Close to 20,000 brands use Shogun to build beautiful and totally customized pages for the ecommerce sites. Brands like K-Swiss, Timbuk2, MVMT Watches, Chubbies Shorts, Leesa Mattress, and so many more.
A lot of those same brands also leverage the speed and flexibility of a headless front-end. Recently Shogun launched Shogun Frontend, which is a Progressive Web App (PWA) tool that allows stores to build a LIGHTNING FAST headless front end that loads in sub-second speeds. In this episode we dive into exactly what a PWA is, why stores should consider it, and how it works within a headless architecture.
If you're a scaling ecommerce brand, this is an episode you won't want to miss!
Finbarr is the CEO & Co-Founder of Shogun and former software engineer at Y Combinator. He's a Scottish guy living in California and one of the first results on Google for Finbarr! Previously he's built two businesses, Shogun (a CMS and Headless PWA with thousands of paying customers) and a web development business he started when he was 18. He loves finding creative coding solutions, and has written code to process millions of dollars worth of orders at companies like Pebble, Groupon and Exec.
Jay: Finbarr, thank you so much for coming on our podcasts. I know you’re extremely busy and I really appreciate your time, so welcome here.
Finbarr: Thank you very much. Yes, I really appreciate the opportunity. Nice to be chatting with you again, Jay.
Jay: Finbarr, thank you so much for coming on our podcasts. I know you’re extremely busy and I really appreciate your time, so welcome here.
Finbarr: Thank you very much. Yes, I really appreciate the opportunity. Nice to be chatting with you again, Jay.
Jay: Why don’t we jump right into it; you’re the co-founder and CEO of Shogun. What is Shogun? Let’s start with that.
Finbarr: Absolutely. So Shogun has evolved a lot over the years. Originally, we started it in early 2015, and we started off the company as a page builder for any website. We were targeting Ruby on Rails initially because that’s what we were familiar with. Some friends of ours told us they wanted a page builder for Rails, so we built one and what we ended up finding is just this amazing fit in ecommerce. So later in 2015, October 2015, we launched the Shopify app store and we made Shogun into a page builder for Shopify, and it’s just blown up and grown ever since. So that’s the backstory of Shogun, page builder for Rails then for Shopify. Now we have two products, a page builder for Shopify and other platforms, and also an end-to-end headless commerce solution for making super-fast storefronts, cultural and front end.
Jay: Awesome, which I want to dive into kind of both aspects there. Maybe before we go a little further, you’ve got kind of an interesting story with various other tech companies before Shogun. So who are you and how did you kind of come to Shogun?
Finbarr: So I’m a software engineer by background. I studied computer science at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, in Scotland. I moved to the Bay Area, October 2011, so nine and a half years ago almost, and I’ve worked for a bunch of different companies. I worked for Groupon as a software engineer. I worked for Pebble as a software engineer, both those companies, I was building order management systems for ecommerce. It’s kind of interesting. I also worked for Y Combinator as a software engineer, helping them build software to find companies, and along the way I started Shogun and Shogun has been, it’s kind of adjusting; it was a full-time project for about a year, then it was a part-time project for about a year and a half while it was growing on Shopify and that’s been full-time again since May 2017. So we are, now, we’ll be coming up on four years of full time again this May. But yeah, it’s been a mixture of software engineering and start-up things and working for a few different companies along the way.
Jay: I still have my Pebble watch. Well, actually one Christmas at Bold, in 2000, I want to say like ‘14 or ‘15, we always get our staff presents, we got them all Pebble watches. Well, not all of them, there was a couple of different ones, but I think that was most of them. It was ahead of its time.
Finbarr: Yes, it was such a cool product and such cool products. My claim to fame at Pebble was I was involved in pressing the button to launch the Pebble Time and Pebble Steel Kickstarter campaigns on the website. I was working on these counters and flipping over the experience and collecting all the orders and it was such a cool thing. I think the Kickstarter campaign for Pebble Time just blew everybody’s expectations way out of the water. I think it was like 20 million or something on Kickstarter. It’s just this huge project.
Jay: I think Pebble kind of played a part in making Kickstarter what it was too, because they were one of the first big campaigns that probably drew other creators to Kickstarter.
Finbarr: They were really successful with Kickstarter. It was a great channel for them, and yeah, I think pebble to this day still has this quite fervent fan community of people still hacking their Pebbles and making them work and doing all kinds of creative things with them.
Jay: I still have mine, I wonder if I fired it up, I don’t even know if, well, I guess it would work, but probably have no apps for it anymore.
Finbarr: Yes, I don’t know what the situation is there. At some point, somebody was making this unofficial app store. It’s been a couple of years since I looked at it so I have no idea.
Jay: Cool. That’s cool you were with him. So back to Shogun. So let’s dive into, I look at Shogun as kind of two; well, you mentioned that there’s kind of two products, two phases. What was the reason for building the original Shogun? So like the page builder version of Shogun, why did you see a need for that and what problems did it solve?
