Interview with Dave Hills, CEO of ShopSite
Many people may have heard of ShopSite. Perhaps you have not. It's been around forever--longer than many of the active shopping cart software tools out there, and it's pretty obvious why: it meets the needs of all types of buyers, with plans that serve each and every type of client.
We sat down with Dave Hills, the CEO of ShopSite, who has told us about the fun journey the company has had over the past 21 (!) years.
Hi Dave, thanks for taking the time. Can you tell us a bit about ShopSite and what you offer?
ShopSite is ecommerce/shopping cart software. We have four flavors:
- Express - Our new, free option for blogs like WordPress and other small sites that want to only add order buttons to sell up to 10 products.
- Starter - A step up from Express, with 15 products and five site pages, along with many more payment options.
- Manager - As you get busier, you grow into this product; there's no limit on the number of products or pages available at this tier. And of course there are even more features like product upload/download, product search, and real-time shipping quotes.
- Pro - Our top tier has all the bells and whistles with coupons, abandoned cart emails, digital downloads, Facebook storefront, and more!
We're here to help you get started in ecommerce, and then adjust to your needs as you grow your business.
Can you tell us about how ShopSite started and its relationship to iCentral?
Way back when, in '95, there were a few individuals at a company called iCentral (Internet Central) who wanted to do Internet stuff; they wanted to help people get on the web and market their sites. They quickly noticed that most of their clients wanted to sell on the web, so they hired some engineers to develop a shopping cart for them. That eventually became the main focus of the business.
In 1998, Open Market in Boston bought the iCentral company. Open Market had a high end ecommerce engine called Transact that they'd sell to telco companies, but they didn't have a good user interface/frontend for it, so they acquired the ShopSite product to provide an easy interface to the Transaction engine.
Then, when the bubble burst in 2001, Open Market-- in order to position itself to be acquired by another company--divested itself of a number of companies it had acquired and we, the employees, bought back the ShopSite product. Since then, it's been us again. Most of the original employees from that reacquisition are still here today.
How did you get involved in ShopSite and iCentral?
I worked for about 12 years at Novell, which did networking software. After a great run, Novell’s growth was slowing down, and they offered a deal for some of us to volunteer to leave. After leaving, one of my friends told me to take a look at the iCentral company, and I thought it had potential. At Novell I had been an engineering director, so I was brought in to manage iCentral’s engineering group.
After Open Market purchased ShopSite, the iCentral CEO left and I eventually became the site Vice President for the ShopSite group. When we decided to take back the ownership, the ShopSite team felt that I should be their CEO.
What experience did you bring to the table at ShopSite and iCentral to grow to be CEO?
I have the technical background - a computer science degree and experience programming for a number of years. Eventually I wanted to go into management, so I went back to school to get my MBA. From there, I went to Novell and that's where I ran their developer relations business to get third parties to write to our APIs. After doing that for several years, I eventually moved into engineering and managed several teams at a director level. Both positions gave me great experience, especially as the company grew (they doubled in size every year for several years).
Can you tell us a bit about ShopSite's clients, and what kinds of stores are based on the platform? What is typically the business size of your client base, and where are your customers typically located?
Our customers cover the entire spectrum of Small to Medium size businesses. We have small mom and pop shops that are just getting started on one end of the spectrum and large multi-million dollar online businesses on the other end. Many of our larger customers also have a brick and mortar presence as well.
A large portion of ShopSite merchants come from our channel of hosting partners that resell our product to their customers. We work with hosting companies like Bluehost, GoDaddy, and many others. These partners offer a lot of value at a very low cost; it's a good place for the DIY (or Do It Yourself) merchant to get started. They can easily jump into the world of ecommerce without breaking the bank.
We also partner with hosting companies like Lexiconn and Pair Networks that specialize in helping larger merchants succeed. They offer the extra hand holding and support that a larger business appreciates as they continue to grow. (We’ve even had some of our customers highlighted on Oprah or Good Morning America, which drove thousands of orders to them in a very short amount of time.
We also have merchants who choose to host on their own servers. With ShopSite, you can host your store anywhere you want. You are not restricted to a single hosting provider.
Is ShopSite only a managed hosted/cloud solution, or can someone download the software and maintain it locally?
We have hosting partners that will load the software for you. We have merchants who have their own server and they load and manage it themselves. And we have a few partners who have said, "we want to offer ecommerce, but we want a cloud/SaaS model where you run the server and host the cart while we host the frontend on our servers." We run the whole gamut, but the main emphasis has been the hosting model. If people want it other ways, we'll let them have it other ways.
Do you find that stores like Amazon are taking away from some of the services you provide, or is the growth pretty steady or consistent?
The market is changing; the whole web is certainly maturing. But you're also seeing merchants gather where their customers are. You see that with Amazon, Facebook, and eBay. You see merchants going to multiple places, wherever they find their customers virtually hanging out. If you're really successful, you can't really be in just one place. Merchants are on their own websites, but also on Amazon or Facebook or eBay.
What are your plans for the next 24 months?
Along those lines, you'll see us doing deeper integrations with vendors like Amazon and supporting the tools they offer. Wherever our merchants are finding shoppers, we're going to be there too. For example, today, besides having a web site, we also offer our merchants a Facebook store and integrations with some eBay tools like Turbo Lister. We will keep looking at other places to support our merchants so they can sell wherever they find their customers.
At the same time, we'll help the little guy become more successful and help the bigger guy grow as he scales up and has more needs. Recently, we released a 64-bit version of ShopSite. That's going to benefit the high end guys; the biggest benefit our merchants will see with 64-bit ShopSite is the larger database size that we can now accommodate.
How do you see the industry changing over the next 3 years?
It's not just "on the web and on the Internet," you need to have a presence on several different places, like Amazon, Pinterest, etc. I think that's what's happening, a little different than how it used to be. You now have a website plus all the other places you need to be with your customers.
Is there anything else you'd want our readers to know?
As far as ShopSite is concerned, we strive to have a product that is easy to use, that grows with you as you grow your business, but maybe the most important feedback we get from our customers is that "it just works." We have merchants that are running versions of our software that are over 8 years old! That is clearly something that “just works,” and keeps on working! We of course recommend that you upgrade to take advantage of all the new features we are continually adding :-)