43. Leadership, Growth Strategy & The Crusade for Magento | Mark Lavelle, Former CEO of Magento, CEO of Maergo

Episode 43

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In this episode, our guest Mark Lavelle joins Karthik Chidambaram for a conversation that spans a wide breadth of the e-commerce world, as they dive deep into Mark’s background and break down the formation of his successful leadership style, the challenges Magento faced when Mark first came on board as CEO, and the question of its sustained significance in the industry. While there were many hurdles that Magento had to face that may have caused some uncertainty in its future, Mark led a heartfelt crusade that helped to solidify its success and a path that ultimately led to its acquisition by Adobe.

Today, along with many other investments and projects he heads with the group DeepLake Capital, Mark has taken on the role of CEO at Maergo, a fast growing company that connects shippers and brands of any size to a large network of carriers that helps them compete with the illusive Amazon model of providing 2-3 day delivery times in the direct to consumer market.

What drives Mark Lavelle in his career, who does he take inspiration from, and what led him to be the great leader that he is today? Why did he feel so passionately about the Magento project, what was his vision for its future, what were some of the barriers to overcome, and how did he ultimately help the company accomplish the goals for success that were set forth? Watch this episode to find out the answers to these questions, and more!


Karthik Chidambaram: Hello, everyone. Welcome to a new episode of DCKAP’s Driven podcast. We are very excited today because we have a very special guest, a great friend, and very, very popular in the Magento community. We have with us Mark Lavelle, the Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of DeepLake Capital, also the CEO of Maergo, and famously known as the former CEO of Magento.

So Mark, thank you so much. It's great to have you join us for the Driven podcast. Welcome!

Mark Lavelle: Karthik. It's wonderful to be here. Wonderful to see you and hello to everybody.

Karthik Chidambaram: Thank you, Mark. Again, we appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. It's always fun when we meet. I actually wanted to do this in person, but-

Mark Lavelle: Yeah

Karthik Chidambaram: We’re doing this remotely via zoom, but that's great. You know, technology has evolved quite a bit.

So, Mark, a lot of us in the e-commerce space know you as the former CEO of Magento. I'm just very curious to know about Mark in the early days. Can you tell us, where were you born and can you tell us how were you as a kid growing up?

Mark Lavelle: Well, I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One of four, two brothers and a sister, and went to grade school there, went to high school there. Great place growing up, great sports teams, you know, watch Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Penguins.

And so, Pittsburgh is always kind of home to me, but I went to school in Miami, Ohio, across the state there, where I learned about business administration and finance, and I learned I wasn't a great student. But I had some hustle and I convinced a beautiful woman to marry me. Amy became my wife.

We've been married for 30, almost 34 years now. We moved to Washington, D.C. where we started our family and had four wonderful daughters who are now in their twenties and grown. But my career, prior to Magento, was really in financial services work, to the big credit card companies. First USA, which is now JP Morgan Chase. I was an analyst, a business analyst, a partnership business developer. I got into business development there where I found the internet, famously doing a lot of credit card deals with companies that don't exist anymore.

Excited Home and Monster and Dog pile. Dog pile and all sorts of, CNET and Yahoo. And which led really to a career in entrepreneurism around bringing financial services online. And that became what was known as Bill Me Later. And started in early 2000, where I was kind of, you know, selling merchants and doing bank partnerships and raising money for the business.

We ultimately got clients like Walmart and Amazon to use the product. And that got the notice of a lot of people. And right in 2008, at the height of the great, the great recession there, we sold to PayPal. And that started my career in PayPal, which led me to Magento, which we could talk about.

Karthik Chidambaram: Were you always smart growing up? Or did you really become the smartest?

Mark Lavelle: No, you know, I was actually, I'm in Pittsburgh cleaning out some stuff in my room. And if you could see my report cards, you'd know that I wasn't, I wasn't a great student. Getting, you know, getting in trouble a lot and just wasn't able to sit still. My mind was always moving a thousand miles a minute, which did not translate well to a Catholic parochial school. Let's put it that way.

So, you know, I really found my, I think I found my skills and what drove me a little later in life when I started to get into business and understand how to develop partnerships and understand how to understand markets and where opportunities were. And really the start-up world is where I feel like I got my feet under me and it really fascinated me. And that's where I really started to apply myself.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, you talked about going to Miami for school and you did not go to Harvard or Stanford. You went to Miami, but then you still end up being really, really successful or hugely successful. What do you think was the turning point in your career?

Mark Lavelle: Yeah, I mean, Harvard and Stanford wouldn't have had me anyway.

I was happy to go to Miami. Got a really good education there and learned some valuable things. But really, you know, I think I learned by doing. And, you know, getting early, I had jobs in accounting. I had jobs in business analysis and just learning the, you know, the mechanics of business and what it takes, what it took to serve customers and build, you know, attract capital.

