Episode 249
April 15, 2022

Plurality of Identity

Byran Mahoney from Chord joins the show today to chat about making your work and family identity separate, continuing to live in a headless world, the challenges of being a marketer, and what strategies an eCommerce platform should take in scaling. Tune in now to hear all this and more!

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Living in a Headless World 

  • Bryan Mahoney is back today to talk about recent news at Chord such as launching Chord Commerce Hub
  • “We see Chord Commerce Hub as the mission control for business users.” -Bryan
  • If you’re trying to be efficient, you’re doing it wrong. The right way is oftentimes the hard way.
  • “The core tenant of headless for me, is taking a first-principles approach to building. It's not the technology behind it. It's that it obviates you to have to build, starting with no assumptions and starting with the questions: who do we want to be and what do we want our identity to look like.” -Phillip
  • In order to build a great business, you have to understand your customer 
  • “You understand your customer with data and not tricking them into making a purchase by following them around the internet, but really collecting great data, being upfront about the data that you're collecting, and then using that data to make better experiences.” -Bryan M.

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Brian: [00:01:28] Hello [00:01:20] and welcome to Future Commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:32] Hey, I'm Phillip. And today we have Bryan Mahoney from Chord. The venerable headless eCommerce platform. We had Henry Davis [00:01:40] and Bryan Mahoney on about a year ago. We thought we'd do a check-in. And then, Bryan, you're going to sit in with us for probably one of the better episodes that we've done in a long time. Just kind of get your deep dive thoughts on a bunch of things. Welcome. And how are things going over at Chord?

Bryan: [00:01:55] Yeah, thanks for having me back. I think last time we sort of said I'm Bryan with a Y and then [00:02:00] we have Brian with an I. So we'll go back and forth with the "I"s and "Y"s. What a year it's been. We were chatting about this just before we hit the record button. I can't believe how much has changed. As I mentioned to you, I've changed coasts. So I'm now on the West Coast.

Brian: [00:02:18] Yeah. Best coast.

Bryan: [00:02:18] I don't know if there's officially [00:02:20] a best coast. I'm lucky enough to get back and forth between the two coasts. But beyond my relocating to California, we've just made an incredible amount of progress on the Chord front. So this is really great timing for me to be back. We're officially coming out of beta in May. What [00:02:40] that means is we're launching the Chord Commerce Hub, which we sort of see as the mission control for business users. There's obviously we'll dive into what it means to be headless, I think prior to the launch of the Chord Hub, a headless stack, as is largely meant, you've got five or six or 15 browser tabs open that you [00:03:00] need to rely on to operate your business. And for the last two years, we felt that there's a better way and we spent the last year building that better way. So we're excited to officially come out of beta here in May. And since we've last spoken beyond just building the product, we've really been focused on building the team. I think to pull out some stats, like we doubled [00:03:20] our team, more than doubled our team in Q1.

Brian: [00:03:23] Wow.

Bryan: [00:03:23] And so we've just made an awful lot of progress. We're excited to share more of that progress with the world.

Phillip: [00:03:29] Congrats. And if you're listening and you remember Chord raised I think $18 million series A about a year ago.

Bryan: [00:03:38] This time last year. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:03:39] And [00:03:40] congratulations on not hiring 1000 people and burning $10 Million a month. I didn't realize that was a congratulations we needed to extend in the modern-day, but this is where we are. But certainly looking forward to more good news in the next phase here.

Bryan: [00:03:56] Yeah well I mean we have grown aggressively but also [00:04:00] methodically. I think we need... Chord is a really big product. It's not a point solution. We think of it as more of an operating system for your commerce business. And so it does require a team. And I think we've built the right size team for where we are, but we got to continue to double down on that.

Phillip: [00:04:16] And you said last time around, "Headless with a brain," which [00:04:20] has definitely stuck with me. Lange, you're a West Coast guy with a penchant for wine. I think you guys have a lot in common here.

Brian: [00:04:33] Though it's interesting. In the pre-show, we were just talking about the move to the west coast, and Bryan, just [00:04:40] before we get into more company updates, we'd love to hear a little more about the life update. What brought you out over here to the West Coast?

