Starting an e-commerce business in one of the big marketplaces, say, Shopify, can be an easy process, but what the team at Swell started to notice is that the model can only take a business so far.
Swell operates in the “headless” business of commerce, which means it separates the front end of a website, also known as a storefront, from the back end, where all the data is, to create a better shopping experience so anything in the back can be updated and maintained without upsetting at the front end.
The premiere remote company offers APIs, storefronts, and dashboards, all tools that can grow with any size company. The first version of Swell was a pure API for developers, but it didn’t get businesses up and running quickly, so companies were turning to markets like Shopify, CEO Eric Ingram told TechCrunch.
“The key is to get started quickly, which is great in Shopify, but you realize you’re stuck when you’re trying to do more than the basic model,” Ingram said. “We needed to build something that was as easy as Shopify, but enabled you to grow. Most people can’t build their own backends, so we also wanted to provide something people could do without spending millions of dollars.”
Swell was an idea Ingram had about a decade ago that grew out of his experience at e-commerce company Digital River and then built a few of his own businesses, including a clothing company. He and his team got things done in 2021, raising $3.4 million in an initial round.
Nearly a year later, the company is back with $20 million in Series A funding, led by VMG Catalyst and Headline, with participation from Bonfire Ventures, Willow Growth, Commerce Ventures and Red Antler. Individual investors include Vigilant CEO Brian Long, Gorgias CEO Roman Lapierre, Remote First Capital, former Product Hunt CTO Andreas Klinger, Fast.co CEO Domm Holland, and Warby Parker’s Brian Mageda.
The opportunity for additional funding was somewhat unexpected, according to Ingram, but he feels that Swell’s focus on small and medium-sized businesses in the market, while building an ecosystem and community, separates them from competitors such as Commercetools and Fabric that target larger companies.
“To solve the problem, it has to be available to everyone rather than just big companies with big budgets,” Ingram added. “Some platforms are good at only one thing, but there are hundreds of other models out there.”
Last year, Swell grew revenue five times and increased its customer base to more than 1,000 at the end of 2021 after starting the year with 30 customers. It also created a free community plan, where customers start paying when a sale goes live, to go along with standard and enterprise options.
Ingram expects to use the new funding to grow Swell’s team of 30 to 100 teams in the next 12 months and into product development, including building an app ecosystem. He said the plans include building a framework for third parties to build applications and also for customers to be able to have their own data on the back end and do more with it, something that is difficult for companies to build in markets to do.
“The main feature will be a configurable database that can adapt to new use cases,” he added. “The market is moving fast with integrations and app creation and society will require 10 times as many people to reach the next level.”