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SBS Season 9 Episode 4
November 3, 2022

[Step by Step] Managing Complexity

Because open source is so flexible, it can be such a powerful tool. But how do you manage the complexities of all that is possible and steer clear of overbuilding? How do you stay focused with all that is available? Listen in as Founder and CEO at Alumio, Caspar Hardholt, explains how to manage these risks and build your open source stack successfully.

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this episode sponsored by

Feature Creep

  • Software providers work with more educated business owners/operators today than in years past, and multiple software needs add to the complexity of the process
  • Before any adjustments should be made, use your open source platform as is and to its fullest potential
  • “I'm speaking to a lot of agencies and they're starting to realize that custom coding everything is not in the best interest of their clients. So there's also a shift going on there.” - Caspar
  • “Nobody wants to walk around in shoes that are too big. Managing the amount of time and investment, the future-proofing, and the amount of capital that you pump into any project, whether it's open source or not, is really just understanding the growth rate of the person who has to inhabit the software.” - Phillip
  • “Relationships are at the core of open source software.” - Brian
  • “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Adapt to the wheels you get.” - Caspar
  • Managing complexity requires understanding what complexity means to you and your business and making an honest assessment

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Brian: [00:00:36] Hello and welcome to Step by Step, a podcast by Future Commerce presented by Shopware. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:00:41] And I'm Phillip and this is Season 9 of Step by Step, and we are going to ask the big question, "Is open source still viable for the modern business?" Well, because this is Episode 4 of 5, you should already know the answer. And if you don't know the answer yet, that means you need to go right back to the beginning if you're jumping in mid-way through. You've missed a whole lot of really good stuff. This is a five-part series and we are talking with experts and veteran eCommerce builders who are creating stores of all sizes and scales on open source stacks, and they're telling us, yes, open source is still very much viable for the modern business. Isn't that right, Brian?

Brian: [00:01:21] I would say that's what we've learned so far. And this next episode I'm really excited about because we're going to learn a little bit more. I mean, the thing about open source is that it's so flexible, right? It's so powerful. It can almost be intimidating and it kind of should be. It's easy to go a little too crazy with it all. You can accomplish anything with open source. And as a result, you need to be really smart about the way that you plan and go to market. And so there are a lot of questions like "How do I manage this complexity and budget for this type of project?"

Phillip: [00:01:59] Yeah. 

Brian: [00:01:59] "How do I make this software that I'm using something that I don't fall into the trap of overbuilding?" "How am I going to pick software that is going to focus my attention and make sure that I end up doing the right things for my customers and iterating and building on top of that?"

Phillip: [00:02:18] So I couldn't think of anyone better than Caspar Hardholt, who is the CEO of Alumio, which is the integration platform for Connected Commerce, to come and tell us how can we manage complexity in the open source stack and how we take stock and manage risk as we're building our businesses. And he's going to teach us how to do it Step by Step. Today we are joined by the CEO and Founder of Alumio, who will Alumiote us as to the future of open source in the modern enterprise. Welcome, Caspar Hardholt, to the show. Welcome, Caspar.

Caspar: [00:03:00] Thank you very much. Thank you very much for having me today. 

Brian: [00:03:03] Glad to have you.

Phillip: [00:03:03] We're glad to have you. Open source, we've heard now a few episodes in a row, not dead, very much alive. This is going to be an interesting conversation because Alumio, where you sit in organizations and sort of software ecosystem. You happen to be a Software as a Service platform, so decidedly not an open source, deployed software model. What do you have to teach us today about open source? How can we get down to understanding what the role of open source is in a modern organization?

Caspar: [00:03:44] Well, I think it's important also to emphasize that Alumio has been built on open source components. So there are different angles and different perspectives on the term, the word open source itself. But two, I actually come from an agency side, so I used to own and run my own agency. I used to help merchants with building up and out there their eCommerce websites, and we did that based on open source software. So I have a deep passion for open source. I used to challenge the closed source systems and also hence why we're delivering the platform with open source technology.

Brian: [00:04:29] That's so cool. You are a person we definitely want to talk to because you're post agency and now you get to look back and sort of look at it from an outsider's perspective. I'm really excited to hear your thoughts. In fact, I think you recently gave a talk on the evolving role of the agency. What do you see as how agencies in the open source world are changing or need to change in order to add value to merchants?

