much more. He was an executive for companies like Andojo  (a venture capital fund focused on Internet and information technology companies), ClairMail (a business computer software company), The Groove Alliance (a videogame development platform), Comedy World (a media syndication company), Xoom and its later iteration, NBCi (an early Internet venture from the NBC broadcast network), BuyDirect (an Internet e-tailer), Internet search engine company Lycos, and others.  Before those senior positions, Sherman was a sales manager for several technology-oriented companies after launching his career with a start up cellular telephone company he founded, shortly after leaving the United States Navy.

Jody actively advises and invests in early-stage startups and has done so since the mid 90′s.

What are you working on right now?

We just relaunched ecomom — new software, look and feel, brand identity, and more.  It’s like living in a really great house for the past 2 years and thinking of all the ways you could make it even better.  You meet with the architects and designers, plan everything out, and then right before everything is done you move back in.  Then you look around and think “I don’t like that wall color” or “what if we moved this over here?”  I am spending a lot of my time working with our team to complete the remaining tweaks and fine-tuning everything; we are powering through this list at an amazing rate.  At the same time, we’ve come up with several new features that will make things even better for our customers.

My team is amazing and they just don’t stop.  They are so dedicated to making our customers happy that some of my time is just spent supporting them.  I believe a big part of a leader’s job is to clear roadblocks that interfere with personal and team wins.

Another thing on which I am spending my time is our incredible new customer engagement and loyalty program that we’re designing.  We’re just beginning coding and I can’t wait until it launches.  Our customers are going to LOVE it!

What does your typical day look like?

I usually wake up between 5:45 and 6:15, feed the dogs, kiss my wife, and get into the office by 7:15.  I’ll spend the first 30 minutes clearing any emails that require my attention.  I like to get in before anyone else because my alone time is the most productive.  Without interruptions, I can get several hours of work done in less time than seems possible even to me.  Once our team arrives there are the occasional meetings — I’m not big on meetings and since we are all very collaborative, there is seldom a need for scheduled meetings except our weekly staff meeting, my twice monthly one-on-one meetings with each team member, and ad hoc product or marketing discussions that require several of our team.

Other than dealing with things as they come throughout the day (product & marketing decisions, business development, PR, communications, etc.) I am focused on four key things: setting the vision and making certain we are focused on executing our agreed upon plan, developing and supporting our team, accelerating our growth, and fund raising.  I try to get in a work out at least 4 out of 5 weekdays and then it’s dinner with my wife around 8.  After dinner, I’ll spend another hour wrapping up the day’s business and then I’m reading.  I read everything from world and financial news, to business-related information, to blogs, and much more.  I am a content junkie and love to learn about almost any topic.  After that, I hang out with my wife and our dogs and try to be in bed by 12:30 or 1 at the latest.  The only real deviation from this is when there are dinners or events that I need to attend or when I am traveling on business.

3 trends that excite you?

The cost to develop software and the speed at which one can develop is allowing entrepreneurs to start companies very cost effectively.  This excites me a great deal.

I love that ecommerce is hot again!  I’ve always been drawn to the intersection of ecommerce and finding a solution to a real problem. Selling that solution to someone who has legitimate needs is my passion and a major reason why I was drawn to the Internet in the first place.  It allows me to build a company that can reach national scale.

The Internet has enabled a level of transparency of information that can change the world.  The power shift that comes with transparency brings both good and bad, but I believe mostly good comes from this.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I speak them into existence.  I talk with enough people about my idea to help it evolve to the point where I feel it is ready to blossom and then I give it away to the people who have taken responsibility for its birth.  Then I stay out of the way while our team executes.  I am not one who micro-manages so once someone has taken responsibility for an idea, my job is to let him or her do it and help make it easy for him or her to do so.

What inspires you?

So many things: travel, surfing, building companies, helping other entrepreneurs, finding the humor in almost any situation, helping my friends, proving that “can’t” isn’t something you want to say to me.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

I shouldn’t try to solve problems that no one actually knows they have.  Every time I’ve looked at a company purely as an opportunity to make money, rather than opportunity to be an agent for change, I’ve been disappointed.  Trying to market to someone that they are in pain and then have to market the solution to their pain – has felt empty to me.

