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Episode 350
May 10, 2024

Are we Post-“Point-Solution” in eCom?

Ro Trivedi joins the show to discuss founding Pietra, a modern infrastructure platform that helps entrepreneurs start and operate eCommerce businesses more profitably. Listen now!

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Ro Trivedi joins the show to discuss founding Pietra, a modern infrastructure platform that helps entrepreneurs start and operate eCommerce businesses more profitably. Listen now!

Nobody Wants to Tinker on a Commodity

Key takeaways:

  • The ability to build billion-dollar businesses with small teams is within reach, thanks to technological advancements and the reallocation of resources toward high-value activities.
  • The future of commerce lies in quickly bringing concepts to market, allowing businesses to design and manufacture products in a matter of weeks.
  • The integration of AI-driven marketplaces will revolutionize the process of finding the best suppliers and factories, simplifying negotiations and streamlining production.
  • The future will see businesses effortlessly selling on multiple sales channels, seamlessly connecting websites, social media platforms, and marketplaces for global reach.
  • Efficiency and automation will become paramount for eCommerce businesses, enabling entrepreneurs to focus on differentiation and storytelling rather than spending unnecessary time on operations.
  • {00:36:28} “So I think the future looks a lot like [integrated services]. Pull in data from the market, figure out the trends, and start designing great products very quickly.” - Ro 
  • {00:24:06} “Everyone's just running a business at the base level. And then very quickly, a creator who might have a really awesome handle on content marketing meets a counterpart who's excellent at paid ads. And when you zoom out over a 12-month period, guess what? They are the same business” - Ro

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Ro: [00:00:00] When you're tinkering on a commodity, it feels like you're squeezing blood from a stone. And so what I tell founders and entrepreneurs and small teams that are using Pietra is our goal is for you to focus on the things that will actually differentiate your company.

Brian: [00:01:28] Hello, and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast where we explore the intersection of culture and commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:34] I'm Phillip. Pregnant pause, Brian. I like it. Today, we are joined by none other than Ro Trivedi. And  Ro, I know that you've been sort of paying attention and inside of the ecommerce ecosystem for some time. But as the CEO and Founder of Pietra, I know that you are also building the future of commerce. So welcome to the show.

Ro: [00:01:55] Thank you for having me, guys.

Phillip: [00:01:57] Yeah. Thank you for being here.

Brian: [00:02:01] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:02:01] When I meet someone like you, you're in the middle of building this business and a lot of businesses in the world that are trying to build the future of commerce, especially brand experiences for very notable celebrities, influencers, and people who are building the brands of tomorrow. It's always a pleasure because I think you have a different vantage point in the ecosystem than anyone else. Tell us about Pietra. What are you solving?

Ro: [00:02:25] Good question. Pietra is a modern infrastructure platform that allows you to start and operate your ecommerce business more profitably. A lot of people think that what we're building is something that was born out of the creator economy or we help influencers or creators launch businesses. But it's actually far from the truth. I know the media loves to cover that. But what we have built is essentially a new way to start and operate an ecommerce business, and we can get into what that means. And the vast majority of people that use it are people around the world that just have an idea for a company and want to start it. I mean, celebrities do flock to the platform and that's awesome. But I would say 99% of our customers are, you know, that typical person with an idea. I like to say, this is a universal problem. Go to a bar in any city. Get a beer. Put your head up and ask someone, do you have an idea for a business? Five people are going to put their hands up. Right? And they're not going to be celebrities or influencers. They're going to be people like me and my uncle who have a cool idea for a sneaker brand or a watch line or a disposable plates brand, you know, and the list goes on. So we service the broader entrepreneur community. And then we have a bunch of subsections inside of that.

Brian: [00:03:46] Sounds like I need to meet your uncle. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:03:47] {laughter}

Ro: [00:03:51] That one, he's a character.

Phillip: [00:03:53] The earned media value of who uses a platform obviously gives you a little bit of that credibility of the kinds of brands. Everybody wants the proof, the social proof that something works. It's worthwhile to trust. But tell us a little bit about this vertical solution. This has been tried for 20 years in ecommerce, and we've seen different errors of this at the enterprise scale, and certainly, the creator economy was another thesis. Tell us what you're doing that's differentiated.

