‘Going live is not the goal, it’s only the start of the race‘

3 Jul 2020

Amit Shah. Image: Vtex

Amit Shah of Vtex discusses the changing e-commerce market and why thinking about digital transformation as an end goal is ‘missing the point’.

Amit Shah is the chief strategy officer and US general manager at e-commerce business Vtex.  The company, which started in Latin America helping businesses expand into new markets with an end-to-end e-commerce service, raised $140m at the end of last year.

Before joining Vtex, Shah founded e-commerce analytics business Jirafe, which was acquired by SAP Hybris, and prior to that he was VP of sales and business development for Magento.

‘If you think about transformation as an exercise with an end date, you’re missing the point’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

As chief strategy officer, my job is to listen to the needs of our customers around the world (we are now live in 50-plus countries), look at the changing world of commerce both online and offline, and balance all of that with what we hear from the market and new customer opportunities.

As general manager of our US business, my role is somewhat different in that my job is less future-oriented — it’s more about the tactical day-to-day activities of supporting our current customers in the US and helping our go-to-market team differentiate Vtex in the market.

A lot of my time is spent with our customer success teams, really understanding the end business of each of our customers and developing strategies for them to grow. Whether that be by opening new markets, new channels or adding new product and service offerings. The software we build is a bridge to our customers, but our job day in and day out is to grow our customers’ businesses. So, that’s where the team and I spend our time.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

Yes, one of the big trends we are now seeing is globalisation across our larger enterprise customers. Last fall, Motorola chose us as their global commerce platform, and we have now launched them in more than 30 countries around the world. As their ambitions and business goals grow even broader, we ensure our platform can support the specific needs of each market they enter.

They were clear they wanted to standardise on one partner worldwide to be able to go live quickly, capture and share best practices, and be able to benchmark operations around the globe. So, even if Covid-19 is temporarily limiting trade and closing borders, our customers see the big picture and the need for global partners.

How big is your team? Do you outsource where possible?

In the US, we have a team of 50 people across sales, marketing, partners and customer success. One of the most unique things about Vtex is that two-thirds of my team is in customer success, so they are working daily with our agency partners to get customers live and help them grow their business. We tell our customers that going live is not the goal, it’s only the start of the race.

On the topic of outsourcing, it’s not really something we are doing in the US. We need our teams to be experts in commerce so we cannot outsource that. But we do selectively partner with domain knowledge practitioners for specific areas of expertise. One example is consumer packaged goods, where we are working with a former C-level executive at Johnson & Johnson, Frito-Lay and Revlon to help us better understand the needs of that customer base.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

One of our tag lines is: ‘Accelerate commerce transformation.’ So we are big believers that businesses and enterprises have to continually evolve how they engage with their end customers, whether in B2C, B2B or offline retail.

Our job is to be the commerce partner for our customers and help them continuously adapt to changing market and customer demands. If you think about this as an exercise with an end-date, you are missing the point.

It is not so simple now to just say we are going to move from physical stores to online commerce. It’s a complex process with serious breadth and depth, so we help our customers think through how changing business models also require changes in company culture, operations, goals and metrics.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

I think less about tech trends and instead focus on customer needs and expectations and how we help our customers adapt to meet those needs. For example, one major trend we saw five years ago was the growth of marketplaces, and now that is a core part of our offering. It really spoke to the end customers’ desire for more choice and convenience — having fewer trusted choices for consumption.

Similarly, we have seen that really successful B2B companies have found ways to deepen their relationships with their end customers and offer more service in addition to the sale of physical products. Now traditional OEMs are moving to product-as-a-service. For instance, Rolls-Royce not only sells the jet engine but also the predictive maintenance and just-in-time servicing. The question becomes how do we make sure all our business customers can do the same?

I think the other trend we are seeing in terms of the consumption demands of our enterprise customers is around the idea of time to revenue. In the past, companies would accept the idea of waiting six months or a year before they went live with new technology. Now, we are seeing those timelines shrink to a few months.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

As a business in online commerce dealing with purchase data, we have always had a deep appreciation of the trust our customers place in us and the expectations they have around security.

For us, security is part of not only protecting our data but how we write and develop new features, how we test and check quality, and how we release that functionality to our customers. Security has become a process for us and not an end goal, so we must embrace the need completely in order to really protect data.

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