An Interview with Adam Coyle, CEO of Digital River

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Adam Coyle, CEO of Digital River

Adam Coyle became CEO of Digital River in July 2018, where he took up the task of managing and overseeing the “execution of the company’s strategic initiatives,” giving special focus on the company’s products. With over 25 years of experience in the financial technology industry, Adam is the man for the job.

Before becoming CEO of Digital River, Adam Coyle spent three years working at Siris Capital as executive partner, and then member of the Digital River board of directors. Even prior to Siris, Adam worked as the executive vice president of strategy and corporate development for Vantiv, which is now known as WorldPay. This was after he worked as the present of the National Processing Company, one of Vantiv’s major subsidiaries.

At Digital River, Adam Coyle wants other leaders taking up the mantle at organizations to “listen to the employees; they know what needs to be done.” The role of the leader should simply be taking away the roadblocks that stifle innovation, and providing the employees whatever tools or resources they need to achieve the company’s goals.

Adam Coyle’s background made him realize that his employees already know what they need to do to move forward. If you want to take your brand to success, you have to be courageous enough to make changes; understand the “true economics of the business”;  and have enough motivation to remove the roadblocks against your success.

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

Adam Coyle: Digital River has a completely integrated solution for all the back-office functions of ecommerce — everything that happens after you hit the “buy” button — and we enable businesses to sell across the world with a single connection to our platform.

We also work across what I like to call the “six dimensions” of ecommerce: B2B and B2C, physical goods and subscriptions, cross-border selling and onshore. As we like to say, we let you do what you do best, while we take care of all the complex back-office functions associated with selling around the world.

A recent example of how our solution worked for one client is a company called Spaces. They work in Augmented Reality and built huge AR experiences for theme parks and shopping centers. When the pandemic hit, their business dried up. They pivoted to creating AR experiences for virtual presentations and needed a way to stand up an ecommerce store to sell their product through subscriptions. We were able to get them up and running in a few days. The company made a complete and successful pivot, and in August, they were acquired by Apple.

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

Adam Coyle: Early in my career I worked in a large office building and I had a boss who gave me some great advice: he said, “don’t eat in the cafeteria, go out for lunch every day.” He didn’t mean because the food was bad; he meant that you should make it a point to step away and clear your head every day, especially if you’re working long hours.

My go-to advice for anyone with a job that requires a lot of mental focus is to force yourself to step away for an hour each workday, whether that’s to exercise, meditate, read a book, or just go to lunch. I’m a believer that burnout starts at the daily level. Too many of us think “I’ll just work really hard for the next X weeks, and then take some time off to make up for it,” but, like sleep, you never catch up. My experience has shown that if you take care of daily burnout, you’ll go a long way toward fixing longer term burnout.

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?

Adam Coyle: There are too many to recount just a single story here. SO many people helped me along the way that it has become something of a philosophy for me: no matter how much you achieve, don’t ever forget you were lucky. As smart as you may have been, as hard as you may have worked, in the end you were still lucky. And reflecting on all of the ways you’ve been lucky — because of your educational opportunities, the boss who took an interest in you, the chance encounter that led to some huge opportunity, the people you hired who worked tirelessly for you — is something that we should all take the time to do. It also reminds me that some of us are luckier than others, and as one of the lucky ones, it inspires me to be someone else’s “luck.” There’s nothing more satisfying than helping others succeed.

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?

Adam Coyle: For businesses that already have a strong ecommerce channel, or who were exclusively online to begin with, the biggest challenges have been keeping up with the volume of traffic and making sure orders can be fulfilled.

Some of our clients have seen extraordinary traffic due to the type of products they sell. We’ve seen first-hand how important transparency is in this regard. If you are out of stock, when do you expect the product to be available? Be up front with shoppers about shipping times and work closely with your fulfillment partner.

If you’ve been on a marketplace, consider your own direct to consumer (D2C) channel. During this pandemic, we’ve seen times when products deemed “essential” on marketplaces were prioritized over other products. If your products didn’t make the marketplace’s subjective cut of what they thought was essential, then it was your brand and your customers who suffered, as shoppers had to wait longer to get their items. Having your own D2C channel gives you the ability to meet customer needs, regardless of the circumstances.

