Podcast feature: That's my JAMstack

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Bryan Robinson 0:02

Hello everyone and welcome to yet another fun packed episode of That's My JAMstack, the podcast where we ask the age old question: what is your jam in the JAMstack?

I'm your host, Bryan Robinson and this week I'm joined by the former marketing lead now CEO of the e-commerce startup Snipcart. I'm talking of course about François Lanthier Nadeau.

Also back this week is our amazing sponsor TakeShape. Stick around after the episode to hear more about their content platform or head over to takeshape.io/thatsmyjamstack for more information. François, thanks for coming on the show today.

Francois Lanthier Nadeau 0:37

Yeah, you got it. It's my pleasure.

Bryan 0:39

So I've been following you on Twitter for a little while, but go ahead and give us an introduction. Who you are, what you do for work, what you do for fun.

Francois 0:45

Yeah, good. Same thing actually: been following you on Twitter for a while, listened to some episodes recently. So yeah, I'm CEO at Snipcart, it's an e-commerce solution for developers, and then I'm also the organizer of the JAMstack Québec meetup that we host here at the Snipcart offices in Canada. For fun, I play video games, I read, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts, I write. And I try to spend as much time with meaningful people like my girlfriend, family and friends. That's pretty much it.

Bryan 1:24

And what kind of things do you write? Like, is it tech stuff? Or is it not tech stuff?

Francois 1:28

It's actually both. I come from a marketing background. So sometimes, I'll write tactical stuff on content marketing or SEO. But sometimes I'll write more personal stuff. I kind of have this semi official mission of talking more openly about mental health. And I've had some personal issues with this in the past. So I try to share stories and tips and lessons regarding this. So yeah, sometimes it's more in that order.

Bryan 1:59

Okay, great, and that's definitely an important mission in tech. There's a lot of people not talking enough about it.

Francois 2:05

Yeah, I think men especially, sometimes we have a harder time. So I don't know. I find some some value and redemption of my own in trying to do that.

Bryan 2:17

Excellent. All right, so let's talk about the JAMstack a little bit. So what was your entry point into the JAMstack or into the idea of static sites or whatever you like to call it?

Francois 2:30

Yeah, we used to call it something like modern static site development. It was Middleman and Jekyll mostly that got us into this space. So when we were just starting out as an e-commerce SaaS for devs, we were just, you know, trying to get some traction to our site and some signups. So we were experimenting with different content marketing strategies and at one point, I was asking our developers about tools they love. Our co founder and lead developer, Charles, mentioned Middleman. He was saying that it was gaining a little traction and popularity through the dev community. So we we tried to build a site with it and integrate Snipcart with it. And it went just fine.

Snipcart is a frontend-centric, e-commerce shopping cart that lives basically just in your frontend. And we do all of the backend logic. So it was a good fit from the start with the JAMstack approach. But it wasn't designed as a JAMstack ecommerce tool. We kind of stumbled upon the whole paradigm and tooling through these marketing experiments, if you will.

Bryan 3:53

Cool. And Snipcart started in what? 2013?

Francois 3:59

Yeah, that's about right. Late 2013.

Bryan 4:03

Okay, and so through that experimentation? Did y'all shift away from Middleman? Are you still using that sort of thing when you're playing with your marketing stuff? Or is it in the new? The newer stuff that's coming out?

Francois 4:16

We try to evolve and experiment alongside the community with tools that are popping up. So we created open source demos and tutorials for established tools like Jekyll. But we also, for instance, experimented with Gatsby when it was just an open source repo with no website, or branding, or it wasn't that big of a deal, you know. So, yeah, I mean, it's part of our DNA to try and experiment and have thousands of side projects. Like developers usually do. So we thought we might as well try to harness this into, you know, a traction channel that brings us people and that also helps the community when we do these tutorials and and GitHub repos and stuff.

Bryan 5:15

So obviously, being not necessarily a JAMstack company, but a company that is very strongly tied now into the JAMstack. How are y'all other than the side projects approaching the philosophy of the JAMstack? I'm real curious about e-commerce and the JAMstack. I think that's going to help us take it to the next level.

Francois 5:33

Yeah, e-commerce is... it's a complex beast. And you can see that just by looking at the wide spectrum of solutions that are offered both to developers and non developers. In terms of influences and application of the actual philosophy, I'd say we really embrace, or try as much as we can to embrace, the DX-first philosophy. It's why JAMstack caught popularity and fire, because it offered a good developer experience. In that sense, we're kind of trying to do the same thing with Snipcart. And we have been from the start, it's always been a developer-first solution, something that is not constraining. It lets you work with the tools you love and it's lightweight, it improves your workflow instead of constraining it. So that's the strategy in that approach of the bottom up influence in terms of business. So we first try to influence and convince a developer that it's a great tool. And then we leverage the developers authority and influence inside a company or towards their client.