Bryan: [00:04:50] Well, the weather, I think, is I'm required to say it's really amazing here. But no, the story is what motivated [00:05:00] the move for me to the West Coast is all about family. So as I think we covered on the last show I'm Canadian. I spent most of my adult life in Montreal, Canada, ran an agency there for nearly 20 years. And in 2015, I packed up the family. We moved to New York City and had an opportunity to go and [00:05:20] work for one of our agency customers, a soon-to-be-launched brand called Glossier, where I joined as technologist number one. In order to make that happen, my wife put her career on hold, and we had a daughter who was not even a year old at the time, and we moved to New York. And she sort of said she was all in on [00:05:40] doing this as a family. Fast forward seven years, our daughter's now nearly eight years old, were in the United States and my wife would like to get back to work and she's got a background in fine dining. She's a sommelier. And the idea for us on our family product roadmap was always to relocate [00:06:00] to the West Coast and pursue that passion in wine and pursue that passion in hospitality. So we did manage to get involved in a small winery a few years ago with the goal being that was our future plan. Let's go and open up a tasting room there. And as a father is sort of I can imagine my daughter working there as she gets older [00:06:20] and meeting with our customers and sort of developing that community. And with everything we went through in the last couple of years with COVID and being forced to be working from home and in a distributed fashion it occurred to us as a family that we didn't need to wait for years and years and years, that we could [00:06:40] move now. And so we've done this. And so I continue to do the technology side of the family. And we're now here in California so that my wife can get back to work and pursue a career that she's long wanted to pursue. And it's nice to have that energy in the family.

Phillip: [00:06:58] Wow.

Brian: [00:06:58] What a great story. Yeah. And [00:07:00] we're definitely going to have to get together and do a little bit of wine and dine because we're all about that at Future Commerce as well. So that's got to be in our future.

Phillip: [00:07:12] There's something powerful there that you said, Bryan. I think it might have been brought up on the show once [00:07:20] before. I can't remember. But I had lunch with Chad Rubin, formerly of Skubana, I want to say like a month ago, and he and I connected. It was the first time we ever actually met in real life. And he's a Miami guy now and had transplanted during COVID, like a lot of folks. He mentioned to me his [00:07:40] sort of philosophy around product roadmap for your family. And he gave me a book recommendation which has been sitting on my Kindle and I've yet to crack it open, but it's called the Family Board Meeting. And the subtitle of the Family Board meeting is one that like basically [00:08:00] destroyed me when I read it and it said, "You have 18 summers to create a lasting connection with your family." And when you quantify it like that, it's like, oh my gosh, yeah, having a structure around what are goals that you can set for yourself as a family and how you can sort of, not [00:08:20] to... Certainly, this could become a point of contention, and I'm not looking to do that. But I think having intentionality in everything is a really important thing that it's a goal for me to strive for. You can certainly just kind of let the rhythm of life kind of overtake you and just kind of go with the flow, which is I think is a positive. But you can also set some [00:08:40] family goals and have some things that like you set out that are really important things for you to achieve and to help each other and your own successes. And I think that that's really admirable. And I think the thing we lose a lot in these podcasts and in the culture, especially in startup culture, is the plurality of identity that we all carry. [00:09:00] We are all at once, we are family, we are members of families, we are parents. And we have people whose livelihood, not just in our businesses, but we're stewards as parents. We have people that look up to us and depend on us for guidance. That's such a powerful thing to take maybe [00:09:20] this idea that learnings from your business experience and be able to bring them into teachable lessons and the way that you architect your family. Anyway, I still have to read the book, but I admire that in a big, big way. So congrats to you and your family for making that move.

Bryan: [00:09:35] Yeah, that's... Thank you for saying that. I want to now read that book. And I think [00:09:40]  [00:09:41]it is easy to sort of like blur the lines between the two, but I think that there are some really important lessons that we can take, whether you're taking them from how you operate your family or how you show up for your family and how you show up for your business. But there's this notion of like prioritization for me and going back to the product roadmap, there are a lot of things [00:10:00] that we can do as a family. There are a lot of things that we can do as a product company, but what are the things that matter? And framing it in that we have 18 summers... I hadn't really thought about it that way, but it's really powerful. So it forces you to do that prioritization. What really matters? This really matters and this is the thing that we need to do. And in doing that, it means  [00:10:20]there are other things that we're not going to do. And that's okay because we've all agreed that this is our North Star and let's keep moving towards that North Star. I think it's really important to repeat what that North Star is, and it's okay that it's going to change from time to time. But it's important to have it up there on the wall, whether you're looking at a product roadmap for [00:10:40] a quickly growing technology company or a quickly evolving small family from Canada now on the West Coast.  [00:10:49]

Phillip: [00:10:49] That's the thing, right? Most people's mission statements in their kitchen is "Eat, pray, love." So let's... Brian, I feel like I monopolized... [00:11:00]

Brian: [00:11:00] No, no, no. I was just thinking, you have 18 summers to hopefully have 50 more. That's the goal.

Phillip: [00:11:08] It's true.

