Business
9
minutes read

SaaS-tainable success: ethical edge of SaaS companies

Written by
Nathalie Kim
Published on
May 30, 2023
TL;DR

In this interview, we'll delve into the world of a business reselling with our chosen expert. Grab your chance to discover groundbreaking practices for success from a woman-led and sustainable business.

Author
Nathalie Kim
Brand and Marketing Specialist
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What can a seasoned entrepreneur with decades of experience teach you? Only everything about running a successful business! Today, you'll have a chance to glimpse at the world of one business reselling platform that helps companies grow and their owners become accomplished business graduates. So, brace yourself for groundbreaking practices for the success of one business that is not only woman-led but sustainable! Now without further ado, let's get acquainted with our today's guest!   

Carolyn's Bio 

Carolyn Thompson is a business leader with 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry and has launched companies in several sectors, including biotech, online retail, and software for niche retailers. Nowadays, she's the CEO and founder of our vendor consignment software, called Aravenda. She's also a frequent speaker at trade shows and conferences, as well as a published author. 

Questions

Nat: Could you please say a couple of words about yourself, about your company, and whom you're serving?

Carolyn: Aravenda is Software-as-a-service for resellers globally – anybody who has a store, whether it's online, brick and mortar, or a combination thereof, is able to curate collections of items and sell them to their customers. Our SaaS is for people who resell, for example, high-end handbags, luxury shoes, sneakers, furniture, art, jewelry, kids' items, and all kinds of things. Whether they're doing it in-store online or even in a collection format, that is like a swap meet or a confinement fair, our software can power all that. Both people who have one business location and clients that have hundreds of locations can use our software.

Nat: What inspired you to start Aravenda, and how has the journey been so far? Are there any moments that stand out to you as particularly meaningful?

Carolyn: Earlier, I had my own resale company, and I, at the time, had chosen the legacy provider in the industry to use for software because I thought I should use the oldest one who's been around the longest. Well, that proved to be a really bad idea. Because they had built add-ons to their software over time, all based on old technology. It was similar to what we had in grade school, where you had to dial into a server and wait for the response, sometimes literally hearing the modem go in the background. 

But that's how it worked. It was Cisco dial-up technology. And every time you added items to the inventory list, you had to push the sync button to dial it up. And every time Windows would have an update, the printers would go offline, and we had to reset the printer spooler every time. 

Windows, of course, evolved over those 8 to 10 years. But it's still happening! I talked to somebody else who was on the same software last week, who's converting to ours, and she says it still happens. 

This provider never took the time to innovate, to be able to say this is where technology is now, and we should migrate everybody to a new platform. They just kept building on the old platform because they got complacent and happy to be the industry leader and have the legacy people. 

Now, a lot of those people are trying to sell their stores and retire. Newer people are buying these businesses, and they want to be able to operate their businesses on their phones. 

This is where Aravenda comes into play. We are the only software in the area that is both woman-owned and led. And it's the only software that we actually use as our own as well, as my store still runs on our software. 

Somebody could run the entire business on their phone with Aravenda, while all the other competitors have limited functionality apps that they use. 

Nat: Do you remember the particular moment when you decided you could do that? Have you had some struggles/doubts? 

Carolyn: I had some interns in. They needed a project to complete for graduation. It was actually a son of a friend of mine. They were in the office helping me because I am an online-only store. We take shipments from all over the country, so we had an automated inbound shipping label process that needed to be built in. 

It looked automated to the customer, but it was not automated behind the scenes. So, when the interns came in, they said that the software was horrible. And my response was: "Don't I know it?" So that was the moment they decided to work on this. 

Nat: Do you have any observations working with so many great SaaS companies? What sets a great SaaS company apart from the rest? 

Carolyn: I think some of that has to do with listening to the customers. We have an innovation team at Aravenda that we work with across each vertical of resale, e.g., a sneaker innovation team or a furniture innovation team. 

It's important to us to continuously gather feedback from our customers. That's why I make it a point to sit in on demos at least once or twice a week. By listening to what people are asking for, we can better guide our product roadmap and ensure that our enhancements benefit the majority, about 75 to 80%, of our users and are not just made for the sake of enhancing. 

The technology landscape is changing really quickly. And one common request we receive is for 360-degree pictures that revolve. We understand the value of such features, and we're eager to implement them. However, we also rely on our current partnerships with platforms like Shopify, Lightspeed, and Clover. It's important to consider their capabilities and limitations as well. After all, we're dependent on them, and we collaborate closely to provide the best experience possible.

So, I think that's how Salesforce (and other companies you mentioned) got where they are by actively incorporating customer feedback into their innovation processes. And some of the other companies that you mentioned.

Nat: Aravenda is committed to sustainability and ethical production. How do you incorporate those values into the services that you offer to your clients, and what their reaction is?

