Chris Lema is the Vice President of Products at Nexcess, a Liquid Web brand, where he “created the world’s first Managed WooCommerce hosting product,” and “introduced visual comparisons for plugin updates to the WordPress community.”
Not only has Chris Lema found success at Nexcess, he is also a highly in-demand “public speaker and influencer in the open source community.” He has “worked with hundreds of startups to help them with product strategy, product development, and product marketing.”
For almost a decade, Chris Lema has also worked at Emphasis Software, where he built “enterprise SaaS products for the housing, finance, and real estate industries.” Previously, he was a leader of startup teams that created SaaS products in the “automative and telecommunications industries,” while he worked at AutoTradeCenter, Quantumshift and ICE Wireless.
At Nexcess, Chris Lema is “driven by challenge and motivated by the opportunity to add value.” He has managed development teams and motivated them to “deliver consistent and high quality work, in corporate and startup contexts.” He has also amassed a wealth of experience and expertise in “eCommerce, SaaS, and membership/subscription systems,” where he “developed strategies and frameworks for remote & virtual teams, and New Product Development.”
Over the past ten years, while working at Nexcess, Chris Lema has also become a sought-after coach and adviser to many of the commercial endeavors operating in the WordPress ecosystem.
Everything I’ve done is because someone else inspired me, helped me, challenged me or believed in me.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Chris Lema: We’re a hosting company. But hosting is a little like running a storage company. You know what I’m talking about? The company that rents you a storage space for your junk that you can’t even fit in your house. You never look at it again. You keep paying. No one thinks of their storage company as a “partner.” So hosting is a bit like that. You put your store or site on it and just assume it will be there, working.
What we’ve tried to do is push deeper into the eCommerce side of things so we can be partners with our merchants. It sets us apart from our hosting competitors for sure. Without question.
A couple weeks ago we had a customer who hadn’t gotten an order in 4 days. We caught it and realized they had a problem with something their own staff had configured incorrectly. So we fixed it and let them know. And they wrote me a gushing email about it.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Chris Lema: Remember when I told you about vacation and loving it. I mean it. Even if you can’t fly anywhere right now, take a break. Walk away. I can’t tell you how many inventions have been created in the history of science because people walk away and let their brains work in the background.
Until this year, I would take a break 4 times a year, at minimum. It might be 4 days or a whole week. But every quarter I need to get away from my computer and spend time outside. And I want the same from my team. They need breaks. Regularly.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Chris Lema: The list is too long. Everything I’ve done is because someone else inspired me, helped me, challenged me or believed in me.
Dennis Hall, my old boss at Berkeley Lab, moved me from a different job into his team in Computer Science and changed the trajectory of my life by inviting me to create not just web pages, websites, or even web applications. He had built the Software Tools project before UNIX, and he challenged me to build web platforms. That’s where I got my SaaS focus and it’s carried me forward since then.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Chris Lema: We have a pizza company that only used the web to share their locations and menus. Once they were shut down, we helped them get online ordering in place.
We have a company that used to do in-person training that now was doing it over Zoom. But they needed a way to let customers order and get their t-shirts, so they launched a store without charging customers for the orders.
We have a company that used to use a catalog to showcase their cigars, but everyone would go into the lounge in person. They needed to shift to processing orders online to make up for the lost business when they were closed for months.
The ideas are all the same — each customer found a way to leverage online stores and shopping to replace what they used to do in person.
Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Chris Lema: You may recall back in March, April and May that Amazon decided it wasn’t going to accept deliveries of inventory from their third-party stores (for shipping fulfillment) unless it was in one of five categories. In essence, Amazon was saying, “We can’t focus on helping you ship to your customers because we have to focus on our shipping to our customers.” That was a wake up call. And customers buying from DTC vendors shipping products from China face the same problem.
They’ve all be conditioned to get their orders in 2 days, for free. And suddenly Amazon went off-brand. And DTC companies shipping from China take weeks.
To compete, retail companies need to look at alternatives to Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), like one of our partners ShipBob, so they can get their products to customers quickly. It’s all about managing and meeting expectations — and shipping speeds are a big part of things.
It’s all about managing and meeting expectations — and shipping speeds are a big part of things. Chris Lema, VP at Nexcess
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Chris Lema: CEOs and Founders like “one throat to choke.” It’s an approach that suggests finding one partner and having them do a lot, rather than deal with the costs and challenges of coordinating multiple partners. But when one critical partner fails, the costs and consequences are significant. I suggest testing many different partners to find the ecosystem that can deliver what you want while limiting your overall risk.
I suggest testing many different partners to find the ecosystem that can deliver what you want while limiting your overall risk.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Chris Lema: Most companies think a single big project / expense to build the store is the most costly. What’s hard is believing that running an online store is an ongoing cost. You wouldn’t build or buy a pool and then not take care of it weekly — constantly checking the PH and making sure nothing is growing in it. Online stores often don’t have one big mistake present. Instead they have tons of little opportunities to make things better, to reduce friction in 100 places, not just one. And that’s ongoing maintenance.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Chris Lema: Absolutely. Here are my three favorites.
- WooCommerce — for fast eCommerce stores that are flexible
- io — for deeper analytics and reporting. They’ll automatically create 24 segments of your customers so you can talk to different customers differently.
- ConvertKit — for their simple and easy email marketing.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Chris Lema: Here are five quick hits:
- Shorten your checkout process (count clicks)
- Use your receipts to share coupons and bring customers back
- Support multiple payment gateways (Stripe AND PayPal)
- Offer multiple payment plans (support installments)
- Collect emails before checkout so you can follow up with 70% that abandon carts
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Chris Lema: The most important dynamic in building your brand and reputation is trust. And that means that every touchpoint between your customers and your company needs to be reviewed for that trust. If your marketing says that returns are easy, but your process is complex, you’ve lied and that breaks trust. Every interaction needs to reviewed in the light of “surprise.” It’s how you delight customers. And if delight requires surprise, then what are you doing to surprise customers with an incredible experience. I once ordered shoes from an online store that told me the shoes would be here in 3 days. That was fine. Then I got an email the next day saying they’d upgraded shipping to next day and I would get my shoes two days earlier. That’s delight!
The most important dynamic in building your brand and reputation is trust. Chris Lema, Nexcess
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Chris Lema: The best reviews are the negative ones. Those are the ones I read first. Because I want to see if the negative issues are really big enough for me to reject my inclination to make a purchase. So when you reply to a negative review, make sure you’re not defensive. And if you’ve acknowledged the negative experience, then state what you’re doing so it doesn’t happen again.
The other advice is to ignore the negative statements. I have something like 20k followers on Twitter. Someone who writes something negative about me might have 200 followers. But if I reply, 20k people see it. I bring the attention. So most times, I just ignore the “haters.”
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Chris Lema: I love being generous. It’s a key part of who I am and it’s a value our family embraces. So if I could start a movement it would be around generosity. I can’t tell you the doors that have opened days, months or years after I was generous with someone. And I didn’t do it for the door to open (or it wouldn’t be generosity), but I can tie many great moments in life to earlier choices to be generous.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!