In an era when many ecommerce platforms are migrating to large, enterprise-level clients, Volusion is doing the opposite. It’s focused on smaller and mid-size companies, even startups. To discuss it, I recently spoke with Volusion’s founder and longtime C.E.O., Kevin Sproles. What follows is the full audio interview and the transcript of it, edited for length and clarity.
Practical Ecommerce: Please bring us up to date on Volusion.
Kevin Sproles: Volusion has been around for 17 years. Over 30,000 businesses use our platform to build and grow their businesses. Roughly 185 million orders have been placed by shoppers on Volusion-powered websites. This year we released a new version of Volusion, called V2. It is 100-percent mobile optimized for both shoppers and merchants.
V2 launched a few months ago. We’re excited about what it’s bringing to the market. With the mobile experiences, you can build your whole store from your phone, from the iOS app or the Android app or the web version, as well as the desktop. It’s so easy to use.
PEC: What is the price?
Sproles: We focus on the small business market. The price ranges from $15 to $135 per month.
PEC: Volusion has gone through some change in the last few years. You are back running the company and you’ve sold Mozu, the platform for large companies.
Sproles: Volusion was in growth mode and I stepped away when my first child was born, to focus on the family. I tried letting others run the company. I learned a lot through that process. Fast-forward four years and I realized that the company had deviated significantly from our mission to help small businesses, and it wasn’t working. So two years ago I returned as C.E.O. with four things on my agenda.
One was to improve our culture. Two was to fix or sell Mozu. Three was to improve our product, and four to drive growth. I’m proud to say that the first two are complete. Our culture is fantastic now. Employees are referring their friends and our employee Net Promoter Score is higher than ever. When we sold Mozu we became profitable again, immediately.
PEC: Is Mozu still available?
Sproles: Yes, it is. It was acquired by Kibo. We had the best exit we could find for the business that was good for the employees who were part of the Mozu team. Kibo retained most of the people, in its Dallas office and here in Austin.
PEC: Why focus on smaller companies?
Sproles: We’re talking about millions of potential businesses out there. When we at Volusion think of enterprise, it’s just the very, very largest companies. Amazon is the top of the list, as is Target and so forth. That’s the part that we realize that it’s so different. Our target market now is S.M.B.s, small and medium businesses, up to $50 million in revenue. We have a lot of customers today, a lot of businesses. Our top 100 customers generate over $10 million in revenue annually, each of them. So, we do service what I consider big merchants, but they’re not the top enterprise companies.
PEC: Given the dominance of Amazon, what is a profitable strategy for smaller, independent ecommerce companies?
Sproles: I love this question because Amazon is a great place to get sales — there’s no doubt about it. Amazon is the number one ecommerce retailer in the world. They’re number one on that enterprise list I talked about, and they’re growing. But it’s not a place to build a brand as a small business — neither is Etsy. So these marketplaces companies pose a risk to small businesses as they can replace you in an instant, and they do.
You can find many examples about how Amazon works to create their own brands for clothing and other kinds of products. They took over batteries and kicked out even the big companies like Duracell and Energizer.
PEC: Say an entrepreneur comes to you with an idea for an ecommerce startup. What’s your advice?
Sproles: The first thing we advise is to build your website and optimize it for search engines, which is free. You can start to get your site indexed in Google. The next step is Facebook. It’s a great way to launch your business and start to get sales. Again that’s free to start out, and then you can scale it up through advertisements on Facebook.
If you create great content and a great website, you’re going to do well and drive traffic. Down the road is when you would add Amazon, to keep adding channels and not put all your eggs in one basket and to take advantage of where the shoppers are.
PEC: What are common mistakes you’ve seen from new ecommerce companies?
Sproles: New merchants often put up a website and blindly look at clicks and analytics data, instead of really trying to connect with potential customers. Merchants should invite shoppers to speak on the phone. Throw local events in person so that you meet these people and you see them looking at your products and asking you those questions. You don’t get those insights from analytics.
PEC: Is Volusion’s revenue growing?
Sproles: Yes, and we are profitable, too. We’re about $50 million in annual revenue, 30,000 clients, and we’re growing.
PEC: Anything else?
Sproles: I love entrepreneurship. I love helping founders build and grow their businesses, whether they’re just getting started or they’re growing to $10 million, $15 million, or more. These are the small and medium businesses that are powering our economy. It’s humbling to be a part of that community.