What's in episode 24?
Kieran Masterton tells us all about his new venture with Kier Whitaker called Default. The aim of Default is to create products and services specifically for the Shopify partner community with savvy YouTube tutorial videos and The Default Podcast. And soon they will be launching Default Jobs, the first Shopify focused jobs board!
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Episode 24 Milk Bottle Shopify Ecommerce Podcast with Kieran Masterton
Kieran: [00:00:00] I was working with a lot of direct to consumer distribution companies, so companies in the film space who are trying to get their films out there and seen by people, but didn't have traditional distribution deals. They were selling things like merch, DVDs and that kind of stuff. And that's when I first discovered Shopify and started using and building themes and a few little apps and stuff.
Intro: [00:00:24] Welcome to the Milk Bottle Shopify Ecommerce Podcast brought to you by Milk Bottle Labs, Ireland's top-rated Shopify experts, Milk Bottle Labs, build, upgrade, migrate and market Shopify and Shopify Plus stores all over the world. Milk Bottle will migrate you onto Shopify with zero interruption guaranteed, or optimize your Shopify store and maximize store sales. This podcast is kindly supported by our favourite Shopify app and the only app we install in every store. Rewind.io is the leading backup solution for your Shopify store. We'll talk more about Rewind later now over to your host, founder of Milk Bottle Labs Keith Matthews.
Keith: [00:01:11] Kieran, how are you?
Kieran: [00:01:12] I'm very well, thank you.
Keith: [00:01:13] How are you? Not too bad, Kieran. It's Thursday afternoon here. Nice, crisp spring, February morning. It's all good. It's not raining. So what part of the UK are you in?
Kieran: [00:01:24] I mean, well, I'm just in Bath in the Southwest of England.
Keith: [00:01:29] Very good. A lot of history down there. That's quite close to our good friend Mr Keir Whitaker, isn't it?
Kieran: [00:01:34] It certainly is, yes, he's just around the corner. You can't escape him.
Keith: [00:01:38] You can't, well, you can't escape him anyway because you're in business with him, but we'll get to that in a while. I'm really interested to talk to you primarily because obviously what's the work that you're doing with DefaultHQ, but I've also just seen some of your video content.
[00:01:52] The efforts on the actual content itself, I think is exactly what the Shopify ecosystem needs, we'll talk about that in a while. I just want to roll back the clock a bit in my intro there. I was just letting everybody know that you're in the Shopify ecosystem for, you know, up to six years, which is, you know, a decent amount of experience.
[00:02:09] So how did you find Shopify or how did you end up working for Shopify?
Kieran: [00:02:13] I think I first got into Shopify because of Keir actually prior to him working for Shopify, I was working with a low direct to consumer. Distribution companies, so companies in the film space who are trying to get their films out there and seen by people but didn't have traditional distribution deals.
They were selling things, merch, DVDs and that kind of stuff. And that was when I first discovered Shopify and started using and building apps and stuff. And then obviously it led on to working for Shopify. A couple of years after that.
Keith: [00:02:45] So you were in a completely different industry. Was it a technical role or a marketing role that you were in?
Kieran: [00:02:50] Yeah, so I know I was in the technical role. I've been a developer for probably approaching 20 years, believe it or not, I was building mainly web apps for these distribution companies, film distribution companies, and then they obviously have this desire to sell stuff and they didn't want to go via wholesale type partners, people who are buying it to sell it on.
[00:03:12] So they want me to go to go direct. And so they discovered Shopify via talking to Keir.
Keith: [00:03:17] It's interesting. I'll give you a funny story actually, two years ago at Unite, 2018 I bumped into a guy at the after-party on this, the after-parties. I think it's on the second nights before the last night.
[00:03:31] Just go to the party and fly home the next night, which I'm sure some people think it's a great idea, but it's a lot of, a lot of sore heads, unfortunately in the last day, but I met this guy from the States, I can't quite remember what State he was from, and he went to university with the granddaughter of Willie Nelson.
Kieran: [00:03:49] Really?
Keith: [00:03:50] This is a mad story, but he was playing with code like he's, this guy was in his mid-forties so probably thinking, you know, enters university maybe mid-nineties and it was early times for ecommerce. Long story short, he ended up building Willie Nelson's first websites and out of that he ended up. He ended up in the UK on an internship with his university, and he ended up building Paul McCartney's first store or first website. Wow. Yeah. He now manages the eCommerce stores for some of the biggest music labels in the world, including Michael Jackson.
Kieran: [00:04:25] Cause he was there, he was there on the ground floor when it all started.
