I Love My Job: At 10 Years, RevZilla Cofounder Matt Kull Reflects on the Company’s Good Ol’ Startup Days
The agility of a small, young company can’t be beat, Kull says. He’s now the CEO steering Comoto Holdings, which oversees RevZilla and Cycle Gear, two leading e-commerce and retail companies.
RevZilla is one of Philly’s most celebrated homegrown companies, and it just hit its 10th birthday. In November 2007, three founders launched the startup in an Old City loft. Now it’s a national leader on the e-commerce front, under Comoto Holdings, which also oversees California-based retailer Cycle Gear. RevZilla cofounder Matt Kull is now at Comoto’s helm, and his tenure at the company has made him a witness at every phase — from when RevZilla was just a trio of entrepreneurs to the bustling Navy Yard empire of 250 employees that it is now. And with Cycle Gear in the mix since 2016, Kull is leading thousands across North America, and feeding the unrelenting passion of motorcycle enthusiasts across the world. Here’s what the journey’s been like through Kull’s eyes and why he says there’s always so much to do.
I grew up in… Bucks County for much of my early life I grew up in a town called Ottsville in my early days before I moved to Doylestown when I was around six.
A memory from my childhood is… my first paying job. I was probably five or six years old, and I was a rock collector. We lived on a nice piece of land up in Bucks County and had just cleared out a bunch of trees to try and make room for a bigger yard. And there were rocks all over the place. And at the same time, all I wanted more than anything else in the world was an original Nintendo Entertainment System. My parents were big believers in no handouts. You’ve gotta work for it. You have to earn it. So they told me for every rock I found they’d give me fifty cents or a quarter toward a Nintendo. After a number of days of dragging my wagon around and collecting rocks, I earned enough money and was very excited to buy my own Nintendo Entertainment System.
I wanted to grow up to be… a video game tester so I could play video games all day. Getting the NES fed into my video game addiction. Then that interest morphed into being a video game designer.
I first got interested in tech… as a result of playing video games. I kind of migrated from console games to computer games, especially in the early to mid 90s. You really had to be fairly technical to get the games to run. Then it was about playing online games, connecting with friends. I started wondering how do these things work? How do you program? I started taking programming classes in school. I immediately took to it. I started thinking about career paths in programming. Being involved with software just felt like something I could be really good at. And because we were heading into the mid to late 90s, the dot com craziness was starting. It seemed like there was a lot of opportunity.
The retail landscape is rapidly changing because… Consumer needs and desires are changing. Consumers have the convenience of the internet at their fingertips and have higher expectations when entering the retail environment. They’re looking for stores that give them a bit more of an experience.
I order something online every… week because I’m lazy. Whatever I can order online I will, whether that’s groceries, gifts, or food. I’m addicted to the convenience. I think one of the challenges of being a startup founder and CEO is lack of time. Anyway you can find efficiency, you greatly value that.
The key to running a successful ecommerce empire is… focusing on the customer — understanding their wants, needs and desires. Where is there friction? What is their pain point? How does your business alleviate those pain points better than anyone else? I also think at its heart, every successful ecommerce business is also a technology company. Being seamless across systems and technology is critical in being able to deliver a top tier customer experience consistently.
The difference between being a COO, interim CEO and CEO is… as the COO, I focused on the operations of the business with a much more narrow lens. One of the advantages is that I had a lot of opportunity to focus on a couple of specific areas. I’m someone who likes to get into the weeds, but on the flipside, I’d do that too much and not be operating as strategically or as high-level as I probably should for that role.
As interim CEO I had to focus on pulling myself out of the weeds. I had to figure out how to scale myself in all the areas that I was currently involved in and make capacity for the other aspects of the business that I was more tangential to. I think the right way to operate at that level, as the interim CEO is, act as if it is not interim, because you don’t know when and if that is going to be filled, and I think I did a good job of recognizing that early.
