Season 12 Episode 1
May 29, 2023

[STEP BY STEP] What Does “Seamless” Mean in my eCommerce Operations?

This season on Step by Step, we are asking what does “seamless” mean to my eCommerce business and how do I demystify that in a way that helps me select the right solutions and softwares that make a seamless experience come to life? To start this season off, we welcome the CEO of Whisker, Jacob Zuppke, to share about his incredible amount of experience in building a technology company that today is omnichannel, selling in retailers, selling via an app, and making your life a better place by making your pets' lives better. Listen now!

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This season on Step by Step, we are asking what does “seamless” mean to my eCommerce business and how do I demystify that in a way that helps me select the right solutions and softwares that make a seamless experience come to life? To start this season off, we welcome the CEO of Whisker, Jacob Zuppke, to share about his incredible amount of experience in building a technology company that today is omnichannel, selling in retailers, selling via an app, and making your life a better place by making your pets' lives better. Listen now!

In this episode:

  • {0:07:19} - “As you grow up from a company from small to big pretty quickly, I think you end up making a lot of decisions because you don't have a person for everything. We've evolved, but not drastically. I still want my department leaders selecting software. I don't want a central IT hub making those decisions on behalf of each department because I think that's a siloed approach that doesn't get each user what they want. ” - Jacob
  • {0:12:39} - “Having different perspectives is probably the most important thing. Somebody that represents different areas of the business and what their needs may or may not be at a later time. And then thinking through, can we get at least two years out of that?” - Jacob
  • {0:24:39 } - “Software decisions drive our hiring decisions. Moving from Google Cloud, when we were on it with Firebase and its suite of products, to AWS in 2017 or 18, has driven thee entirety of our decision-making process since then.” - Jacob
  • {0:32:05} - “You're working in a software every day. You're training your entire people around how to use it. If those people aren't part of the decision-making and then also future planning around what is next and how you intend to get there and at least being mindful of that, I think that you're making a decision in a vacuum, and I don't think that that's going to benefit any organization.” - Jacob
  • {0:32:36} - “You have to grow up at some point and big kid software makes you make decisions. You have to grow up and having juvenile platforms that make a bunch of decisions for you has its strengths. But it also may limit your ability to make decisions and grow an org and have informed decisions and perspectives from people who have had to solve a number of challenges, not just the software part.” - Phillip
  • {0:37:08} - “When you're oftentimes changing those decisions frequently you lose the trust in a team. Going back a few years, I think we were pivoting too frequently. And I think now that we've got a better way of approaching software decisions, we're making less frequent decisions that are more sound and more aligned with where the business is going for the next couple of years.” - Jaob

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Phillip: [00:00:37] Hello and welcome to Step by Step, a podcast series by Future Commerce presented by Adobe Commerce Services. This is Season 12 of Step by Step. I'm so glad you're here with us on this journey. This Season on Step by Step, we are going to tackle head on an industry buzzword that I have heard for 15 years. The word "seamless." And we're going to ask the question, what does seamless mean to my eCommerce business and how do I demystify that in a way that helps me select the right solutions and softwares that make a seamless experience come to life? We're going to ask hard questions like, "What does it even mean? Who has a seamless experience? Is that a customer experience? Is that an employee experience?" We're going to demystify it and we're going to ask the question like, "Why do we have so many buzzwords that lead to us buying software?" So if you feel like you're chasing fads in the industry, but as a seasoned operator, maybe you've grown kind of skeptical about the right approach for your business or you hear a lot of people give a lot of advice in industry conferences or maybe in social media. Well, this is the podcast for you. This season, we are going to dive deep into a lot of really interesting concepts like what a DXP is. That's a digital experience platform. We're going to talk about things like one hand to shake or a single hand shake and consolidating technology. We're going to talk about what omnichannel means, and we're going to do it with some of the most recognizable brands on planet Earth. So much thanks go to Adobe Commerce Services for making this Season possible. Who is this podcast for? Well, if you are a leader of a team that selects software for customer experience in your eCommerce operations, if you're in the enterprise, this is for you. Maybe you have a number of investments and point solutions in the enterprise and you're thinking about how you might consolidate them. Or maybe you're not in the enterprise, but you're looking at your career and projecting where you want to go in your career and you're thinking to yourself, "Man, how do I get there? It feels like I need to learn a whole lot in order to get to that place in my career." Hey, this is the podcast series for you. Today on the podcast and Episode 1 of Season 12, we are jumping in with our friend, the CEO of Whisker, Jacob Zuppke. Jacob has an incredible amount of experience in building a technology company that today is omnichannel, selling in retailers, selling via an app, and making your life a better place by making your pets' lives better. That's right. If you've ever had a Litter Robot or you've ever seen an auto pet feeder, it's probably produced by Jacob's amazing company, Whisker. And we are going to dive into asking this question here on this first episode of Season 12. What does seamless mean in my eCommerce operations? Today we are kicking off our newest season of Step by Step. Joining us on the show, you may recognize him or the brand that he represents, the family of brands, the Litter Robot, the Feeder Robot, the things that make your life better if you happen to have pets and maybe even other things in your life and in your home. Welcome, Jacob Zuppke, the President and CEO of Whisker to the show. Welcome, Jacob.