Brian: [00:11:08] The goal at least in our family, my view is you don't stop being a parent when your kids turn 18 and they could say that's [00:11:20] it. But also one of my North Stars, and I think that Bryan, this is already clear. You're thinking not just about preparing your daughter to get out the door. But, you're thinking about what's next after that. And I think that's super [00:11:40] important to understand. There's a long game here.

Phillip: [00:11:46] And not lose your own identity in the process. That's the thing that's resonating for me. Let's talk a bit about identity.

Brian: [00:11:54] Yeah, I know that was a great lead-in Phillip. That was sort of where I was headed. [00:12:00] Long game. So Chord, the past year you've been prepping up for your launch here in May, which is just next month. That's amazing. And I would imagine that things have changed a little bit as you look to your North Star [00:12:20] at Chord. How have things shifted over the past year as we've started to emerge from COVID and the narrative around headless has been a little bit convoluted maybe. How have things changed for you in terms of how you're [00:12:40] viewing the eCommerce community and how they're going to market now with technology?

Bryan: [00:12:49] Yeah, there's a lot to unpack there. I think maybe first if I can go back to identity for just a sec or maybe a further point of clarification, I said we're going [00:13:00] to launch in May, but we launched last year for our beta customers. I think there are 15, 16 customers that are already operating on Chord today. We consider them sort of the beta cohort. I don't think you can build a product in a vacuum. We're so thankful to have had these early adopters that helped us to build the product. Feedback [00:13:20] is a gift is what they like to say. And but there's been an awful lot of work that has gone into really putting the product in a package, into more of a concise package that's easy to understand. And those beta customers have really helped us to shape that. And so we are, in terms of identity, shifting from a company that was [00:13:40] working very, very closely with those beta customers to make sure that we got the product right to a company that is ready to go to market with that product. So I just wanted to clarify that in terms of launch and then also sort of my personal identity within the company. So when we launched, I was operating as both CEO and CTO [00:14:00] and really, really hands-on. And we had a small lean team of what I would call player coaches. And when you go from a team of ten or 15 to north of 50 with the leadership team that we now have, we now need to embrace these new identities. We need to let go of doing everything. And nowhere is [00:14:20] that more evident for me within the organization than at the CTO level. So a few months ago we hired a CTO, a gentleman named David Dewey, who was previously the Chief Data Science Officer at MailChimp. So he's got a fantastically deep data pedigree. I could not think of a better CTO for the company that we are today [00:14:40] and the company that we will become ten years from now. But in terms of identity, this is the first time in 20 years that I've been a part of an organization where I wasn't the CTO and I am not the CTO. And so really learning my identity, learning what this company is going to need from me as a CEO, and trying to lead by example. [00:15:00] And we continue that story throughout the entire organization. We really built an incredibly deep leadership bench, and we're all leaning into that, the identities that we need to lead the company forward as we officially come to market. So I just wanted to touch on identity there for just a sec. In terms of [00:15:20] what we've seen in the market as we've been building the product, we've really been sort of evangelizing the approach for headless in general. And I think back to that conversation that we had a year ago where it felt like the entire industry was moving to headless, that it was we were in the middle of a land grab and that if you hadn't made the jump to headless you were going to get left behind. [00:15:40] I don't feel that way anymore. I still feel like this is a movement. I feel like the movement is very nascent. I think that there's a whole group of courageous commerce operators and agencies that are really curious about how you can set up your tech stack today in a way that [00:16:00] you can continue to evolve it as your business evolves, as opportunities present themselves to you but never out scale it or out sophisticate it. That has always been the Chord thesis. And I continue to believe that we're right about that. But it's taking a while to convince people and to show them and to give them the courage and the confidence [00:16:20] that headless is mature enough and safe enough and derisked enough for them to move their businesses towards it. And so while I've been living in a headless world probably since 2013, 2014. This is how I have always been a part of technology builds in a way that [00:16:40] we're API first. We preserve optionality. So it's somewhat second nature to me, but it's been a humbling experience just to see how early the market is. And it's also it's a very exciting time because it just there's so much opportunity to teach and to inspire and then to see what companies are able [00:17:00] to do in embracing a new way of doing business.