Caspar: [00:05:06] Yeah, well, I think that not only is it about the agency itself, but it's also about the merchants or companies in general who become more technology driven. There's a paradigm shift for the service providers because they have a different role. They used to be the ones who were telling the merchant what to do. And now the merchants, they've become more technology-driven so they have a better understanding about what they want, what they need. I see this happening. It's actually in general a shift. That means that if you are a service provider, if you're an agency, and you want to stay relevant for the next 5 to 10 years as an agency, you need to work differently with your emergent to stay relevant. You need to be in their heart, fully understand what they want, and be able to respond to their technology requirements, basically, instead of telling them, "You need this platform."

Phillip: [00:06:05] So it used to be maybe in a prior era, in a consultative role, you were dictating to an uneducated buyer what they would need to somehow bring some sort of scale or open up a new channel for growth in their business. And now they're actually quite educated. In fact, this is shocking to learn for a lot of us, they know more about their business than you ever will. And so they're becoming very prescriptive back to... I know it's a shock.

Caspar: [00:06:37] This is the biggest epiphany of today. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:06:40] It's true. But it's true.

Caspar: [00:06:41] Absolutely. 

Phillip: [00:06:41] I think a lot of times we sort of talk down to a software buyer or a client and sort of tell them, "Well, this is what folks like you do. We see this all the time."

Brian: [00:06:52] "We're the doctors. You're the patients."

Phillip: [00:06:54] Right. And in reality, a lot of times, if we're really if we were really critical, we would realize that they have to live with the decisions that they make and the software that they buy over the long term. Whereas someone who plays a consulting role may have a much shorter horizon to have to live with any design decisions or mistakes. Let's talk about that because in understanding what Alumio does, you are an iPaaS solution. I want you to explain what that is. But I'm going to make the assumption that folks are looking to buy a piece of software like Alumio in the midst of other software buying decisions. And so it feels like you can't just buy one piece of software anymore. This adds to a lot of complexity in the business. How do we manage that complexity, Caspar?

Caspar: [00:07:47] Yeah, so about iPaaS, it's Integration Platform as a Service. Way too many complicated words. But basically, it means that it's a piece of software that sits in the middle between two or more systems' software or basically IT business processes. So there are a lot of patterns which you can identify in the business. And usually, all businesses have a multitude of SaaS software or on-premise software, or data sources processes which are repetitive, which require data to be exchanged. And it's a repetitive thing. And so it's well known in eCommerce, you have like your eCommerce website, but you also have your ERP system and you need to make sure that your inventory is up to date on the website and because you want to offer optimal customer journey and of course, the orders need to be processed and all those kind of processes, all this data flowing back and forth, it needs to be connected between those systems. And that's where Alumio steps in, which makes it way more relevant nowadays because like five years ago we just had an ERP system with an eCommerce website and then these guys came into the market telling everybody "You need a product information management system. You can't do your business without it." So the product information management system was introduced and then of course your business is growing, so you need a WMS system and then after a while, you understand that you need to engage with your customers in another way, so you're implementing a marketing system. And this is basically how the evolution of an eCommerce business goes. So you start relatively small and then you find out, "Okay, wait, I need to change things." I have many conversations where companies tell me, "Okay, this is what we're going to do, This is what we need, Make sure that we get this." And then the next question I usually ask is, "Are you planning on switching your ERP system in the next couple of years?" "No, absolutely not."

Phillip: [00:10:05] Never.

Caspar: [00:10:07] Never. No. We're not going down that road. And so, I speak to them 12 months later, and you guess what. That's a new CIO. The company has evolved, and they want to switch their ERP system. Well, this is actually the puzzle that Alumio solves. We allow the agency, we allow the merchant to utilize our software to create and manage and change and update those integrations.

Brian: [00:10:38] That's really cool. I think that's so important. In an era when software does drive more of what we do, I think that's huge. I think you were on to something here and that is that when you buy a piece of software, inevitably it turns out you probably need to buy another piece or three more pieces. And then all of a sudden all that software comes with additional box-checking features that may be capabilities your business didn't have before and you need to take advantage now of the money you've spent on them. And all of a sudden you're buying another piece of software or you're investing in another resource. What are some of the strategies that you have for merchants and coaching for agencies to help protect against just continual feature creep and making sure that you start small and you actually get things live? That's the other thing. In a time when, when we need to be launching faster and getting things out faster and the market's changing all the time, all of this just adds timeline. So what's some advice you have for merchants and for agencies about how to manage this?

