It’s been a wild ride for Rick Wilson. He started in ecommerce in the 1990s as a salesman with Miva, the pioneering platform. In 2007 he joined an investor group that purchased the business. Fast forward to 2022 and Wilson is now Miva’s CEO. He recently completed the company’s second capital raise and authored a second book.
He and I discussed his 20-year journey and Miva’s. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Kerry Murdock: You’ve been involved with ecommerce and Miva since the late 1990s.
Rick Wilson: It’s been a long time and a wild ride. I was in my 20s when I started with Miva. It was a very technician-driven industry then. You had highly technical people who knew HTML and how to set up servers. Added to that was the DIY maker-culture type of person who could sell something.
There were a lot of first movers then. But very technical, very wonky.
Then as ecommerce matured, we had the rise of Amazon and the availability of seemingly any product. We started seeing the true promise of ecommerce emerge.
Then came direct-to-consumer brands — companies that manufactured their own products and sold directly to buyers, bypassing traditional retail. A lot of DTC was driven by YouTube, Instagram, and other social channels. Now there’s TikTok. DTC ecommerce shifted the industry from technician-focused to product-driven and marketer-driven.
Miva’s milestones are being an early pioneer, getting purchased by an investor group (including me) in 2007, and converting to a SaaS platform, which occurred shortly after the acquisition.
Now, in 2022, half of our customers are business-to-business. Our niche is manufacturers who make the product and sell to both businesses and consumers.
Murdock: What’s your prognosis going forward?
Wilson: We’re in a golden age of ecommerce now. We now have the tools that are affordable to all businesses for omnichannel selling. Consumers no longer differentiate between ecommerce and commerce. It’s now one shopping experience — website, phone, physical store. And it’s ubiquitous.
That was not the case 10 years ago. Even now, many big retailers are woefully behind. Walmart’s caught up; Nordstrom’s caught up. But in many ways, a small hardware store can outperform, say, Home Depot.
Murdock: Shifting gears, you’ve recently published your second “Dragonproof” book, titled “Dragonproof Principles: Principled Leadership For The Modern Entrepreneur.” Tell us why you wrote it.
Wilson: The first book, in 2018, was “Dragonproof Ecommerce.” It was a response to the rise of Amazon. At the time, some merchants were questioning the value of an independent ecommerce site. Many of them asked, “Why not just sell on Amazon?” That was, and is, a myopic and unwise view. My first book addressed it.
Then, when the pandemic hit, I launched a podcast and started talking to many of the merchants I knew. Ecommerce entrepreneurs are fascinating. I began to identify common principles for success, not just for ecommerce but for any entrepreneur.
That was the genesis of the new book. It contains leadership principles to help navigate a distracting world and become successful.
I use the term “dragon” to refer to life-changing and game-changing events beyond our control. It could be the pandemic, a competitor, Amazon, you name it. The larger point is there’s no such thing as a perfect world or opportunity.
Hopefully, the book can help budding and existing entrepreneurs.
Murdock: A final question. Miva completed in November its second capital raise. Why?
Wilson: The first round was in 2017 with Bison Capital for $18 million and less than 50% of the company. Some of that money was injected into the business, but a lot of it went to our former CEO, to retire. Bison was an excellent partner, with great mentors to me personally.
In the summer of 2020, shortly after the pandemic hit, we started noticing our customer sales were hitting Black Friday 2019 numbers every week. Miva was operating at a level that it had not experienced. Sales and marketing had grown up. We had figured out a process that worked and scaled.
Also, SaaS companies were favorably valued. So our board of directors decided in December 2020 to hire a banker and explore options for the next growth phase. That ultimately resulted in Equality Asset Management buying out Bison and a bit more of the existing shareholders. Equality is now the majority owner of the business. They’re not operators, but they are my new capital partners. I work with them closely.
Equality chose not to disclose the amount, although it was much larger than Bison’s.
There’s still a lot of room in B2B ecommerce — what you might call the meat and potatoes of American business — to digitize and improve efficiency, making it easier to track inventory, to elevate the entire operation, and simplify the buying process for customers.
That’s what we intend to pursue.
Murdock: Will Miva eventually sell public shares?
Wilson: Four years ago, with the Bison investment, I would have said, “That sounds like a long road.” But now it seems like a long road that’s achievable. Will we need to be public in, say, five years? It’s quite possible.