Becoming a mythical business beast
By Leslie T. Snadowsky
If you recognize Airbnb, Blockchain, Pinterest, SpaceX, Uber and WeWork, you must believe in unicorns – privately owned startup companies with valuations of a billion bucks or more. Ryan Szrama, co-founder of Commerce Guys based in Greenville, South Carolina, says his former company soon will be joining the herd.
“A startup is an experiment in finding a scalable, repeatable business model around some kind of application of technology,” says Szrama. “When we first started Commerce Guys, we provided professional Drupal-based eCommerce consulting and development services for the eCommerce platform we developed. Once we saw real traction with our enterprise hosting program, we realized it needed to be backed by venture capitalists and scaled. We separated the companies so Platform.sh would not be coupled with or tied to our eCommerce consulting firm.”
Szrama, 38, is still a minor shareholder in Platform.sh, a provider of an idea-to-cloud application platform simplifying cloud infrastructures, and according to CBInsights, the company’s $34 million in Series C funding makes it the most well-funded startup in South Carolina.
Self-taught eCommerce developer Szrama says Platform.sh is worth hundreds of millions of dollars today and soon will give other unicorns a run for their money.
“You need to solve a problem that hundreds of thousands of people have and you have to do it well enough to convince tens of thousands of people to buy your solutions,” says Szrama of the first step in becoming a coveted unicorn.
Szrama says Platform.sh decreases human resources costs of managing web servers and offloads all the risk and management to their platform built on open-source software, in which they give the code away for free.
“We did the digital equivalent of equipping the prospector with a new shiny pickaxe to go out and be successful,” says Szrama of the cloud markets’ gold rush. “Whether or not that prospector ever strikes gold, we sold the pickaxe.”
The ability to build alliances and a network is also a unicorn trait.
“One of the biggest breakthroughs for Platform.sh is when it became the vendor behind the cloud versions of other enterprise software applications,” says Szrama. “Any business-to-business startup that becomes a unicorn or approaches that status needs to sell through a variety of channels. You’re building out a digital supply chain.”
Access to capital and where you’re based may also impact your valuation.
“It’s not that you can’t develop a unicorn outside the Bay Area, but if you’re trying to do it in South Carolina, you’re still going to need those connections to those companies swimming in bigger waters. There are not many investors in South Carolina who are going to drop $30 million on your Series C, and that’s just the reality of the business and relevant for South Carolina businesses.”
When Commerce Guys separated its companies in 2016, Szrama became CEO of eCommerce consulting division Centarro.io and started following that elusive unicorn trail.
“The more you focus, the more successful you are,” he says. “People think to become a billion-dollar business you must have to do a lot of things, but the reality is you just have to do one thing really well. The success of this hobby project turned open-source software powering global commerce is something I never could have imagined.”
Centarro.io CEO Ryan Szrama says his company is “not far off” from developing a multi-million-dollar a year business idea to enable it to continue giving away its open-source software codes for free.