49. Catch the Tornado with François Lanthier Nadeau, CEO at Snipcart

Transcript

Piotr Karwatka 

Hello everyone, today I'm super excited to have François Lanthier Nadeau, the CEO at Snipcart. Snipcart is an ecommerce shopping cart, actually, the whole platform that you can embed everywhere into landing page blog posts, or just to have like a fully fledged ecommerce website. We're gonna talk about the early days venture building model, and how they spun out from, from an agency. Let's begin.

Hi, Francois. I'm super excited. And super happy you accepted my invitation.

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Hey, it's a pleasure to be here. I love having these chats.

Piotr Karwatka 

That's awesome. Maybe let's, let's start with your professional background. If you can give us a short overview of how you got into software engineering into computer science. That would be awesome.

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Yeah. My entry to the world of web development was through marketing. Yeah. So I used to be a marketer. And I didn't quite know what I wanted to do with my career. Yeah. So I explored different options. By accident. I landed inside of a web development agency. And from there, I kind of fell in love with the whole ecosystem, the tooling and and that's the future, basically, because I love the aspect of building businesses online. So that's kind of the background, if you will. And as for Flipkart, I joined the team as the first employee, actually, as an intern back in 2014, or late 2013. And yeah, my, my goal was to try to get some traction for that software product that was targeted, targeting developers. Yeah. And I guess long story very short, I became CEO.

Piotr Karwatka 

Very, very short stories, like six or seven years. Yes. No overnight success. But that's actually interesting. So you say that you don't don't have a typical engineering background? No. More like a marketing e-commerce background? Yes. And you joined this, this team building this Snipkart thing. So your role was more like, product owner?

François Lanthier Nadeau 

So in the beginning, to be frank, my role was to create content, and do some SEO and just try to generate any kind of traction or action for the product. So that's what I did in the very beginning. Yeah. Then slowly, but surely, I started being involved in product development, and structuring, taking more and more responsibility. So it kind of went from intern to marketing lead to partner, and then product owner, and then Product Owner and CEO, and then CEO, that's kind of the trajectory here, if you will,

Piotr Karwatka 

Awesome path. By the way, congratulations, you went through all those steps. I think that it gives you some power, like, you know, knowing everything about how you build the venture product. That's super cool. And how about the early days of Snipcart? Like you said, You joined very early. When did you guys know that this is something that this product has market fit? That it is getting the traction? What did the early days look like?

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Yeah. So we started from a dogfooding start point, if you will, meaning that Snipcart was launched inside a web development agency.

Piotr Karwatka 

So you used it for your own projects? 

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Exactly. Yeah. So there was a client that had an old dusty site. He was one of the first clients at the agency, and he really wanted to sell online but he did not have the budget to convert his actual old website into something transactional. So yeah, Charles and the initial team started tinkering around with a way to add ecommerce into the front end only without having to refactor anything, if you will. Yeah. And that was the initial MVP of Snipcart. That's how Snipcart came to be. And it always was very developer first meaning that we our bet the initial bet was that other developers inside agencies must have had the same pain somewhere along the way. So let's try to see if they are on board if they want to try Snipcart and we saw that the initial growth was mostly one of our my partner's George going around town in different agencies and selling Snipcart. Yeah, and there was a little traction, a little bit of interest. And then we migrated our efforts online to content marketing and community building and integrations and that kind of stuff. And I, in terms of product market fit, I'll be frank with you. The signals were super early, like there were agencies going all in adopting Snipcart. And then there were lots of CMS communities just going, listen, we really need some ecommerce, there's no native functionality in our platform and our CMS. So this sim card thing works perfectly and then they would create an integration or some add ons. And yeah, I kind of picked up from there, I'd say.

Piotr Karwatka  

So the killer feature was that I don't have to replace the whole damn thing. I just can, you know, Ember, Dizzy commerce in my legacy, CMS or custom built webpage, whatever I had, I could just start from there. And it was super easy to get started.

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Yeah, because you know, Snipcart. Most of Snipcart lives in the front end, meaning that the checkout and the shopping cart itself are embedded through a JavaScript snippet like you would do with a Google Analytics thing. And then the paradigm that is different about Snipcart really is about how products are created, like the people come to e-commerce and they expect the database, a UI, create products that are registered in that database, and whatever. But snickered is much more simple. We like to think it's elegant in a way. So products live in the HTML markup, meaning you have a HTML element like a button, you define some properties, some data attributes around that element. And this just becomes your SIM card product. 

Piotr Karwatka  

So yeah, that's really, I just said elegant, technically, yes, very easy, like, from a business perspective it is super cool that I can experiment with this whole ecommerce model, wuth the whole replatforming. So the initial goal was 100% organic, as you said, right, you were just using your agency money and on services to build the product?

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Yeah, I feel like I should address something that always pops up when I do. Yeah, calls and interviews like this is the security part just before I go further. So the simcard does a thorough crawl back of all of the information that is located on your initial page where the product lives, to make sure that even if you try to mess around with dev tools that are out there prices, the transaction won't go through. So that's something that always pops up. So I just want to tell developers that we got this one covered. 

