Step by Step S09 E01
October 31, 2022

[Step by Step] The Open Source Business

Open Source isn’t dead, actually, it’s never been more alive. We’re in the ninth season of Step by Step and this season, we’re exploring the question, “is open source still viable for the modern business?” We think the answer is yes, but getting to the solution requires the business operator to do a cost-benefit analysis, manage complexity and budget, and choose the correct software to set their team up for success. In this first episode, Ben Marks, Director of Global Market Development at Shopware joins the show to talk about the Open Source Business about why open source isn’t dead.

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this episode sponsored by

Open Source Isn’t Dead

  • Put simply, open source is just collaboration in the open.
  • Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s open source and just because it’s open source doesn’t mean it’s free.
  • The startup capital is minimal and the opportunities are abundant, making open source really appealing.
  • People misconceive SaaS software to be the easy option, but they fail to think through the learning curve, necessary level of customization, and architecture that’s required, which can make SaaS options more expensive depending on your business type.
  • Is open source still viable for commerce?
  • The beauty of open source is the ability to differentiate based upon your business’s needs.

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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: [00:00:42] I'm Phillip and this is Season 9 of Step by Step. That's right. We've done like 45 episodes of this, Brian. Somehow a lot of podcasts fade after less than 40 episodes in total. This is our ninth season of a special quarterly series and I'm pretty pumped for it.

Brian: [00:00:58] Me too. This might be the best season.

Phillip: [00:01:03] Yeah, maybe. Maybe the best. Probably. Certainly one of the more tactical ones that we've ever done. And this is the first episode of its kind and sort of this era of us questioning, "Is the SaaS revolution over?" Question mark? So this is going to be an amazing five-part series. This is Episode 1 of this ninth season of Step by Step. And in this five-part series, we're going to talk to experts and veteran eCommerce builders from around the world who have varied perspectives and opinions that come from their years and years of software implementation of creating scores of stores at various scales and on various eCommerce stacks. That's right. We're going to ask the question, "Is open source still viable for the modern business?" Brian?

Brian: [00:01:51] I think the answer is yes. But what are the benefits and risks associated with building on open source? And you're going to be asking yourself questions through this like, "How do I manage complexity and budget in my organization?" "How do I become a valuable contributor and resource to the software communities that power my business?" And we're going to ask how our guests actually choose software well and set up your team for success.

Phillip: [00:02:21] Yeah, at the end of the day, you can have the right team and the wrong product, right? You can have the right product, but the wrong team. And when magic happens, you have both. And so understanding the maturity of your business and understanding the maturity of your partners and selecting those things well is the job. That's your job. So in this season, we're going to dive into it. In this first episode, we're going to get right into it. And yeah, you know what? I'm just going to say it right up front. This season is sponsored by Shopeware, and you're going to get some perspective of a company who still believes that deployed software and open source is right for the modern enterprise. And so we're going to get deep into that here in this very first episode with Ben Marks here in just a moment. But who is this podcast for, Brian?

Brian: [00:03:07] CTOs, CDOs, CIOs, and anyone that was looking to wrestle back control of their business tech from the CMO or other parts of the organization who have weathered away your digital uniqueness by cramming your business model into the confines of a SaaS platform.

Phillip: [00:03:26] Somebody wrote that and it was really smart when they wrote it. If you feel like all of that stuff that makes you unique is gone and you blame the CMO for it, this is the podcast for you. {laughter} If you're a software buyer in B2B or maybe even B2C or B2B2C, and you maybe you feel constrained by things like development costs or the complexity of your business, or if you struggle with just sizing up platforms and vendors and agencies and developers, oh my, this is the podcast for you because we're going to help you figure out how to buy business software well. It's going to be a great listen. So what we're going to do is we're going to get right into it. Without any further ado, we're going to join Mr. Ben Marks from Shopware, as he teaches us how you can build an open source business Step by Step. We are kicking off this series of Step by Step with a big question and one that I think has a number of answers. We're going to go deep in this season of Step by Step, talking about the role of open source in the business of commerce. And I couldn't think of anyone better to partner with than our friends at Shopware and in particular, Mr. Ben Marks. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for partnering with us this season on Step by Step. Tell the folks what it is you do over there at Shopware.

