If you have a little bit of tech knowledge and need to get your e-commerce program in gear, then Ryan Szrama, president/CEO of Centarro, might have the answer.
Centarro is the company behind Drupal Commerce, an open-source e-commerce framework that can perform a variety of functions needed by online merchants: it presents products for purchase; walks customers through the checkout process; keeps track of invoices, receipts, orders and payments; and facilitates shipping.
Szrama spent some time with UBJ discussing how his Upstate-based company impacts global e-commerce.
UBJ: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background?
Well, I’m married and a father of four. I went to high school in Louisville, Kentucky, and then to Boyce College, which is the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I basically was just always a hobbyist computer programmer and kind of ended up working at an e-commerce company, where I was really just hired to help with stuff on eBay. But when my boss saw me sharing my computer games with some of my co-workers it was like “Oh, you know how to program, well here, why don’t you just take over our website for me?” And the rest is history.
UBJ: What’s the backstory behind Centarro?
My ambitions for software development outgrew the e-commerce business I was at, so I started my own company called Commerce Guys with a couple of friends. A year later, we merged with a French company and relocated Commerce Guy’s headquarters to Paris, with ambitions to raise venture capital and build out the next iteration of my e-commerce platform, which is one that Centarro still supports today called Drupal Commerce. So we did raise money to build Drupal Commerce and make it big and successful. But along the way, we also developed a web application hosting platform and it became clear to me around 2014-2015, that the future of the business was a hosting platform because it has true venture return potential. The work we were doing on the open-source side wasn’t growing as rapidly, so I bought my way out of the company. I basically traded away my ownership in the bigger company in order to buy these assets out and re-form a company based around my open-source e-commerce platform called Centarro.
UBJ: How big is the business?
There are 50,000 online stores that use Drupal Commerce right now and those run the gamut from individual, mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 500. But the nice thing about it being open-source is that even if I’m working for MaxMart, a Swedish grocery store that’s doing $50 million a year in sales … and then a smaller company can’t afford the code that they pay us to write, if it’s not specific to, say, their accounting software or their market, it becomes part of the open-source platform; everybody gets the benefit, basically.
UBJ: Is that collaboration for you the most rewarding part of the job?
I do love collaborating with large companies that are doing big things. We want them to be successful because they fund the ongoing development of this project and I’ve made my living from open source e-commerce for the last 15 years. There are over 50,000 sites reporting that they’re using our modules to run their stores and my company, at any given point in time, maybe has two dozen customers in a year out of that 50,000.
UBJ: It sounds like you’re happy with that legacy.
Through perseverance, through trial and error, through community, we’ve been able to build this thing that, by my reckoning, accounts for some $2 billion a year or more in transactions, from literally nothing. When I was just, like, working nights and weekends in the ghetto of Louisville to now, it’s incredible. You just don’t know what might happen when you create this collaborative space for entrepreneurs.