Welcome to the E-commerce Wizards Podcast, where we feature top leaders in e-commerce and business to discuss proven strategies and trends from people in the trenches. Now, let’s get started with the show.
Guillaume: Hello, everyone, Guillaume Le Tual here, I’m the host of the E-commerce Wizard Show where I feature top leaders in business and e-commerce. Today I have Sergej Derzap, I hope I didn’t mispronounce that, who’s the CEO of Amasty. So Amasty is a very successful plugin maker, you could say a software company for Adobe Magento plugin. They add extension and additional functionalities to Magento. So, you just buy the plugin, you add it to your e-commerce store, and this way you have more functionalities. Amasty is a premier Adobe Magento partner, which is like top tier. They’re one of the most successful search partner in the world, actually right now. It’s a company with very good reputation.
I’m happy to have you here, Sergej. So, we can discuss e-commerce, Amasty your business, the adaptation to COVID, and all those topics. So, about Sergej. Well, he’s an MBA, now CEO of Amasty, is a passionate leader with over 11 years of hands-on experience in IT and e-commerce. He sees his mission as contributing to the global development of e-commerce, automating, simplifying the day to-day activities for both online retailers and their customers through collaboration, instant feedback and continuous improvement.
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All right. So, Sergej, I’m very interested by your adaptation to COVID. If you could please tell us how does Amasty adapt to the COVID situation?
Sergej: Yeah, sure Guillaume. First, I would like to thank you for having me today here and great pleasure to talk a little bit about e-commerce and about Adobe and Magento over the years. So yeah, COVID is the main challenge of this year. When it started for us early in March of this year, it was completely unknown, what we were going to do and how it’s going to change our business. So, it was a very challenging task with a high volatility, I would say. And we decided to start as every company I believe, in API industry with complete lockdown. So, every person in our office was free to start working from home.
It was, I believe, a very challenging task for us because before we were proud to be co-located, and have an opportunity to work together from the office, to have better collaboration and have more options to get faster feedback from one team to another and so on. Now it doesn’t matter where you are, you’re sitting at home and working remotely. It was one of the challenges for us, how to make sure we’re still very mobile and we are fast in response and we have to collaborate partly, and work remotely.
You know that in Belarus we do not have lockdown at all. So, it was pretty challenging to explain how important it is to be at home and safe. You’re the [inaudible- 04:55], because nobody knew how COVID is going to go and what is going to be the impact of it. And now I would say that it’s probably one of the best things we’ve done this year. It’s the way that we adopted, promote work and now there is no limits for us, no borders for all employees, and they are free to work from the place where they can be the most effective at the moment. So, we completely rethought all our processes and made it possible to go online. So, it’s pretty interesting. Maybe there are specific things, details, what you’re interested in so we can share with our [inaudible- 05:57] listeners to get more details.
Guillaume: Yeah, some people have a hard time from their moral point, they are like, oh, I’m always locked up at home! It is difficult for them, especially the more social people that do offer to go to the office, or is the office locked down? How do you manage that?
Sergej: Yeah, it was one of the changes for us. And we introduced the different kinds of changes in Instagram. We have corporate Instagram file and we were introducing different changes for our employees for their workplace, and we posted all our workplaces just to show that you can make your own home office convenient and you can share insights with your colleagues to show how it could be. Another thing was technical business webinars. One of the best webinars we’ve done, was a cocktail maker webinar. We have introduced the list of ingredients you need and then within an hour and a half, people were preparing cocktails online. It was some kind of master class, it was nice, and I believe it helped us a lot.
Every week, we tried to introduce something new to make this isolation not so significant. I know that teams tried to make buddies online, and so on. They did a really great job by staying very active online. Even where they were just talking non-work topics, like non-business topics like Water Cooler Channel.
Guillaume: Okay, that’s interesting. I like your cocktail ideas must be a fun company time there. And you have those Water Cooler Channels and Instagrams so people can post a picture of their home office, how they’re setting themselves up and so on. That’s interesting. If you have more specific examples, like what you guys did as special events then please let us know. Everybody’s looking for ideas, how to handle this and the moral of the troops with everybody at home.
Sergej: One of my main challenges that everybody loved was the GPS pictures of different cities where our colleagues were before lockdown time. They were to guess what GPS belonged to what city. It was very challenging even to recognize your own city when you have a snapshot like, several square kilometers, and they all say, okay, it could be anywhere.
Guillaume: That’s an interesting game. We’ve done some online games as well. We have gaming time at least once a month that we meet after, and we have the gaming time. There’s a few groups that we have created together here and we have those gaming as well, programmers lots of gaming, obviously. Okay, that’s very interesting. Was there any other changes that you had to bring to your setup for everybody working remotely like you said you change your processes, but you guys are many, you’re over 100 employees. How did you manage the scalability of all this?
