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Continued: With Cartwheel app, Target spins out of slow-moving culture

  • Article by: KAVITA KUMAR , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 11, 2014 - 9:50 PM

By November 2012, frustrations had mounted. Facebook was very interested in the idea, but there were concerns the project would fail.

“We recognized this was a big idea that had never been done,” said Jones. “But we knew we were moving too slowly.

Part of the problem, he added, was this feeling that the product had to be more perfect than it needed to be from the outset.

“The old way at Target is imagine every question that could be asked and try to figure out the answer,” he said. “And imagine all of the obstacles you could face in the market and decide what you’re going to do.”

So they brought in Alan Wizemann, a startup guy who had worked with Target in the past through his firm ShopIgniter, to be a catalyst for change. They wanted him to help them see what it would take to run Cartwheel more like a startup.

Wizemann realized that change needed to happen pretty quickly. Decisions that should just take a couple of minutes would take weeks and would require a “significant amount of documentation” and the OK from multiple different people, he said.

“Where does the search bar go? It doesn’t take 40 people to figure that out,” he said.

Rather, the idea needed to be tested in real time as it was being built, he said. After all, it had to move as fast -- if not faster -- than Facebook.

So with the input of Peterson and a few others, he came up with a new direction: Downsize the team to about 50 people dedicated just to Cartwheel. Have a single person in charge. And let them put out Cartwheel in a beta form, so they could tweak it as they went.

The leaders at Target bought into that vision.

 “From a company standpoint, it was a pivotal moment of change,” Wizemann said.

In January 2013, Wizemann came to Target as a full-time consultant. Within weeks, Cartwheel’s much smaller team from marketing, merchandising and analytics moved into a cramped space they now somewhat endearingly refer to as “the closet.”

When it came time to launch Cartwheel, they didn’t have to get an official OK from higher up the food chain. They just turned it on.

But there were some tradeoffs in working this way. Cartwheel was initially supposed to have a $10 million marketing budget. But as more of a beta launch, that disappeared.

So it cobbled together $5,000 from other departments. They told their friends to spread the word. Some employees made handmade signs to put up in stores. And, of course, it was promoted on Facebook.

Original plans also called for a call center to handle customers’ questions. They were scrapped. Instead, they put a direct forum into Cartwheel, where users could write for all to see what they didn’t like or what didn’t work.

Engineers monitored it and made fixes in real time as complaints surfaced.

“For Target, that was very new,” Wizemann said. “The idea of that openness was really not a part of the culture here.”

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