Miva Merchant is an early day shopping cart. First launched in 1995, it rose and then fell with the dotcom boom and bust. Findwhat.com, a publicly traded company, purchased Miva Merchant in 2005. Findwhat subsequently renamed itself Miva, only to sell the Miva Merchant shopping cart division to a private investor in 2007. That investor is Russ Carroll. He is now the CEO of Miva Merchant.
PeC: Why did you purchase Miva Merchant?
Carroll: “Well, back in January 2007, Rick Wilson, my former vice president of sales at another turnaround company I ran, told me that the Findwhat folks were considering selling Miva. For months, we did due diligence on the company and I really looked at it carefully. I realized that I had a chance to not only buy a market leader, but a technology leader as well.”
PeC: You mentioned the former turnaround company with Rick Wilson. What company was that?
Carroll: “The company was called Provident Systems. It’s a very huge departure for me personally. I mean my background really is technology, astrophysics, space science, supercomputing, and so on, and I was acting really as a technology consultant at this company that was pretty much falling apart. It was a training company for mortgage lenders and Realtors and service professionals. Very poorly run. The owner of the company and I had a friend in common and they were about ready to go under. He called me and said, “Look, I just fired the CEO. I know you have a business background. Would you please help me?” and I did. Again, it had an excellent product, very poorly run and so having put in place a proper sales and marketing strategy combined with proper controls and management, the company just exploded. We shrank from about 50 to 18 employees, but eventually grew to over 300 and it really was a leader in its market. I left the company and retired in 2002. But that success really provided the resources for me to buy Miva.”
PeC: How long were you at Provident Systems?
Carroll: “That was four years. Pretty rapid turnaround. I mean it went from probably, I don’t know, $80,000 a month in sales. It peaked at over $50 million in revenues”
PeC: Did you own that company?
Carroll: “I ended up owning a piece of it and I sold it when I left.”
PeC: You mentioned your scientific training. Could you tell us a little bit more about your background?
Carroll: “Well, I started in astrophysics and space science as a young teenager at Michigan State and I was one of the winners of the Westinghouse Science Award. My specialty was contact binaries, two stars so close that they even share a common atmosphere, they are so close. I eventually, through the Westinghouse Award, became part of the x-ray astronomy community through the Naval Research Lab and then ultimately at University of California at San Diego, at the Center for Astrophysics, studying these objects in the x-ray.”
“I left astronomy, and large scale computation is certainly a part of that. I was very interested in that [large scale computing] and worked at Boeing doing pioneering work in changing algorithms for a number of different scientific disciplines that use Cray Supercomputers. Through that association, I got hooked up with a special effects firm in Los Angeles called Digital Productions where I went to work. That was really my first entrepreneurial role. The company had won an Academy Award and Clios for special effects it had done for film and for television commercials and we also did quite a bit of scientific and engineering work outside for NASA, General Motors and the National Science Foundation. All of that ultimately morphed into my own business, where we did tons of Unix development work mostly for Sun Microsystems.”
“That’s kind of my technical background, if you will.”
PeC: Tell us about Miva Merchant. You acquired it in August 2007. Are you the majority owner there?
Carroll: “I am. I’m the majority owner, but also, all the senior management has ownership as well. So, if you go to our website, you’d be able to see all the management, each of which has a stake in the company. We also have one outside adviser, Dr. Larry Osborne, who has just really done a terrific job in helping management.”
PeC: A year from now, five years from now, where do you want Miva to be?
Carroll: “As you can see from some of the things we’ve done, we want to be more than just a technological leader. I guess our biggest vision is to be a critical team member for companies that succeed online selling. ”
PeC: Do you enjoy running Miva?
Carroll: “I love it. There’s the challenges that anybody has running a business. Running a small business especially in this day and age is tough, but I love it. I love it for a couple of reasons. One, I love our community.”
“I would also say that we appreciate all of our clients’ business and we treat that with great care. Just know that we measure our success by yours and every day we think that first and foremost in our mind.”