Jacob: [00:03:58] Thank you both for having me. I'm looking forward to being part of it today.

Phillip: [00:04:02] Yeah, and we're really glad to have you too. We are exploring a bunch of sort of demystifying the way that business and technology enabled software business works, but you're in the business of automation and customer experience and making people's lives better. I'm sure you think a lot about this kind of stuff. For people who aren't familiar with Whisker, why don't you give us the download real quick?

Jacob: [00:04:24] Sure. Whisker is most notably known for the Litter Robot, which is the highest-rated self-cleaning litter box on the market. We originally invented the sifting methodology where we use gravity to separate the clean litter from the dirty litter and deposit the clumps and waste into the compartment below, making it so that we as human beings never have to scoop a litter box again and giving our kitty a better life with a clean bed of litter each time they go to do their business. And with the Feeder Robot, I sit here with my nine-year-old yellow lab at the office today who I have not had to feed in three years. And when you say it just like that, it kind of begs the question. But the reality is the Feeder Robot has done it all for me. So I've had my dog eating from a schedule four times a day with our Feeder Robot, which as a human, I may or may not do on my own. I'd probably go with breakfast and dinner. But now she gets to have breakfast, lunch, dinner and an after dinner snack every day, in addition to our daughter's leftovers that she throws on the floor. And we're really trying to shape the future of pet care. I think our mission has been unwavered, which is we are inventing tomorrow's pet products today, both digitally and physically, trying to create a connected ecosystem of products that adds value to the wellness world.

Brian: [00:05:50] Wow. It's so cool. As a two cat owner, I'm all in. I am tired of the scooping and the poop, so it's a very needed product. The product market fit is there.

Phillip: [00:06:08] I think this season on Step by Step when we were thinking about there's a really weak tie... This is a terrible segway by the way. But I feel like a lot of the operations of business, the operations of, well, software buying, customer experience on the software side, and how you actually make people care about the product at the end of the day without getting lost in how you operate your business through technology. That can feel like a lot of what did you say? Solid waste matter sorting? So it feels like that from time to time. And I'm hoping that we can kind of ask you, I mean, you're the person in the hot chair here today, Jacob. When when you're thinking about, I would guess at your role in your business and the family brands that you have, it shouldn't be on you to select technology. What is your... I would hope not anyway. Tell me a little bit about how Whisker goes about choosing customer experience, technology, and what your process is for buying it and implementing it as it stands today.

Jacob: [00:07:08] So we grew up really quickly as a business. In 2015, I joined as employee 23 or 24, and now we have about 500 people on the team. So [00:07:19] as you grow up from a company from small to big pretty quickly, I think you end up making a lot of decisions because you don't have a person for everything. We hadn't hired a director of IT until 2020 and we were all essentially, each stakeholder for each department was making decisions for software around what their department needed. I would say we've evolved, but not drastically. And by that I mean I still want my department leaders selecting software. I don't want a central IT hub making those decisions on behalf of each department because I think that's a siloed approach that doesn't get each user what they want. [00:07:59] Outside of my decision to move to Google Apps. That was a me decision that I was pretty adamant about and not using Outlook as a personal user. And of course...

Phillip: [00:08:09] Yeah, we've all been there. Yeah.