Keith: [00:04:30] I'm assuming then, that, I mean like Paul McCartney is, I mean he's, he's music royalty. He probably got into the actual labels themselves and he's actually, would you believe he is one of Shopify's biggest affiliates and he's also one of FedEx, his biggest customers in the US
Kieran: [00:04:48] I bet
Keith: [00:04:49] He told me that an airplane leaves Austin, Texas every day full of his merchandise.
[00:04:58] Amazing story. Anyway, that was a slight segue, but that's an interesting background. So you were in the entertainment industry and you ended up heading over to Shopify. So as a developer, when you met Shopify, you know, did you think it was over-simplistic? Did you think this thing was fantastic? What was your, can you even remember your gut reaction when you saw it.
Kieran: [00:05:16] Yeh, I think my gut, my gut reaction was I was impressed by, there was one, there was already sort of an ecosystem around Shopify to a certain degree.
[00:05:24] I wasn't, you know, super early, so there was already, you know, the app store and stuff existed and things like that. I remember being impressed by the platform that they were building, but obviously like many developers being pretty frustrated by the limitations. So I think that was the main thing. And the kind of, you know, you get so far and then the API would, it would let you down or w wouldn't allow you to do something.
[00:05:49] Not so much on the theme side cause I was never already, you know, heavy front end developer. I was always more of a sort of backend Ruby developer. So it was really the kind of the app space where I felt those limitations. But overall, I was really impressed from the beginning. And thought there was a lot that Shopify were doing, you know, people working in the distribution and film space could learn from.
Keith: [00:06:09] So that's seven years, six, seven years ago, isn't it?
Kieran: [00:06:12] yeah, that's right. Yeah.
[00:06:13] Yeah.Gosh yeah even the app space has improved significantly since then. I remember I interviewed Jay Myers from Bold, and he told me that the first app they ever had, the. I think it was the product upsell app.
Keith: [00:06:26] It kind of broke Shopify a few times in the early days.
Kieran: [00:06:29] Yeah.
Keith: [00:06:30] Yeah. Just your reference there to the APIs. So you ended up in Shopify. So Shopify is employee based in the UK in those days would have been very small would it?
Kieran: [00:06:39] Yes. Yeah, so that was, I joined early 2017 so I've been working with it for a little bit. I was working with WordPress a lot and Ruby. Building apps or Ruby and doing kind of like scale stuff with WordPress, so trying to help people scale WordPress sites.
I joined Shopify, I've been a consultant doing that stuff independently. And then I joined Shopify early 2017 and I think I was probably the 3rd plus employee in the UK, and it was probably a total of about five or six of us at that point, you know, in total. Oh, well. Um, so it's very small team and very early days really for the team in Europe though, obviously there are plenty of merchants and plenty of partners by that point.
Keith: [00:07:29] Yeah, I think, well, the UK is obviously now one of their, their largest markets. And obviously this. Yeah,they've been building up the team there. So what specifically did you do for the Plus Team Kieran?
Kieran: [00:07:40] So I joined as a launch engineer, and that role kind of has evolved and been moulded over the years. But essentially I was a technical consultant for people launching sort of larger merchants joining the plus platform, basically helping with migration, consulting, all the design of custom apps and that kind of stuff.
Keith: [00:07:59] So would you have been brought into the conversation with the client in the presale stage?
Kieran: [00:08:04] No. So that would be a solutions engineer. So solution engineer comes in during presales, and then once the merchant has signed, the launch engineer takes over and takes the merchant through to launch, whether then hand over to the MSM.
So I mean, it's really that phase when there's going to be a lot of kind of, you know, bumps in the road perhaps, and finding technical roadblocks and stuff. And the launch engineer's job is to kind of unblock the merchant and the partner, I guess at
Keith: [00:08:30] that point.
Okay. And so if we jump into what you're doing now, then you've left Shopify left Shopify plus obviously haven't left the environment.
[00:08:38] No. So you're now acting then as really as an independent solutions consultant for independent businesses. Is that right?
Kieran: [00:08:43] Yeah, that's right. So between the two, I went, I moved to the developer experience team. Internally at Shopify. So I moved from cluster call and that's where I got, you know, a real sort of education in the API APIs and how, you know, APIs as a product are built by Shopify.
[00:09:01] And that's kind of, that was the last, yeah, 12 to 14 months of my time in Shopify was, was working in that team. And then in July last year, I left to really kind of take the two roles and bring them together. But as an independent, so my focus is obviously API as a specialism, but doing that, this the solution in piece for a app developers who maybe have a roadblock of some kind or agencies who are working with a merchant and they got some kind of big hairy problem need to solve and they'd like my technical input.