And that really all kind of turned for me when we started Bill Me Later. You know, it was a spin out. Originally, the concept was a spin out from Nortel networks, which doesn't really exist anymore. And we really had to learn how to hustle. You really had to learn how to grind. We had a product that, you know, people thought that credit cards were the only way to work online.

But we saw a lot of flaws with how credit cards worked online. We developed this instant financing product. And it was a lot of, you know, convincing people going, like you did when you and I met, going to, showing up. Going to conferences, you know, evangelizing what we did, saying that this would be the way of the future, and it really started what became the by now pay later industry, which is massive today.

And a lot of people pay in a lot of different ways than just credit cards online. So that's what really drove me. That's what was my turning point, was finding a challenge that people didn't maybe believe in and putting your heart and soul into it and working with great people and getting great people around you and building something meaningful. That's, those days in the beginning of 2000, 2001 were a real turning point for me.

Karthik Chidambaram: That's awesome. I love the word hustle. I mean, I can totally relate to it.

Mark Lavelle: You definitely can.

Karthik Chidambaram: Absolutely, yeah. But then I'm just curious, right, so for someone who's not hustling yet, how do they really go about doing it, you know, how do they be driven?

Mark Lavelle: Well, I think you have to really, you know, this might sound trite, but, you know, you have to meet with some adversity in your life. And for me, realizing that I wasn't going to be Harvard, Stanford, Yale, you know, I had ambitions to be successful, but I didn't know the way, you know, it wasn't academics that really drove me.

It wasn't going to be that credential that got me to where I wanted to go. So, meeting with adversity. I got, you know, married relatively young, 25. My daughters these days aren't- don't seem to want or need to be married in their 20s. But I think kids, you know, at that age, it was fairly young and we had our family fairly young.

And I was like, look, I need to get my act together here and apply myself. And that's when you start to, as you hustle, you start to grind, you start to say, ‘Okay, well, this is interesting to me. How's this person successful? What are they doing? What can I read about? Who can I learn from?’

And that was really the basis of my mid to later 20s, was finding what I was good at and finding people that I can get around me that could bring that out at me. And they could also, you know, make up for some of the things that I wasn't good at. And I think that was very much foundational for me in my early days as an entrepreneur.

Karthik Chidambaram: And who are some of the early people you learned from?

Mark Lavelle: Well, he's still a very good friend today. Gary Marino, who brought me into that startup, and was our CEO, was very important. Mark Britto, who was also, is still a friend, early days in my credit card days with somebody I looked up to how he did his work.

I- We had great co-founders in Tom Keithley and Vince Talbert that helped, you know, put a team together around us that did something that nobody else could ever do, which created a payment method that competed with Visa MasterCard. Those were, those were peers and leaders that I looked up to and really led to our early success.

Karthik Chidambaram: Tell us about your Bill Me Later days. How did you end up finding PayPal? And you ended up staying in PayPal for a long time, and you were very successful there, eventually even finding Magento. Tell us about your Bill Me Later days.

Mark Lavelle: Yeah. Well, it's kind of funny. I used to open up a spreadsheet every- PayPal was very early, 1999.

Bill Me Later we started in 2000, 2001. So, PayPal became this astronomical breakout company that went public and, you know, because it had eBay as a catalyst. You got all this payment volume from eBay and PayPal very quickly pivoted that to a merchant network. And we watched that and observed that we were doing something very different.

We were building sort of a large merchant payment method that needed enough merchants to be a catalyst. So, the early days of Bill Me Later was trying to find our ‘eBay’, if you will. Trying to find who the company was. Companies that would support Bill Me Later, that we can get enough customers that we get these network effects.

So Amazon, Walmart, you know, in these early days of e-commerce, there weren't an IR 2000 as we have it today. There was very- there's companies like e bags and you know these companies that were early pioneers. So implementing Bill Me Later, getting our product implemented to as many of those large merchants as we could was how we got our catalyst.

I'd say once we got Walmart, once we got Amazon to support the product, we were kind of off and running. And we felt like we were going to be very, very successful. We had Jeff Bezos as an investor. We had T Rowe Price as an investor. And then the financial crisis hit and, being a credit product, that changed the game. That changed everything.

So, instead of being a long term independent company, we became a part of PayPal. And that's how I ended up at PayPal.

Karthik Chidambaram: Great. And then you acquired Magento.

The very first time I met you. I think it was way back in 2012, or around that time period, when you took over as the CEO of Magento. I vividly remember this. I was at a Magento event in Las Vegas. You were a tall, big leader. I was a little intimidated and I was also a little scared. Hey, but I always wanted to have a conversation with you. And then I tried to talk to you and then we exchanged a few words. And then a few months later, I happened to meet you again in Sydney, Australia at Magento Live in Sydney.