Carolyn: So we have what's two-fold. Currently, we're part of the TechStars accelerator program in Oakland, which is in collaboration with JP Morgan. One of our upcoming projects, set to launch in the next few weeks, is a certificate program designed specifically for resellers. This program aims to measure their economic impact. 

We want to highlight the positive environmental impact achieved by preventing landfill waste. For every pound of items they sell, resellers can receive a resale impact certificate. By tracking their sales on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, we can calculate their annual impact on the economy and the environment. They can proudly display this certificate on their website or in their physical store, showcasing their commitment to sustainability and economic contribution. 

Another aspect we're focusing on is measuring the economic impact. We often work with individuals who are starting their very first business venture. So we actually do setup for people from scratch who have never run a business before. I'm lucky I've run a lot of businesses and sold several. So, for such individuals, getting on the phone and learning from somebody with experience is a huge benefit.

From lease agreements to insurance requirements, we offer personalized support, addressing even the smallest questions they may have. Many of our resellers come from economically disadvantaged areas, and starting a business becomes a significant milestone for them.  

Resale is a recession-proof way to get an opportunity for financial growth, with some of our resellers making substantial monthly incomes ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. And it's actually a gateway to transforming their circumstances. 

So if someone's really passionate about their thing, they can really make a good living doing resell.

Nat: Why is sustainability so important to you personally? When did you start thinking about implementing that in your business?

Carolyn: Ultimately, the impact on the landfill, carbon gas emissions, and global warming is a real thing. It's not fake news. So this idea is driven by the sustainable shopping movement. People want to buy second-hand merchandise. 

But it's hard for smaller business owners to think about their actual impact since they don't affect the environment as much as enterprises. But if you add all those up (150 million people are reselling in the United States alone), their impact is incredibly powerful as a group. 

A lot of people feel like they're on an island all by themselves when they're working in a small business. So, pulling that together, the important part for me is to be able to support them.

Nat: What were the most impactful experiences in your professional growth? 

Carolyn: Well, in college, I was not a 'studier.' Instead, I was the social chairman of my sorority for six semesters out of eight. However, looking back, I realized that entrepreneurship had always been a part of me. My first business was at the age of 14 when I made cakes for people like wedding and birthday cakes. 

Interestingly, I didn't really realize that I had this entrepreneurial spirit until later in life. Also, I realized that I learned better experientially. As education methods evolved over time, the way people learn has changed. The classes come in a compressed format instead of taking up a whole semester. You can even take them consecutively, one class at a time, and still get the same number of credits for the semester. 

It's interesting how things are evolving and changing all the time – as well as people. I applied to some accelerated programs for Aravenda, and we were very fortunate to be selected by TechStars, a global community of about 3000 companies. I've learned more in four weeks of this program than in four years of doing all this on my own. 

One of the main advantages of such programs is that they allow you to learn from the perspectives of other people. As a business owner or creator, it's not easy to always surround yourself with people who do similar things. 

In the TechStars program, there's an isolated, narrow community of people who are doing the same things as you are, and many of them are at similar stages of the business lifecycle. What's more, people who have graduated and successfully sold the companies come back and volunteer their time to help people get to the next level. 

I can proudly say that it's one of the more impactful programs that I've done. It's like a condensed MBA in 12 weeks. It's very intense and at a very fast pace.

Rapid-fire round  

Nat: Your biggest regret?

Carolyn: There was a time when I was younger, and I got invited on a Windjammer cruise with all couples. And I was single at the time, so I didn't go because I thought I could do that anytime. I still have never made that trip.

Nat: What is success for you? 

Carolyn: There's Susan Lucci, a soap opera star in the United States that was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award 14 times before she won. Funnily enough, I've been nominated a lot for business awards, but I never seem to win any of those. I've never figured out the secret sauce of winning. But I don't really care, either. I just think it's kind of funny. 

But seriously, I set goals every year and measure myself against them. I double-check those twice a year for myself and my team. In my opinion, you can't be a successful leader if you don't know what your employees are trying to achieve personally and professionally. You also can't help them achieve their goals if you don't know about them. We follow this process twice a year. In June and December, we talk about where we're at with our goals. 

So, for me, success is just literally getting things 1% better every day and moving ahead. Because 1% better every day is going to make a huge change in six months if you just keep with that.

Nat: What is the best thing that happened to you? 

Carolyn: From a business perspective, participating in this TechStars program has probably been the best thing that's happened. I've met some amazing people and made some instant fast friends whom I would have never met otherwise. It can really help you expand your thinking about your business and the critical levers that you can push in order to make it successful faster. I wish I'd have done it a year ago.

Nat: If you met a 10-year-old Carolyn, what would you tell her?

Carolyn: That her golf score will go down, her handicap will go down, and she just has to golf more. 

Get to know Carolyn