Phillip: [00:17:05] Amazing. I think that tracks with a lot of the conversation that we've been having for probably about the same period of time, maybe a little bit longer around the industry obsession [00:17:20] with headless. And there's a piece that we're working on coming up here called Visions, which is our Annual Trends Report. And our conversation around that has been this idea of composable [00:17:40] is not actually new or novel. It's for businesses that are resilient over generations. They have to be composable because your view of what you're solving in the world changes over time. And that is sort of a key tenet to be resilient. Just to have a resilient business, you sort of have to be composable [00:18:00] and parts of your business change and grow and adapt over time. At the same time, we have this sea of sameness, where every single eCommerce site kind of looks the same and behaves the same. And it reminds me of this quote from Jerry Seinfeld recently. I don't know if you saw the quote. He [00:18:20] was in an interview from the Harvard Business Review, who they'd asked him, "Hey, you and Larry David basically carried the weight of the Seinfeld for the better part of a decade. Maybe is burnout one of the reasons why you guys stopped? Was there a more sustainable way to do [00:18:40] it? Maybe you could have brought in McKinsey to help you think through a different structure." Jerry Seinfeld's response was, "Who is McKinsey?" And they said, "It's a consulting firm." And he's like, "Are they funny?"

Bryan: [00:18:51] Oh, man.

Phillip: [00:18:51] He's like, "No, they're not funny." He's like, "Well, then you don't need them." Because [00:18:56] in reality, if you're trying to be efficient, you're doing it wrong. [00:19:00] The right way is the hard way. And I tend to believe that the easy way, this platform-centric approach where you like one-click launch an entire shop has created a homogenous eCommerce environment, which is great for adoption because you don't have to retrain a customer how to shop on your site or every site that they ever visit. But at the same time, [00:19:20] it means the most standout brands are the ones who build from scratch and build an entirely new experience that wows and impresses their customers and keeps them sort of coming back looking for that new, fresh experience. That is sort of the core tenant of headless for me, that taking a first-principles approach to building. It's not [00:19:40] the technology behind it. It's that it obviates you to have to build, starting with no assumptions and starting with who do we want to be and what our identity looks like. [00:19:51] How much of that that I just my little soliloquy there would you affirm as being sort of a truism in our current landscape of [00:20:00] platforms and architecture?

Bryan: [00:20:03] I know there's no video associated with this, but I'm nodding a lot. So just imagine that visual. I agree with almost everything that you said. And there are some buzzwords in there. Sea of sameness. I appreciate you remembering that that was like in, I think, our press release early on. [00:20:20] And that's really what we're trying to move people away from. There's this notion of composable. And I want to come back to that in just a sec. But this fascination with out-of-the-box, like, "Does it work out of the box?" And what I think brands don't realize in their pursuit of "I just need it to work out of the box," is [00:20:40] that eventually your business is stuck in a box. And I think that as you're building there is the commodification of the core infrastructure is not a bad thing, it's a good thing. And just understanding what you need to buy to be able to build around is so key. And build around it today. But then you're going to need [00:21:00] to build around it tomorrow and then after tomorrow and then after tomorrow and after tomorrow. So you want to build this incredible experience that keeps people coming back and that might be on brand dot com today, but it's not going to be on brand dot com tomorrow. And so your infrastructure that allows you to show up and have conversations with your customers facilitates transactions. I mean, the transaction piece almost [00:21:20] needs to disappear into the background. We know what shopping is like. There shouldn't be any friction in adding something to an order and then moving through a checkout like that. That is table stakes today. But the experience that we want to put out there shouldn't be table stakes. And that's where I want to see more risk-takers. That's where I want to see people [00:21:40] being curious about what actually works. And you should have infrastructure that works out of the box, but I don't think you want fully-baked features that work out of the box. And that's especially dangerous when you start chaining different boxes together. Then who knows? It's almost like it becomes like Jenga. If I pull this one piece out, what happens? And I think [00:22:00] that that's really dangerous coming back to this. Sorry. Go ahead, Brian.

Brian: [00:22:04] Oh, no. I was going to add, I think if you actually took a look at what the majority of merchants out there their actual experience that they give their customers, they probably control like 30% of it, you know what I mean? You're building your customer experience through, your [00:22:20] customer experience is actually a number of other companies that have built experiences that your customers are assuming as your experience.

Phillip: [00:22:30] Yeah. They're interacting with it, assuming that it's the brand dot com experience. In reality, it's some SaaS platform that's acting as a proxy.