And again, you know, I thought, okay, you know, I really need to talk to Mark and I have to have a conversation with him this time. And I was just trying to find the time to converse with you and, hey, you know, people are always surrounding you and things like that. But to my surprise, during lunch, you came to me and you just asked me, 'Hey, would you like to have lunch together?'

And we actually had lunch together during that event. And I thought that was really, really great. You made me feel very, very comfortable. And I really enjoyed that conversation. And I've seen you do this, not just to me, but to a lot of other people. Tell us about your leadership style, Mark.

Mark Lavelle: Oh, wow. I remember those days very clearly, too. And I appreciate how kind you were to me as sort of a new leader. Because it's very intimidating. You know, we were talking about grinding and hustling. It's generally- success comes from putting yourself in situations where you feel uncomfortable.

You feel a little bit over your skis and you don't have all the knowledge. And that's very much where I was, just to back up a little bit. When I came onto PayPal, I was head of acquisitions and strategy. And one of the first deals I did, that I'm very proud of, was we acquired half of Magento. In 2011, I think, and I think we acquired the rest of it in 2013.

I'm proud of it because I thought it was a great company. And it was actually the 2nd largest TPV, total payment volume contributor to PayPal, second only to eBay. So in those early days, Magento was the leading e-commerce platform. We saw it. We knew we wanted to own it. We wanted to continue to be open source. And we can get into, kind of, what happened with Magento.

Your question was about leadership, but I was very much in an area when I came back and I was sort of GM of Magento after Roy had left and it really didn't have a home in eBay anymore. We were trying to figure out what to do with it.

And that's when I kind of became quote unquote, head of it. And I really had to go out, and I had to learn a lot more about Magento than I knew. And that's when I ran into the ecosystem, and people like yourself, and realized that what Magento was, was a group of generally small companies and entrepreneurs that believed in this product. And made it happen, even with all the adversity that it was facing.

So, you know, leadership is a little bit about knowing what you don't know and having the courage to connect with people and information to fill out the picture of what it is. Where the opportunity is. And, so I remember meeting with you.

I remember saying I need to understand what DCKAP is, who is Karthik? Why is he here? What's he doing? What is he trying to accomplish? And how can we align goals together? And what I learned was, like I said, the ecosystem was Magento at that time. It was supporting the product. It was supporting the Magento economy.

It was supporting thousands and thousands of implementations over and across the world. And as a leader, I knew I needed to build a stronger Magento, the company. To support the ecosystem because it wasn't going to last in its, in that form forever.

Karthik Chidambaram: Great. And it’s one thing I really loved about what you did. Actually, Roy Rubin was also on our podcast and we were chatting about this. And even after he left, you brought him back as a board member. And that was very smart. And you always invested in the community.

And I thought that was very, very smart on your part. Instead of just letting it go. I'm just going to deal with merchants and all that you really invested on the partners and community. And that was very visible.

Mark Lavelle: I really felt that what was happening to Magento was a shame, in terms of the benign neglect that it experienced inside of eBay. It became this part of this big science project that, as big companies will do, it was trying to solve for everything. And in a way, it was missing the jewel that was Magento.

And so it became sort of a crusade for me, if you will, to put this company into an environment to actually create a company around the community, you know, because there was no revenue model. Even when we bought it, there wasn't much of a revenue model. It wasn't really positioned well, as a software business. And things like Shopify were happening to it. It was going, you know, you can see the storms coming and Magento very much had to find its way and it wasn't going to do that without the ecosystem.

So, I always liked Roy. I, you know, we got along very well and, you know, I remember calling him and saying, I'd like you to be part of this journey and join the board. And he said, ‘Why do you want me on the board?’ I said, ‘I just don't imagine Magento without a Roy Rubin around it’. And, I believe that, but part of it was also because I understood that if there was anybody with a way to express confidence, you know, in the ecosystem, that Magento was going to do the right thing by the ecosystem.

Having Roy be a part of that was very important to me. And again, it helped my learning and my knowledge of what really, what Magento was about. So, having him on board was an important part of the strategy, but also, an important personal thing for me to have him be involved in the next phase.

Karthik Chidambaram: That's awesome. And, yeah, you talked about the challenges for Magento when you took over and you also brought in Primera, who was the primary investor, and you guys gave great returns for the investors. But, I'm just curious, you know, during the process, were you also nervous, you know, because, hey, it could have gone either way.

I mean, you ended up selling to Adobe and that was great, but then there were definitely challenges and people in the community could feel it and you executed really well, getting it to where it needs to be. But, I'm just curious about that whole process. Were you nervous?

