How I Did It: Harry Chemko

Early move to cloud was smart move for e-commerce platform developer

Business in Vancouver’s “How I Did It” feature asks business leaders to explain in their own words how they achieved a business goal in the face of significant entrepreneurial challenges. In this week’s issue, Harry Chemko, 35, talks about seizing on trends such as e-commerce and cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) to develop Elastic Path Software into a major player in the e-commerce space.

“I was 19 when I started the company. My last job was at McDonald’s. I was at Royal Roads University getting my bachelor of commerce degree.
“We started the company when the [Internet] bubble burst, so there wasn’t a lot of financing available for the ideas we had. So we ended up going into application development and built out custom applications for local companies.
“It was about two years in where we had customers come to us and say, ‘We need to start selling our goods online – can you do that for us?’ We realized that there was just a huge white space in between these enterprise, IBM-Oracle platforms that were expensive and complex, and really, really entry-level products. So we decided: ‘There’s a market here, let’s build this.’
“We stopped doing the services work and application development work and went 100% an e-commerce company. Our first big account was Air Canada’s Aeroplan. They’re still a great client of ours. If you go online and buy anything outside of flights, you’re using the Elastic Path platform.
“In 2007, we signed a deal with BEA Systems. It was a $1 billion middleware company. They wanted to resell our software into their enterprise accounts. They white-labelled it and we got a lot of great accounts there, and that’s what really got us into the enterprise space that we are now.
“Technology environments today are inherently complex multi-vendor setups. We knew our solution needed to interact with – and add significant value to – those other systems. So we built a platform using an API-centric approach.
“API stands for application programming interface. APIs are what glue the different technology systems together. For example, Facebook provides developers with an API to integrate Facebook features into a site or app, such as [the option to] sign in with Facebook or adding ‘like’ buttons to product pages.
“From the e-commerce side, we were the first to build an API to allow our own developers and third parties to take pieces of functionality and integrate them with other apps, such as placing a ‘buy’ button into a social network.
“We’ve had steady growth. The inflection point was probably around the 2008 time frame. E-commerce systems have always been lagging in their moving to the cloud. We realized four years ago that there was this real shift going on in the market and we decided to make a change, where we started selling our platform on a subscription basis.
“There was that, and then the move to becoming a partner-centric company, where some of the biggest interactive agencies and system integrators are doing the implementation for our e-commerce platform. We used to do a lot of the work for our customers ourselves. Now we work with a big network of partners – we’ve signed 15 partners in the last year – that implement the platform on our behalf.”