Ro: [00:04:29] My first light bulb before starting this company went off when so I was at Uber and then I was at CloudKitchens when I was incubating this idea. And Uber, a platform for moving people, packages, and food around the city. People don't think of Uber in that way, but it really is that. CloudKitchens is a platform democratizing food production delivery around the world. And so I was always obsessed with, can you reinvent an industry through a platform that makes it easier to start and operate something? And so I went and said, okay, how hard can commerce be? First mistake. {laughter} What's that flag? It's like, I did it not because it's easy, but because I thought it was easy. And it was kind of like a deeply personal thing because while I was at Uber, I was trying to build I tried to build three tech companies, and they all failed. But the insight there was while I was building those tech companies, three apps that I tried to launch, that my friend who was trying to launch a watch brand, in the time that I started and closed three tech companies, he wasn't even able to get his company off the ground selling watches. And I was like, how hard can this be? And I remember him very clearly telling me, "Ro, starting a brand on the Internet now is not just a website." That's what everyone thinks. Just start a Shopify account, and you're done. It's just a website.

Phillip: [00:06:02] Sure.

Ro: [00:06:02] He was like, "That is a 15 years ago problem. Now you actually have to create a beautiful product. You have to design your products really well. You have to find a manufacturer. You gotta set up your global shipping network. You have to figure out your customer support. You gotta figure out your marketing, and then at the end, in 15 minutes, you can set up a Shopify account." And that's when I was like, "Oh, does no one help you?" Because in tech, if I have an idea for the next Uber, in 15 minutes, I can get all the resources I need, all the turnkey solutions. And he was like, "No. This is not like they don't think about commerce like you think about technology. There's no AWS for commerce." And that's when the first light bulb went off. I was like, "Wait a minute. There are no turnkey solutions to launching and starting a business when 90% of what you do is a commoditized, operations thing?" And so what I realized was that the main equation was I realized that people were getting more creative and they were spending 10% of their time on the creative aspects of their business, which ended up being the most important thing in the social media era. And 90% of their time operating their business and building these teams. And we're like, "We need to flip this equation. You are going to get better at being creative in storytelling and designing great products. You should not be bogged down trying to squeeze blood from a stone with your operations." And, you know, we can get into it, but I think I have this new rebels framework where the first 15 years, Shopify really did arm the rebels. But what did arm the rebels mean in 2006? And for anyone that doesn't realize how long ago 2006 was, go try and go to the way back machine and find a website from 2006. They'll be like, "Damn. That's how these websites looked? That was the era that we're in?" And they did such an amazing job arming the rebels of that time. Those rebels were, "I need a Shopify account. I need to run some Facebook ads. By the way, Facebook ads are incredibly cheap. And I'm going to build a small team of people to operate this business. I'm going to build in-house expertise. I'm going to figure out how to manufacture this thing in Mexico City. I'm going to import it. I'm going to ship it around the world. I'm going to get 3 day shipping anywhere in the US for this price point. I'm going to negotiate with my 3PL all this stuff." Now the new Rebels are masters of social. I mean, the last 15 years was, like, the social media era.

Phillip: [00:08:26] Totally.

Ro: [00:08:26] Really know how to tell a story instantly global with any piece of content. And this isn't an influencer. This is just anyone. You have to learn how to create content in this world. They have instant global reach, and now their businesses are being built on 15 year old infrastructure. And so I'm like, "Oh, so you're basically, like, starting from behind trying to build this new world with this old world infrastructure." And by the way, building infrastructure is very difficult and very annoying.

Brian: [00:08:53] Yeah.

Ro: [00:08:54] So we went and said, "Okay. Let's go build the modern infrastructure platform for ecommerce in the future. One that is 90% creative and 10% operations, one that is instantly global, and one that uses technology to automate as much of a business as you possibly can so I can focus on the things that can't be automated and can't be replicated."

Brian: [00:09:14] And there's a really unique angle to this as well. It's the way you've sort of positioned it as sort of a membership model. Talk to us a little bit about, like, why membership versus other forms of engagement?

