First Movers: Stephen Mader

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STEPHEN MADER is on a mission to help brands fix the boring stuff that powers their profitable eCommerce growth. He currently leads POTOO’s Strategy & Insights team where he advises global businesses on protecting their brand as they accelerate through digital marketplaces.

Prior to that he was brand side at LEGO leading its global eCommerce COE focused on driving innovation and capabilities with retail partners. Steve began his career at Kantar where he built the digital insights team and eventually led the digital commerce strategy practice.  

Why did you choose to pursue eCommerce in your career? Two Answers: 

  1. How I got Started: Giant tech nerd + undergrad in economics + tech accelerator MBA = eCommerce analyst
  2. Why I stayed: eCommerce has so many different POVs that the opportunity to explore, solve, and grow is never ending. Creative-led facebook campaigns into single product dropship Shopify stores? sweet! Robots prowling the sidewalks hoping to not get tipped over by drunk university students? Give me some of that! Brand accelerators to solve the future of snacking? Heck yea! We’re all incredibly lucky that we get to play for a living. 

What is your biggest strength, and how have you used it for your success in eCommerce? I love figuring out how things work. It’s why I’ve always gravitated to working with large brands on their digital commerce strategy – it’s a giant expanding puzzle that has an ever increasing amount of pieces to find. eCommerce growth is not only about crafting the ideal digital shelf with the most perfect search campaign ever created, but it’s also about the hundred small process tweaks to the existing operating model that helps brands scale that growth profitably. 

What is the weirdest skill or talent to come in handy in your eCommerce experience? Grew up as a band & theater nerd. I gain a ton of energy and comfort by being on stage shouting facts at people, telling stories, or running workshops that get people up and moving. 

What was your most “valuable” career failure, and why? Move fast and break things really only works when the business enables and celebrates that culture. Otherwise you’re just a pain in the ass. Thankfully, I learned this one early. 

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life? Finally figuring out how to run properly without injuring myself has been an incredible life changing experience. I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to draw your own witty business inspiration from such running clichés as “You need to slow down to go fast” or “You’re lapping everyone still sitting on the couch” or “Just keep improving on your time from yesterday.”

What are you learning right now? How to navigate building a loft extension in the UK. I figured we’d go the exact opposite direction from digital in 2021. 

What are the 1-3 songs that would make up your career soundtrack today?

  • An entire album: Devin Townsend’s Empath. It’s a chaotic & cathartic release of pent up pure creative energy from Devin. It’s progressive metal bliss – but I’m biased because we have the same hair style. It’s easy to draw parallels around needing to explore an idea to get it out of your system. eCommerce is awesome for that.  

What are the 1-3 books you’ve gifted the most or that have greatly influenced your life, and why?

  • Influence: Dune by Frank Herbert: WHAT!? a Sci-Fi book in a business chat? Heresy! My final round interview at Kantar quickly pivoted from financial modeling of supermarkets to favorite books and sci-fi authors. 15 years later….  
  • Gift: The Everything Store by Brad Stone: It’s a required read for any analyst I’ve hired or mentored. Analysts starting out in their career can often become protective or defensive of the retailers/companies they track – like an absurd version of Stockholm Syndrome. With so much media attention afforded to Amazon…..this book provides a good alternative POV to reflect on regardless of accuracy. 

If you could have a gigantic billboard for the world to see with anything on it, what would it say, and why? “Learn all you can. Share all you know.”

What are the worst recommendations or advice you have heard related to eCommerce? We’re 90% share of our category in-store, we do not need to invest in search.”

Just. No…. Your category is no longer 40 feet of shelf, its 1000 tiny 5 SKU shelves found by shoppers searching to solve pain points they have. 

What advice would you give to a future leader of change about to enter business, or specifically the eCommerce field? Understand if you’re going into a business that needs someone with deep expertise in a specific area of eCommerce, or deep expertise in how an organization needs to retool its go to market strategy. They sound similar, but they’re often polar opposites in terms of needs, and thus the background required to be successful. I’ve seen a significant amount of ex-Amazon folks go into businesses and leave in frustration after a year. 

What specific, industry-related change do you believe will happen that few others seem to see? There are two I believe are currently not yet explored fully:

  • The elevated role that traditional Category Management functions play in omnichannel portfolio planning & digital shelf optimization. Many are still stuck getting ASP up above $14 through solution packs and calling it a day. We need to grow into layering in media/trade spend and 1P/3P/Hybrid fulfillment costs into the Item/Category P&L. 
  • The impact that the VC/PE backed acquisition companies such as Thras.io or Heroes will play on well established categories. It will be the small papercuts of share leakage which will be turned up to 11 faster than we realize. 

What is the last thing you bought online, and why? Allbirds Mizzles because they’re like clouds for my feet! Allbirds continues to have an incredible experience for a digital native brand. New entrants may be more daring with content or disruptive innovation – but Allbrids still sets the bar on the right balance of content, tech, fulfillment, and brand love. 


First Movers is a change leader interview series featuring select industry pioneers who are boldly driving the evolution of digital commerce, the consumer and everything in between.

Categories: First Movers