Bryan: [00:22:40] And [00:22:40] if you don't have control over that roadmap, if you see an opportunity in your business, then you become beholden to those platforms, to take their roadmap there so that you can go and meet your customers there. And by then it's probably too late because a brand that has built their stack around something that where they preserved optionality or where it is composable, they're going to [00:23:00] get there first and they are going to have that first-mover advantage. I don't think, though, that composable, something that is fully composable is necessarily the solution. I think I mean, you this buzzy term that we're trying to develop, but Chord is composed composable. And so as you're looking at a modern [00:23:20] brand that wants to be tech curious, tech-enabled, but doesn't want to be a full-fledged technology company just because there are so many fantastic point solutions that are available today that you can compose not every organization is going to have an architect that sort of says, "Okay, this needs to work this way, this needs to work this way. This is how we're going to have the API speak together. Here's how we're going to collect data [00:23:40] in one source. Here's how we're going to put all the data in one place. Here's how we're going to derive insight from it." That's really hard. And so, yes, there are fantastic examples of resilient companies that have built composable technology stacks that can continue to evolve. But I bet you they've got a meaningfully large technology team. And so we are really working hard [00:24:00] to develop a product that gives you all of the optionality that is fully composable, but that on day one you don't need to compose, it just works. And that's why the core product is very opinionated. It is more of an operating system than it is a point solution. And coming back to the thread that we were just chatting about, like what are we seeing in headless? [00:24:20] I have had many heartbreaking conversations with folks that have tried headless this year and like at first the conversation started starts "Where we went headless," and I'm so proud of them. I'm so happy to hear it like another person that's a part of this movement. And they're like, "It didn't work." I was like, oh man, my heart breaks, and I start asking why it didn't work. And [00:24:40] it's like they made a lot of really great decisions about the technology they wanted to build on, but they didn't know how to put the pieces together. And so I was like, "If I can encourage you to try it again, there's a way that those choices that you made, that courage that you demonstrated, we can get you on the right path, and your business will be better for it.

Phillip: [00:25:55] You're [00:27:40] speaking as an agency operator, a former agency operator. And you've certainly had a number of in your time, I'm guessing, seeing a number of a plentitude of builds over a certain period of time being stood up. That [00:28:00] comes with a lot of experience. Is that something that really that any operator today should be able to do on their first go-around? Or is this just something that you maybe have a little more experience in the ability to be able to recognize those sorts of pitfalls and shortcomings before they get here than others? [00:28:20]

Bryan: [00:28:21] I think it starts with being curious, really. The solution that either my team is proposing or an advisor is proposing or the agency that we've just retained is proposing, is this the right thing for my business? And we are seeing that more and more often. And yeah, I think back fondly to [00:28:40] the days of running an agency, it was nearly 20 years that the agency that we started and ran operated and it was an agency, I think when I look back at our track record, an agency that took an awful lot of chances. But we took calculated chances. We got to know our customers. We got to know our customers' customers. We asked the question [00:29:00], "What is the right setup for them?" And then we got to building. When I got out of the agency game and went to work at Glossier, I think a lot of companies like Glossier moved away from working with agencies and instead built big in-house technology teams. That's one of the things you did after you raised hundreds of millions of dollars of venture [00:29:20] capital and now being back in market with the software product that we have, I think there's a there's been this swing back to agencies where companies aren't raising as much money, where they're being leaner, and they are relying on agencies to be their in-house design and technology partners. And I think that's great. [00:29:40] I want to continue to encourage the next wave of agency operators to be risk-takers and to really get to know their customers' customers, and make sure that the solution that they're proposing is not just a solution that they're comfortable with or that is their playbook, but that that is really right for the customer that they're taking into consideration. What is the total cost [00:30:00] of ownership of this technology stack? Are we setting you up the right way with understanding the realities of operating a commerce business today? Are we collecting first-party data? Are we using that first-party data to build better experiences as opposed to just getting from 0 to 1 as quickly as possible and then retreating and moving on onto the next. [00:30:20] And so I have been encouraged, especially in the last couple of months, we're just meeting with some fantastic agencies that are really curious, that are asking the right questions that we're learning a ton from, that are pushing our product forward and we're just looking forward to meeting more and more folks like that.

Brian: [00:30:36] Is it possible... I think  [00:30:40]we're just at a different place in the evolution of commerce. I think when we look back and you were an agency for many, many years. That was sort of the advent of modern eCom in many ways.

Bryan: [00:30:56] Yup.

Brian: [00:30:57] Everyone was a risk-taker because literally, they had [00:31:00] to be. And do you think maybe that a lot of eCom agencies have trended less and less away from the bleeding edge to cutting edge even maybe back to now they've been so successful, they have a recipe [00:31:20] for success. They know how they're going to make money. And it's going to be to sell a specific package in a specific way. And it just they can keep making money that way. So they're like, we talked about de-risking before. Maybe agencies are now at a point where a lot of the technology is so mature, [00:31:40] they would be "foolish" to do something else, at least in a very mature, almost been count-y kind of way.

Phillip: [00:31:53] {laughter} Bean count-y kind of way.

Brian: [00:31:55] Yes.

Phillip: [00:31:56] Yeah, I might use that again.

