52. Catch the Tornado with Nate Stewart. Head of Strategy at BigCommerce

Transcript

Piotr Karwatka  

Hello Nate.Thanks for accepting my invitation.

Nate Stewart

Hi, thank you for having me. This will be fun.

Piotr Karwatka  

Yeah, absolutely. Maybe first let's start with your professional career background and how you joined BigCommerce?

Nate Stewart

Yes. So I think in commerce in general, it's pretty storied. You know I don't want to date myself too much. But over I've had over 15 years of kind of open web ecommerce all the way back to early like it more PayPal buttons, dropping on a page, and then creating the experience around it, into, I think there's been a couple cycles of you have the open source ecommerce, the Saas, eCom. And now there's a kind of blend. The way I got into Ecommerce is I had a company that I had founded called Zing, which was a point of sale company and integration kind of company and one. So we found out while building the point of sale, which is cloud based, you know, web, web tech, and but also, you know, iOS, Android, that's apps that people wanted to get online, and people wanted their accounting connected and all of that. So the BigCommerce connection actually came or we were one of the, I think the first web based cloud point of sale that integrated into them. And they had this like integration fund at the time where we're like, Yeah, we could take, you know, some small bit of funding and like two weeks, we'll be done with like, every project took much, much longer to get the integration connected. But in that process, we became really well connected with commerce, BigCommerce is in Austin, my company was in Austin, just so happened a chance there. And they ended up acquiring the company. And a lot of that integration layer is what ended up being the first stage of some of what you see in a kind of multi omni channel integration. So since then, a lot of change, of course, over time, over five years ago. And before even, you know, my last company, I had an agency for about a decade. And that's where I did a lot of ecommerce work. So I've been on various different either a brick and mortar and eCom, but also agency life, a partner life, and now at the platform level. So I've kind of jumped around and had a lot of different experiences there.

Piotr Karwatka

That's super exciting. So your company was in Austin, I guess, like Austin, Texas, in general, is becoming more and more ecommerce hub in the States. Why is it so? And was it like this? You know, those five years ago when you started your company? How did it come that, you know, started a startup product in Texas? It's not very obvious, right? Silicon Valley maybe would be a first. First you know, spot. Another one? Probably New York? And Texas?

Nate Stewart 

Yes. So I can tell you how I ended up there, which is that I actually started the company in Santa Monica, California. That's where there's a place called co loft, which Yeah, I don't think a lot is there anymore. But I had started getting into like, I didn't really even know what a startup was. But I was actually in California. And I was finding that it was rather hard to raise money at that time, maybe a little bit easier now in that area, California. And everybody said go to Silicon Valley, San Francisco, go up there. So I actually went up there first. Yeah. And went through the Sand Hill Road meeting VCs went to San Francisco, like intro, you know, the normal normal thingsl did conferences, whatnot. And it just didn't feel right. And especially in this just for me, personally, the numbers that were thrown out at the time, like you need like 1.4 million and that'll last you about a year and you get a couple of developers to get in a house together. And you guys just hack it out. And then you know, maybe raise another round after that. And I'm like, that doesn't sound like a business to me like that. Like and plus since I'm an engineer kind of hard I can build things and design things too, I was like. Why do I need to do all that? It doesn't seem right. Especially when you come from an agency with more background. You're like, you know, you have to be efficient. Right. So you thought that was scary to a lot of people in that conversation. They brought up, have you checked in Austin and it came up enough to where I'm like, okay, well, why is it good to bring up Austin? Like, I've never been to Austin, Texas. And I started researching a little bit more about it and came up with about 300k. And I'm not anybody that would listen to this. That's maybe not the case now without us. I don't know. Yeah, but probably a bit more expensive back then. But 300k would get me about the same as 1.4 million. And the back of napkin math I did, and there's like South by and other things happening there, like, cool. So I ended up just moving there deciding, like, let's go and move, my brother and some of the people that I was working with, at the time, the company and we just, we just paid it off. So that's how I ended up in Austin was a bed based off of very fuzzy science. Yeah. And a combination of people liked it. And the numbers made sense, and actually ended up being working out really well, you know, so, in terms of, and again, nobody listening to this, especially within the Star brown should think it's, you know, the perfect thing, but we didn't raise a ton of money, you know, and, and being able to be acquired when you've raised less than a million of seed, and you were able to get to bootstrap and where you had revenue. And that's, that's a much better outcome for a lot of people than it is when you go through multiple rounds of funding. Right. And now, I think there's pros and cons to doing that, but in terms of Austin, that's how it fits into my story. It was kind of the right time, right place, the people are awesome. Once I got there, it was easy to raise enough money to get to the next stage of the company where I had a little bit more control with our small team and got to make her own destiny. And I think there's still a bit of that in Austin. To be honest, companies can be more efficient. I think it's getting, especially nowadays, more expensive. I don't know where it's going to end up. It seems like it's doubling every couple years in terms of the number of startups there. So we'll see what happens with New York, NSF and Austin and all the