Many ecommerce businesses that also have brick and mortar stores have worked across channels to allow people to shop online and pick up their product curbside at the store. Those stores have essentially become mini distribution centers, allowing more of the product in demand in that region to be closer to the shopper who wants to buy it. Shoppers are quickly adapting to this new era of choice, and it’s likely these new patterns of shopping will continue.

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?

Adam Coyle: Some shoppers do buy on price alone — but most prefer a relationship with a merchant they know and trust. That’s where brand-building comes in, and it’s why we’re so focused on helping brands create a direct relationship with their customers. Delivering a satisfying and dependable experience, from the moment a customer lands on the website to the moment goods or services are delivered, is key to establishing that trust and building the value of your brand. You don’t have to be local to do that, but you do have to behave like a local, offering the right payment types or shipping methods, for example, that consumers in a particular country or region expect. Price is important, but in ecommerce we think the buying experience matters just as much, if not more.

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?

Adam Coyle: An ecommerce business is usually built on either an idea for a great product, or the need to expand a business that already has a great product. Managing the infrastructure required to make that ecommerce business successful is not necessarily what the company is good at. The company is good at making a great product and knowing their customers.

Successful ecommerce solutions involve a great user experience layer, relevant details about your products or services, effective merchandising, and a strong back office component that ensures you are using the right payments for the locale in which you are doing business, handling all the taxes and compliance for each locale in which you are doing business, and managing risk and fraud. These are each highly specialized areas — brands can either try to handle all of them on their own, building out a team who will be forever trying to keep up with the evolving nature of these various components, or find partners with the scale, expertise and focus who can do that for you. In terms of both simplicity and cost, it’s much better to partner with venders who already possess the necessary knowledge and expertise than to try and manage all of that complexity yourself.

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

Adam Coyle: Aside from the business elements I just discussed, I would say understanding the culture and customs of country where you are selling. To be successful selling globally, you need to act like a local. If you’ve ever purchased from a site from another country that might offer the language you speak, but you don’t recognize the payment choices, or the currency is in euros when you want it in dollars, you know what I mean.

Deciding whether to operate cross-border or “onshore” through a local entity also makes a difference. Cross-border may sound easy, but cross-border credit card transactions are often more likely to be denied. Selling through a local entity, with a payments processor that has in-country relationships with the local card issuing banks, makes that same credit card transaction completely “local,” and makes the transaction more likely to go through.

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?

Adam Coyle: I think how you respond to poor reviews is critically important. Consumers are becoming increasingly suspect of good reviews; they are easy to manipulate, and an entire industry has developed around helping less scrupulous sellers improve their reviewer ratings.

As an unintended result, bad reviews are in some ways becoming more trustworthy, more authentic. I think the most important thing a business can do in addressing bad reviews is to take them head-on and “own it.” Apologize, acknowledge the specific issue, suggest resolution and connect offline.

Consumers who search the bad reviews will recognize automated answers, so have real humans do the responses. If the review suggests something that is patently false, I think it’s fair and even important to call that out, but don’t argue with the reviewer. If you fix the problem, ask them to go back and update their review with the solution. I would argue that a bad review that reports a happy ending is probably the best review of all.

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. 🙂

Adam Coyle: The fact that we can’t do everything keeps too many of us from doing anything, so my movement would be to do away with movements and start focusing on the things that are right in front of us.

The whole idea of a “movement” is getting a group of like-minded people together to convince other people to change. That can have enormous value, but too often we use it as an excuse to not change ourselves; we think that merely supporting a cause emotionally gives us a pass, so to speak.

I’d like more of us to focus individually on doing the things we know are right, but that might make us a little uncomfortable or that don’t give us an immediate sense of satisfaction. Personal responsibility goes a long way toward real change, and it’s often a lot harder than simply adding our support to the efforts of a large group.

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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