Jacob: [00:08:13] No, as we've evolved the team, I try and keep that kind of decision-making. I'm involved in that I'm going to ask questions around why and I'm going to try and poke holes in the decision to make sure that we're thinking through it the right way. But I think our director of IT also does a great job with that and making sure that when we are going about a new software stack that it can truly grow with the org and integrate with other software because we don't have the large IT organization that would support building and doing everything that we would like to do centrally. And so each of our department stakeholders will have to ultimately be able to use that software in a way that gets them what they need for their department. So I think it's super important that they're the one that ultimately owns that decision.

Brian: [00:08:58] I love the approach. We've seen situations where centralized orgs can put a stake in the ground and want to grow their org as opposed to help others work. So I think the wisdom behind what you've done is super important. And so tell me a little bit about the process for each of those groups to think about making their decisions because there are technical decisions that have to be made. How is that interaction with your IT group?

Jacob: [00:09:28] So we just did this. So I use a recent example, but we changed our CX system that we had. We were on Salesforce Service Cloud for the last five years, and I actually made that decision in 2016. We had outgrown Infusionsoft pretty quickly and I wanted to move towards a marketing cloud stack that allowed us to bring all of our CRM data under one roof. And so in theory Salesforce is the greatest at doing that for where the market was in 2016 and 2017 in terms of bringing all software into an interconnected state where you really did have that seamless data capability of using that for various departments and it delivered on parts of that, but it never got us all the way there. I think just like any software, it's what you make of it. And I've always described Salesforce as infinitely capable but not out of the box. And when you're a smaller team trying to do a lot, you really want to try and find tools that can help expedite that. And when you're having to build it all on your own, each new module is a project. And without having product owners, without having clear stakeholders who can own and really see through every detail, it just wasn't really the right fit for us longer term. And we ended up moving our marketing tech stack to a different software solution. So when we went through this, our CX director led the search. They had previous experience with one software and I challenged that individual and they also challenged themselves innately to be able to go and look at everything on the market. So we did that. I sat through a handful of the demos. I am pretty involved in our CX but our IT director sat through them all. They sat through them all and a manager of theirs sat through them all. And we had multiple stakeholders looking at each piece of software to decide, I'm probably going to bet around the idea of all these softwares relatively can do much of the same nowadays. What does the UI look like for the different stakeholders?

Phillip: [00:11:46] Yeah.

Jacob: [00:11:46] So in our case, at the agent level, what is the UI to make their job easier? And that was my number one focus that I threw my hat in the ring for, whereas they had A, B, and C things that they needed to accomplish. And then our IT director had their thing. So we really wrote up just an internal spec around what we were trying to accomplish. All these softwares had to at least meet that and we just went through the same thing with our HR software. We ended up moving to Paylocity after vetting out all the different softwares out there based on our business needs. And what I thought that the lift was because we did look at what I would say a very capable software stack that wasn't the one we chose, but we recognized that we wouldn't have the IT bandwidth to support it. And the company was maybe a little premature to move on to that. So [00:12:39] having different perspectives I think for me is probably the most important thing, which is somebody that represents different areas of the business and what their needs may or may not be at a later time. And then thinking through, can we get at least two years out of that? Even though that's a short window, we have grown incredibly quickly as an organization and it's been hard for us to make five year decisions around something at the rate in which we've grown because we've outgrown things too quickly. [00:13:08] I think with Salesforce we actually made the right bet. It just didn't end up being what we were hoping it to be for where our team ended up going in marketing and in service and in sales. And so we ended up pivoting to something that made more sense for us for where we're at today.

Phillip: [00:13:25] So that's operationally on the employee experience side, you've made a lot of investment over the last couple of years to empower each business unit in its own right to make decisions that help it evolve. So internally as a business, you're continually evolving. Your customers probably have very similar various suites of software that they interact with that they don't realize are various suites of software. So one way of talking about a seamless experience or this code that we use in the parlance of eCommerce or retail is really talking about how people transition from either one part of the funnel to the next without any friction or how people deliver on certain parts of the businesses needs for them so that you can deliver a stellar product, a stellar app experience, the ongoing sort of like management usage, maybe replenishment of the consumables in the nature of using your product. Talk about how you bring all of that together and how that's evolved over the last few years, Jacob.