Nate Stewart 

I think this is general advice for people. But you know, I had a connection to California. And we were able to go back and see, okay, conferences and investors or advisors or whatnot. So, things like the LAUNCH conference, I remember going to that early on. And we were already headed to kind of Austin, but that was in San Francisco. So you can be in a city like Austin, and you can. It may be not today today, but you know, hopefully soon you can go back to say, Hey, there's this event, let's go out and broaden your network a little bit. And that's actually where we landed Tesla as a pilot customer at that stage of a startup when you're kind of amazing money. Yeah, I mean, and that's now I don't think that could probably happen with where Tesla's at, but back then you had just the kind of stars align, but you have to be looking for it and make it happen. Like you go out your door. Yep. To see it. Right. So I think unknowingly at the time having Austin is really economical base and having really just, you know, fun engaging people that that care and, and Austin at the time, and it still had that, that up till today, kind of had a we can do it mentality towards like, we can show people that we can innovate, that we can push. So it helps to be around people like that sometimes rather than let me enter you to my friend who has a billion dollars who can do that, you know, it's less about the money all the time and more about solving the problem which for me, I connect a little bit more with that.

Piotr Karwatka 

Okay, perfect. So you've been acquired by BigCommerce. Exciting company. Huge and successful IPO recently. growing rapidly for many, many years. Like, if I look back, like when we first met was the Like 2018, something like this, right? I suppose it was super popular back then. And it's still growing. And it's a default choice for, for many commercials in states, but also in Europe. So that's the supercar. But what I would like to ask you about is this open SaaS architecture. You told me about this first time, when we sat down in our office in Wrocław. It was 2019, I guess, early 19 or late 18? I don't remember. But I was fascinated about it. Can you tell us more like Open SaaS? What does it mean?

Nate Stewart 

Yeah, I think, you know, we've been on a journey, trying to listen, really, to the combination of our broad merchant base. So, you know, there's a lot of people who like a lot of platforms out there. It's not just one type of merchant, that you're serving your serving Merchant Center, Mirage Bureau, you're starting out, you're serving merchants that have a business, they're starting to scale, but they don't want to code they don't want to, you know, do anything. That's, that's super technical. Because they’re marketers just running business, then you use go all the way up to, they need help. And yet they work with an agency or they have an in-house dev team, and they're looking to innovate on the front end and all that spectrum. And it's, you know, trying to find out how you serve those different personas. And what we kind of came up with organically when you get down to it is a lot of conversations that would be like we had a couple years ago, where, okay, we have where can we fit best in the market that are strengths? Well, we already are very partner driven, right. And we've been that way for a while. And we want to retain that, that that was never going to go away. So it's okay, we have that one element, we're great at being open from a philosophy, right of how we do business. And we open up more of our API's.

Piotr Karwatka 

You mean You mean this openness as you know, business feature, like you were open, inviting other partners having you because you have this marketplace? Right. But in the end, it was pretty much closed SaaS right, you could have changed the template, you could have used some addons. But other than that, it was like Shopify, other you know, closed source SAS offerings right.

Nate Stewart 

How do we blend that philosophy with the platform side? And I think and so this has been a couple year journey, but getting to, alright, how do you decouple the platform in the right places and open up the API and really have a, you know, product strategy that backs up that business strategy of being open? And, and then having a way of speaking about it? That's, that's clear. So that's how open SaaS came up to where we want to be the blend in between the best of open source and the best effect is a lot of SaaS is easy, approachable, you know, you go in, and it could it could scale in a lot of ways without you having to deal with many things. Yeah. But then you hit that wall, right? Then you go to open source, and it has a lot of perks where you have full control, you have so much innovation, that community has all these different aspects, but then you're like, Okay, well, there's things I don't want to deal with there. So we think, okay, the blend in the middle that open SaaS takes from both. So it just kind of came to the middle there. So by the time we talked, I think a lot of what I was speaking to do about is almost validating that concept at that point. Like, I don't think we'd officially done anything at that time. And then it did get kind of caught on. Yeah, a little bit after that.

Piotr Karwatka 

Yeah, absolutely. Like, I remember that we were discussing this idea. And for me, it was a perfect fit. Especially in this situation, when you know, the Magento market started declining around 2018 a lot. I mean the market maybe was declining slower than the community. Because of this, you know, Adobe acquisition, a lot of partners moved away from the platform, didn't feel that they are, you know, still in charge of anything. And BigCommerce was one of the options that came to the table for me that was perfect fit because of this Open SaaS to be honest, because I saw a huge opportunity there, that being agency or being just developer, or even being, you know, third party vendor having your own product integrated. You had this chance to build a separate application using React, Vue js, Angular, whatever you have, still using your API's that are super cool, because they work they scale out. They're pretty, you know, feature rich, and you don't need to care about it. And still you build your own application. That was the feature you know, previously Magento was famous for. You could build us those modules and customize everything. And you are saying, You don't neto customize because you build your app. Right? You are using our API's, but you're in the end building whatever you like. Did I wrap it up correctly, this Open SaaS?

