Ruslan Fazlyev is CEO of Ecwid, an e-commerce platform that allows businesses to sell online. It has more than a million users in 175 countries. Headquartered in California and Russia, the company has raised $6.5 million in funding and is fast-becoming one of Russia’s best software successes. Fazlyev spoke to Red Herring about Ecwid’s evolution, Russian identity and the importance of being brilliant.
How did Ecwid grow from your previous project, X-Cart?
X-Cart was the world’s first commercial PHP e-commerce platform. It was my first startup in the space, I did it when I was 20. At the time, there was no mass market for online stores in Russia, and X-Cart was focused on global market. Russian translation appeared years later.
What we discovered since then is that, because Ecwid add ons to a web site, it is very natural approach to just bundle it with web site services sold by DIY site builder sites, such as Wix, Yola, Weebly and many others. A significant part of Ecwid sales today comes via these partners, as well as some POS platforms like Square, Clover and Vend.
What are the commonest requests from shops for their online offerings that you didn’t initially expect?
Our approach with Ecwid is to make sure merchants never have to play around with customizing the look. Instead, we just adopt to the look and feel of the web site, automatically. Still, some people do want to customize templates and we had to adopt by providing them a way to do it.
Is it easy to find enough tech talent in Russia? Where has Ecwid found its best professionals?
Ecwid employs over 100 people in Ulyanovsk, and we found it easy to hire tech talent. We’ve since experimented with two more locations, Kazan and Samara. Samara worked out great for us, we have mobile and support teams there. Kazan did not go well but it may be less about the city and more about leadership choice.
Most of our product is built in Ulyanovsk (we call the city “ULY” internally). The Samara office made it possible to create a full mobile native experience, providing Ecwid with iOS and Android apps, so now we have mobile-native apps that are merchant-facing and consumer-facing.
What are the biggest challenges facing online brands that want to scale outside Russia?
Most brands that want to scale outside Russia start on domestic market and are just not able to compete globally. The whole reason they are successful initially is that because there’s less–or no–competition in Russia. They start domestically, they think they’ll grow faster if they operate on global markets, they try to open a presence somewhere in the Bay area and they fail.
The other type is companies like X-Cart, Ecwid or Nginx, that were born as global products. If you have international clients from the day one, there is no issue in scaling outside Russia. You’re not a Russian company, you are a global company with R&D in Russia.
Do you worry that politics may interfere with tech cooperation between the US and Russia?
Some damage to ecosystem was done in 2014, but it has largely recovered since. Ecwid and many other companies, including some of the world’s valuable ones, successfully rely on Russian R&D. It’s said that some politicians in the US want to win political capital by scaring the people with “mean Russians”, and some politicians in Russia do similar things by portraying the US as an enemy.
The reality is that tech cooperation is unaffected. The more people collaborate across borders for business reasons, the less chances politics gets to cultivate hostility and spoil this world.
Which piece of advice would you give anyone thinking of founding a tech company today?
I’d quote an advice to all photographers: “you’ll be remembered by the worst photo you made”. Your company is as good as the lowest quality standard you can accept. So make sure the standard is always high, no exceptions.
What are the biggest regulatory issues affecting the Russian e-commerce market?
The biggest one affecting the Russian market is the regulation that mandates realtime online tax reporting for every transaction. As with many other recent Russian legislative initiatives, I don’t think it is something that benefits business or Russian citizens overall, but it’s a fact of life that all e-commerce sellers will have to adapt to.