An Interview With IndabaGroup’s Ryan Shields, Blake Gindi, And Dave Armstrong

Ryan Shields and Blake Gindi are the founders of the Indaba Group. Ryan Shields is the CEO of Indaba Group and Blake is the CTO of Indaba Group. Indaba is located in Denver, Colorado and they are part of the Cloud commerce family of companies. Cloud commerce is a publicly traded company, traded by the OTC with the ticker symbol CLWD. Ryan and Blake recently joined CloudCommerce VP of Communications Zack Bartlett for an interview:

Zack [00:01:18]: First, will you guys tell me about your history, your personal histories, or how, you guys came together, How did Indaba come to be? How did this whole thing really come together? The story of your origin.

Ryan [00:01:36]: Sure! Zack, I can take out one. I have been in the E-commerce industry for as long as I could remember when I was in London, in the UK. It was before the time when anything opensource came out, before the time of E-commerce itself being the type of industry as it is today. And… I was doing some consulting for a few shops here in Denver and I came across some really amazing talented people and some really great opportunities and I really saw the spark of the E-commerce flame really starting to take shape. Having met with several agencies, several other companies in the industry, locally, at least– over here in Denver, and also just having exposure to other agencies and companies nationally, I just felt like they were doing it a little wrong, I always felt that I could do it better. So when I came across Blake in my one of my roles, I thought that… this is someone that I could hop in with to really tackle the E-commerce industry, in a much better, more efficient, more effective collaborative way. So, when Blake and I met, after some time, we decided to set up Indaba Group to tackle a problem that we believe most of the merchants in the mid-market and enterprise-level space struggle with, which is budget, time, trust and reliability.  There’s an overwhelming number of solutions in the marketplace. And we fill the role of a solutions shepherd, where we can really invest heavily in technology and training of our staff, and partners with the view to create a winning solution from existing technologies, new technologies for the long-term success of our clients. This was five short years ago and here we are today under the CloudCommerce umbrella.

Zack [00:04:15]: — How did you originally meet each other? You were both working at different agencies?

Ryan [00:04:26]: I was doing some consulting at another agency. Blake was the lead developer there. I was bringing in a lot of business, a lot of new businesses. Blake became very quickly my go-to developer.

Blake [00:04:40]: Yeah! We created a great partnership in project execution which inevitably led to the creation of Indaba group obviously according to how Ryan explained it. There was a need for a realistic approach, a more realistic approach to project execution that was lacking in the industry. A bridge was needed between what could actually happen with what the client wanted, that didn’t exist before, and setting a road map for a project wasn’t something that we were seeing done in an effective way.

Zack [00:05:22]: How vital is that road map part of the project? The road map is sort of a project in itself, right?

Blake [00:05:27]: Yes, it is. Without that road map, you can almost guarantee no success in the project or minimal success out of the project so, the end goal was never met without that road map in place. So, the road map is key… It goes along with the saying, ‘You fail to plan, you plan to fail.’

Zack [00:05:48]: So, you started out just you two. Was it just you two alone in like a single, small office…? Who was the third employee? How did it branch out from there?

Ryan [00:06:00]: So, at the time we started, there were actually three founders and our first employee was in early 2011 and he was our first developer to get through the work we’d been taking on ourselves. He’s still with us today. He’s started out as a developer. Now, he’s the director of DevOps. He’s really learning and creating the “Indaba Way” for ourselves internally and for our clients. I remembered our first Christmas party with our spouses. It was about eight of us. And now, we are part of the CloudCommerce family and if you look at our About Us page, you’ll see about how many people list of we became.

Zack [00:06:53]: So, what originally attracted you guys to the CloudCommerce acquisition opportunity? How did that whole thing unfold? What was the most appealing to you guys about this potential of building a bigger enterprise together?

Blake [00:07:25]: Yeah, I can say on this side, it’s quite simple. It’s the opportunity to expand our footprint in the E-commerce space. And have more influence on everything involved in the commerce transaction that’s exciting. In many cases right now, in many projects that we’re working on, We are working with other partners, other firms to accomplish a solution and not every partner or firm or third party that we worked with has the same vision that we do when it comes to a successful solution that you can grow with, that you can expand upon into the future and I think CloudCommerce brings forth that possibility, influencing and coordinating every aspect of an E-commerce solution from start to finish. We want to bring different elements of the solution together, in terms of the consistency throughout and doing what’s right for our customers so that they can be successful before they clear out their bank accounts. That’s an important part of the equation that I think.