Nate Stewart 

100%? Yeah, and I think the beauty of it too, is you can take a little bit of what you want from it. So part of the open is, yeah, it's meant to be, you know, inclusive. You know, it's not just a pure technology stack, it's, you want to be open to other ideas and interpretations of it. And, you know, I think, personally, that's why I like talking about it is it involves the people element of it, and the fact that all of us have something great we can bring to the table. And actually Magento is a good case where a lot of innovation still happened in the Magento community. I think some of them from what I've seen, it's some of the community are now branched out, right? They've got out from even starting a couple years ago, they've gone okay, I still, I still love Magento. Because I've been there for years and years and years, however, I need to kind of broadcast my abilities and my thoughts outside of just pure that ecosystem. So I'm seeing a lot of that and not just Magento. But a lot of the platforms in general are open source. People are ready to look at other ways of building that they can use the foundation and skill sets that they build their livelihood over, right. And that's, that's where we fit in really well, we're really good. He said, Look, you want to come to SAS, but you don't want to lose control? Well, you know, we're going to have an inclusive culture there for you who did not like which, what do you want to do? And we're not going to force you into a certain mentality. So that's a nice one of the most fun parts of the strategy of IRL.

Piotr Karwatka 

Interesting, by the way. Did it work as we were? We were thinking about it, those two years ago, I mean, the partners, have you seen a huge stream of new partners moving from other Open Source platforms towards commerce or didn't happen?

Nate Stewart 

I think if you look at the past two years, we've had an increased number of open source partners. Come on, we're looking for options, right? They are looking what's what's the next platform I should use?

Piotr Karwatka 

Yeah. And also, I think, just generally, there's a trend in the industry of people wanting to blend different approaches, and a lot of times they don't, they have to do it themselves. Right. They said they're having this similar idea, but they're doing with a team of 10. So I think by the time they find what we're doing. Oh, wow, you have a team of hundreds of hundreds of people that are working this direction. So it's almost like you are more teamed up at that point. But again, I don't think there's a scenario where it's, it's aggressive, like, I think up some Yeah, part part of it is like, keep keep a little bit about what you know, and then and then when it's comfortable, you know, come over, but there are people that have that have liked it enough to where, you know, they shifted over to more of the open SAS kind of wanting to lean on the best parts of both. And that's, that's like most of their business. So I think it's it, there's a number of people that really love the concept enough to say, I'll bet on it. But it's a long track, you know, like any strategy and shift and how you're building like it. It doesn't happen overnight. Yeah, and that's, uh, that's okay. You know, so I try not to rush things.

Nate Stewart 

Yeah, I suppose. So. The natural next question is how we went internally, because we discussed how it was for the partners and the, you know, the business openness, to be honest, is something pretty new. Like, if you look at the enterprise software, they usually tend to have everything, you know, over vendor lock in closed, like, you need to be partnered, and you need to be certified, you need to do this and that. And you say something different, you say, we are open the open source roll, we gonna discuss open source roll in a second. But it's very important. You can build whatever you like using our API's. So the question is, have you struggle convincing the business, for example, big commerce internally, that that's the way because I suppose they could be afraid of opening to match? Or maybe asking the question like, where are we demanding, right? Shouldn't it be our next feature of big commerce, rather than, you know, giving it away to partners to build new apps? How was it?

Piotr Karwatka 

I think there there's different stages you go through and this is kind of with any shift in strategy, especially when it It's not just the way that you're selling, but the way that you support the way that it's a message like, you know, this, this is more of the full stack that it affected. There's a stage of, okay, well prove it to me, like, you know, I have my way of doing things. And I need to, I need to see more. And one way that we did that, I think, over time is with WordPress, that was our first big investment, and that we're still investing in the WordPress, plugin and community. And I think seeing it work over time, like not just the actual product and the tech, but the the community aspect and saying, Oh, this is what going into another open community can can do, I think that got past the first stage of people going, that's okay, I assume you're doing then the second stage is how do I actually, you know, change what I'm doing. And a lot of people of course, like, if you have, you know, targets to hit, and you have a big team, you're already hiring for like at one skill set, and someone comes in and says, Hey, we, we might need a slightly new skill set, of course, it's going to, you know, have you wrack your brain for, you know, a couple months should that that took time to get through. And I think as we grew into different kinds of tests and learning ecosystems. 

(...)

Show more

Previously co-founder and CEO of next generation cloud-based point of sale and real-time integration technology company- Zing, which was acquired by BigCommerce to power their omnichannel strategy. He has over a decade of experience in web technology, with a focus on commerce and online payments. He is currently the VP, Platform Strategy at BigCommerce focusing on making commerce better.

Shownotes

Listen next