Memo: BigCommerce and Bolt Unite

There is a 1988 advertisement by Philip Morris that describes the enriched flavor of a brand of cigarettes. It called it a solution with Merit. It begins: “If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em.”

Bolt’s former CEO Ryan Breslow felt slighted by Shopify executives; he’s taken it personally. Now, what appeared to be just a fiery Twitter thread looks more like a strategy backed by Bolt’s board. If you can’t join Shopify in owning the market, beat them by joining its de facto rival. BigCommerce is a platform with distinct philosophical differences. For Bolt, an enemy of an enemy is a friend.

Days after we wrote about Bolt’s bold challenge to Shopify, the checkout company took a further step in taking on the eCommerce leader. Shopify rival BigCommerce and Bolt are partnering to bring Bolt’s one-click checkout to BigCommerce’s merchants.

The move contends with Shopify’s native approach to checkout options. With Shopify, platforms like Bolt and Fast have been excluded from checkout workflows. Shopify is on record as being opposed to alternative checkout options, making Shop Pay the ubiquitous checkout provider. Both BigCommerce and Shopify are approaching eCommerce in different ways: Shopify is a quasi-closed ecosystem and BigCommerce is open-source. Shopify allows non-merchants to use Shop Pay, spreading a core technology outside of its own walls. It’s a way to make Shopify more ubiquitous, even when it’s not the eCommerce provider. BigCommerce lets its merchants choose its own tech providers, meaning its platform employs APIs and external SaaS solutions in a way that Shopify doesn’t.

Bolt immediately jumping into a partnership with BigCommerce is part of its strategy to undermine Shopify, both institutionally and as a brand known for “arming the rebels.” Shopify’s villain is Amazon. With this move, BigCommerce and Bolt position Shopify in the same way. From Monday’s 2PM memo:

It may not work but it’s a gutsy strategy. Bolt is trying to out-rebel the armory of the rebels. The call to action is clear: “Switch to Bolt.” In another fiery thread by Bolt founder Ryan Breslow, he began: Shopify is eating their ecosystem.

Transitioning from a one-click checkout platform to a fully-fledged eCommerce solutions provider is not something that happens overnight; this is why the BigCommerce partnership is relevant. The two align in that they have a common competitor they want to overtake, but there’s also a potential future where Bolt acquires BigCommerce or vice versa. Currently, BigCommerce is worth one-ninth in the public market what Bolt is worth in the private market. See this insight from Business Insider’s report on Bolt and BigCommerce’s partnership:

BigCommerce, for its part, isn’t quite so overt about the competition, with [chief commercial officer Russel] Klein referring to Shopify as “the company whose name shall not be uttered” in an interview with Insider.

As we wrote on Monday, Bolt is rising up to fill the spot Shopify once held as the underdog, the challenger to Big Retail, the platform for the people. In the same way Shopify took on Amazon, one is not likely to actually defeat the other, but with enough differentiation, room will be made in the ecosystem for both. Then, another company will rise up to take on Bolt when its britches get too big for its market cap.

Where BigCommerce fits in is more interesting. Can Bolt arm the rebels in the same way Shopify did by aligning itself with a mainstream competitor? It’s an approach likely born of necessity. Bolt has a big valuation to meet. It doesn’t have time to slowly build a full response to Shopify. BigCommerce has growing revenue but widening losses. With Bolt as a marketing and sales partner, I can see how management at BigCommerce can envision the checkout solution as meaningful value-add beyond the OpenSaaS philosophy that both share. Bolt is excelling in sales and marketing in ways that BigCommerce has not.

The company posted revenue of $64.9 million in Q4 2021, beating analysts’ expectations of $62 million. For the year, the company reported a loss of $76.7 million. Revenue was reported as $219.9 million. And the bet is that together, Shop Pay will be overtaken as the premier checkout solution. This quote by Bolt’s Chief Business Officer was notable:

By having Bolt be that one agnostic player that’s creating this shopper network that works with all payment providers and all e-commerce platforms, it will grow bigger. It will eclipse Shop Pay.

Breslow sees Bolt as the third-generation of commerce enablers, a position shared by a number of headless competitors including its rival Fast. BigCommerce is in position to benefit from Bolt’s gutsy marketing strategy, that is unless Shopify finds a way to counter the partnership first. In the meantime, Bolt hopes to prove that it is the ultimate solution with merit.

By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Alex Remy

Update: This is something that I learned today. At the time of publishing this, BigCommerce employs over 100 in the Ukrainian city of Kyiv. Men between the age of 18 and 60 have been ordered to remain in the country. The banking system has been disrupted so funds have been difficult to ascertain for many of the employs. CEO Brent Bellm is in an unenviable position, Ukraine is an eCommerce-rich country with top engineers and nearly 10% of the company’s workforce is located within the wartorn country.

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