34. Pioneers. with Nishant Patel, Founder & CTO at Contentstack

"Nishant successfully created a few successfull software companies: Raw engineering, Built.io sold out to Software AG and then contentStack. The latter two were spin offs from the professional services company which is not an easy process (and we know it from the episodes with Sascha Vidiborskiy and Filip Dames). How did they manage to became a headless CMS leader in just few years? Super interesting learnings on how to find the right ideas and making brave decissions as entreprenuer." Piotr Karwatka, Host.

Topics discussed:

Nishant, how did your career with Software Engineering start? Do you remember some projects from these times?

Then, you founded RAW ENGINEERING in 2007. What was the initial idea for the company?

So it was a services oriented business. How many people did you hire?

For me it's a really interesting story, because the contentStack and Built.io products actually grew out of the RAW ENGINEERING? Please tell us the story!

How is it to build products inside the services company?

I guess it was the reason you eventually exited the services business and continued with the products?

Built.io was recognized as a 2018 Gartner Magic Quadrant Vendor and a cloud-based, API-first enterprise suite that accelerates digital transformation. 

It grew out rapidly, what was the recipe for success?

Was it purely organic growth or did you have some external investors?

Can I say you dug into API-First platforms long before it became a trend? Great timing!

You finally sold the company to software AG. Why did you decide for this move?

The next product you founded after the acquisition is contentStack. Tell us more about it please?

You recently acquired 31.5M USD A Round financing for the product. Congratulations! How does it differ from Built.io and how do you plan for the further expansion look like?

So it’s still in the MACH Architecture. You’re doing MACH (Microservices API, Cloud Native, Headless) a long time already. What are the pros and cons?

What are the key use cases for contentStack? Where does it suit best?

How your role at the company changed over time? What’s your focus now?

Thank you! Now it’s time for more general questions. How do you see the future of enterprise software?

Is there a rising trend you think is gonna change the way we built software in the upcoming years?

What are the most over and under-hyped technology trends right now?

Transcript:


[00:00:45] Piotr Karwatka: [00:00:45] Hello, everyone. In today’s interview we are going to talk about the API first, MACH Alliance and Headless Content Management. My guess is an Nishant Patel, founder and CTO of Contentstack. A leading CMS  and Content Experience Platform. Previously, Nishant was the  founder, CEO and CTO of digital experience platform Built.io®,, which was acquired by German software powerhouse, Software AG.

[00:01:10] Hi, thank you for accepting my invitation. 

[00:01:13] Nishant Patel: [00:01:13] Yeah. Thanks for having me here. I appreciate it. 

[00:01:15] Piotr Karwatka: [00:01:15] Awesome. Nishant and how your career in the software engineering started? 

[00:01:19] Nishant Patel: [00:01:19] It started in 2000, so I went to Ohio State University, did Computer Science. And at that time, this is kind of the late nineties.

[00:01:28] And so it was the .com kind of era. So, you know, there was a lot of excitement there and I grew up in Ohio and then, you know, right after I graduated, basically I moved to San Francisco and so just took a job at a very small startup. And that's how it kind of started. Yeah. 

[00:01:51] Piotr Karwatka: [00:01:51] Do you remember that the .com bubble bursting like you were in the cyclone right?

[00:01:59] Nishant Patel: [00:01:59] So San Francisco, 2000, it was, and I had graduated March, 2000 and I moved to San Francisco. So at that time, everything was still pretty, you know pretty active and, you know, the hype cycle was still going on. So I joined the startup and we build a product in like a few months. I was the only engineer when it started that.

[00:02:17]And, and you know, a few months, I remember it just literally overnight, everything just disappeared. The market crashed, I think it was like September, October is when it crashed. I also the company basically shut down where I worked. And so I was also looking for a job when everyone else also was looking for a job. Tough times.

[00:02:43] Piotr Karwatka: [00:02:43] So your next engagement was engineering at a services company, right? You were just doing projects for the next couple of years, or you joined some product company?