Jacob: [00:14:28] Yeah. I'll step back and I'll just talk about product for a second because I think it makes sense in the context of what the question was. Right now we have built a cloud product, which is our app. We have physical products, which are the robots, and then we have the website, which is where people are purchasing from. Right now those are three products or three areas that are disconnected, even though you technically have the same email log on for the different system. Right now, you can't access your eCommerce account in the mobile app. And with the number of mobile app users that we have, that's both mutually beneficial. If I'm a consumer and I want to update my subscription or I just want to place another accessory order, I should be able to do that through the app. And right now you cannot. So a project we started in 2022 was re-architecting the back end of our cloud stack so that we could successfully make this one seamless, using your word here, one seamless experience that allows the user to navigate across each of our products and have one master account that works on everything. So that's an example of where I would define seamless for our business, our product. The analogy I would use is iTunes or the Apple account, iCloud account, whatever you want to call it because I know that I can log in to my iPad, my MacBook, my iPhone, and my cloud storage, all with the same account and access all those different products from one master hub. And that's not what Whisker has today, which is what Whisker is currently moving towards.

Phillip: [00:16:55] Your customer lives on many parts of your funnel, right? So there's the consideration phase where you're probably doing a lot of like top of funnel advertising. You're informing the customer. They're doing a lot of research. There's probably that middle or down funnel activity of like, "Well, how am I going to afford this over the long term?" It's a big investment up front, so it's a larger purchase. And then there's the sort of LTV nature of the business of you have MRR. You have monthly recurring revenue that might be going to retail partners or to others and sort of like omnichannel. So you have to as a CEO, you're thinking about all these areas of, well, one, product development experience, customer experience. There's the CX part which you've already touched on. That sounds like dozens of pieces of software. How do you sort of... So you have this longer term goal you just started, How much of that is really profitability-driven and sort of making sure that Whisker has a growing piece of the pie and the customer relationship over time? And how much of that is supporting retail partners that potentially also need to have a growing relationship with you guys to make it work in the end?

Jacob: [00:18:04] Great question. So we come from a slightly different perspective on that because we started DTC and not omnichannel. So most of our decisions have been around what Whisker needs, and we're starting to evolve that even as we're talking with big retailers and we're asking for things like what does our in-store experience look like with a kiosk? And these are things that we're growing up very quickly and learning. But the idea our decision making has still primarily or historically been around what Whisker needs. I'll use one example here. We chose Magento in 2015. We're still on Magento today. Now I'm biased because I came from a Magento background where I knew Magento well, but I also saw the evolution of the software and what they were doing with opening it up for third party developers to contribute to the ecosystem. So when I'm thinking about software, that's one of the things that I tend to look at is what is the evolution of that software product? And I'll go back to even Salesforce. Similar reason why we made that decision was they allow for this open contribution from developers around the world to contribute to the tech stack, which I think it's more buy in from a community. So that's definitely a big part of our software decision making process. I think with respect to the number of decisions that we've had to make over time for both today and for tomorrow, I'll go back to saying I think that group, not groupthink, but group decision making there, ultimately the stakeholder, the department leader having a big say in that, at least for Whisker, has been very beneficial because they definitely know the nuances of what's happening within their department for their specific stakeholders and how they want to carry that forward. With respect to the funnel and our decision making process. Reversing the funnel, because I normally do think about it from a consumer, but how we're sold, I would say our CFO or I ultimately, I don't want to use the word gatekeepers because I don't think that's a way that we think around here, but part of the decision and asking the questions that maybe the stakeholder themself isn't thinking of. And I think for us, that's that bottom part of that funnel. It's the top and it's the bottom. We're asking up front and we're challenging at the bottom. And I think that's inevitably how a decision is made. But our CX software, I sat through one demo, I asked my questions, and I challenged those stakeholders to make sure that it would achieve the original intent of our goal. And then they ultimately made the decision between our Head of CX and our Head of IT. They chose what was best for them and I was supportive of it.

Brian: [00:20:57] A super interesting thing you said there, I love that you said you're biased and came from a Magento background. You're like, "Okay, we're going to go Magento," back in 2015. Although I have a follow up question on that. But for now, it's interesting, you picked that piece of software. You picked Salesforce for Service Cloud, you've picked other pieces of software now. Do you feel like the organization has actually been shaped by the software that you've picked? Or another way to put it, does technology drive your people to exhibit a specific kind of culture or a set of behaviors? Or do the people sort of drive the technology?