Ben Marks: [00:04:47] Well, thank you, Phillip. Happy to be a part of Step by Step this season and have enjoyed all the engagements so far with the Future Commerce team. My job at Shopware right now is to help make the wider world outside, especially Europe, where that Shopware is here is a market leader, in fact. We just learned we took the top 1000 spot away from Adobe Commerce in Germany, which is our home turf.

Phillip: [00:05:16] Congratulations.

Brian: [00:05:17] Wow.

Phillip: [00:05:18] Yeah.

Ben Marks: [00:05:18] Yeah. Thank you. I was not expecting that. But the news kind of hit earlier this week. I was pretty proud to see it. But it just goes to show that this industry is always in flux. And new solutions or new solutions to new markets are always on the rise. And that is certainly the case for Shopware so we're hoping to bring our brand of open source, open commerce, to the masses in the US and beyond.

Brian: [00:05:45] Open commerce, open business. 

Ben Marks: [00:05:48] Open business.

Brian: [00:05:49] So open source is alive and well.

Phillip: [00:05:55] Well, let's ask the question very directly. I've heard this for a couple of years now. Is open source dead, number one, or in the control of just a handful of very large organizations? And number two is open source dead in the commerce business in particular?

Ben Marks: [00:06:13] Yeah... No. Next question. The thing is open source... Is it alive? Is it dead? No one controls that. Open source exists. Exists on its own. Two people can get together and decide to work on something together, or one person can do it as long as they're putting it out there. And ideally with maybe some rules of engagement around the code itself then that's open source. [00:06:51] That spirit is always there. Open source is really just collaboration in the open. [00:06:56] And sometimes it's a collaboration of one. I can release 100 open source, well, if I still developed, I could release 100 open source packages tomorrow. And if anyone chooses to engage with them, well, that's when you get some momentum. That's when you get some scale of open source. And most importantly, the brilliance of open source is that people opt into it when they're engaging at the contribution level, whether it's code or documentation, or anything else. But they opt into it. And when they opt into it, they're generally bringing in a set of experiences. So there's a bit of like a forcing function or filter there that got them involved in the first place. And they're bringing in some expertise or they're bringing in even some naivety. I mean, when I used to do the Magento developer trainings around the world, we'd have some very junior people coming in. But I tell you what, if you ever want to be fascinated by just the capacity for humans to see a problem from a different angle, get a new person involved in a project and have them ask "a dumb question." Personally, for me, the only dumb question is the one that is never asked. But someone might ask a very simple question and for me, those were some of my favorites because there's always a chance to really dive in and learn and even experienced people can take that perspective and it causes them to kind of turn their beliefs on their head. At the very least, they're going to have to reevaluate their understanding of the topic at hand. There's a lot of just elegance, even at the periphery that's inherent in collaboration. And collaboration, I think is at the heart of open source.

Phillip: [00:08:46]  [00:08:46]Wherever collaboration exists, the opportunity for the application of open source exists to further the business. And I love what you just said, Ben, in that approaching things from sort of a new fresh set of eyes often provides us with context on why it is we do the things we do [00:09:09]. How is Shopware creating the opportunity for new people to enter the open source ecosystem today? I think that that's a clear opportunity to create the next generation of folks who will steward and take control over the things that we've built and put out into the world. What is Shopware doing to help activate that?

