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SBS Season 9 Episode 2
November 1, 2022

[Step by Step] It Takes a Community

When should I use open source software and how do I build on top of it to create the unique and differentiating elements of my business where I am right now? How can open source create community and lead to a wider array of solutions? Sander Mangel, eCommerce Solutions Architect at Shopware, joins this episode to explain the necessity of community in open source. Listen Now!

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this episode sponsored by

A Bigger Beneficial Pie

  • Doing eCommerce has become tremendously complex and that requires not just developers but specialists, analysts, and more discipline than it ever has before
  • We wouldn’t have the internet if we didn’t have open source
  • “The actual lineage and the history of these communities goes on to power commerce at its core and whether that's in a commercialized way or not, open source sits at the root of all of this.” - Phillip
  • The only way to actually leverage open source is to contribute back and be a part of the community
  • If you’re not sharing that knowledge because you’re worried about IP, or if the whole value of your company relies on a set of features, you're probably doing something wrong
  • “When you have so many voices, it's easy for vision to splinter, but you have to have {vision} in order to be successful.” - Brian
  • “If you're measuring the success of your community by the lines of code written, it's never going to work because that's not how community works.” - Sander
  • “If you run open source software and leverage that in a smart way, in a conscious way, you can make the difference with just a few lines of customization to make sure that it specifically fits your business. That's where the value of open source lies.” - Sander

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Phillip: [00:00:11] Hello and welcome to Step by Step, a podcast by Future Commerce, presented by Shopware. I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:00:41] And I'm Brian, and this is Season 9 of Step by Step, and you're listening to Episode 2 of 5. So if you're just jumping into the series midway through, I suggest that you go back and listen to Episode 1 before jumping into this because this is a five-part series, it's a coherent series, and you're going to want the context going into this episode. This season is super exciting to me because we're diving into a series of conversations with a number of experts from the open source eCommerce community, and they're helping us answer the question, "Is open source still viable for the modern business?"

Phillip: [00:01:24] I think it is. I absolutely think it is. And I spent 20 years of my career proving that it's still viable at every step of the way.

Brian: [00:01:31] Viable is not even the right question. It's actually more like when should I use it. Because it is clearly a good strategy. We just heard an awesome episode with Ben Marks. I mean, we already recorded this episode with Sander, so I know what we're about to get into, but I'm so excited because I think he makes a really good case and the episode ahead for why we should be engaged in open source software. There's a place for it, and actually, it's community building.

Phillip: [00:01:59] I think there is something to be said having spent many years in building as a developer and then in sort of the strategy side of growing online stores and we've sort of deprioritized the role and the uniqueness that custom software on top of platforms can bring to your organization. And we've really focused a lot of attention in the enterprise on just building the software feature by feature, RFP by RFP. Let's make sure that it can do what we need, most of that out of the box. But all that stuff that makes you unique and competitive in the marketplace is the stuff you build on top of platforms. And how do you do that? You need established rules of the road and you need a common place that sets you into the space of a community where you can hire people that can get busy delivering value for your business on day one. How do you do that? You have to build within an ecosystem and you have to hire the right people. And those people come out of the community that you take part in in software development because that's how the world works. So I'm excited for this particular episode because we talk about how people actually contribute to making these software ecosystems work.

Brian: [00:03:09] Yeah, and it's not just developers. That's what we're going to learn.

Phillip: [00:03:12] Notice I didn't say "how developers contribute."

Brian: [00:03:14] Yeah, that's right. That's right. I think we kind of jokingly said in the opening to the last episode, "How do you wrestle back control from the CMO that wanted to get you up and running quickly and just focused on driving traffic," and it's like spit up something that they have control of and that works. Well, I think actually a smart CMO wants to differentiate and the relationship between the developer and the CMO is paramount to being differentiated because being able to build something that is genuinely unique requires having flexibility. And so as everyone sort of comes together around that flexibility, that's what makes this so exciting, is that it's open. It takes more than just one type of role to be successful. And that was true for me coming into the open source world as well.