Piotr Karwatka   

That's it is something like anti CSRF hashing kind of, you know, checking for the content wasn't messed with.

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Yeah, it’s actually super simple. One of the key data attributes that we have on products is the URL where you want your product to live. So we go back to that URL, that initial one, we look at the attributes, and if there's any difference between the one that you're trying to process in the order, we just like, we tell you an error message and we explain what's going on. 

Piotr Karwatka   

So now I feel, you know, calm so it's super safe. Yeah, we can go on.

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Yeah, thank you for allowing, allowing, hiring me these parenthesis. So um, your question was about the initial growth? Yes. Was it 100% organic? Yes, I would say 99%. Organic, okay, because we, you know, I was a junior, very junior marketer, and I was trying a bunch of stuff. And sometimes I did paid campaigns on private, like developer centric site networks where you could do like, I think it was carbon ads back then or, and I did some Google ads and some Facebook ads. And I tried to see if that would pick up. But it was like, it wasn't a passion of mine. I don't think it was the best channel to reach our audience of developers. And yeah, we quickly realized that there was a much better personal and business fit by doing content and community work, if you will.

Piotr Karwatka   

Gotcha. Who's the ideal customer of SNAP card?

François Lanthier Nadeau 

That's a great question. So now that we're a profitable and mature business. We've been doing this for like, almost eight years now. We kind of have the luxury to say no to a lot of things including customers that do not fit with our value proposition if you will know. The ideal customer is a small to medium business selling from 500 a month to 50k a month, for instance. And that is in one way or another, guided and helped by developers. So it can be a freelance developer that works with SMBs. It can be an in agency developer or an in house developer. It really depends on the merchant, your organization that uses Snipkart. Yeah, that's the broad answer, I'd say.

Piotr Karwatka   

Gotcha. So how do you position among the other options for such app starters and SMBs? I mean, probably marketplaces like Shopify are the most popular ones. Yeah. So where was the Snipkart on this landscape?

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Hmm, great question. So the reality of merchants that are using Snipkart. So to maybe less technical people involved in the project, is often one of two scenarios, let's say. So first, you have some people, some entrepreneurs, that will say, “Listen, I'm very good at what I do, for instance, running a restaurant or draining coffee. And I want to focus my talent in the operations of this business. But I don't want to dabble with websites and technology in automating all of that. I prefer getting professional help for this”. So these merchants will often reach out to developers, agencies, and freelancers. And these freelancers. And agencies, they much prefer having control over the stack that they use to build web experiences. Meaning that marketplaces and popular solutions like Shopify are just awesome. They're great. They're enabling commerce all over the world. And I, I can like, I'm thankful for them to exist. But developers like to pick the right tool for the right job. And this has a lot of business benefits also, right? It can help with performance, which can help with rankings, scalability, portability, maintainability, there's a whole bunch of stuff that merchants can benefit from directly or not, when a developer has the choice of a stack. So that's why these developers will push Snitker inside of their project, meaning that listen, we can tailor the experience to what you really need. And then the E-commerce part is a mess, right? It's complicated. There's security involved. There's a whole bunch of stuff. So we don't want to do this ourselves. Yeah. So this will use Snipcart , a flexible layer of E commerce to wrap the whole thing together. So that's one scenario, where you have merchants who are purely helped by developers. Yeah. And then you have another scenario where you have entrepreneurs, who are very strong willed and autonomous. And they say, Listen, there are all of these tools existing, like Shopify, for instance, that can empower me to do e-commerce myself. So they tried to get started. Sometimes they even start with less sophisticated tools in Shopify, like a Squarespace or Wix, if you will. And they build something that works, okay, or that just doesn't work like they would like to. So it's either a functional limit, or an aesthetic limit, where they're like, this is not the experience I want to create for my online customers. I would like to do this, but the platform doesn't let me. But I don't know how to design and customize these things. So they kind of hit a roadblock very soon in their ecommerce journey. And then they go and reach out for developer help. And then they will propose snickered, for instance.

Piotr Karwatka  

Gotcha. Now, I get it. So it's like you offer them more like a developer's to-do marketing tool, which is, by the way, great. Taking into consideration that your background was marketing and you build the developers through so yeah, that's really cool.

François Lanthier Nadeau   

You know, there are always two personas using Snipcart. So we're mostly developers at Snipcart . 

Piotr Karwatka  

But who's making the decisions developers, as you said, probably developers?

François Lanthier Nadeau  

What I'm getting at is that yeah, if there was no so we have a fully hosted merchant dashboard where you can manage orders discount it's

Piotr Karwatka  

it speaks the language they understand

François Lanthier Nadeau  

Yea. So there's a place for them to operate and optimize their business online. Right. So the developers make the decision or influence merchants to make the decision, but then afterwards, once the app integrated with their status In the ecommerce store is up and running, they can just hand off the project through the merchant dashboard to the merchant, and they can take it from there, you know, so it's important to have this disparte nailed in the process. Also, if we didn't, you know, merchants would just leave. So turn would be crazy. 