Mark Lavelle: I don't know if I was nervous. I mean, I don't think people realize how easily things could have gone the other way, as you suggest.

And I mean, Magento was still part of this big thing called eBay Enterprises, which was a not a very well-fitted group of companies, that maybe in their own right were a good and some part of their day, but they were being competed against you with their marketing or logistics, or in the case of Magento, commerce order management.

It was a mess. And you had these two big companies, eBay and PayPal going their separate ways. And they really didn't care about this situation. So the fact that we were able to get Magento out as a separate company, okay, was really kind of a miracle. And, you know, Primera I credit a lot.

Brian Ritter, Phil, going on. They were great partners. They saw the vision. They supported me. They supported the team. They supported the premise that the ecosystem was central to the strategy of building a company around Magento and gave me the resources and the time to do it and not enough time. I'd still think it would be great to be running it.

We can talk about how we ended up in Adobe. But I am, I was- I became pretty passionate about Magento in those days that there was almost a wrong to be righted. And there were a lot of people that depended on this platform that didn't have a voice. And it wasn't going to happen as part of a bigger company.

It needed its space to become what I think it became, which was a very important enterprise software platform for commerce. So, yeah, it was more passion than it was fear, I would say.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah. And talking about execution, you also walk the talk because, you know, we talked about travel a little bit and you, I mean, Magento has a huge community across the world and you were there, everywhere.

You know, whenever an event was happening, you were traveling as the CEO. You were up there speaking, spending time, oftentimes back-to-back travels. Tell us about that. I'm sure it wasn't easy or, I mean, tell us about that.

Mark Lavelle: Well, Karthik, the only reason you know that is because you were behind me like every step of the way. Every time I’d turn around, I'd see your big smiling face there, which I loved and made me very comfortable.

Yeah, it was part of it. Yeah, it was very much a part of the strategy. Look, I called Magento, it was the biggest small company I ever ran, just because we were operating in 190 countries and, you know, localized in all these languages and had all these companies that were, you know, even use the name Magento in their own names, you know, like it was owned by a whole ecosystem and you had to get out there and be part of it.

I had a, client, major. One of our major clients was Nestle. I think I can say at this point, Nestle and I had the CIO of Nestle get on a call. He said, what are you going to do about this ecosystem? Because, you know, you've got a lot of shady actors out there. You got a lot of people who are, we don't know what they're doing, that are messing up.

These implementations are overcharging for what-he just kind of read me the riot act. And I said, ‘Well, look, I apologize that they've had some bad experiences’ and Nestle used solution providers all over the world. But the ecosystem is only going to get better. It's not going anywhere. You know, it's an important part of what we do. It was the first time I had to stand up and defend it, you know, and he kind of sat back and said, ‘good, I was testing you there, because the reason why we use Magento is because of the open source ecosystem, if you didn't have it, we wouldn't be on the platform.’

So, it was an early validation to me that we were on the right track, that we did have to do things like. Talk about quality. You know, talk about paying your fair share. You know, no free rides in the Magento ecosystem. You had to contribute. You had to support us as a business. You had to support some of the strategic moves we were making, like going to cloud, which upset, you know, a lot of our hosting partners.

It was a- it had to be a two way street in terms of, you know, making a business on the Magento ecosystem, but contributing to the Magento ecosystem. And so, that's what really led me to get out there in the world and support, you know, You know, learn where Ben Marks was going, for what? Like what? Who's this guy? Ben Marks. And what's all this travel and entertainment expense coming through?

You know, him and guys like him were really important and telling me where to go and what was important and who to meet. And so it was hard. It was hard years, as you know, being on the road away from family, but it mattered in the overall strategy. I think it mattered to people that cared about Magenta.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, we love Ben Marks. He also visited us in Chennai. We hosted a get together for him. You know, we had a lot of people in our offices and all that when he was in Chennai. So it was cool, actually.

Mark Lavelle: Yeah. He, you know, he had a bigger expense account than I did. Let me just put it that way.

Karthik Chidambaram: He had a great job, too. I mean, I'm sure a lot of people may love the job, especially when you're not married and all that.

Mark Lavelle: Yeah. It's a great job. He had a hard job. You know, the early days were communication, you know, getting that what was broken on the eBay side was just the information flow.

Like what's going on? What are we hearing from the market? You know, SaaS was becoming a real thing. It was a real threat. The open source product was getting overly complex, too hard to upgrade, too expensive to maintain. There were problems in the ecosystem, bad extensions, bad, you know, solution providers, people taking advantage.

You know, we needed to hear the bad, you know, and social media was a new thing. We were, we'd learned about it on Twitter, you know. It was a real crisis situation for the platform. And if we didn't clean it up, and if we didn't say that we were- that we cared and cleaned it up, I think people would have lost confidence and went the other way.

