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Building a Global Software Company From Australia: Bigcommerce Co-Founder Mitch Harper (Part 3)

Posted on Thursday, Oct 2nd 2014

Sramana Mitra: Was there any geographical bias in the 2,000-customer base?

Mitch Harper: They were mainly from North America and Australia.

Sramana Mitra: Why were they pre-ordering? Why were they interested in your product? This is a segue into the discussion about your competitive landscape. There are a few players in that space. There is Volution, Magento, and Shopify. When you were starting out in 2008, what exactly was the competitive landscape? How were you positioning, and what is it that these 2,000 customers, who pre-ordered, found attractive?

Mitch Harper: We were the first company to build such a feature-rich commerce platform while soliciting feedback in real-time. None of our competition has been soliciting feedback and integrating that into the product in real-time, as it was being built. Our customers had a huge feeling of ownership over how the software was built and which features were added. I think that was a huge part of it.

Back in 2008 and 2009 when it was being built, most of our competitors weren’t around. They started around the same time that we did. There was a huge opportunity in the market and a big gap where you had to use something very ugly like osCommerce or X-Cart, which were tools that were popular back then, or you had to use something from IBM, which cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was not a great SaaS offering for small businesses.

We really stood out because we were bringing customer feedback in, iterating so quickly, and obviously, solving a really big pain point. A lot of our Interspire customers told us, “We like your shopping cart products, but you need to host it for us. We don’t want to do the upgrade. We don’t know technology. Please host it for us.” We had thousands of customers ready to pay from the Interspire side of the business before we even built. That was another part of it.

Sramana Mitra: You have this base of people who you communicate via email who are already familiar with your products.

Mitch Harper: It was customer-led.

Sramana Mitra: It was leveraging your install base from the previous business.

Mitch Harper: Yes. We’d also use content marketing when we were building the Interspire blog. We had 250,000 people on our email list. That gave us huge leverage. They were web designers, business owners, and Internet marketers. While building the product, we’d email them about the blog. That would drive more traffic to the blog and it would keep compounding. People would join our email list. All this led to more pre-orders. It was essentially the perfect storm and it started with really good content and being transparent.

Sramana Mitra: What was the situation with Magento at that time when you were getting started?

Mitch Harper: I think Magento had launched about a year or two before Bigcommerce. It was just the community edition back then. It wasn’t the SaaS offering which they obviously just shut down and gave us all of their customers.

Sramana Mitra: What about Shopify?

Mitch Harper: They launched a few years before around 2006.

Sramana Mitra: Did you consider them as your competitor at that time?

Mitch Harper: No, we didn’t.

Sramana Mitra: Why is that?

Mitch Harper: We were focusing more on what we call fast-growth brands. The majority of Shopify’s clients at the moment include companies that were starting from scratch, had no product, no team, and no revenue.

Sramana Mitra: You’re saying that you’re a perfect solution for a company that is slightly more advanced or further along in their business cycle, whereas Shopify is working with the very small merchants?

Mitch Harper: That’s right.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Building a Global Software Company From Australia: Bigcommerce Co-Founder Mitch Harper
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