Being CEO has brought a lot of clarity. Being in that seat, I am the leader of the organization. I need to set the mission and vision strategy and build alignment with company goals. And with my shift to CEO, it was a shift in breadth too. I went from being interim CEO at RevZilla to Comoto CEO. This switch-up increased the scope of my oversight.
Running a bicoastal company means I travel… at least month to month to try and see the other team in California. I think face time and having a physical presence there is really important.
Something I miss about RevZilla’s startup days is… how nimble we were. We used to joke that, as an organization, we were a speedboat outmaneuvering our slower aircraft carrier competitors. I think a big element of that is true. There’s a big advantage when you’re a start up, when you’re small and can be incredibly nimble as an organization and pivot on a dime. At our size now — on our RevZilla side with over 250 employees, and with Cycle Gear we over 1,000 employees — we have to be much more methodical with how we approach change to make sure we have alignment and don’t create unnecessary stress or pain.
Working at the same company for over ten years… seems unreal. It’s crazy saying ten years out loud. It doesn’t seem like it’s been ten years, but at the same time I can’t really remember what it was like to not be doing this so it kind of makes me feel old. It’s definitely been a roller coaster. But one thing is it’s felt like a different company every six to 12 months. We’ve gone from three founders in their apartment, to two employees for two years. Then you’re an organization with 25 employees, then 60 to 100 employees and now we’ve changed locations. It’s felt like I’ve worked at a couple different places over the past ten years as the organization has grown and evolved.
The best thing about the company being at ten years is… the relationships we’ve been able to build with the team. We just did our first service awards presentation where we gave tenure-based awards to a number of employees. It was incredible to see the number of employees who have been with us for six, seven, eight and nine years.
I met my fellow RevZilla co-founders Nick Auger and Anthony Bucci when… we all worked at WebLinc, a tech and e-commerce consulting company based here in Philly. Within my first two weeks there, I became fast friends with Nick when we realized we had the same birthday. It was Nick’s 21st birthday one Tuesday — I’m a year older than him — so I decided to take him out. We cemented our friendship that night. Anthony had been out of the office on a business trip when he found out we had been hanging out. He was very disappointed that he missed out. We quickly roped in Anthony and all became really good friends.
We formed Comoto Holdings in 2016 because… we thought that forming Comoto, with both Cycle Gear and RevZilla, would cement the collective business as the leading omni-channel retailer in the motorcycle space. We thought combining Cycle Gear’s briack-and-mortar hundred-plus store footprint with RevZilla’s expertise in e-commerce and digital technology would be a powerful company.
The motorcycle enthusiast community is best described as… passionate. No one really needs a motorcycle. People typically ride because they are passionate, which creates a really niche enthusiast community. And that makes the business fun. We’re not selling trinkets. We’re selling a product that fuels our customers’ passion and hobby. So when we’re engaging with customers, they are very excited to talk about what modifications they are making on their bike, what kind of jacket they need for their upcoming trip. It’s a very positive interaction.
A distinction between motorcycle riding and driving a car is… if you’re driving a car on a road trip and you’re looking at the scenery, it’s like you’re watching a movie. If you’re riding a motorcycle, it’s like being in the movie.
Some of my favorite RevZilla YouTube videos are…. the ones that combine motorcycle lifestyle with being entertaining and funny. One that comes to mind is Lemmy’s flat track video. We showcase him taking a Harley Street Rod and racing on a flat track course. Of course he has a little bit of a mishap, wrecks the bike, but he’s OK. He’s able to get back on. I thought it was a great showcase of the sport and why people do it. Lemmy just has a great personality. He’s quite entertaining in the office, and he’s really able to showcase that in his videos as well.
A project keeping me busy right now is… our launch of a new apparel brand called REAX. We’ve always been product geeks here, and we’re really excited to take our own stab at designing a line of apparel.
My favorite product from the line is… the pair of $200 Kevlar riding jeans. We partnered with one of our manufacturers to produce. The amount of value for the dollar there is really unmatched with any of the other riding jeans that we offer.