Phillip: [00:04:16] Yeah, So we're going to get into it here. Who's this podcast for? Well, first, if you are in some SaaS ecosystem right now and you feel like your business is somehow constrained by the limitations of that platform, or if you feel like you're trying to manage some sort of migration or growth up into the next rung of software that will take you away from some legacy investment and those complex requirements or things that have you sort of teetering on the edge of whether you should reach for that easy button or not, communities will help you really, and ecosystems will be the deciding factor at the end of the day of how you're going to build that next phase of your business. And this particular show, this episode of this ninth season is for you. And then I think at the end of the day, it just comes down to how you manage complexity, how you manage costs, and again, having ecosystems and communities of people that have established rules of the road for how you develop software, that unique feature set that lives on top of the platform that you're buying into, that's the make or break for your business. So it's going to be an awesome, awesome time. Any last thoughts before we jump in with Sander?

Brian: [00:05:24] No, Sander's someone that we've known for a long time. It's been a part of our community as practitioners, Phillip. And so I'm super excited that we got to pull him in for this episode.

Phillip: [00:05:35] Me too. And so without any further ado, let's get into Episode 2 of this season of Step By Step. It takes a community to build human-powered software at scale. Let's jump in and have a conversation with Sander Mangel from Shopware as we answer the question, "Is open source and community still viable in eCommerce?" I think the answer is yes. Let's take a listen. Today we have joining us the Senior Solutions Architect at Shopware to talk about the future of open source and how open source is still relevant to building an enterprise here today. Welcome, Sander Mangel, to the podcast.

Sander Mangel: [00:06:15] Thank you. I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Phillip: [00:06:18] This is like a reunion of sorts. It's good to see your face, and it's good to reconnect again.

Brian: [00:06:25] I got to see Sander in person like two weeks ago.

Phillip: [00:06:29] I forgot about that.

Sander Mangel: [00:06:30] Small world.

Brian: [00:06:30] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:06:31] I'm going to say you've been in open source for the majority of your career, for as long as I've known you for almost ten years, and you have been in commerce for almost as long. Tell us a little bit about what's happening in open source and commerce today. And is there still community around eCommerce and open source and commerce platforms or is that a thing of the past?

Sander Mangel: [00:06:57] It is a thing of the past. Thank you for having me. {laughter} Let's be honest, you cannot have open source commerce without community. It's needed at least to some extent. It is very much alive. I think it has changed. It has matured. It has improved overall, I think. But it's still very much around. Still very much around.

Phillip: [00:07:28] There's been a big shift in the last five or six years, I would say. How has our thinking shifted? I remember a lot of developer communities in the last ten years really focused around platform development. Is a community still just developer-centric or leveraging the output of developers to sort of commercialize it? Or has that changed too?

Brian: [00:07:54] And to add on to that, for a lot of our audience, I don't think they necessarily came up through open source channels. What does it even mean? Is it just developers working for free on code? {laughter}

Sander Mangel: [00:08:09] Right. Imagine a world where you don't need to pay for anything and just render people writing your stuff. Open source. So open source does not have to be free. I think that's something that we should face a little. It means that you have access to the code. You can extend it. You can change it. And with that comes certain benefits. Also, of course, some drawbacks. But in general, there are many benefits because it allows for much more flexibility. I do think it has changed. Okay. Let me take us back 12 years ago when I started off fresh-faced on OS commerce, changing HTML tables as a developer and suffering. But I was a full stack developer. I did everything. I set up a server, I installed OS commerce, and we ran web shops on there and we ran big web shops like 1,000,000 USD, which, I'm Dutch, for Dutch standards is massive. That is a thing of the past to some extent. eCommerce has become much more complex. The platform itself doesn't operate in a vacuum. You connect it to a PIM system, you connect it to text software, you connect to an ERP [00:09:39] system... Doing eCommerce has become tremendously complex and that requires not just developers or even a full stack developer, it requires specialists, it requires business analysts, it requires data analysts, and it requires so many more disciplines than what they used to. [00:10:02] So I think that always also made the, I don't want to call it strain, but like the strain on the community more. It had to grow up and the companies had to grow up. I think there is no agency out there doing eCommerce today that does it with like three or four developers. Most agencies nowadays, unless you're a very bespoke boutique agency, you probably have ten, 20, 30 developers up to five, six hundred or something like that. And you have marketers and you have data specialists, you have a team that implements the PIM, and what have you. So that also changes the way open source works. You need to work together more. You need the support of these bigger companies.