Bryan: [00:31:58] I think on [00:32:00] the surface and at the risk of making a very general statement, I think that that's true to some extent. Let's not forget, agencies exist to they've got salaries to pay and a business to perpetuate. But it's not about them always pushing a certain playbook. I think a lot of customers show up and sort of say, [00:32:20] "This is what we need. Like we've seen this other site that's similar to us has these ten things, so we just need those ten things." And if you're an agency, even if you don't necessarily agree, how much leeway do you have to push back? How much risk do you want to assume? And so to say, "Actually, I think what you really need is this." And for the last [00:32:40] number of years where the agreed-upon way of acquiring customers was to dump a bunch of money into Facebook and Google. It was okay. You could just like, sure, we're going to do this and your business is as long as you have money to spend to acquire customers, your business is going to grow. We're in this moment in time [00:33:00] where there's a real focus on moving away from that. Instead of these being platforms where you can acquire customers, we look at them now more as sort of like a tax. You've got to pay the Facebook tax, you've got to pay the Google tax, you have to show up there. But that's not where you're going to build a great business and [00:33:15] you're going to build a great business by understanding your customer. How do you understand your customer? You understand your customer [00:33:20] with data and not tricking them into making a purchase by following them around the internet, but really collecting great data, being upfront about the data that you're collecting, and then using that data to make better experiences. And so as businesses are going to need to look for more profitable channels, they're going to need to do more experimentation, the typical [00:33:40] playbook needs to be rewritten. And so now we have this opportunity to have a conversation between agency and brand where our incentives are aligned again instead of just doing something that is cookie-cutter because it's not risky. It's risky to do cookie-cutter, and you're going to need better solutions. [00:33:57]

Phillip: [00:34:01] That's [00:34:00] well said. It's one of those sorts of things that become a lagging indicator, I think, of when you start asking all of the questions of, "Well, why is it that we're not standing out of the marketplace or that our marketing efficiency ratio [00:34:20] is not where we'd like it to be?" You start asking sort of the more fundamental questions that come back down to product and brand and whether you're a, I don't I hate to say like the existential dread of whether or not the world actually needs what you're providing. And that's the tough thing, right? [00:34:40] Facebook arbitrage sort of gave everybody the sense that, well, the pie is big enough for everyone. I start to wonder if we're rethinking that as being a truism or not.

Brian: [00:34:55] Well, and I think this gets back to something we were kind of talking about in the pre-show a little bit. There's [00:35:00] been a specific way of building and growing businesses. It's looking for ten x 20 x 100 x growth and we found channels to do that. But you talked about looking at first-party data, Bryan. We talked about getting to know customers, and getting to know market. Maybe [00:35:20] the answer is less capital, smarter decisions, slower growth, and more thoughtful businesses with good products as opposed to marketing-driven product that gets blasted out and sold very quickly [00:35:40] and has a lot of capital behind it.

Phillip: [00:35:42] No. I think that I mean, there's a duality here, right? I'm heading you off at the pass. Sorry, Mr. Mahoney. I think for software and the startup ecosystem around software, there's a great case to be made [00:36:00] around scaling and startup scaling and high growth. I think what we're finding is that it hasn't proven so useful when you have to move atoms around on planet Earth and that becomes difficult and there are all kinds of really interesting sort of latent defaults [00:36:20] that customers have and irrational loyalty and things that you have to sort of work against that aren't only able to be intercepted by lookalike audiences on Facebook, but that's a whole probably a whole other topic for another time, because I certainly wouldn't want to be accused of being like anti startup. [00:36:40] I do think that there is certainly a realm where that's necessary and definitely want to, you know, don't want to take anything away from I know I earlier mentioned, you know, a startup with a pretty public conversation right now. But at the end of the day there are plenty of businesses that are trying to meet real [00:37:00] needs and, you know, they're growing fast and that should be recognized.

Bryan: [00:37:03] Yeah. I mean, it's never been a better time to be a startup. I don't think.

Phillip: [00:37:08] That's for sure.

Bryan: [00:37:08] Challenges make us better. We make great design decisions when faced with constraints. And there are constraints and it's a great time to be a marketer [00:37:20] because it's we're back in this era of experimentation and like, let's actually figure out a channel mix that is sustainable for us. And it's going to be a channel mix that's going to work for a little while and then it's not going to work, but then there's going to be something else that's going to work. And the fact that it can't just be Facebook and Google anymore makes it more necessary [00:37:40] than ever to have not just a technology stack, but a data stack and a marketing stack that you can use to your advantage that you don't have to rebuild every two years when the channels change. And it starts with we were sort of afraid to look at the data before. A, it was really hard to look at the data because it was spread across [00:38:00] five different platforms. It's like what's our CAC and where are we meeting with these customers? Actually, what's our revenue? It didn't matter if your business was just going up and to the right, but actually having all of your data in one place where the entire organization is looking at it. We're all on the same page. We're all seeing the same things. We can all be [00:38:20] a part of the decision-making process... It sounds so obvious, but it's been really hard. And so, Brian, you want to jump in?