Karthik Chidambaram: Absolutely.

Mark, how did you end up finding Adobe? And how do you end up selling Magento to Adobe?

Mark Lavelle: You know, I learned a lot about private equity is different than venture capital, right? Venture capital kind of builds these ideas into companies and most of them fail and and and the ones that don't pay for all the ones that fail.

So you let your winners kind of run and venture capital and private equity. They're very much about responsible top line growth and increasing bottom line growth, like making money and hitting your numbers and being disciplined. And once they have a winner in their mind, they sell it. They move it to its next logical owner.

So, at the time, you know, you had Shopify that was a reality on the bottom end of the market and quickly coming up to the larger in the market. Magento had made a pivot to enterprise and B2B and managed cloud services. And we got on the radar of companies like Salesforce and Microsoft and Adobe.

And we were kind of a rare business. We're an enterprise commerce platform at scale, global, with a fully developed ecosystem and a pretty clear vision about where the product was going and how we were going to be successful. And so that caught the attention of the likes of not just Adobe, but other companies, and we had a decision to make.

Are we better as an independent company, or are we better as a, you know, as part of a larger strategy, I think at the time, Primera ahead, we also had an owner and Primera that was looking to realize its returns and was doing so at a pace much faster than it expected, and it expected a 5 to 7 year hold period for the company. And we were hitting our goals within 3 years. So, that's how we ended up coming to the table with Adobe.

And at that point, it became, is there a strategic fit? Adobe did not have a commerce solution. And we fit, you know, into their digital experience business pretty well. And that became very, that became kind of just a strategy that I believed could help Magento get to the next level and preserve what we were building. And I'm proud to say Adobe Commerce is, today, a very, very big part of Adobe, Adobe strategy, and a very successful acquisition for them.

Karthik Chidambaram: Tell us about working with Shantanu Narayen during that process. I remember you also brought him to Europe for a Magento event.

Mark Lavelle: Oh, my gosh. In the rain. I almost drowned or electrocuted the CEO of Adobe. That was something. Remember that? With the rain coming down and we had to move the... that was interesting.

Yes, he did come out. He was- he's a phenomenal individual. You know, I didn't know him all that long. I was really only there for less than a year. I told him that, look, once it Magento is integrated, and he thinks it's well integrated and got out of it what he wants, that I would step aside. So, it was kind of contemplated early on that I wasn't going to stay there. We put sales and their large sales organization, Gary Spector and everybody, ran that. Jason was integrated into the end of the technology.

So, what I had spent years kind of building as a company, I was then taking apart as business units. So, I met with Shantanu a number of times and wished him well on the way out. And, you know, I don't agree with everything that they did or how they did it. And that's hard, but you have to realize you no longer own it. You're no longer the CEO.

One thing I am very proud of with Mark Leonard and the team is that prior to trying to become part of Adobe, we put the open source into a foundation that became the Magento open source foundation. And, that you're familiar with and that wouldn't have happened.
I don't think, if we hadn't done that as part of the independent strategy, and I think, I think that's done. Hopefully people feel it's done well by the community, that it's owned by the community.

Karthik Chidambaram: Great. I'm shifting gears a little bit. I'm talking about raising money. When do you think a company should raise money?

There's also a school of thought. When you raise money, you start burning money, and you're reportable to the investors and all that. When do you think a company should raise money?

Mark Lavelle: Well, you and I have had a lot of discussions. You know, I say, raise money often and take more than you think you need. But I think it depends on really what your goals are.

I mean, if you're trying to create a company that can scale, and be sort of the next by now pay later challenger to Visa MasterCard or, you know, a global commerce platform like Shopify or what Magento had aspirations of being, you have to consume a whole lot of capital.

You know, you have to build for that large eventuality. If you're running a company that you want to own and control, then how you deploy operating expenses, how you hire people, how you think about marketing, how you think about product development could be very different than a venture company.

That's, quote unquote, going for it. And when you take venture capital, they expect you're going for it. Because, remember, they've made eight investments that haven't worked out and you're one of the two that are going to work out. So, you're paying for the fund. So you get on this treadmill and you take other people's money that leads to inevitable things, spending it being one and raising more being the other and ultimately selling.

Losing control is a third. And so you have to decide that you're going to get on that platform when you have an idea that you want to turn into a company that you want to devote your life to.

I mean, you've done things with DCKAP, building it into a great company that you have. You have final, ultimate control and say over it, and taking outside money would change that for you. Acquiring another business would change that for you. So, I'd say you start with the objective of what you want as an entrepreneur well before you decide how you're going to capitalize the company.

Karthik Chidambaram: Great advice, Mark.

Let's say a company is in an M&A mode. Let's say, you know, they are somebody like a Magento, but they're looking to get sold. Is there a playbook you would like to share?

