When Yvan Boisjoli and his three co-founders set out to build an e-commerce app company nine years ago, their success was so tied to online-commerce platform Shopify Inc. they initially named their startup Shappify.
Now, their Winnipeg-based Bold Commerce is shifting its focus beyond the Shopify universe, following a year of accelerated growth for e-commerce providers during the pandemic. “We’ve expanded onto other platforms so we’re becoming a full-rounded e-commerce solutions provider,” said Mr. Boisjoli, Bold’s chief executive officer, in an interview. Those include Shopify rivals BigCommerce and WooCommerce and, increasingly, large retailers that typically don’t use Shopify, which primarily targets small- and medium-sized merchants.
“A big focus will be building our brand, our story, and making sure we’re discoverable everywhere,” Mr. Boisjoli said. “We love the Shopify platform; we want to continue building that relationship, but we think we’re providing something different.”
On Tuesday, Bold, which makes apps that enable e-commerce retailers to add features to online checkouts, announced it had raised $35-million in venture capital led by OMERS Ventures and backed by past investors Whitecap Venture Partners and Round 13 Capital. All three institutions are Canadian-based funds. It’s the biggest financing of a Canadian tech company led by OMERS Ventures since 2018, and follows its 2013 financing of Shopify, 18 months before that company’s May, 2015, initial public offering.
“Shopify showed OMERS there’s a massive opportunity in e-commerce,” said OMERS Ventures partner Laura Lenz. “This is the next infrastructure layer that [e-commerce] brands are needing.”
Bold (legally named Bold Innovation Group Ltd.) started out as four people – Mr. Boisjoli, his brother Eric, Stefan Maynard and Jay Myers – building apps as a side hustle. Their first app in 2012 enabled Shopify merchants to upsell customers at checkouts, for example, offering shoe polish to someone buying boots.
Today, online merchants use Bold apps to entice repeat customers to subscribe for replenishment orders, to track loyalty points, recommend products and to ensure prices and promotions are consistent between online and in-store offerings. Bold has 21 apps on Shopify’s app store for its merchants.
While Shopify has specialized in offering core commerce functionality - selling itself as the operating system for merchants – it has relied on third-party developers such as Bold to offer more specialized features. Many of its partners have thrived, raising large financings of their own, including payments processor Stripe, e-mail marketing specialist Klaviyo, Inc. and instalment payment financier Affirm Holdings Inc., which went public last week ”Shopify is a great platform and we were fortunate enough to build on a rocket ship,” Mr. Boisjoli said.
But the 400-employee Bold has also increasingly worked with larger retailers and rivals to Shopify in the past three years to integrate into their e-commerce offerings.
As a result, Bold, with more than 90,000 e-commerce customers globally including Vera Bradley, Harry Rosen and Pharrell Williams’s Humanrace skincare store, saw gross merchandise volume ordered through its customers’ websites reach US$1-billion in 2020, a 140-per-cent spike over 2019. Bold’s revenues have climbed by 50 per cent in each of the past two years, Mr. Boisjoli said.
He added that Bold has enabled Shopify to improve the competitiveness of its Shopify Plus offering to large retailers, such as Staples Canada. “Staples relies heavily on Bold [for features including pricing promotions and curbside pickup] and couldn’t have gone to Shopify without Bold,” he said.
As Shopify and its partners expand, some observers wonder if they could become competitors. “If you looked [ahead] one, three, five years, there’s a potential that some of these players are on a collision course with each other,” said National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse.
Shopify has had tensions with app providers on its platform in at least one previous case. In 2019 Mailchimp and Shopify severed ties after the former, an e-mail marketing service provider, partnered with Square to create e-commerce landing pages. A Mailchimp spokesperson told TechCrunch at the time it wouldn’t back down from that initiative “just because Shopify sees it as a competitive threat. We want people to have choices.”
Mr. Boisjoli acknowledged Bold has in the past launched products “that could have been seen as competitive to Shopify,” including a product-discounting app. Bold is “in a unique position in that our technology literally is the checkout, with the ingredients to power any type of experience a brand can imagine – anywhere” whether on a merchant’s website or social-media channels.
Asked if Bold could find itself competing with Shopify, Mr. Boisjoli said: “Hopefully there’s a long road here where we’re great partners and, as we continue to move into the enterprise space, hopefully that continues to strengthen the business. When we talk about our expansion, I’m not sitting here saying I’m going to go up against Shopify … [but] I don’t think we live in a world where we’re not going to continue innovating because we’re scared Shopify is going to come into the space. Obviously I’d hate to go up against Shopify if I didn’t have to.”
“Our partner ecosystem ensures merchants have access to critical commerce technology to help start, market and grow their businesses,” Antonio Silva, Director of Partnerships with Shopify, said in an e-mailed statement to The Globe. “Three out of four Shopify merchants have used a third-party app to help run day-to-day operations, and the Shopify App Store now hosts over 5,300 publicly available apps. Entrepreneurship on Shopify can take many forms, including building a successful SaaS business within our partner ecosystem that helps power the future of commerce.”
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