Tim Schulz of Bigcommerce recently joined us for the latest edition of our web series, “Confessions of a Product Manager.” If you’re in retail, ecommerce or product management, these interviews are a must-see.
Prior to his role of Chief Product Officer at Bigcommerce, Tim worked on various digital shopping and payments projects at Google, such as Wallet, and was part of the team that launched that company’s same-day delivery service.
Bigcommerce got started working with SMBs; more recently, Tim and his team have expanded their focus to enterprise clients, who are seeking solutions that enable them to move fast and uncover new opportunities to connect with their customers amid an increasingly competitive marketplace.
In this first interview, Tim covers some interesting insights, including:
- What it takes to scale a customer base from SMB to Mid-Market and Enterprise businesses. (Hint: it’s all about customer experience)
- Why defining beta exit criteria is both difficult and necessary
- How customers are using ecommerce software to test new markets, identify product/market fit and break into upmarket verticals
- The importance of knowing strengths and weaknesses as a business — and knowing when to partner with third parties rather than overinvesting in building complex features
Tim Schulz: Bring me a water. The little alley way with all the French restaurants.
Matt Pasienski: Yeah, I know what you're talking about.
Tim Schulz: I like it over there.
Matt Pasienski: Tim Schulz?
Tim Schulz: Schulz is fine. It's good when people mispronounce it; it makes me feel alive.
Matt Pasienski: All right. I'm here with Tim Schulz, the chief product officer for Big Commerce. Thank you very much for having us over to your wonderful offices. San Francisco. You were just telling me, you have a global company. Tell us about what Big Commerce is. What it does. Where it is.
Tim Schulz: Big Commerce is a, in short it's a platform that allows people to get up and running and selling online in minutes. The company is about 9 years old. It's delivered as a software, as a service. It's an on-demand company focused on the e-commerce space. Our target customer, either sells or aspires to sell quarter million dollars a year in revenue up to about 20 or 30 million, so you'll see a lot of our customers pitching the sharks on Shark Tank, all the way up to big NFL brands, Martha Stewart, Harley Davidson. We're pretty excited about everything we've accomplished in the last few years, with moving the platform from traditional and S and B focus, to accommodating a lot of S and Bs, but really becoming more of a mid-market player.
Matt Pasienski: You started out as, okay this gets you up and running in minutes, like you said, and now you have that enterprise level. What has that change been like, taking Big Commerce from something that's S and B, small to having the pressure of the enterprise grade?
Tim Schulz: Oh, it's been exhilarating journey. You've got to ... We get paid to get an MBA everyday we come in to work, so changing anywhere: brand, pricing, culture, sales, support, even down to the kinds of partners that we have on board and how they are treated with account managers. It's a very different model so it's been an exciting couple years watching that, this evolution happen and we're glad to finally see a lot of the fruits of that.
Matt Pasienski: You came to Big Commerce from Google, and you were heavily involved with a lot of the E-commerce initiatives at Google. What were some of the things you were doing there and how have you seen that evolve as you've now taken over at product at Big Commerce?
Tim Schulz: Oh, so I've had the opportunity to work on some amazing things at Google. There was a team that was bringing a lot of these new shopping experiences that touch digital consumers, intercepting with large retailers all the way down to S and B's on Main Street. Mobiles payments products like Wallet, same-day delivery products like "Express" - it was formerly known as "Shopping Express" when I was there - last-mile same-day delivery service, and myriad other projects. One thing has been really nice is that what Google started to do for large retailers, to help them have capabilities in reaching these mobile salvages savvy shoppers on the go, has now started to distill down to these smaller retailers. These emerging brands that maybe have one or two stores, on one of those nice main street shopping areas in these towns, they're starting to need these types of products. The ability to come to Big Commerce and deliver to millions of S and B's what I Google deliver to just maybe a handful of IR-100 retailers has been a really exciting transition.
Matt Pasienski: What are some of the types of things, because this is happens across the board. You have things that used to happen in a Google data center are now available through Google Cloud, or AQS, or things like that, that's to anybody in two minutes.
What are some of the things that were only available, is it fraud prevention, what are some of the things that have distilled down into everybody's pocket now?
Tim Schulz: I think that, number one, E-commerce technology. The ability to have an online store and to sell to consumers outside the traditional 9 to 5, that your traditional brick and mortar store is open to, previously was, it cost millions of dollars. You had to have teams of supporting servers and buildouts and software updates. Now that can be delivered to a merchant in the same way that sales force delivers CRM software for a very cost-effective price.
That's one of the big things. Everything that plugs into that platform is now very easy, whereas before you had to pay for large integration fees. Now if you want to add accounting it's single click, and incremental cost. That's been one of the big things. What we're now all trying to see is, typically larger retailers have benefited from things like automating their merchandising and their marketing, or having what we would call omni-channel analytics. That's where customers are shopping from your digital store, from your physical store, on marketplaces, on social networks, being able to consolidate all that information and have intelligent recommendations on what the retailer should do next has been something that you'd have to hire big data teams and analysts for. Now we can deliver that as part of our platform. That's pretty exciting.