Ro: [00:09:30] Good question. I think the short answer is we tried every model. And as a founder we got stabbed in the heart a bunch of times. But what did we learn through eventually getting to this business model? It was important for us as a company to do two things. Maximally include entrepreneurs around the world. We wanted the ideas to come to the forefront and give people an idea or give people the ability to have an amazing idea and try to see if it's going to work and not let someone pooh pooh it. That was the first thing that had to happen in the business model. Maximally inclusive is what I like to say. And then from a business perspective, selfish perspective with Pietra is how do we not build a massive global company that can IPO one day hoping that someone sells their candles, sells their clothing line. And so we iterated on a bunch of different models. We were free for a long time. And what I really got obsessed with was can we build the world's first ecommerce membership that is similar to Costco where everything inside of this membership, the software, the infrastructure that we provide, is going to be the best price that you can get in the world. That's, like, our goal. And as long as you are a member of Pietra we will continuously try and drive down prices, build software, build the physical infrastructure needed for people to build and run businesses. And that model really took off because immediately after that we realized we had a structural advantage as a company where you can be a service provider or software provider, logistics provider, and members to Pietra are going to probably get a 30 to 50% better price on everything we offer. And it's also faster and easier because it's all integrated under one roof. So the Costco analogy would be Costco's awesome because you can actually go there and have lunch at the hot dog stand and then go get your alcohol, then also do your shopping. And by the way, you can get your clothes. It's like the members are getting increasing amounts of value and everything inside that store is lower cost by structure. That took off for us where we say, look, if you're willing to give us a little bit at the beginning, we can build the first global membership-based community around ecommerce. And we have a bunch of engineers from Google, Uber, Facebook, Doordash that are going to build all the tools you need to increasingly make it easier for you to run your business and more profitable for you to run your business. And it was something that we now don't depend on a customer to succeed, right? So we then don't become one of those companies that are forcing people to do things unnaturally. We also find ourselves not forcing ourselves to obsess over the mega brands. Because while we get a benefit from businesses growing and scaling and they get a benefit from getting lower costs, we look at it and say when Seth Rogen's team for Houseplant is building this amazing brand, they're the same person as my best friend who wants to start a business and is preproduct. You know, we get to treat everyone equally. And all the old models force you to treat the big people like the kings and the queens. And we're like, "We don't want to build a company like that."

Brian: [00:12:47] I think about this model, you know, Phillip referenced this earlier in the show, but this is a model that's kind of come in and out, especially the enterprise scale. We've seen some of, like, the GSI Commerce of the world. And, obviously, it's not I don't think it's quite as inclusive as what you're doing. In fact, you're kind of taking over even more of the process. One of the reasons why this model has kind of fallen in and out of favor in the past is you're actually handing over some things that some people would consider to be core competencies that you need to have internal to your business in order to be successful regardless of how technology ebbs and flows, things like that.

Phillip: [00:13:26] For the listener's sake, if we could define, if you don't mind, what specific parts of the experience or parts of the operational model that you are opting into when you use Pietra? So is it customer experience? Is it supply chain? Is it fulfillment? Is it, you know, UGC? Like, give me the breakdown of what they're getting in this model. And then we could talk a little bit about the value of membership and reducing friction and decision fatigue.

Ro: [00:13:55] Yeah. Totally. So you could think of Pietra as offering software and services that sit underneath your website. And we think of it like a pyramid where your website is at the top of the pyramid where you saw your product. We offer software and services that especially for mid-market companies that start with design and manufacturing tools and sourcing tools, then a layer on top of that is logistics and fulfillment, so think 3PL services. Then on top of that, we build operational software to run your business, including marketing software. Think things like influencer and affiliate payment software. Think things like website visitor identification, evergreen tools that every business should probably be using. And then we have some services on top of that, which is outsourced customer support, like human-based customer support. And so when you become a member, you get to choose your bundle or choose your membership, usually with different levels of support. And you get access to upfront pricing for those services. And they all connect to any website that you have. Your website could be a TikTok shop account, and you could be primarily selling through that. Could be a Shopify account. Could be a FAIR account. Could be anything you could think of. And so to answer your question directly, when you become a member, you get access to those four basic building blocks. So design and manufacturing, logistics and shipping, ecommerce software and marketing software, and then customer support. And, Brian, to your point, we made sure to make it a modular platform. So you are not signing up to have to use any of it or all of it. You're signing up to solve a specific problem for your business, and you can be quite comfortable that you're going to get the best price, and hopefully, the best experience on the service that is most helpful to you as a business at any scale. And, of course, we build it in such a way where it gets better and cheaper the more you use. Your savings really stack and the systems are all integrated. So if you happen to use three pieces of software, they work better together, but you by no means are forced to use all of it. Right? You can invite your factories to the platform and just manage your supply chain and manufacturing through the software that we've built in the platform. You could find a new factory. You know, you can just use the fulfillment center if you want to, and then maybe find some packaging and ship it to our fulfillment center if you find a good factory. So it's very, very modular and flexible in that way. And that was another big unlock for us for these bigger companies that, you know, if you're a $10,000,000 company, a $5,000,000 company, you're probably going to have some stuff figured out. So if we come to you and say, you have to use everything, it won't work. But if we come to you and said, "We can save you a $150,000 on this part of your business every year," now you're listening as a $5,000,000 company.

