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Interview with Salvatore Iozzia, the Founder & CEO of Loaded Commerce

If someday you were using CRE Loaded eCommerce system, then you may wonder: Why such a great product gradually lost its zeal?...

We’ve contacted Salvatore Iozzia, the founder of CRE Loaded in the past and now the founder of a new eCommerce startup called Loaded Commerce. He is an experienced web entrepreneur and we believe our readers will enjoy his story how it got started, what challenges he met on his way and what are his plans for the nearest future.

Short Preface


I have been with the Open Source eCommerce movement from the beginning being an early supporter of osCommerce, before it was called osCommerce. I was the initial sponsor of Zen Cart, helped fund their lead developer Ian Wilson with money and project work. CRE Loaded was surprise success and I believe paved the way for other more notable eCommerce projects. In 2008 I raised VC money to expand and grow the company.

This did not go well. I lost control to the board and CEO, and they did not understand the market or open source. In the end the brand was so damaged by their actions that the companies only hope was to create solutions with partners that the VC had contacts with. Thus we created CRE Secure - a PCI Compliance product. After a few years CRE sold off all its assets and I was able to buy the shopping cart back and start over. During the whole debacle with the CRE I worked hard to be a friend and a good partner with the investors. Even though things where going badly, I wanted the investment community to know I was not an erratic founder. In the end the bad CEO(s) was(were) removed and I gained more trust, and control was given to me. But it was too late for CRE Loaded.

Back in April I was able to raise 390k in seed investment, one of the investors invested in CRE Secure. And now we are raising our next round of funding and again more early Angels from 2008 are stepping forward to re-invest in the vision.

I was able to secure my original dev team what worked with me on CRE Loaded and CRE Secure. Also my Support and QA team. We have started to see our independent solution developers return with the announcement of Loaded 7.

Loaded 7 is going to be amazing. I have posted several entries about the product here at www.loaded7.com/

I will be adding a post about the Embedded Add-On store this week. Thanks again for this opportunity to tell my story a bit, and give the market some clarity about what happened and how things shaped up for CRE Loaded, now Loaded Commerce.

***

Alex Bulat: People know you as an experienced web entrepreneur. Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
Salvatore Iozzia: I never finished High School. I did start college for Commercial Art, but never finished that. I have no degrees. I went from working at Burger King and local car washes to being a Free Lance designer and building a portfolio and becoming a moderately successful graphic designer. I never worked at any agencies or large enterprise companies. I started becoming a web host because the companies I build sites for always called and yelled at me if their web host had issues. So I took matters into my own hands and became a hosting reseller.
Lilian Rigo: Take us back to the beginning... how did you first get involved with eCommerce, and when did you realize eCommerce was your cup of tea?
Salvatore Iozzia: I was only an OK graphic designer. Turned out I was much better at web application design, the first being a crud CMS and eCommerce site back in 1998. I remember eCommerce back then was an online catalog where you had to call in the order.

The first sites I built where based on MS front page and custom Access databases. Then I learned about PHP from a developer I worked with. Then I learned about Open Source and in 2000 found The Exchange Project (just after they released their admin side). This project later changed it's name to osCommerce.

I found that by helping others on the osCommerce forums I could establish a reputation and build my hosting and design business. It was not long before I focused solely on web design, then on osCommerce sites.

I found that of all the types of sites, eCommerce sites had merchants willing to pay for them. So we focused on meeting their needs and specializing on eCommerce.

Lilian Rigo: After years of working with CRE Loaded, what are three things you've learned about the eCommerce industry that you think are pitfalls of this field?
Salvatore Iozzia: You can over complicate things, fast. Merchants also seem to not realize that eCommerce is a business, and they have to have a plan maybe some processes, and staff committed to deliver on promises in order to be successful. Some people think that eCommerce can be easy money. Thanks to the idea that you can get quick rich with a domain name purchase for that. Not saying that you can't be successful as a SOHO or individual, but you have to have a competitive advantage, and build a loyal customer base to succeed.

The best revenge is success.

Alex Bulat: Salvatore, you're Italian. Guys from the Apennine Peninsula are famous for being really hot-blooded. So what about some IT vendetta for those who made CRE Loaded fade away?
Salvatore Iozzia: The best revenge is success. From the time that I realized I was getting screwed by the CEO, he who shall not be named. I made a conscious decision to not freak out and get vindictive. I was no longer in control, but that was my doing. And I was now a founder and a major share holder. I wanted to align myself with the interests of the Board and the Investors. I never took a large sum of money personally. All the money raised went into the corporation and I simply lost a large stake of my ownership. I did retain my job, after getting fired for about a month. But the board brought me back and fired the dumb ass CEO that fired me. But it was too late for CRE Loaded. The damage had been done.

In the end I have been able to start over. With the help of a few original angel investors. That would not have worked with me again if I acted too much in my own self interest. My hope is that when I am a multimillionaire, and Loaded is a billion dollar company, they will feel like the dork who sold his founding shares in Facebook or Apple for 800 bucks.

