March 7, 2014, 3:21 PM

From the boardroom to the classroom: an e-retailer turned teacher gets an education

Paul Shrater, founder and CEO of web-only retailer, is teaching a college marketing course this semester. Here’s his first report, revealing what he’s learned from his students.

One of the most memorable courses I took in college was a real-world consulting project. I thought it would be great to recreate that at the local university, California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California. So, I approached the university with the idea of doing that with (my company) as the real company where the students could explore real-world scenarios and ideas.

The university invited me to teach the course, with the framework being around Integrated Marketing Communications—utilizing the varied concepts and approaches to marketing and applying them to the creation of marketing plans for different market segments within

Now, a few weeks into the semester, I've learned a few things.

Teaching forces me to focus on the variety of marketing concepts that are at a company's disposal to the point where I'd recommend any e-commerce business owner to actually read a textbook (we are using Integrated Advertising, Promotion, and Marketing Communications, 6th edition, by Clow and Baack). It can be a great way to gain inspiration for the shaping of a company's marketing strategies.

I've also learned from the students. A quick poll showed half of students using Facebook; half Twitter; two-thirds Instagram; and just about all using Snapchat. It is a reminder that younger people often gravitate towards what is new, cool, and trendy.  Thus, to reach younger consumers, it means paying attention to the new media formats and designing an appropriate strategy for them

Another thing I've learned from the marketing students is that there is no lack of good creative ideas for marketing. The harder part is understanding that, for an idea to work, it has to be seen. And, one has to take a look at the cost/benefit calculation.

For instance, there could be great social media campaign ideas, but if there is no strategy to attract new viewers to the social media account, it will likely fail. And, an idea may be great, but when you break down the numbers of some assumptions of response rates, conversion rates, average profit per order, etc., you can quickly realize that there are some ideas that will lose money, some that will make a pittance, and some that have a shot at a big-time return. By teaching these concepts, it also helps bring that same approach back to the company in any of the endeavors we look to pursue.

We will see how the semester progresses and what is learned from the connection between the classroom and the boardroom.

Minimus LLC, which sells travel-sized products at, is No. 839 in the Internet Retailer Second 500.


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