Caspar: [00:11:59] Actually, I could basically take a mirror now and look myself in the mirror and ask myself, "How do you actually deal with that, Caspar? Because you're growing your business, you're doubling each year, your people are demanding software." Because every company has this question, so whether it's eCommerce or anything else. But what I think is really important is to choose the software that you choose, let's say open source software, and the biggest opportunity a company has, a merchant has is to utilize the core functions as is and make really, really hard decisions on whether you're going to rebuild that and do it yourself or expand that or make it everything else, like with all the bells and whistles, because usually it's actually not needed and especially not in the first phase. So one of the biggest challenges I remember having as an agency is the conversations where you sit down with the merchant and you tell them, "Look, you have this platform, you have this open source platform, please do not start adjusting it right away. First, use it as is, use it all of its power, then identify the things that you must change." And it's like a stepping stone. And I think the biggest risk that I've encountered in the past is that that we were seduced to change a lot of things at the very beginning, scope, creeping everything. And we launched way, way, way too late because of that. So that would be... It's probably not the things that people would like to hear, but that's actually the best thing for people.

Phillip: [00:14:01] It's funny because when just three or 4 minutes ago when we started saying, how can we reduce complexity, we somehow wound up with 16 acronyms of different pieces of software that are all specialized pieces of software that run part of the business. The last time I checked, most eCommerce outfits these days are actually doing a lot more with a lot less. So there's a lot more automation, there's a lot more sort of rule creation than it is manual effort to operate inside of software every day. I sort of think of it as we create. We're creating business rules by which the software sort of just automates and we come in and intervene when things go wrong. Not necessarily that we're pulling levers all the time. I guess that really begs the question do we need so many discrete point solutions and pieces of software if so much of it is being driven by automation? Are there places where we've sort of overcomplicated the process of instituting software and who's mostly to blame there? Is it deciding... I'll lead you a little bit. Is it because we make decisions in silos because we're trying to accomplish a very specific task and don't take stock of the long-term trajectory of where we're trying to get to as a business? Or do you think that maybe it's the other way and that we are actually trying to overcomplicate and over-architect for a place we want to get to but we're not quite ready for yet?

Caspar: [00:15:38] I think the latter indeed would be my first guess. Actually, we've landed in quite a complex era, to be honest. Now when I look back, things were way simpler, like five years ago, seven years ago. And it's also because of the market offering so many solutions. We're not talking about hundreds or thousands. We're talking about I think there are currently 30,000 SaaS solutions out there. It's like sending yourself into the jungle and then good luck with finding the right solution. Aside from that, there's something interesting going on and that's the part where I like to throw in the buzzwords of headless or composable and all of these cool terms that actually make sense in a way, but they don't make sense for all use cases. And so I've seen a lot of those headless implementations or the way of doing composable development. They can be very powerful, but for many, many merchants, in my opinion, I think it's just way too complex. I recently had a discussion with one of my clients and he was asking... Nowadays as the middle layer, I'm the middle man. So I'm Switzerland. So people are asking me a whole bunch of questions about my experiences with software and other technology providers. And he was actually asking me, "We now have this eCommerce core system, core engine and we have this headless piece of software. Looking back, would you have recommended this to me?" I was like, I'm the middle guy, but let me share with you my thoughts." So for them, it put them in a strange position where they needed to put a lot of development effort into things to get new features out there, which the core platform already provided in the normal front end. And that's the part where I'm having difficulties and I would really like to advise you to consider the impact of going headless versus using the standard frontend templates, for example. I'm not saying that one is bad and the other is good. I'm just pointing out that it should match the business case.

Phillip: [00:18:18] This is interesting. So let's actually let's play a thought experiment because you brought up something really, really foundational. Very few are building an eCommerce business from scratch with nothing else today.

