If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's what the two co-founders of the shopping cart/ecommerce platform Interspire thought back in 2003. At the time, Mitchell Harper and Eddie Machaalani ran separate software companies. "We were both building content management systems when we met and decided we'd get more done if we joined forces," recalls Harper.
From the start, Interspire was an international operation. Harper and Machaalani are both based in Australia; Harper had created a software platform for one of Australia's biggest online computer stores. Harper decided to do the work himself because, in his words, "all of the existing ecommerce software offerings were lacking features or were too hard to use. Eddie was freelancing at the time and was frustrated with off-the-shelf ecommerce software because of its complexity and cost, so that's where the initial idea came from."
The word "complexity" is key because, from the start, Harper and Machaalani wanted to create a service that merchants with no technical abilities could use easily. So it's no surprise that ShoppingCartReviews.com uses the word "slick" repeatedly in its very positive review of the ultimate version of the Interspire Shopping Cart package. That's exactly what the two former competitors were looking for. "It's as easy to use as Gmail and doesn't require a user manual," says Harper.
Buy the Software or Choose BigCommerce Hosted Packages
You can purchase a licensed version of the Interspire shopping cart for a one-time fee as long as you find a host for it yourself. The shopping cart comes in three versions: Starter ($295), Professional ($995), and Ultimate ($1,795).
Or, you can select Interspire's hosted ecommerce package, BigCommerce, which comes in five versions ranging from $24.95 to $299.95 per month. Note that BigCommerce is not PCI DSS compliant; Harper said they are 98% complete and expect to be certified by the end of the year.
With hundreds of ecommerce packages on the market, Interspire tries to distinguish itself not only with ease of use, but with two other principles:
- Marketing adds-ons and integrations. Interspire customers can use features such as the ability to place items for sale on eBay with just three mouse clicks; integration with the Mailchimp email marketing service; a Google AdWords campaign generator; and SEO optimization.
- Transparency. Customers have the ability to suggest new features and vote on the ones they would like most. "The update we're releasing next week includes 12 new features which were picked off the top of the "Popular Ideas" list that our customers created and voted on. That's a very unique way to build software and provide input from customers and I haven't seen any other business do that."
If you have been reading AuctionBytes' profiles of different ecommerce providers in recent months, you'll recognize some of these features, such as SEO and the ability to suggest new features, that are offered by Interspire's competitors as well. So is the provider's target market: small- to medium-sized businesses with revenues of up to $3 million per year. It's probably not individual features themselves that are unique, but the degree of transparency Interspire gives its customers, and the way all of its features presented as part of the total user experience.
Harper and Machaalani didn't go into the ecommerce service field with an extensive background in business, however. "I taught myself programming in QBasic when I was 12," says Harper, who is now 28. "I then progressed through Visual Basic, C/C++, ASP and then onto PHP which is what BigCommerce was created with. I built 80% of the initial version and then we started to bring on engineers who are true experts at software engineering. Eddie also has a background in programming. We learned business the hard way - reading hundreds of books and trial-and-error testing."
The company's nearly 50 employees are located in Sydney, Australia, where Interspire's development office is located, and in Austin, Texas, where sales and support are done. When Harper spoke, he and Machaalani were in Austin, reworking options and variations for customers based on their feedback.
Plenty of ecommerce merchants have chosen Interspire: currently, its BigCommerce package has 8,000 users, while Interspire as a whole has more than 50,000 customers. The notion of a "slow economy" hasn't affected BigCommerce, which has grown more than 1600 percent in the past year and, in Harper's words, "is showing no signs of slowing down."
Being able to help so many entrepreneurs is what Harper likes best about running Interspire. "I love the fact that our software helps so many people attain financial freedom. Money is important and as a business owner or entrepreneur, if our software can help you grow your business quickly and not have to worry about money, then we've done our job."