Connecting the Dots: Carted
Carted wasn’t just an idea that fell out of the sky.
I recently returned to the US for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Going through my storage unit in San Francisco, I found an old journal that I kept over the years.
Inside I had written about my aspirations within the ecommerce space, and where I thought I’d be today. It got me thinking about the crazy little coincidences that manifested themselves in different ways and led me to build Carted.
As Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward”. My founder journey is a series of dots, and this post is my attempt at looking backward to understand how they connect.
Understanding the fundamentals of a marketplace
My first introduction to ecommerce was at the age of 14. I would purchase Longchamp handbags from France at warehouse prices, and resell them on eBay for a profit.
The lesson was simple but important — buy, sell, and create value somewhere in between.
As I got older, I built online stores for brands such as Jumbled. I also built a marketplace, Country & Co., which allowed merchants from regional Australia to sell products to urban centers.
In doing so, I truly understood how difficult it was to grow and scale marketplaces when relying on individual merchants to sign up. Without the scale, there is no selection, and without selection, customers don’t come easy.
Solving this challenge has been on the back of my mind since. What’s most exciting about Carted, is the scalable way in which we can connect merchants to new sales channels and surface their products via new commerce experiences.
Delivering customer value
One of my first jobs was working at Appliances Online, as one of their early employees. Part of my role was watermarking and uploading product images on the website. I spent hours in Photoshop and Dreamweaver. All I could think about was how I could automate the whole process to make it more efficient.
What I also took away from the experience, was Appliances Online’s customer-first approach which led them to become one of the largest appliance retailers in Australia.
Appliances Online had competitive prices, ran same-day deliveries in-house, and had impeccable customer service. People loved the experience so much, they became repeat customers and recommended them to their friends. It was truly a beautiful evolution of a family business into the biggest appliances retailer in Australia. (Kudos to John Winning!)
At the end of the day, people don’t care where they get their product from, they care about how quickly they get it and whether they’re paying the best price with the best customer service.
This experience is what Carted will deliver with every transaction. Below is a visual diagram of the Carted product graph. We’re able to source the best purchase option for the product that a customer is looking for, optimize their cart based on the best price, or the best shipping option, and source available variants (e.g. size, in the example below).
Improving shoppers’ experience
Product images sell. But unfortunately, they look average surprisingly often.
This led me to build Pixc, a product image editing app for ecommerce businesses, which I launched in 2014 and bootstrapped for seven years. During that time, I built a completely remote team and became the face of Upwork in the process. We now have over 30,000 Shopify merchants and four apps in the Shopify app store.
I recently drove past a cafe in Newtown where I sat with an investor in the early days of Pixc. He wondered whether we’d ever hit 5,000 images processed per day. A couple of years later, we were processing 1-million monthly images. As a Shopify partner, we were experts in product images and wrote the Shopify playbook for photography guidelines.
It’s amazing to see the impact product images and product pages made on merchants’ ability to sell more. It only made me more passionate to solve problems in ecommerce.
However, the vision for Pixc was always bigger than building awesome product pages and images. It expanded to automation for merchants, multi-channel selling, optimizing product listings, and helping customers find the exact products they want.
Steve Baxter from Ten13 recently forwarded me an email he received from Stew when I first spoke to him about Pixc in 2017. I had shared my ultimate goal of unifying product formatting so that they are streamlined across all platforms and sales channels. Similar to how we have .jpg’s for images, I wanted .spl’s (Standardized Product Listing) for products so that you could download and upload the products to any platform.
It’s fascinating to look back at this now, since Ten13 has invested in Carted and we’re solving for the same challenge, through native product placements and checkout.
Looking beyond product images to create new commerce experiences
At the start of 2020, TikTok and the creator economy were growing at an extremely rapid rate. It seemed social media was no longer about posting aesthetic Instagram posts in a curated art gallery style of feed.
People were drawn to authentic, in the moment, often educational content in the form of video. ‘Every commerce will become video, and every video will become commerce’, Sonal Chokshi, the editor in chief of a16z.
Creators doing one-minute shopping hauls, outfits of the day, and ‘what to wear to___’ videos and getting thousands, if not millions of views, with viewers scouring the comments section to figure out where the creator got their clothes from.
We couldn’t help but see the missing link from the creator economy to the world we knew best — ecommerce. Our vision was to make videos shoppable. So we went on to create Vop, making TikTok feeds shoppable.
The infrastructure to build better commerce experiences
While building Vop, we realized that there was no plug-and-play solution that provides access to all products on the internet.
We needed to focus on building an amazing customer experience but were caught up with building integrations with merchants one by one. This was the breakthrough — a solution to this problem could not only allow Vop to scale faster, but also form the infrastructure for other innovations in ecommerce.
I met Michael Tolo from Blackbird in December of 2020. We then went on to raise one of the largest seed rounds in Australia. Ironically, I had met Niki (Partner at Blackbird) five years ago, and while the product I pitched at the time was not a relevant fit, it just goes to show that Blackbird is true to their world and backs founders 100%.
This was a big founder realization — building connections over the years and persisting to find the right challenge to solve means that you will be backed by incredible investors like Blackbird, who have backed Carted since day dot.
Connecting the dots
There’s a little blue plastic Atlassian duck that’s been sitting in my bathroom for five years. I can’t remember where I picked it up from, but I think it’s a crazy coincidence that Grok Ventures (Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes’ family office) is now one of our investors.
Everything happens for a reason. And all the events in our lives that might be as insignificant as a blue plastic duck sitting in your bathroom, might manifest in ways I could never have imagined.
If I hadn’t been reselling handbags on eBay, who knows if I’d ever work for an online retailer like Appliances Online. And if it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t have known enough about building online stores. And if I hadn’t understood the impact that product images had on conversion, Pixc would never have existed.
It’s exciting to build out the vision I’ve always dreamed of. Carted is the company that encompasses all that’s been missing from ecommerce. From allowing merchants to sell anywhere, to helping customers find products they need at the best price and shipping, to empowering developers to build any commerce experience on top of an existing solid infrastructure that covers the basics of product and checkout; Carted is the future of commerce.