Finbarr: As a software engineer, every company that I’ve worked for has had the same problem where non-technical folks can’t edit the website easily and it’s the most frustrating thing for everybody involved. Marketing teams, they want to be able to edit the website. Engineering teams are working on all kinds of product stuff and there ends up being this kind of tussle between them for marketing trying to get engineering time to make changes to the website and it’s just not a great experience for anyone. So the original motivation was to make a tool that you can plug into your existing website that is user-friendly for marketers and merchandisers**, **or whoever, to make changes and so we just happened to find this amazing fit in ecommerce. My co-founder, Nick, had a friend who had an ecommerce agency called Spark Art and they’re in Oakland. They said to us, hey, you’ve got this cool page builder tool, make it work for Shopify and we’ll pay you for it, and we did, they paid us and tons of other people also paid us. So it was just this super lucky break to be honest with you, it was great timing. We’d built a nice product and we just found a great market that really needed it.
Jay: Well, that’s ultimately the best way to know that you’re solving a problem that people are willing to pay for. I always say when someone has a good idea, ask someone to prepay for it before you build it. Everyone will tell you, oh, that’s a great idea, that’s a great app, that’s a great software. Then the next sentence out of your mouth should always be okay, great, can I get your credit card? You’ll be my first customer. And then they say, “whoa, whoa, whoa let’s” — so you had people willing to pay for it before it was even on Shopify, was the first one it was on, right?
Finbarr: We did and actually, we’ve done the same thing with Shogun frontend. Before we even built the thing we spoke to a few customers and we showed people presentations and they signed a contract and paid before we’d even built the thing. So I think it’s a great strategy to get people to commit with money rather than with words, because then you really, really do know you have something for one.
Jay: Exactly. So you touched on this a little bit, but one of the things I wanted to ask was why do people use Shogun? Clearly for ease of building pages but I imagine you can save pages as templates and reuse them and then that’s where your marketers, they can just kind of like spin up pages faster, or why do people use Shogun?
Finbarr: So at its core, it is a visual drag and drop page builder. This is the page builder product. You can use it to build pages of all different types for your ecommerce store without writing code. So you can build product pages, blog pages, category or collection pages, and also landing pages of all different varieties. Within and surrounding the page builder product we have all kinds of workflow enhancement tools that make people a lot more productive. So for example, let’s say you have a store and you’re selling in multiple countries and you actually have a separate storefront for each one of your countries. With Shogun, you can develop your content for your United States store and then push a button to sync it to your Canada store or your United Kingdom store, your Spain store, whatever it might be and so that’s just one example of the type of workflow tools that we have, like content sinking.
We also have things like version history, so you can see every change animals ever made and step back in time. We have some analytics and AB testing. So it’s not just building pages, it’s building then measuring then optimizing those pages that you’ve built. And then we have things like out-of-the-box templates. So you can make your own templates. We have a big library of kind of what we call blocks that are like pre-made sections you can use. It’s a combination of starting points that get you up and running really quickly along with some real power tools that help you do that at scale. And we have a lot of customers that have built thousands and thousands of pages in like one Shogun account, which is just incredible to see.
Jay: Wow. So is there a difference between how you envision and I can speak as an app company as well too, sometimes there’s a way you envision people using it versus how they use it, or do you think people for the most part use it properly?
Finbarr: Great question, I mean the nature of the product, it’s like a Swiss army knife. You can use it to solve a lot of different problems and so what we see is that people often will come into Shogun to solve an initial problem that they have. They’re like, oh, I just want to change this landing page. I want to add a banner to it or I want to add a video to my FAQ page or whatever it might be. So there’s always an initial catalyst for why you want to start using it but then people get in there, they solve their initial problem and they stay because it’s versatile and you can do all kinds of different things with it and they end up using it more and more and more building, more and more of their store with it. I’m kind of blown away when I look at different accounts and see the different range of things people are doing, it’s everything. People are building pages of all different types and really taking it to the limits of how we’d imagined it. There are some very creative people that have done some mind-bending designs that you would not think were done with the page builder and they’ve just really pushed the tools to the limits and it’s super cool to see
Jay: That has to be a cool feeling for you building software and then seeing people being creative with that software, you’re enabling the creative aspect there.
Finbarr: We absolutely are and an example that comes to mind is the sneaker company called K-Swiss. There was a designer who was working there, who was like a world-class Shogun expert. He knows exactly how the tool works, knows like every single facet of it and he had used Shogun to build just the most incredible pages for some of their big launches. Each one was like a bespoke landing page for a specific marketing campaign that we’re doing. They just looked incredible, completely bespoke, really customized. It drove huge value for them. But yes, I think the thing that I love about it is we’re helping people take their ideas and actually realize them and it’s giving people tools that democratize access to ecommerce, is really the nature of it.
