Pets.com. eToys. Garden.com. One by one, the giant online retail stores fell and sold their assets, until Amazon.com seemed to be the last man standing. Furniture.com was one of the fallen. A force once estimated to be worth $255 million with a coveted Web address and 248 employees, it was the Internet's most trafficked home-décor site. But before the end, Furniture.com was laying off workers, having problems paying vendors and receiving Better Business Bureau complaints. Joining the company in 1998, the same year it was founded, Carl Prindle, 34, was a senior vice president when Furniture.com fell. Now, as CEO, he's bringing the company back with some of the old management team and some new faces.
Why would you want to go through this again?
Carl Prindle: We felt at the end of the company's run we had finally begun to make significant changes. [Customer] satisfaction levels had gone way up, and we were starting to turn the corner. Believe me, from an emotional perspective, it took a lot of soul-searching to decide to start the business again, but it was clear we had a very different plan. A lot of people said, "What in the world are you thinking?" But the people who really knew me understood how passionate I was about Furniture.com. And if you're going to run a business, you'd better be passionate about it.
But passion isn't enough. What did you learn from your mistakes?
Prindle: You need a plan, of course. The biggest difference in our plan now is growth. In our first year, we went from the bottom of more than 21,000 furniture retail stores to the 67th largest by the time we shut down. In the first quarter of our second year, we were bringing in $20 million. In this model, we've scaled back the operation . . . and by partnering with large retailers, we couple our ability to sell furniture online with established brands and proven distribution capabilities. Internet entrepreneurs are also getting a little more balanced. We invested ourselves professionally and emotionally, and a lot of entrepreneurs who had Internet businesses that didn't work out are still taking a little more time before jumping back into things.
So you're working 9 to 5 now and taking weekends off?
Prindle: Um, no. I'm still working just about as hard as ever.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.