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March 23, 2016

Entrepreneur’s Corner: The Clarus Commerce Story

Colored threads

This is a guest post from Vincent Villano, Founder of Clarus Commerce.

Here we are, the transaction has closed and the proverbial keys have been given to the new owners. What an amazing journey it has been.

More than 15 years ago I started Clarus Marketing Group (now known as Clarus Commerce) without a clue of where it would end up. To say I didn’t know what I didn’t know is an understatement. A seedling of an idea and a URL launched an amazing journey for me and the incredible people who joined me for the ride. As the e-commerce revolution was unfolding, it became clear to me that shipping charges would become the friction that could slow down the freight train of commerce that was on the way. In 2001, Clarus launched and the world’s first prepaid shipping program was born.

The next 10 years were spent growing the product and the company. Planning for succession, I realized having the right leadership in place was an absolute necessity, so I brought Tom Caporaso on board as COO in 2009. Tom seamlessly fit into the Clarus culture of hard work, fun and integrity, and it became clear he was the right person to guide the next chapter of our growth. As Tom led the team to new heights, he kept the importance of the Clarus culture front and center. If we have a secret sauce, this is it.

Norwest joined as an investor partner in 2011 and quickly recognized what I saw in Tom, promoting him to CEO after only six months of working together.

We sensed nothing but positive vibes from the Norwest team from the get-go. I remember Jon Kossow, the lead partner for our transaction, who took a different approach from our very first management meeting. He truly listened to what we had to say, and questions were not intended to make sure we knew he was the smartest guy in the room, but rather to truly understand our business and what our goals were. I assure you, this is unique. Jon explained the “invited guest” philosophy his team deploys, and that certainly turned out to be accurate.

Norwest’s David Su who worked relentlessly on our transaction also became a board member alongside Jon Kossow. This was David’s first board seat at Norwest, and Jon asked in advance if this is something we would be comfortable with, while putting zero pressure on us if there was any hesitation because they were “invited guests.” We were happy to welcome David to the board, and his diligence and hard work came through time and time again. David is a true warrior and I will leave it at that and let you figure out why.

The Norwest relationship was everything that was advertised, and more. The team always responded with poise and professionalism to any bad news, and we heartily celebrated success. They made countless business development and customer introductions, leveraged their deep network to help recruit two outside board members, and provided thoughtful insight on everything from new product ideas to acquisitions.

Additionally, Norwest’s portfolio services team added tremendous value by helping us with compensation planning, connecting us with its portfolio network through diverse content-oriented events, and facilitating business development relationships via Norwest Partner Days.

When I look back now with the benefit of hindsight, I believe the reason our experience with the Norwest team was so successful is very simple: our “invited guests” fit right into the culture of the company, one that was built over many years, and a world away from Silicon Valley. They didn’t try to change it, and their presence enhanced, rather than detracted, from this central concept so important to the success of Clarus Commerce.