Brian: [00:38:28] It's cost some businesses millions upon millions of dollars to get to exactly what you're talking about. Being able to consolidate all those channels and understand how it all works together is a multimillion-dollar effort.

Bryan: [00:38:40] Has [00:38:40] been.

Brian: [00:38:41] Has been.

Bryan: [00:38:42] Yeah, we're changing that.

Phillip: [00:38:44] Let's talk about how you're changing it. So maybe here in this last in the third act of the podcast, let's talk a little bit about the strategy of an eCommerce platform, a nascent eCommerce platform that's trying to get to market [00:39:00]. We talked a little bit about how your customers might be attracting customers. We talked about Facebook and social media spending. I'm going to guess that that's not how people buy eCommerce software. So what's the ecosystem look like for you these days and the way that you've sort of acquired your what do you [00:39:20] say, I think 16 to 18 customers in beta at the moment? What's the strategy in going to market at scale come May? Is that an agency-centered strategy? Implementer value-added reseller? What's your thinking?

Bryan: [00:39:35] Yeah, I mean, I think there's an awful lot of just being out there in the market talking to [00:39:40] people and having them come right through our front door. And there's sort of like two cohorts that were primarily focused on. There are net new brands and sometimes these are second-time operators that have learned an awful lot and want to build the technology stack, a data stack, a marketing stack once and never outgrow it. And those are [00:40:00] the types of operators that look at their technology as also as recruitment and retention. And so how do we build something that folks are going to want to come and work on top of? I think that's really important. Whether those are internal resources or agency resources, how do we make sure that we're using tools that weren't created like ten years ago [00:40:20] is a century ago, even five years ago... Technology that was built five years ago, I don't think acknowledges the approach that is required today to be successful. So we're meeting an awful lot of those people who are reading about Chord, who are reading about headless. We're doing more and more podcasts like this. So that Chord [00:40:40] is top of mind when you're thinking about your commerce operating system. And agencies. Agencies are so important for us, and our product is already better because of the agency relationships that we have. And so that is an awful lot of agency training, supporting agencies as they get to know Chord for that first time [00:41:00], and then just doing more in the community. Like there's an awful lot of community development that we need to do so that Chord is not just top of mind for the next wave of commerce operators. Chord is top of mind for the next wave of agency operators as well.

Phillip: [00:41:17] And that's... Let's talk about the agency [00:41:20] operator sort of playbook. Brian and I... A lot of Brian's on the show right now. Lange and I have spent years working on the agency side. Certainly, we punch the clock there and it pays the bills and we're really proud of the work we've done in that ecosystem. [00:41:40] That ecosystem has changed dramatically in the last ten years. It used to be very highly skewed towards being really thoughtful around IT implementation. So thoughtful IT implementation and compliance, whether that compliance was PCI compliance or data and security or Sarbanes-Oxley [00:42:00] or ADA or even COPPA. Like there's all kinds of things that you can kind of carve-out specializations that, you know, sit between the CX and the IT needs. The way that you eke out margin in those businesses. You know, certainly, the only thing you really have to sell is a human hour. So you've got [00:42:20] to deliver a lot more value and build a lot more hours to make a lot more money. And that comes at a little bit of a cost. Certainly, there can be playbooks that get implemented. Accelerators seem to be a foregone conclusion and a fad that's kind of come and gone, waxed and waned. How [00:42:40] does one do that in the headless ecosystem? Because the headless ecosystem certainly seems like one where you're kind of starting from scratch quite often and developing more skills that are beyond IT. It seems very skewed towards design and experience and things that, you know, a lot of [00:43:00] agencies, traditionally commerce agencies certainly haven't built up a lot of technology and capability around.