Phillip: [00:10:50] What you have described in the maturity curve of an industry becoming less niche and more commonplace, we get specializations that emerge. And so being a specialist in one area of eCommerce now is more of the norm than being a generalist across a bunch of different areas.

Sander Mangel: [00:11:15] Exactly. 

Phillip: [00:11:16] And the prior generation of eCommerce platforms was actually quite generalist as well. We see very specific use cases and even industry-specific verticals emerge in eCommerce these days. I saw a furniture-only online SaaS eCommerce cloud platform the other day and I'm thinking to myself...

Sander Mangel: [00:11:31] That is highly specific.

Phillip: [00:11:33] It's an incredibly highly specific use case. And so I have to wonder then if, let's come back to sort of the way that open source is typically leveraged in organization, open source communities aren't solving generalized problems either. They're solving specialized problems. In particular, the underpinnings of Shopware is you share an ecosystem with Symphony, but Symphony is not setting out to try to solve commerce. They're setting out to create a platform that allows you to have a set of rules on which to build software that everybody can agree upon.

Sander Mangel: [00:12:12] Yeah, yeah, exactly. They built something that you can use to build a web application, whatever that might be. Shopware then goes in and makes that a little bit more opinionated to make sure you can actually do eCommerce. And then to your example, furniture, a few years ago I implemented a webshop for curtains. And curtains are some of the most complex things to sell online because you deal with sizes and if you go over 2 meters you actually need a second pair, all that kinds of weird, weird rules. So either you find a company crazy enough to build a whole platform dedicated to curtains as you found. I wonder what their business model is.

Phillip: [00:12:55] Curtain Cloud. {laughter} I've trademarked it. You can't use it now. Go ahead.

Sander Mangel: [00:13:02] Or you find an open source solution that already handles the generic eCommerce cases, but you'll find developers familiar with the domain-specific knowledge needed to sell those goods, and they will adapt the solution to your needs, which I think is a slightly more viable way to go about it.

Phillip: [00:13:29] Brian, haven't we heard people say that we're sort of post feature and functionality? Like eCommerce has sort of settled on the five or ten things that you'll ever want to do and customers can't really be bothered.

Brian: [00:13:39] Post-platform.

Phillip: [00:13:42] Yeah. We're post-platform. I don't know. 

Brian: [00:13:43] I mean, I think what's interesting about what you said, Sander, is there was a key piece of data in your statements from earlier and that data was actually the dollar amount one 1 million USD. And allow me to insert my condescending chuckle, oh ha ha ha, $1 million.

Phillip: [00:14:05] You need the pinky up at the corner of your mouth. {Dr. Evil impression} "One million dollars."

Brian: [00:14:08] "One million dollars." And now that's something that anyone could probably spin up at this point. Anyone. You said that this community has matured and we're looking at much bigger, more complex things that require scale. These are big efforts. We talk about specialization, but we're talking about it in the context of much, much bigger ideas. This takes a lot to coordinate. So when talking about community and open source and what that means right now, I'd love to hear your take on what this means at this scale. It's a different scale than the one we came up in, like you said.

Sander Mangel: [00:14:59] That's a good point. So back in the day, everybody built their platform from the ground up. I'm talking Joomla, I'm talking WooCommerce, I'm talking OS commerce. They were all completely bespoke. The only thing they shared was B2B, probably. I think, over the years, and this probably started with Magento, which we all have worked with to some extent, where they started to rely on Zend Framework and Zend Framework for those maybe less know the boring technical stuff, was I think the first enterprise-level B2B framework. Can we call it that?

Phillip: [00:15:45] Yeah, I would. I would call it that, sure.