Ben Marks: [00:09:34] I think there's always more we can do to lower the right bars or dress up or further unlock the front doors. Just putting out the welcome mat and making people aware that this exists. I think I have a little bit of a generational blinder here because open source as a term grew out of the Free Software Foundation because there was a need at the time, this is some decades ago. But what the people behind it realized was that there's function and then there's the business of the function. The function was, hey, open collaboration, open engagement, how can we put stuff out there? How can we put terms around it, i.e. licensing that allows us to remain open and that forces or at least encourages contribution? But at the time that was tightly coupled with free. Free software. And so they wanted to really sort of expand the menu. So just because something is open source does not mean it's free and I guess maybe vice versa, although I can't imagine. It seems like an academic point. But what we do at Shopware is we have a team of community engagement folk who've been in the business for a while and actually even one of the women that work for us in this space is also still part of a trade association in Germany that's also facilitating things in the Magento ecosystem. So there's a crossover. The nice thing about minimizing, not eliminating, but minimizing some of the commercial aspects of the business is that it frees you up to really engage in the reality of the business at hand which is that these days many of the agencies I encounter, they're working with multiple platforms and especially in the eCommerce space. I mean, if you have eCommerce experience, you can jump over to another platform and you're going to have to learn the conventions of the platform, but you're going to be bringing in the most important thing, which is kind of the userland concerns, and that is someone who's done training for so many years, especially of developers, you could teach them the fundamentals of development, You could teach them the fundamentals of a framework or an application. But then you also, if you really want them to be billable and productive and effective and get them on their career, you really have to teach them about eCommerce, because effectively every developer in eCommerce is a product owner of some sort. They really need to say they're basically the last line of defense to say, "Hey, did we do requirements discovery right? Did we think about do we need to build this feature from scratch, or can we combine two existing features or facets of this framework together and just say you've got the data you need to provide the options to this part of the suite over here? So why don't we just kind of roll them up and combine them together?" I'm not going to say when I was a Director of Development at Blue Acorn back in the day, I'd love to say that we never built a feature that kind of actually already existed, but we did. And then that's actually true. I've heard that story. I've shared that story with a lot of people who've said, yes, the same has happened. But making sure that people have access... Well, this has been assured by the proliferation of especially GitHub as a social interaction, essentially the social engagement side of open source, code exchange. And then of course, as you get into the business, you've got all the ways that you can warehouse your code, deploy your code and engage in coding and then even bring people in from coding camps, give people some exposure to the code, show them how people interact, how people get involved in the exchange of things. I mean, it's really just making sure that, from our developer, our community engagement team, that we're showing them here are the places where you can go to find other people working in this space and we can give them some quick starts on, I think we have some materials out there that just show you where to find this stuff. And you ideally consume some of this, pay attention, and then participate. But then you also have these really free, more generalist forums like Stack Exchange or especially Stack Overflow, where you get to ask and answer questions. And these are always adjacent to coding communities, often open source coding, coding communities. But the nice thing is the startup capital is minimal and the opportunities are abundant. Again, that's what makes the opportunity of open source, especially such an appealing thing.

Brian: [00:14:45] It's so funny because people talk about SaaS software as the easy up, like the thing that doesn't require as much ramp. But the reality is even with SaaS software, there is a level of learning and a level of customization, and a level of architecture that's required. And if it's boxed in, it can actually get more expensive depending on your business type.

Phillip: [00:15:15] Can I add one thing before Ben jumps in? Sorry.

Ben Marks: [00:15:18] Sure.

Phillip: [00:15:19] You're my guest and I'm going to talk over top of you. Apologies.

Ben Marks: [00:15:20] Please. Always.

Phillip: [00:15:24] I almost think that there are layers here and sort of the way that civilizations have been built. And Brian, you know I've been talking about this. 

Brian: [00:15:33] {laughter} Yes. 

Phillip: [00:15:33] Let's talk about it outside the realm of software. It's that we now have what we didn't have 15, 20 years ago, where we were just making standalone pieces of software with their own conventions that reinvented a lot of wheels. We didn't have infrastructure that helped cities to persist without, the proliferation of plague. So we had like no sewer system in the world of code and commerce. But now we do. And but that's...

Ben Marks: [00:16:00] {laughter} Show title.

Phillip: [00:16:00] Effectively. And what, Ben, you've described is platforms for knowledge exchange. So we can share learnings and share knowledge and we have a historical archive going back now almost two decades of how to solve certain patterns, to the point that people have made jokes about how you can sort of copy-paste your way into a developer job because a lot of micro problems have been solved along the way. It's the way you stack the Lego bricks that really matters at the end of the day. SaaS abstracts you away from understanding how everything works, and eventually, if the sewer line breaks, somebody needs to understand how to fix the sewer. And so when you have GitHub, you have Stack Overflow, you have these forums for people to collaborate, we're creating an actual civilization of knowledge and a base of knowledge on which we build on top of. And that's why the challenges today are very different than what they were 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago we had to build everything. We had to build the foundations. Today we get to really worry about the drapes and the curtains because they're the things that actually create the differentiation in the ecosystem. If you're only worried about the underlying platform and you're only building on the underlying platform, you're not actually creating anything that's differentiated. That's the definition of commodity. Ben, I'm curious what you think about making that analogy of...

Brian: [00:17:26] Of eCommerce to the sewer system.

Ben Marks: [00:17:29] So I mean, I'll invoke a programming term. That was a dizzying array of metaphor. I don't know whether to run with sort of general civil progress, civil engineering, specifically sewers, or interior decorating. I have a plethora of choices.