**Jay: **Yes and platforms aren’t in the business of being a CMS, a content management system, or a design tool and none of them have really done a good job at that. So like, there’s definitely, that’s probably one of the things I hear of the most with most platforms is it’s great for the ecommerce backend, but the actual frontend design, they’re never the best at.
Finbarr: You know what, I think it’s, if you imagine you’re a big platform like Shopify, or big commerce, one of the others, you have a thousand things that you’re trying to make great. You’re working on fulfillment, you’re working on order management, you’re working on product management, you’re working on credit services and loans and like all kinds of other stuff. It’s just like a huge, hairy problem to solve and the frontend, I think from their perspective, it’s like a solved problem. There are already things that work, they’re not the best, but they work and they’re able to get people up and running, and then where we come along is we see that the frontend is just such an important part of the whole thing. That’s where merchants are telling their stories and so we’re just helping them take it to the next level and really, make that investment, take their business to the next level, with better tools for telling the stories they want to tell.
Jay: Who are a few notable brands, you mentioned K-Swiss. I mean, they’re definitely, I know who they are. Any other notable brands leveraging Shogun?
Finbarr: Yes, well, there are a lot. I mean, you’d be so surprised at the list of companies using Shogun page builder. It ranges from solo entrepreneurs all the way to Fortune 500 companies. Some of the biggest companies in the world are using it, like we list on our website companies like Timbuktu, really an awesome backpack company in San Francisco, Chubby Shorts, Movement Watches, Leesa Mattresses. We’ve worked with a lot of very large direct-to-consumer brands that are well-known on the likes of Shopify and big commerce. We also work with massive mega Corp companies like huge CPG companies that everybody would know. So if you go in your bathroom and your kitchen, you look at all the products in there, you’re probably going to see logos that we are actually powering with Shogun, but we don’t publicly talk about them all.
Jay: And I imagine agencies probably utilize it as well, too. Can an agency build, do they keep their own library of templates that they build? And then it must make it easier if you’re doing multiple sites for clients as well.
Finbarr: It definitely does. We’ve worked with a lot of the top agencies in the ecosystem. We actually have tools built for developers. So it’s not all no code tools. As a developer, you can come into Shogun page builder and build a bunch of what we call custom elements. These are elements that you write with code that perfectly match your style and your spec, and then they can be dragged and dropped by a non-technical user. So at that point, we’re helping people build tools that build bespoke storefronts, and a lot of stores, a lot of our larger merchants are using that feature, in some cases exclusively, they don’t use our standard elements. They just use the custom elements feature. A lot of agencies use Shogun for delivering a lot of builds because it makes our life easier. We have features that let them push things around between stores. There’s just all kinds of really nice content workflows that go above and beyond what you might get with the platforms natively.
Jay: That has to be probably one of the biggest pet peeves of an agency or a web designer. You build a site for a client, everything looks beautiful, you come back a year later and you look at it and the client has completely messed up everything and the pages, they try to copy and paste and clone pages and edit it themselves. So with Shogun, they can basically create the template for the pages, the blocks you call them, the modules within the page, and then they can change the content of that page as many times as they want, like as many landing pages as they wanted to create potentially without messing it up.
Finbarr: Clients and merchants typically want as much flexibility as possible, agencies and designers on the other hand, want a more rigid approach where the design aesthetic is going to be maintained. We have like a happy medium where there’s a bit of both and you can kind of put guard rails on it if you want with things like custom elements, or you can have it be a bit more open where you can then drag and drop. And with our second product shown on front end, it’s even more rigid where it’s more agency and designer centric, and we’re moving more into the direction of it being no code, but it’s a really interesting balance to strike and a tough problem to get right.
Jay: So you guys just completed a pretty significant raise as well to 35 million, right?
Finbarr: That’s right, yes.
Jay: Well, so I guess like congrats, first of all, what’s it for?
Finbarr: We’ve been very grateful and thankful to be in a position where 2020 has really been a tough and pretty terrible year in so many respects, but ecommerce has seen a bit of a boost because a lot of people are shopping online. So our business has done quite well in 2020 and a lot of investors are starting to pay attention to ecommerce and looking for opportunities to invest in ecommerce. So Accell, the firm that led our series b, they came to us, they kind of pre-empted us and said, “hey, we’re really interested in your company. We’ve done a lot of research on it. Here’s how we think we can help you out,” and there are several ways that we’re using the money. We’re using it to massively increase our investments in research and development. So hiring engineers, designers, product managers, building out a whole product organization, we also are using it to hire some very senior executives.
So we just hired a Chief Marketing Officer and a VP of Product and we also just hired a Chief Sales Officer and we’re hiring for a VP of Finance and a VP of People. So we’re kind of really building out the executive layer. Traditionally, our business has been largely a self-serve business with Shogun Pagebuilder, it’s mostly inbound self-serve. Our second product Shogun frontend is more of a kind of enterprise product and so we’re layering on a real true go-to market motion with a true marketing and sales team. So it’s a combination of different things, but ultimately investors, they come along, they give you the money, they want to see you applying it to growing the business in a meaningful way. We are going to grow the business in a meaningful way through investments and R and D, go to market and executives coming into the company, and then we’ll kind of keep some by for other opportunities that come along as well.
