In the market for API-first solutions, the utility and ease-of-use of your APIs is a key differentiating factor. One ISV that has really taken this to heart is UpStart Commerce, which has joined the now-busy ranks of composable ecommerce platform vendors with a uniquely user-oriented solution.

Gordon Cooke, co-founder and CTO, joined us on the latest episode of Martalks to explain how UpStart’s API management tool is helping retailers manage the complexity of MACH, and how they work closely with agency partners to simplify client adoption. 

A common theme in Gordon’s commentary is his tendency to respond to questions about technology, with answers about people, and collaboration amongst those using the technology on a daily basis.

This ‘people-first’ approach appears to be a core element of UpStart’s product strategy – and of their product-driven development approach.

You can listen to the podcast here, and read on for our summary of the key talking points.

User-friendly APIs are a key competitive advantage 

The complexity of managing API-first architectures is widely acknowledged to be an obstacle to MACH adoption. As Gordon puts it,

“As with a lot of things, greater flexibility comes with greater complexity. You can build a very flexible platform… But the implementation of that platform then brings an innate complexity to it that you have to manage.”

This ‘innate complexity’ can have profound implications for the customer. Initially, it implies retraining and hiring technical talent, or soliciting the expertise of agency partners to assist in the implementation process.

But beyond that: organizational cultures are built around incumbent technology, and their day-to-day use. Swapping a familiar platform for a suite of more demanding solutions carries an inherent risk of rocking the boat.

The ease-of-use of your APIs therefore lends a commercial advantage to solution vendors. UpStart Commerce has taken this one step further, by creating tools that simplify this for customers across their wider network of modules interconnected with their ecommerce platform.

UpStart Commerce’s NoChannel Portal acts as a central management tool for the various APIs a retailer houses in their stack, speeding up the manual work involved in managing products across multiple microservices.

Easing complexity for the end user in this way was a leading factor in UpStart’s product strategy, as Gordon explains… 

“Providing the APIs to handle the management functions that you need on any ecommerce platform – adding products, updating pricing, modifying inventory – is one thing. But then to expect the customer to, on top of migrating their frontend site, also build their own management portal or integrate with their set of APIs? It’s just not fair to the customer. It’s not taking care of them.”

Effective APIs are purpose-built for collaboration

The difficulty of implementing and managing composable architectures has created a lot of work for digital agencies. As a result, an effective API-first product strategy needs to be designed as much for the agency as for the end-customer.

Describing Upstart’s relationship with the digital agency DMI, Gordon explains that the agency continues to play an invaluable role in refining the product for both their own use, and the customer’s.

“We work really closely with DMI. I think that having a good implementation partner is a critical piece. One of the great things that we’ve been enjoying is the partnership that we have with them. It’s back and forth. 

They point out to us where we can make improvements to simplify APIs for their consumption. And on the flip side of it, we make sure we provide what they need to get their job done as efficiently as possible.”

This is a common theme we’ve heard throughout the Martalks series, and is particularly reminiscent of Rajib Das’ description of the relationship between his agency, Ignitiv, and their preferred ecommerce platform Kibo. He said that the two are “joined at the hip” during implementation, with the goal of making the process as seamless as possible for the customer. 

What stands out, as Gordon describes UpStart Commerce, is the way this ‘people-first’ approach to technology appears to bleed through every level of the organization.

When recruiting technical talent, Gordon says he looks for people who question the rationale behind the work that they’re doing, in the belief that it will ultimately lead to a better product.

“I look for intellectual curiosity… Having somebody who can write code is great, but you really want somebody who challenges why they’re writing the code… When we talk to or interview potential candidates, we want them to question what we’re asking them… I think that’s really critical.”

The outcome of such a people-first product strategy should ultimately be a vendor that’s easier to work with.

During our conversation, Gordon reflected how the composable era, and the rising importance of agencies, has enabled a higher quality of customer service for the platform end-user.

“In the past, if something went wrong on a system, the end client may or may not know who to call. It might be the hosting provider, it might be the application developer, it might be the management layer in the middle. It could be any one of 10 different people… It was not uncommon to have a lot of finger pointing going on.

One of the things I really took away from that experience is: how do you reduce that? – that obstacle for the retailer, so that they’re comfortable with what they’re working on? 

As microservices grow and expand and change, and you start dealing with multiple vendors and multiple contracts… Having those agencies means that instead of the-finger pointing, they bring us the problem, we go resolve the problem, regardless of who we need to connect to in order to do that.”

What Gordon’s demonstrating here is that ‘interoperability’, so to speak, is not just a trait of an effective API, but also of effective leaders, and successful businesses.

MACH adoption may be picking up pace, but there remain significant, real obstacles for many would-be customers. As API-first solutions solve many of the challenges with legacy architecture, a new frontier has opened up in helping customers solve new, emerging challenges presented by MACH.

Successful solution vendors will not take the direction of travel in the industry for granted; rather, they will work to ensure that their business, their product and their APIs are buoyant enough to ride the wave.

Executive search for ecommerce solutions, with Rosenstein Group

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