It's almost exactly 180 days before Christmas, and Bob Moog is running late. The 43-year-old CEO of
is late to pick up his kids, late to begin an interview with a journalist and late to craft a strategy for his fledgling Web site's customer service, pricing and marketing.
Hiring a management team, opening a California headquarters and scouting software engineers also are on the should-have-completed list. Moog's even late getting to bed, having worked the previous night until 1:30 a.m.
And yet nearly all of this tardiness isn't Moog's fault. And he seems to enjoy his underdog status. Hired just over a month ago to jump-start the pathetic online efforts of bricks-and-mortar retailer
Toys R Us
, Moog is contending to be the poster child for the theory that a hybrid of offline and online retailing is the best way to take advantage of the Internet.
He's aware that time is short but quick to note the advantages he has that chief online competitor
didn't have at the outset: a 50-year-old brand name, a 30-million-name mailing list and the backing of a company with $11 billion in annual revenue.
"And all I have to do is increase that revenue by 1%, and I'm a hero," says Moog, operating temporarily out of the Menlo Park, Calif., offices of toysrus.com backer
. "When you look at it that way it doesn't sound so hard."
It will be hard, of course.
Toys R Us was caught unprepared last year as eToys swooped into the market, racked up $30 million in 1998 revenue and went public on its considerable buzz. Now
is expected to make a big splash in toys as well. So Toys R Us CEO Robert Nakasone finally decided to counter the poachers in a big way.
Toys R Us has committed $80 million to its dot-com progeny, which aims to amass 1999 revenue of $100 million. It also signed up Benchmark to invest an additional $14 million as well as to guide the big-company-backed start-up. (For more on the company's strategy, see a recent
article by my colleague
Moog is an unlikely CEO for a giant company. His only previous brush with a large company was the time fresh out of
business school he took a
recruiter to a Palo Alto, Calif., bar for margaritas. That the recruiter was a Mormon, Moog later learned, probably didn't help his chances. Parker Brothers didn't offer him a job.
But Toys R us has pinned its hopes on Moog for his free-spirited ways in the games industry. He co-founded board game maker
in 1985. The profitable and privately held company, in which VC firm
owns a 23% interest, is approaching $50 million in sales, says Moog, and likely is takeover bait for a bigger game company. University Games also has started online puzzle aggregator
, a business that may end up competing with toysrus.com.
Somewhat rumpled and with tussled hair covering his balding pate, Moog is surprisingly open about his plans. The company already invested $30 million in a Memphis, Tenn., fulfillment center so it can stock multitudes of toys and dispatch them quickly via nearby
. Next week it will unveil a $30 million advertising campaign spearheaded by ad industry stalwart
. Moog is close to hiring four top managers and has plans to recruit a 100-person staff in California.
Moog, who says the inventor of the music-industry standard Moog Synthesizer is a cousin, also has a list of about 40 enhancements to the Web site to be rolled out in coming months. The features include small items like gift wrapping and bigger features, like allowing toysrus.com customers to return toys to any store.
"Every community in America has a return center and a showroom for me," says Moog, who promises in a refrain he has
repeated since joining that "you're not going to be able to get a bag at Toys R Us that doesn't say toysrus.com. Toys R Us is going to dot-com everything."
OK, but that relationship raises other questions. For instance, toysrus.com currently charges the same prices as Toys R Us, a situation that can't stand where the competition discounts heavily. And he must prepare the site for 10 times the traffic it got last year, no mean feat in an era when supposedly gold-plated Web sites are crashing frequently.
But this man who wrote his business school application from the perspective of a Gummy Bear -- "My application was probably a breath of fresh air," he says -- professes to take the challenges in stride.
"It's a work in progress," says Moog. "We're going to find a way to pull this off."
Watching him try should, if nothing else, be entertaining.
Adam Lashinsky's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Lashinsky writes a monthly column for Fortune called the Wired Investor, and is a frequent commentator on public radio's Marketplace program. He welcomes your feedback at