Sergej: It was a very good time to introduce changes to try something new, because we already started to try something new. And usually how Cutter says, the best thing to try to introduce changes is to understand the necessity of change, and now we’ve got an opportunity to see it, and try to make it better. We try to experiment with processes. And that’s how we’ve managed to switch to value streams based on safe methodology and I would say it works really great. It helped us a lot to be in sync, and to share valuable feedbacks, regardless online offline, between support, marketing, management, delivery team and product team. And we have design team there, they’re all syncing together at least once in a week. They have their own channels and we have at least four different value streams at the moment, and at least three supporting streams that help us to run our business and make it very enjoyable.
This is the first most dramatic change that we’ve made. We started the change in the middle of summer and now I’m very pleased to see the results. Another very great change we’ve done, we just introduced it, because we understood that almost all our floors of the office, we have three floors, we do not use them at all. You can go to the floor and they’re only like two or three employees sitting in different corners, so they don’t have a chance to communicate there, to collaborate. So, we decided to change this a little bit. And we introduced a free desk. Now you don’t have your personalized space but you have every any free desk that you need at your service. So, you just open the app and reserve a desk for yourself or your friend if you already agreed to work together, and you’re able to collaborate and sit together and discuss new opportunities. It helps. And we started to design a new office, taking account the concept of free desk.
Guillaume: It’s a free desk nobody has a dedicated personal space and you sort of choose which day you come to the office, then you do the COVID disinfection of your desk. And then you sort of take that desk for the day.
Sergej: Yeah, we agreed that at least once in a week, for COVID, this section should be done for every place. That’s why you don’t need to have personal items there. You have specific special wardrobe, where can remove all these personal things, and then the office shouldn’t be disinfected. And then you’re able to reserve your place for a week, for two weeks, for three weeks, or just a couple of hours. Depends how you prefer to work, all week remotely or part time in the office and part time at home, as you like.
Guillaume: Do you have that in one city with your main office or did you expand that to other cities because now hiring internationally?
Sergej: Yes. The case is that it helped us to understand that we do not need to meet all in one city and we started hiring in a wider range. For example, right now we have several employees in Belarus but out of the city. And we have a group of employees from Ukraine, they are really great guys. And it’s like a win win case when we are able to collaborate with great professionals and we’re able to provide the same condition that for every employee in the office.
Guillaume: Very good. I guess that’s a pretty good tour of COVID, is there any last thing you’d like to add about COVID?
Sergej: About COVID, we tried to make some donation for the companies, in the pre-COVID era who are dealing with medical treatment and other things. We introduced I believe, clean or maybe even more online sites powered by Amasty completely.
So, we provided them all our extensions to open their shop and their businesses. It should be helpful for COVID businesses, like medical suppliers, for example. And at least we understood that we are able to fulfill all needs of our customers with our own products, and you will possibly get some feedback from them and understand what is missing, what we should develop. Extrapolates for existing products to make it more useful for them. So, it was like a win-win case. We understood that it’s possible to make this way, and from our point of view, we help a little bit in this fight against COVID.
Guillaume: That’s very interesting about physical gifts. And at the same time, because you’re a software company, it’s easy. Once the software is built, it’s already paid for, like you could decide that you’re going to give some copies away to some stores, while some companies could be using to have an e-commerce store so they have your extension there to add to Magento e-commerce. Very interesting initiative that you’re doing there.
Guess the next topic would be the PWA, Progressive Web App, that big thing we hear a lot Adobe talking about that. It’s the next big thing that’s coming up. You know that the headless thing. So it simply means that the front end is truly completely separate from the back end of the application, which is not the case right now. It could have been built like this years ago. But it was not like the web standard or changing toward that way of doing things. And every platform, not just Magento is doing this right now. They are all saying oh, we are headless, if the claim is true or partially true, depending on the platform. What are your thoughts on PWA?
Sergej: Yeah, as you said, it was an inevitable step because everybody’s doing this. And when you are in the era of integrations, people say omni channel era, you understand that not everything should be our buddy over here. There are other great product services all over the world. Why should I develop my own payment system like chat, CRM, if I’m able to integrate it into my website? But I would like to make sure it’s not just a lot of different bricks that I’m not able to assemble in one solution. That’s why it’s inevitable thing that you would like to assemble them somehow. And headless approach helps a lot here. You’re free to experiment with your front end, having backend for the independent specific contracts via API and so on.
