Building a Successful E-commerce Operation Is Like an Endurance Race

I recently gave a speech to a group of e-commerce payment and risk leaders and compared their operational challenges to my participation in the adventure race, Relay Iowa.

There are a few of these adventure races, but Relay Iowa is the world’s longest, covering 339 miles over 2 nights.  This year, 26 teams (ranging from 6 to 12 members) successfully completed the experience. Follow along below as I discuss some of the key points I went over in my speech.

Do your research and thoroughly prepare

When I mentioned to some friends I was doing a 339 mile relay race and probably running a marathon over 2 days, they recommended I get on a training program.  I’ve always been active but this was the first time I got a professional training program and stuck with it.  As I complained about being out in the Seattle February rain at 5:30am logging miles, I knew it would pay off… and it did. How does this relate? Many e-commerce payment and risk departments are under new management or considering switching tools or solutions.  Getting advice from industry experts and/or peers that have gone through similar situations can be extremely valuable.  Ensuring that all the stakeholders are informed and ready when you implement new systems is going to be key.  Also, understanding the myriad options for tools and solutions is another good reason to belong to MRC and attend other trade shows, where the topic of conversation is often focused around tool and system performance.

Have a plan, adjust as needed

The logistics and surprises that come up over 339 miles of running can be overwhelming. They pale in comparison to unplugging a solution or adding data services to an existing e-commerce machine that is humming 24/7 365 days a year.  We found that in the dark of night… running 24/7 across Iowa… that our best laid plans had to be adjusted (mostly due to my “talking” right knee).  Having a plan but being ready to make adjustments based on initial performance and team feedback is going to be key.

No one can do it alone

On the relay not only did we rely on teammates to cover the miles, but to keep each other going with jokes and encouragement – not to mention the offer of skittles at 2 a.m.  Clearly there is a hierarchy at your company and clear accountability for the performance of your e-commerce operations, but by dispersing the ownership of metrics as widely as possible you will have a team fully invested in the improvement of outcomes and the success of our department and overall company.

No one system works for every team

During the relay we learned that some teams used 2 vans and each person ran as little as 1 mile before handing the GPS beacon to the next runner.  We had 3 vehicles and initially thought each runner would run 5 miles before resting.  In my vehicle, we found that late at night, after running quite a bit, 2 miles was about all we could squeak out before crying “uncle” and getting back in the van.  You may hear from your colleagues about their implementation of certain tools and think “wow, that seemed easy” but your system may be more complex, more global, more ancient…  Who knows.  The reality is finding, like we did on the relay, teams and companies that best resemble your shop and learning as much as you can from them before embarking on big changes.

Ultimately, you are focused on improving your operations and growing revenue while promoting camaraderie and ownership with your teams.  I can honestly say that I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself and my friends into when we registered for the Iowa Relay, but I don’t regret a moment of it.  If you prepare appropriately, keep your perspective, inform and involve key stakeholders, you too will accomplish great things!


The author somewhere around Ida Grove, IA  June 5th, 2015.

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