Phillip: [00:17:45] You can choose a bunch.

Ben Marks: [00:17:46] I love this space and I love especially open source because it's all about options. So I often have these conversations maybe because I start them rather than other people wanting me to pontificate on it. But I like the ecosystem of eCommerce platforms. If we look at this marketplace of eCommerce platforms, to my way of thinking, you have a continuum of solutions, so you have very, very prescriptive SaaS environments. Those come with plenty of advantages depending on your needs today and your needs tomorrow. You have completely bespoke just from scratch, 100% total, never been seen before systems. And then as you start to slide towards the middle on either end, you've got like let's take Shopify as the obvious SaaS example. Then if you go... I'm going to say they're towards the right because that's the hand I've been holding up. This is not a political assessment at all. And then as you slide towards the center, you've got like BigCommerce as a SaaS at their core. So there is the black box there but they index heavily on what they call open SaaS and customization. I really, really like that approach. And for me actually, I kind of see them as... I haven't checked if this is okay with them, but I see them as a close cousin to Shopware, and basically, if we imagine that continuum, they're on the right side, they're right of center. We're left of center on the customization side. I'm sorry, on the open source side because we go one step further. I'm not saying it's a better step because there is no good or bad on this continuum. What is good or bad on the continuum only matters in the context of individual requirements for a merchant. And so for us, we index, of course on customization as well, but we give you the power to completely customize everything. Now, where does this, to your original question, Brian, which feels like it was about 20 minutes ago, but I'm going to try and take a stab at it. It can be an advantage. I mean, and even as a developer starting out, I could even see a case where they say, "Oh, I want to get going. I've learned a little bit maybe about front-end development or I'm kind of getting into APIs and I'm figuring this stuff out and I'm figuring out the ecosystem of platform extension customization, customization of backend of ops, and then customization of front-end. You can get going there without having to worry a whole, whole lot about infrastructure. So I could even see that as an appealing way to kind of level up your development chops within those within those gardens and become familiar with the challenges and triumphs. Probably more of the former when it comes to eCommerce. And then as you start to advance and if you go up, if you choose to go up into more and more complex requirements, that's when you really start to see the benefit of more platforms that index more and more on openness. And [00:21:11] if you go sort of towards the left of Shopware you end up with pure functional endpoints, you end up with the commerce tools of the world. So I've kind of surrounded us by the competitors that I like to have. We may not always compete in terms of ideal customer profile or size, but I like the solutions that index on openness. Again, this is not a slight against more opinionated, more black box applications. It's really just a matter of making sure that you're choosing the right thing for you. And sometimes that means abstraction or removing the concerns of DevOps and all this other stuff is a good thing. Sometimes it means we need more control, we need insight, and we really need to get down into the guts of this thing and customize it. [00:22:05]

Brian: [00:23:07] I really like this because I feel like you're dispelling some of the myths by placing where open source belongs in that spectrum. We talked a lot about a lot of myths actually at the beginning. We've kind of covered them one by one without even calling them myths about open source software. But I feel like you've sort of identified where it belongs and why you would use it versus something else. I think that's one of the biggest challenges, is people don't understand. It has its specific place in the world and that's what you just called it.

Phillip: [00:23:48] Well, it has more places than just the shopping cart platform.

Brian: [00:23:53] Yes. So true. 

Phillip: [00:23:53] And that's the next part of the discussion really when you're asking, "Is open source still viable for commerce?" There are more point solutions today, and we'll get into this later in the series. There are more point solutions today that make commerce work than ever before. It used to be you had a shopping cart and that was it. Now it's shopping cart, PIM, CDP, OMS... 

Brian: [00:24:16] CRM.

Ben Marks: [00:24:16] Well, as things mature, each one of these systems is increasingly expanding their scope. I remember Meet Magento New York in like 2015 running across some AI/ML search intelligence search vendors. And it was still relatively new, but now it's pretty much standard. If you're relying on your platform's native database-bound search capability, you are underperforming. I mean, and that's not a slight on the platforms. And again, a caveat there, if it's Shopify, well, great. The SaaS vendors, at least have the advantage of they have all the data and they have these kinds of crosscutting insights. But in general, yeah, you want some kind of intelligent search solution. So we see these kinds of changes happening.