PWA is nothing new for the world and it’s already spent evolution with Google. So, when Magento introduced it, it was already technology with some background. It’s not raw technology that nobody knew before. Based on my opinion, it’s one of the best approaches currently available for front end. But the case is that for Magento, it’s completely new technology and you need to understand how to use it in the Magento world. And now it passes this stage of early adopters, where the technology is pretty expensive. You do not have a lot of know how to make it in the best way. And we’re all learning to make it a little bit better, a little bit cheaper and we’re investing, we’re preparing drafts for our products. We’re preparing PWA extensions to make development cheaper.
I’m not sure how long it is going to take maybe several months, maybe half a year, maybe a year. But for sure, it’s the future of Magento world. And in the future, almost every new Magento solution is going to have it as the main solution for your [Inaudible-20:40]
Guillaume: So, you see it as the future just that it’s a bit unclear, like the transition and how fast is going to be because right now is the early adopter phase?
Sergej: Yeah, it reminds me of a great book from Clayton Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma, when he describes with great examples how new technology substitutes the old one. It’s an inevitable process. And the main question is, are you going to be there in innovation train, or you’re going to like deny it till your end? For Amasty, we decided to be in this train and we are investing in development of this technology. And every month we’re introducing new PWA ready extension, and it’s going to be a plan for the next year as well.
Right now, we have almost all our products, where it’s possible to introduce [Inaudible-21:51] as in like communication with PWA ready for PWA, and now in the plan to introduce PWA part for each and every extension we have drafted already and the PWA ready. But the priority depends on user feedback. For example, we have our store owners that I have seen, please make your navigation first. But sometimes the problem is not that we’re not willing to make navigation. The problem is that sometimes technology has some bottlenecks. And you need to understand how Adobe itself is going to resolve them in their theme, what’s currently developing, like evolving with the PWA world. And we’re waiting for some solution for this while trying to invent our own solutions where it’s possible. Step by step, we are releasing new extensions powered by PWA.
Guillaume: Yeah, like you said, we’re in the early adopter stage, despite what some marketing might say otherwise. So, there’s a bit of a chicken or the egg question here that’s happening because merchants who decide to build a new site, let’s say it’s on Magento. And then they have to choose Am I doing a traditional site, or am I doing the new approach of PWA site, and then you look at the list of extensions that are available, like Amasty has currently like 181 extension for Magento 2 as of today, but you have roughly 15 or so that are ready for PWA. So, a lot of those additional features, they would have to either pay a developer to do the transformation from your extension to a PWA version or they would invest in a custom-built development there to increase their development costs to go with the PWA approach. It tends to be like the larger companies who are willing to go forward with this because it’s a safe enough technology now. You can go forward with it. It’s a good idea.
But the chicken or the egg question that if there’s more demand, you’re going to make more PWA extension but because there’s so few PWA extensions, fewer people choose to build a new project on PWA. How do you see the demand right now?
Sergej: It’s partially true because from our variety of extensions, not all of them need front end. You’re still safe to go with lots of different extensions. Where you don’t need PWA tool for example. I’m not sure if it’s very crucial to have all your main part powered by PWA.
Guillaume: You just don’t need it.
Sergej: It’s very narrow use case, I’m not sure how many people are checking their reports on mobile, because like when you’re opening dashboard, it’s not very convenient to see there are other minor details. Usually, people when they’re doing admin or part of their duties, prefer desktop. It’s better, it’s more convenient. That’s why you’re free to make everything related to at least a main part, like very widespread common solutions. And it’s not going to change in the future. But when we are talking about front end, you still have an option to experiment, you don’t need to introduce every screen like PWA for example. Maybe you can try to make one screen powered by PWA for your millennium page.
And then for example, see if it fits your needs at the moment, how expensive it is. It’s not going to be a huge investment to start with one and the key product. And understand, okay, I’m not ready for it yet, maybe in future for sure. And we started with such approach when we developed our first PWA extension. We tried to make it possible to use just one PWA extension to show the full screen for our client. Install just one extension and get an impression from the full screen. You don’t need like ten to assemble one user interface. It’s not possible for every shop, it’s not possible for every screen, but sometimes it’s possible. And it could be a good approach at least to grab this feeling to understand if it’s yours, if it’s worth investing there or not.
And for us, you said that, it’s very hard to understand if you should invest a lot there without any understanding how for example, Magento is going to update their theme at the moment. We don’t have their roadmap like 10 years in future saying okay, we’re going to introduce this stuff, we are going to develop this stuff. You need to postpone this feature for the next year because we’re going to edit out of the box. And sometimes we’re doing a lot of double work. For example, after the latest release, we had to a little bit tweak our existing extensions because of some changes in [Inaudible-27:54] framework.
