Rick Wilson is the president of Miva Merchant, the pioneering ecommerce platform. Like many ecommerce firms, Miva Merchant is evolving. It now offers its own hosted shopping cart, and Wilson joined us to discuss recent upgrades to that cart, as well as cloud computing and the future of third-party hosting companies.
Practical eCommerce: How are things going since the new ownership group acquired Miva Merchant two-and-a-half years ago?
Rick Wilson: “It’s going very well. We had an interesting combination of things when we bought the company. We had a great community. We were able to make a great product that needed some tender loving care to really start unlocking its promise and its value, and we feel that we have achieved that. We have done a great job at bringing the product to the next level. It’s highly stable. We’re able to stream out upgrades without causing problems. We have a major upgrade coming and we have made the changes necessary to have a thriving, growing business.
“Miva Merchant 5.5 is the latest iteration of our product and it is available through external web hosts as well as through us. We offer a software-as-a-service [SaaS] version of it that is identical to the one that you can get from a web host.”
PeC: How many of your customers use your own SaaS version?
Wilson: “I don’t know if I’m comfortable giving out exact numbers about that. It’s only in hundreds at this point. It’s not yet into the thousands or tens of thousands. We have only been offering it since mid-November, I think November 11 was the date we started offering it.
“If you look at it from how we do compared to other external hosts, we are now the second largest Miva Merchant host, so to speak, as far as new registration goes, and I expect that this month or next month we’ll actually overtake from a new client acquisition perspective; we’ll become the largest new client acquirer for Miva Merchant hosting. I think it will take a couple of years considering the entrenched position of the bigger hosts. It will take a couple of years for us to become the largest overall host.”
PeC: If I’m a hosting company employee listening to this and I rely on the ability to offer Miva Merchant to my customers, should I feel threatened with what you just said?
Wilson: “Whether they should or should not, I’m sure they do, and that is a conversation that comes up here a fair amount. It’s certainly not something that we set out to do. We didn’t set out to threaten anybody. We’re not attacking their businesses.
“However, the market has changed and when a market changes that can be tough for people whose business model is dependent on an old perspective. So, we still have a distributed solution [whereby hosting companies can offer Miva Merchant to its customers]. Practical eCommerce talked about this a year ago, when we switched towards a distributed SaaS model. That’s not going anywhere. That has been hugely successful for us and it’s really breathed new life into our ability to continue. We feel that one of the compelling parts of our product is the ability to host it anywhere.
“The web hosts are certainly going to feel a little threatened. However, at the end of the day when we look at their ability to sell new licenses, we believe that we could start offering the service direct with a minimal negligible impact on their ability to sell licenses.”
PeC: You’re the president of Miva Merchant, and you’re also an observer of the Internet scene and the ecommerce scene generally. In light of the rise of cloud services, such as salesforce, NetSuite and others, is there a future for third party hosts?
Wilson: “You know, I think that question is a complex question to answer and I think that part of that depends on your definition of future and what they consider their role. When we got into the hosting space back in 1997 and were an up-and-coming shopping cart, there was no such thing as SaaS. Back then it was called ASPs, or Application Service Providers. We were an early enabler of that, but the model back then was that you would sell your application in big bundles to web hosts and they would essentially become what today we would consider as SaaS provider. But, they didn’t own the underlying application, and that model worked for a while and it evolved into the salesforce.com, and others. That was really the beginning of the SaaS revolution.
“So, for a large scale datacenter like a Rackspace, absolutely. Those guys are in the managed hosting business offering effectively data real estate, and their business isn’t about the software that’s being run on their platform. Their business is about the data connectivity in a secure manner.”
PeC: Do you still sell licenses to third party hosts?
Wilson: “Yes, we do and we have no intention of that changing. We have three models effectively. We have our existing hosting model, which is what we’re best known for. We have our new SaaS model, which you and I are just discussing. And then we have a model that’s a retail model if you will, and we don’t sell a lot of licenses in this way but it’s designed for special cases where it’s needed. If it’s a public company, let’s say, and it needs a copy of our license on its own datacenter for security reasons, they can buy a license on this and we don’t see it changing.”
PeC: Do you run your own servers there for your SaaS product?
Wilson: “We formed a separate company for the SaaS product that we are the vast majority owners of. We’ve partnered with an existing, very successful Miva Merchant host. Its runs the servers for us. But we own the servers, we own the network, and it is its own hosting business that exists as a standalone entity.”
PeC: Let’s move on now to your SaaS version of 5.5. You’ve got some upgrades that you’ve recently announced. Can you describe those to us?
Wilson: “Absolutely. The first and foremost upgrade is it’s PA-DSS compliant. We are awaiting right now our final report on compliance from our QSA (Qualified Security Assessor).
“Second, we have built from the ground up a new default look and feel. This doesn’t impact existing customers. So if you have an existing Miva Merchant store and you’re upgrading, this doesn’t affect you in the slightest. But for new people going forward, installing a new store, we have a CSS-based HTML 5.0 doc type, which is 100 percent W3C compliant. For all the web developers out there, that gives them a far improved foundation to build a new looking store on and gives most web developers the ability to make 90 percent of the changes they would want to make to look and feel using only CSS and images.
“The third thing we’ve added is an entirely new order processing system. Historically our product has had things like order status and order history, but they were all aftermarket add-ons. We decided to take a look at that and add them on in the way the aftermarket did. When we do something that has been historically served by the aftermarket, we tend to want to look at it from a more foundational level. We like to come up on a solution that essentially allows us to extend our APIs and extend our methodology in a way that is only possible by us so it’s not really a bolt-on, but truly an extension of the platform and provides new opportunities for Miva developers to extend and do new and creative things. So, it’s an order processing, order history, orders status system that takes Miva Merchant from just being a cash register to a store management platform.
“The fourth and final new feature is a major addition to our inventory management system. We had a very robust inventory system built in the software for a long time with one major feature deficiency. What I mean by that was if you sold a T-shirt and you have colors and sizes, we had no way off the shelf to track the inventory [of each size and color]. We started looking at how our competition was handling it. It’s a very complex thing to happen. Take, for example, one store that we’ve had in extended beta. It has a 138 different pieces of jewelry, but when you combine the fact that they come in different sizes and different materials, it actually has just under 4,000 unique products. So when you start getting into the management of something that looks like 100 products, let’s say, and it’s really 4,000 products, the database issues can grow rapidly. We looked at the way accounting systems track inventory books, parts, kit parts, inventory with attributes like clothing and we said, ‘Well, you know, having an island here isn’t what we want.’ So we specifically built it from a database place that would allow us to easily integrate with any ERP accounting system based on the way they did it and so that’s a major upgrade.”
PeC: Anything else on your mind for our readers today?
Wilson: “The one thing I’d like to say and impart with everyone is that oftentimes people don’t realize that we’re here and we’re in San Diego. We answer our phones and are easy to talk to. I’ve had people who are longstanding, excited customers of ours who are still hesitant to call us because people have been so poorly trained with support experiences everywhere else in the industry. If you ever need anything with Miva Merchant, the best first option is to pick up the phone and call us. It’s toll-free and we’re really, really nice.”