Phillip: [00:16:55] And things that don't require some kind of expertise or decision and integration knowledge around a best in class piece of software. So a few things that I want to poke at. Number one, maybe, and this is just conjecture, maybe the idea that best in class point solution software was sold to us because that was venture capital trying to make investments into a particular industry, making surgical bets on things that had multi platform plug and play functionality so that it could basically blitzkrieg a whole ecosystem. So maybe that's not actually what people want. Maybe that's not actually how people buy all software and make all decisions. Number two, I think entrepreneurs are tinkerers and optimizers by default. And so the idea that they like the point solution makes a lot of sense because they want to get in there and optimize it and understand it and haggle and negotiate and rip and replace certain parts. So there's kind of a tinkerer but for a business. So I think both of these things are really interesting, but here's where I think some of those are narrative violations or some of those are, like, narratives that we've repeated in the industry for a long time, and maybe those are dubious origins. What I think is really remarkable about what you just said is there are things that we don't have brand affinity for, like a supplier or someone we find on WeChat or someone that we source through Alibaba or AliExpress or something where we're really just looking for the least friction possible to source a manufacturing partner or a supply partner. And that is a garden you have to continually maintain or it has its own challenges and keeping the maintenance up on it. So that feels a lot more like a democratized SHEIN where SHEIN might be creating things that then customers vote on. This is for the rest of us where all these manufacturing partners are signed on. All these fulfillment partners are signed on. And now you can just create the business that you wanted. What parts of that do you think are objectionable or would you push back on?

Ro: [00:20:11] So I think directionally accurate I mean, I would say a very similar thing, but I would articulate it as when something has been in market and an industry has matured over time, it has become a commodity. And so if you're tinkering on commoditized infrastructure, what I find is a lot of business owners and this doesn't even, this is not just for ecommerce. I think this spans my business as well, in tech. When you're tinkering on a commodity, it feels like you're squeezing blood from a stone. And so what I tell founders and entrepreneurs and small teams that are using Pietra is our goal is for you to focus on the things that will actually differentiate your company. And so my favorite thing is let's take something like poly mailer production, custom poly mailers. The likelihood that a swimwear brand is differentiating on the quality of their poly mailers is low. It's a commodity. What you need is a high quality factory at the best possible price at the lowest possible MOQs that will continuously ship designed custom poly mailers to your 3PL for usage. And then there are companies that are like, "Packaging will be our differentiator." And what I say to them is, "Tinker here. This is worth it. Your brand will be built on this thing that you've decided. We are not here to remove that from you." What we're here to remove is all the other parts of the business now. Now that you've realized that you want to tinker with this and you're going to set a line in the sand that our brain is going to be differentiated by this, what are all the other things that aren't that thing that can be automated away and you don't have to waste time on, so it doesn't feel like busy work? And that's kind of what I would add to it more than modify it, which is don't waste time on the things that don't matter.

Brian: [00:22:12] Well, this makes sense, like, why a lot of celebrities would be interested in using you. Maybe get into some of how celebrities have taken advantage of this because I think there are a lot of things that they would love to get out there and get done. But a lot of stuff they don't want to have to deal with and it's not their core competency as a personal brand to take care of those things.