Sander Mangel: [00:15:47] And the benefit of Zend Framework was that there were companies with proper budgets behind it developing this, making sure there was bug-free software. I mean, it's a bold statement, but Zend in general was very stable. And what it did was build enterprise-level software on top of it. And I think that's where we see the value of relying on well-known, open source solutions as an enterprise because these companies leverage both the budget of a big company as well as a vast community of developers backed by other big companies implementing this to make sure that the software that was churned out was to a big extent bug-free and covered the whole spectrum of use cases as well. Because it wasn't just, and you don't know this pain but me as a European eCommerce developer, I had to deal with a lot of software that was very US-centric. But because of open source, we were able to go in, go out into the community and say, "Look, SalesTech's so fun, but we have VAT and your solution is not working for this. So we need to find a solution." And that's where you see the value of open source, especially on the enterprise level. There is a lot of money at stake and companies will support their developers, their employees, and their project manager, and their QA to go out into the community, start contributing to make sure that what they find important gets addressed.

Phillip: [00:17:30]  [00:17:30]What I find really interesting is as we're finishing talking about lineage, really, it is about solving problems at the end of the day. What I find really fascinating about the underpinnings of, and again, we're talking about a specific stack of software, the specific stack of software of which Shopware definitely shares an open source ecosystem, that stack of software is responsible for the modern web that we know today. If it weren't for that stack of software, we would not have the Internet that we have. Facebook was built on that stack of software to a large degree. WordPress powered more than 50% of the Internet at one point in time. The lineage is incredibly important. In fact, if you just want to talk about the commercialization of that stack of software, the creator of that software, the core programing language called PHP, the creator of that, Rasmus, went on to work for Yahoo for many years and then from that went to Etsy to help solve business problems at a commercial scale for a commerce-centered website marketplace. So the actual lineage and the history of these communities goes on to power commerce at its core and whether that's in a commercialized way or not, open source sits at the root of all of this. We would not have the Internet if we did not have open source. I think the challenge has been how does a business leverage open source or see it as a key part of solving problems for the enterprise that don't by nature create new ones to have to solve? And that's where I think open source has received a little bit of criticism. [00:19:17] You have to then go from, talk about being a specialist versus a generalist, you have to solve generalized problems in computing when you adopt open source software that specialized cloud platforms hide away from you and abstract away from you so you can focus on your business problems. So let's talk about that a little bit. How do you sort of reconcile that in community building efforts and how do you harness community come in and sort of help the merchant to not have to be a software developer and can focus on being a merchant?

Sander Mangel: [00:19:46] Yeah, I totally get the point here because we have to put a lot of effort into enablement. It is up to us to make sure that developers that work with Shopware have all the opportunity to train themselves up, get certified, and keep up to date with the latest features, but also the broader ecosystem. What solutions are out there? It's up to Shopware to make sure that this happens and also that the agencies that do this take this seriously. So if you become a Shopware partner, we expect you to certify your developer team and keep them certified to make sure that they are there up to date with the latest development. At the same time, when you submit a plugin so a bundle of functionalities to our marketplace, there is a team that physically goes in on each submission and starts to review the code. Manually. So we have automated checks, but we also have manual checks and we test them together with the other popular plugin features. It takes a lot of work and that is required to actually make open source work because I think what many of us think about when we think about open source is a WordPress installation that hasn't been patched for the last ten years where someone clicked together a couple of models, plugins, whatever, and it's running, then that gets hacked, and there is no governance there. There's simply just an installation running and that goes wrong. Anybody will work on that. That is not a sustainable way of doing open source at an enterprise level. So that might work for someone that is looking for a cheap solution. But at the enterprise level, you need a whole ecosystem that puts security, that puts quality, that puts knowledge at the center of it all.

Brian: [00:22:48] This reminds me of an interview that we did a couple of years back with Jeremy King, who was the Chief Technology Officer at Walmart. And you can't get any more enterprise than Walmart. And he actually said, "One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to folks who say, "Oh, we want to use open source technology,'" He asked them, "So how many of your engineers have contributed back to open source tech stack?" And he said he often hears crickets. They would respond, "We don't have an open source contribution policy." And then he went on to say like, "Come on, guys, this is the kind of thing that generates great engineering talent and good references to the world." The best engineers know who is contributing to these platforms and that sort of thing. And he eventually goes on to say pick the things that are the secret sauce for you and build that, and you've got to have a great team to do that. And that oftentimes leads to open source technologies across the board. This is the most enterprise scale in the world. And he's saying [00:23:58] the only way to actually leverage open source is to contribute back. You have to be a part of the community. [00:24:08] I love that.