Alex Bulat: How things are shaping up for CRE Loaded, now Loaded 7?
Salvatore Iozzia: Amazing. It has been almost a year since we set out. We have achieved so many milestones that we planned that it's becoming a wind at our back. We have been focused on Loaded 7. And with the release of Loaded 7 Alpha 1 - every partner and merchant we have shown it to, wants it. We are looking to have 8 partners aligned with the launch of Loaded 7 Pro in May.

Find a problem and solve it.

Lilian Rigo: So you founded a hot new startup, Loaded 7. How did that come about? Tell us please about what Loaded 7 is?
Salvatore Iozzia: When I lost control of Chain Reaction Ecommerce (the CRE in CRE Loaded) and got fired. I started a new consulting company called The Reactor Works, (reactorworks.com was taken) Then I got rehired and could no longer run Works, so I found someone to run it. It has run alongside CRE for over 4 years providing professional services and became the vehicle that could acquire the CRE Loaded product. Now Loaded Commerce, LLC is a subsidary of The Reactor Works. We have been extremely fortunate that most of the original Loaded staff survived through the years at CRE and could move over to Loaded Commerce.

Loaded 7 is the next major release of Loaded Commerce. It is a new shopping cart application that is based on OSC 3.a5 (alpha 5). We forked the code from there began working towards a new platform design with some unique capabilities. Firstly it will be mobile responsive out of the box. The default template includes all the JS logic to make it easy to make mobile responsive templates. Every interior page layout, product listing, product detail, the shopping cart, and the entire checkout process page set, is itself responsive. So all template makers need to do is make the template wrapper responsive. Also the admin is 100% responsive. Besides, we will deliver updates direct to installed carts and merchants can install them with one click in the admin.

The core updater also comes with a full file backup, so you can roll back if the update produces undesired results. That is corporate speak for "If the update jacks up your site, you can restore it." Also the most important part of Loaded 7 will be the realization of a completely admin embedded Add-on store and marketplace.

Merchants will be able to search, browse and install add-ons from inside their admin, and even purchase commercial add-ons as well without leaving their admin. We will also be building into our add-on store reseller discounts for web masters that reseller the pro cart, they can also get discounts on add-on bundles so they can mark up their own Loaded packages of add-ons that suit their merchants needs.

Loaded 7, admin alpha 1

Lilian Rigo: As an early supporter of osCommerce, initial sponsor of Zen Cart, past founder & CEO at CRE Loaded, and current CEO at Loaded Commerce, it's evident that your heart belongs to Online Commerce. What do you think about the future of eCommerce industry and CMS brands in particular?
Salvatore Iozzia: The future lies to the East. Europe, Asia, India are all exploding markets. I feel that they are only limited by their online payment options. CRE has always been a global product with 50% of its customers outside the US. The future for applications is more interconnectedness and leveraging of cloud abilities, like our Add-on store and Cloud updates. Social is not going away, but the ability for small merchants to leverage it consistently has yet to materialize.

Loaded will have strong social tools built into it. The ability to tweet or post to your Facebook Page wall from inside your admin, and to allow Facebook login for customers. However we cannot rely on Facebook and Twitter which clearly make changes without considering businesses, like Facebook's devastating changes to their Pages with the all consuming timeline. We have to create our own social experiences right on our own sites. We need to give merchants social tools so that social experiences can be made and managed right on the merchants own eCommerce platform.

Invest in people. People are more important than money.

Alex Bulat: If someone is starting a business that focuses on the eCommerce industry, what is the one piece of advice you'd give them?
Salvatore Iozzia: Find a problem and solve it. Also making add-ons for Loaded 7 would be a great way to reach merchants and grow your business.
Lilian Rigo: What is a typical day like for Salvatore Iozzia, CEO at Loaded Commerce?
Salvatore Iozzia: I am not an early bird. Early for me is getting up at 8 am. First thing I exercise for 30 minutes on my elliptical, then shower and get to work. The company is virtual, so checking in means posting to the group Skype chats we have. All the depts of Loaded are organized around different Skype chats. If Skype charged money for group chats, I would pay them anything they wanted. Skype is critical to our business. My main responsibility is product design and user experience. So I work in Balsamiq (a great product mock up tool for online interfaces) most of the time. I also check in to see if there are any problems and how they are getting resolved. By lunch time I have a good understanding of what everyone is working on, from support issues, to dev deliverables, to marketing progress on projects. I try to leave lunch time open to go out to lunch with my wife, but many days we just eat at home.

In the afternoon I am on calls with partners and vendors. Every week I now do a live stream where I allow anyone to watch me work on the product interfaces. Viewers can chat with me and ask me questions about the product and share their real life use cases and make recommendations for what the product should do. It is truly amazing how effective this is, I am a ham so I love putting on the show, and I am a workaholic, so I love the fact that the show is actual work getting done. We do the start the live stream at 10am after feedback from our UK merchant that any later is too late for them. Especially since the sessions typical run for 3 to 4 hours long.