Ro: [00:22:35] Exactly. And I'll actually walk you through the evolution. It's kind of interesting. It's by necessity that creators have started using Pietra. I would say, now a quarter of 1,000,000 accounts have been created around the world. Probably the first 25,000 were, like, overindexed on creators, and now it isn't. But why did those first 25,000 people join Pietra? Well, it turns out, again, this is coming back to the new rebels. The new rebels of the world are revolving around the world and doing fun things. They don't want to be tied down to a 9 to 5. And so by necessity, they were like, "We want to run this business. But, by the way, I'm actually traveling to Greece next week, and I'm going to work as a nomad for two months. I don't have time to hire someone in Los Angeles and set up an office and set up a team and interview these 3PLs and be on WeChat late at night with some factories. Because my life just isn't that." So they were forced to adopt solutions that allowed turnkey things to just happen while they were on planes and trains and in automobiles. And what we learned very quickly was when you make something incredibly easy and fast and cheaper, the smart people that were doing the work will also very quickly flock to that. So the next, I would say 100,000 accounts were when we realized the creators got drowned out where it's like, the creators had a need and necessity, or it was necessary for them to do this. Then as soon as the real ecommerce brand owners started realizing that they can just do it cheaply and easier and faster, they were like, "Oh, wait. At the base level, everyone's just running a business." And then very quickly, a creator who might have a really awesome handle on content marketing meets a counterpart who's excellent at paid ads. And when you zoom out over a 12 month period, guess what? They are the same business. Just one person has mastered Facebook ads, and the other one does podcasts and creates content on TikTok. But, ultimately, they're going to sell $2,000,000 worth of product in a year, and their businesses underneath the hood need to run in the same fashion. And so to come back to your point, that's why the early days the creators came to the platform. But now I think what we are realizing is it's kind of like the best, a good analogy would be in the early days of AWS, I, as an app developer, would be like, "It's really easy to set up a database here, run some compute. I'm going to use this thing." Now Netflix and Uber are built on top of AWS. It's like, "Oh, wait. Wait. Now that I know that it's cheaper and faster and easier, and it has the capabilities, oh my god, Netflix should be run in the cloud." And I'm like, "Wow." So that's a transition that's happening away from the creators because, ultimately, creator businesses are just ecommerce businesses underneath the hood.

Phillip: [00:25:39] That's true.

Ro: [00:25:39] Forget the launch or whatever. Six months in, their teams are working just as hard as the tinkerers in Los Angeles or New York to have all the time in the world to tinker.

Phillip: [00:25:50] That's totally true. Well, it's an interesting one too because even those with owned audiences over time see diminishing returns from their initial hype of a launch. Something that's really prescient right now, which won't age very well, I'm sure, after this podcast has been out for a year, but you even see businesses like Tesla are having to now do real advertising and become an advertising and marketing capable business because the value of the creator will diminish over time as the culture and the society they inhabit move to the next thing. So now for the sustainability of the business, it can no longer just be, you know  Rihanna has a brand. It's Rihanna's brand has to remain relevant in the culture. And that requires a marketing and commerce nativity that a lot of creators are really they just have to learn to be retailers.

Ro: [00:26:53] Totally.

Phillip: [00:26:54] Now that time frame is different for everybody. That half-life is longer for some depending on how big their gravitational fields are. Right? But eventually, everybody has to get there. And I think that's where the decision fatigue of having to constantly rip and replace parts of an ecom stack is detrimental. And it's actually what we're realizing right now, Brian. This ecosystem and the age of the ecosystem, the challenges you have in the business have a lot to do with the era in which you built it and how much legacy business structures and infrastructures and processes that you have that are sort of vestigial left over from the old way of doing things. Because if you built it now, you'd be doing something fundamentally different.

Brian: [00:27:39] Totally.

Ro: [00:27:40] Right. Right.

Phillip: [00:27:40] Right. Yeah.

Ro: [00:27:41] And that's something that's core in technology. As an engineer, I was, you know, at some point in my life, an engineer. It's interesting because the cycles are exactly as you described, which is you have these old legacy systems, and then you have these startups that compete very quickly with these incumbents, and why? It's because the frameworks and the infrastructure are redefined. The incumbents are using this old slow monolith, and the new school goes, "If I was to build this company from scratch right now, you know I could build it 10 times faster and probably 10 times cheaper than you had to." It's just an advantage. And what I say to young founders as well is take advantage of the fact that they're reinventing something that your competitors can't take advantage of.

Phillip: [00:28:29] Right.

Ro: [00:28:29] Right? If you were sitting here being like, "The next Instagram I'm going to build, the first three months is building the web infrastructure for it," I'd be like, "Oh, boy. You're playing in their game. You should stand on the shoulders of giants."

Phillip: [00:28:41] Sure.