[00:02:54] Nishant Patel: [00:02:54] I did join a product company so this is some time in December of 2000, I joined a company called TIBCO, which is known for integration.

[00:03:04] And so I joined that company and as an engineer in the engineering department, I was there for seven years basically. So you know, they hired me to build some some knowledge base like site application for engineering and professional services. And yeah, I basically spent seven year there.

[00:03:27] Piotr Karwatka: [00:03:27] Gotcha. And then you founded Raw Engineering, right? In 2007. What was the initial idea for the company?

[00:03:34] Nishant Patel: [00:03:34] Yeah, so basically, you know, took was very focused on integration and we, if you, if you think about early two thousands, you know, the companies still had systems. You know, in their own data centers, right?

[00:03:48] This is pre-cloud pretty close. So typically used to do a lot of you know, basically creating integration software to integrate all these big ERP systems that companies would have. And so I had a lot of integration knowledge and typical also, you know, at that time did really well with the product called business works.

[00:04:07] Typical business works, which was drag and drop integration and things like that. Right. So in 2006, while I was at Tipco, I came across something called AWS and, and I quickly signed up for it. I did a few POC, really liked what they had. But at the time, you know, Tipco was not really focused on the cloud or anything like that.

[00:04:29] It was still pretty new. And looking back into thinking about it. Big companies basically just discounted the cloud, like who is going to put their stuff in the cloud. Right. But I fell in love with it. And also, and always wanted to start my own company. I had a company in college that I started yeah.

[00:04:44] And built a product, but never knew how to take it to market. So that was still the dream for me. So I just literally quit. And the idea at that time that I had was like, can I take integration? And provide it as a service and, you know, they used to call it application as a service or something like that back in the days, instead of SaaS and Salesforce was one of the main players there.

[00:05:06] So I was like, Hey, can we take integration in kind of the same way? And so that was the initial idea and I literally just quit without really having any plans. To how to go about building 

[00:05:17] Piotr Karwatka: [00:05:17] a company. Interesting times, I remember around 2005, 2006, I first heard of virtualization. VMware, AWS was kind of, you know, better invitation only, and then, you know, public better, but nobody was using it actually in production. So you started adopting this cloud first. Cloud native learn early, which was a really bald move, I guess. But it was definitely the good move. And you started building Raw in January as a services company, our own cloud integration, right? Correct. So you, you were integrating all those services, building the apps.

[00:05:59] Nishant Patel: [00:05:59] Yeah. So it provides you,  I mean, it started out, I always meant to build a product. It just so happened that you know you ran into a couple of engineers that this is, you know, I took a vacation. I went to India no plans of setting up an office in India, but I ended up there just for vacation and I did a seminar and a couple of college kids said, Hey, can I join you? In building this product. And I was like, yeah, sure. Let's do it. And that's how I felt. 

[00:06:28] Piotr Karwatka: [00:06:28] How many people did you hire at the peak of engineering? 

[00:06:31] Nishant Patel: [00:06:31] I think we were up to like 250 people at some point. Yeah. Yeah. So the surfaces and the, you know, it started out as a product idea, but in order to pay everyone, you know, we were a bunch of engineers, just me and a couple of guys.

[00:06:47] So we're like, all right, let's start taking some services contracts. And, and yeah, and it just kind of grew from there to the services. Company basically grew from those initial two folks.

[00:06:57] Piotr Karwatka: [00:06:57]. Gotcha. I really liked the story you told me on the pre-call we had preparing for this interview because I should be out of this role in January. You build two products with great successes, huge successes. Tell us the story. I really love this story. 

[00:07:18] Nishant Patel: [00:07:18] Yeah, so again, you know, me being a product guy the services was there to help the customers and also bring in the money. So we could, we could build our products, but we got busy with the services side.

