From books to furniture and fashion to cars, there doesn’t seem to be anything that isn’t available to purchase online these days, and two enterprising Australians, Mitchell Harper, 29 and Eddie Machaalani, 33 are proving that, for anyone, setting up an online store can be just a few clicks away.
Harper and Machaalani’s startup company, BigCommerce now provides an e-commerce platform for 25,000 online stores and is expected to turn over $20 million this year.
Last year saw a boom in BigCommerce’s business with a $15 million investment from major US venture capital group, General Catalyst. BigCommerce now has offices in Sydney as well as Austin, Texas, employing 130 people with plans to double their staff in the next two years.
With 680 per cent growth last year alone, BigCommerce is now the fastest growing e-commerce platform in the world.
BigCommerce is not only riding but also leading a wave that is increasingly moving away from traditional bricks and mortar stores to online shopfronts, particularly in the US, where 90 per cent of the population was estimated to shop online last year.
“The US are usually three or four years ahead of Australia. Online shopping is huge there and 80 per cent of our business is from the US, but Australia is rapidly catching up,” says Harper. “Everyone is shopping online now, so we might as well make it easier for them.”
BigCommerce primarily targets small to medium businesses with revenue up to $10 million. Their customers range from home-based businesses taking orders to fashion houses (including Bettina Liano, Akira), jewellery (including Pandora), wine clubs and fan merchandise (Australian boxer Danny Green sells his products through BigCommerce).
“We have people selling everything from caravans, sheds, computers and clothing to iPhone cases. There is no limit to what you can sell through BigCommerce,” says Harper who now divides his time between their offices in Sydney and Austin. “We are not trying to kill the typical shopping experience. It’s more about complementing it.”
Harper, who was born in Sydney, Australia, displayed his prodigious computer skills at an early age, teaching himself to program at 11 and starting his first company while still in high school. “It was an educational website which taught programming and design, so as I was learning I could teach other people. I seem to have a knack for explaining complicated things and making them sound easy,” he says.
He met Machaalani, also from Sydney, in a chat room in 2003 while both were seeking answers for a particular programming problem. “We just hit it off, and that’s when we decided to start a business together,” says Harper. They proved they had a knack for user friendly software, setting up various content management systems and email marketing software to create and send newsletters. “People were telling us how easy it was to use and they wanted to know if we could set up an e-commerce platform for their online shopping carts. That inspired us to look around out there and there didn’t seem to be anything targeted to small businesses that was easy and affordable,” says Harper.
Harper and Machaalani began BigCommerce in 2009 and, instead of offering the traditional model of a one-time price for a perpetual license to the software, they offer a subscription service with monthly fees ranging from $25 to $300 which lets customers easily set up online stores and accept payments from a variety of methods. “With our service we take care of all the technology and you get unlimited 24/7 support,” says Harper. “We add new features automatically without you having to worry about any of that.”
They also provide their customers with powerful tools to sell and promote their products through multiple shopping comparison websites, a web store, iPhone, Android, iPad, Facebook and more.
“E-Commerce is no longer just about setting up an online store and having the ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality. With BigCommerce you have the tools to sell wherever your potential customers may be,” says Harper.
BigCommerce-powered online stores around the world have now processed over $600 million in sales, processing over 5.7 million orders and 28.8 million items. With 680 per cent growth last year alone, it is now the fastest growing e-commerce platform in the world.
Harper says the company will continue to be based both in Australia and the US. “Eddie and I still consider Sydney to be our home, and we have great engineering staff there, while in Austin we have a great marketing team, so they complement each other really well,” he says.
“Our goal is to be the number one player. When you think of Google you think search, Facebook is social. We want to be synonymous with the word e-commerce,” says Harper of their future ambitions. “If I can look back in five years and know that we have built a company with a thousand employees and helped a million business owners go online and grow their sales, then I think that’s a worthy cause to pursue.”
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