Phillip: [00:24:10] Is that true? I mean, Jeremy King, you know... Authoritative. Sander, what do you say? Is that true? Do you have to be involved in open source? Do you have to be contributing back?

Sander Mangel: [00:24:21] Not if it involves only code. I think there are many ways to contribute. It can be code. It can be translation. So we have a partner in Norway and they said, "Okay, you have one language back for Norwegian, but they're actually three Norwegian dialects that are commonly used. Let me build out the other one that should be there." Conference talks. Sharing knowledge on specific domains that you've implemented. Blog posts. But even just mentoring people or giving someone the opportunity to learn from past experiences. Also for companies to give that space and not expect 99% billable hours or whatever they expect from developers and project managers.

Phillip: [00:25:12] I think it's at 110% billable hours these days.

Sander Mangel: [00:25:15] At least. 

Brian: [00:25:20] {laughter} No. 

Sander Mangel: [00:25:20] Often we give space to developers to go to conferences and this kind of stuff. But why not send your project manager there? Because that project manager might have implemented a platform for printing, for promotional printing, and they know that domain now through and through. [00:25:40] They should be sharing that knowledge and you shouldn't be worried about IP or whatever because honestly if the whole value of your company relies on a set of features, you're probably doing something wrong. [00:25:53] It's probably also your team that is actually delivering excellence. So I think encouraging that, sharing will bring value and that is part of contributing to open source as well. It's not just code.

Brian: [00:26:08] I was a PM that came in that way.

Phillip: [00:26:10] That's right. I knew you were going to bring it up. Yeah. Yeah, that was your on-ramp.

Brian: [00:26:15] That was my on-ramp. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:26:17] Richard Stallman might not have been the first to say it, or maybe not even the first person to be quoted on it, but he founded GNU, which is I think the original open source Free/Libre and Open Source Software Foundation, on which I think most of any open source based computing stack probably has a good portion of GNU software behind it. Anyway, Richard Stallman sort of famously said, "Open source is not free software." It's not what it's about. It is an output of community efforts, for sure. But this idea of just leveraging the altruism of people's time and sort of building together as a community of people, that is one of the outputs, but it's not the only output. It had almost been said at one point that maybe the most expensive way to develop some software would be to try to approach through community efforts because it takes a lot of time and effort and coordination to get people to work...

Brian: [00:27:21] And vision, which is hard because  [00:27:26]when you have so many voices, it's easy for vision to splinter, but you have to have it in order to be successful. [00:27:31] Sander, what do you think? Yeah.

Phillip: [00:27:34] How do you marshal community support around your vision to help build, Sander?

Sander Mangel: [00:27:37] So we have a developer, I think we call it a developer marketing department, and they do amazing work. They demand our Twitter, they run community events, they organize meetups and all that kind of stuff. But I think at the end of the day, it really takes the whole company to communicate our vision on the open source and community the right way. It goes from working with the merchants and really explaining to them well what the benefit is to open source, to working with partner agencies, to even talking to technology providers. We need to explain to them why it is important to open source and to share back. So I think alignment there is critical. And I think our leadership, Sebastian and Stephan Harmon have been, from the moment they decided to open source... Because we haven't always been open source, but the moment they decided to open source, they have gone full in and they've dedicated themselves. It's at the core of what we do, and I think that that made all the difference. It has to become part of your DNA because if you're not truthful on sharing on open source and community and if you just expect a return on investment, a quick return on investment [00:28:59]... If you're measuring the success of your community by the lines of code written, it's never going to work because that's not how community works. [00:29:08] It's not like half of our source has been written by the community and it'll never happen.

Phillip: [00:29:18] Oh, it's not quantified that way. Huh? That's such a that's an interesting departure from others that I've seen.

Sander Mangel: [00:29:23] It is not. But what we do see is the moment we decided to start moving into the Nordics, we reached out to partners there that we barely even knew we had. And they said, "Okay, well, if you go to Denmark, you need the Den Card as a payment method." They built that integration. They didn't expect us to do that. They built it. And that is not a loan from the developer in their basement building. That is a successful agency collaborating with a technology provider, collaborating with other agencies, and their competitors, to build this integration and to open source it for free, to make sure there's a wider adoption of Shopware on the Danish market. That is what community is all about. And there is no developer involved that does this in their free time. It's companies paying people to build this because they see the added value of contributing. And I think that's the vision that we want to communicate. Together we create a bigger pie that we can all benefit from.

