A lifelong entrepreneur, OrderGroove Founder and CEO Greg Alvo has had a natural inclination for business since he was a kid, but he is the first to admit that his current success took a lot of practice. “It took time to get to this point, and I learned a lot along the way,” Alvo said.
Alvo’s journey in entrepreneurship began when, as a freshman in high school, he faced a potential legal challenge for his homegrown business. At the time, he created and sold posters for both the winning and losing teams of professional and college sports championships on eBay. He ultimately received a copyright violation via FedEx asking him to refrain from using official logos on his product.
Despite the setback, he quickly started another business in 2000—this time in tech. He founded a software consultancy named Voteq, which grew to service over 100 clients and gave Alvo a taste for the technology world.
After high school, Alvo enrolled at George Washington University, where he continued to hone his entrepreneurial spirit by creating his own major: Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. While still an undergraduate student in 2005, Alvo took his first step into eCommerce by joining Liquidation.com, which sells excess inventory from businesses across the world. Working in various roles, Alvo brought in new partnerships and accounts, and was with the company during their IPO in 2006. Fresh out of college, Alvo took the eCommerce knowledge learned at Liquidation.com to venture out on his own in 2008.
“Great ideas don’t always make for a good business,” said Alvo from his OrderGroove office in New York City. As a 23 year old, his first post-college idea was for a short-lived company named Digiceipt, a business which made the checkout flow more seamless for customers by digitizing receipts. It was an idea which he started and killed after only 28 days.
Even though Digiceipt never came to fruition, it became another key learning experience for Alvo in the world of eCommerce, and helped spawn the idea that would eventually become the foundation of OrderGroove.
From his own buying behavior, Alvo saw an opportunity for companies to offer subscription services to consumers for products that needed to be replenished. This was in 2008, way before today’s subscription box economy existed. With some of his own money, Alvo built out the first iteration of OrderGroove as a kind of frequency genie that put a customer’s orders on auto-pilot.
It was Alvo’s drive and gregariousness that led to the company’s first outside investment from Rick Wolf, a man whom Alvo struck up a conversation with at an airport and ended up being the CEO of a wallcovering business called Wolf-Gordon. The funds helped OrderGroove move into their first office in Koreatown.
Alvo remembers the early days fondly when all his finances were dedicated to his business, so he would scrounge for samples from Costco for dinner. “When you don’t have a lot of money or capital, you make it work or go back and get a day job. [This is when] you need to unleash creativity and persistence.”
Alvo kept his head down and focused on surviving the economic meltdown in 2008, and after doing so, he finally raised venture funding in 2010 from Fyrfly Venture Partners and Silicon Valley Bank. The company launched the platform with their first client, FiltersFast.com, an eCommerce site specializing in selling air filters, water filters, and more. Subscription orders started pouring in immediately.
Based on the success of FiltersFast.com, Alvo felt like the company was onto something big, but realized that his timing was less than ideal. Venture Capitalists were just not pouring money into enterprise software companies in NYC back then, so Alvo needed to stay scrappy to keep the company operating.
“Times like that either kill you or make you stronger,” said Alvo.
Stronger, indeed. Looking back, the fact that OrderGroove was early to the market ended up being a blessing in disguise—something not too common in startups. It allowed them to build a strong product for when the market was ready for subscription-based services. Subscription commerce really started to take shape in 2016, when retailers and brands were taking notice of what Amazon was doing with Prime and Alexa. OrderGroove was ready, as they had already spent years building a platform to help retailers and brands take advantage of this trend.
“We coined the term, Relationship Commerce,” Alvo said. “It is the strategy around building an ongoing relationship with consumers and making their lives easier, while gaining a larger share of wallet. We help companies anticipate the wants and needs of their customers.”
Today’s version of OrderGroove’s platform allows consumers to order, reorder, or sign up for a subscription service across all different channels: online, retail stores, mobile, SMS, Facebook, voice, etc. The Vitamin Shoppe, for example, is leveraging the OrderGroove platform to create a customer-first shopping experience throughout its more than 775 retail stores and online. Customers can sign up for The Vitamin Shoppe’s online auto delivery program right from the in-store cash register, and manage their accounts online or from their mobile devices.
OrderGroove’s business is growing fast. They’ve done more than three times the sales volume as last year, and their platform is live in over 5,000 physical retail stores.
Another key aspect that Alvo credits for their success is the 75-person team OrderGroove has built, with plans to hire 25 more employees this year.
The subscription economy is here to stay and Alvo believes Relationship Commerce is the next frontier. Since OrderGroove has their product strategy (and a high-performing team) in place, their focus is now on executing and scaling the company to the next level and taking Relationship Commerce to the masses.
And, for Alvo, building a business is the fun part. His track record to date shows that he has a high level of grit and perseverance, which is (arguably) exactly what an entrepreneur needs to succeed in a world where most don’t.
“I knew that I was going to be an entrepreneur,” Alvo said. “Growing up, I always dreamt about building things. There was no other option.”
Images courtesy of OrderGroove.