Phillip: [00:25:15] This is the challenge of speaking in the abstract, and I'd love to get even more detailed. But the opportunity that I see is maybe not as great in TAM, like the Total Addressable Market of can we capture all of commerce in creating an open platform? Which has definitely been the charter of some platforms in the ecosystem over the years. But rather than trying to be all things to all commerce applications or industries, what if we just created a platform that was really, really good at focusing on one segment of the market that really needs that? That's what I'm hearing you say. And to some degree that shows a lot of maturity in business applications. Rather than trying to have one generalized application for everything. Yes, I see you coming in, Brian, one second. Rather than having a whole... It turns into suites of tools that are meant for certain parts of the market. Go ahead.

Brian: [00:26:25] So in other words, Ben, is Shopware a Swiss army knife or a pickax?

Phillip: [00:26:31] Oh God, that's a reference.

Brian: [00:26:32] That was a reference. That was an inside joke. Sorry.

Ben Marks: [00:26:36] And are the rebels wielding it or not? Boy, some really nerdy eCommerce legacy stuff here. 

Brian: [00:26:43] That was a lot of legacy there. 

Ben Marks: [00:26:44] I'd say [00:26:47] Shopware is the person wielding the tools and whether the person's wielding the Swiss army knife or the pickax, the main point is the person has the choice and the person can combine the tools he needs, but basically, the person can find the right tools, the right solutions. [00:27:06] Now, what we're seeing in this latest iteration of the business, for a long time, it was like the one platform to do everything. And then people quickly realized that eCommerce is tough enough without, as you scale, as you deep dive into different areas, those become specialties unto themselves, and vendors have bubbled up to the top. You've got Akeneo and PIM, and you've got digital and customer engagement platforms. These businesses specialize. And at some point, you have the basic functionality in the application and that's going to satisfy, that's going to be maybe enough for the lowest level of user. Not a pejorative there, but like the small office or very medium-sized business. But as they start to grow and as this market continues, and as the practice of eCommerce continues to mature, people rapidly, even new entrepreneurs, new successful entrepreneurs, find that there are better tools out there. And if they're lucky enough to have found a niche where there is no competitor, well, guess what? The competitors probably coming for you. And so you need to constantly, even if you're not feeling the pressure, you need to put that pressure on yourself and be constantly looking for the right tools. And also considering the two dimensions. It's not just the right tools from the experience of the customer. It's also the right tool from the operators in the backend who have to deal with it. So really, it's about freedom. It's about the freedom to walk the path you need to walk. Back to the pickax-wielding metaphor, that person needs to be able to have the freedom of motion, the range of motion, and the freedom to choose the right solutions to take along with them.

Brian: [00:28:59] I do like that because I climbed some mountains last year and it's like, do you want your poles or your ice ax or do you need ropes or what do you need to get there? Having the freedom to pick from your pack is nice. I think you hit on something really, really important here, which is that the beauty of open source commerce is that you can differentiate. That's the place where I think there's a lot of struggle right now. A lot of businesses and a lot of merchants have hopped onto these standardized platforms and they're having a really hard time figuring out where and why they exist in the world and what their special place is.