Caspar: [00:18:36] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:18:36] If you are a preexisting business, you have some sort of an existing channel already. So most of your decisions feel like you're just adding a small layer on top of an already existing stack. But I have to ask... for the businesses that are brand new that are starting today, there is a preferred suite of software that they're all seeming to choose these days. There are millions of them all buying into one particular ecosystem of software. They who shall not be named. And I wonder which one it is. And what I find to be interesting about that decision is they're not really readdressing or rebuilding all of the same individual point solutions and suites in the same way that we have in the modern enterprise today. Because step wise, we have come up with because we've made one small change at a time, we now have discrete point solutions for everything. In reality, what we're seeing is the old model is being expressed in a new way, and that ecosystem there finding apps that fulfill the same function and they'll create their ERP, so to speak, inadvertently through the sort of app ecosystem. And so I wonder, I guess the thought experiment here, Caspar, is if we were to start over from scratch, do you think we would build the same thing over again? Or is it truly so complex now that we would readdress all of the decisions that we've made in the modern enterprise today that brought us to this place of this plurality of software?

Caspar: [00:20:15] Wow.

Phillip: [00:20:20] And I say that to you as a middle man. You described yourself as sort of brokering the data exchange between all of this sort of software. It seems like this is the natural state that we've settled to, but is it the best place for the enterprise to be?

Caspar: [00:20:33] No, I think we're somewhere in the middle. To be honest, I think we're heading towards something. So you could call the current era the saturated eCommerce era or the complex eCommerce era. There are a lot of things going on. Indeed. And a lot of things are SaaS or now you have this. I like this new open source vibe. You have a lot of things to choose from, but it's heading towards something. And that's something, in my opinion, these components that you can actually reuse, but an interchange throughout your journey of building out your eCommerce business. So what we've experienced in the last 10 to 15 years is you build something, you get your return investment, you build something new, you get your return investment, etc. and that has been changed in all kinds of small components and small tools and small things. And I think it will become a way more organic thing where things grow, expand, and change. But your main engine or your main vehicle will remain the same. I'm not sure that makes sense, but. The bills or your money back. Stop, bill again. I think that's a past era, if you want to be relevant in the next five years or so.

Brian: [00:23:11] What you're describing to me like that sounds like an open source ecosystem, almost. You have a base and you have all these additional components that sort of all play well together. And the base sort of facilitates those components. I feel like at a macro level, this was sort of the point of headless. I feel like it's a very broad brush to describe exactly what you're talking about. But it is complex. Doing that's complex. It is. And so as we look ahead to that sort of a world or something similar, what is the here and now? How can you futureproof that next era? Now I'm going to leave the witness a little bit. Is it by investing in software or is it by investing in people?

Caspar: [00:24:25] Very good questions. Spot on. {laughter} You know the answer.

Brian: [00:24:28] I do know the answer. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:24:31] But we need you to say it so we can share it on social later. So... 

Brian: [00:24:35] Exactly.

Caspar: [00:24:37] It starts with a P, I guess. People. Yeah, absolutely. And so it doesn't really matter if it's from the agency side or from the merchant side. If you look at it from a holistic point of view, we will be able as companies to utilize technology way more than we've ever been able to do. Let me try to explain what I mean. If I look at my current young hires, the young people from my team, get out of university and they're already way ahead from a technology perspective. It's mind-blowing. I love the current people coming from university. So they start with the company. They already have a technical background. They're not programmers, but they understand the technical abstract part, basically. And they also understand the business. So they're able to bridge the business side of things and the technical side of things. And that's exactly where solutions like Alumio, for example, allow the end user to do way more as citizen developers. And I think also that's also where we're heading towards that investing in people. Yes, absolutely. And technology, not software, but technology.

Phillip: [00:26:06] Let's play this out a little bit. People by nature live through eras and learn from mistakes and platforms tend to look as if they're aging because they are frozen in time and they're only capable of doing whatever it was that they were capable of doing on the day they launched. You have to sort of maintain them and groom them over time. And the one thing that's persistent in an organization is people and the culture within the organization tend to want to adapt the tools they use to their modern concepts of what makes their work efficient or enjoyable. And so I have always thought, maybe you can give me some perspective here. Caspar, if you have the right people in place, it doesn't matter what the tools are, if they're the right people and they're given the right mandate with enough resources, they can take any tool and make it useful for the business.

Brian: [00:27:11] Or they will replace the tool.

Phillip: [00:27:13] Right. They'll identify that the tool was not the right tool.

