Miva is both a pioneering early day shopping cart and a progressive, innovative platform. Its president, Rick Wilson, recently spoke with Practical Ecommerce’s Kerry Murdock to discuss, among other topics, how an ecommerce provider remains fresh and relevant over the years.
Practical Ecommerce: Miva dates to the mid 1990s — a long time in Internet years. What’s the secret for keeping a company fresh and relevant?
Rick Wilson: First and foremost, for us at least, you have to have a vision for what you desire your company to be. The fact of the matter is, on most days, you’re not going to be achieving that vision. What I think happens in our world, in tech companies, is if you’ve been around for a long time, you’re discounted.
In ecommerce, there’s a little bit of grace because most people don’t want the thing that generates their revenue to be so fresh and new that doesn’t work. Right? You want to make sure that your ecommerce platform — if that’s your livelihood — isn’t going anywhere, but there is a vision. You have to have a vision for where the company’s going.
In the last seven years since we repurchased Miva, it has grown roughly 20-fold both in employee count and in revenue. At any given moment, it feels like you’re swimming against the tide.
PEC: Russ Carroll, CEO, and you led a team that purchased Miva in 2007. Many observers have admired the changes and the progress that your team has made over the years. Can you expand on that?
Wilson: Sure. We’re a private company, and we don’t share detailed financial information. I’m going to talk in brackets. In all metrics but one, Miva is a much bigger company. Like I said, we’ve grown 20-fold in the last seven years. The only metric that has gone down, and we did this willingly, is the number of active stores. In Miva Inc.’s first run, from roughly 1996 to 2007, the company sold 300,000 plus licenses. At one point in 2002, 2003, or 2004, somewhere around there, we were, for lack of a better term, the Magento of that day. There were hundreds of thousands of active stores.
Today, we have between 15,000 and 20,000 active stores, which is the only number that’s down from our peak. The big difference is our stores now are primarily hosted with us. They don’t have to be. Our product is flexible to be hosted anywhere, but they’re primarily hosted with us. We’re in the $10 to $20 million a year revenue range. We’re profitable, and we have roughly 100 employees divided between the San Diego office and the Tampa office.
PEC: It was just a few weeks ago that the company was Miva Merchant. Now, it’s just Miva. Why the change?
Wilson: For us internally, it was always Miva. We had to train ourselves to call it Miva Merchant. The “Miva” name was invented by us in 1997, early 1998. The original founder of the company, Joe Austin, was looking for a short, brandable name that no one had the domain on, and he had this Egyptian hieroglyphic book.
He looked up the Egyptian hieroglyphic for the word “cat,” and in German, the translation was “miwa.” He massaged that into “miva.” It meant nothing. It really doesn’t have other meanings. There’s a volleyball association and a videographers association that used the acronym, but for the most part, the only use of the name “Miva” was always been for us as a corporation. When we sold the company or when the original owners sold the company in 2004, the name went with it.
FindWhat — the pay-per-click search engine that bought us back then — eventually stopped using the Miva name altogether, and we were able to buy the rest of the name back.
Now we own the trademark, and we own the brand. We did that about 15 months ago, but we were waiting, as we just moved into our new corporate headquarters. We waited, knowing that was coming with the big Version 9 release to tie all of the rebranding and going back to our roots into this one rollout.
PEC: This is not the first turnaround that you and Russ have accomplished. Your previous company was Providence Systems, a training company. You turned that around and sold it. Are you going to sell Miva?
Wilson: That’s a good question. Let me fill in a little detail on the previous turnaround. Yes, Russ was the CEO of that company, and he owned a big piece of it. Yes, he sold his piece, but he sold his piece to the original founder of that company who had always been the majority shareholder. That company, even though they’ve changed their name, is still owned and operated by the original founder. It wasn’t like a tech company that was built to be sold.
If Google or Apple, two of the biggest tech companies in the world, showed up today and offered to buy Miva, is it plausible? Sure, but that’s not how we built the business, and it’s impossible to know.
I have no idea if we’ll sell Miva, but I can tell you we’re not building it to sell it. We’re building it to be a great company for our customers that we plan on operating for as far as we can see.
PEC: You’re about to release Version 9 of your platform. Why did you build Version 9? What’s in that upgrade?
Wilson: Version 9 is coming in the next 30 days. There are hundreds of little things, but there are four key things in Version 9. One, we had never rebuilt the administrative interface. We put some color to it, we had done minor tweaks.
We also wanted to make it a lot faster, and for third-parties who build add-on features to deploy new features. I’ve been using the new admin now for about six months, and I am so excited for that to actually get released because it’s just faster. It looks so much better.
The second key feature in Version 9 is what I would call an enterprise-grade merchandising platform. It allows you to effectively set things like order of operations and really configure very advanced rules for how you run your business from a pricing standpoint.
The third feature (now in a beta, but will be formally part of Version 9) is official marketplace support — selling on eBay, selling on Amazon, and then using Miva to manage those orders.
Probably the feature that I’m most excited about is what we’re calling “Ready Themes,” wherein our users don’t have to know HTML. They don’t have to know anything technical. As long as they can use their web browser, they can build a high quality bootstrap-based fully-responsive website with Version 9 without needing to hire a professional. We think we’ve taken our enterprise platform and done something really unique. We’ve made it accessible to the small business without having to hamstring our platform, and we don’t think anyone else out there has that.
PEC: Let’s shift gears. Amazon, Walmart.com, and Newegg are huge, highly-sophisticated companies. How does a smaller ecommerce merchant thrive given the sophistication and money that those companies, and similar, have?
Wilson: That’s the defining question of our space: “Where is ecommerce going?” Amazon is the Walmart of ecommerce. Amazon is the number one search engine for ecommerce products. There’s just no getting around it.
But I look at our customers who succeed and what makes them stand out. There are several things I see. One is they have a unique product. One of our customers that’s fairly famous and popular is Scottevest. He got famous on Shark Tank, and he sells great clothes. There’s nothing Amazon can do about that.
He may choose to sell on Amazon or not, but Amazon can’t go buy Scottevest behind his back when he is Scottevest. We see that a lot. We see a lot of niche brands. Everything from home care goods to furniture, to healthcare goods, to personal beauty products, to clothes.
[Smaller merchants] need a unique angle, a unique brand, unique expertise. It’s not as hard as people realize.
If all you’re doing is competing with Amazon on price, you have a lot of pain. You really have to understand your unique sales preposition. You have to know what makes you different than everyone else and just be really committed to that.