Bryan: [00:43:07] Yeah, this is a fantastic place to dig in. I think one of the areas that when I was an agency operator and owner, we were hired an awful [00:43:20] lot to handle migrations, platform migrations, and we don't spend enough time talking about API first or headless as being a fantastic migration tool. If you want to really de-risk moving from one platform to another, headless is your best bet. In fact, we would suggest it more often [00:43:40] than not, every time, in fact, and I would never, I have a sort of like these hard and fast rules when you're thinking about a platform migration. Never do a platform migration that is conflated with a redesign. That is a recipe for disaster. It's like, just don't do that. And also, if you're going to be changing the way [00:44:00] your front end interfaces with its APIs, you're better off keeping the back office migration for a later phase. And this is where headless comes in. So I talked about some of the new brands that we're working with, but we're also working with brands that have grown very, very quickly and have deployed that playbook and have started to hit that wall [00:44:20] where their data isn't in one place. The front end isn't as performant as they want. They can't iterate as quickly as they need to to take advantage of these opportunities. So enter headless. Now they can completely decouple their front end from the commerce APIs or the order management system that they're relying on. They can replace all of those JavaScript [00:44:40] integrations or apps out of a box that were slowing down their front end with actual data infrastructure that is built to collect data in one place and to route that data safely and securely to the integrations they want to work with. So now they've got this really clean separation of concerns. Headless is so fantastic for [00:45:00] this. Then a few months later, should you decide that the order management system or commerce APIs that you're built on aren't flexible enough for you, they don't have commerce primitives like referral and affiliate and subscription and loyalty, and you want to move to a different commerce back end, well, great. Your front end is now agnostic to [00:45:20] that. And so I think that agencies have a real opportunity for brands that are showing up and saying like, "We need help." Well, we talked about risk before. Well, one of the ways that we can de-risk that is like let's just focus in one place first. Let's go and untangle the mess that is your front end. Let's go and build it the right way. Pay down all that technical debt without [00:45:40] replacing your back office. So your ERP continues to work, your product continues to leave the warehouse and customers continue to be notified that their shipment is showing up later on that day. And then you can revisit that down the road. So I think there's a huge opportunity for agencies there as we're learning a new playbook [00:46:00] to de-risk that migration in situations like that.

Brian: [00:46:04] Can't those migrations, even in the scenario you're talking about, those can be still pretty, pretty costly. Have you looked at like accelerating some [00:46:20] of those integrations with partners? What does your partner ecosystem start to shape into as, as you move from beta to broad market? Do you have sort of some initial technology partners that you're going to bring on? Or maybe that's not you're not quite ready to announce that yet.

Bryan: [00:46:38] We have a number of exciting [00:46:40] partnerships that I think we'll talk about more publicly as we come to market. And we think about different platforms that we make much better given the data that we collect. You know, it can be things like your email service provider, it can be your CX tool, it can be your integration platform, your WMS, your ERP. So we've got integrations [00:47:00] really sort of like data first integrations with those partners. So it just works out of the box, which makes it an awful lot easier for you if you're moving from a tech stack where you didn't have control over how that works. But you're really happy with the product into a world where you want to have more control over that interface and get actually more [00:47:20] ROI out of some of the platforms that you might have already chosen to work with. And [00:47:25] in terms of accelerating the redevelopment of the front end and how you ship a headless statically generated front end into the world and deploy it on a CDN, Chord shows up with a variety of starter kits and these aren't template driven, but  [00:47:40]we've solved all of the difficult bits and here's a way for you to just take some of these tools. David Dewey is coining the term "Heroku for commerce." And I think that's really smart. Heroku seemed really simple, but when you actually understood everything that it did to make DevOps and deployment really simple, we're trying to do the exact same thing at Chord. [00:48:00] And so you can go really quickly with a technology stack and infrastructure that is really sophisticated, but it seems quite simple and you can move really fast. So we've seen some brands that are operating at a pretty significant scale be able to completely rebuild their front ends and their data stack [00:48:20] using our tools in anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks, which as far as migrations go... Pretty impressive. [00:48:27]

Phillip: [00:48:28] That's such a powerful place to sort of leave it. I think there's so much more to talk about. I hope we don't wait another year to...

Bryan: [00:48:38] Let's not.

Brian: [00:48:39] Please no.

Phillip: [00:48:39] To bring you [00:48:40] back around.

Bryan: [00:48:41] Sounds like our next meeting will be in person. Brian.

Brian: [00:48:43] For sure.

Phillip: [00:48:43] It sounds like we're going to be doing some sort of a curated wine and dinner affair. That's something that I think we can all look forward to. Hey, Bryan with a Y on the West Coast this time, thank you so much for coming, and congrats on all the success with Chord. Can't wait for the forthcoming [00:49:00] announcements. I'm sure that they'll be very exciting.

Bryan: [00:49:05] Well, thanks so much for having me back. These conversations are always a lot of fun for me to have.

Phillip: [00:49:11] Thank you so much. And thank you all for listening to Future Commerce. Hey, drop us a line and let us know what are the challenges you're facing in your business right now [00:49:20]? We'll weave those into a future mailbag episode. Drop it over at Hello@FutureCommerce.fm, and thank you for listening. I kind of botched the ending there, but we'll leave it in. It's fine. We all make mistakes. {laughter}

Bryan: [00:49:33] It's honest.

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