Piotr Karwatka  

Of course, that's super cool. But what also struck me and it's, I guess, it's great that you said that is a way snip goes away, to mitigate all the limitations, the platform gives you for customizations and the user experience, which wasn't something I was even thinking about. Because, you know, all these, although still headless platforms, the big ones are saying this like use us because otherwise you will be limited without you can do whatever you like, whatever function you like. Yeah, and it's of course, true, but here is a different way of doing things, because you are saying, we have a linear option, you are also not limited. And you can do whatever you like, because we are not doing this whole, you know, front end things. And you can do with WordPress webpage, but you can also amplify CMS Enterprise, CMS, Adobe, whatever, and still includes nepcon. So yeah, that's a super awesome way of doing things, taking it from a different angle, right?

François Lanthier Nadeau  

Yes, maybe I can add to that and speak to that a little. When it comes to enterprise, we don't shy away from saying no to some potential customers, it's a lot of money. And of course, it's interesting. But Snipcart really is built with that for now, at least, the SMB is in mind. So but you said something that I think is worth expanding on, which is you can use whatever you like to build a site. Yeah. And we see this inside of our user base, we have, let's say roughly, if half of the people will use a traditional coupled, monolithic website, and then plug Snipcart  into it. But then on the other hand, on the other apps, you have all of the jam stack-ish, more modular and funky stuff where you have a headless CMS in the back, and then a front end framework in the front that's super trendy and optimized for performance. And then Snipcart  kind of weaves its way into that that bond or Yeah,

Piotr Karwatka  

That's awesome. That was why you were posting on a web page that your developers first noticed, or you have some other things, you know, on mine saying so.

François Lanthier Nadeau  

So yeah, we're, we're committed to remaining developer-first, for now, and going forward. I mean, it's just something that resonates best with who we are, and the marketing we want to do. And so for us, it makes sense to go that route. And it's been a mostly positive experience thus far. All of that being said, in all transparency, what we realized in the past year, I was doing a whole lot of customer interviews and whatnot, and is the fact that, as a team of mostly developers, it's easier for us to identify the reality of developers doing e-commerce. So we kind of nailed the integration part. But since we're not necessarily merchants at our core, we realized that we offered a decent experience for merchants. But that was a place where we could shine more. So this year, for instance, a lot of the roadmap will be focused on improving the merchant experience to make sure once they have a SIM card in their hands there, they're not limited, and then there are no irritants. So we're in that spirit, we're bootstrapping our own dogfooding our own product and starting an online store. So we can like, step into the shoes of merchants even more selling some swag and that kind of stuff.

Piotr Karwatka  

Yeah, that's, that's really cool. The other thing I was thinking about before the recording session is your community. Because similar this software as a service offer, and as we all know, it's not that obvious that if your SAS you're going to have a community and you do really vibrant community, how it works and how we build it, like being sad, you know, having this community like what was the receipt for?

François Lanthier Nadeau 

That's all that's a wonderful question. Um, let's see. So, you're kind of implying a truth which comes from being open source tends to accelerate community building around a project, right?

Piotr Karwatka  

Yeah. That's the core of it.

François Lanthier Nadeau 

Yea that's great. And this is not something that was part of our journey, right? Because we were not open source. So if you abstract the actual workings of the project, and you just focus on the values of open source, and you say, So transparency, collaboration, community communication, support, like all of these things, our thinking was like, Well, how can we still use these things and be community actors by cropping these values? And one of the easy answers was really like, well, let's just help the web dev community through actual technical content, technical tutorials. Yeah. And most of them, if you look at our blog, I mean, most of that stuff is like we're building an article with code snippets and tutorials. And there's a GitHub repo and there's a live demo and the code is open source. And we try our best to help people use these tiny, like starters, if you will. So we're very open. And we're like contributing members to the community, even though snipped guards core is not open source. So we try as much as we can to embrace that ethos. Yeah. And I think we did a decent job. And I'm very proud of what we built. And I think one of the payouts, payouts or payoffs of this is we see developers just creating third party integrations with Snipcart that are amazing, and they do it on their own. And the fun thing is, now that we're profitable, and we're way past the Ramond eating point, we can start supporting them with money and support with exposure. Just recently, we had this awesome fellow Jacob, who built a suite of plugins for sanity and Snipcart  that will be like, fast in the E commerce done in that headless CMS. And the community response has been amazing. We've been able to support them financially and on the marketing level. And so yeah, I feel just blessed that this stuff happens to us. I mean, it's one of the best things about this gig, I think.

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Before becoming the CEO of Snipcart, François was in charge of marketing at Snipcart for 6 years. In 2014, he spent four months in Colorado developing the market for Snipcart and integrating a vibrant startup scene, pitching Snipcar to various stakeholders and web agencies and collecting valuable feedback. Currently, he lives in Québec City, and is focusing on content marketing, acquisition channels diversification and overall growth strategy for Snipcart. He’s also a mentor and advisor regarding content & SEO for startups.

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