Brian: [00:30:30] Where does Shopware fit into that conversation? I would imagine your product roadmap has to be in collaboration with your product team because you're consistently improving on the platform and so your community needs to know what you're working on versus what's not planned yet. How does that all work together?

Sander Mangel: [00:30:57] Yeah, that's a good point. So first of all Shopeware doesn't want to build end-all-be-all solutions. We want to provide the tools for others to build those solutions outright because we might be able to come up with... We're currently building a subscription feature. That doesn't mean we handle all the scheduling, that we handle all the payments, whatever. It means that we give a set of tools that can be extended by payment service providers, any of them, to implement subscriptions in a predictable way so that others can then build upon that. And that's the way we'd like to work because that allows others to benefit from what we build. That doesn't mean that we need to kind of start communicating about this early on. So everything that we plan out automatically gets put on our roadmap that is on the website. It's automated. There is no in-between. Anything that we put in our Jira gets published on the roadmap and also means that we talk to our partners about it. If we start to implement a subscription feature, what is it that you expect from that? How do you want to hook in your payment service plugin? How do you want to set up your products to make sure that this feature adds the most value for all the parties involved?

Phillip: [00:32:30] That takes, admittedly, more knowledge and expertise in given markets. It takes more knowledge and expertise and coordination amongst a plurality of people that are both in your employee and outside of it and sort of have a vested interest. It seems, honestly, like the harder way to go if you just want to develop software.

Sander Mangel: [00:32:54] A great man once said, "We choose to do open source not because it's easy, but because it is hard," something like that. So maybe to your point.

Phillip: [00:33:08] {Old timey quote impression} "We choose to do open source software..." {laughter}

Sander Mangel: [00:33:10] I'm pretty sure he said something like that.

Phillip: [00:33:13] Something like that.

Sander Mangel: [00:33:13] So to your point that there are only five features needed to build a webshop. I'm sure that's true for a lot of merchants, and there are solutions that they can go with. And they're probably cheap and easy to set up solutions. And if that works for you, if you can run your business on that, go for it. Honestly, probably Shopware is not the right fit for you, but if you have a business model like curtains that needs some rather bespoke functionality, that's what you want to use Shopware for. And the reality is it takes a lot of effort to build a platform that can cater to those cases. But I think there's also a lot to win because once you get into that enterprise-level segment, there is a lot of customizing there. A merchant at that scale, a business at that scale doesn't fit neatly into a general box. They come with their own application landscape, with their own contracts, with their own payment integrations. And it's not like Walmart chooses to go with any SaaS platform and tells their CFO, "You know what, we've been working with Microsoft Dynamics for 30 years, and let's switch that to QuickBooks because it integrates so well with us."

Brian: [00:34:37] "Do you know what I think we should do? I think we should change our whole business model so that our eCommerce project goes super smoothly. I know we can launch on Shopify if we can just change our whole business."

Phillip: [00:34:52] You laugh, but there's a lot of that that does happen in the world that sort of sit as independent sort of business units that allow people to sort of move quickly. I agree though. In fact, I have direct knowledge over one that's like, "Okay, well, that's the stack, including ERP? Okay, let's just do that because it's the lowest friction way for us to approach it." But I see the points here. I would actually ask you another question. We've heard quite a bit of it about headless in the last few years. We have come to the realization, at least through the Future Commerce perspective. So I'll tell you what our perspective is. Headless can produce outcomes for people who are willing to put the effort into making decisions about every single point of the customer journey. So if you're willing to look at and examine every single UI decision and examine every single piece of feature and functionality and user interaction that goes into making a website, then you will have by nature of having gone through that very exhaustive process, you have an experience that is true to your brand, an experience true for your customer in a way that you could never have had with just out of the box software. But that's a painful process. So let's talk about do you feel like a similar kind of dynamic exists for the kind of business that would also adopt open sources, that it requires the same kind of investment and effort to examine the ecosystem, the customer journey, rather than just a plug and play, flip it on, and get launched today cloud platform?

