The three cofounders of RevZilla, the motorcycle gear ecommerce company that quickly became a Navy Yard darling when it set up shop there in 2013, have been driving the company hard for the last 12 years. Until now.
Since its launch in 2007, RevZilla, one of Philadelphia city’s earliest post-dot-com growth companies, has grown to about 450 employees, upgraded to a 65,000-square-foot warehouse space, joined a partnership with a private equity firm, and changed leadership a number of times.
Cofounders Anthony Bucci and Matt Kull have both held the CEO role, and third cofounder Nick Auger has served as CTO. Bucci stepped down from daily operations in early 2017, though he stayed on the board, and Kull took over as interim, and eventually, permanent CEO. Save for a short stint in the role in mid 2017 by former adidas exec Nic Vu, the company’s frontman has always been an original founding member.
But this summer, RevZilla is seeing another leadership change — this time to an outside CEO with national retail experience.
As of last month, retail exec Ken Murphy is the new president and CEO of Comoto Holdings, the parent company of RevZilla and Cycle Gear, a 40-year-old West Coast-based motorcycle gear chain. The two companies were ushered under the same umbrella in 2016, when a partnership with private equity firm J.W. Childs (now known as Prospect Hill Growth Partners) created a new entity. Murphy was brought onto the Comoto board in January and officially became the head in July.
According to the CEO, the change was the decision of the board — of which the cofounders remain members in addition to being shareholders — and that to his knowledge, it was not explicitly the plan for him to take on the head role when he joined at the top of the year.
The overall goal is “sustained growth,” Murphy told Technical.ly. He hopes that Kull and Auger now have an opportunity to “catch their breath” after handing the business over to new leadership, calling their time running the company “a pretty intense almost-13-year run.”
Murphy comes to RevZilla after holding president and CEO roles at both Texas-based Mattress Firm and Connecticut-based EbLens Clothing & Footwear. While he’s trading in box springs and rubber soles for chrome and leather jackets, Murphy said they’re all businesses that cater to a customer base that’s potentially overwhelmed by the number of options available to them and who will be passionate consumers.
“Thats one of the things that excited me,” he said. “This is the next chapter in a highly passionate company.”
Murphy told Technical.ly he’s gotten the lowdown on the CEO role from cofounders Kull and Auger in the last month. Kull said through a PR representative that he’s not exactly sure what’s next for him, but is looking forward to having a chance to travel and to catch up on life and technology.
“From scrappy startup based out of an Old City apartment to an industry leader with over 1,300 employees [across Comoto Holdings] it has been a great run,” Kull said in a statement. “I am very happy to have helped build the company to where it is today and happy to be able to pass the figurative ‘baton’ to Ken, who I think is well positioned to lead the company to future growth and success.”
There’s nothing unusual about a private equity firm focusing on efficiency to bring in an advanced specialist, as The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out when Bucci stepped down in 2016. It’s been two years since the joint venture was formed by RevZilla and its older, more retail-focused partner Cycle Gear, and now board leaders may be ready for a professional CEO to merge the brands into a truer competitor. Murphy is the kind of specialist you might expect, with more than a decade in retail leadership.
But of course, when cofounders transition out, there’s a natural fear of loss of culture — will Zillapalooza continue, for instance? — and wondering whose company it really is now. A lingering question will be whether the future RevZilla will look like it did when Kull, Auger and Bucci were at the helm, or something else entirely.
Back in 2016, then-interim CEO Kull told us, under no uncertain terms, that the plan was for RevZilla to remain a Philly company, and that if any new CEO were an out of towner, that person would have to relocate here.
So, is Murphy now a Philly guy?
Murphy is professionally based out of the Navy Yard office, while also managing the predominantly West Coast Cycle Gear operation through remote work and travel. He’s originally from Texas, but went to University of Pennsylvania for grad school. Murphy said his family remains in Connecticut, where they moved for his job at EbLens, but may join him in the Philly area after his first year.
And when we asked him what his favorite two-wheeled mode of transportation was, Murphy fessed up: He hasn’t ridden a bike since he was a kid, he said — “but, I’m committed to getting my motorcycle license by the end of the year.”-30-