Matt Pasienski: One of the things that I've heard you speak about in the past is specifically around enterprise is that you're actually enabling people to go and test things out, not just in the test in like you put up a new web page, but you're actually going into new markets, maybe with different product sets and things like that. How is that changing how commerce, this retailing, is done across the board when you can go into a new country in a few days and test things out? Maybe it's the precursor to a physical occasion or-
We were able to take a lot of that complexity away. I like to think, I like to call it the swan effect, and this is not my term, it's used elsewhere. You stand by the lakeside and a swan glides by gracefully, and you say "What a beautiful swan" and you never really give thought to the chaos that's happening under the water with the dirt and the worms and everything. We try to do that for our merchants. If they can do something very complicated and not have to think about it, we will have succeeded.
So many of these really great brands that never see the light of day oftentimes just struggle to get over this hurdle where they get punished by their success. They start as a brand. Maybe they raise a KickStarter campaign or they take over an existing business and re-brand it, and they think a lot about the customer experience, and the brand, and the merchandising, and the product placement, and how things look and feel. As they become successful, they all of a sudden have to start managing all this technology. Their time is split, and they can't really focus as much on their customer anymore and on their brand. We like to come along and say, 'let that technological piece be completely invisible to you'. If we can do that, and we can do it in a way that we can help them sell more on our platform then they do with anywhere else, we will have succeeded, I think, as a company.
Matt Pasienski: One of the things that's very interesting, I personally have found interesting, about your company is that you're doing a lot of the same things that we tend to have to do. You're working with product teams to help them figure out their product. You're going in and assisting teams. It's maybe not a software product. It's a product market fit. You're going out and helping retailers do that. Do you have, as a business, a vested interest in helping people become better product managers? If they're on Shark Tank, they might have a great idea, but then how do you turn that into a viable business and take it international?
Tim Schulz: Sure, we like to think of ourselves and not just software platform but as a trusted advisor, trusted partner in the merchants business. Because we're a hosted platform, there's a lot that we know about our merchants, from the time they start with us, until they grow under their first million or ten million or 100 million in sales. There are certain parts along that journey where they're going to need things.
As they move out of their garage, and into a third part logistic center, because they just are shipping so many products they can't keep up with the demand, we're able to recommend partners to them and have trusted integrations that they can easily scale a business. Whereas before, they would just live in the pain and the spreadsheet hell that comes with fulfilling out of your garage at that scale. They might have not ever known what a third-party logistics firm is. Maybe they don't know what Google Analytics is or how it works.
Matt Pasienski: And you're strategically - this is maybe as a chief product officer - finding those complimentary businesses to your own and forming relationships so that it can be a one stop shop?
Tim Schulz: That's right. At the Commerce we are very, very disciplined at thinking what we are good at, and where do we draw the line and avoid the temptation of chasing down a rabbit hole. What's really fun about being at an e-commerce platform is also a bit of a dangerous thing. We've seen some of our competitors go down a rat hole where they over invest in an area that's actually much more complicated than they had thought. We do online merchandising, order management, basic customer relationship management and hosting a product catalog in a world-leading way.
That's what we do well. We don't do accounting very well. We don't do point of sale well. That's why we partner with Square. That's why we partner with Intuit. We like to think of it as that if we can have best of great partnership, and sometimes some financial or product incentives that go with that, we can pass even more value onto the merchants and help them grow. We try to get as much value pushed into the day one, day two experience as possible so that we can help them get to their first sale as fast as possible. If they've already had their first sales on other platforms, helping them get to their first million or ten million or 100 million faster than they could anywhere else. [crosstalk 00:10:05]
Matt Pasienski: That presents a very difficult trick you got to play all the time, which is you get a request and ... Are there examples where they fall right on the line and then you need to make the decision: Are we going to invest and expand our platform or is this something we are going to look for a partner. How do you handle that?
Tim Schulz: This is a very good question, especially as we moved from traditionally supporting S and B's to now moving more upmarket and supporting large brands.
There are certain capabilities that our partners would work with us on the lower end, that now we need to invest in on the higher end. We start ... We try to err on the side of does a partner do this better, and are there some best at rate partnerships that will help us reach multiple different verticals from fashion apparel to automotive and parts et cetera et cetera. If there is one available, we usually talk to customers and see what the usage is and what the net promoter score or customer satisfaction is around that partner and then we'll integrate and we'll learn.
If it warrants further investment on our part, then we'll do that. But there are some instances where take order management or listing management. Order management, of course, is the ability for a merchant to easily manage lots of orders and handle returns and refunds and things like that in a very easy way. Of course, feed management is when you want to sell your products not just through your brand in store front on Big Commerce, but maybe another marketplace or social channel like Pinterest. There are a lot of partners on the lower end that take care of that, but as you move a little bit more upmarket, we've found that we've had to build more robust capabilities into our platform there, so that's kind of how we do it. Err on the side of going with a partner. If a partner doesn't exist consider how far we need [inaudible 00:11:42].