Jacob: [00:21:44] No, that's a great, great perspective and question. Both. So we are not on Slack companywide. We use Google Chat because it's part of the Google Suite, but our engineering team uses Slack because it works better with respect to other partners and being more of a hybrid environment in software engineering or engineering in general. I think Slack enables something different than Chat does for a hybrid culture and just the capabilities, the subtle capabilities, because it really is very UI driven. I mean, even the way in which you can share fun things within Slack isn't innately part of Google Chat. Google Chat to me is more of a business messenger tool. Slack is more of that collaborative environment where you can enjoy being in there. And I think that's where I would say software really definitely helps to evolve. And I would add and say Figma is another great example. We never had any kind of collaborative tool like that with Photoshop and the Adobe Suite. Of course, they were moving towards that, but Figma completely changed how we worked as a software team and our ability to collaborate and poke holes in things differently, which caused our team to work differently. I think when you look at marketing tools, I mean, look, we're on a Bloomreach right now for our ESP and automation and has it changed how we work from Salesforce Marketing Cloud? Not yet. Will it in the future? Right now it's serving specific needs for our business. It's driving flows based on the user journey that we want to drive. It's not yet, I would say, changing how we work as an organization, whereas Google versus Outlook changes how you work as an organization or something of that magnitude changes how you work. Whereas I think some things just serve a need and fill a hole. And I would say we have both and our team operates differently for each of those different areas.

Phillip: [00:24:03] I love that the answer required giving you a bunch of different contexts of other teams being shaped by software to implicitly answer the fact that, yeah, the software that you use changes the nature of your work, which changes the nature of collaboration. And that seems like now it seems like a duh question, but I had to hear it in a bunch of different ways before I understood it.

Jacob: [00:24:24] I'll even add and say we built our app on Flutter. So when we're seeking a front end developer, usually we're going to go for a Flutter developer first because they already know the product. And for me to teach somebody, same as Magento, same as AWS [00:24:39]... Those software decisions drive our hiring decisions. So I think that's a really good example where it is downstream, it is full funnel. If we chose AWS and somebody is really strongly Azure, they may or may not want to join our company because we're not going to switch to Azure because one person came and joined. We built our entire tech stack on AWS and we continue to add more AWS products because we built our infrastructure there. So I think that's an even better example of how big of a decision these things are. And moving from Google Cloud, when we were on it with Firebase and its suite of products, to AWS in 2017 or 18, and that driving the entirety of our decision making process since then. [00:25:28]

Brian: [00:25:29] With that, so you've been on Magento now Adobe Commerce since 2015, if technology, certain types of technology drive specific behaviors and specific types of people and attract certain types of people, and not to take anything away from your people, but do you think that certain pieces of technology have actually given your team the freedom or ability to grow the business as much as it's grown? Because, I mean, it's pretty impressive what you've accomplished as a business, almost 500 people now, building on Magento... What many sort of echo chamber people would be like, "Oh, that's crazy."

Phillip: [00:26:19] Yeah, that's counternarrative.

Brian: [00:26:20] Yeah. The last eight years on Magento and you've built a 500 person org based off of it. Do you think that software actually gives you the space to make those kinds of moves and actually contributes to that sort of growth as a result of its capability set and the culture that it drives?

Jacob: [00:26:40] Yeah, I think most definitely. AWS is a good example. And I'll come back to Magento, but with AWS we've been able to use tools that are already pre-configured to automate and to accelerate our development of an entire cloud product that has real time data flowing from robot to cloud to app and in fractions of a second that we if we had to build that technology on our own, we would not have a mobile app right now because I don't think we would have had the capital to invest in the number of engineers that would have been required to build that all on our own without having AWS IOT Core innately built so that we can build right on top of it. So I think that's a great example of accelerating our product development by taking out the things that I don't think add value to the consumer experience, the consumer, other than a very technical individual, I don't think the average consumer cares whether we're built on AWS, Azure, or we had built our own native cloud tech stack to do that. And so we're able to fast track new product development for the consumer because of that. And I would say the same with Magento. I mean, there are server companies that specialize specifically in Magento hosting. I don't have to have an entire server farm ourselves to host our eCommerce experience. I don't have to have a fleet of IT professionals to do that either. We can rely on software as a service companies to support us with that, and I think that's another great example where along the way, as we've grown up as quickly as we have, I think we have a web dev team now of around 12 people. That's not absolutely huge relative to our revenue. And I think we've been able to achieve that because of these tools that are available to us that fast track our ability to deploy a new website or upgrades to the consumer experience.