Zack [00:09:26]: Ryan, what originally attracted you to the opportunity? From the perspective of your company here, just got acquired/merged and you guys became a part of something with this potential now to go bigger?

Ryan [00:10:02]: So, the way that we built Indaba was based on a founding principle of collaboration where we were obviously smaller than your average shop competing in a very ruthless pool of solutions. And we built our company in a client-based partnership through that principle of collaboration, so, making sure that we could bring in the appropriate technology partners and service partners at the right time to create a winning solution for our clients. We aim to always control, influence and guide every aspect of an E-commerce transaction. We’ve always just brought in partners that we trust and we get along with and we know that they’re gonna add. It’s like the ingredients of the soup. We’re able to make great tasting soup with different ingredients. What really made sense for us with the CloudCommerce acquisition is that Cloud Commerce shares that same vision of curating this winning solution from existing and new partners and technology partners where we could blend different and mix different solutions together and technologies together to make tangible, measurable improvements to our clients’ business. With CloudCommerce now that has taken several steps. It’s gone several steps beyond, where not only did we aim to curate an ecosystem. We aim to own the ecosystem through very strategic acquisitions so we will always have he vested interest in the long term, brought about clients, through very tactical and strategic acquisitions of the right company within the ecosystem.

Zack [00:12:02]: What is it like to be the first one?… What is it like to have your company be acquired?

Blake [00:13:03]: It has open up a world of possibilities, quite frankly, where before we were unable to influence areas or never even thought of that as a possibility. We now think of that as a possibility. That’s the biggest thing, I think right now at the company is acknowledging where we’re going is now wide open. It is how we want to influence the E-commerce space.

Ryan [00:13:38]: You know, echoing on Blake’s comments. It has absolutely opened up a lot of possibilities, and I would say that the possibilities were things that we knew that we always go and hunt down and achieve and make a reality. But now, we feel emboldened by our acquisition. We always felt that we could do more. We could do more faster, better, but we have always just grown organically. We’re emboldened without being reckless in terms of accelerating our approach and we feel really confident for our employees, our staff and our partners within the ecosystem that we already built. It feels like we are actually paying homage to the vision that we have spun for everyone, and I feel that within 5 short years we built our business organically, and the next 5 years should be incredible to witness and be a part of.

Zack [00:15:04]: I know you’ve signed some big clients, some very big names recently. What are some of the most recent deals that you guys have put together?

Ryan [00:15:26]: Sure so, just talking notable and recent wins, Karcher is a German industrial power washing company. We signed up with their North American Headquarters to build their after markets’ part sites. We recently launched a press released on that. We’ve seen a huge up-taking in B2B E-commerce in general, signing up SouthCo in Pennsylvania for their ledges and hinges and that sort of business. We also signed up a traditional B2C merchant in Active Ride Shop,announced in another press released we put out recently. So, we tend to sniff out organizations and merchants that are perhaps under performing on the platform of the technology that they are using and we put on our hats as I mentioned earlier, as the solution shepherd where we can gather all of these solutions and put in place a winning formula for our customers who already leverage the existing technologies in the right appropriate mix and to achieve success. We have become very quickly a trusted adviser and a supplement to their internal teams in all areas whether it be marketing, whether it be development, whether it be creative, or whether it be straight E-commerce strategy. We recognize that being their partner on the bleeding edge of technology and E-commerce strategy is where we can always bring the best ideas to them that are going to be adding to their business.

Zack [00:17:31]: Can you describe your relationship with OroCommerce and/or what you see as a the trend being for B2B E-commerce right now?

Blake [00:18:01]: OroCommerce is a newly formed partnership for us. So, right now, they’re in beta and we are working to develop the B2B product that they aim to deliver in 2016. So, there are an E-commerce platform and they solely focus around the B2B side of the E-commerce market. When it comes to this trend in the B2B market, I think we are seeing these days more of the companies that are in the B2B space and are not taking their products online, and they’re still shipping catalogs to their customers. So many of our B2B solutions were involved in quick order, queue type of interface that allow B2B merchants to come in and take straight from the catalog SKU’s, and plug them in and order them online. So I think, movements like that are still in place in the B2B space. And so the trend is to take them online and to figure out how this systems can integrate with an online solution. And… it’s very exciting for us because we get to come in as an E-commerce strategists and help them form a solution that works for them. It’s very important that we are not coming in there creating a process through the website for their company, rather we are looking at their processes and building a website around that. When they see success, we also see success in our company along the way. Without it, we don’t survive. So, it’s very important to us that our clients go to market in the E-commerce world for a successful solution that we could grow on for years into the future and in turn help grow our community in the E-commerce ecosystem that we are trying to cultivate through the CloudCommerce.

