It’s become somewhat of a rite of passage for entrepreneurs to work in their basements when starting companies. The co-founders of Bold Commerce flaunt this familiar founding story on their website, where they feature images of not one, but the three different basements they rotated between in the early days of the retail technology company.
Jay Myers and his co-founders Stefan Maynard, Eric Boisjoli, and Yvan Boisjoli launched Bold Commerce’s first app, Product Upsell, to the Shopify App Store in 2012. The app had a simple premise: make it easy for Shopify store owners to offer product upgrades or complementary products to shoppers. The app saw immediate success and the owner of the App Store at the time told them he’d never seen an app like it for Shopify. They quickly moved to their next app, Product Discount. Within 10 months of Bold Commerce’s foray into Shopify apps, they graduated from their basements and moved into Bold Commerce’s first office space.
Nearly a decade later, Bold Commerce is still building specialized ecommerce applications, but on a much larger scale. The company currently works with 90k+ direct-to-consumer brands and retailers, and has pioneered the concept of “headless checkout” so that commerce can happen on any digital platform, not just ecommerce stores. Household names like Vera Bradley, Staples Canada and Pepsi’s Game Fuel have turned to Bold Commerce to introduce custom checkouts across channels as commerce collides with the rest of the digital world.
We sat down with Myers to talk about the pivotal moments in Bold Commerce’s growth, including its most recent milestone — powering subscriptions and membership programs for 20,000 brands.
Grit Daily: Can you talk about some of the business decisions you made early on that have laid the groundwork for Bold Commerce’s rapid growth?
Jay Myers: Bold Commerce, like many businesses, started out as a fun idea that exploded into “this might really make some money”. When we saw the potential for the company, we had to decide what kind of business we wanted to be: a lifestyle business or a high-growth company. A lifestyle business would mean we would hire the fewest people possible and find ways to maximize profits. High-growth meant we would put 100% back into the company. We decided to focus on growth, which has laid the foundation for every business decision we’ve made since.
Once we started to grow, we learned we had to shift how we made decisions. Instead of choices that simply made more money, we focused on decisions that built a valuable company for the long term. It’s important to know the difference.
We often joke that we could take our development team out to mow grass and that would make money. So why don’t we do that? The obvious reason, of course, is that it doesn’t have anything to do with our business. When growing a business, it’s often a lot harder to differentiate what actions are actually building the value of the company, and what is simply making money.
When we look at projects and other opportunities clients come to us with, we have to look at their impact on the value of our company.
Grit Daily: There must have been different phases, from getting the first one or two brands to try your apps, to hitting 90k brands. Can you talk about what the pivotal moments are for other startups that are looking to hit critical adoption of their technology?
Jay Myers: You can’t undervalue the importance of product-market fit, which is where critical adoption of any technology starts. Many companies think they have it, when in reality they’re not actually satisfying a strong market demand. Instead, they are simply convincing people that they need their product. With enough marketing dollars and sales efforts, you can grow without great product-market fit, but eventually it leads to unsatisfied customers, faster churn, and room for a competitor to swoop in and take your customers.
In order to build a product that fits a need in the market, companies must listen to only 10% of their customers. That’s right — they need to forget 90% of their customer base and pay attention to the segment of users that can’t live without their product. Focus on the super users. Those people that would pay more for your product if they could. It’s not possible to make everyone happy, so a company’s focus should be on making its best customers happy, and then finding more customers like them.
Grit Daily: It’s impossible to make every customer happy, but I’m sure that there was a time where you tried to.
Jay Myers: Definitely — at one point we had 36 products at Bold. We had listened to a few people that were bringing forward problems that many others didn’t have, and we ended up with far too many products that didn’t meet the majority of retailers’ needs. We now have 17 products, which we continue to evolve to meet needs based on what our ideal customers say — not edge cases or what we think retailers should need. We recently launched the second version of Bold Subscriptions, which we specifically created for developers, and it’s enabled our partners to create some truly amazing subscription programs, such as Metabolic Meals and Sitka Salmon.
Grit Daily: Subscription businesses are having a moment right now. Why are businesses across industries suddenly jumping on the subscription bandwagon?
Jay Myers: A brand is losing customers with every passing year that it doesn’t offer subscriptions. Consumers’ mindsets have shifted to expect subscriptions from brands. If a brand they like doesn’t offer a subscription, they might jump ship. And once a customer leaves for another brand, it’s much harder to get them back. That’s why companies like lululemon are looking to introduce strong membership programs, to compete with athletic wear subscription memberships that customers are flocking to, such as Fabletics and Yoga Club.
Subscriptions are also a win-win for both consumers and brands. Brands make more predictable revenue and increase their customers’ lifetime value. This allows them to spend a bit more to acquire them. Customers get more than just a product, they become a member of a like-minded community and unlock exclusive value-added benefits like promotions, events, access to industry thought leaders, and other creative offers.
All of this together has created the perfect storm to give subscriptions the current momentum they’re seeing.
Grit Daily: Bold Commerce recently hit a milestone — powering subscriptions and membership programs for 20,000 brands. Why are these brands coming to Bold specifically with their subscription programs?
Jay Myers: Our subscriptions product, Bold Subscriptions, is designed to let brands build a subscription experience anyway they want. They can build a subscription experience right out of the box in 60 seconds or create an experience that’s completely custom. Brands can tailor the front end customer experience and subscription offerings, as well as the back end customer portal, engaging consumers—from discovery and checkout all the way to unboxing—to maximize customer lifetime value. A customer’s subscription experience should happen anywhere now — SMS, voice technology, email, website — and we can support it everywhere. We’re even seeing large brands enabling subscriptions in-store with kiosks where you can add a subscription to your in-store purchase.
Grit Daily: Is it possible that consumers will ever get tired of subscriptions?
Jay Myers: We’re working directly with brands to combat just that. We call it subscription fatigue, meaning that after a few months customers get bored of a subscription and move to the next. The way to avoid this is by creating a membership bigger than the subscription itself that offers members more benefits than the product alone. This can be promotions and offers, access to new products, exclusive content, events, free shipping and more. When brands can stack all that additional value on a subscription, subscription fatigue never happens. Amazon Prime is a great example of a membership that goes beyond products. Even if you don’t order something for two months, you’ll likely still keep the subscription because there’s so much other value in a Prime membership.
Grit Daily: You guys talk about headless commerce a lot and it seems like everyone has a different definition of what this is. How do you define it?
Jay Myers: Headless commerce means separating the consumer-facing UI “head” from the backend of an ecommerce platform. By making commerce functionality, such as the checkout, independent from the platform, it’s now possible to innovate and transform any digital user experience into a unified transaction experience, and to essentially put a checkout anywhere. This means retailers are no longer limited to selling from a website, or held back by disconnected online and offline user experiences.
Grit Daily: Can you share some examples of the experiences that headless commerce enables?
Jay Myers: Headless commerce allows brands to create completely unique checkout experiences, anywhere. For example, when a repeat shopper on their phone is coming from social media to purchase a product, a one-click checkout would be the best fit because a long checkout experience might cause them to lose interest. Or a brand might want to offer customers a way to purchase products through voice-enabled assistants. A headless checkout makes this possible. Headless is the best solution for omnichannel retailers because they don’t want to offer the same exact checkout experience on each channel. Through headless commerce we’re enabling retailers to make more customer touchpoints shoppable, and create customized experiences on each of those channels that increase conversion and drive revenue.