Caspar: [00:27:17] Yeah. In addition to that, if you give the wrong people the tools, you'll get the opposite of what you were actually looking for. In regard to that, there's also something else going on in my opinion. So that's not only about technology. It's also about how companies are being structured and how they are slowly starting to restructure to be able to adapt to change way faster. So we all know the term composable and then maybe if you're emergent, then maybe you would say this is a buzzword. In a way, it is a buzzword. However, it boils down to small, in my opinion, if I have to do one small summary, it boils down to having the ability to use small components and adapt to change very fast. That's my understanding. However, I've been reading through some research about what is going on in IT in general, and a lot of these companies are now adapting composable thinking. And I know I'm not sure if you already stumbled upon the term composable thinking, but it's actually a... Well, I think from agencies, agencies would think about the term agile. However, that's way too much in the development corner. Composable thinking is how you can structure your organization in a way that they can adapt very fast to changes. And that's making change a fundamental part of the core, the heart of your organization. And this is something that will drive the ever-changing eCommerce world even further. So it will push things way harder and change will be the new normal, basically. That will also require a lot of new things from agencies as well.

Brian: [00:29:35] That was exactly going to be my next question. So let's say a merchant does make this shift to the composable mindset. The way agencies typically are set up, if they're going to do a project for you, they're set up to do a round of discovery and then they get into a set of ongoing work sprints or whatever you want to call them, iterations on top of that. But they are all sort of guided by an initial documentation of some sort. Or if there's no initial documentation, usually that just means develop whatever, {laughter} which we've seen how that worked out. So when a merchant goes to make an agency selection and partner with an agency, are they looking to the technology first in their capabilities of that agency, or are they looking for how they run? What are some good indicators for a merchant that wants to move to a more composable mindset that they're a match for a specific agency?

Caspar: [00:30:54] Actually, there are many different kinds of agencies. You can probably categorize them in a way. And that would also be my recommendation to try to identify what are the core differences of an agency. Some of them have implemented Agile to its fullest. So that's one thing. And some of them have chosen to focus fully on development. And that's also something that you should be aware of that doesn't need to be a bad thing, but it's important to know. So, for example, if you would be a merchant, and you're quite at the early stage of growing your eCommerce business, if you would go to an agency who would be fully focused on development by itself, you probably will not get the consultancy that you require. And that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing, but you have to be aware that you need to engage with consultants as well. Unless you have all of the knowledge and experience you can bring to the table. So if you choose a development agency who cannot offer you the guidance or the consultancy, you might end up choosing the wrong technology stack, or you might end up with a custom-coded solution, which could also be driven by core features of an open source platform, for example. So I would recommend finding the patterns and speaking to a lot of these agencies, trying to categorize them, and choose what's best for your company in the phase where you're at.

Phillip: [00:32:59] You've made a really interesting point, but I think I really want to just hit it home real quick. Coming back to the tool kit, if you are a carpenter and your preferred medium is to work with wood, you're going to solve every problem with woodwork. And if we were to abstract that away for a moment, a development agency will always try to code their way out of every problem. I think that there's a distinction then between does all code in solutions and are all solutions expressed in code. These are questions that I think a prior era might have answered yes to, especially one that was given to adopt open source because there was either a freely adaptable, freely available mindset or because we had in-house talent that could create it. But what tends to happen is that requires an intense amount of knowledge and sort of organizational understanding of what it takes to own something like that. And so we're faced with, well, what is really... The onus of ownership now becomes itself a little bit burdensome. We have to own this thing that we've created. We have to maintain this thing that we've created. And it gets tougher and tougher to do every year. And so I guess this comes back to the original point of the series. When do you know that it's the right time to adopt open source software as this capability or differentiator or the difference maker for your business? And how do you get to that decision point? Because I think that the question is, is certainly not the easiest way. The easy button doesn't seem to be "create the software that doesn't exist in the world."

Caspar: [00:34:58] Yeah. What I would like to add to that, just before we continue, is that there's also a change. [00:35:06] I'm speaking to a lot of agencies and they're starting to realize that custom coding everything is not in the best interest of their clients. So there's also a shift going on there. [00:35:19] And also people tend to mix up open source with something that is very expensive. And I disagree with that. It's the people who make the decisions to make it complex. We were able to do a minimum viable product within two weeks and up and running an open source commerce platform back in 2017. But there was a famous eCommerce platform doing open source and we were able to push a minimum viable product in the market within two weeks. You know what cost us the most time? It was convincing the merchants that they should take our route. Deploying the thing was not the hard part. And that opens up a lot of interesting actually perspectives. The declines were actually looking at the software in a way different way. Everything worked out of the box. It looked decent. Perfect? No, not perfect. They had this Ferrari. And Ferrari. Can I say Ferrari?

