“It’s difficult for a chair to be nice and comfortable at the same time,” Fab.com’s Berlin-based design guru Tom Claessens tells me when I ask him to critique the room we’ve just sat down in. He’s candid, dynamic, and quick to respond. “They wanted to make it something but it’s not clear. The lamps are beautiful, they create a space, but the other parts are questionable.”
Claessens has just returned from a trip to New York where he spent time visiting Fab.com’s Chief Creative Officer and design veteran Bradford Shellhammer and the company’s irrepressible foreman Jason Goldberg. “They have almost 200 people on the New York team [all teeming in the brand new-West Village office,]” Claessens tells us. “There’s no way they can all talk to Jason or Bradford directly, but it really seems like they do. There’s a culture of passion and drive. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
“Smile. You’re designed to.”
After closing a $105 million round last week with London-based VC Atomico, expectations for the design-oriented flash sales site are high. With over five million members purchasing 3.4 products per minute from 5,000 designers in more than 20 countries, Claessens’ responsibility as the European VP of Merchandising is crucial. Leading the buying team from Berlin, he’s sourcing all the designers and brands which are presented on the European website every day. Fab is now serving design lovers in almost 30 countries worldwide. This week, they had their first global summit.
“The word design has a different notion in Europe than in the US,” he remarks. “It’s more craft-based, thoughtful.”
Born in Belgium, raised in Africa… now in Berlin
Before moving to Berlin, Claessens ran a furniture and design shop in Utrecht, Holland. After working as head of design scouting at Monoqi, Claessens accepted the position at Fab.com, recommended by a friend and Brooklyn-based Dutch designer.
“When Bradford and Jason interviewed me for the position, it was clear to me: if I want to work in the world of design e-commerce, it has to be with Fab or not at all.” Born in Belgium, and raised in Africa (after his father started working for the oil company Shell), Claessens brought a seasoned knowledge of international design that caught Jason and Bradford’s eye. “They asked me, ‘Are you ambitious?'” says Claessens. “It sort of took me aback. I think I responded with something honest and they liked that.”
“The secret behind Fab is that you’re not alone”
Claessens brings a designer’s perspective and appreciation to the platform. “The secret behind Fab is that you’re not alone,” he tells me, visibly a shopper himself. “In the live feed you see who bought what and which product is faved. There is this time frame [shakes his hands] of ‘OMG I need to buy this. There are only two lamps left. We really need to do this,’” he explains, only half joking.
Commercial is not a bad word in Europe, but it’s not necessarily something European designers want to attach their name to. “It’s very helpful to have the Fab.com name and trust when dealing with designers.”
“It’s the most democratic way of getting design exposure.”