Gemvara: Handcrafting the Jewelry Purchasing Business

We’ve crossed the 30-day checkpoint to Delight 2012, and we couldn’t be more excited! With less than a month to go, we’ve barely even STARTED to introduce our amazing line up of speakers to you, so without further ado — meet Brian Kalma, the brains formerly behind the Zappos and Gilt Groupe UX, and now doing great things just down the street from us in Boston at Gemvara!


Tell us a little about your time at Zappos – what were you doing there, what did you take away from that experience?
I started out at Zappos after several years working in advertising. I was pumped to join Zappos, as at the time the company was quite small with very little brand recognition. When I started there I was tasked with growing and scaling our photo practices, with a goal of building the group to enable us to shoot upwards of 10,000 photos a day. After a few years heading up Creative Services I moved in to the Director of Brand Marketing role where I had the good fortune on working on some of Zappos first social media efforts, our first national advertising/branding efforts and so much more. But really, where I found passion was focusing on Zappos’ User Experience efforts. I eventually extracted UX from Marketing and decided to focus 100% there. We built a UX team and created some principles and philosophies on how we surprise and delight our users that are still employed at Zappos today.

My overarching philosophy was this: Give more attention to the aspects of the experience that can prove to be more memorable. Operating solely with standards in mind will give you standard results, and that is not good enough.

That’s a great point. Post-Zappos, you’ve made some pretty big changes within Gilt Groupe, too – a very different kind of company.
About 8 months after the Amazing acquisition I left to join Gilt Groupe. It was an exciting adventure joining such a starkly different organization than Zappos, it really gave me some amazing perspective on what made both Zappos and Gilt so uniquely special. At Gilt, my focus was on building out a UX team that did not exist before I joined. The company was well on its growth trajectory before I joined, so it was quite a challenge to build UX practices within a super fast growing company. Fast forward 14 months, the team was in great shape and I chose to depart to find the next big thing, I found it at Gemvara!

What are you doing at Gemvara these days to build exceptional experiences?
Primarily working hard to get to know our customers. Buying fine jewelry (usually pricey) is a very emotional experience for consumers, as often the purchase is directly related to a major life event. As such, we have to treat our customers in a way that respects that emotion. The experiences we are crafting are being created to respect where someone specifically is within their buying cycle. I’ll be talking through this in greater detail at Delight 2012.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about it – Gemvara has such a unique model to create an experience around! What about the non-e-commerce folks — what do you hope attendees across the board can take away from your presentation?
In general, I hope people can realize that to be exceptional you have to, in some regards, throw away all the play-books you have historically used. The commerce landscape is changing, people are becoming more savvy and expectations are rising, don’t forget that!

What are you hoping to learn or gain from the event?
I am hoping to be inspired by amazingly talented presenters and attendees. I have a goal of taking back with me 3 core learnings that I can disseminate to my teams and apply to may work. I can’t wait to see what these learnings will be!

Fun fact — I love the word “learnings”, personally 🙂 Tell us a fun factoid about yourself, Brian.

Well, my ultimate professional dream in life is to open and operate an ice rink. I grew up skating (starting with figure skating, and eventually hockey) and I suppose I do not want to rely on my old skating memories, I want to create new ones and watch others around me learn how to skate. I cannot explain why, but that brings me comfort. BUT, not before I create a doggy empire with:, Dogsly (iPhone app) and (a place to find human inspired dog clothing).


I somehow feel like the Jen Rubio and Warby Barker fans in the house will be excited to hear this.