Adam Coyle has taken his over 25 years of experience in the financial technology industry into his tasks as CEO of Digital River. Since 2015, he has been an integral member of the company’s board of directors. In that capacity, he has provided “highly valuable strategic input, operational expertise and market insights.”
Prior to becoming CEO of Digital River, Adam Coyle used to be an executive partner of Siris Capital, which is Digital River’s investment partner. In June 2018, he became Digital River’s CEO, where he began overseeing the “execution of the company’s strategic initiatives,” focusing particularly on the company’s product offerings.
Before Siris, Adam Coyle also served as executive vice president of “strategy and corporate development for Vantiv,” which is now known as WorldPay. Among Adam Coyle’s extensive experience is his service as operating partner at Advent International, as well as various “senior leadership roles” at First Data Corporation. He also used to the director of FirstBank, Paymentech, NYCE and First Financial Bank.
With Digital River, Adam Coyle joins a company that boasts mastery of the “ins and outs of global ecommerce.” The company caters to their clients no matter where they are across the world, should they need to take their brand right to their customers’ doorsteps.
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Adam Coyle: I studied computer science as an undergrad before attending law school. I’ve always been interested in the intersection of technology and business. After five years in private practice as a lawyer, I realized I wanted to be more directly involved in a business and its products, so I went in-house as a lawyer with a large payment processor, First Data.
Over time, I got more involved in the business side of things, and at some point — I can’t exactly say when — I wasn’t functioning as a lawyer anymore. I left First Data for the opportunity to work in private equity, and there I got to look at a lot of payment and technology companies.
Eventually, I was part of a team that did a $2 billion carve-out of the payment processing businesses from Fifth Third Bank in 2009. We took that business public as Vantiv in 2012; it later acquired Worldpay and ultimately merged with FIS in a transaction valued at $43 billion.
After leaving Vantiv/Worldpay I went back to work in private equity with Siris Capital, and after a couple of years as a board member I volunteered to become CEO of Digital River, a Siris portfolio company, because I am such a believer in the opportunity Digital River has in ecommerce.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Adam Coyle: I spent a lot of my career in “bricks and mortar” payments, where I realized early on that the critical technology for payments wasn’t the credit card terminal, it was the software that companies used to run their business. This led to me becoming one of the early proponents of the concept of “integrated payments” — the idea that payments capabilities could be embedded in that software.
My “aha” moment at Digital River was the realization that the same thing was true for online merchants. It’s a real benefit for merchants to use technology to integrate all of the back-office functions they require — things like payments, tax, risk, fraud, compliance, subscription management, fulfillment — into the software used to run their online businesses. That’s what Digital River is focused on today; we provide a seamless, integrated technology solution for all the back-office functions that occur after you hit the “Buy” button.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Adam Coyle: It can be challenging to get people to understand the things that made you successful in the past aren’t always the things that will make you successful in the future. When I came on as Digital River’s CEO, we were facing a technology pivot in our marketplace. Initially it was hard to convince people of the need to make that pivot when they’d been successful up to that point. We were an established, successful company and we were telling people we needed to think more like a start-up. Experience and genuine belief in the opportunity gave me the confidence to keep going.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Adam Coyle: While the early going was rough, the payoff came when I began to see everyone get behind the concept and start running with it themselves. Looking back, I can see we’ve made monumental changes and created really exciting new technology, and that’s what motivates me to keep going. The journey ahead might be long, but it’s less daunting when you have confidence that you’re on the right road.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Adam Coyle: It wasn’t a mistake exactly, and it wasn’t mine, but early in my career I worked for a large organization that was going through a fundamental restructuring that involved a lot of layoffs and business consolidations.
