Interview with Corinne Lejbowicz, CEO of PrestaShop
It is always heartening for me, a woman writer, to speak to women in our industry. It's especially wonderful to see those in leadership at our industry, since that happens so infrequently! Therefore, it was a delight to talk to Corinne who told us a bit about how PrestaShop started and how she made it to one of the most successful ecommerce platforms to speak of today. Here's her story.
Congrats on recently becoming PrestaShop's CEO. I'd love to learn how you climbed the ladder to become the CEO at such an established company.
While I won’t admit my age, I will say that I’m a veteran of the internet and ecommerce industry. I started my career at AOL and Vivendi, serving as Director of New Projects and Innovation. This gave me an opportunity to work abroad, in the US and Europe.
Afterwards, I was named CEO of the shopping engine LeGuide.com. While I was CEO, we had a successful IPO and acquired two companies in Europe.
Before taking this position, I certainly knew about PrestaShop. The growth of the company has been very impressive. I was delighted when the board asked me to take the leadership position. The ecommerce market is showing strong growth, worldwide. PrestaShop is in the right market at the right time, with a very compelling offer.
Can you tell us more about PrestaShop - what it does and how the company was established? How did PrestaShop become so successful? I note that you now have over 1 million members.
PrestaShop has a unique story. The company started as an ecommerce open source project in 2007, by Bruno Lévêque, and Bruno is today chairman of the company. We have 120 employees and offices in 6 countries. However, PrestaShop isn’t just a company. It’s a company and a community. Every day thousands of people come to the PrestaShop forum and other platforms like GitHub, slack…. to exchange, develop and innovate – using and enhancing our software. We never think of ourselves as 120 employees. We think of ourselves as 120 + 1 million PrestaShop community members.
What skills make for a great CEO?
There are lots of skills required to be a great CEO. I see the role like a Swiss army knife. You need different skills to adapt all kinds of situations from strategy to everyday operation. That said, in a startup and that is of course very personal, the most important skills are energy, openness, and respect for employees, community and customers. The CEO should also have great clarity for the mission, and great ambition for the company.
Why should someone use PrestaShop over their own proprietary storefront software?
The best way to answer this question is to describe some of the people who frequently choose PrestaShop. Merchants who are serious about building an online business may start or move their existing store to PrestaShop because they know the software will scale to many thousands of products, and enable them to sell both locally and internationally. All of this can be achieved with a very low investment in the software. Some of our competitors are taking monthly fees, with limits on the store functionality. Sometimes they take a % of the store revenue as well. For entrepreneurs, this can be a significant financial burden that slows down their business plans. We also see thousands of web developers choosing PrestaShop because they can build amazing stores that are fully customized, and precisely fit the needs of their end-clients. Lastly, we have people who choose PrestaShop because we can offer a truly localized ecommerce solution in their language, and with local partners for essential things like shipping, payment, etc.
Tell us a bit about the team and company. How many employees do you have, and where are you based?
We have 120 employees located in 6 countries including the US, France, Benelux, Germany, Spain and Italy. We opened a new HQ location in the center of Paris last year. This was an essential move for us because we can attract top talent by being in the same neighborhood as Google, and other major tech companies. The culture of the company is very international. We have many cultures, we speak many languages, but we share some common values. We love software, product innovation, web technology and ecommerce. We also love puffins and cats. Our mascot is a puffin named Preston, and we have a cat at the Paris office named Puff.
I see you announced a $1 million developer integration fund last June. Tell us more about that--how is it going so far?
This has been a fantastic program for PrestaShop and our community. Our goal is to promote new development for add-on modules that plug into PrestaShop, particularly in emerging ecommerce markets. These modules help to create a complete ecommerce platform in markets where ecommerce is still relatively new, but growing rapidly. We already have 80 modules in more than 50 (to be checked) countries thanks to the developer integration fund, and we’re expecting to double that number by the end of the year.
