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We like to call ourselves the e-commerce operating system. They way we see it, Bigcommerce is not just your ordinary SaaS software. We are building it to be the kernel of e-commerce. This will be the next generation e-commerce platform, one that we believe will give our merchants and developers the best experience. But there seems to be a a bit of confusion with developers, merchants and even a few people inside our company. What is this platform? Define a platform. How does it change the world? Why is this important for us to spend effort on? I would like to use this blog post to share some of my thoughts on this and give some insights on how we are attempting to change the world.
We don’t use the term “platform” in the traditional sense. When we talk about platform, we talk about a core product that enables creation of success stories, and even magical experiences. When this core product offers a foundation on which our developers can get creative and build extensions and services that will greatly benefit our merchants, it becomes a useful platform. And when our developers and partners are able to build their own businesses by helping our merchants, it becomes a great platform. It becomes the kernel on which an entire e-commerce ecosystem can thrive. And slowly, with laser focus, we are working towards that.
To understand why this is important, you have to understand how an e-commerce ecosystem looks today. It’s very fragmented. When a merchant gets an online store up and running, there are different services to choose from, both that are offered as a part of a SaaS experience and also from third parties. This becomes evident when you have conversations with merchants who are using a hosted ecommerce platform to run their businesses. There is an expectation that the services they need to run their businesses should be part of the hosted platform (for the lack of better term). Every merchant’s needs are different. Depending on what stage a business is in, they will have different expectations on what a platform should do for them. Some might want to focus on demand generation, while others might want to focus on multi-channel or marketing. It is impossible for any software to do everything well. We didn’t want to be the remote control of e-commerce platforms.
We believe in the power of our partners and developers. We are always amazed at how people are solving tough problems in their own verticals and domains. And the question we started asking ourselves was, “How can we bring these amazing people together as a platform in the truest sense and help inspire even more awesome stories?” We believe that if we are serious in calling ourselves an e-commerce platform, we should truly become enablers. This is where the APIs become integral to our vision.
The APIs are the hooks on which great applications can be built. Via APIs, one can fetch data, create new products, input new orders and update existing ones. If you look at different e-commerce APIs out there today, one pattern emerges: they are designed by engineers. By that I don’t mean who is writing the code, but rather who defines what endpoints (or platform hooks) need to be exposed. At Bigcommerce, we took a different approach when we started on this path a few months back. Our API changes are driven by our developers. In many ways, we have embraced the customer development model that has caught on with startups recently, and molded it towards our API development. Today, after close to seven months and over 25 iterations and re-iterations, our APIs have emerged as some of the best in e-commerce. I am not saying this because I work here, but because developers who work on our platform are telling us so — at developer office hours, conferences, and hackathons as well as via feedback forms, emails, etc. I believe this was possible purely because our product and engineering guys truly created an agile development model where the priorities were set by our developers.
A platform is not just APIs. It is also how frictionless the experience is for our merchants. It is about how easy we can enable somebody to start selling the moment they sign up. All this may sound very marketing driven, but in reality, these questions spur great technological challenges both in terms of design and engineering. One of the things we take pride in is “time to first sale.” We measure how fast we allow our merchants to capture transactions and start selling. This is not just a one-off sale, but a repeatable formula. This has led us to re-design our template engines, onboarding flows, etc. One of the questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis is, “How can we enable our development partners to get their apps discovered seamlessly?” This is an important question, because we see our partners and developers as an extension of our platform. Today, our focus is entirely to re-imagine the current known definition of what constitutes an e-commerce platform. And what we are finding out is reflected in our work on APIs, UX and product.
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