Jay: Yes, for sure. Where are you guys at like size-wise company? How many people and I guess maybe number of stores using Shogun, whatever you can disclose, I don’t know.
Finbarr: Sure. So we have over 18,000 clients on Shogun now and we saw a really nice growth last year. We just crossed 100 team members at Shogun as well. So we’re all around the world. We’re in 19 different countries. We’re kind of all over the place, fully distributed. So another thing going into this COVID era, we’ve had this already we’re remote and we didn’t have to make an adjustment there. Well, things are going well, Pagebuilder continues to grow. We’re getting new customers sign up every day. Shogun Frontend is a more recent product, it’s a small number of customers, but they’re getting kind of the white glove treatment and we’re live now with several of them and should be going live with more in the very near future.
Jay: I want to dive into Shogun Frontend. What exactly is it, first of all, and why did you build it?
Finbarr: So Shogun page builder integrates into your existing storefront on each of the platforms. So if you’re using Shopify, you install page builder, you can use it to add more pages and edit your pages on Shopify in your Shopify storefront. Typically, we’re just controlling the middle of the page with Shogun page builder. Your header and footer are controlled by the theme. Shogun Frontend is a complete replacement storefront. So top to bottom, we’re replacing the header, the footer, and the content of every single page, and it sits on top of the ecommerce platform. We control everything up to the point of checkout. So it’s kind of a related product. It’s in the kind of content management and page building space, but we’re just taking it to another level. We’re kind of controlling the whole frontend, rather than just a portion of the frontend. As to your question of “why did we build this?” Well, there are a bunch of reasons. Several trends pointed towards this being a good way for us to move.
First of all, we’re seeing that a lot of our largest clients on page builder, were really struggling with performance of their stores. They’re not getting the performance that they’d like. Loads of case studies have come out showing that the faster your storefront is the higher your conversion rate is. So we’re seeing a lot of studies like this come up and we’re finding it really interesting. Additionally, a lot of our page builder customers were asking us to build features and functionality that we just couldn’t build because we didn’t own the whole frontend. They’re asking us to do things like, “oh, I want to edit my header. I want to edit my footer. I want to apply changes globally across the whole store,” and those kinds of changes are very difficult to do in a world where you’re just an embedded part of the storefront, but you’re not the whole thing. Performance, content management, and also we just saw this huge opportunity, having more of a platform, building more of an ecosystem around the frontend. Those three things were major inspirations.
I think the real tipping point in deciding to do this was we were in a basement restaurant in Toronto with an agency partner of ours and they showed us a website and it was Rothies.com, the agency is Anata. They showed us this website Rothies on their phone and it was the fastest website I’d ever seen on a phone and I could not believe how fast it was. And I sort of said, “how did you do this? How did you make this website so fast? It is the fastest I’ve ever seen a phone,” and they described in detail how it was architected and how it was built and I couldn’t believe how technical it was and how complex it was. And I could recognize that this speed was something that every merchant was going to want, but the technology to actually get there was way too complex for most merchants. So we saw this technology shift and we realized we could productize it and help solve the other things that we’re seeing. So better performance, better content management, really awesome approach and ecosystem around frontend and simplifying it in a product that a lot of people could use.
Jay: So it’s essentially, you would describe that as headless frontend, right?
Finbarr: So headless is interesting. I mean, the word headless gets thrown around and people kind of mean all different things when they say it. For me, it’s very simple. Headless just means you’re using a different piece of technology for the frontend and backend. That’s all it is. You could be using Shopify for your backend or big commerce or your backend, and you could be using WordPress for your front end or anything else, any other kind of presentation layer that you like. We have a frontend called Shogun Frontend, and what it does is it helps you build a progressive web app, which is a separate concept to headless, but it’s a very popular flavor of making a headless frontend, and a progressive web, that’s something we can talk about.
Jay: Well, I’d love to, can you define that for our listeners and what it is?
Finbarr: Absolutely. So a progressive web app is just like any other website, but it functions like a native mobile app in the browser and it’s designed to run incredibly fast and the clicks between pages are instantaneous. So with a traditional website, when you browse around the website and you click between pages, what’s actually happening is that your web browser is making a complete request to the backend and replacing the entire contents of the browser and it does this whole request, response parsing. It’s kind of slow and clunky the way that websites work actually, with a progressive web app, what happens is you have the initial request, which downloads the website, and then it becomes a web application using something like React JS or VGS and when you click between pages, it’s just swapping out only the parts that need to change and so it’s quite a subtle distinction, but it’s a fundamentally different architecture and it makes your website much, much faster.