So, we are also trying to balance between doing nothing and wait for bright future and invest maximum to build this future. Maybe it depends on the scale of the business. If you already have Magento 2 solution and you are thinking about redesigning maybe it’s a good thing to start designing it or PWA because every year it is going to be standard. But if you are not planning to do anything maybe there are other things where you can invest a little bit more money. So, it’s your business to understand what are the more valuable routes to take.
Guillaume: Then you can have also sections with PWA and some sections that will not be. Of course, the sections with PWA would have the benefits, that’s the speed or access to some of the native features of a phone. So, it’s more acting like a native app rather than the website which is very interesting but at the same time does not have the downside that the app you always need to download the updates and people are still out of date with the content they get and so on. With a website like that, they always have the latest version I think to download. There’s lots of interesting things going on there.
Yeah, you could have section like you were saying, admin not being PWA and perhaps you focusing on the front then of course being PWA. It could be a good thing for marketing maybe to just identify which extensions are not going to mess up your front end and the PWA friendly or something. The true PWA ready this extension is not PWA but you can still add it to your PWA project. Could be interesting marketing to help, when you build the project plan there that you can actually use those extensions for a PWA project.
Sergej: For example, you can have a blog based on PWA.
Sergej: And it has nothing to do with your main website.
Sergej: You are going to get better speed results and understand if you’re going to transform to PWA or your website.
Guillaume: A very good example, I like that. It’s a good idea. So, PWA, it’s just a lot of exciting things coming with early on. I’m not too sure though if there’s much more else to say for now. Do you have anything else to add about PWA?
Sergej: As I said, we are doing our best to make sure that during next year, you’re going to see more and more new PWA current extensions by Amasty and at least I would say it’s safe to declare that every month we are going to introduce one new extension based on PWA technology.
Guillaume: Very cool. And you guys have that new team that you have developed. It’s very logical. You guys do so many extensions. And then you have one team that sort of tested with all those extensions. So, you’re sure you install any of those 181 extensions on that team it’s not going to have any issue. Would you like to tell us a bit about that new jet theme you guys built?
Sergej: Yeah. It was inevitable part of our story. After building a lot of different extensions, we should think about introducing our own theme. And no market was demanding it. They’re saying, okay, we would like very simple, very fast, very developer friendly theme, could you please develop one? So, we started this year with initiatives to develop our own theme. It took us like more than a half a year to introduce MVP. We’re still developing and we are introducing new versions every two weeks. We’re trying to introduce some updates every two weeks, just make sure that early adopters of our theme can feel the difference every two weeks and understand if we’re doing the right job, or we are starting to change.
So, we are collecting feedback. We had a month with our beta testers. Our real customers that kindly agreed to try our theme when we were in the beta phase. And we got a lot of great feedback from them, and tried to introduce the most crucial parts of this feedback in our MVP version. At the moment, we’re getting ready to introduce it for enterprise. Hopefully, by this Christmas or early in the next year, we are going to release the enterprise version, which should be the next step of our theme evolution. And I believe the main game changer for our team, it’s not about just the new theme that everybody demanded. I have seen that there are some other pretty good examples of great themes but it’s more about synergy of working with our products. And this is our aim to make sure we can introduce not just one single product that works great in isolation. But in Magento world, it’s very hard to find all solutions from one vendor that have no issues with other solutions from different vendors. It’s very hard to assemble full solution based on products from one vendor. And that’s why we decided this year to go a little bit differently. We agreed to learn down maybe a variety of solutions we have, but to make sure that all of them coexist and make ecosystem, or like a solution for our clients.
It’s easy to assemble, it is easy to kick off a new website based on Magento using our extension. You just need to get our theme and there are going to be different tags for different industries or possible extension that you can use with our theme safely. And whether enough testing as you said, other progression done every release of every A group model. So almost like all our [Inaudible-35:19] models and all popular models are tested with Amasty’s Jet Theme, they’re tested in solutions. And that’s why I believe, as I said, years ago, when we just started that Amasty is the future. You’re not able to provide full coverage for the testing. If you have like more than 100 extensions, and you need to test all of them, every release, one with each other, there are so many pairs that it’s unpredictable number of possible bar that could appear, then we started to invest more and more in Amasty.
And now I would say it helps us dramatically, you don’t need to check everything like mail. You can run an MFTF test, check the results and see how good they are. If you have something to fix, you have new issues, it helps a lot. And when you have a theme, and you’re able to check extensions, not just one by one, but integration with the theme, it helps us to understand that there are possible issues like when we are using several products. And there are so many different combinations. Our clients are using our products, the different vendors, so sometimes it is very hard and predictable to make it. And here we have at least some guaranteed free space that we have our own products, we have our own theme. And we are able to say that, okay, this is a group of our products, and we tested them with our team and it works perfectly.
