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Headless Upgrades and Category Dominance with Builder’s Steve Sewell

Adrian Alfieri

Adrian Alfieri

Steve Sewell is the founder and CEO of Builder, a no-code platform enabling commerce brands to visually create, manage, and optimize high-speed site experiences. Builder’s customer base spans household names like Everlane, Chubbies, Harry’s, Afterpay, and Zapier, to name a few.

We sat down with Steve to dig deeper on constructing a visual layer for the modern tech stack and why your brand should be testing as much as possible. Here’s what we cover:

  1. Visualizing the Digital Shopping Experience
  2. The Future of Legacy Enablement
  3. Enhanced Testing for Upgrading Retention
  4. When It’s Time to Raise Your Next Round

“We’re used by influencers, mom-and-pop stores, small Shopify brands, and Fortune 500 companies. When it comes to headless, the beauty is that it can be used by everyone, no matter how small – the sky’s truly the limit.”

Visualizing the Digital Shopping Experience

Omnichannel brands like Everlane are generally able to cultivate beautiful and intricate experiences through their physical locations, while the digital world has been historically constrained in terms of teams’ abilities to customize for that equivalent online.

In response, Builder aims to enable brands to pour a similar degree of care, attention, and bespoke detail into the digital shopping experience.

Whatever limitations previously existed due to the friction between design and development can be alleviated by a simple drag and drop headless integration, bringing brands closer to executing their true, unrestricted vision.

Beyond simply addressing baseline problems and establishing minimally viable web pages, digital brands are leveraging the Builder suite to fully customize the end-to-end user experience.

Storytelling through Products

Rather than stacking a product’s description with critical, but oftentimes bland, information, brands like Atoms are crafting add-on elements to create a complete storytelling experience.

Someone browsing the Atoms site can scroll down on a product page for graphics and videos on the bespoke elements of the shoe, an efficient method for augmenting the user experience that can also be easily recycled and tailored for every product.

Personalizing the User Journey

Using headless tools, brands can easily run A/B testing and begin personalizing to shoppers.

For instance, if a shopper is redirected to a product page from an Instagram ad campaign about Atoms’ elastic laces, the site engine can double-tap on that knowledge of what piqued their interest, presenting more of that feature rather than randomizing displays.

Abandoning the Database Page

As Steve describes it, most eCom sites are thin, grid-like visual layers placed over a database.

But if you click on a Builder-powered site, such as Everlane’s denim collection, you might see a far more design-forward full-bleed, complete with the interactive experience of toggling various fits and model sizes.

Of course, this not only results in a more stimulating shopper experience but also improved communication of product options to customers.

“The digital world should really be easier to manipulate than the physical, but that hasn’t been the case. With Builder, we hope teams can now put that same love and attention into the online version of their experience.”

The Future of Legacy Enablement

At a glance, eCom tooling is only continuing to grow both more sophisticated and more accessible for brands.

In terms of what the future holds, Steve has a simple prediction: With the current pace of the ecosystem, legacy enablement companies will be struggling to catch up. Meanwhile, headless options and platforms like Shopify will continue their trajectory toward category dominance.

However, according to Steve, although these platforms will continue to scale and improve, they’ll never truly outstrip younger companies who can adopt newer tech at a more rapid pace.

Even more so, younger eCom players will be able to support users who are unsatisfied with the ceiling on speed, customization, etc. that exists on older platforms, due to the baggage of running legacy tech and having to support millions of merchants on their service.

Based on his domain expertise and unique vantage point in the ecosystem, Steve expects today’s leading platforms to simultaneously advance and fall behind, while overall connectivity and optionality increase.

Instead of teams needing to default to expert guidance or specialists, the norm could very well shift toward headless, one-click solutions that can meet a large fraction of your tech needs, straight out of the box.

“Of course, Shopify will keep growing and optimizing their platform. But, they won’t be able to keep up with the needs of this next wave of leaner, more nimble emerging brands, many of which don’t even exist yet.”

Enhanced Testing for Upgrading Retention

In a return to the fundamentals, Steve stressed the overlap between a clean, incisive web presence and repeat purchase rates, as well as subscriptions.

Regardless of whether your brand operates on a subscription model, a shopper should be able to land on your site and easily determine whether your products align with their needs. And if you’ve succeeded, that user is all the more likely to be hooked in — and willing to commit to more than just a one-time purchase.

Personalization also has a hand in the equation, hence Builder’s emphasis on the optimization layer of their core product. After all, running data-informed, targeted pages will, naturally, further hone the accessibility, accuracy, and reliability of your messaging.

In his words, the only way brands can achieve that degree of personalization, i.e. nailing a visitor’s needs and driving them to purchase, is by running as many tests as the tech allows.

There’s simply no way around it.

As Steve explains, roughly 90% of tests are essentially inconclusive, so the more testing you implement to gauge what variations are working or not, the greater your leg up on competitors who may be running cursory tests once a month.

Even if results only demonstrate that your latest feature may be a dud, simply running a test per day will still lead you toward the next solution — which may ultimately be the one that nails the needs of your optimal customer cohort.

“A huge part of Builder is our ability to deliver clean A/B testing, in line with our belief that testing as much as possible is the best way to drive growth. Only the data can reveal what’s really keeping your customers hooked.”

When It’s Time to Raise Your Next Round

In October, Builder raised a Series A round of $14 million led by Greylock Partners.

When asked how he knew it was time to do so, Steve admitted inbound sales had simply grown too quickly for the company to keep up. His team genuinely had an overflow of interest from new customers on a day-to-day basis, to the point where not every email could be returned.

Once they closed out their Series A, the team doubled in size in about three months, allowing Builder to refocus on what customers needed most.

Steve breaks that down into two components.

First, the team realized that brands were actively seeking elegant no-code page builders. And, while Builder fit the bill, brands were simply discovering the tool too late to make the switch.

As such, a key priority for Builder has been amplifying brand awareness and gaining a deeper understanding of the so-called hair-on-fire issues that drive potential clients to consider no-code solutions, in order to ultimately ensure users discover Builder at the exact time that they need to.

Second, Steve hopes to keep refining his vision for the potential of the Builder product. In an online industry where disparate team flows seem to be constrained by bottlenecks, he hopes this latest round of capital can bring the team closer to their vision for headless commerce.

“Even without software knowledge, anybody on a commerce team should be able to run a test, optimize a conversion, and track growth metrics — essentially all the components of what we call no-code superpowers.”

Adrian Alfieri

Adrian Alfieri

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Y Combinator
Bev
Muddy Bites
MatchaBar
Remedy Organics
Facetheory
Krave Beauty
Stryx
One Blade
Doe Lashes
Barukas
Red Bay Coffee
Gooey.
Siete Foods
Sunsoil
Quokka Brew
Ugmonk.
Munkpack
Simulate
Everyday Dose
Backbone
ZBiotics
Semaine Health
Somos
Magic Mind
Uprising
Zox
Huron
XCJ
BelliWelli
Culture Pop
Spongelle
All Day Flavors
Summer Water
Strong Coffee
Ritual Zero Proof
Wellnesse
Hardworking Gentlemen
Heights
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