Phillip: [00:28:56] I have to ask a question. This comes up every so often. The longer that you're in business, the more prone you are to sort of the fad and fashion of technology choices, and we mentioned a minute ago that there's an echo chamber and there is some fashion around certain technology choices. I have to believe technology definitely drives the type of people you hire. So does time. Over time, you will hire people that have little to no experience with your current implementation of your stack, especially as it gets more custom or more exotic over time. And so you have to educate them both on the history of the decisions that have been made and why it's good for you and your business. But also you have to take their input into account. You mentioned a couple of sort of modern choices in your most recent software purchasing. How much are you relying on other people's career experience outside of your own? You've been at this company for now quite a long time. You have this benefit of hiring new people all the time. How much of their experience are you relying on for software decision making and how much are you sort of folding that into your process of qualifying software just in general as a business?

Jacob: [00:30:12] So I think very much so relying on the people that we hire to be able to drive the right decisions for their department. I'm not an engineer. My background is not in engineering. While I've been able to learn and understand much of what they do, never in a million years could I do what they do. And I think that's a great example of a recent decision. We were moving to a different way of looking at our CAD and how we stored all of our CAD files and how we access our CAD files and the way that we organize our CAD files so that we can have a larger mechanical engineering organization. And so our VP of Product Development made the decision around what he knows we needed based on both his experience, but also where he knows that we're going. We just hired a very senior engineer to join the team who actually came from Microsoft, and that individual was really happy with the decisions that we made because the person who made them understood where we're going, how we're trying to get there, the size of team that we're building and the kind of products we want to build for our consumers. And because he thought about that, because he socialized it appropriately where he knew what was best, but he made sure he asked the right questions along the way, we made what was a very good, sound decision that will help us for the years to come and something that's not easy to implement or to change because it is a lot of data and it's not a small lift when you're training an entire group of people who will be using this software every day, day in and day out for all of their deploys and all of their updates. And I think that's really critical. You could say the same for like a GitHub or anything like that, where [00:32:05] you're working in a software every day. You're training your entire people around how to use it. If those people aren't part of the decision-making and then also future planning around what is next and how you intend to get there and at least being mindful of that, I think that you're making a decision in a vacuum, and I don't think that that's going to benefit any organization. [00:32:26]

Phillip: [00:32:26] It's like my middle schooler decided at some point, seventh grade is the cutoff where they decided your parents aren't allowed to ask the teacher for what the assignments are anymore. [00:32:36] You have to grow up at some point and big kid software makes you make decisions. You have to grow up and having juvenile platforms that make a bunch of decisions for you has its strengths. But it also may limit your ability to make decisions and grow an org and have informed decisions and perspectives from people who have had to solve a number of challenges, not just the software part. [00:33:00]

Brian: [00:33:00] It's true. And you're dead on. And you said thinking to the future, Jacob. One of the things you mentioned earlier in the conversation was that you didn't start as an omnichannel org. You actually started as an online only first, and now you're thinking about the total customer experience, both from a purchasing perspective and also from a product perspective. You're making changes in how you're going to think about what you're investing in. And so as you look towards that customer-first process, how is that going to change your decision-making initiatives? Or another way to put it, as you look to make your software decisions around that total customer experience, how does that change those different groups and how they are thinking through what's the next piece of software that I'm going to buy?