I see you have partnerships with LoyaltyLion, Brink's Checkout, and Alipay, among others. Can you tell us about these partnerships and what other partnerships you have with other brands? Are there more planned for 2016?
We have three types of partnerships. We have a Web Agency program that’s ideal for agencies who are building lots of PrestaShop stores every year. We have an Industry partner program because ecommerce is not only the online store. You need payment, shipping and other elements for your ecommerce business. We partner with ecommerce leaders like PayPal, DHL, eBay, etc. so we can offer best-in-class solutions for your PrestaShop store. We also have a partner program for anyone who is developing add-on modules that are sold in our Marketplace. There are more than 5000 of modules and themes in the PrestaShop Marketplace, developed by our partners.
How do you respond to people who are interested in PrestaShop but are also interested in other storefronts, like Amazon or even Shopify?
Let me answer this by offering a real-world example. There is a business in the US called Bertie’s Closet. They make charming, hand-crafted cases for laptops and tablets. Their online store is on PrestaShop. Bertie’s Closet is also a top-seller on the Etsy marketplace. There is room for both approaches, particularly for a company that’s just starting. A marketplace might help them to build some early sales and awareness, but once the momentum has started, then a merchant like Bertie’s Closet can shift some of those buyers and web traffic to their own online store. Why? Because this will be more profitable for them in the end.
Can you tell us more about the PrestaShop community and how that all came about?
As mentioned above, Bruno Lévêque and a small team launched PrestaShop in 2007 as an open source project. Within days they had 1000 downloads and 100 community members. In the first month, there were 100 stores running in 10 countries. We were one of the first to offer open source ecommerce software so we’ve seen strong growth in the community since day 1. Today we communicate with thousands of people, in dozens of languages, through our forum, Github, social channels, and global meet-ups. The community is at the heart of PrestaShop. As you noted, we just celebrated the 1 millionth member of the community. To thank everyone, we created this microsite that shows the major milestones in our community: http://weare1million.prestashop.com/
What are your plans for the company over the next 24 months?
There are some big announcements coming in the areas of partnerships. Unfortunately we can’t discuss them today, but I expect to announce some of them very soon. We have a major product release in development called 1.7. The beta will be launched in April, the GA version will be available this summer. We have ‘PrestaShop Days’ taking place in Madrid (May), Paris (June) and Milan (September). These are one-day user conferences with keynotes, ecommerce master classes, and workshops. To give you an idea of the size of these events, we’re expecting 1500 – 2500 people in each location. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet our community and in 2017 I expect to see even more dates / locations for PrestaShop Days. We have a worldwide meet-up program with our community that started this year. We’re expecting to have more than 200 meet-ups with our community, all over the world. We’re also expanding business development in key markets where PrestaShop has operations.
How do you see the industry evolving?
There has never been a more exciting time to be in ecommerce. To answer your question about how the industry is evolving, you have to look at mature economies and emerging economies because the answer is not the same. In mature markets, ecommerce is has shifted from a novelty to a necessity, particularly for those in retail. 2015 was the year when more people shopped online for their Christmas gifts than went in-store. The worlds of offline and online are no longer separate. In mature economies, we also see interesting developments in areas like logistics plus of course the expansion of marketplaces.
In emerging economies, there is a very strong interest in ecommerce because this enables all types of businesses to participate in the economy in a completely new way. The traditional mall does not exist in many regions, and infrastructure can be a challenge, so ecommerce offers a way to enter the retail market – for the first time. Global, regional and local players are all looking at how they can develop through ecommerce. India is a great example of this. As millions of people go online, with online payment options, the ecommerce industry experiences incredible growth. In fact, some of the most innovative technology might come from these markets because merchants will have to find clever, low-cost, solutions for elements like fulfillment, payment and shipping. This is yet another reason why our developer integration fund is so important. We want to support innovations that enable ecommerce to grow in these countries.