Frank DeMaria has built an ecommerce career on flexibility.
The vice president of digital engineering & platforms at multi-brand, modern design company MillerKnoll knows that digital commerce moves at the speed of light and that the best practitioners need to be ready to make a decision — often one they never saw coming.
“Flexibility is the thing, really,” DeMaria says in thinking about his most valuable success secrets. “You need to move quickly in order to keep up. When we’re talking about retail and we’re talking about technology, you need to move quickly. And so for me, something that I did learn a little bit later is just that ability to be decisive. You need to make decisions.”
DeMaria boils his secret down to, “Cut indecisiveness from your workflow.” Read more about that in “Uncovered: Secrets from the Most Influential in Ecommerce.”
Successful retail leaders are prepared to make the quick decision
DeMaria, one of Signifyd’s Most Influential in Ecommerce, is quick to point out that his secret is not about being rash. The work doesn’t start with the decision. There is more to it than going by gut and having the steel to decide this way or that way. Successful retail leaders prepare. They make sure they are ready when the decisive moment comes.
- Prepare for opportunities with data and a solid network.
- Be flexible and ready to act.
- When possible find a small way to test a big idea.
- Decide and test to determine whether to correct or continue.
DeMaria shares more of his tips and tactics in the video below
“You want to be thinking about the data that you have,” he says. “So get a good set of data and get a good set of partners that you can talk to. Set your process up.”
They might be partners within your organization or they might be trusted advisors outside the organization. What they are not is an excuse to delay making a move. Listen to what your advisors say. Look at where your data points you and then act.
Ideally, you can design a way to test your decision, to make sure you’re on the right path. That might be through technology tools that predict or quickly measure the effects of a change. Or maybe there is a piece of your business that lends itself to moving ahead in a new direction or with new ideas.
DeMaria says he was fortunate. Before MillerKnoll, he worked for years at Newell Brands, another organization with many nameplates and a global footprint.
Test, measure and then act
“How can you put something out that’s going to validate whether you’re onto something good or whether you need to pivot?” he asks. “You just continue to go through that process of deciding, putting something out, testing it, see how it goes, and then change it.”
It’s a question, DeMaria says, of do I double down, or do I change it?
DeMaria has advanced his career relying on that framing — be ready when opportunity arises, even if it means making some tough choices. Change is not always comfortable, but for DeMaria, it’s always been worthwhile.
“There are opportunities at certain key points,” he says. “I’ve just found that every time I took one of those risks — again, somewhat calculated. Each time it’s worked out. And for every time that I did that I just added to my skill, added to my knowledge and became better off in the long run. Whereas, compared to some people who shied away from that and weren’t as open to being flexible, I just feel like it opened up a lot more doors for me.”
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Transcript of video
I actually started my career in ecommerce, so fortunately I’ve been in this industry my entire career.
From when I was in college, I started at a small internet development agency, working through small projects for ecommerce retailers.
So from that point on, I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the cross section of retail and technology.
Prior to joining MillerKnoll three years ago, I spent 16 years at Newell brands and Jarden corporation, working with dozens of their brands under that umbrella.
Working through different technology and retail initiatives and partnership with those businesses.
So one is hard work.
Especially early on, but even throughout your career, focusing on what you need to do to grow and deliver.
I wanted to be known as that person that always had a way to get it done. It didn’t matter what challenge came up, Frank’s the guy who’s going to get it done.
That took a lot of hard work.
That took unfortunately, sometimes nights and weekends, and putting in that time and effort to make sure you’re being successful.
The second thing is flexibility.
So as you’re coming through on the course of your career, there are opportunities that come up where you can find a new path.
Where that was a new technology in my case, or a new position in someone else’s case, for me those were new technology options that came up that I was able to look at and determine that I wanted to go down a different path and be a little flexible in my career and try something new and different.
Those proved very valuable for me.
The third thing is luck.
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to land in situations I could have never planned before.
Throughout the course of my career I’ve been involved in multiple mergers and acquisitions and the projects that go along with bringing companies together that had nothing to do with the positions I took originally.
Nothing that I did to get to that point based on where the organization was at that point, those opportunities came to me and I was very lucky to go through that and get more experience out of those situations
Lastly is relationships.
So much in this world and your career is based on relationships you’re able to build.
A lot of these keys to success work on each other so obviously you build relationships on being successful in the past so that hard work needs to be put in, and that flexibility you now have people who believe in you and you build those relationships.
When a new opportunity comes up, people are looking for somebody they can trust and know can help them get to that level and so those relationships can help you out in the future whether that’s advancement in your career, or opportunities that come up or just being able to continue to learn and grow.
Diving into new technology was the biggest risk.
Coming early off my career as a hands-on developer and engineer, you get into a niche set of technologies that you sort of think you’ll build your career on and opportunities came up for me along the way where I had a chance to pivot to something new and different and for someone who’s hands on, that means leaving a little behind what you’re used to and familiar with and where you’ve grown your career on and that can be a bit scary.
I took a couple risks early on where I changed and pivoted and went after a different opportunity and did leave a little behind what I had focused on.
But those risks absolutely proved valuable to be in the future, being flexible and taking on different technologies and different projects, really allowed me to grow much more than if I were to stay doing the same thing I had.
I think there is still a common misconception that technology careers are still male driven, and while I dont think the scale is balanced just yet, I do believe that the technology industry as as a whole can have gender equality.
Over the course of my career even today, I’ve work with some fantastic women at all levels and truly think there is a lot of opportunity to improve the ratio of women in technology.