Envisioning a Decentralized Ecommerce Landscape with Violet’s Cofounder & CEO Brandon Schulz
Violet pictures an ecommerce ecosystem that’s more collaborative, open-sourced, and distributed than ever before. In that world, shoppers can buy products directly from any platform—whether that’s inside livestream, AR, VR, SMS, social, or more.
Imagine watching your favorite beauty YouTuber livestream her Kosas Haul on Supergreat and then having the option to buy all her go-to products right there on the platform.
Or, imagine trying on a killer jumpsuit in the metaverse, purchasing it through your smart glasses, and directly adding it to your avatar’s closet.
With Violet, that’s all possible.
They’re building a unified checkout API that enables seamless, in-app purchasing from anywhere on the web. In October 2021, they raised $10 million in Series A funding, led by Klarna, with participation from Sugar Capital, Lachy Groom, and Red Sea Ventures.
We sat down with cofounder and CEO Brandon Schulz to learn more about:
- Violet’s evolution: How their solution was a decade in the making
- The seven, emerging commerce channels drawing in brands today
- Why decentralization is a win for both platforms and brands alike
“The ecommerce industry is finally jumping aboard the universal commerce train, and it’s incredibly fulfilling.”
Universal Checkout: A Decade in the Works
As Brandon recounts, he started thinking about decentralized online shopping around 2011. That’s when he saw brands beginning to leverage social media for conversions.
Quickly, social media became the new go-to mechanism for marketing and ads. But, repeatedly, consumers would ask why they couldn’t buy products directly within the platforms themselves.
Looking back, Brandon still wonders why that question went unanswered for roughly a decade.
“It’s wild that you can only purchase items on the single, standalone website where the products exist.”
The Evolution of APIs and Headless Commerce
In 2012, Brandon and his co-founder Rhen Zabel started Violet’s predecessor—an early equivalent of Hootsuite for ecommerce workflows. Though the product was slightly different from what Violet offers today, the ethos was the same: how to make online shopping as fluid and open as possible.
But the market wasn’t ready. Five years later, with the evolution of online experiences and the rise of APIs as critical ecommerce infrastructure, Brandon and Rhen knew the time was right to try again.
As Brandon and Rhen continued to iterate around potential solutions both together and in separate ventures, the internet saw a rapid rise of APIs for everything. As platforms like Stripe and Plaid rose to prominence, Violet’s co-founders realized they needed to build a different product.
This time, they focused on filling a slightly different whitespace, by building an API that could connect any ecommerce platform (and merchant store) with any online channel or experience. And so in 2017, Violet was born.
“I remember thinking, ‘It’s great that people are seeing relevant products, but why not have them buy those products directly within the platform?’”
The Next-Gen of Digital Acquisition Channels
Right now, most ecommerce brands spend money on the same three advertising channels.
While traditional avenues for ecommerce are inundated by enterprise models—thus stunting growth opportunities for SMBs—the Violet team imagines their product as the much-needed middleware, helping brands activate and unlock new acquisition channels.
In our conversation, Brandon highlighted seven unique ecommerce experiences and channels on the rise.
- Livestream: Examples include Popshop Live, Whatnot, and Supergreat.
- Curated social marketplaces: These ecosystems create opportunities for informed individuals to curate and recommend products within specific categories (i.e. Pickr, Throne).
- Text messaging: This channel enables people to purchase via SMS, not just receive advertising.
- Voice-based platforms: Voice-shopping already exists through certain platforms like Amazon’s Alexa, but is limited to Amazon products. As Brandon points out, the tech and natural language processing (NLP) paradigms already exist, unified checkout infrastructure does not.
- Broader web & digital media: Think blogs, independent websites, CMS, and more. All of which typically lack the technical connective tissue (i.e. Violet) to reach the more largely populated highways of digital shoppers.
- Television: Brandon thinks of TV advertising as beyond traditionally static commercials. It’s live shopping broadcasts, streaming, etc.
- AR & VR: Brandon predicts that we’ll see the normalization of devices such as smart glasses for non-physical clothing try-ons, ordering, purchasing, and more—all within the same interface. He says, “Augmented reality is a global game-changer that can’t be overstated.”
While there are clear hurdles to an eventual 3D ecommerce world, Violet’s job isn’t to build the necessary computer vision software. The team’s goal is to support product databases, translate orders, and handle all the other components for the underlying functionality of these channels.
The paradigm is shifting. A notable percentage of revenue will soon move to emerging channels, where consumers can buy both digital and physical goods.