Sander Mangel: [00:36:33] I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. Meaning if you choose open source, you can still get a product that works out of the box. I mean, if I take a Shopware today, I throw it on the server, and I flip on the switch. It works. You can order. There's a standard set of integrations that I can plug in. I mean, I can build a Shopware shop that's fully functional within a day, easily. I can take some of the most expensive closed source API-first software out there that's not open source and still have it do all of that. So I'll need to build everything myself, especially with API or headless platforms. It might force me to make a lot of decisions myself. I don't think that depends on if it's closed source or open source. That's more your appetite for wanting to micro-manage all and endlessly spend budget on pixels.

Phillip: [00:37:36] One last little question, because I think that this ties in nicely. You said that some customization will be required for any business that has sort of a norm, a higher bar than average to clear in delivering a certain type of product or a scale of a business to its customer. And I would even make the argument to say that anything that's beyond just a startup or a side hustle or something that's skimming small points of margin off of the rest of an industry or winning through some sort of means of arbitrage. A real business requires doing things that the best fit average platforms don't have the capability of doing because if it's just about buying, clicking, adding to the cart, and checking out, then that experience is available through better, cheaper, easier, faster means through marketplaces and others. Then the question then is the next level up of why would they ever buy from you? What is the brand promise? What is the thing you're delivering that's over and above? What is the strategy to get them to buy direct? Why would they ever go to a website? Why wouldn't they just go to Amazon? None of those questions can be answered with just out-of-the-box behavior on any eCommerce website. So what you really need at the end of the day, even if it doesn't matter what platform you're on, I've seen plenty of Shopify sites with a tremendous amount of custom code running tremendous amounts of Heroku instances that are all developing and delivering like customized private app experiences that are all UI interactions. It's as complicated, if not more than if you had just built it elsewhere.

Sander Mangel: [00:39:13] That's often a cost fallacy. They start off on Shopify with two integrations, it works well and then they're like, "Oh, but I really like to change this," and they plug in an extra plugin and then they connect this with this, and then they have an Excel sheet that pulls in product data and before you know it, it's like a crazy... {laughter} And I've seen that happen so many times in every time they buy the next integration they're like, "Should we do this? Should we maybe look at re-platforming?" But nobody really wants to re-platform. We don't do this for fun, so it becomes harder and harder to say goodbye, and then at a certain point, they're like, "Okay, we have this Shopify installation and it has 100 integrations, and we looked at all the other platforms and none of them do this out of the box." That's a good thing, probably because what you're doing is a side effect of... You're doing things a certain way because you were compensating for features you were missing or bad behavior in general. So it really benefits from reevaluating completely how you approach your business and then choosing a platform that allows you to implement it the way you want to implement it, relying on an open source stack that you can customize where it matters. You shouldn't be customizing anything just because you can. That's something I mean, some of us have been developers and we have built things custom that we maybe should not have built custom, but where it truly matters, at the end of the day,  [00:40:59]if you run open source software and if you leverage that in a smart way, in a conscious way, you can make the difference with just a few lines of customization to make sure that it specifically fits your business. That's where the value of open source lies. [00:41:17]

Brian: [00:41:18] We talked about open source maturing and the community maturing and how that's required specialization. And we're talking about scale and we talked about Walmart and we're talking about big business and mid-market and, and then we swung back around to SMB. And so I'd love just maybe as a way to kind of tie this all together, Sander, clearly open source offers a lot of benefits for the enterprise. It sounds like there are a lot of benefits for the SMB as well. What's sort of the defining line that says this is what I need? Like "I need a platform like Shopware versus a simpler solution."

