Earlier this summer, I likened the buzz at the inaugural MACH One conference to the same buzz that surrounded the early days of SaaS. The trend towards building websites and applications using composable architectures — combining Microservices, API-first, Cloud-based SaaS and Headless, hence the MACH acronym — is creating a huge opportunity for its early adopters. So, just as the advent of SaaS gave rise to a new breed of cloud consultancies back in the day, including Appirio, Bluewolf and Cloud Sherpas in the Salesforce ecosystem, this new trend will likely see the emergence of a similar cluster of pureplay integrators.
This is the thinking behind an $11 million investment announced today in MyPlanet, a consultancy based in Toronto, Canada, which since 2020 has fully dedicated itself to composable commerce projects, mostly built around either Commercetools or Elastic Path. The investment comes from Tercera, a boutique investment firm set up by Chris Barbin, the former founding CEO of Appirio, who is bringing that experience to a new generation of consultancies serving up-and-coming vendors in what Tercera calls the third wave of cloud computing.
This is MyPlanet's first outside equity investment and is designed to fuel growth from its current 200-strong workforce to around 500 as it expands its footprint in North America and beyond. Jason Cottrell, CEO and founder of Myplanet, believes this is the right moment to accelerate its growth. He tells me:
This category is going to explode even more. It's going mainstream in 2022, 2023. Those are critical years in the development of this category. Our viewpoint was, that's the time to invest, to double down. We wanted to see that we had a capital partner on hand to make those investments, see them through confidently, and to be able to adapt to how the market shifts.
Adopting composable commerce
Instead of being based on a single vendor's platform, the MACH architecture that defines composable commerce allows every component to be plugged in or out. This means that there is no lock-in to a single vendor. Cottrell comments:
Customers who can truly get their head around the potential of composable understand that this is their last re-platform. After this, they have something they can curate, in theory for decades to come. But they should never have to do a major lift upgrade again. They may swap out a commerce vendor, a CMS front end, a data service — that may change, it may get curated. But this notion of a one-and-done re-platform, this should be the last one they ever have to do. It should be curated to serve the evolving needs of their business.
To help clients manage this more disparate collection of moving parts, Myplanet has developed its own toolkit, called Composable.com, to provide more than 35 pre-packaged integrations to different MACH solutions. The fruit of almost $2 million in bootstrapped investment by the company, this toolkit is now actively used by the vast majority of its customers to accelerate project delivery, and demonstrates the value that a systems integrator can bring. But working with a composable MACH architecture requires different skills than working with a classic SaaS architecture, as Cottrell explains:
They do similar end things, but it's the shift from SaaS to infrastructure. That unlocks a whole new set of potential. It also means that it's different to work with. Firms that have specialized and built an Adobe practice, or a Salesforce or even a Shopify/BigCommerce practice, it does not translate one-to-one to working in this category.
Having realized that it was developing skills that could give it an edge in an emerging market, Myplanet took the decision in 2019 to move its business entirely to this new category. It was a calculated risk after a decade of successful operation, but the company had already seen the new architecture working for brands and retailers such as New Balance, UNTUCKit and Harry Rosen — the last of which won the MACH Award for Best Retail Project at the recent MACH One event. Cottrell explains:
We had a very good customer roster established. But we recognized that, for those who were pushing boundaries, doing more than just, 'Here's a catalog and a buy button'; for those who had complexity in their operations — delivering for multiple regions, shipping omni-channel — these new API-oriented infrastructures really were a powerful unlock. This was a better way.
In the event, the timing turned out to be fortuitous, as the pandemic arrived just a few months after the decision had been taken, increasing the pressures on clients to move to a more flexible architecture. He elaborates:
All of a sudden COVID hits, puts this whole pressure on the system. I think it was this great rallying force. For those who could see the potential, they all of a sudden understood that this was just going to accelerate it, it's going to happen years sooner. So it was almost a positive force on us to just fully catalyze the shift into this complete dedication in this space. And I'd say from early 2020 onwards, we haven't looked back.
E-commerce pain points
With a strong cash position, the business was able to take a long-term view and prioritized its investments in Composable.com and completing the category transition into composable commerce, he adds.
That is paying off now, as clients seek solutions to pain points that have become ever more acute as their e-commerce requirements expand. He says:
The brands that are a good fit for composable have what I call the multi problem. There's a complexity in their business that is the reason why it doesn't run well on Shopify or Salesforce. And so often, that's [because] they're running in multiple regions, shipping from multiple DCs [distribution centers], they're shipping online and in store, they're running multiple brands, multiple banners, they run multiple commercial models. It's when you get into that multi-, that 'and' scenario, that's often what breaks traditional systems. You can talk to them for about five minutes and uncover how painful that fragmentation has become for them — the drag it's producing on their operations, the cost it's introducing as their revenue grows ...
While either Commercetools or Elastic Path typically anchor these implementations, there is often a surrounding ecosystem of vendors to connect, including various front-end and CMS components, personalization, POS, store order management, payments and checkout. Reconfiguring the customer data stack in Twilio Segment or connecting other flows through Google Cloud Platform is also a common requirement.
A timely move to align with the shift towards composable Tierless Architecture.