Jacob: [00:34:02] Yeah. So that's directly affecting currently around how we have done omnichannel order management. So that's, I would say a hot topic right now, which is we didn't have to build on like an SPS Commerce or any of these bigger omnichannel order ingestion systems and now we're having to move towards that. And so we're really looking at what is that lineup of retailers we envision for the next year or two years, three years, and thinking, being realistic about going from right now we're on Amazon, Chewy and that's about it, to a larger group of retailers that we're looking at strategics in each category we want to be in, that doesn't happen overnight and they've already got their tech stack. So we're trying to look at all those possible retail partners, identify what their tech stacks are, and then look at our technical roadmap and make sure that we're being mindful of the decisions we make today, not having to redo them in six months. And it brings up a good/bad example that we had. Good being a good example and bad being a bad decision that we made, that I made in 2015, 2016. We were on MailChimp and I was super adamant that we get off of MailChimp because we were only really doing broadcast emails and we weren't doing many automations, so we moved to Infusionsoft. Well, our list size at the time was on the bigger end of Infusionsoft and what they had previously been managing. So every time we went to do an email, the deploy would take hours instead of not hours and it was not ideal and we ended up outgrowing Infusionsoft because of our list size in under a year. So you do all this work to move to a new tech stack that you're really excited about, that you get your organization bought into. You train your CX people. You train your ops people. By the time you've even moved on to it, you've outgrown it. And I think even our building is another example different than software. But we had a 30,000 square foot building going into 2019, 2020, and we decided we were going to make this huge investment to double the facility size from 30 to 60,000. Before we even moved in we had outgrown it and we were taking 100,000ft elsewhere in cold storage.

Phillip: [00:36:38] Wow.

Jacob: [00:36:38] We ended up having to not only kick off one project, but follow that right back up. And we've now gone from 30 to 60 to 222,000 ft² very quickly because we weren't thinking far enough ahead. And I think that has evolved. Of course, being in real estate, you have to think a little bit further ahead than even software. But they're not that different because when you're training a group of people to think about how they use a piece of software or how that software drives your organization. And [00:37:08] getting true buy in is not always easy in any decision-making. And I think when you're oftentimes changing those decisions frequently you lose the trust in a team. And I will say going back a few years, I think we were pivoting too frequently. And I think now that we've got a better way of approaching software decisions, we're making less frequent decisions that are more sound and more aligned with where the business is going for the next couple of years. And if 2 or 3 years from now, we have to make a change but we made the right decision at the right time with the right consideration today, I'm going to feel good about that. I think if we were short-sighted and we just chose to ignore some of the honest things facing us, that's what I'm going to say I regret that. And that's where I would say we made a mistake. [00:37:58]

Phillip: [00:38:01] It's like you have the greatest like one liner, like infinitely quotable. This is going to be an incredible piece of content. You have all of these moving parts in the business, pun intended. When you think about the way that it all gets integrated too, how much of that are you relying on from like outside expertise, sort of one off vendor procurement to building in teams in-house? And how do you make those decisions?

Jacob: [00:38:25] So I probably have a bias towards in-house and so primarily in-house. We definitely have used contractors and consultants where applicable. We were very fortunate to work with a group formerly called Onica. They got acquired by Rackspace. It was a group of very talented AWS professionals of whom we still have a great relationship even with the founders and their next venture. But Onica was absolutely a game changer for where we were at the time of helping to architect and move us to AWS IOT Core. We could not have done that without their reliance and their support. So I think that's a great example where we have used an outside support to help us. Marketing, I'll say I have a bias. I think that we've done something that few companies in history have done, which we've outgrown a category, and we have now become synonymous with the category. The best reference example I would use is the Nest thermostat. They didn't wait on the thermostat category to grow into what they became. They outgrew the category and then ended up becoming the category where I think even today I still call it my Nest at home. It's an ecobee, but I still have that association with Nest defining what that category was. And we've done that in the automatic litter box space, which means for us that there are not many people that, I won't say can't help us, but that have that vision to do something that others haven't done before, and to do it in a way where we bring the tenacity that we do to each thing that we approach and consultants, partners, they can all be great. And we do have them respectively in different areas. But I definitely have a bias towards building in-house because I think you get that obsessiveness and that true passion. And look, we're in pet technology eCommerce and fast growth. You know, that's a lot of exciting things all together. I think when you can get somebody fully dedicated to living that every day you feel that in their output, you feel that in the inventiveness they bring to whether it's a marketing campaign or a new product that we're building. And I don't always get that same passion from a consultant or from a contractor because they are clocked in and clocked out from your account, at least for where we're at in our journey, because we couldn't retain, I would say, some of the larger groups or we wouldn't want to just yet. And that's where I would have a bias towards in-housing and building ourselves.