[00:07:30] So the initial product idea kind of just went on to the side. And while we were servicing customers, we were helping customers the early adopters of the cloud, and we were helping them move to the cloud. And you know, 2008, 2009, the mobile app kinda stuff started. So we started doing mobile apps and, you know, just from servicing the clients, we figured out there's a bunch of other opportunities.

[00:07:57] And you know, what we would do is like, okay as we were building these mobile apps, we taught, you know, there's a better way to build the mobile apps cause like 60, 70% of everything in a mobile app is common, like the same database, same cause things like that. So we said, can we make a cloud service that you know, all of the mobile app developer has to do is download the SDK and start building a mobile app.

[00:08:20] Right. So we ended up building an MBS. And if you remember, or, you know, 2010, 2011 there were other players as well. And they also had MBaaS. 

[00:08:41] Piotr Karwatka: [00:08:41] (MBaaS) is a mobile backend as a service to, just to, you know expand this abbreviation, correct?

[00:08:46] Nishant Patel: [00:08:46] Yeah. And it's API first, right? All in the cloud, this scaling and everything is taken care of by the MBassS. So, so over the years we ended up building a few of these products.

[00:08:57] Some of them, we took it to market. Some we couldn't it just became, you know, just some skunk projects and things like that. So we got really good at building SAS products. 

[00:09:11] Piotr Karwatka: [00:09:11] That's a great story. Always to build the products inside the services company.

[00:09:17] I mean, it's all about the tensions, right? Because on the one hand, you need to do the services to, to earn the money for, for building the products. And on the other hand, the products are not contributing positively to the P&L and there are other investments. How have you dealt with that? With this contradiction? 

[00:09:36] Nishant Patel: [00:09:36] Yeah. So great question. That's a great question. I think you know, looking back, I think you talked to a lot of the services companies they're like, okay, we can't do products, we just can't do products because it's too complex. 

[00:09:47] Piotr Karwatka: [00:09:47] Absolutely. Yeah. Just to summarize the story, it also a story about my company, Divante. We built actually the products openly out but in the start were thinking just like that, like it's not for us. 

[00:10:01] Nishant Patel: [00:10:01] It is. And it is a struggle. Right? It's. Like you said, like what you just pointed out the priorities are different and you have to be really you know strict about keeping those two things separate.

[00:10:14] And I didn't know any better. Just I like building products. I like to see, you know, the technology trends are going. And the way we started it you know, was just, we will say, Hey, there's two or three guys that are not on any projects. Let's try to build something, you know, for a couple of months, not, not have like a crazy longterm plan.

[00:10:34] Just say, can we build a quick solution? And when we build a solution, you will like it. And then it's like, all right, let's give it a couple of more months. Let's give it a couple more months. And then quickly you realize you have something. And then what we did was I would take all the profits. From the services company and just make sure that the product company is completely focused.

[00:10:54] So we would not, you know, use the product team on any services engagements. So we got really good at that over time. And that worked for us. Yeah. 

[00:11:05] Piotr Karwatka: [00:11:05] Just, you know, organic growth or did you have some external investors for the products? 

[00:11:11] Nishant Patel: [00:11:11] No, it was completely organic. So. I myself. Yeah. Yeah. It's it's it was all organic, you know, of course me and then the team spent just incredible amount of time trying to get all these spaces going. But yeah, it was all organic. 

[00:11:28] Piotr Karwatka: [00:11:28] That's really amazing. Congratulations. I think it's really, really tough. But, but you find the traction and actually the products you build there grew up rapidly. I mean, build.io was recognized as a 2018 Gartner magic quadrant vendor and and that cloud-based new API first enterprise seat for.

[00:11:47]That that accelerates the digital transformation. So if I look at the success of the products you, you built, I'm just wondering what's what's the recipe for success. 

[00:11:57] Nishant Patel: [00:11:57] I think it was just kinda just keep trying, keep trying new things right. And keep pushing, use whatever you have and leverage the heck out of it.