[Dave Armstrong enters the room…]

Zack [00:20:30]: Dave, what’s your position at Indaba Group?

Dave [00:20:37]: I am the Chief Operating Officer here in Indaba.

Zack [00:20:44]: How has the acquisition / merger process gone from your perspective with the Santa Barbara based team? Can you speak to us about that process a little bit?

Dave [00:21:02]: Sure. It all comes down to pre planning and then adjustment to the plan. So, the pre plan was you know, understanding these skill set and then, figuring out where they match up and then multiple visits to Santa Barbara to solidify these skill sets and then align those talents with the Indaba way.

Zack [00:21:22]: What’s the Indaba way?

Dave [00:21:25]: It’s the way that we do business. So, it’s the way that we treat people. It’s the way that we look out at our client. It’s the way that we hire people. It’s the way that we do business. Everything.

Zack [00:21:39]: It’s interwoven into your DNA of the company.

Dave [00:21:41]: It is. It starts from being just authentic, honest, always looking out for win-win situations. Things like that–

Zack [00:21:50]: Seems like culture is a big part of that. You have ping pong out here. Everybody seems happy. It seems like a happy culture at the company. What would you say to somebody who is considering applying to work with you?

Dave [00:22:11]: So, literally, everyday of the week looks a little bit different and we’re in a good routine that way. So, the first half of Monday was planning and making sure taking care of critical things. Tuesday, Wednesday are very much like “get it done” type of attitude. It’s “GSD / get-stuff-done”. Thursday is that a little bit of retro. So , what I would say to somebody that’s looking to work here is: get ready to step into a family that has high expectations of each other. Like at all levels. What comes along with that is a sense of humor. What comes along with that is hopefully bring ping pong skills but I think more importantly is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously but we take what we do very seriously.

Zack [00:23:12]: So this is a general question for anybody in the room. What is exciting right now in E-commerce? There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on right now. You are seeing things like where Amazon is like telling people that they will do one-hour delivery in big places like New York. What’s really vital? What really matters and what’s exciting? What do you see is happening potentially next in this industry?

Ryan [00:23:45]: For me, I see, one of the things is being a hyper approach to socialization where I can have more incredibly individual personal experience with the brand whenever I’m online. So, whether I am online or in a store, I want to be recognized as an individual, part of a global, broader customer segment and there are brands out there who are doing incredibly well and adapting it incredibly well. For example there’s a company called ModCloth. They notably breed and cultivate an extremely passionate community of customers and brand evangelists, but  it gets very personal as well, down to the individual. When Indaba sponsored New York Fashion Digital years ago, they were on a panel. In the panel, the husband and wife team who started ModCloth really stuck out in my mind as being one of the companies that I had identified way growing a not only in highly profitable brand online but also building a highly passionate community of not just consumers, but of people, of humans that are interested with their brand and understanding their brand and identifying with their brand as a human and not just a consumer. Consumers are fickle if they feel like they’re being herded into the purchase. They become fickle and they go elsewhere. I think, it’s important to have a  community and marketing approach and to designate individual brand ambassadors. They became the best marketers for you out in the marketplace which is incredibly hard to reach.

Zack [00:26:22]: What do you think… Blake… What can you share about excitement in the industry. What do you see? What excites you about E-commerce now or next?

Blake [00:26:37]: I would very much echo Ryan’s position on that. In terms of the community aspect, that is starting to develop within brands that are taking their products online. It goes beyond just having a product. The online space really creates a community that’s open to the world. So, the the possibilities beyond that are endless.

Zack [00:28:19]: Anything else that you would like to add, to share, with our audience, with the shareholders?

Ryan [00:28:29]: We are an incredibly focused and passionate group of young individuals who are consumers of the technology that we’re innovating on, and wey seek to acquire more companies and bring them in to the family, to enrich the lives of the people that we touch with the technology that we create and innovate.

To learn more about the IndabaGroup, click HERE.