Mark Lavelle: Yeah. Companies don't get sold. They get bought. I didn't make that up. Some smarter people than me did, but it's very, very true. You don't sell your company. You go and execute against the strategy. You have open end dialogues with strategic partners.

Those strategic partners will tend to be companies that see value and more value and having you part of their firm than being a partner because they want to take it into another direction, or they want the gross profit margin you're generating, or they have a synergy that you don't that you can't access as partners.

And they buy you, right? So, the way to think about selling your company is to think about not selling it, thinking about what is the maximum value I can create with the time that I have and the resources that I have and getting bought has a lot to do with whether or not a company's has its act together to buy it, whether they're paying any attention to you.

It may very well be the right thing to do, but they just don't do it. For a variety of reasons: ego, internal politics, challenges in their core business model, investor differences of opinion. So, you know, I see this a lot of times with people. I'm going to sell my company to X (not X formerly known as Twitter, but X is insert company here). Acquisitions are- you can't count on them in your strategy, right? You have to build for the event, the possibility that they'll happen.

Karthik Chidambaram: Great. Companies don't get sold, they get bought. That's very interesting. So thank you for that, Mark.

I mean, I also want to talk a little bit about team building. You're really good at that. I was having lunch with one of the ex employees of Magento. This happened about a couple of years ago. Bhushan Ekbote, he was a part of your sales operations team. You remember him?

Mark Lavelle: Yeah, sure.

Karthik Chidambaram: So yeah, we were just casually chatting and he was telling me that you really went out of the way to help them, especially with his immigration process. You wrote a letter of recommendation for him and all that.

And the work he did- again, I didn't ask him anything about it, but he just told me, hey, you know, it was really awesome. I'm really thankful because it really helped me stay in the country. And I've also heard similar stories from other employees. I mean, because a lot of employees were also from Ukraine and they had Ukrainian roots.

Tell us about team building and tell us about some of this stuff. And how do you really get the people to get committed to the mission?

Mark Lavelle: Yeah, well, it's nice of him to say. Hopefully, that's an easier example of what any leader would do to help their employees stay employed and be part of the company.

I mean, being a leader is, in any organization, about setting. You know, I always think about it as strategy team and execution, right? And strategy is more than just the math of how big the market is and who your competitive set is. What do you believe in? What do you, what are you going to be able to get up every morning and say, ‘We have to do this. This matters. This matters to me. This is why I'm going to leave my wife and children and my life’.

You know, this is what matters and I want to do this and I can see this being successful. So it's more than just the PowerPoint pages of what your strategy is, it’s what's the, you know, you talk about mission and values and things like that. It's really like what we're talking about.

Was I afraid of Magento? No, it became passionate about Magento having this phase of its existence. And then you realize, you can't do it yourself, right? But you can project a passion for it. But who are you going to project that to? And what's that going to be for?

And that's to bring very talented people around you, that can do their best work of their lives while they're with you, and they feel your passion and they amplify that passion in ways that you couldn't expect. And they bring other people to the table that you couldn't yourself even know about, let alone attract.

And it builds on itself. And that's what a leader does: project that passion for a strategy that assembles people that can do what I think a lot of people kind of start with incorrectly, which is execution. Well, this is what we're going to go do. This is how we're going to go do it. That's hard. And that's important there.

But you can waste a whole lot of time and money starting there, unless you understand what you're going to do, why you want to do it and who you're going to do it with. And so that's where we spend a lot of time as leaders, I think, the good ones is, thinking about, ‘Why are we doing this? Why does it matter? And who are the people we need around us to make it happen?’

Because then the execution becomes, you know, there's always scary things that happen and unexpected things that happen. But if you have the strategy and the team together, you can generally, in most cases, deal with the unexpected things that happen in execution.

Karthik Chidambaram: Great. And you also do things outside of work. Even after you left Magento, you raised funds for the Ukrainian community. You had fundraising dinners in Austin. Tell us about that.

Mark Lavelle: Yeah, I mean, it was great to be able to do that. We have, you know, formed a small family foundation that does, invests in charity, and organizations that have needs.

And one of the things that came up was the situation in Ukraine, and we were fortunate enough to be able to bring over, oh, I'd say, you know, over 200 people. I think we brought about 120 employees. So, them and their families from the Ukraine. This was pre-war. But this was during 2014.

You know, I remember being on the phone with our team when the uprisings were happening and that led to the tragic circumstances where we are today. So, being able to bring them over, watching them flourish in Austin, become part of the American community is bittersweet because they can't- You know, they had to leave their country, which they love, and their families, but they brought their talents over to America.

And being a part of that was very, very gratifying to me. So raising money to help in a small way with what they're experiencing with this awful war was easy to do. And we're glad to be able to do it.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah. Thank you for doing that. Mark.