“In the next two years, the social media and web-based media ecosystem will change dramatically. No one’s ready for it.”
Building New Economic Models
Analytics almost directly attach themselves to revenue, says Brandon. Every DTC brand is trying to nail down their customer acquisition cost (CAC), especially as costs rise.
Brandon says, “Here’s how most brands think about CAC. They’re asking, ‘Based on my ad spend per channel, how many people are clicking? Based on my click-through rate, what’s the conversion rate? Then, what’s the conversion rate down to an actual order? What’s average order value (AOV)?’”
For net new channels, those same metrics and key questions apply. Violet helps brands enable those metrics on a per-channel basis.
Brandon explains, “We think it’s difficult for challenger brands to compete in the market. Why can’t brands try new channels, and why can’t we change the whole economic equation?”
Allowing channels to engage with new types of economic models, Violet flips DTC analytics on its head. If a channel decides that they’d rather take a cut of every transaction rather than be an ad network, they can negotiate that type of arrangement ahead of time.
From an analytics perspective, that’s super compelling. Why?
The brand pays zero dollars upfront for exposure. They get all their products listed on different channels, and they only pay when an order is processed. In turn, the channel is incentivized because they only get paid when an order is processed.
Now, the equation changes so that brands aren’t paying for exposure and access. They’re paying for completed orders, which naturally lends itself to customer acquisition costs and sell-through rates.
How does this come to life? For example, a brand might know that their customer acquisition cost is 20% on a given channel because they pre-negotiated it. That number stays static, and the brand can start to evaluate other metrics, seeing which products sell best on which channels at what times.
“This new method opens up a different sort of analysis, and the spray and pray mentality goes away. You’re no longer spending $10K and praying that you get orders that generate 20% more cash.”
Decentralization: A Win for Platforms, Channels, and Brands Alike
Violet’s primary goal—both as a team and as a product—is to remove ecommerce products, categories, and environments from their silos, where products are locked away.
In other words, Violet enables the decentralization and interconnection of the historically divided commerce ecosystem as we know it.
And, it’s doing so by acting as the translation layer between next-gen ecommerce channels and today’s diverse ecommerce platforms and backend providers(i.e. Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, and so on), who all have unique API interfaces.
This is, understandably, a game-changing step forward for the platforms and channels facilitating digital purchases and hosting merchant inventory. Violet eases that, helping brands of all sizes win in the changing ecommerce landscape.
The Future of the Internet
Right now, brands spend a ton of capital on ecommerce infrastructure that connects to a single siloed commerce channel (their website), and they spend even more on the same handful of inundated marketing and acquisition channels.
Each new click and journey presents a distraction and eats away at a brand’s potential for actual transactions.
Decentralization can change that.
Brandon is bullish on Web3, and it’s not for any of the typical reasons most people get excited about—NFTs, DAOs, etc. As an infrastructure guy, he’s wondering, “What is the lowest layer required to enable the next phase of the internet?”
Separate from the blockchain, Brandon agrees with those who see a worldwide database infrastructure layer as the future of the internet. He envisions a bunch of hardware providers running a set of packages with sets of protocols that enable a worldwide database layer that anyone can plug into.
If that happens, the future of commerce and checkout will soon become way more interesting. People will be able to move and build faster, especially with enabling functions like Violet.
“I have no idea what people might do with our tooling, but that’s the whole point. We can pigeonhole people’s natural desires to build in siloed environments, or we can let them turn ecommerce into a sea of creativity.”
- What to pledge
- How to improve
- Which tools will set you up for success
I think the most important thing brands can do in 2023 is to better manage their customer data—both ethically and effectively. There’s an opportunity for brands to know their customers better than ever before—a clear benefit for both the customer and the brand. When you manage your data correctly, you’ll create stronger and more personalized ads, creative, site experiences, and so much more.
This is a classic: Let the data guide you. Go where the buyers for your products are and communicate with them on a personal level (i.e. by persona and funnel position) and nurture those relationships (past, present, and future customers). It’s possible—all through data.
We recommend that Shopify brands analyze and update their websites using data-driven decisions. Using analytics tools such as heatmaps and scrollmaps can help brands better understand how customers are interacting with their store.
Store owners tend to make assumptions about the way customers interact with their website. Most never go back and analyze their design choices to find pain points or areas of opportunity. By using heatmaps and scrollmaps, they can see where real customers are clicking and concentrating their attention. Leveraging this data, brands can start to iterate on design and make their online store experience streamlined and intuitive.