Ro: [00:28:41] Everything that's built should be reinvented, and that's your advantage. So I tell these young brand owners, you're doing three, five million dollars, your advantage should be that your company looks way different than the person that sold to Unilever seven years ago. You want Unilever to look at your company and be like, "Wow. You're a supplements brand doing x y zed. You look 10 times leaner, 10 times smarter, 10 times technologically advanced than the old people that we used to talk to." That is a great, I would say, acquisition conversation to have.

Brian: [00:29:15] Which is crazy because, when we say old people, we mean people from, like, 5 years ago. Right? It is like flying now, and that's another reason. Yeah.

Ro: [00:29:25] I going to get canceled, guys. I don't mean it like that, but you get the point.

Brian: [00:29:28] No. No. No. No. I mean, my point is things are moving so fast now. And, actually, that's another reason why the membership model makes a lot of sense because you have the ability to be assessing what's what, what's happening, what's changing, and give people the opportunity to make a change and have options and to move through technology a little bit more seamlessly because that's a really, really hard problem for people, let alone to get it all set up and be on the most modern stack. What if you've got a 5 year, 10 year, 50 year time horizon on an exit from your business? It takes so much work to just be up to date on what's good. That's one of the hardest challenges.

Ro: [00:30:16] It's definitely one of the hardest challenges. And to the earlier point about I mean, maybe I'll get canceled on this one, but at least it's a hot take, which is I do think VCs have propped up these point solutions that go through... I learned this when I was in the industry many years ago, which is like, what's this thing that ecommerce people talk about which is general rate increases? I was like, "Wait. Wait. So just, like, every year, your costs go up?" You don't become that much more efficient. When I was listening to a comedian, he was saying, "It's like when your landlord goes, "Rent went up by 10% each year." You're like, "Dude, I don't get better by 10% each year, and my salary doesn't go up automatically by 10% each year. You are putting me under the gun here to get 10% more income.'" That's hard. And I think we just had this golden age of ecommerce and SaaS tools and VC from 2010 to 2020 where a single point solution can have gotten significant market share, made tens of millions of dollars. Customers had no other place to go. And so every year when you get an increase in price because your customer list went up, people go, "What is this?" And remember the secret kind of thing that no one talks about, especially from a VC backed company is the innovation also slowed. There just wasn't that much more efficiency that people were giving in year 6, 7, 8 of your single point SaaS solution. So they had to increase prices because they couldn't innovate more and create value and capture it. That's my thesis. I think a lot of this with founders. You didn't create enough value to capture 30% of it. So now what's the only thing you do? Increase prices by 30%. Or do some kind of BS, like, because you're bigger, we can extract more money from you. What business wants to hear because I'm successful and you make more money off me? Not many business owners that I see. So the create value, capture value equation got hit. And this happens in most mature markets where you can't reinvent that quickly year over year unless you're in the top 1% of companies. And so everyone got used to general rate increases. And the VCs are like, "You definitely need 60% margins, 80% margins, 90% margins. You need more revenue every month forever."

Phillip: [00:32:34] Yep.

Ro: [00:32:35] And that created, I think, just an ecosystem that was a bubble. And so when we looked at it, you know, we think of ourselves as these outsiders. Like, why are you helping these small businesses? Why are you, like, undercutting on price? It's like when an VC tells me that me as a founder, I'm not allowed to fundraise on 2020 prices. Right? It's like, you're just indoctrinated into the wrong time. That is not normal.

Phillip: [00:33:00] Right

Ro: [00:33:00] This is normal. It's called profit. Figure out how to make it. Raise money. Right? Similarly, I say to these people, "We're not competitive with these other products. We're just realizing you should not be paying $500 a month to automate your returns and exchanges." Guess what? It should come free with your 3PL. We'll build the software. It's not that hard. It's a commodity. We literally give it away for free to our members. And we're not trying to fight the game. We're not trying to convince you that it's worth 200 or 100. We're like, "This is not something that people should be paying $1,000 for." And I think that's a tough pill to swallow from VCs because they want that SaaS company to just continue to grow and have 80% margins and never stop growing. And I'm like, "We're the new kids in town and we're just going to look at those and say, "Business owners don't want to pay for this. They don't want the price for this to go up every year for 10 years. Let's just go build the right thing for them.'" And that's kind of, you know, where a lot of our friction comes in for us.