So visually to the end user, it’s still just a website, and it’s a website you can view on desktop, on mobile, wherever you’re viewing the website, but the technology and the architecture and the way that it functions is fundamentally different and it’s way faster. That’s kind of what we’re doing with Shogun Frontend. So it’s headless commerce, different backend to frontend, progressive web apps, a popular approach to building a frontend, and we’re combining those two things together and helping people build progressive web apps for headless commerce and giving people much faster storefronts that they can also edit easily.
Jay: So by using Shogun front end, the merchant would, by default, their mobile experience would be a progressive web app.
Finbarr: That’s exactly right.
Jay: What does it look like editing in Shogun Frontend? Is it still a drag and drop concept or is it completely different than Shogun page builder?
That is a headache, maintaining all of that is a nightmare. We saw an opportunity to productize the whole thing into one product while also bringing our visual merchandising drag-and-drop expertise in as an additional layer. So what we’ve done with Shogun Frontend is it’s a progressive web app builder in a box. It does everything you need to build a super-fast storefront. We host it, we help you edit it, you have a visual drag and drop experience. We’re pulling in your content from your third-party platforms and it’s just the next generation website as a result, but you still have that ease of use and the familiarity that typically you would have to give up when you adopt these kinds of solutions, but we’re giving that ease of use, drag and drop, user-friendliness while also giving you the result of super-fast progressive web app.
Jay: This isn’t specific to mobile, this would be progressive web app, whether they’re on desktop, mobile, it’s the same content loading, I’m imagining it’s going to be mobile friendly, but it’s all the same, right?
Finbarr: It’s exactly the same and so we had a client that went live recently and now we have the case studies with our own results, but I can talk about this one client, they’re called Nomad. They’re a very popular accessory maker for Apple, they have really beautiful iPhone cases.
Jay: I have their page up on my screen over here, and I have some of the results. I’ll let you speak to them. But I was reading through this earlier today and it’s actually staggering, the results.
Finbarr: It’s incredible. You can check out our website nomadgoods.com. What we did with Nomad, and side note, they were actually the first customer to sign up for Shogun front end and they signed up a long time ago, before we even built the thing. So we were so grateful to them for the partnership that we have with them. But yes, so what we did for them is we rebuilt their website pixel-perfect, exactly the same website. The only difference was it was much faster. So before, on their old site, when you click between pages, you would often be waiting a few seconds to get between pages. Now on their new site, which again, nomadgoods.com, when you click between pages, it’s pretty much instantaneous to get between pages. What they saw, we did a really interesting test where first of all, they only sent 10% of the traffic to the Shogun Frontend storefront, then they sent 50% of the traffic and the whole time we’re kind of watching the numbers, they immediately saw a huge increase in conversion rate.
Jay: Like it was the identical website; the customer wouldn’t know the difference other than one loads faster, but like, if you put them side by side you couldn’t tell?
Finbarr: Right and it was an identical website, completely pixel-perfect. They were very particular about the pixel-perfect nature of it and so we recreated the website pixel-perfect, and the results that we drove, in the two weeks following the hundred percent launch versus the two weeks previously, they saw a 25% increase in conversion rate. The reason they’re seeing such a big lift is people are spending more time on the site. They’re browsing more pages, they’re bouncing less because it’s loading more quickly, and so when you start combining together all those factors, more time on site, deeper into the site, lower bounce rate, you’re going to get people adding more stuff to the cart, and that’s what they saw. They’ve seen this lift in their conversion rate and we had friends at Elevar Analytics, they kind of came in and helped us with the analytics implementation. They verified the results and so, yeah, really incredible results. Lots of folks are seeing these kinds of results when they launch a much faster storefront and we’re just trying to help people do it more easily.
Jay: Yeah, I’m looking at them right now, conversion up 25%, increase in revenue procession, also 25%, sessions with a product view up 9%. I guess that’s because people would hit the home page and then they have a higher chance of getting actually to a product page. Which also brings up a question, a lot of times, website design, because things are slower, websites are designed to kind of like be a crutch to that, these popups with quick shops or adding products to the cart from the collection page without really, like, reading all the details and the best way to convert, one of my theories behind this is like, when I buy something I’m always on the product page and it’s usually like the really rich product pages, like what did I buy recently? This Whoomp watch thing, but like, the product page has a ton of detail, it has everything I need. I can scroll all the way down and I like to read all that. I would never buy it from a quick shop, pop-up. Sometimes it would be like, that’ll work for some brands, but like a product that has beautiful imagery. So like some people listening might say like, well, how can page speed increase conversion that much? I’ve never just left a website because it takes half a second versus two seconds or whatever, but actually getting to the final product page where all that good information is, that might be what’s actually attributing to it but then having the page speed just enables that.