A previous company in which I was involved was a glaring example of this.  We had a legitimate solution to a really big problem.  The only thing was, no one knew they had the problem.  If I had the opportunity in a one-on-one situation to explain it to them, they would immediately agree with me but then go back to doing exactly what they were doing prior.  The missionary work necessary to get them to not only agree that they were in pain, but to take our “pain killer” was more trouble than it was worth.  So I guess the real lesson was: “sell antibiotics instead of pain killers.”  It’s also informed how I look at investments now.  I only consider a company (for investment or my involvement) if it meets the following:

1.    It solves a real problem
2.    People know they have the problem
3.    There is a big enough market opportunity that solving the problem can support the development of a very large business
4.    I’m the right person (not necessarily the only person, but a great fit) for the role I am being asked to play

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

This isn’t a specific business idea, but has repeatedly helped me break through and originate some great new ideas. Take a few days away from the office and go do something that inspires you.  Turn off your computer and go outside.  Ignore your email.  Realize that the world continues to rotate on its axis while you aren’t checking your Facebook.  Do something good for your body and your mind instead of your wallet. You will come back inspired, refreshed and with new ideas for how to solve an existing problem or possibly a new one for you to tackle.

What do you read every day? Why?

Email, twitter, and our Facebook page, because it gives me near real-time info about our customers and our overall business.  Tech and business news because I want to be up to date on issues or topics that are either of interest to me personally or that could affect our business in some way.  World news because I think it is my responsibility to know more than just about my little corner of the world.  The surf report so that I can remind myself that there is more to life than just work.  Now if I could actually take my own advice and go surfing, that might be an even better way to prove this to myself!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

This is a very tough question.  I like to read biographies of our presidents. Love or hate a particular president, at one point in their life, they were in a position of such power and responsibility and I believe you can learn a lot from their lives and stories.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

My iPhone.  Although it’s not the world’s greatest phone, everything else for which I need it, it does quite well.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Clark Landry of Graph Effect.

Why a company for moms, you don’t even have any kids?

I don’t think you need to be a parent to care about the next generation.  All around me, I see and hear of children who have allergies and issues that were unheard of when I was growing up.  So many of these problems are environmental — we’ve done this to ourselves.  The evidence repeatedly shows that removing extraneous ingredients and chemicals from things that go in, on, and around your children and family can make a significant impact on personal well-being, not to mention the planet as a whole.

When I was looking for a new company to start, I kept seeing moms everywhere as I walked around Venice and Santa Monica. For some reason, I paid attention to them and once I did, I kept seeing them everywhere I went, but in a whole new way.  They were stopping and talking to each other and so often it was clear that they had never previously met.  Just because they had a shared experience — motherhood — they were in a club and their membership never expires.

So I started speaking with them and asked them what they were talking about.  They told me many things but one thing that stuck with me was that they are always making product recommendations.  I began looking at their shopping behavior everywhere I went.  I picked through their grocery carts and shopping bags.  I asked them questions about how they chose what they purchased and what their biggest concerns were.  They were so willing to speak with me and I was very appreciative that they let me inside their heads.  The universal concern for new moms was “how do I know this is safe for my baby” and that looked like an opportunity that inspired me.  I feel that it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to leave the planet in better shape than when we got here and also to do our part to teach people that healthy choices really can be easy choices.

Did you really find a newborn infant on your front porch?

I did!  In 1998, I was at a meeting on Sand Hill Road and afterwards decided to go home instead of back to my office in San Francisco.  I was working from home that afternoon and at some point, I heard very loud crying just outside my house.  I ignored it for a few seconds but it just got louder. I went to the door and looked through the peephole, expecting to see a mom walking with her baby.  Instead, I saw nothing but while there, I heard the crying again. I opened the door and looked around and saw nothing.  But then I looked down!  There was a newborn baby, lying naked on a sweatshirt, torn umbilical cord, covered in placenta.  It was unreal!  I grabbed the baby and started dialing.  While speaking with the 911 operator, I got my neighbor and we administered first aid.  A few minutes later the paramedics arrived and the baby was taken to the hospital.  It was a very strange day that culminated in several interviews with the media, a lot of anger and confusion because I couldn’t understand how someone could do this, and ultimately a plaque from the mayor.

Connect:

Jody Sherman on Facebook - www.facebook.com/jodysherman
Ecomom on Facebook - www.facebook.com/ecomom
Jody Sherman on LinkedIn -  http://www.linkedin.com/in/jodysherman
Jody Sherman on About.me -  http://about.me/jodysherman
Jody Sherman on Twitter –  www.twitter.com/jodysherman
Ecomom on Twitter - www.twitter.com/ecomomceo

Jody Sherman has passed away. But we’re keeping this interview live to honor his legacy. Rest in peace Jody.

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