Sander Mangel: [00:42:12] That is an excellent question. If you ever find a good formula... No. So my job is solutions architecture. And it is an excellent job. I don't just do this for my pretty face. There's a reason why I get called into conversations, and half the time my job is telling leads for Shopware that they might not be a good fit for Shopware. And we do this because we want to make sure that every project that gets started on the Shopware building their application and building their solution is a success. So it really depends on their appetite for dealing with an agency or dealing with developers. At the end of the day, you do need to engage these people. You need to sit in some demos. I mean, it can get boring, but you need to have an opinion about certain stuff versus just going on the App Store and clicking through the apps and shipping that thing. So that's a part. How much value do you put on owning your own data? I think a lot of merchants don't think about the fact that all the data that they're creating, that is what holds the value. The fact that you have access to your customer data, unfettered access to your customer data, to the personalization rules around it, and not being tied into a certain specific SaaS too, that's where you create value. But how much is that worth do you putting extra effort in? How much do you want to customize? Some merchants really don't want to customize. They just want to sell t-shirts and they'll do that the way any SaaS solution allows them to do. So I think all of these kinds of data points lead to a certain answer. And there is no simple solution there.

Brian: [00:44:15] Best answer. "It depends."

Phillip: [00:44:20] There's a calculus. I think, too, when you're participating, I think there are a couple of questions that I'd love to sort of come back to before we wrap. And one is definitively, Sander, do you believe that open source still has a place in the enterprise? Does it have a place in the midsize business? And IO heard from you just now that the question is maybe it depends on what your definition of success and outcomes looks like.

Sander Mangel: [00:44:47] Yes. Same goes for enterprise, by the way, if you can find a way to do this or on the SaaS solution, by all means, be my guest. Do it. I don't want to push anyone to any open source solution if they don't fit there, but it has a place.

Phillip: [00:45:05] The follow-up is it has a place, has a place today... Defining what success looks like is important for everybody to determine whether it's worth the investment in open source. I also heard that contribution to open source is what makes the world go round. We all have to sort of invest, but investment doesn't necessarily need to be code. And so being involved in the software ecosystems that power your open source investments is also quite important if that's what you've chosen for your business. Right? So being active is incredibly important.

Sander Mangel: [00:45:42] None of us would be sitting here today if we didn't contribute to open source. None of us.

Phillip: [00:45:48] It's true.

Sander Mangel: [00:45:49] We wouldn't know each other.

Brian: [00:45:50] Yeah. 

Sander Mangel: [00:45:51] And we built successful businesses off of it. For merchants, the same way. If you have a product owner that participates in even technical eCommerce conferences, they'll run into amazing developers that are ready to sign up to a company that sends their project manager, product owner, the marketing manager, to a conference to be visible. There's no code involved there. It's just people participating in community and conferences and conversations. I think one of the best examples to me [00:46:31] is the web eng conference hosted in Mallorca by Fabian Schmidt and others, the people behind SQL Commerce. [00:46:41] That is an eCommerce conference, slightly technical, but with a ton of non-technical people that do participate. And I learn a lot from both technical people as well as non-technical people on any subject.

Phillip: [00:47:00] Let me just put this out here. Honestly, every enterprise conference I've ever gone to has been in Las Vegas. Every open source conference I've ever gone to has been in like, Mallorca. Which one do you want? That's the question.

Sander Mangel: [00:47:15] Exactly. Exactly. I prefer not to set a single step ever again in Vegas.

Brian: [00:47:25] {laughter} Oh, please.

Phillip: [00:47:26] Let's see if we can make that a reality for you. I don't know if we can. It's been a pleasure to have you. Final words? Brian, do you have any last and parting thoughts?

Brian: [00:47:35] I got my last question in. Just blown away by your thoughts, Sander. It's so good to reconnect with you. Looking forward to spending more time with you soon.

Sander Mangel: [00:47:43] See you at the next conference. 

Brian: [00:47:45] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:47:46] Hopefully Mallorca. Thank you so much to Shopware for making this season of Step by Step possible. I am a firm believer that there is still benefit to building on open ground and that the future of commerce is open. Open commerce will power the future, whether you are a small business or you're an enterprise, the underpinnings of much of our ecosystem depend on the contributions of people and communities that are powered by open source. So thank you so much to Shopware for making this season possible. You can find more episodes of this podcast in all Future Commerce properties, including five podcasts at We have content coming about every day of the week. You can get it all at where we're going to be in your inbox twice a week telling you everything you need to know, giving you the insight that you need to be able to build the future. Thank you for listening to Future Commerce.

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