Finbarr: Yes, I mean, think about the scale where if you’re doing something like driving traffic to your store with Facebook or Instagram ads or whatever it might be, somebody scrolling through the feed, they see your product, they click and at that point they’re leaving a native mobile app experience in something like Facebook and Instagram and they’re loading a website and a frame. If that load feels super slow in comparison and then every click is another few seconds, you’ve lost their attention, they’re gone, they’re closing that tab. They’re getting back to the scrolling and getting that instant gratification versus, they click, the first load is as fast as can be, but then every subsequent click is instantaneous. So just getting that instant gratification, it feels like a native mobile app in their hand. They’re just much more likely to get all the way through to checkout. You have to remove as many buyers as possible and make it as easy as possible for people to add the cart and get to checkout. The speed is one factor and one lever you can pull to really influence that.
Jay: Yes, that is a really, really good point. So I’m thinking of it in terms of I’m just on a website and I’m shopping and what is the difference between one second and two seconds on a page load, like I’m shopping that site anyway. But when I’m scrolling Instagram, you’re doing things fast, you’re liking, you’re going on a story. When I load someone’s story, if the video doesn’t load it within the second, I’m onto the next story, that’s my mindset and that’s how I interact with Instagram, and you’re a hundred percent, right, when you load a product page within Instagram and it pops up the browser and Instagram, if that doesn’t load fast, I’m closing that and I’m onto the next post, because it’s like, it’s a quick impulse. I see a shoe I like, it’s a quick impulse to open it up, and if it takes more than a couple seconds, I’m like, ah, keep scrolling. Because I didn’t really even evolve my purchasing intent. Once I’m on that site, I click on the little bottom and I open it in Safari because I have my credit card information saved in Safari, I can do all my shopping in Safari, not in the Instagram one, but it’s probably that initial experience that you’re bang on.
Finbarr: No, it absolutely is. I mean, you have a very limited amount of time. You have a limited attention span for a lot of your browsers. You’ve got to get them through the funnel as quickly as possible. The other thing that’s so important is interactivity. So often when you load a website on your phone, the images start to come up, but it takes like four or five, six, seven, eight seconds before you can click to the next page, and you’re like, why is this not clicking? Why can I not open the menu? And with a progressive web app, you get rid of that experience and everything is interactive much more quickly, and so then when it’s loaded, you’re clicking through and everything is so responsive. It’s night-and-day difference to legacy website build.
Jay: So do you think every website’s going to be this structure within a few years?
Finbarr: I think that technology moves incredibly fast, and the way that we’ve architected Shogun Frontend, we’ve built it in such a way that if progressive web apps might be the thing now, in a couple of years’ time, there might be a different approach that’s even faster and even better. We have not married ourselves to progressive web apps specifically. We’ve built this system that builds super-fast websites and so we’re always going to jump onto the latest and greatest and help people make websites as fast and as beautiful as they possibly can be. The mission of our company is all about helping people create exceptional ecommerce experiences. I think the definition of exceptional today is looks beautiful, mega fast and responsive, and just tells a great story around the product. In a few years’ time, that definition is going to change. People are going to have different expectations. What we are trying to do is help people compete and always have the latest and greatest tools and techniques, and so, yeah, I think that if you look at the trend right now, there’s an increasing amount of interest in headless and also in progressive web apps, and I think a lot of people will go in that direction. The way that we’re building our software, we want to future proof people and make it possible to upgrade to the latest and greatest within our software.
Jay: So what kind of stores, like for people listening, should consider like at a certain volume or a certain amount of traffic, is it worth it, or what’s kind of an ideal customer for Shogun Frontend?
Finbarr: We have the two products, Page Builder and Frontend. Page Builder, it ranges, I think I mentioned from solo entrepreneurs to like fortune 500 companies, there’s all the way, we have really big customers using it, and it starts at only $39 bucks a month. That’s really affordable for everybody and so that’s some kind of mass-market product. Shogun front end is geared much more towards those larger breakout merchant’s where they’re starting to struggle with their content management workflows, performance is becoming an issue, they’re making a pretty decent amount of money, they have high mobile traffic, but probably high desktop sales because their mobile experience is not so great. So if I could kind of pick the perfect customer or where we’re starting to see customers really show a lot of interest would be revenue, at least a couple million or more and then you have high mobile traffic, but high desktop sales and you just want to take that step change and really like increment up your revenue and you’re seeing that there are performance issues on your store. The customers we already have on Shogun Frontend, we have a dozen or so. We’re getting a ton of interest in the product. They range in size from a few million to tens of millions on the high end and so it really is aimed more at that sort of maybe even more of a mid-market customer or break out direct to consumer brand. Our intention with it is to build it so that way more people can take advantage of it over the long haul. But for now, it’s quite a commitment, we’re kind of helping you get up and running and it’s a small number of customers today in the more higher-end market today.
Jay: You said ideal for people that have high mobile traffic, but desktop purchases. What did you mean by that?