Keith: [00:09:35] So I suppose most agencies have in house experience and enough depth of knowledge to solve the majority of problems. So what you'd be just working with an agency in a short term basis, would you?
Kieran: [00:09:45] Yeah, absolutely. Normally either even just one or phone call, you know, as a like as a second opinion or a phone call to sort of work through the angles and see if there's a different way to kind of skim the problem that they've already come up with a solution for. And sometimes I'm working with agencies and in a kind of scoping and requirements gathering capacity. So I work with the merchant directly in that case, gather their requirements that you know, their business needs and scope the project technical side. I need to come up with a scope of work. Breakdown of technically what's required for them to quote using or a technical design depending on it, you know, if the agency has app dev experience inhouse.
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[00:11:34] Does that put you under a bit of pressure? You're obviously very much, you know, you're knowledgeable and very, I suppose, much an expert in on the Shopify side, but is it a case where customers come to you with a different set of problems every time?
[00:11:48] Like they, they probably know what Shopify can do, what they could be trying to integrate into a, an a POS provider or some sort of a, you know, high-end warehouse management system. Is it, is it, do you find yourself constantly upskilling on everything else other than Shopify.
Kieran: [00:12:02] I do and I don't. So I typically, if there is, there's another piece of technology in the mix, you know, if this is say a piece of designing a piece of middleware, I know we try and get my hands on that account manager at that particular software house, you know, whether you know, whatever it may be, and you use them as a resource.
[00:12:21] But I do end up doing a fair amount of research into different platforms. And especially when it comes to things like payment gateway, because you can quite rarely get access to technical people at the payment gateway. So you do find yourself thinking in a lot of documentation, you know, working with that alone.
Keith: [00:12:40] But that sounds particularly interesting though, because obviously you have to skill up constantly on Shopify's updates, but they're, I mean, they're easily got really with their public knowledge. It sounds like a challenge.
Kieran: [00:12:49] Yeah, it is a challenge, especially when the, you know, the provider, you know, the other party is maybe, you know in a country like Japan or Thailand is a, it's a payment provider in those countries and you're trying to find out specific information about how they handle API requests for example.
Keith: [00:13:05] And Kieran, like what's the process there? Somebody goes to you, you do your investigation, you talk to both parties, three parties, whatever.
[00:13:12] How many third parties are involved. You document it and then you give it to the client and then you walk away from the project. Is that right?
Kieran: [00:13:18] Typically, yes. So there'll be a series of discovery calls. I will work through. My research phases out after each call, come up with more questions and have discussions and choices that maybe the merchant needs to make about how the workflow's going to work.
[00:13:33] And then I'll produce either a scoping document or a technical design, depending on what the assignment is. And then I will do a hand over that. Typically it's a call with a technical person from the agency, you know, the project manager, and then I'm normally available for sort of ad hoc questions. The project kickoff or during the sprint or whatever company at doing.
Keith: [00:13:56] Yeah, so you don't, I mean, you don't run away. You're available in the event something does go wrong. Well, I was going to ask you, you know, how was this leaving, you know, a PLC and going independent? You were independent before you went into Shopify weren't you?
Kieran: [00:14:08] I was, yeah, so I was independent and then I went to Shopify, which was obviously then saw huge amount of growth at Shopify and then left to go independent again.
Keith: [00:14:17] Very good. Okay. I want to start talking about this really interesting stuff that you're involved when it comes to DefaultHQ. Yes, sure. I was on LinkedIn yesterday and I watched your video on the Shopify APIs. I'm not taking time to semi tech. I can have a conversation with somebody, but I'm certainly not in any way technical. This is probably the best way to describe it. So the content that you're producing is all part of Default HQ. So explain exactly what Default HQ is.
Kieran: [00:14:42] Yes. So Default is a company that Keir and I kind of imagined after we left Shopify. And it's a company that aims to create services and products specifically for the partner community.
[00:14:53] And really trying to look at that sort of, I guess some of the pain points in the partner world and address those with a product or a service. In the case of the video content, this is us. You know, trying to provide a more sort of digestible and bite-sized way for people to dive into a subject.
[00:15:10] So for example, the last video was about the product media APIs, they're brand new in January this year. It was just us, sort of trying to shortcut developers' knowledge so they can quickly level up on that. You know, move on to digging into actually writing some code.
