Miva caters to 20,000 e-commerce merchants and Rick Wilson discusses the trends he sees in their customer base, as well as the industry in general.
Sramana Mitra: Welcome to the Thought Leaders in E-Commerce Series. Tell us a bit about yourself as well as Miva Merchant. Tell us what you do and how did you get to where you’ve gotten to.
Rick Wilson: Thank you for having me. I’m the President of Miva Merchant. From the way most companies are structured, I take what we would normally consider as the CEO role. We’re an SMB e-commerce platform. In the scheme of the market, our customers are larger than what you might see on a Shopify or a Bicommerce revolution. We’re probably most similar to, from a customer size standpoint, to a large Magento store customer or a Magento enterprise customer. We fit in that large SMB or low-level enterprise area. We were one of the very first SMB e-commerce platforms in the world back in 1990s.
The original company was founded by Joe Austin here in San Diego, California. He actually had an early web hosting company back in the early 90s when there was no way to do dynamic websites. He built a scripting language. It’s what people would think of today as PHP or Ruby on Rails, which he called HTML script. It was a tag-based scripting language that lets you do database applications in the web browser. It became a cult hit. It was a very popular language. There are not a lot of business opportunities in running a language, but it was a popular product in the mid-1990s. He then decided that the company, as a private entity, needed a product. So he developed a shopping cart application. Originally, it was called Kool Kat for catalog. It was spelled with K’s because it was very ‘90s. That product also became a cult hit.
In 1998, he realized he had a bit of a branding problem. He invented the name Miva. There is no particular meaning to it. It was the German pronunciation for the Egyptian hieroglyph of the word cat. It came out of an Egyptian hieroglyphic book he had. The more important part back in 1998 was that it was a four-letter word that had no trademark and was a domain he was able to purchase. He thought, “A four-letter domain name that’s easy to pronounce and memorable.” To this day, people usually think it means something. It’s just a brand. He changed everything to Miva in 1998 and goes out in the dot-com boom. He raised some financing. I guess in today’s parlance, a Series A round. I came on board at that point as the Director of North American Sales. My job was to go sell our product.
At this point, Software-as-a-Service didn’t exist. There was some discussion of it in the tech world. There was a sense that it was coming. He had this idea that we would sell our product and go to web hosting companies and distribute our products through them the same way that Microsoft distributed Windows. At that time, it seemed a genius idea. We would go sell large quantities.