Alex Bulat: What is your biggest challenge when it comes to brand management? How do you deal with it?
Salvatore Iozzia: I buy a lot of domains. I do not consider a product name viable if i cannot also own the domain name of it. The Chain Reaction Ecommerce brand was protected by owning over 200 domain around the words "chainreaction" or "CRE". Also I invest in logo artwork. I believe that a brand has to have an identity. I am a graphic designer by trade. We are launching a whole new brand identity for Loaded Commerce, as Loaded 7 launches. This brand also is an umbrella brand for the offering under Loaded Commerce, such as our Payment merchant services and our upcoming newsletter tool.
Alex Bulat: All people can be divided into two categories: the ones who "scratch their own itch" and those who "make someone scratch it"? If you face some serious problem you try to solve it on your own or ask for help?
Salvatore Iozzia: I scratch my own itch. Even if I ask for help, I will still work alongside them to solve it. I have an issue of micro managing my staff, I still need to work on letting go and letting my team solve issues without me. I feel I am much better at this, as I have a very capable staff now.
Lilian Rigo: What's your work mantra? How do you manage to work effectively and not to burn out?
Salvatore Iozzia: I love my work, but I build my business around things I cannot do myself, so I can't do it all. as much I might micro manage, I am not a programmer. So I cannot work all night coding. I learned a long time ago, not to build a business around your own skill. If you do, you just make a job for yourself and not a business. This forces me to lead, to work on direction and market positioning, to manage the team building and team dynamics in the company. I still do the product design because I feel I am damn good at it. I will gladly turn that over when the product direction is set and we can afford to replace me there.
Alex Bulat: Where do you get ideas for current projects, would you please share some of your sources of inspiration?
Salvatore Iozzia: I make products that I need. That my company needs. I returned to eCommerce, after 4 years of making payments more secure, because I did not like the CMS's and carts that exist. I am a demanding person. A lot of applications seem lazy to me, it's 2013, why does not every application do updates like WordPress? Why is mobile so misunderstood and responsive not embraced more fully? I am making Loaded 7 because it is the application I want to use to make sites.
Alex Bulat: It's been always interesting how people work and exactly their working places. Would you please describe your work table or tables if you have several? (Some photos will also work.)
Salvatore Iozzia: I have two computers, a desktop computer I call the Beast and a laptop (which I need to replace). The Beast is made for product design and live streaming, creating graphics and playing Starcraft II on Ultimate graphic setting. The laptop which I use in tandem on the same desk is for chatting and writing and email. I use Dropbox to keep the same set of files and docs available between both systems. We use Google apps (Gmail and Drive) so accessing mail is easy from anywhere, and I log in to Skype simultaneously on both machines. I have an L-shaped desk that has plenty of room for multiple monitors. I still have yet to put the slide out keyboard tray on it.

***

Lilian Rigo:
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else, besides being Burger king, what's your secret?
Salvatore Iozzia: I'll leave that for others to decide. Let's just say I am more humble than anyone else.
Alex Bulat: Would you please share with us some worldly wisdom: a piece of advice you were given some day that you're following up till now.
Salvatore Iozzia: Invest in people. People are more important than money. Live by principles. Trust in them and don't act for the short term, immediate satisfaction. Invest in your future, and the future of others.
Lilian Rigo: What are five of your favorite websites to read?
Salvatore Iozzia: Reddit.com (I miss you digg.com), Facebook, Twitter, and anything else based on what people are linking to at the moment.
Alex Bulat: What are three of your turn-offs when it comes to internet browsing?
Salvatore Iozzia: Over optimized sites for iPad. I have an iPad 1 and some sites try too hard to make their sites all iPad ready, and they crash the browser. Come on, man.
Alex Bulat: One thing about IT guys is their tendency to automate everything they touch on. What things are you automating?
Salvatore Iozzia: We are automating the ordering and provisioning of Loaded 7 for web host. Starting with WHMCS and Cpanel. Resellers will be able to easily offer Loaded Core (free) or Pro and have a serial issues from our API and Cpanel install it. We also working on a Plesk installer too.
Lilian Rigo: And one last question (because as eCommerce and marketing loving writers, we have to know): what are your 3 tech must-haves and favorite mobile apps?
Salvatore Iozzia: Balsamiq Mockups for creating amazing designs for developers to create website layouts or advanced UIs, Grabilla.com screenshot and image hosting - free, Chrome browser with Markup.io for marking up your webpage with arrows and circles before capturing it with Grabilla. I browse web sites on my mobile and use email. I play some games, but at this time I'm not a big mobile app guy. But watch this space because I have some mobile app ideas around eCommerce and payments for after Loaded 7 is established.

P.S. Thanks for taking the time to interview me. I hope to continue to be making news as we bring Loaded 7 to market. You can learn more at loaded7.com and download it for free.

***

So, this is what Salvatore wanted to tell everyone about what has happened to CRE Loaded and how things are going with his new startup - Loaded 7. Anyways, if you feel that you want to know more, as always, express yourself and ask questions in the comments.


Alex Bulat

Writing a blog post or building a micro niche WordPress website is something Alex can do bare-handed. You're welcome to contact him via Telegram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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