For the past ten years, Venture Atlanta has had the unique opportunity to connect some of the most promising companies in the Southeast with the capital they need to grow. But what happens, you might ask, after the pitch? In this series, we’re taking you behind-the-scenes with the people who graced the VA stage to tell their stories--from then to now.
Meet Jason Rubottom
CEO of Ally Commerce
Presenting Company at Venture Atlanta 2016
Tell us a bit about yourself and why you got started in this industry.
I started in management consulting (Accenture) and eventually joined the fastest growing consulting firm in the country (Revel Consulting). I had the unique opportunity to build an eCommerce consulting practice from the ground up. That experience brought out the entrepreneur in me like never before and it's where I discovered my passion for eCommerce. In 2012 I became GM at eBay, building new businesses for them. That is where I first saw a massive market opportunity for taking brand manufacturers direct to consumer. There was no good solution for it.
And now you’re the CEO of Ally Commerce. Tell us about that.
I knew the original founders of Ally and they asked me to join the team back in 2014. I joined at seed stage and off we went. Ally provides eCommerce as a service to brand manufacturers selling (or wanting to sell) directly to consumers online. Direct to consumer (DTC) is the fastest growing segment in eCommerce, making it an incredibly exciting space to be. Our mission is to help brand manufacturers generate higher sales, faster and more profitably.
You pitched last year at Venture Atlanta . Was that your first experience pitching to investors?
No, we raised a round before Venture Atlanta, but it wasn’t easy. I was speaking with VCs all over the country, but the business had typical early stage challenges at that time and valuations weren’t ideal.
Pitching at Venture Atlanta gave us tremendous exposure to a large audience of quality VC’s. I also got to learn from other great entrepreneurs, investors and advisers. At that time, we were planning to raise another round within twelve months, so the timing was perfect.
What was the state of Ally Commerce at that time?
Revenues were in the low millions, and we knew that the business was about to explode. We had product-market fit. We saw it all coming together, but we hadn’t gone exponential yet, and we had key roles to hire and major gaps to fill on the executive team. We’d also received a strategic investment from UPS and saw how our capabilities could add a lot of value to their customers. Looking back, that was really just the beginning of nailing down our product market fit. We later saw this in our client results. We had something truly unique to offer, and this was just the beginning.
Fast forward a year and we’ve grown so fast and so profitably that we haven’t had to raise yet. We more than quadrupled net revenue year-over-year. We also hit cash flow neutral, despite the rapid growth and investment.
What would you say has been the biggest factor contributing to this success?
Our laser focus on building a strong team and company culture. Without a doubt, our people have been the biggest key for our growth. The team is actually smaller than when I started over three years ago, but revenue is astronomically higher. It’s all about getting the right people in the right spots. That, plus our culture, drives everything else (the product, technology, strategy, innovation, margins, growth) so we do everything we can to protect it.
What about this eCommerce space excites you? What are some trends you’re seeing?
eCommerce is opportunity. It is big, high growth, and fast-changing. As eCommerce evolves and opens new doors, more and more brand manufacturers are looking to sell direct to consumer. Selling through marketplaces and online stores is complicated with a ton of moving parts and problems to solve. Most manufacturers don’t have the technology or expertise and are going to need a partner like us to succeed.
What are you focused on now? What’s next for Ally Commerce?
We’re in hyper growth mode and building our team and culture faster than ever. We have aggressive plans for growth and product development that will deliver more value to our clients.
Any advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs looking to raise money or pitch at Venture Atlanta 2018?
The more you can build company value, the less you have to worry about fundraising, and I believe the key there is focusing on a great team and culture. I believe that investors generally see the importance of team. So that’s all the more reason to invest in team as it will help in fundraising efforts. If possible, take advantage of the great opportunity that Venture Atlanta offers. Meet with as many VC’s as you can and make sure you’ve nailed your pitch before walking on that stage.
Interested in learning more about Venture Atlanta alumnus, Ally Commerce? Keep up with them right here.