After Magento, we were all wondering what is Mark Lavelle going to do next? And you did a variety of things. And now you're the CEO of Maergo. Tell us about Maergo. What is Maergo and why Maergo?

Mark Lavelle: Well, thanks. I was supposed to take a break. I looked back and realized that from my days at starting Bill Me Later in 2000, which was really, as we talked about earlier, what I felt was the start of my career, to selling Magento to Adobe… It's really been a 20 year-one job. Like, I never looked for a job. I just went from one thing to the other and never really kind of said, ‘what do I want to do next?’

And, you know, I was later on in my career and I'd done successful. I thought, you know, I would do some investing and I didn't didn't really need to work. And then the pandemic hit and kind of changed everything. Everybody stopped working. Everybody was working from home. And that was kind of a strange period for all of us.

But the investing that we did was very interesting. We ended up investing in about 15 companies. We did a SPAC, which we never kind of connected with a company because that all kind of fell apart with the market conditions, but through the course of doing that, ran into companies. And one of them was this company that was looking to transform the shipping business from a direct to consumer standpoint, and I started helping raise money and helping with the team and the company ran into some very serious challenges.

It wasn't exactly what we thought it was. So we had a chance to walk away from it or stay. We decided to invest the capital. I became the CEO. We changed it into what Maergo is today.

Maergo is really a platform that allows for shippers, brands (large, medium and small) to connect to a network of first mile, middle mile and final mile carriers that lets them kind of replicate what Amazon does, delivering a 2-3 day delivery promise that helps them stay competitive in a very competitive environment for direct to consumer.

So we're doing really well. We ship for companies like Saks, brands like Chubbies, Buck Mason, protein bars like Bilt Bar. We work with 3PLs like Ryder. It's a huge market. It's early days, but we think it's going to be a phenomenal company. We've got phenomenal people that are working with us to do it right.

Karthik Chidambaram: And you're also the CEO and chairman of Deep Lake Capital. Tell us about it. What kind of companies do you invest in? And let's say if somebody is looking to raise money from Mark Lavelle, what should they be doing?

Mark Lavelle: Yeah, it's- Deep Lake is a sort of a family office for a couple of friends and people that mean a lot to me.

Gary Reno, Michael Cyrus, who's a great friend and somebody I've learned a lot about capital and investing in life about. Mark Britto is associated with it. We basically invest in companies that we believe in, generally in e-commerce, financial services. And there's really no way to do it other than just send us a note.

We're not a professional venture capital firm, more of a private family office that invests, you know, in things that we believe in.

Karthik Chidambaram: You're able to do a lot of things. And, you have, I mean, one of the reasons I think is, you know, you have a wonderful executive assistant Vy Robles.

Mark Lavelle: So, I love this. And we're finally talking about the magic, the secret.

Karthik Chidambaram: Right. So, anytime, you know, I need to schedule some time with you or even if we need to meet for lunch, you know, she really understands, what do you like, what you don't like, and she really preps great for the meeting. Tell us about working with, and for people who are just getting started, you know, working with executive assistants out there. What advice would you give them and how do they get the rhythm with their EA?

Mark Lavelle: Well, stay away from mine as a first advice, because she's the best and love her to death. You know, I'll tell you a story. I came in as part of the senior management team at PayPal, you know, and I had never really had an executive assistant.

I was, you know, I never had that experience and I was adopted by the president of PayPal's executive. She's like, ‘you're a mess’. I need to find you somebody that's going to straighten you out. You can't keep your calendar right. You don't show up in the right places. Yeah, I'm gonna, we're gonna need to work on you.

And so she found me Vy and we've had a, you know, we're going on what, 15 years or so of a partnership. That's just been phenomenal for me, not just me, my family. And you know, what a great executive assistant does is they compensate for what you're not great at: organization, you know, planning calendar, responding, making sure that I'm where I need to be. Knowing what I would do in certain situations and anticipating my needs.

Vy’s just phenomenal and all that. And she's a wonderful human being, which, you know, when you have somebody that represents you like that, and they do, they're generally, like you said, they're the first person you talk to when you're trying to, you know, set up a meeting with, with me or one of the companies, they're like, ‘wow, she is phenomenal’.

That must mean something. And so you project who you are by who works with you and Vy is such a great person and a caring individual and she has a great family and it's been one of the great joys of our lives, my wife and I, having her part of our team. So, I just think, a good one, support them as they support you and great things can happen.

Karthik Chidambaram: Great advice, Mark. Thank you for that.

I'm just curious. How do you manage your own money? Are you frugal? And where do you invest?

Mark Lavelle: Well, my financial planner is that I put way too much money in my passions, you know, like, this company, Maergo, other companies that we believe in.