Keith: [00:15:27] Is the content directed towards Shopify merchants, Shopify developers?
[00:15:32] Who is it directed towards?
Kieran: [00:15:33] Yeah. Everything that some Default does is focused on partners. So you know, the content in our podcast is partners, the content of the YouTube channels and partners debrief, which is our event, Kier ran independently with Cat Hunter last year, which was an event after unite to really digest what had been announced at Unite. That's firmly aimed at partners. So everything that we do is focused on, you know, sort of serving the partner community.
Keith: [00:15:59] I mean, I think it's a great idea what you're, what you're doing. The content is the internet is. Obviously full of four contents, like it's a big ask and a big undertaking to start producing, you know, technical footage and information, which I suppose some people are going to depend on.
[00:16:15] So what led you to actually going down the video route, considering it's probably the hardest form of media to create?
Kieran: [00:16:21] Yeah, I think there's a couple of things there. One was that I saw a real gap for quality Shopify content in the video form. I think the last videos that I've seen that were new, really solid were Keir's original liquid videos, and then some more recent stuff a couple of years ago, which was the building an app in five minutes series, which was put out by Shopify themselves, and I just didn't see very much decent content in that format. And for me as a developer, that's the that's the way I've always learned. You know, I, I, well, I wanted to pick up rails and so I went and found rails cast by Ryan Bates, which was an amazing, resource for rails developers, whether he just created screencasts of him talking about a specific subject and put them out there for free.
[00:17:09] And I think that I saw how he'd done that and I saw how people were doing that in the node space or whatever. And I thought, yeah, this is something that Shopify developers need. You know, there's something that would be beneficial to them. And I think for me, for me, I won't sit down and write a blog post, for example. And also, you know, personally speaking, I don't, so I don't learn very well from blog posts. So I felt that maybe the video option was the best one. And that coupled with our podcasts, which is more of a kind of conversational style around a specific type subject, each episode, that was kind of, you know, the two-pronged approach we are taking, you know, this kind of conversational piece and they're much more technical tutorial thing via video.
Keith: [00:17:52] Your point about the blog is interesting, like I've no idea what sort of changes Google are going to make, but you know, any clients that we talk to, they all find it very difficult to produce written content unless they have a dedicated resource.
[00:18:03] Yes. I mean, if you look at even myself and Peter and the Team in Milk Bottle, I mean, I personally find it easier to produce a podcast than even assign a member of the team to specifically write a piece of content on a, on a particular area of Shopify. It's also more enjoyable, at least with the video and with the podcast, you know you've got stocks. I mean, I find the statistics just extremely interesting, the amount of people that are listening to this particular podcast all around the world.
[00:18:30] And then that leads me to my next point. It's one of the easiest ways of actually getting the word out worldwide very, very quickly because just as it's less enjoyable to write a blog, I think the world is moving and it's more enjoyable for listeners. Listen to a podcast or watch a video.
Kieran: [00:18:46] No, I completely agree.
Keith: [00:18:47] I do question whether Google will make changes to whether to highly ranked stores based on digital content versus written content. I must get an SEO expert to actually talk about that because people are enjoying video and podcasts at the spoken word way more to listen to and also people are enjoying producing it.
Kieran: [00:19:04] Yeah, and also obviously Google are focusing on video in their search results on YouTube videos immediately at the beginning of every search page so it makes sense.
Keith: [00:19:14] Yeah, they are. And I also noticed on image search lately, if you search for a particular image, it will render an image in the results, even though it's a screengrab of the YouTube video,
Kieran: [00:19:26] yeah they're taking the thumbnail for the video surfing it in images.
Keith: [00:19:30] So in, in terms of the first one that I saw was on API versioning, isn't that right?
Kieran: [00:19:35] Yes. Yeah, that's right. Yeah. that was the first video.
Keith: [00:19:38] So in terms of your direction of travel for that, for the rest of the content, is it going to be as technical as that, or are you going to talk about, for example, when there are these sections everywhere, is that something you'd be talking to them?
Kieran: [00:19:49] Yeah, that, that'll definitely something we talk about. So we're kind of working through 20 2001 which is the current version of the API at the moment. There's a lot of changes in that version. So we're working through a multi-part series of that. But then we're going to move on to other subjects. So there's, there's other videos planned both in the technical world.
[00:20:06] So, you know, maybe seeing development C-sections everywhere. But also I did a video on the Ajax API this morning, and I think we'll probably progress into talking about non-technical subjects as well. So maybe issues that partners have on the business side. So it'd be talking about recruiting or marketing, especially with Keir's experience in marketing.