Phillip: [00:34:00] Something that we could save or hold over for another time because I'd love to have you back, Ro. I think this is, like, brilliant conversation in the abstract of where we are in the S curve of the industry at the moment is that we had a lot of rapid innovation for a very long time that was spurred by individual point solution S curves that had their own innovation. Then we had a computing revolution where on prem moved to cloud services and then cloud services moved from monoliths to microservices. And so you had this constant need to stay ahead. Now we're at the end of the S curve where there's pretty much no innovation in user experience, deployment, or software authorship. All these things have pretty much flattened off. So now we're highly experimental with new channels because those new channels are ill-defined. We don't have best practices. They feel like they're arbitrage opportunities. So maybe the infrastructure part of the business is a new S curve of the point solution itself and the suite of solutions platform-based ecosystems needs to be rethought fundamentally. So with that as the place setting, I've probably led the witness a bit. What do you think the future of commerce is then? Where are we heading?

Ro: [00:36:21] Oh, good question. I think it's what we are trying to build, and I have four things that that I would say are going to underpin the future of commerce, not ecommerce because I think it's going omnichannel, etcetera. The first part is this idea of design and bringing concepts to market will need to become extremely quick, much faster than today. I think, on one extreme end, it's like you can't have the seasons that just drop collections. I think the idea of designing or conceiving a product, designing the prototypes, manufacturing it, and putting it on a shelf needs to be in the order of weeks. And there are some companies that will do it in days. So I think the future looks like using the tools, and we have something called the design studio, where we use AI and all the manufacturing data we have so that you can, for example, type in red crop top cashmere sweater, ombre designs, three colors, here are my colors. And it gives you 500 different manufacturable 3D visualizations. Right? That takes seconds. So I think the future looks a lot like that. Pull in data from the market, figure out the trends, and start designing great products very quickly. Second, I think, so that's designing products. For making products, I think we are going to leapfrog the generation of, I will do the work like a treasure hunt to find the best supplier, find the right factory, and negotiate with them. What we're building at Pietra is we have a marketplace, but it's an AI-powered marketplace. And I don't mean that as a buzzword. I mean, a really cool thing that we're unlocking, which is what if these sales agents can negotiate with 2,000 factories on your behalf immediately? And just come back to you with here's the best sample pricing, here's the best options for domestic versus international. I've already negotiated with them your cost per sample and cost per production. Can you just summarize this and give me the three best factories that you think across the world I should be working with? And so we have this thing called night shift manager on top of our marketplace where any factory can turn it on. They're trained on all the capabilities of a factory, all of their profile, all their pricing, everything. And when you go to Pietra, one third of all conversation, then you go, "Hey. Factory, can you make this?" There will be a sales agent on the other side that's AI trained. That's like, "Cool. Let me get your requirements. Do you want this cotton? Do you want this GSM? Here are the different options. Do you want puff print? No?" So I think the world is going to be Paris Hilton wants to launch a line of fragrances, her team can come in and say, "Find me the best factories that can make these fragrances and actually do the work, do the negotiations for me." So we have that up, Pietra, and I think that's going to be a huge unlock for the world. There is going to be no more I need to go on WhatsApp and talk to my factory at 2 AM. It's going to wake up to a summary email being like, "This invoice is ready to go if you want to order three samples from three different factories, and here are the properties." So that's kind of the hard stuff, design and manufacturing. And I think the third one, which is the least sexy but I think important, is instantly people are going to want to sell on many sales channels. I'm talking when I say many sales channels, I don't mean, "Please set up my TikTok shop and have my Shopify connected." I mean, after the products get produced, it automatically shows up in a warehouse around the world and is automatically connected to your website and all of your sales channels, your Discord, your TikTok shop, your Fair Wholesale marketplace, your Flip, like the three retailers you want to be on. And that infrastructure that allows that to happen is smart enough to understand that Discord users are going to be in Latvia, and so it's going to ship from the warehouse that has inventory in, you know, somewhere near Latvia. And I'm not going to obsess over which sales channels are going to be the ones that I have to connect and does my fulfillment center allows for this. It's going to be like, "I ordered the sweaters from the factory. I put a deposit down. Give me an email in three weeks saying it's ready to ship anywhere in the world to any nook and cranny. Here's the upfront price. We've set it all up for you. It's the best price that you can get for each of these regions. Asia's going to have cash on delivery. US is going to have 2 day shipping. It's all set up for you." And that to me feels like a business of the future. Right? When you set up that type of infrastructure, what do you have? You say, I designed it and I got ideas in minutes, and it was well informed. I found the best factory, and I removed that skill set from the world. I don't need a head of logistics anymore or a team of 20 people. You probably need one of these people to oversee it. And I can sell to every nook and cranny on earth. What's left? Go focus on the creative. Go tell your story. And people are like, "That's a very crazy thing you're trying to build." I'm like, "Bro, that has been built in Pietra six months ago." Companies today are being built using Pietra, the smart innovators where they'll launch a coffee brand, a matcha chocolate brand. It will scale around the world. There are two people from their couch. I've never met them. They're in a different part of the world. And you would go to their website and not even know that this is how it's happening.