RevZilla was recently named on Forbes’ Best Place to Work in Retail list because… early on, we recognized the importance of having a really strong culture. We were inspired by companies like Zappos in the early days. Our key differentiator is certainly the quality of people we have on staff. We really focus on enabling employees and creating an environment where they can be successful and enjoy coming to each day.
Some Philly companies/startups I admire are… Amino and Turn5. I’m really excited to see what Amino does. They’re tracking a big problem in a big market and have a huge opportunity. We’ve always had a relationship with Turn5. We’re in similar markets and they are a great team to trade best practices. They’ve been on a huge growth swing, and I’m very jealous of the bowling alley they have in their new office.
Something I feel like I’m constantly up against is… time and prioritization. I feel like ever since the early days it’s always been about making sure you’re working the right things and always feeling like you have this huge list of things you could be working on but you don’t have the time. If we could work 24 hours a day, we’d be able to get a heck of a lot more done. That juggle of time is always challenging, especially balancing the needs of the business with life and everything else that happens outside of the business. As leaders, it’s also important to reinforce that we want people to work hard when they’re here at RevZilla but they also need lives as well.
The coolest products on RevZilla’s site right now are… race suits and jackets with integrated airbag systems. They’re able to detect the characteristics of a crash as it’s happening and inflate within milliseconds.
The coolest things you can find in a Cycle Gear store are… the helmet integrated headsets by SENA. Bluetooth technology has advanced tremendously over the years and the SENA headsets offer riders the ability to seamlessly communicate with each other, up to 16 at a time! While they are on their bike. Being a tech geek I can’t resist picking the SENA 30K headset.
My daily schedule usually starts with… my son. I’m a night owl and will continue to be, so I’m not the earliest of risers. So my day starts around 7:30 or 8 with coffee and my son Kieran. I’ve tried the waking up at 4 a.m. thing, and it didn’t work out. I will say, though, that my schedule has improved from the early days. Back then, when we were building out the tech for RevZilla, we’d wake up around 10, 11 or noon and then stay up until 4 a.m.
A lesson I’ve learned about leadership over the past 10 years is… it’s all about empowerment and enablement. Hire people smarter than you. Arm them with the tools and resources they need to succeed. And treat people with respect. I believe in a servant-leadership model as opposed to command and control.
When I need some motivation I usually… go for a run or do something physical. I unplug for a little when I’m feeling burned out. For general inspiration I like to find great TED talks to get the motors spinning. I also like going to industry conferences or events to get a broader view of our market. If you spend too much time in the office, you start to get tunnel vision within the context of your walls.
A hobby of mine completely unrelated to my work is… [Laughs] Hobbies tend to go away when you start a business, and especially when you have a family. It’s hard to find extra time, but it’s a goal of mine. I’d like to get back to having real hobbies but work has become my real hobby. I don’t think that’s always a bad thing because I enjoy getting the opportunity to do things that aren’t maybe related to the day-to-day of my work. I always thought of programming as a hobby prior to starting the business. I was also always a car guy. I restored a 1968 Dodge Dart when I was in high school. I’d love to get back to that at some point. The car is currently sitting behind the office. I have a wish list in my head of all the things I’d like to do to it once some spare time arises.
Perks of working at the Navy Yard are… parking and Urban Outfitters. The Urban Outfitters cafeteria is a great resource here and open to the public. The menu changes on a consistent basis.
If I weren’t in this business I’d probably… be more involved in the startup scene. It would be really fun to take what I’ve learned and pay it forward to younger startups. Assist and advise them and invest where it makes sense. We had a lot of great advisors who helped us along the way.
And if I were to ever work somewhere else, it would be somewhere like SpaceX. I’d really need to believe in their mission. I’m an Elon Musk fan boy. They’re tackling so many interesting problems like space travel, energy and mass transit.
A goal I’m always working toward is… becoming a better communicator. Putting myself out there more. I’m an introvert at heart. If I’m left to my own devices, I’d be most happy cranking away in my office. It’s about making a purposeful effort to be a more visible face in the organization, along with building alignment with respect to company strategy and what we’re working on.