In college, there always seems to be neon lights along specific paths, leading you to the big consulting, banking, or accounting firms. When Josh Jones was an undergraduate at UVA, working at a startup was not a popular path. Even more astounding was the idea of being a freelancer or consultant, occupations that are becoming increasingly common and widely accepted today. Josh found himself working in the fashion and e-commerce industries, diving into inventory management and the numbers side of running such a business. Straight out of school, he took a detour from this path, first landing in the Czech Republic, just one of many interesting choices in Josh’s still-changing career and life path.
The company he most recently worked for is called JackThreads, an online shopping community that showcases the trendiest street & footwear brands at exclusive prices for their members. JackThreads has a rich understanding of its market of contemporary, stylish guys. Their sleek and beautiful website design conveys what is at the heart of the brand: discovery and risk-taking in fashion and everyday lifestyle.
1. What are you working on right now?
I just finished a stint at Jackthreads (a Thrillist company) where I had worked for over 2 and a half years. I was most recently the Director of Planning there, focusing on setting and managing sales, inventory, and gross margin targets.
Currently, I am taking some personal time, as well as working on a few of my side projects/experiments I have been dabbling in for the past year or so. I have a couple of specialized websites and a small e-commerce business I’ve been working on. I am considering doing some e-commerce consulting work as well. We’ll see what shakes out for my career in the next few months. It’s an exciting time for me.
2. Can you talk a bit about Thrillest and what you’ve accomplished there?
The biggest thing we were able to do at Thrillist/Jackthreads was to implement an “open-to-buy” system far in advance, allowing the buyers to feel comfortable placing goods months in advance, where previously, we were flying a little bit blind. Inventory would pile up and the management team would be surprised that we had way too much old inventory while the new merchandise continued to come in. It’s a key issue in retail, and building a system largely from scratch was a really energizing project.
3. Where/when did the initial idea to work for the company emerge?
I was brought on board by a former boss that I had worked with at Lord & Taylor. It was a great opportunity to join a fast-growing startup, and also allowed me to gain experience in off-price retail and e-commerce. It was a really good learning experience in my career.
4. What’s an example of a big challenge that you or the business faced along the way?
Anyone in retail will tell you that when sales are good, everything is great. But when you’re missing your sales plan, everyone is questioned and everything is analyzed and over-analyzed to find out where the holes are in the business. At Jackthreads/Thrillist, being an e-commerce business, we had so much data at our fingertips. With all this data, one of the biggest challenges was deciding which metrics were important, and being able to focus on those.
For us, it was the merchandise. Since we had such a fashion-driven customer, they really want the coolest, newest stuff that can be found in the market. So we built out very specific models for each buying area to ensure we would have the merchandise we expected our customer would be looking for next week, next season, and next year. It takes a ton of collaboration and detail-oriented work.
5. What did you do straight out of school? How did it lead you to where you are today?
After I graduated from UVa, I moved to the Czech Republic with a close friend of mine. I ended up teaching business English and presentation skills to Czech students. It was a great life experience. I learned that I could survive and thrive on my own, even in an environment that was very different from anything I had yet experienced. I lived there for about a year. After that, when I decided to move to New York, I wasn’t intimidated in the least.
6. What do you wish you knew as an undergrad/grad student at UVA?
I wish I knew that there were more options to a professional life than just working for a big, well-established company. The concept of working for a startup never really occurred to me at that time. To me, that seemed like a passing fad and something that “other people” did – not people like me. Even crazier than that, there are people who freelance or consult in very niche industries, working with different clients of their choosing, or who start their own business from scratch. What I knew about “consulting” was limited to the likes of Bain and McKinsey. [pullquote]I wish I knew that there were more options to a professional life than just working for a big, well-established company. [/pullquote]
7. What can the university and students at UVA do to provide what you wish you knew?
I think this is something that has become more prevalent in the society as a whole, but I would love if the concept of being an independent consultant, or how to start a small business were a larger part of the course offerings. Not legal issues or how to do accounting and things like that, but real nuts and bolts business training. Like actionable strategies on how to conceive and provide a service that people really need and are willing to pay for.
I was not in the Comm school, and I know there was a big focus on case studies and the like, but I would love to see that kind of thinking throughout the other schools at the University as well.