Ben Marks: [00:29:51] Well, even kind of along that thought, how do you differentiate yourself? So if you're a Shopify merchant and especially if you're in a competitive category, you're going to differentiate yourself as much as you can with design. You're going to, of course, you've got other things kind of outside, but adjacent and kind of crossing over the dotted line into your stack, your marketing plans, your search engine optimization. It all kind of ties together. But you're going to customize also with integrations. You're going to find the right loyalty vendor to loyalty app to pull in, for example. But then you end up with this ecosystem of apps, right? And the thing is, again, the myth of SaaS is that it's simple, that it's cheap, and that you can sort of scale in any direction you want arbitrarily and sort of cross-link all of the sets of features and functionality. And the reality is as you start to do that and that's driven by business needs, whether it's what your customers want, what they expect, what your competitors are doing, you start to bind yourself into a context. And really what's happening at that point is what is touted maybe as a disadvantage of the more open platforms, you end up with the same problem there that you have that they would look down on the open platforms for when the open platforms were engineered for that from the beginning. So eCommerce is always a study in chaos from a platform perspective. We build functionality, but we build functionality to work for as wide a set of merchants, localities, verticals, volumes, whatever. But that's a really challenging thing to do and to do right. And at the end, with anything beyond the simplest set of requirements that can be solved in a two-hour instance configuration of a SaaS suite you're going to need to put in a lot of time and effort to actually get the experience that you want and one that is sustainable. But all of this is why I like open source and this is where we've taken open source and kind of promoted it up to this business level idea of open commerce, and Shopware is not the only one talking about this term. It's not an industry recognized term, but it's the idea that if you're starting open, like fundamentally at an architectural level, and that is what a whole company is built around, which we are and I know some others are, you're really just saying we're building our software in this open, aspirational way, and we're going to turn it loose on to the professionals that are going to carry it the last mile. It's also a really big challenge for platforms like us because our reputation is only as good as how well we empower and engage the agencies and the tech partners that we work with. Because at the end of the day, the complete solution involves them. We write, and we produce really great software, but the kinds of merchants that we're going after are not going to pluck our software off the virtual shelf and just spin up the instance and go. They're choosing us because they need that customization to make the difference for their customers and for their operators and that I think is more honest... Across the space, it's a much more realistic approach. Basically what we do is enable people to address the chaos in pockets. And that way, from a total industry perspective, what we build, we have no idea how it's going to be deployed and used. In fact, that's one of the joys in our work is finding another Shopware domain op out there and going through it and going, "Wow they strung those things together. Look what they did to that customer journey. Never seen that before." We couldn't possibly imagine it. All we can do is enable someone else to build it for the people who know that that's what they need.

Brian: [00:34:21] Open hearts, open minds, open business. {laughter}

Ben Marks: [00:34:24] Oh man, Kumbaya.

Phillip: [00:34:26] There's an ethos that has created the original open source movement that I think we've all sort of bought into as a factor of choosing free labor, open source software. At its core, yes, it's free. Open source is not free.

Ben Marks: [00:34:48] What have I always said? Free software can be some of the most expensive software you invest in.

Phillip: [00:34:54] Yeah, it's true. And what's funny about the way that we tend to talk about it, maybe even romanticize the space a bit is that it's really built on the contributions of real people. But those people are generally, today, it's not that they're philanthropists with their time. Today, it's usually organizations that are creating and contributing this and putting it out into the world for free consumption and for others to build upon. So really open source is now at the stewardship of large organizations in the way that maybe other organizations that exist in the world that sort of act as a check and balance on commercialism, also behave. To some degree then, open source is a form of almost corporate philanthropy to say we're enabling, not philanthropy in like the sense of giving toward a cause, but maybe more towards we are all progressing together and pushing forward together in a concerted effort.

Brian: [00:35:56] And something that's really interesting about it is it's always unfinished. It is never done.

Ben Marks: [00:36:04] We're never going to solve eCommerce. We're never going to go like, "Last commit. Boom, problem solved."

Brian: [00:36:09] Right. [00:36:09] It's not complete like a piece of SaaS software would be. It's always going to have open ends and loose bits that need to be built on and then added to and that is part of the ethos of open source is always build. [00:36:28]

Phillip: [00:36:28] Like a state of undoneness. Really. Yeah.

Brian: [00:36:30] Yes.

Ben Marks: [00:36:31] Yeah. Well I mean and again, it is a more realistic representation of the realities of things than a closed application vendor who's like, "Hey, we've got the solution for this space." Now there are some problem domains where it's like this is a pretty narrowly bound set of requirements in that there's not a whole lot of variability there. So whether it's like the in-flight entertainment systems of commercial aircraft or embedded systems for hardware or whatever, that I think is a less arbitrarily variable. As one of my favorite phrases to describe this business, it's a less arbitrarily variable problem domain than eCommerce. But I mean, let's also just look at if you take so open source, and the least interesting thing about open source is the code. It really is about the spirit of forward progress, the collaboration to dig into the ever, ever-evolving dark corners, light corners, happy paths, and unhappy paths. And if you look at what you know Matt Acey, formerly Adobe and AWS Cloud, and now at Mongo. They did a look when he was at AWS they actually just wanted to check and see who was contributing. Who are these open source computers out there? And they found institutionally, some of the Fortune 50 companies, huge contributions to open source tooling. And if you look at the other players in the eCommerce space, even on the SaaS side of things. So it's obvious, your Adobes and your Shopwares and some of these other platforms... Of course, we're open source so we're out there. That's obvious. But every one of the other, let's say the two major SaaS players: Shopify and BigCommerce. Both of them maintain curated open source presences. So Katie over there, who's the head of Dev Rel at BigCommerce, so you can go to, you can go look under her profile, you can find their contribution space for their open source initiatives. Shopify has, a collection of tools there and this is encouraging collaboration. I mean developers instinctively like this stuff because we hate repeated effort, repeated work, like duplication. And it's just nice if someone has solved a problem. I mean, it may not be the only way to solve that problem, so it doesn't mean just because a problem has been solved that a different way to solve that problem is any less valid. But if someone solved the problem and they're willing to contribute that solution either back to the core or as an integration or an add-on, well, guess what? You've now multiplied your effort, but also you end up with like the biggest product team, experienced product team in the world, because probably if someone solves a problem, they contribute it to some software's core or as an extension, they're bringing their experience to bear. I was actually showing someone earlier today and I tweeted it out. Do you remember that that graph is of like totals, calculations, sort order?

