Eddie Machaalani: “‘I always had this real passion for helping small businesses grow”

Eddie Machaalani is the co-founder of BigCommerce. He tells us how he got started, the state of ecommerce and his request for a startup.


November 19, 2020

Rob Litterst is a contributor to The Hustle and writer of the pricing strategy newsletter Good Better Best. Check out his analysis on BigCommerce.

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Eddie Machaalani is the co-founder of the SaaS ecommerce platform BigCommerce.

Founded in Australia in 2009, BigCommerce IPO’d in August amid the pandemic-fueled online shopping boom. Since then, the company has seen its market value more than double to ~$4.6B.

Now it’s busy prepping for an expected ~$190B US ecommerce holiday shopping season. 

The Hustle recently chatted with Machaalani about:

  • how he got started
  • the startup scene in Australia
  • how BigCommerce fits into the broader ecommerce landscape
  • his request for a startup.

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Eddie, let’s go back – how did you get started in software?

I started as a web designer back in 2001-2002, and always had this real passion for helping small businesses grow. My parents immigrated from Lebanon, and we were able to succeed and do really well in Australia because of the ability to start and grow a small business. So initially, I just wanted to help small businesses go online. 

In the early days, the biggest demand I was getting was the ability to update websites. This was way before WordPress and content management – so I got to work and I thought, how am I going to solve this problem? I went looking for a CMS that I could use and couldn’t find anything, so I built one. 

You scratched your own itch. 

Right – it was one of the first, if not the first, WYSIWYG editors in the browser. That product, which was called WebEdit Pro, quickly took off. Around that time, I met my business partner for BigCommerce, Mitch (Harper) in an IRC chat room. He was building his own thing, and we came together and just started building all sorts of products.

What was the startup scene like in Australia at that point?

This is before I even knew the word for startup! There was no scene in Australia. Raising capital, venture capital, seed investments, I didn’t even know any of that existed. We were literally just building products that we could sell and people wanted. 

Products, as in, plural?

Oh, man. We launched an email marketing platform, we launched multiple content management platforms, a content management platform that helps web-hosting providers, knowledge-base software, analytics software, you name it, we did it. 

And we were doing great. We were making a few million bucks a year and were very profitable. No outside funding, no investment. We still didn’t know what the word startup meant, but we were accidentally using the Lean Startup methodology.

How’d you decide what to build?

We had a website forum and a bunch of customers. And these customers would tell us what they needed. So we’d be building, but before shipping, we would always show it to them to make sure it made sense. It gave us this quick product feedback loop. 

At a certain point, our customer base across all the products we launched, all of them were hounding us to build a “shopping cart” as we called it back then.  

What was the eCommerce landscape like at the time?

It was mainly older, open-source solutions. Our customers kept telling us that the user experience was really painful, and they loved our user experience and pricing model. So we got together and decided, let’s do it. 

We launched Interspire shopping cart, because our parent company was called Interspire, and instantly it became our number one selling product.

Were you SaaS from the get-go?

With Interspire, we charged a one-time fee, and customers had to find a host themselves. We realized that with all the differentiated hosting platforms our customers were using, we wouldn’t be able to keep up with support. So we decided to re-architect the platform in 2009. Later that year, we launched as BigCommerce. 

It seems like those two factors, delivering features that your customers want, and providing the simplicity of the SaaS model remain core to BigCommerce today.

What BigCommerce is seeing is a lot of the on-prem companies want to go online, but they also have a lot of demanding and varied use cases. So BigCommerce coined the term Open-SaaS

You’ll find with a lot of SaaS companies, and some BigCommerce competitors, it’s very closed off in the sense that you use their apps, their platform, and their payment gateway, etc. 

BigCommerce has taken a vastly different approach to be the “Magento of SaaS” if you will. What made Magento so successful is you could customize everything – you weren’t stuck with what you got out of the box. You can use whatever payment platform you want, you can integrate with whatever you want, and you can really dive deep into the platform and almost get on-premise level customization in the SaaS world and that’s what the BigCommerce believes the mid-market and upper-end SMB is looking for.

Shifting gears. What’s your favorite book of the last 12 months?

It doesn’t qualify as the last 12 months, but there’s an incredible book that covers the entire scope of building a SaaS business strategy, and nobody knows about it. It’s called Extreme Revenue Growth by Victor Cheng. 

Best advice you ever got?

It wasn’t personal advice, but I read a phenomenal article from Reid Hoffman about why he stepped out as CEO of LinkedIn. In the last five years, it was the best piece of advice I’ve gotten because I read that and it really resonated with me. 

He talked about when LinkedIn got to 30-40 people, he stopped having fun, and it wasn’t what he enjoyed doing, so he hired somebody who loved that part of growth. 

At the time, BigCommerce had grown to 300 people and I stopped having fun. My passion was working directly with customers and working on product, with small teams. Reading that gave me the confidence to go and hire Brent, our current CEO, who’s been with the company ever since, and has done a phenomenal job. 

Do you have a request for a startup?

I think there might be people working on it, but being able to access experts easier. Whether it’s paying for a call or just being able to jump on a video call and pay $15/hour to get educated on a topic. You can get so much value out of YouTube, but what if it was that much easier to connect to people one on one?

Like Cameo for mentorship?

Exactly!

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