Brian: [00:41:45] So question for you. Is your aspiration to fulfill Sam Altman's idea that there could be the first single person $1,000,000,000 company in the world?

Ro: [00:41:59] Yeah. I want to say, like, shout out to Sam. I've been, you know, I've been championing this for a while.

Brian: [00:42:04] Nice.

Ro: [00:42:04] So now I've got... Directionally accurate. But there's some nuance there. And this is important because it's something that I've changed my opinion on. When I first started building this and didn't know anything about ecommerce, never talked to any operators, I was met with fierce resistance, emotionally and practically around this notion of you need no humans. I came in as a technologist. I said what is all this stuff? Like fire all these people. You don't need any of this stuff. You don't need any of these people. Naturally, that was met with, "Oh, crap. You do need some of these people. It's going to be very hard to automate the nuance out of your business." But I do believe that there'll be under five people teams that can run multi $100,000,000 revenue businesses.

Phillip: [00:43:01] Totally.

Ro: [00:43:01] Yes. Like, for sure. A $1,000,000,000 company with 1 person outside of software? I think he might be right with software. But in ecommerce, we have to realize, like, there are things that rubber meets the road. It's a bits and atoms company. And so I don't think we, and I say this, you know, probably in an optimistic way, we're not here to eradicate people at companies. We're not here to say fire your teams. You don't need them. We're here to reallocate the team's time on the right things. And it's a very similar trajectory that cloud computing went through. We're not here to say, like, fire all the people on your systems administrative teams. It's like you're going to have to monitor some stuff. It's going to be more efficient, but they can do more with less. So, yeah, I would say there's some nuance to what I'm saying. Directionally accurate. In ecommerce, I think, yeah, I'm waiting for the first, you know, $500,000,000 brand that's five or less people. And it will come from really understanding how intentional can you be with your time. And what can you outsource and be comfortable with? And, of course, we as infrastructure providers have to be good to provide that experience. The databases that AWS provided needed to be good enough for people to use them. But it will come from the next generation of founders realizing, "I don't need to tinker in this space or the ROI on this is low." And time is obviously the number one currency that everyone miscalibrates.

Brian: [00:44:34] True.

Phillip: [00:44:36] That's an incredible place to leave it, Ro. I feel like I could do a Lex Friedman four hour time with you.

Ro: [00:44:43] I'm ready if you want to do that. I'll wear a suit, you know.

Phillip: [00:44:46] Oh, we could both do it. Listen, I love getting both technical and the philosophical as well. And I think that it sounds like you just, as a polymathic type thinker, it seems like you can do both. I really appreciate you. Where can people find out more about Pietra?

Ro: [00:45:04] At Twitter, shopPietra. Instagram, shopPietra. Just Google the word Pietra will probably come up somewhere. If you go to that website, the, you can actually book a call directly with me to have that question. And I'll go through your business and audit it, and that's one of the things that we set up, I should have said earlier. So if you're interested at all on how you can become more profitable and you want to talk legitimately to me, follow that link. I'll fill out my calendar. I basically booked off, you know, the next couple weeks to do this.

Phillip: [00:45:34] Love that. And yeah. Love to hear from you. Drop us a line at Love when you talk back. And if you have some thoughts about this episode, join our community,  where you can speak back. We can get together. We can figure out what the future is together. I think the future of commerce is culture, and I think the culture of the way that we build businesses is about to change because of folks like Ro who are rethinking it fundamentally from the ground up. And thank you for listening to this episode of Future Commerce, and we'll see you on the other side.

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