[00:12:06]So, so I would just say that it's And also like, as you keep doing more, you get more ideas. I'll give you an example with the built IO and content stack, they were all still good in ride sharing. And, you know, we did a pretty big deal with this customer for the built IO product.

[00:12:24] And at the, at some time we were talking about even acquisition. And, you know, they found it very hard to acquire a services company that has processed. But we ended up doing a pretty real, ended up doing a pretty big license. And it was clear to us that after kind of going through those motions, it was clear to us to split the companies, to carve out the product products from the services company.

[00:12:49] And when we did that, we basically, you know, just crazy multiples in terms of you know each company value and things like that. Right. So you know, those things just came about just by trying and pushing as much as you could. 

[00:13:02] Piotr Karwatka: [00:13:02] We ain't gonna get into a content stack and in a moment just one more notion from my side, like yesterday, I was a recording interview.

[00:13:14]With Art Boyd of Mirakl, a market-based software great, great episode. And he told me something I think is also appropriate here because I asked him Art, how you did this because, you know, he achieved sales plans for five years in a row, which is just amazing. And he told me it's not about what I did in this period. It's all about what I did before that period. And I think that this is exactly the story of this this product. So we are talking here because you were into the cloud business long before anyone else even started thinking about is API first platform before it became a trend.

[00:14:02] So the timing was great. And I think that's, you know, really a visionary approach. I'm really amazed what you achieved.

[00:14:11] Nishant Patel: [00:14:11] Cool. Yeah. Thank you. And yeah, there's definitely some truth to that, right? Like you don't necessarily have all the insights as you're building these things, but you see that there's this new tools, which is the cloud and this and that.

[00:14:24] This is October 2009, 2010. And you're applying the same. You take the new tools and apply it to the same problems and you come out with something amazing. Right. And, and so the ambassador was kind of like our, our play. Like we had tons of people deployed bunch of apps on our end bass and we learn how to do API first cloud SAS service.

[00:14:48] Right. This is 2010. And from that we came, you know I mean, we'll talk about content stack, but that's when the incubated content stock. So contentstack actually came out in. That least within the services company in 2011 and it pioneered the Headless CMS concept at, in 2011 because our customers are asking for, Hey, how do I manage my content on mobile app? And so we just created a version to let them do that, and it was all soft space. So that became the headless CMS. So yeah, it's just kind of, you just take, you, keep learning you know, you apply the new tools on the same problems and you get something new. 

[00:15:25] Piotr Karwatka: [00:15:25] Yeah. This is another contradiction for me, like being services company are in really great, great place to discover all the needs they have for products.

[00:15:36]Bring the tools that are really, you know unique and needed just needed by the market, which is great for product market fit butter. And the contradiction is that it's very hard to to build this product, as we discussed, you finally decided to solve the bite by a built.IO to Software Ag. I'm wondering what was the reason for this move?

[00:15:59] Nishant Patel: [00:15:59] Yeah, so built.iO, you know, like I said, those are our was our original idea, right? 2007, we wanted to build integration platform in the cloud. We didn't get to it at least to start building it until 2013. And then we built it and, and, you know, and we liked what we saw and, you know, the market was kind of ready at that time.

[00:16:19]So if he had been successful in 2007, the product market fit would not have been there. You know, taking it forward. I think people, there were so many SAS services out there and so many integration challenges in the cloud world that it was a perfect timing. In 2013 to start. And so what ended up happening is rinse.

[00:16:37] We carved out the product companies outside of the surfaces. We had to make a decision cause our management also got split, right? So I took build.io as I became the CEO of that company. A bunch of other management got split into role engineering. The services company still exists.

[00:16:56]So there's a few folks who right there. And then a few folks who went to content stack. And you know, part of all these companies we had to decide, do we want to go raise capital for two product companies and, and also keep the services running. Right? So it just happened that B you know we decided, and, you know, the market was, was there and people were looking for you know an I-PASS.

[00:17:18] And so we decided to basically sell built IO and. And contents. I, of course my donut, very ifferent paths.


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