YNAP at 20
This week YOOX NET-A-PORTER turned twenty and within a month I will have been there for half of it. I was asked if I would write about my time here, any favourite memories or stories I wanted to tell over that time. I thought I would focus on one, something that means a lot to me and how I want to remember the company.
Launching Mr Porter*
I joined NET-A-PORTER having previously worked at two different web agencies — I owe a thank you to both of these companies who gave me a foot in the door and an opportunity. I was used to releasing websites and helping to launch new companies but come go live day, it would be out the door and I would hardly give a glance over my shoulder, it was on to the next billable hour.
We never really celebrated a launch and I never really felt that connected to the brands we worked for, they were just another client. That was the main difference I noticed when I joined NAP, the company felt every bit ours as it did Natalie’s , minus the stock obviously. Staff cut out and kept snippets when we were mentioned in the paper or magazines, shouted at our friends “LOOK!” when you saw a NET-A-PORTER taxi, my mother would call me when she heard someone talking about us and we all collectively lost our minds when Jerry Seinfeld mentioned us on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Looking back, maybe it was a bit cult like but there was a real sense of pride that flowed through that office. I don’t know what they used to put in the Westfield water but it seemed everyone was drinking the Kool-Aid.
Not long into my first year at the company the Mr Porter project started, under a codename so it didn’t leak to the press, it was all kept pretty hush hush. The company was much smaller back then and if you had even a basic passing knowledge of development you were drafted onto the MRP frontline. I was part of that conscription, “tell all your friends” they said, “we have a lot to do and not much time to do it!”
When working on a project everyday (often including weekends) it’s difficult to see it from the outside, to appreciate the overall vision, why certain things are necessary and it’s impossible to know what kind of impact it will have. It’s cliche to say “we knew we were working on something special” — I won’t and I didn’t, what I will say is it felt different. The attention to detail, the levels of thought that had gone into everything, not just the design but the tone of voice that flowed through everything… and the content, the sheer amount of it, even to this day it was… ambitious.
Commerce and content is NAP’s DNA — a shoppable magazine was Natalie’s dream. We knew for our new male audience we had to do something different and thats why we had Jeremy Langmead onboard. Together they had a vision, you could almost touch it and you believed in it. It was our job to try and deliver it.
With a month before go live The Journal was still changing and evolving from UX, design, new features needed and even how often it would be released. I would be drafted onto this project for the “crunch”.
This time period would be, intense. We had so much to do and rightly or wrongly the go live date had been given to the press, it was going live on that day no matter what.
It’s during this time I saw and learned what leadership really looks like. Natalie and Mark Sebba (rest in peace) knew what they were asking their staff to do and were right there with them. They were there till the end and the last to leave the office, no matter the time.
As I mentioned at the start of this article every single person that worked on this project treated Mr Porter and the company as if it was their own. People would chain themselves to their desk wanting to make sure everything was perfect for launch. Natalie, Mark, Jeremy and Ian knew exactly when to push and when to protect their staff. If they thought someone had been there too long or too often they would send them home, or put them up in a hotel, so they could come back fresh.
I will never forget seeing Natalie pushing a trolly full of tea around the office or calling out peoples orders from the chip shop.
“Oi, oi, mines the saveloy and chips!”
Those moments will always stick with me as we really worked as a team. Anything that needed to get done, got done, no matter the task, no matter your role within the company. It was never my achievement, it was always ours.
So came go live day, I’m not sure when or if I went home during that last week. We still had issues on The Journal that morning, we were due to go live at 9am and had a clock on all the screens counting down till we hit the big red button. 9am came and there were still bugs, we rolled the countdown clock on an hour, that hour came and went. This cycle repeated until around 2pm when we were finally ready to let the customers in.
Everyone was watching the big screens, all together waiting for that first order, the accumulation of all our work. It was like watching someone taking the deciding penalty in a World Cup Final. The room went silent, everyone paused, took a breath and waited…
An order came up on the screen, the ball hit the back of the net and the crowd went wild. People were screaming, punching the air, hugging people they had never met, everyone was your best friend, it was an incredible and surreal moment.
During all the celebrations Natalie came over and gave me a big hug, both of us crying and she said thank you. She might not remember that moment— but I will for the rest of my life.
And with that it was all over, the next day MRP would just be BAU. We left the office to goto the pub to blow off so much needed steam. Drinks and more tears flowed, pats on the back given, worlds put to rights and I couldn’t tell you how many people I said “I love you” to.
In our industry “the crunch” is far too common and often is weaponised for every type of release, your pride and professionalism used against you with no time given to celebrate success and your acknowledge achievements. While I do think we need these moments of pressured collaboration as it helps bond the teams they do take their toll and there needs to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Launching Mr Porter, yes it was stressful, a lot of hard work, frustrating and we made a lot of compromises but we also had fun. We showed so much creativity, we learned a lot as a company, we shared moments of humanity, warmth and we changed fashion forever but most importantly we did it together.
For all those reasons it will probably always be the highlight of my professional career and my favourite memory at the company.
Happy Birthday NAP,
There are hundreds of people in here I didn’t mention who made this day a success and also helped me along the way. I can’t mention you all but you know who you are, I told how I felt in The Bull.
* While people are celebrating NAP and this story is about the Mr Porter launch that would not have been possible without his sister brands NET-A-PORTER and The Outnet, both of which fall under NET-A-PORTER Group which also turned 20 this year.
If you are interested in working with me you can reach out to me at gullwing.io.