Finbarr: Well, so it’s really interesting what we see is so many of our customers, their numbers look something like this. 70% of their traffic is mobile. 70% of their sales are on desktop. Now what that tells you is you have a massive opportunity to make more sales on mobile because most of your traffic is mobile, and so if you can make your mobile experience much better and faster, you can start to even out that balance a little more. Making your website faster is not going to reduce your sales on desktop, it’s going to increase your sales on desktop, but where it has the most meaningful impact is on mobile, where the experience is just so bad right now for so many stores. So imagine you’re doing 10 million a year right now, and you have those numbers exactly. So 70% desktop sales, 70% mobile traffic, you might find that your mobile conversion rate increases by 30 or 40% or some absolutely insane jump. Your desktop revenue is more of an incremental increase, and you imagine like if you’re talking 3 or 4 million or more revenue and you were talking of 34% jump on that, that’s like a million plus increased revenue per year for you, which overall could contribute towards a 10, 20% increase in overall revenue for your store.
Jay: I mean, there are some reasons even in a perfect world, that desktop might still be more because, I don’t know, you have your credit card saved on your computer or something, but realistically it should be very, very close. So that’s an interesting observation.
Finbarr: Yes, there are a lot of reasons people buy on desktop. They’re able to, like, view and see products in more detail, really get into the research part of it, depends on the nature of your product.
Jay: So is there a Shogun partner network or agencies that if a brand wants some custom templates built out in Shogun or they want to use, I imagine there are custom templates and modules or blocks with Frontend as well too.
Finbarr: Yes, so we’re kind of working on building out a starter kit right now. The difference between the two products I would say today is Shogun Page Builder is truly no code. You can use it without writing a single line of code. Today Shogun Frontend is more like a low-code solution where there’s an implementation upfront and then you can maintain it and modify it without writing any code. We’re working on moving front end more towards the no-code so that over time, the amount of effort required is reduced. We work with a lot of agencies, a lot agencies are using us on most of their builds. One thing that’s been quite surprising for us is just how we’ve really enabled some agencies to get a lot more efficient and effective in the work that they’re doing day-to-day. But yes, we have a partner network around both products, and if you come to us, we can kind of help find a good match for you, or you may hear about us through a partner in the first place, and they might be suggesting Shogun for the needs that you have.
Jay: Well I imagine it saves partners significant amount of time as well, too.
Finbarr: Yes, definitely.
Jay: So what are you most excited about for the future of, let’s like, of Shogun, but also; let’s start with Shogun and then I’d like to ask you where do you think headless and where all that’s going and where we might be in a couple of years?
Finbarr: I think with Shogun I’m incredibly excited about this shift that we’re seeing, where there’s kind of a bundling and unbundling effect that happens. It’s quite cyclical in software as a service. Companies end up having kind of everything. They really grow and their suite becomes very large and then it gets so large that there are opportunities for their partners and other people in the ecosystem to build better versions of the different components and then things start to kind of break down and become more modular and decoupled. I think we’re in a phase right now in ecommerce where things are starting to become decoupled. You’re seeing people building really amazing products for all different parts of the stack, whether it be product information management, whether it be checkout, whether it be frontend, whether it be something else, and we’re seeing this real composable commerce, people adding together, all different blocks to build something that’s really amazing and perhaps better than what they had in the first place.
So my excitement in ecommerce is really around this. My excitement for Shogun is we have two amazing products and we have a phenomenal team and we have great backers and just incredible momentum, and I think that we’re just in a great position to build kind of the de facto front end for ecommerce in the coming years, and help people really take their stores to the next level and just build exceptional ecommerce experiences. So that’s where my excitement lies in the industry in general, and for Shogun, I just think we’re so well positioned to build something phenomenal.
Jay: I think you nailed it with the whole viewpoint on composable commerce. We refer to it a lot at Bold as modular, and I think that’s just a natural evolution, and it’s an economy of scale as well too, when you have enough that it might not have worked 10 years ago, but now with the amount of ecommerce that’s happening, now it does work, and basically creating a best in breed ecommerce tech stack. It’s actually fairly easy to do. I know we’ve worked with a lot of large brands at Bold and that’s exactly how they’ve approached it is they pick what do they want for their OMS, what’s their CMS, what’s their ERP, what’s their PIM, what’s the product information management, we’re seeing that more and more as well too.
Finbarr: That’s how it should be I think. People should be able to get the best of all worlds, and just kind of put together exactly the stack they need for their business case. Every business is so unique, everyone has a slightly different way of doing things, and so it makes sense that you would go out and pick the best parts to solve each one of your problems in exactly the way that you want it to be solved.
Jay: Yes, and theoretically in the future, one of those parts might not be the best part anymore and you can swap and pull it out and bring in a different one to replace it. We had this approach with Staples, one of our clients with Harry Rosen, they’re a big Canadian clothing brand and this is how they’re approaching it the exact same way. So I think we’re going to start seeing more. I want to jump into our lightning round here before we run out of time. Any last words on Shogun or anything on that you want to add before we jump into the lightning round?
Finbarr: I don’t think so. I think it’s been pretty comprehensive and we really kind of got through a lot of stuff. Again, thank you so much for the opportunity, really appreciate it.
