Interview: Amit Mathradas, COO of Avalara

Amit Mathradas has set a lofty standard at his new office in Avalara, premised on his personal philosophy of always setting high and audacious goals for himself. In March 2019, he joined Avalara as president and chief operating officer, after his stint as general manager and head of small and medium business branch of PayPal.

In Avalara, Amit Mathradas joined the company around a year after it went public. The company has also moved to the new headquarters at Avalara Hawk Tower, where he took his talents and expertise honed throughout his tenure at PayPal. He has worked in the technology sector for over 20 years, after all.

For his leadership at Avalara, Amit Mathradas believes everybody should be excited about the future, and always believe that the future is always achievable. If you believe you can reach $1 billion in two years, or $3 billion in five, then you can do it. You simply need to get the best teammates or promote your best employees so that they can generate momentum and excite everybody else to pursue your company’s goals.

At Avalara, Amit Mathradas has focused on finding and elevating the right people who are as thrilled as he is in reaching the next horizon, or reaching the next frontier.

Check out more interviews with industry experts here.


Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Amit Mathradas: There are three key differentiators that allows Avalara to stand out — tax content, technology, and integrations.

In order to get tax compliance right, businesses need access to up-to-date and accurate tax rules and information. Avalara supports indirect tax content from more than 190 countries, and we are continuously expanding into new areas like beverage alcohol and lodging compliance to serve more customers. We also recently acquired Transaction Tax Resources (TTR), a leading tax content subscription provider, to expand our tax content database and enhance our solutions to serve the world’s largest companies.

Avalara is also a pioneer in applying advanced technology to solve tax compliance. We were among the leaders to take a cloud-first approach to develop our technology. We continue to leverage emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve our tax content database and the operational efficiency of our solutions. In 2019, we acquired Indix AI technology to aggregate, maintain, and deliver global product and tax information.

Lastly, Avalara has the ability to handle tax compliance across virtually any software that generates an invoice. This means that if a retailer has an enterprise resource planning (ERP), point of sale, and customer relationship management (CRM) system, Avalara has the ability to integrate data across all of these and ensure automated tax compliance through our strong partner ecosystem of more than 700 cloud integrations.

Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Amit Mathradas: There are a number of tips out there that I wish I took to heart more closely. For me, I would tell others to make sure that they are taking a few days off every so often to get away if you’re fortunate enough to do so. The pandemic has made that more challenging but getting away to a remote cabin or going hiking is a great way to unplug and refresh.

I think it’s also important that we spend more time with those that we love. During the pandemic, I’ve been spending more time talking to my mom via video chat. I’ve been able to find what I’ve been missing by spending more quality time together, asking questions, and learning more about those I care for. Spending time with your loved ones should always be a priority and can help keep you centered amid stressful and busy seasons.

Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Amit Mathradas: I’ve had a number of mentors throughout my career — all of which have taught me different lessons. Some mentors have been short-term and specific to certain points in my career, and others are still close friends to this day. Above all the great mentors I’ve had, my older brother has always been a constant in my life.

We both work in similar roles and industries, so having an older brother who can share his experiences and knowledge has always been important to me. Earlier in my career, he encouraged me to go back to business school, which has had a lasting impact on my career. He has also always encouraged me to look at roles through different lenses to take all factors into consideration. To this day, I will still give him a call when I’m stuck and need a new perspective or just want to talk through challenges.

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Amit Mathradas: The resiliency of businesses — small and large — has never been more evident than it is today. At the onset of the pandemic, many businesses were forced to change their entire business operation virtually overnight. At Avalara, we’ve seen many of our existing and new ecommerce customers embrace technology to adapt to their new realities created by COVID-19.

Many ecommerce businesses are leveraging tools like social media to bring the in-store shopping experience online. For example, some online make-up and clothing retailers allow customers to use their social media platforms and cameras to “try-on” products before buying.

Another example of how ecommerce businesses are adapting is through their investments to increase efficiency and save money. As online sales have expanded as more consumers shop online, many ecommerce merchants have offloaded backend processes to automated solutions. Everything from tax compliance to payment processing is being automated to reduce the burden on employees, focus more on serving customers, and cut costs.

Lastly, we’re seeing more ecommerce sellers utilize buy online, pick up in-store options for customers. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on supply chains, which has created disruptions to shipping and delivery. Customers have been able to do their shopping online and streamline the delivery process by opting for contact-free pickup at physical stores in their areas.

Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Amit Mathradas: We’ve all likely come across these direct-to-consumer companies recently. I find myself being drawn in by advertisements on my social media feeds from these very companies. While it’s true that they tend to offer cheaper prices than more established brands in the US and Europe, there are a number of factors that ecommerce retailers can focus on to stay competitive.

Aside from price, these direct-to-consumer sellers have a number of downsides. In most cases, the shipping times are lengthy, the quality of the products are hit or miss, and being able to return products that don’t work out is virtually impossible. These are the areas where ecommerce retailers can stand out.

Focus your business on providing value across the customer experience, including speed to market, the reliability of products, and easy returns. Invest in distribution and fulfillment channels to reduce shipping times. Ensure that you’re providing quality products and in the event a customer isn’t satisfied, enable them to easily return products or offer money-back guarantees. At the end of the day, price is only one variable consumers consider when shopping. More often than not, consumers will pay a slightly higher price for improved shipping, quality, and returns options.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Amit Mathradas: There are a number of pitfalls that are associated with starting any type of business. For newcomers to the ecommerce world, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of options that they encounter. Everything from ecommerce platforms to payment options has an impact on the customer experience and business operations, so it’s important that ecommerce leaders have a solid grasp of their business goals and audience.

For example, there are a number of ecommerce platforms available to support a range of businesses and budgets. If you’re a small clothing retailer, it’s critical that you can answer questions like, “How many products do I plan on selling?” and “What features will I need?” before selecting the ecommerce platform that’s right for your business. If you plan on selling outside of your country, paying close attention to payment options and shipping services is necessary to ensure you’re creating a platform that can support your potential customers and allow your business to scale over time.

Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Amit Mathradas: I’ve found that sales support functions (tax compliance and logistics to name a few) are among the top business functions that ecommerce brands overlook or underestimate. It’s easy to see why something like tax compliance is often underestimated because it’s a function of business that provides no tangible benefit to the customer or bottom line. However, failure to get tax right has implications that span customer experience and finances. And unfortunately, many ecommerce merchants are still managing their tax compliance on their own as their business grows and tax obligations increase.

If you take the U.S. as an example, you’ll quickly see just how complicated tax can be. In 2018, the Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. made it possible for states to tax the sales by remote sellers regardless of a business’s physical presence in the state. So, if I own an ecommerce business based in North Carolina, but sell to customers in 12 other states, I could potentially owe sales tax in 13 states.

If my business doesn’t have the processes and technology in place to manage those tax obligations, I run the risk of facing an audit and significant fines. Not only does my business face regulatory risks, but if I’m calculating sales tax on my online sales incorrectly, I could potentially be overcharging customers and increase the chance of cart abandonment at the time of checkout.

The risks associated with getting tax wrong pose a significant threat to ecommerce businesses, which makes it clear just how underestimated the process of tax compliance is.

Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

Amit Mathradas: When working with consumers, a business will inevitably receive both positive and negative feedback. While there’s no one-size-fits-all to managing poor reviews, there are key components of brand management that every ecommerce business can leverage.

First, it’s important that businesses acknowledge an issue when it arises to show the customer that you’re aware of the concern and are actively working to address it. Likewise, when appropriate, it’s important to apologize or sympathize with the customer to further validate their concerns and reassure them that you’re working on a resolution.

Other tactics include providing detailed explanations in response to the negative experience to clear up any confusion. It’s important that any explanation does not come off as defensive or accusatory to avoid further escalation. In some cases, providing compensation or incentives to the reviewer may be necessary to resolve the issue.

There are also creative ways brands can address unfair things said about the business online. While getting into a Twitter feud is never advised, brands can combat unfair and untrue accusations made by promoting positive reviews and highlighting customer successes online. While the customer may not always be right, they influence others, so focusing on the positive can help maintain brand integrity and exhibit goodwill to other prospective customers.

Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Amit Mathradas: While this isn’t a new movement, it’s one that is close to me personally. I think the single most important thing we can do is equip others with education, specifically those in underprivileged countries or regions. I believe the age-old saying about teaching a man to fish and he’ll eat all of his days rings true. If we invest time, money, and resources into educating those less fortunate about the basics of healthcare, finances, and other daily activities, we can help more people than ever expected. Think about it: the impact of just one person investing in educating others can create a ripple effect that has an exponential amount of positive implications.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Amit Mathradas: You can follow me on LinkedIn.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!




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