Phillip: [00:40:02] Yes. Yeah.

Ben Marks: [00:40:03] It looked like someone threw up black spaghetti on paper. And it was really just looking at in terms of how you calculate totals, do you calculate tax inclusive of shipping or exclusive? Well, it depends on the market. And so you have to have a way both to allow for custom totals. But then you also have to have a way to allow them to sort out and maybe sort out variably depending on the scope of the site, that's like, "Oh, the site in the US? No, tax is not inclusive of shipping." Go down to Australia. I think that's where it was inclusive. It's all of these, all of these kinds of problems. But if you have someone who figures something out, either solves an actual issue or a bug or they say this is a better way of doing this, you can grab this module or this patch here and it'll fix your problems. They might be an expert in that domain. And then by including their expertise, basically their expertise by proxy via code... Awesome. And then if they want to document it, if they want to talk about it, if they want to go to a conference and speak about it, if they want to be participants in some ecosystem's chat and help other developers with this, well look, that's another dimension of contribution that has a material impact and an impact beyond just one developer contributing code to one project that they're working on. That is an inherent force for good as long as you have the curational component in place, so sometimes you need to help. There can be such a volume of contribution that you have to have someone saying, "Hey, this is good, this is bad, this needs help. It's almost there. But you need to cover it with tests or whatever," or "Hey, what you've written here is insightful. But we actually took what you wrote, chatted about it with the architects, and we'd like you to correct it in this way." But making sure that the story is accurate and that it's applicable and that we're indexing on solving the problems of this domain, making sure that that we're not leaving things worse off with the solutions that we put in place.

Phillip: [00:42:21] It's like everybody's charter in business is to I guess leave it nicer than you found it. Leave it better than you found it. I do think that there is, sort of coming back to this idea one more time, and this has just been such a great conversation here. We're going to look at a number of themes over the next few episodes, and we're going to get into some detail about how to put this into practice. We've made the case that open source is absolutely still alive. We've talked about open commerce. In the next episode, we're going to sit down with Sander Mangel from your team and we're going to talk about how it takes a community to build and deliver on all of these ideals. We're going to cover budgeting and we're going to cover managing complexity in the organization. What are your thoughts around those three things and how interdependent are they? How do we organize community for benefit and for good, both to improve the commercial efforts of Shopware? And then how do we manage the complexity that comes along with that? Because that sounds like probably the hardest way to go about it with software development.

Ben Marks: [00:43:32] There's a whole great series of professionals representing sort of different personalities in this whole chain of taking a platform and making it matter and ultimately letting people buy and sell stuff in the best way possible. So yeah, inherent in any successful open source ecosystem and particularly in open commerce, is that community of professionals and again, not just coders but the solution specialists, the ones who really understand what the mental map of the software, how the opinions that it has, how those can be changed, extended, modified, stretched, what the limitations are inherent in those and then as you get into like budgeting and complexity, which I tend to like to put together because they can be pretty inherent. I would say [00:44:26] the very first step there is finding the right platform because the level of complexity of your project really is going to dictate the platforms that you choose because you really need to choose platforms that handle that complexity. [00:44:42] Your needs may not be terribly complex. You've got a product that comes in five colors with high margins. Shopify is your pony. But generally what we've all seen time and again is there's always some issue of scale, so as a business starts to scale, whether it's immediately or over time, I mean, it could be just as simple as like, "Hey, we've picked the right platform two years ago, but now it's starting to fall over because we have this huge order history and in some contexts, the system really slows down," and that's usually on the operational end. Or maybe over time, your catalog grows from several hundred thousand products to several million products. So we know Shopware out of the box does really well, really well, up to about 5 million products. But then as you scale over that, you probably have other entities that are scaling as well. And then things like indexing become a challenge. We actively look into this so that we're always able to offer heads-up advice to our customers, whether they be agencies or the end customer. But thinking about the complexity that you've opted into just as a matter of the business that you've chosen and the volume that you're doing, finding your way to the right platform, that's picking the right trail to walk. But really it comes down to looking at that. Now the platforms are not doing anyone any favors. And this includes us in terms of our messaging because you've got people talking about architecture as though it's the first-class participant in this thing. But when you have a merchant walking in saying, "I need headless," "I need PWA," "I need microservices," any legitimate participant on the service provider side of this or this platform agency, whatever, their next question should always be, "What do you think you mean by that?" Because really what we want is for merchants to think about what are your problems. What are you solving for your customers and for your store ops?