People were pretty down, so someone in the Corporate HR department had the brilliant idea to provide every employee — 30,000+ people! — with a copy of the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” If you’re not familiar, it recounts the inspiring story of two mice, Sniff and Scurry, who, when faced with significant change at their current place of employment, do what smart mice do… and LEAVE! It was certainly not the message management intended and definitely not what employees expected, but it reminded me that it is easy to be well-meaning and tone deaf at the same time. I’ve never forgotten that.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Adam Coyle: I don’t think you can overemphasize the importance of the consumer experience in ecommerce, and we work with ecosystem partners who have really amazing products — Adobe Experience Manager and Magento, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, WordPress VIP, and others. The capability to deliver an immersive, efficient and guided shopping experience exists in these tools. That’s the key; defining what kind of experience you want your customers to have. Our whole strategy as a business is tied to the idea that businesses should focus on the things that will differentiate their products and their brand, and leave the management and operation of the back-end to us. That’s why we’re so excited to be seamlessly integrated with partners like Magento, Salesforce, Adobe, and WordPress; we can help brands find the solution that’s the best fit for who and what they want to be.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Adam Coyle: Quite a bit of research goes into figuring out why a customer does or does not abandon their shopping cart. Shaving a few percentage points off those abandonment rates can make a world of difference to profitability. Making sure you offer local payments is a big one. We get back to that question of what is familiar to a shopper and what makes them feel confident in their purchase? How you pay is another. Some regions of the world are biased against credit. In Japan, cash on delivery is a popular payment method. Are you set up for that? Beyond that, do you understand the customs and nuances of the country you are selling into? The major shopping holidays that might affect your promotional calendar in that country.
If your product is subscription-based, which we are seeing more and more of, unintended churn is something we pay a lot of attention to — that’s when a customer intends to renew automatically, but for some reason, their payment method was declined. It could be an expired credit card, or a momentary lack of funds in their account. There are a variety of methods, including machine learning, that we use to mitigate the loss of customers who don’t intend to leave.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Adam Coyle: Accurately represent your product, be transparent with your customer on costs, shipping times and return policies. If they do return something, make it as painless as possible. Beyond that, brands are increasingly putting their values into actions consumers can see. Love Your Melon, based in here in Minneapolis, donates 50% of its net profits to non-profits leading the fight against pediatric cancer. Other brands are committing themselves to a zero carbon footprint in the coming decades, while others earn trust by having a very customer-focused approach. There is no secret sauce that guarantees success, but living your values consistently goes a long way toward establishing trust and customer loyalty.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Adam Coyle: One: Focus on the experience. If it isn’t clear by now, the ecommerce experience is what defines your brand. Customers will find you online before they will ever buy your product or set foot in your store, and the most amazing thing to me is that statement is true whether you are a global B2B software company or a local candy shop. Businesses that have historically spent millions thinking about how their product will look on a shelf or a showroom floor should be spending as much or more thinking about how their product will look on a mobile phone.
Two: Don’t do it alone. The biggest mistake you can make is to let your tech team, your programmers or your CTO say, “I can build our ecommerce solution from scratch!” There are amazing solutions out there from companies that spend every waking minute thinking about how to make their specific component of the ecommerce technology stack better. Your tech team, your programmers or your CTO can’t keep up with them. Focus on the things that matter (see #1 above) and have your people work on that. Work with experts and specialists on the rest.
Three: Going global may be easier than you think. Don’t assume that going global has to be hard. As I said above, there are experts and specialists for that. At Digital River, our whole business is about helping brands sell online globally. Think big and work with partners who can help you think even bigger.
Four: If you haven’t started, start now. If you’ve already started, double down. It’s not too late to get started if you have had ecommerce on your to-do list for several years now, but it’s going to be too late very soon. The COVID crisis has permanently changed the way consumers (whether B2C or B2B) behave, and they’re not going back to the old way of doing things. If you’ve already started your ecommerce journey, now is the time to double down and invest more, for the same reason.
Five: Focus on the experience. So important, it’s worth saying again. If you need convincing, think about the last time you bought a product you weren’t already familiar with, and I will bet the first thing you did was look it up online. Now go ask a college student what is the first thing they would do to learn about your product or service, and you’ll see what I mean: your online experience is the future of your brand.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Adam Coyle: LinkedIn works well for me.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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