Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Walker Lockhart’s e-commerce journey — early Amazon days, as much as Sugar Mountain

Walker Lockhart. (Photo courtesy of Walker Lockhart)

Walker Lockhart got his start in e-commerce working for a certain Seattle company known for its obsessive focus on the customer. Twenty-two years and several jobs after that first gig at Amazon, Lockhart is back in e-commerce focusing on what he calls “amazing experiences for customers.”

Lockhart, our new Geek of the Week, is the head of the e-commerce team at Seattle-based Sugar Mountain, which is best known for its consumer brands Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and Mishima Reserve American Wagyu Beef.

“We’re a small but mighty ‘full stack’ team, responsible for everything from marketing to site experience, unboxing and customer service, and we work with an amazing group of external contractors to make it all go,” Lockhart said.

He started his career in customer service at after moving to Seattle from the Midwest in 1997. He worked at the original Amazon warehouse south of downtown and then took a job working on the Amazon website as a product manager “building cool features and launching new stores.”

“I don’t even think we called it ‘product’ back then — whatever we called it, I loved it,” Lockhart said. “But my family kept asking when I was going to go to law school. So I left tech, got my law degree and practiced law for a while.”

But he missed tech and he missed building things, so he ditched the legal career and returned to product, leading teams at Nordstrom. Again, he saw the need for change, calling himself more of a food person than a fashion person, and he jumped at his current opportunity.

Lessons from those early e-commerce days at Amazon haven’t been lost.

“Amazon has been studied so much at this point that this will probably sound clichè, but I start every proposal with how customers will benefit from a proposed change or innovation, and I ask each person on my team to do the same,” Lockhart said. “Another lesson that I carry with me is the importance of connecting with real customers to build empathy and first-hand knowledge of the issues that they are dealing with — everyone on my team is trained in customer service and takes customer calls and email, which is something that Amazon did in the early days.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Walker Lockhart:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I love building things. Amazing experiences for customers. I love the challenge of taking an amazing but super complex product like our Ultra Cap of Ribeye and building a pathway for a customer to not only deeply understand the product, but trust us enough to buy it from us. And I love doing that within a fun, hardworking team — like the one I’ve built here at Mishima Reserve.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? I’m constantly surprised at how e-commerce is still being pushed forward. The single most important thing is to remain open and listen — someone is coming up with a better way of doing things right now and we need to be tuned in so we can learn from them.

Where do you find your inspiration? I try to listen to new voices. Because I’m working in food, lately I’ve been watching a ton of chef-focused shows (“Ugly Delicious,” “The Chef’s Table”) and re-watching my favorites like “Parts Unknown” (I love and miss Anthony Bourdain). I am inspired by great chefs who continually seek new experiences and reinterpret ones that are right in front of us every day. I think we can learn a lot from their creative energy and willingness to take chances.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? GPS. I have a terrible sense of direction and would otherwise get lost all the time.

Where’s the beef? On Walker Lockhart’s desk, along with some Sharpies and Post-It Notes. (Photo courtesy of Walker Lockhart)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? We took over a floor in a building and have more space than we know what to do with. It’s an open workspace with conference rooms named after our favorite steaks (Flat Iron, Bavette, Zabuton). The best part of the space is our couch/lounge area where we have daily stand-ups and weekly retros.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I sit down with my family every night for dinner so we can reconnect with each other and disconnect from work, school, or whatever we were working on. And we have a strict rule: no screens at the table!

Mac, Windows or Linux? I’m a Mac person.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? The OG, Capt. Kirk.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? I was a history major, so time machine.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Am I allowed to say that I’d do exactly what I’m doing right now? Honestly, I love working in food, we have an amazing luxury product, and we’re ethically driven, too. For example, we’re doing carbon offsets for our beef production!

I once waited in line for … Grateful Dead tickets.

Your role models: I have too many. I look up to and find inspiration in people who are fearless. So it’s a long and constantly evolving list. And because it’s broad, those on it cross a wide spectrum — I guess here are a few … Bernie Sanders, RBG, Philip Roth, M.I.A., Steve Jobs, David Byrne, Teddy Roosevelt, my wife Dana.

Greatest game in history: Euchre.

Best gadget ever: Nintento NES.

First computer: Commodore 64.

Current phone: iPhone XS.

Favorite app: Headspace.

Favorite Cause: Domestic Violence prevention.

Most important technology of 2019: Not blockchain!

Most important technology of 2021: Maybe blockchain!

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: I’m really not qualified to give advice, but if I did it would be to keep looking for something you love doing — whatever that is — and then go all in. But, while I have you … I also suggest you check out the “Beecher’s Cheese For All,” an upcoming chef competition we are hosting in Seattle (and other PNW cities) in February where local chefs will be making cheese burgers with Mishima Reserve, and mac & cheese with Beecher’s!” Tickets here.

Website: Mishima Reserve

LinkedIn: Walker Lockhart

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