Way back in 2013, I was running a digital agency in London with 2 co-founders, building websites for SME clients.
At the time, building online stores was actual hell. Headless commerce didn't exist, Stripe was still relatively unheard of and accepting payments online involved hundreds of hours and thousands of prayers.
As soon as Stripe started making waves with their drop-in JS-based payment gateway... we began to ask ourselves;
what else could we move to 'the cloud'?
We were already working on a cloud-based CMS, but we realised what would actually save us the most time, was cloud-based ecommerce.
A drop-in cart solution that was SO easy, it would not only appeal to developers but also designers building static brochure sites and possibly even the sellers themselves... one day.
So we started hacking together a JS widget that could be dropped into any website, with a robust API behind the scenes to handle displaying products on a page, loading a cart automatically, and facilitating payments with Stripe.
The next 10 years were a rollercoaster of ups and downs. We were invited to multiple accelerators (we opted for Seedcamp), raised money from a variety of Angels & VCs who all felt this was the future of commerce, and were eventually presented with an acquisition offer from one of Europe's largest payment solutions.
As is often the case with these roller coaster stories, the acquisition fell through. Circa 2018, the company planning to acquire us (which took over a year of due diligence!), were themselves, acquired by PayPal for $2.2 billion. Cash.
The fallout was a difficult time for all of us. Once the poster child of ecommerce, we were now dead in the water.
As with all SaaS companies at the time, we were essentially giving Shoprocket away for free, in the hopes of monetising with transaction fees once bigger sellers switched to Shoprocket later on.
We had put all sales, marketing & development on hold at the request of our potential acquirer, and even advised many sellers to look for alternative solutions as we expected to be absorbed into our acquirer's product, and weren't sure exactly what that would mean for our users who were on competing website builders.
Faced with the ever nearing "burnout" date when our investment would dry up, we all agreed it was time to pull the plug.
We gathered what revenues and cash we had available to clear any outstanding debts, and even returned some to our investors, then officially wound down the company.
A new beginning
Around this time, I had also built a side project called ufile.io - a simple app to host & store your files. Much to my surprise, this app grew organically to over 20 million monthly users, and I learned a huge amount about securing, scaling and syncing vast amounts of data.
I sold that project and made a realisation;
I was now unemployed with a not-insignificant amount of funds at my disposal.
So I decided to take some of the skills I'd learned from building ufile and threw together an MVP for Shoprocket 2.0.
Completely rebuilt from the ground up, with bleeding edge technologies and an infrastructure that offered even faster load times than the major players like Shopify & Ecwid, I was excited once again about the prospect of cloud-based commerce.
This time would be different, instead of "shooting for the stars", I wanted to recreate the more humble success I had with ufile; no funding, no co-founders, no politics. I wanted to build a product that would genuinely help people sell online, save them time, and ultimately nurture a community that would help guide the future of Shoprocket.
Our first iteration of Shoprocket relied on jQuery(!) and required users to embed multiple code snippets throughout their site. They needed to create their own templates and use Shoprocket to render content into them. Although this allowed for greater flexibility, it wasn't simple.
More importantly, we had a never-ending list of features on our roadmap that grew larger every day, and we often found ourselves pulled towards potential partnerships, pitches and other chores that simply didn't progress our product.
The technical debt we had accumulated in v1 was paralysing, every idea we had ultimately ended with "Ah we'll do that after the rebuild" - a mythical event that would never come to pass.
With Shoprocket 2.0 - it's a different story. Our frontend widget is incredibly light and vanilla JS without dependencies (our loader.js is just 800 bytes - which in turn loads all required elements into your page asynchronously, with a "just in time" approach). Our main JS bundle comes in at only 110kB, with an average load time of ~59ms.
By using a headless commerce approach, and serving large amounts of data as pure JSON to the widget, we were able to create an instantaneous browsing experience. Clicking a product requires no load times at all, as the content is already available, locally.
You can try it yourself on our demo here: https://cdn.shoprocket.io/test.html
Shoprocket 2.0 is now almost 2 years old, the vast majority of our features are live and we have a steady flow of sellers joining on a daily basis, but now we need your help.
The truth is we still don't know exactly who Shoprocket is for. It's tempting to say "sellers!" but that's incredibly vague, and every seller has varying levels of technical skill, requirements and goals.
We need to find our niche. That small, but highly targeted group that will pioneer our product, help guide our roadmap and give feedback that is aligned with our vision.