Phillip: [00:36:36] Sure.

Caspar: [00:36:37] Lamborghini also.

Phillip: [00:36:38] Why not?

Caspar: [00:36:39] They have this sports car in mind, and they were given a Volkswagen, to begin with. But we were able to make it a Ferrari over time.

Phillip: [00:36:51] I think you've hit home the biggest point, which is making the decision on the right piece of software, no matter what its provenance is. Let's say it's open source for a moment. The decision really needs to be based around a) the team that is going to operate it, and b) the future state of the business and do you grow into something. And understanding what that time horizon is for growth. I'll use an analogy because I'm the king of bad analogies, but my kids are growing faster than they've ever grown in their life. It used to be that I could buy them a pair of shoes and they would last six months to a year. They are growing out of shoes every two months now. So now, having learned the lesson of having outgrown a couple of pairs of shoes, one, I'm not going to be buying expensive shoes. Two, I'm going to buy larger shoes for them to grow into because I know they will eventually get there. And I think that certainly, I could buy size 10s. And they are future-proofed for the next five, six, and seven years. They're going to be extremely cumbersome for them to wear for the next five years.  [00:38:11]Nobody wants to walk around in shoes that are too big. And so that's where the sweet spot is managing the amount of time and investment, the future-proofing, and the amount of capital that you pump into any project, no matter whether it's open source or not, is really just understanding the growth rate of the person who has to inhabit the software. [00:38:31]

Caspar: [00:38:31] I think it's a good analogy.

Brian: [00:38:33] I think another thing that really stood out for me, Caspar, is the most amount of effort and time that went into sort of convincing them that this was a good approach, convincing a merchant to do something at that level requires a lot of trust. The relationship that you had with that merchant had to be very, very strong. That might have been their whole business in your hands. Phillip says this all the time. People don't buy features, they buy relationships. I feel like one of the things that draws certain types of operators, whether they be agency side or technology side, or merchant side, it doesn't matter who, certain kinds of operators are drawn to something that is naturally bound up in relationship. And I think that's sort of what I'm taking away from this series, is relationships are at the core of open source software. And so I'm curious what happened after you launched that site? How did things progress?

Caspar: [00:39:32] It's actually really cool because the merchant still has a website online today and it was like already five years ago and they're still building out that initial version that we deployed back then. I was also happy to welcome them as an Alumio customer because they also wanted to get more ownership of their integrations and they wanted to reduce the number of custom coding in their platform. So they kept things very, very lean and mean. And I can definitely tell you they are a very, very successful business in the Netherlands. So they sell sunglasses and they are super, super popular. And I think it's pointing out that making decisions that might not seem to be the right decision at first or maybe too limited a server, actually really benefited them in growing out their business. And so  [00:40:32]don't reinvent the wheel. Adapt to the wheels that you get. Don't build out new custom integrations. Use tooling that already provides a lot of the things that you would require. [00:40:46] Now, well, that said, I think that's, in my opinion, the essence of how I look at it.

Brian: [00:40:55] I love that.

Phillip: [00:40:56] I love it, too. I love it, too. I don't like getting down to the tactics, but I think the tactics at the end of the day are the things that people sort of naturally gravitate around because they tend to tease out, just like in the same way that customer-centered design or CX design teases out feature and functionality which dictates data, hierarchy, and data design information design. It's a way of approaching the problem. And so when I'm thinking tactically, very few platforms as a whole, but maybe in particular open source platforms, whether just code bases or maybe actually customer-facing pieces of UI and UX, which certainly Shopware could be considered as one of those mainstays, large, open source pieces of software that lots of revenue is flowing through for a lot of customers that are transacting every day. They're complex. Just by nature, they're complex because they're solving a lot of problems. And that's not a bad thing. They provide rules of the road. They provide common means of engagement. They allow us all to hire and qualify and train and upskill and cross-skill. They provide all of these intangible benefits that other ecosystems may not provide for us. And I think that that's often traded off against things like feature and fit and functionality, which happened to be actually very fashionable. So there are these two competing ideals. One is what's fashionable right now for customer engagement versus what is durable for long-term assessment of the skills and the workforce necessary to sort of build and maintain software. And those are being bought at the same time, but they're being given unequal weight and priority as to what is important for the business. And that is where I guess my question to you is how do you help a business or a business buyer understand that those have different weights and different measures in the calculus of buying software? How important is it that there is an established ecosystem, there is an established rules of the road, that we have best practices that we have tooling, versus it has the most recent exciting features that customers want to use to buy things with one click, for instance?

