Kevin Sproles | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin Sproles

Background:  

Volusion is a leading e-commerce software company based in Austin, Texas. With more than 250 employees and more than 40,000 online stores, Volusion e-commerce sites have processed more than $24 billion in merchant sales worldwide.

The Mistake:

I did not collect enough data about our customer’s wants and needs.

When I first started the company, I was the closest to the customer. It was just me in startup mode so I was working with the customers directly and able to learn what they wanted and build upon that. As the company matured and got bigger, I didn’t realize the value of that until later.

I founded the company in 1999 at first as a web design agency and turned it into a full e-commerce platform focused on the needs of small businesses in 2002. Later I stepped away as CEO for four years. During that time, the company focused on enterprise customers such as the biggest retailers and the culture changed a lot.

Over the years, we were not data driven in particular when it came to product creation. Everyone in the company was not talking to the customer – just the sales team.

We didn’t have enough product, engineering, design talent or product creators talking to customers every day. And that was a real mistake. That led to us not having any data analytics of what they did with the software.

We didn’t have the instrumentation to know how they were using it. That particular product ultimately didn’t have high growth and we ended up divesting that business unit. I really think if we would have connected the teams of the successful retailers with our team, we could have built a better product faster.

I realized the most important piece of data is really learning about your customers.

The Lesson:

I came back as CEO two years ago and the first thing I did was work to improve culture, to solve the enterprise business unit and focus on SMB (small-and medium-sized businesses) again.

I realized the most important piece of data is really learning about your customers.  So now the company is very focused on being customer first and data driven. We really work to analyze what the customer is doing and trying to get tons of quantitative data that drives us. We’ve broken down walls and silos to understand what customers want and need every day by interacting more with the products and brands.

Not only do we now have instrumentation to both to watch all of our users use our products and play back the videos of all our customers using our products, we have all kinds of analytics built in.

On the qualitative side, we meet with founders regularly. We invite them to talk to all our employees every month. We conduct a program offering one-on-one setup and help them launch their business on Volusion. We learn what challenges they are facing.

We also have everyone talk to customers – even the senior leadership team gets on the phone with our customers and takes calls. Recently, the CTO, 20 to 30 volunteers across the company and I took calls for half a day while the normal support team of about 40 to 50 people went out and had their first team-building offsite that they’ve had in a long time.

A lot of these people on phone calls on the Volusion side had never done that before – they came from finance, HR, engineering and IT. We also held two “Ask Me Anything” sessions this quarter where we were live on video and myself and other members of the product leadership team took questions from a live stream audience digitally across the globe. This opened up the dialogue with our customers.

 

Follow Volusion on Twitter at @Volusion.

Pictured is Kevin Sproles | Photo courtesy of Volusion.