Bob Immerman is the Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at mDesign. mDesign is a global direct-to-consumer digitally-native home decor brand that specializes in kitchen, bath, and smartly designed storage products for the whole house. mDesign is currently the 4th top-selling brand on Amazon’s American Marketplace and can be found in several marketplaces in the US and all over the world. Bob began mDesign in 2015, and leveraged his 45 years of design expertise and success in the home decor design world and mDesign’s sister company, Interdesign, which he founded in 1974. He is currently Interdesign’s Chairman and Chief Innovation Officer. See all of Bob’s trendsetting products and designs at www.mdesignhomedecor.com.
Where did the idea for mDesign come from?
mDesign was a company born out of frustration. I am a product guy and I love the creation side of my business, but never really loved how the business of home decor worked.
Before I created mDesign, I would develop 20 great products for Bed Bath and Beyond for one specific season. We would send them the entire collection and they would pick three of the twenty products to test. The test would get pushed out and of the three tested, they would buy one product to roll out to 1000 stores. The other 19 were great products, but never received a chance!
I realized that via mDesign and the Amazon Marketplace, we could bring those 19 rejected products to life and offer them directly to the consumers. The days that retailers were the exclusive gatekeepers to reaching the consumer were over.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The first order of business when I arrive at the mDesign office every morning is to take a good look at sales from the day or days prior. I look at how mDesign fared overall in both the US and European Amazon Marketplaces. After looking at overall sell-through for all mDesign products in these marketplaces, I specifically look at inventory and primarily at the mDesign product that has been completely sold through. From there, I work with other mDesign executives to manage those inventory levels, and then call out and fix problems we see along with identifying opportunities that we might have in each of the marketplaces. The rest of the day I spend in the studio collaborating with product specialists and using the information received in the morning to help focus mDesign creations on the areas that we need. I use marketplace sell-through everyday to identify the company’s needs and proceed from there.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My favorite tool is Monosnap. It’s an app that lets me do screen captures and annotate them.
Using Monosnap, I can see things that most cannot and identify opportunity more quickly. It also helps me show others what I am seeing from the product standpoint. I see ideas for new products everywhere and Monosnap helps me gather intel for my ideas and make sense of it all. Monosnap Images give me ideas that I then capture and pass to the design team.
We draw up all mDesign products on CAD and quickly move to prototype and production.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The key is not to focus on what excites me, but to focus on what excites the mDesign customer. I love looking at sales results for new products. How are consumers responding? The ultimate compliment is consumers actually ordering products. I also love reviews. It further connects me to what they like, want, and need. That informs next steps in mDesign’s product development.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I see things others don’t. I don’t need focus groups. My experience is long and vast. I have already shot the tball for many years. A good percentage of my shots go directly into the basket. If I had to pick a number I would say roughly 80 percent of my baskets swish. My experience allows mDesign’s products to skip many of the classic, time-consuming steps usually taken in the life of a product in development.. We skip steps and run the fast break, to keep with the extended basketball metaphor. We shoot the ball more and score more points sooner and faster as a result.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust your instincts. It took me a while to become comfortable in making product decisions. Ultimately, I learned not to overthink and just take the chance, however outside-of-the-box it might have been!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The traditional model of the way to DTC success was to have a brand site with traffic driven via PR, Instagram, Facebook and tons and tons of paid advertising – fueled by rounds and rounds of VC money. Oh yes, and Amazon is the enemy.
Then, one day it all clicked. Amazon was not the enemy at all; quite the opposite. Finally, I saw Amazon as the most effective way to eliminate friction and efficiently reach the consumer. And the quickest way to do it at scale in the USA, Europe and beyond. Amazon shouldn’t be viewed as the enemy, rather Amazon is an opportunity and I am proud to chart mDesign’s trajectory and see how intricately Amazon’s role has become in our growth and expansion.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I have stayed malleable throughout my career and reinvented myself time and time again when it was necessary. The path from the analogue 1970s start-up business all the way to the year 2015 and creating mDesign, a very big digital company, required constant adaptation to new realities.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Always listen to your customer. Early on, I created reports to watch for retailer reorder trends by item. Selling into a store was excellent….but seeing a reorder was better. That told me the consumer was pulling out their wallet and voting with their hard-earned money. This told me if I was on the right track.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I started InterDesign (the brick-and-mortar, companion business to mDesign Global) with one product in mind, but switched to a variant because it was easier to make. It failed. I went back to the original idea and haven’t looked back. My initial instinct was right. Over the years, I have learned to trust my instincts.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The business would be called Inventory Control. The proprietary technology created for the business would almost be like a chip that you plant in a pet in order to never lose them, but for your furniture. Each would be assigned a unique code setting and each could be implanted into all of your design pieces for the season and you would never lose or have another thing stolen from you as a business owner or a consumer. The software would be set up and codes would be passed on to their intended owner, so that person could keep track of their belongings from the moment of purchase.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Bought some super high-quality name brand AA and AAA batteries I had originally put Amazon batteries into my Apple Keyboard and they rapidly corroded. It serves to remind me that even if Amazon slaps their name on a product, it still might not be that good.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Again, I love Monosnap. It’s perfect for my work at mDesign. It’s a simple app that lets me do targeted screen captures. I can then annotate it, and add graphics. This helps me show others what I am seeing and how various data connects.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Design of Everyday Things
By Don Norman
Thoughts on Design (1974)
By Paul Rand
What is your favorite quote?
‘Form follows function’ and ‘God is in the details.’
When you are developing products, all the little stuff matters and you need to make it work!
- Focus on what excites your customer.
- Trust your Instincts.
- When Amazon puts their name on it, it does not guarantee it’s the best product.
- God is in the ‘mDesign product’ details.