Caspar: [00:43:40] Buying things with one click is actually quite interesting and quite valuable. And there you go.

Phillip: [00:43:47] That's the challenge, right? That's the tradeoff that we're making. I feel like these have actually unequal priority, but they're all being given equal buying priority in a document like an RFP. They all have the same weight, but in reality, they have unequal amounts of influence on the health of the organization.

Caspar: [00:44:05] Yes, absolutely true. I think if I look back on how I like to approach this is that there is this urgency for stability, for a secure platform, for something that you could benefit from in the next 3 to 5 years. So you could call it maybe scaring people off or putting fear into the game. But it's actually a very, very important thing that if you don't invest in the right things, which might not be the fashionable things, you end up in something that is not stable, not future proof and way too costly. So it's actually that part I think companies should always invest in stability and in updatable platform security, etc. And if that means that you need to postpone a fashionable item, then that's a reasonable discussion, I guess.

Phillip: [00:45:16] How do you manage those trade-offs? What is your advice for someone? And as we wrap and I really appreciate all of your thoughts and experience. 

Brian: [00:45:25] So good. 

Phillip: [00:45:25] It's been such a great time. But what is your advice to somebody who's trying to weigh out all of these decision points? How do you help them make the right decision?

Caspar: [00:45:38] Well, I think as a merchant, you should definitely talk to a number of professionals in a market that could be a couple of different agencies. The software provider can actually point you in a certain direction. But basically, as business owners or managers, or directors, we solve real-life problems. And what I like to do if I'm facing a challenge or something like a big decision, I'm starting to have real-life conversations with professionals in my network. And once you're open to the conversation, you'll be getting the right information you need to make a good judgment. That's how I like to do it. It doesn't really matter if it's eCommerce or software or whatever. That's how I approach things in general. So that would be my recommendation to anybody out there.

Brian: [00:46:35] Great place to leave it. Thank you so much, Caspar.

Phillip: [00:46:40] I wish that you could answer every single question that everyone would ever have in 45 minutes, but it doesn't seem like it's going to be possible.

Caspar: [00:46:48] If we would have five more minutes then we probably would have solved all of them.

Phillip: [00:46:51] {laughter} For you, we could make the 5 minutes happen. It's been a pleasure having you. I think when we're sort of looking back and sort of wrapping up this conversation, I think what we're actually getting to is [00:47:08] managing complexity requires understanding what complexity means to you and your business, and that making the right decision in your business really requires I think we didn't say the words, but it sort of requires an honest assessment of the maturity of the operators that are taking ownership of either the software buying process or the ongoing managed maintenance and care of that and the vendors around it. And I don't know that there are shortcuts here. [00:47:37] I don't think that you can solve it with tremendous amounts of money. I think it just comes with time and experience and having lived through a lot of lived experiences that make you good at being an operator. And I think that that really means if I had to sum it up, what it really means is that to buy software well, you have to hire well. And that means that to hire well, you have to have a really good handle on what it means to hire for attitude and for culture. And those decisions actually make a lot more impact on the way that you buy software than any RFP or any other standard measure could potentially.

Caspar: [00:48:21] Absolutely.

Phillip: [00:48:22] Okay.

Brian: [00:48:23] So now we need an acronym for hiring that we can replace the acronym RFP with

Caspar: [00:48:31] We need a buzzword. We always need a buzzword.

Phillip: [00:48:32] You know what would be nice is if we had a point solution a piece of software to help us hire. That's the next phase of evolution for eCommerce.

Brian: [00:48:41] {laughter} That's good. 

Phillip: [00:48:41] We'll leave it there. Thank you so much, Caspar. Thank you all for listening to Future Commerce. You can find more episodes of this podcast at or anywhere where podcasts are found. Thank you so much. 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 depends 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 and 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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