Phillip: [00:46:58] Right. 

Ben Marks: [00:46:58] And then we can come and say, "Oh, hey, you know what? Oh, wow. That's big. And you're at a certain scale, pretty high scale, a couple of hundred million more GMV. You're probably going to want to go with maybe a micro-service solution. You're really going to be tailor-made. You're probably going to be a good bit out from delivering it, but that's going to allow you the flexibility and control that you need." Or you find a middle-of-the-road solution. You find a nice open platform, open commerce platform where we've got more opinions, we've got more of that turnkey solution, but it's designed for extensibility customization.

Brian: [00:47:32] Back to your original point here. It's not a Swiss Army knife. It's a Swiss Army Man. Thanks, Daniel Radcliffe. {laughter}

Ben Marks: [00:47:43] Swiss Army Man.

Phillip: [00:47:45] Let's pull this back to the original point, which is we came in with this question of is open source dead. I think we definitely answered. Open source is not dead. We also covered open source is more than just your shopping cart, to use a sort of a crude term. It's beyond just the platform that runs a catalog and allows a customer to purchase. It's in a lot of places in your organization. But it sounds like, Ben, you gave us some pretty good advice on it's not how you purchase and buy open source software that matters. It's more about how you are solving customer problems and whether the software decisions that you make in your organization are tailor-made and fit for the problem you're trying to solve. And in that way, it sounds like we have a really good basis on which to build this whole series because I think that if you are listening to this, your role in your organization likely depends, and the health of your organization depends on making the right choices and making the right investments, not just in products, but the people that power them and having the right vision and mission to back it up. Because at the end of the day, we serve our customers. I'll give you the last word, Ben. What are your last and final thoughts on this topic?

Ben Marks: [00:49:08] Thank you. That's a pretty good summation. I mean, just look objectively at any platform you're evaluating or your agency is evaluating. Ideally, find an agency that knows more than one platform when you're trying to make these decisions. But really where I think open source is a factor that you should care about is it's really about collaboration. And open source tends to involve collaboration as a first-class citizen and that bubbles up to us as a company. We're more than happy to help people talk through and evaluate platform decisions, even if we, Shopware, are not in the running. I'm happy to have a conversation with a merchant based on my experience. Because really at the end of the day, for every platform, all we should care about is making sure that the right merchants make it to the right platform. There's plenty of money, there's plenty of opportunity in this business, If we are caring about the customers in this space, our common customers in this space that's the best that we can do to make sure that we're putting all of our effort and all of our resources and pushing this thing forward at the speed and in the direction that it needs to go. And that would be in some ways I'd put that challenge out there to the other platforms as well. I would say you all can do the same because we all come at this stuff, this problem from a different perspective. None of us are right, and none of us are wrong. We're just different. And together we can make a pretty good ecosystem in total for the merchants out there.

Phillip: [00:50:43] Ben Marks, thank you so much, as always.

Brian: [00:50:45] Thank you, Ben. So good.

Ben Marks: [00:50:46] Cheers, guys.

Phillip: [00:50:50] Thank you so much to Shopware for making this season of Step by Step possible. I am a firm believer that there is still benefit to building on open ground and that the future of commerce is open. Open commerce will power the future, whether you are a small business or you're an enterprise. The underpinnings of much of our ecosystem depend on the contributions of people and communities that are powered by open source. So thank you so much to Shopware for making this season possible. You can find more episodes of this podcast 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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