[00:20:28] You know, those are all valid subjects for the channel as well, but right now, I think for the first half of this year, it can be very much technically focused.
Keith: [00:20:35] So in, in terms of we are Default, is recruitment a direction that you will go in.
Kieran: [00:20:39] Yeah, definitely. I think, yeah, we've already got plans or we're working on it at the moment for a job board specifically focused on Shopify recruitment.
[00:20:48] So yeah, that that will be launching fingers crossed before unite, and it'll really, the focus there is creating a central space for people to post or provide jobs, Shopify experienced staff, and not necessarily just developers, but PMs, account managers, all that stuff to go to the job board and find, find work.
Keith: [00:21:08] Well done, Kieran.
[00:21:08] That's a great idea. Thank you.
Kieran: [00:21:09] Thanks.
Keith: [00:21:10] Yeah, I say that we just made a hire this week and we had to go down through the traditional channels of other job boards, which are expensive. And we also use LinkedIn, which is also expensive. And then of course, if you're, if you have a budget for a recruiter, well then that’s even more expensive.
Kieran: [00:21:26] Do you specifically look for Shopify experience when you recruit or do you use to look for a solid developer, a solid designer?
Keith: [00:21:32] That's a good question. It depends on the role that the last role, like the role that we just hired for, was a client-facing project manager. And really we needed somebody, with Shopify experience for that one.
[00:21:41] Because if you took on a non-Shopify project manager, I mean I'm sure they would have wonderful abilities in terms of managing a project, what you would basically have to educate the individuals from the ground up on Shopify. To answer your question, I think it would be easier to educate a Shopify experienced individual on project management rather than doing it the other way around and educating a project manager on Shopify. So I may be wrong, and of course it depends on the individual, but we use basecamp extensively and we have some pretty decent templates built out, so we just, we would personally find it easier to steer a Shopify asset in the direction of project management.
[00:22:16] So for us, that was the best fit.
Kieran: [00:22:18] Yeah, that makes sense.
Keith: [00:22:19] In terms of development talent, really, it depends on, I suppose their experience on. Whether it's front or back ends. We deal with that on a case by case basis.
Kieran: [00:22:27] They may be easy to pick up liquid, for example, than to immerse yourself. Yeah, absolutely.
Keith: [00:22:32] I don't want to let you go without talking about the events, the post Unite events or summary of what you have planned for United 2020.
Kieran: [00:22:40] Yeah, sure. So debrief was the first year, last year run by cat and Keir. Sadly, not with us this year because she's with her little daughter Betty who was recently born. But we are back in 2020 and the purpose of De:brief is to bring partners together after unite.
[00:23:01] Obviously there's lots of big announcements that impacts everyone's business. And also, you know presents amazing opportunity at Unite and the idea is to digest the announcements and kind of pick things apart and work out what it means for our businesses. Last year, there were four or five panels, chaired by normally I kind of, I guess the expression would be Shopify, a veteran, you know, somebody, somebody who is a name in the industry.
[00:23:26] This year we're going to the same thing again, but this time we're going to try and bring a bit more new fresh talent to the panels, still stick with an industry veteran steering things, but how sort of a fresh perspective on the panels.
Keith: [00:23:38] Great. The reaction to last year was absolutely fantastic. Remember talking to Keir about it and he was, he was described. The best way he said he could describe it was it was like a luggage lounge at an airport. Most people have delayed their flight home so they could
Kieran: [00:23:53] attend.
[00:23:53] Trust Keir to create a travel analogy.
Keith: [00:23:57] It's a wonder he didn't go into the detail of the backpacks that everybody's wearing. But anyway.
[00:24:01] Yeah, so it's great. It's a wonderful idea. You, there's two concepts there that are just brilliant. The recruitment side is great. And when you know more about it I'd love to probably have yourself or Keir on to talk about it more. So, Kieran, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you today and look the best of luck with Default HQ.
[00:24:18] And I shall see you at the event in Toronto.
Kieran: [00:24:21] Likewise. Thank you. It's been great.
Keith: [00:24:23] Thanks for your time.
Outro: [00:24:26] Thanks for listening to the Milk Bottles Shopify Ecommerce Podcast. All of our episodes are available on Spotify and iTunes. We really appreciate the support of our sponsor. Rewind.io, the leading backup solution for your Shopify store. Get your first month of rewind for free. Just to respond to any of the welcome messages or emails after you begin your seven-day free trial and mention our podcast until the next time. Take care.