We have, a lot of what we do is considered private. Companies we do have invest in the market, but generally I don't pick stocks. I just invest in the broader part of the market. And, because I already have a lot of concentration and things like technology and somewhat into crypto, but not big. It's not big, not big enough.

But, you know, I don't consider myself a financial manager. I let professional people do that. And I try to live my life, and invest in what I believe in and my passions.

Karthik Chidambaram: So what advice would you give for people in their twenties who are just looking to get started with the investment or something you didn't do when you were 20 years old, but people should do right now, you know, especially when it comes to money?

Mark Lavelle: Yeah, I think it would be to understand, you know, what you are and what you aren't like. I think I'm still evolving, but you have to form a relationship with money that isn't emotional.

And you also have to remember that it's there to enable you to do something. And so deciding what you want to do and having money be a safety net or an enabler, but don't let it be a constant source of worry. Because people think, oh, you make a lot of money, you don't worry about anything anymore. That's not true.

You know, you still have the same insecurities. You still have the same- you can still make the same mistakes. Like I said, I'm not an investor of stock. Like I shouldn't be in stock. I look at CNBC and think, oh, I should own that. Like, unless you're in it, you shouldn't be thinking that you're in it. You shouldn't be making those decisions. Find people that you trust. Find people that can do that for you.

Find people to put guardrails around what you do, and then go enjoy your life, right? Don't let it run your life. So that's something I continue to learn. I think it's something you learn all the time.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah. Or invest in S&P 500 and just forget about it.

Mark Lavelle: Yeah. That's what Warren Buffett would tell you to do, right? And that hasn't proven to be a bad strategy, right?

Karthik Chidambaram: Absolutely, yeah.

What do you enjoy doing in your downtime, Mark? I mean, what are your hobbies and what helps you stay grounded?

Mark Lavelle: Well, my family is very important, as I know yours is to you. So, you know, yours is in a different stage. Mine's in their 20s now. So we have homes kind of where our kids like to be or where they live. So we like to be around them in their 20s, helping them with their careers. You know, watching them get started in their lives is very, very important to my wife and I.

We travel a lot, but I'm pretty invested time wise in these companies that we've invested in. I'm on the board of Sallie Mae. I'm on the board of a great company out of Pittsburgh called Armada that does supply chain and the food services business. Those boards take time, our foundation takes time. You know, we're pretty engaged and busy, and it's very- it's wonderful, it's wonderful to enjoy all these opportunities that this time of life brings you.

Karthik Chidambaram: Awesome. And I would like to end with this question, Mark. What book are you reading right now?

Mark Lavelle: I'm not reading any books. I feel a bit ashamed about it, but I'm so invested in reading what I need to read for those activities I just talked about that I have this pile of books that I just have not gotten to. But I'd love any recommendations you might have.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, I'm actually reading this book called, '10x is easier than 2x'.

Mark Lavelle: Ah, Dan Sullivan, okay.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so, How to Grow 10x. You know, he essentially talks about doing less, don't do a lot of things, just do less, and then you grow 10x, you know, so that was interesting, yeah.

Mark Lavelle: I agree with that. I think if there's anything that entrepreneurs are learning right now, and this is the toughest environment that we've been in for probably since 2008, 2009, is that you really have to be focused on what you're good at and what your company is good at and what your customers want. The hype and the trying to do everything and be everything, we're watching that crumble all around us.

And so it starts with what we talked about, you know, what you asked me about, what are you passionate about? What are you good at? What do your customers want? And be very, very good at that. Be very focused. That's what these times require. Cash is no longer free.

Karthik Chidambaram: Yeah. So, Mark, I really want to thank you for this conversation. I really enjoyed this conversation a lot. I'm really glad we were able to do this.

And I also want to let you know that I've learned a lot from you, and also observing you in terms of how you ran the company right from PayPal or eBay to getting it outside of eBay, then private equity and eventually selling it to Adobe.

I even felt like I was an employee of Magento for about 10 years, just watching you up close. I thought that was great. And we learned a lot from Magento and sometimes we also try to use that playbook, but sometimes a lot of times where we keep talking about it, in terms of there was a lot of learning working with you, Mark.

I really want to thank you for your time and thanks for your leadership and thanks for everything. Yeah.

Mark Lavelle: Can I thank you too? I mean, you provided more than you probably know of, helping me understand what Magento was all about. And you're always a kind voice and a wonderful smile to new places that I went to in the world.

So it's great to be here and connect back with you. And I hope we see each other soon in the real world.

Karthik Chidambaram: Absolutely, Mark. Thank you so much. And nice chatting with you. Thanks for joining us. Yeah.

Mark Lavelle: Thank you, my friend. Be well.

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