Francois 6:55

It's to make sure the managers and merchants are onboard with that tool. So the DX is something we're really trying to focus on right now. And you see, it's funny because the DX is great. Like it's important to provide a good developer experience. But then in the end, if for some non technical client or some marketing team, they do not have like the ease of use that developers had when they were working on their stuff, it's not it's not good for the JAMstack. It's not good for the whole ecosystem and tooling. And that's why you're seeing a lot of tools pop up, to cater to this problem. Editing CMS, site building, hosting, one click deploys, all of that stuff is is layered on top of the core DX experience of the JAMstack. And yeah, we do the same thing with the hosted merchant dashboard. So the developer works with Snipcart, they integrate it on a static site, let's say or with a headless CMS. And afterwards, the merchant is offered a hosted dashboard to manage the e-commerce operations. So they don't have to play with code or git repositories or whatnot to manage sales, orders.

Bryan 8:25

And so, one of the great things, especially on the developer experience side of things is this kind of whole host of API's that are available for us. I'm kind of curious for your perspective on this. There's been some pushback from non JAMstack developers about kind of this fractured—multi-faceted—ecosystem. Are you experiencing that with people with clients, like oh, we'll go login to Snipcart for your e-commerce dashboard, but over here to manage the other side.

Francois 8:56

Yeah, that's actually a great question, there's this pendulum in tech that I feel is swinging between monoliths and then thousands of SaaS that are fragmented, like you were saying. But so some people would prefer the administration part to be enabled in one single place for their clients. And for these people, if they're motivated, and talented in terms of the tooling they're using, they can, of course, integrate a lot of Snipcart functionalities inside a CMS directly. So we have an API for this and we've seen it done on various sites and CMS. Like Craft CMS is one of the first that did it well, so there are some plugins for Snipcart with some other CMS that can help in that regard. We tried to develop them ourselves in the beginning, but we realized it was just a whole mess, like maintaining everything we're developing with the other plugins that are specific to a certain CMS, for instance. So yeah, I'd be lying if I said sometimes it isn't a pain. But many times, the ease of implementation and customization of Snipcart is a bigger benefit than the pain of having to login into an extra dashboard.

Bryan 10:30

Sure, and I mean, from my experience in agency world from a few years ago, we would create a Shopify site, but then also use another CMS through the marketing side, and that itself was a pain too.

Francois 10:40

Yeah, it can happen. But you know, Shopify is a great tool also. And I know that we used to say it was a very closed ecosystem and whatever in the beginning, but I think it's evolved a lot and some developers, they like it. It's so complex choosing a tech stack nowadays because of this whole host of options. But the I think the thing that's very cool with the JAMstack is that it can grow well, it can evolve well, so you can start with a minimal number of tools, and then build upon them. And maybe when once you get to a point where you have enough revenue enough traction, maybe then you move to a platform that's more monolithic. So yeah, I think it's a very solid entry point for web projects.

Bryan 11:38

And it kind of feels like e-commerce especially, it's this kind of world where you can ramp up complexity super quick. You can start very, very simply, and even like Shopify in terms of its you know, quote, unquote, simplicity, is relatively complex and then you get stuff like Bigcommerce and Magento. And I shudder anytime I think about e-commerce personally, but it gets complex fast for end users. But for customers at that point?

Francois 12:07

Oh yeah, most definitely. I always joke about it. So at Snipcart, we built an e-commerce tool for developers. So developers don't have to worry as much about e-commerce as they they could have. But if we were to start again, we'd probably build another product, because it's super complex. And I hear these kinds of echoes from people who are building on top of email also. Yeah, I mean, it's an infinite number of features, requests coming in from every angle. Having just stepped up as CEO slash product owner. Geez, I can tell you that prioritizing and saying no, and developing the right stuff that benefits both the clients and the business... it's a challenge.

Bryan 13:04

Especially since you've got both. You've got to maintain that perfect kind of developer experience and give, you know, user experience for the e-commerce managers too.

Francois 13:12

Oh, yeah. Of course. Like, we're proud of what we built. And it's a good product. But I don't have pink glasses. I know that it's an imperfect product. Also, we come from a place of a hybrid bootstrapped start. So we were bootstrapped inside a web agency in the beginning, like six years ago, but we soon grew into our own company that's distinct and profitable and whatnot. But we're still a bootstrapped player in a mostly non bootstrapped world, with the e-commerce giants and whatnot. Most of them are VC-backed or have big money. So the challenge in terms of what we're working on, that becomes critical. And in a sense, in other areas it served us well to have this proximity and smallness and agility.

Bryan 14:17

So with Snipcart being adjacent to the to the JAMstack. What's your current jam in the JAMstack? What's your favorite philosophy or product or technology?

Francois 14:27

That's a question that you record it and then a few months later you might want a new answer. But one of the philosophies that I like the most about the JAMstack is the notion of decoupling.