Guillaume: Very interesting approach there definitely. And I’m kind of curious to also discuss the earlier days of Amasty. I know you’re not the founder, but like you’re the head of Amasty now. There are so many extension builders out there, but Amasty clearly stood out, you guys grew, you became a premier partner there. You are clearly one of the leading partners in the ecosystem. Do you see some key points? It’s never just one thing. Do you see some key points that made Amasty this success it is today from the earliest days of trying to differentiate the [Inaudible-38:04]?
Sergej: If you’re going to check mission of each and every e-commerce company, we’re going to find they’re completely in the same frame, our mission is to help e-commerce to evolve. To help merchandiser to sell more, and so on. But the key here, I’m not going to be very original but the founders of Amasty are true entrepreneurs and developers. When they were building this company, writing all products for Magento 1 themselves, trying to speak with every client will understand their pains and gains, how to be more useful for them. And they were trying to implement everything on their own. And when the company started to grow faster with Magento 2 era, companies started to support more products, to develop more products.
For me, the main goal was when I came to the company, to save this period, to make sure we are not going to be one more company that is selling extensions for earning his clients. But to make sure we still preserve this period, when we are more than just a vendor, we are business partners. We would like to be business partners with all our clients to make sure we’re going to build with them long story, not just like single purchase exercises but to help them to set up this extension if it’s required. To understand if it fits their needs, if not, to understand how we can introduce new features in our extensions to make sure that we take into account not going to pay us more because it’s lifetime free updates, but to make sure that it helps their business to be more successful. To understand how we can help our services to build long-term relationship.
And right now, for example, we’re doing next step, we’re introducing a new of support in Magento. We would like to introduce subscription for all our extensions ever bought by our clients. You don’t need to pay for support, for license for every extension you ever bought here. Just paying fixed price for all our extensions, every month and getting support for all of them. It’s not because it’s very specific topic for us to make sure that we’re gaining a lot of mine here, no it’s because we would like to make sure that we still can bring value to all our clients, our existing clients, even if they’re not going to buy new products.
Because we believe that nowadays, it’s more important to have great customer base with glad clients that are using your products, they are satisfied with them, and they’re promoting them, than just to make sure you have great marketing company, and you’re selling more. It’s more about long-term relationships and to become business partners. And currently, all our efforts are aimed towards this goal. And I believe that this goal was introduced basically by our founders. And this is a game changer, whether you truly believe that you’re here to help every medium-sized entrepreneur to grow their business. And when they think not how to sell, but how to help to grow things are an inevitable part of this story. But when you’re focused on how to sell but now not how to help, you’re not going to sell a lot.
Guillaume: It’s true, very interesting. It reminds me of some other concept like, totally finding that, focusing on cost reduce cost less than focusing on keeping quality. It’s not the direct approach but they’re focusing on something else and that is like a tangent of what the maximum impact is to have that growth that you want. Very interesting insights, thank you for sharing Sergej. Is there any last topic that you would like to address for today?
Sergej: I believe we have one surprise for podcast listeners that we would like to share. Today we prepared some special prizes for podcast listeners. For the best comment, and I believe the topic with the best comment could be, do you feel the difference between Amasty one year ago and now? And what do you think is the main difference between these two companies or evolution of this company? The best comment based on your own opinion we would like to list two prizes. They are equivalent but sometimes they are a little bit different. If you are going to develop a new shop for your business based on old fashioned Magento 2 technologies, like [Inaudible-44:08], we would like to introduce for you 50% discount for any of the three jetpacks we currently have.
You can open our website and see three different jetpacks. One of them could be about acquisition and another about fancy promo companies and so on. You can find the best for you and we are going to make 50% discount for each of them. Or if you would like to try PWA extensions, we are going to provide 3 PWA extensions for free for you to try them and understand how they work then you can introduce your own personal MVP based on them and we provide the technology. Based on the answer of this challenge, you have the opportunity to get these prizes.
Guillaume: Very interesting surprise there Sergej. So, I have to pick the winner of who’s giving the best comment of how did Amasty change from now versus a year ago and what change was better. And then they can pick between 3 free Amasty PWA extensions or a 50% discount on any jetpacks that you guys have. Very interesting prize, we’ll mention it in the podcast and look forward to see everybody’s comments about this. Sergej, thank you for being with us today, it’s been a pleasure.
Sergej: Thank you for having us.
Thanks for listening to the E-commerce Wizards Podcast, we’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes and contact us at magemontreal.com.