Jay: Oh, absolutely. Okay. I don’t know if you read through these questions prior or not, but I’m going to fire away either way here. What’s the biggest mistake you see ecommerce brands make?
Finbarr: Too many apps, way too many things going on on their page.
Jay: Except Bold apps, they can have as many of those, but yes. No, I agree. I agree. I was a merchant for years and it’s like the app store is a candy store for merchants and it’s like, you want to go in and you just install, install, install, and half of the time you forget to remove them or they’re still running and, I agree, less can be more.
Finbarr: When I think about it, I think about it more from the frontend perspective. Like you go on some ecommerce websites and there are just so many things popping up trying to get your attention and less is more and the less you distract the customer, the more you just tell your product story, I think the more successful you’re going to be ultimately.
Jay: So Finbarr, what’s your pet peeve when you shop online?
Finbarr: Pop-ups, I know they work. I just can’t stand them. They’re just so distracting when I am on a page and I’m like, oh, I’m about to click something and, oh, there’s a big popup and I’m like, I don’t care. Just let me go where I was trying to go. So yes, certainly pop-ups.
Jay: You would like my episode with Ben Jaguey from Privy.
Finbarr: I’m sure, yes, I like Jaguey a lot, he’s a nice guy.
Jay: He’s a fantastic guy and that’s a general consensus is there are knowing what they work. I think as long as they’re done properly, they don’t have to be annoying. You don’t have to pop it up in the first five seconds someone’s on your site. You can wait until they show some form of intent, like they’re on a product page, or they’ve looked at a product for 30 seconds or more, than offer a 10%, or something like that. So, yes, I agree though. What is your favorite thing about your job?
Finbarr: Meeting all the people I get to work with. I work with a really diverse group of people all around the world. It’s such a privilege. Yes, I just really enjoy the amazing people that work with.
Jay: What’s your favorite online store or the last place you bought something, if you don’t have a favorite one?
Finbarr: Well, the last place I bought something was Nomad. After they launched, I went on there and I bought myself a super nice phone case. Yes, I’m a big fan of their stuff, but I shop all over the place, but Nomad has some really cool products.
Jay: What’s the number one thing you think stores could be doing to grow sales, but they aren’t?
Finbarr: I mean, it would be a little self-serving to say make their pages faster. It really depends. Just making sure that you’re telling a great, concise and crisp story around your products, but also making your website faster. It can be a real win for a lot of folks.
Jay: Okay Finbarr, last question. Most of our listeners they’re business owners and they’re entrepreneurs grinding every day, like you have for so many years. Do you have any favorite quotes or advice or things that have really gotten you through your entrepreneurship journey?
Finbarr: There are a number of things. I think I went through this program, Y Combinator, which is just an amazing start-up accelerator. They’ve seen thousands of companies. They know what works, they know what doesn’t work. They just have some really great advice. I think just a few things that I’ve learned over the years, revenue is the most important metric. That’s one thing which is absolutely key. A lot of people focus on other metrics, but at the end of the day, revenue is how the world is going to measure the success of your business, and so I think a focus on revenue is absolutely key. People say that you should ignore your competition. I think that’s largely true. Although you can learn a little here and there from chatting with your competition, we’re on very friendly terms with our competitors. We know them all. We chat with them. Yes, I think just having that North star around revenues has worked really well for Nick and I. We kind of jokingly say that Shogun is a start-up business with emphasis on the word business. We really are running this like a business. We’ve raised a lot of money, we have a lot of capital in the bank, but we don’t treat money in a frivolous way. We’re not trying to burn this thing into a flaming hole in the ground. Focus on what matters.
Jay: I think you nailed that. I think revenue is like a report card, and as long as you have a pricing structure that works, if revenue going up means you’re doing something that people value and you’re building something with value. You hear so often ignore making money, build the product, ignore this but like, no, if you are building something that’s valuable and that people value and if your pricing is aligned with value, it’s a good thing, and it should grow. So it’s really just a scorecard.
Finbarr: Yes, it’s how everyone else is going to measure you at the end of the day. For some amount of time, you might be able to get away with some more vanity metrics, number of active users, but everybody has an expectation that a business is going to make money someday. The sooner you can get on that track, the sooner you can start having that be your North star, the better, in my opinion,
Jay: Well, Finbarr I hope your revenue keeps growing. Thank you so much for coming on and really excited about what you’re doing. If someone wants to try Shogun or learn more about it, where would you like to point them?
Finbarr: So you can find us on our website, getshogun.com. You can also find us in the app stores or various ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify. You can find me online, my name is Finbarr Taylor, which is kind of an unusual name. Fun fact, I’ve never met another Finbarr, if you Google Finbarr you’ll probably end up finding me. We’re pretty easy to find, Shogun and Finbarr and that’s it.
Jay: Thank you so much for coming on, Finbarr, the one and only.
Finbarr: Absolutely. Well, thanks for all of you share. Really appreciate the opportunity and pleasure chatting with you as always.
Jay: You too.