Hotjar provides a simple way to implement heatmaps, scrollmaps, and recorded user sessions on your site, helping you acquire incredibly informative user data. Additionally, it gives you the ability to create on-site surveys, which allows you to obtain direct and often critical feedback from users about their experience.
Test various attribution models and analyze the impact on your business. At Fifty Six, we are always here to help our clients identify and optimize their approach—a critical step in any successful marketing strategy.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times–Customer Lifetime Value. And even more importantly, Future Lifetime Value (FLTV). With the ever-growing importance of first-party data, it is crucial that brands take a good look at their CRM and FLTV metrics.
Stop allocating budgets to low-hanging fruit that doesn’t move the needle on conversion. Think about what’s really going to improve your CX and the return of undertaking different initiatives—not just on what’s top on your list of bugbears on the site!
One of the best ways to understand your customer behavior is by using HotJar. Their heat-mapping and screen recording tools shine a light on where customers are navigating to and from on your site, where they're rage clicking and experiencing frustration, and where conversion is dropping off within real life customer journeys and flows!
Understanding your customers’ pain points via data and analytics , will allow you to work with your CRO/CX Agency to solve customer frustrations and improve conversion.
Rewind backs up all product, customer, and order data for Shopify sites—essential since Shopify itself doesn’t provide this solution. It's saved so many of our clients time and money from administrative accidents.
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33% of customer service inquiries are pre-sale questions. What does this mean? If you’re not investing in customer service, you’re missing out on revenue-generating opportunities.
The benefits of elevating your customer experience:
- 10% to 25% increase in AOV for customers who engage with live chat pre-purchase
- 21x higher conversion rate for customers who reach out via Live Chat or SMS compared to other site visitors
- 87% of customers who have a great customer experience will make another purchase
- 72% of customers share positive experiences with 6 or more individuals
Gorgias is our favorite Helpdesk platform. They can reduce costs by 35%, primarily by decreasing the average ticket handle time. Their machine learning algorithms are trained on millions of ecommerce-related interactions across Gorgias’ customer base and provide accurate, automated replies for the most common ecommerce inquiries. This helps our agents resolve tickets faster, which provides the customer a seamless experience.
Trust your agency! Agencies do the same things across multiple brands and niches, so we see the trends and have the practice and experience!
Don't be afraid of data and insights. If customers aren't clicking on your emails, try a new CTA. If your ads are driving good metrics at a small spend, start scaling. If your customers are complaining about a product, look into QA! If the data tells you something isn't working, let it go and try something else!
I'm supposed to say Tydo, right? 😉
Double down on differentiation. There will be a lot of headwinds this year and standing out from the crowd will set you apart.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A video? Probably millions. In ecommerce that value translates into engagement, acquisition, and retention—everything you need to impact your bottom line.
At soona, we've seen the we've seen the impact of creative and the continuous split testing of it yield results. Our resolution is to challenge ourselves and double down on innovation and creative optionality so that each brand we work with can distinguish themselves in a crowded sea of D2C ecomm. We'd love to see our brands share this resolution and keep pushing the creative limits.
Klaviyo. We're using it to power our email and newsletter at soona too!
Optimize your returns strategy! This can lead to valuable customer insights, enhanced user experiences, and increased revenue and customer loyalty.
Brands need to dive deeper into understanding their customers to set themselves up for success. Conduct research to gain insights into customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. By doing so, you can develop targeted strategies that will enhance customer experience and boost overall retention.
Right now I would say Gorgias. Having a good customer service tool is crucial to building strong customer relationships.
Start paying heavy attention to data, specifically around retention. We see a lot of effort put towards acquisition with the assumption that once someone buys, they are your customer forever. Instead, get to know your customer, understand their needs, and analyze their behaviors once they are on-site and judge their sentiment after they have visited. Work with a retention focused and data-driven agency to implement tools that contribute to repeat business and customer delight. It will pay dividends.
When surveyed, about 80% of ecommerce merchants think that they are delivering a great experience to their customers. However, when the same customers are surveyed, only 8% of those customers think that they are getting a great experience from the merchant. Now, more than ever, retaining loyal customers is an essential part of any online business and you should spend time with your customers to judge their experience with your website and products and offer improvements based on that feedback.
Tydo's report cards are an essential tool, along with Klaviyo for email and SMS, Recharge for subscriptions and memberships, Okendo for reviews and surveys, Rebuy for AI driven collections and upsells, Loop for self service returns... each tool is great on their own, but their strength as the ultimate tool comes from when they are used together!
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