Max Rice is the co-founder and CEO at SkyVerge, an Inc. 5000 company that creates software for eCommerce brands to manage and grow their stores.
How did the concept for SkyVerge come about?
I was working at a small company and had the opportunity to rebuild their eCommerce site using WooCommerce. I needed to add some custom functionality to the site and found a great article that my co-founder (Justin Stern) had written, so I asked him to help me with the project.
That went well, so we started consulting for other companies who needed help with their eCommerce stores. Most of those projects were for connecting WooCommerce with other services, like PayPal, or adding functionality like free shipping for certain products. We packaged a lot of those custom projects into general plugins that any store could download, and started selling them on WooCommerce.com.
Later, we expanded into providing solutions for other eCommerce platforms, but we kept the same approach: identify small, specific problems that eCommerce stores have and build a very focused product that solves the problem and is super easy to use.
How was the first year in business?
It was intense — we were building new products as quickly as we could, maintaining existing ones, and trying to figure out how to structure and grow the company. There was a lot of experimentation, and once we realized how big the opportunity was in eCommerce, we started planning for how we’d build the company long-term.
What was your marketing strategy?
Because we sold the majority of our products through marketplaces, we didn’t need to spend much time on traditional marketing channels like advertising. Instead, we wrote a lot of content around the eCommerce platforms that we worked with, things like how to set up certain types of stores or how to customize product pages, and it was all very relevant to store owners and operators.
We also wrote very detailed documentation for each product, so if a potential customer was searching for how to connect their store to another service, they would find our documentation for that integration and usually end up purchasing it.
That sort of content marketing was really effective for us, and we continue to use content as a way to connect with our target market.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We doubled revenue every year for the first few years, which is somewhat rare for a bootstrapped company. Early on, we also made a few small product acquisitions from other developers that helped us keep growing revenue at that pace.
How do you define success?
As a company we define success as making our customers happy — whether that’s by saving them time, or increasing their sales, or simply helping them solve a problem they’re having. I think success is also having the opportunity to work on really interesting problems with a team of smart, engaged people. There’s very few things that are as rewarding as growing a team that loves working together and genuinely cares about making customers happy.
What is the key to success?
Persistence, or as we call it in one of our core values — “true grit”, meaning persistence in the face of adversity. Anything worth doing is going to be hard, and there’s going to be challenges and unexpected obstacles, but if you push through the difficulties, you have a good shot at being successful.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I’ve learned that no one has it all figured out. You make the best decisions you can, with the information that you have, and then learn from your mistakes, and try again. We’ve made a lot of mistakes in growing our business and tried a lot of things that didn’t work, but we’ve learned from each one. Approaching everything you do in business with an experimental mindset will help you not only grow faster, but do it in a calmer, more rational way.
What are some quotes that you live by?
I’m a big fan of Warren Buffett and one quote from him that’s always resonated with me is, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” To me, that means taking a long-term perspective on everything you do, and treating everyone you work with — whether your customers, team, or partners — the way you’d want to be treated.
What are some of your favorite books?
I like biographies quite a bit, so The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder and Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow are both fantastic. They avoid the “hero worship” that some biographies have where struggles or failures are downplayed.
Recently, our leadership team has been reading & discussing both Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott and Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet, and they’ve been helpful in making us think critically about our leadership style and how we can improve it.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There’s not a single day that stands out to me, but I think the most difficult days have been times when everything seems to be going wrong. Like when an important customer switches to a competitor, or a key team member decides to leave; those things can sometimes happen all at once and it makes for a tough day at work. Being an entrepreneur can sometimes be an emotional rollercoaster, and it can take time to get comfortable with that.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Two things: 1) having a wonderful team of people who are all committed to achieving our shared goals, and 2) hearing from customers who are growing their businesses using our products and how we’ve helped make their lives better.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Spend as much time as you can talking to your customers. Deeply learn and understand their problems, and be able to speak the same language as them. The closer you are to your customer, the more successful you’ll be.