Phillip: [00:41:11] And it comes back to the sort of like what are the reinforcing decisions around the pieces of software you have to live with? The decisions you have to live with for years and years and years is, you know, you're not control of hiring and technology choices and partnerships at an outside firm. You are absolutely in control of which ones you have to own the relationship for over the long period of time. I think that you have a very consistent ethos in the way that you're running the business. And I think that that speaks a lot to the success. Brian, any final thoughts?

Brian: [00:41:43] I'm just blown away that you've refrained from using any cat puns throughout this. I heard a couple unintentional ones, but I'm impressed.

Phillip: [00:41:53] We clawed our way right through this.

Brian: [00:41:55] Through this. It was purrfect.

Phillip: [00:41:58] Purrfect.

Jacob: [00:41:59] I think I got all my cat puns out from 2015 to 2018. It got a little too punny around here, so I have definitely leaned towards fewer of them. But our creative director, who I absolutely love, every conversation I have with, there's usually a good cat pun or a pun of some sort, so I still get my daily and weekly dose.

Phillip: [00:42:23] Brian, you want to ask the final wrap question?

Brian: [00:42:26] Yeah. I mean, as you look towards the future of your business, what do you see as sort of the future of commerce? And as a result, how are you going to look at managing all these pieces of software in concert?

Jacob: [00:42:41] So to me, the future of commerce is really around meeting the customer where they are. And by that I mean that might be in their buying journey. That might be where they're shopping, that may be the content in which they want to digest, to understand more about the product, whether that's from real users or company put out content. And I think generally the consumer is driving commerce where we as consumers, as we change our behavior systemically, as we have over the last few years, notably to omnichannel and eCommerce, because we didn't have a choice. I think that's driving the future of commerce in my eyes. I think some of the things that we have to do along the way is stay grounded in what we know is right in our eyes for the consumer, which may not be right every time. But I do think that there's got to be a gut intuition around what bets you take as a business and I think that's what we're trying to do right now with our move to omnichannel, but really doing it in a different way than just blasts and attack everywhere and really doing it in a strategic way that aligns with our company goals but also aligns with the way that consumers are changing. So I think that for the I'll say, the future of commerce is how we're looking at it and really being mindful of what the consumer needs and how they need to receive that. I think with respect to software, the decisions I made 7 or 8 years ago around connectivity between software don't really cause much friction today because nearly every software stack can be connected to another software stack, which didn't exist historically. So I do think that the evolution of software connectivity between other pieces of software is integral. We've moved to Domo for our BI and also as an integration tool because it allows us to do so much across our suite of products, even our HR tool, integrating with our pet health tool that we're building. There are so many cool things that we can do by bringing the data into one Data Lake and the ability to really have a centralized place to make decisions and then figure out how that intertwines. And one of the projects we went through in 2022, which I think is helpful for any group and maybe this is something they've already done, but is to flowchart out every single data point that you are really operating with in your business. And to really look at where all that data is starting and finishing and then look at what's duplicative versus what's value add. And I think for us that was really helpful and we had challenged our IT team to work on that with each stakeholder and each department, and it quickly shows where you're making good decisions and where you're making less than great decisions. And I think that that for us was really helpful as we think about the future technology stack that Whisker uses to get to where it's trying to go.

Phillip: [00:45:55] Amazing. I'll give you the last word. Jacob Zuppke, President, CEO of Whisker. Thank you for spending time with us and thank you for taking us on your journey Step by Step.

Jacob: [00:46:04] Thank you for having us. And if you have a cat and it poops, go to catpoop.com.

Phillip: [00:46:10] {laughter} That's the best thing ever. Thank you, Jacob. Thank you for listening to this episode of Step by Step. This Season was brought to you by Adobe Commerce Services. We're so glad for their continued support and partnership. If you want to find more episodes of this podcast and other podcasts, other seasons of Step by Step as well as our other podcast properties, including Visions and Archetypes and the Infinite Shelf podcast, and of course none other than the Future Commerce podcast, you can find all of that at FutureCommerce.com. We provide insights in your inbox too, twice a week. That's on Wednesday and Friday. The best of what you need to know in predicting the future of retail and eCommerce. You can find that at FutureCommerce.com/Subscribe. We're so proud to have partnered with Adobe. Thank you so much to Adobe for their support and thank you so much for listening to this season of Step by Step.

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