Former JCPenney CEO is back with a new company, Enjoy

Ron Johnson launches Enjoy 'one visit at a time'
Ron Johnson launches Enjoy 'one visit at a time'

He's been called everything from a visionary and the Steve Jobs of Retail to an ego problem and a retail disaster.

After being out of the spotlight for more than two years, former J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson is back at the helm of a company, but unlike his past professional endeavors, this is one he founded. Called Enjoy, Johnson describes the company as a new platform for commerce aimed at merging online convenience with personal shopping services.

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"We're moving into a world of a connected life and it's time to move the personal services to where you live your life. So Enjoy is a personal commerce platform," Johnson told CNBC.

"Our product is a person, and now for the same price you buy in a store, you can order a product from Enjoy and someone will hand deliver and spend up to an hour getting you up and running. So it's meant for this new world we live in, which is going mobile, which involves a need for help," he said.

Former J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson founded a retail company called Enjoy.
Source: Enjoy

The start-up allows customers to set up a one-on-one delivery and visit from an Enjoy expert in your home or location of your choice with the purchase of consumer electronics on the site. The service launches Wednesday in the Bay Area, Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

Unlike the brazen nationwide roll out of new pricing, product and promotion Johnson employed at J.C. Penney, Enjoy's approach will be more measured.

Johnson said he will expand and evaluate the company's success based on what he's calling the company's product.

"Our product is a visit and it's really hard. We've got to deliver a person and a product. We're always early, there's no delivery windows. We've got to deliver amazing personal help, it's not going to be easy. So our growth plan is very simple. It's one visit at a time. We're going to build this company one visit at a time," said Johnson.

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Currently, Enjoy visits are free with the purchase of one of about 60 products on its website. The products available were curated from 11 partners, including AT&T, GoPro, Microsoft, Samsung, and Hewlett-Packard.

The company will carry the inventory of the products it sells through its website at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, but further details of its revenue model weren't immediately known.

Ron Johnson: Penney's in the past
Ron Johnson: Penney's in the past

Prior to his highly publicized stint as CEO of J.C. Penney, Johnson led Apple's retail division, and spearheaded its retail store strategy and Genius Bar, widely regarded as the most successful retail operation in the world. However, Apple is not, at least not yet, an Enjoy partner. (Though Johnson said "stay tuned.")

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If consumers have Apple devices they need help with, a separate Enjoy service is available for electronics you already own. Consumers can book a visit from an Enjoy expert for $99, with the average visit lasting an hour.

The employment model is unique as well. The experts are salaried employees with benefits, who set their own hours and have equity in the company. Enjoy said there are about 60 experts currently on the payroll.

Enjoy has raised more than $30 million to date from well-known investors such as Marc Andreessen at Andreessen Horowitz, Brook Byers of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Fred Harman at Oak Investment Partners.

Over his long career in retail and technology including his jobs at Mervyn's, Target, Apple and J.C. Penney, Johnson has made both allies and foes, and he's been successfully right and woefully wrong. Many say he is bold, unafraid of taking risks and passionate about ideas he believes are transformative.

While many describe Johnson as a pioneer, others have less-flattering characterizations stemming largely from his dramatic, and failed, strategy at J.C. Penney that cost the retailer half of its market share. Johnson continued to shy away from discussing his tenure at the department store with CNBC.

"Penney's was a very challenging time for me personally, for the company, but I haven't talked about it in two years. The only place I have talked about it has been from an educational perspective at Stanford Business School or Harvard Business School and you can go on YouTube and read about it. But it's a long story and I'm not going to talk about it today," said Johnson, adding that there were "a ton" of lessons learned on both sides.

(UPDATED: This story has been updated to includes details of an interview with Enjoy founder Ron Johnson.)