For a CEO, a successful meeting with the board — where they congratulate him or her on a profitable year and authorize bonus money for the executive team — shouldn’t leave that person lying awake all night worried about the future. But that’s exactly the position that sticky.io CEO Brian Bogosian found himself in earlier this year after a meeting where his board approved the eCommerce platform company’s 2020 business plan.
“That night, I didn't sleep at all — I was up tossing and turning and pacing,” he told Karen Webster during a recent conversation. “And I ended up calling an emergency board meeting the next morning to say: ‘Look, I think we need to protect ourselves a little bit better. And I want to take a number of steps to reduce expenses and put more cash on the balance sheet, even though we’re profitable and have cash.’ I didn't know what impact the coronavirus was going to have on our business.”
Bogosian acted out of an abundance of caution, but as it turned out, nothing bad happened. In fact, sticky.io’s transaction volume shot up during the pandemic. And not only has the company avoided layoffs, but it has actually grown its headcount as the retail world has been pushed into a digital realm that is unlikely to reverse anytime soon.
The CEO said there’s no indication that any of the COVID-19 risks consumers have faced over the past several months will dissipate overnight. So, the great shift to online commerce is likely here to stay — and could even expand into market segments that have heretofore mostly relied on physical stores.
“I think that [once consumers have] broken that ice and gone into that digital domain, the convenience factor of purchasing things online versus driving someplace and going into a brick-and-mortar location will greatly change traditional ways of life as we know it,” Bogosian said.
He noted that the new normal is really the new digital normal. Brands are realizing that once freed from the constraints of selling through someone else’s marketplace, they can reach out directly to consumers more reliably and profitably through things like easily customizable subscription services.
Bogosian said that sticky.io aims to help companies forge such connections via the firm’s fully integrated eCommerce order management and recurring billing platform. He added that sticky.io designed its platform to plug seamlessly into any front-end system, reducing risks and enhancing profitability through advanced tools.
Winning Clients By Fixing Legacy Systems’ Failures
sticky.io built its platform and services for enterprise-size players rather than “mom-and-pop” small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), although the company does serve a fairly large and growing number of medium-sized firms, Bogosian pointed out. Many of those companies are digitally native vertical brands that enter the market with their sights set on disrupting older incumbents.
The company began focusing on medium-sized firms when it acquired LimeLight CRM in 2016. Since then, sticky.io has spent the bulk of the time focusing on building out its product and moving the platform to the cloud. Other achievements include becoming PCI Level One compliant and adding tools and features to make the ecosystem stickier for its merchant clients.
“We’ve since quintupled the business profitably each year, and we've grown the company by at least five or six times in terms of the number of people [employed],” Bogosian said. “We have nearly 500 partners in our marketplace, and a lot of our revenue growth in the first three years after the acquisition came from our existing customers.”
For instance, he noted that the firm converted some clients from just paying Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) fees to adding a suite of new services — in some cases boosting monthly revenues by 20 or 30 times. “It has mostly been about a lot of product focus to ensure we had something that we thought could scale,” he noted.
The CEO said sticky.io also focused on building tools to eliminate problems with client legacy platforms that are slow, limited and reliant on third-party plug-ins that increase risks of a crash. By contrast, sticky.io builds most or all of such tools directly into its own platform, enabling merchants to easily manage their entire backend.
The company can zero in on that area because it focuses exclusively on direct-to-consumer (D2C) merchants, unlike players in the subscription space who do significant amounts of B2B payments between firms and SaaS subscription providers, Bogosian said. He believes D2C is a growing market in the pandemic’s wake, pushing a host of new types of players onto the field.
The Changing Face Of Commerce
Large enterprise players like major consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies face a truly unique time in their history when it comes to finding new, better ways to reach customers. Bogosian said that’s because recent months have seen a “disruption in the traditional retail purchasing habits among consumers,” which is unlikely to change.
“In the areas where we spend a lot of time — whether that's food, pet products, health, wellness or beauty — these are replenishable products,” Bogosian noted. “Among those playing in that market, [if] they don’t have a subscription model now, they are looking at them for the future.”
But he added that subscriptions and other recurring billing models present their own unique challenges. For instance, Bogosian said so-called “friendly fraud” (where consumers receive the merchandise and then seek chargebacks on their credit cards) is an endemic problem that sticky.io aims to combat with tools like its Transaction Select product. That’s a machine learning tool that takes a quick look back at a customer’s history of chargebacks, cancellations and refund requests before a merchant approves a transaction.
But the CEO said that subscription billing needs more than just security. Instead, systems must be flexible so that consumers who like their subscriptions can, say, easily pause them to go on vacation.
The point is to help merchants manage their companies’ back-end systems well enough so they can present better, more tempting products on the front end — particularly as more and more customers move to online commerce.
“We want to build something really sticky — and not just sticky between us and our customers, but between our customers and their customers,” Bogosian said. “And really that’s what this is all about — building a cohesive platform … that is flexible, scalable [and] will let [merchants] easily go to work how they need to.”