Francois 14:41

I try to mimic this into my work and my personal life too. So at work, you know, we're trying to do one thing well, and not to be an over to place product. And it's hard since we're doing e-commerce, and e-commerce is all over the place. But in terms of management, and internal team, we're also trying to delegate and trust other parties to do their job well, so we can sync up when it's time, but we don't walk on each other's shoes. And you know, in life, it's the same thing. I think the non technical and non startup part of my life really feeds back into the work one. So I'm trying to officially decouple some activities and relationship and discussions. So I can, you know, work on some other skills and stuff and then have a different point of view and a different energy when I come back into the business and development world.

Francois 15:41

To answer the question in terms of tooling, more specifically, Stackbit, that was on the podcast. That's very good tool. We were talking about layering some user friendly tooling on top of DX. They're doing a great job at this, as a non-developer, I can build a JAMstack site in minutes. So this is great. Netlify for developers also, they're building a platform that's becoming very rich and useful. And internally, we're using more and more Sanity as a headless CMS. And Nuxt, to generate the static site and some more dynamic functions in the frontend. So we've used this for our new documentation. We released the v3 of Snipcart, a few weeks ago, and yes we're using this for this. And we'll probably use Nuxt too or maybe Gridsome for the upcoming marketing site. So yeah, I mean, it's this dynamic ecosystem. People are motivated people are friendly. When we were in New York, I was speaking on a panel for the JAMstack conference in New York for e-commerce and I don't know it's just a great vibe. I feel like it's a cool community to be a part of right now.

Bryan 17:06

How's the actual physical community for the JAMstack meetup in Québec?

Francois 17:11

Oh, it's small but growing, and we're around 20 people when we do the meetup. And what's fun is that we're always gathering feedback and iterating each meetup. Some of the feedback we've been getting is "Okay, so I know I can make my own blog with Gatsby and it's very cool and React and whatnot. But I want to do this in production. I want to do actual work for a client in my agency or as a freelancer with this. So show us some production examples."

Francois 17:46

So we kind of decided to do some more real life technical demonstrations of "Look at this website and the way we built it, it is running for clients and some marketing people are using it. And it's a real production ready project here, how we here's how we bundled it." So that's great. And we're trying to push towards having more agencies use static sites for simple sites, have more agencies trying to experiment with headless CMS to decouple the front end if the clients need to push some stuff on mobile or on some some screens or desktop, so I think it's growing. But yeah, it's still a teenager in terms of adoption on its life cycle.

Bryan 18:33

Alright, so I don't want to blow our time estimate for the episode out of the water, but what's your actual jam right now? What kind of music are you listening to?

Francois 18:44

I've been curating a Spotify playlist on my personal account that I titled "Is that soul I feel in my guts?". It's a weird mix that really makes me feel like alive. It's like Janis Joplin and others, Sam Cooke, and other cool artists like this. So this is my answer.

Bryan 19:08

So you're going to give me that link right?

Francois 19:10

Of course. Yeah.

Bryan 19:11

Perfect, because actually, I love that type of music too. So got it. I'll be listening to that personally and then we'll put it in the show notes too. Cool.

Bryan 19:19

And so finally, what do you want to promote today? What do you want to get out in the open in the community?

Francois 19:24

Um, great question. Well, your podcast, it's good. Thank you for doing it. Much appreciated. Of course, Snipcart's latest version, the v3 is out, snipcart.com. You can check out the documentation and tell us what you think. Other than that, there's this semi official mission of destigmatizing mental health in tech and my personal life that if some people are interested, flanthiernadeau.com. So my name .com. I have written about this over there.

Bryan 20:00

Great, and we'll put that in the show notes too to make sure everyone can find their way over. Cool. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. And I hope you keep doing some amazing stuff over at Snipcart.

Francois 20:10

Okay, well, thank you, have a good day.


Bryan 20:14

Hi everyone it's Bryan again. I want to take a second to thank this week's sponsor TakeShape. TakeShape calls their offering a content platform. And that's really the best description for it. They have a handy CMS, a static site generator and a simple GraphQL API all ready for use on the JAMstack. They may have all that power, but they also work within your current workflow. I'm currently converting one of my sites over to use the TakeShape CMS but because I can bring my own stack site generator, I don't have to rewrite a lot of code. I just changed where my data come from, and bam, instant upgrade to my CMS.

Bryan 20:43

They also have new features coming in all the time, like their new mesh product that allows you to mix and match data from multiple sources into one neat GraphQL interface. You can sign up for a beta of that new product over at takeshape.io/thatsmyjamstack.

Bryan 20:59

And while you're here, don't forget to subscribe and review, all those great things that you can do in your podcast app of choice. So the That's My JAMstack podcast, the more likes and subscribes and all that good stuff that we get, the more people find out about this amazing new way of doing design and development on the web. As always, thanks for being a listener and we'll see you next time. Until then keep doing amazing things with the JAMstack.

→ Transcribed by otter.ai

→ Intro/outro music by bensound.com

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