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Venture Everywhere Podcast: Andreas "Anton" Ströberg with Eamonn Carey
Eamonn Carey, LP in Everywhere Ventures and GP of The Fund London, catches up with Andreas "Anton" Ströberg, Founder and CEO of Stackend, on Episode 17: Stacked with Stackend.
In episode 17 of Venture Everywhere, Eamonn Carey, general partner at Tera Ventures, LP of Everywhere VC, and GP of The Fund London, chats with Andreas "Anton" Ströberg of Stackend – a social shopping platform supercharging Shopify users. Anton shares the journey of Stackend, from its origins in building a community backend platform for media companies to its evolution into a tool that combines content commerce, live commerce, and community commerce. Tune in to discover insights about the Swedish tech ecosystem and the impact Stackend aims to make in the world of online retail.
In this episode, you will hear:
Anton’s founding journeys, including working with and learning from various mentors from previous companies
The intimate and supportive nature of the Swedish tech ecosystem and the ability to connect with successful founders and investors
How the size of a community impacts trust and equity, as well as customer acquisition costs and conversion rates
How to move past inertia and find the right audience who is willing to build something new and impactful rather than using what is already familiar
Juggling different industries and interest areas while tackling go to market and getting traction
If you liked this episode, please give us a rating wherever you found us. To learn more about our work, visit Everywhere.vc and subscribe to our Founders Everywhere Substack. You can also follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for regular updates and news.
00:00:00 Jenny Fielding: Hi, and welcome to the Everywhere podcast. We're a global community of founders and operators who've come together to support the next generation of builders. So the premise of the podcast is just that, founders interviewing other founders about the trials and tribulations of building a company. Hope you enjoy the episode.
00:00:20 Eamonn: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. My name is Eamonn Carey. I am a general partner at Tera Ventures. We are a generalist, pre-seed and seed fund investing across the new Nordics, Central and Eastern Europe. I'm also an LP in Everywhere Ventures, which is where this conversation came from. And I'm lucky today to be joined by one of our portfolio founders, one of our joint portfolio founders, who I led the investment from Tera and where Everywhere Ventures also participated. I've got Anton from Stackend on the line. Anton, thank you for joining us.
00:00:54 Andreas: No, thank you for having me!
00:00:57 Eamonn: So maybe take us back a little bit, where did Stackend come from? What's your background? What led you to start in this company? Because it's actually quite a lot of research and time that's gone into building out the tool that you have today.
00:01:10 Andreas: Yeah, it's probably like plus 20 years. And it started around, 2000s, something like that where I was working together with a more famous person than me, Sebastian Knutsson, one of the founders for King. So we were having, Product Manager Group, where our task was to invent new business ideas for Europe at that time. And the only thing that we made money on was community-based, like dating and stuff like that.
00:01:43 Andreas: So roll forward, we quit that. He started King. We started JOSH, our former company and we were building a community backend platform for enterprise software or companies. And the reason why was because we had only built software that could handle 30-40 million visitors per week, et cetera. So we thought that that was a good starting point.
00:02:08 Andreas: And we were building that and we got quite good traction with a lot of media companies in Europe doing blogs, doing comments, like article comments and stuff like that. I think we made the world's first article comments in 2004, at least for newspapers.
00:02:25 Eamonn: I'm not sure the world will thank you for that one, but yeah.
00:02:30 Andreas: Yeah, that's true. And then we sort of went from there for 10 years, something like that. And we started to, or at least I started to feel that working with media companies were a bit dangerous. I sort of seeing it as something that would die eventually, because at least in Sweden or in Europe, they were not as progressive as you would want.
00:02:57 Andreas: So we started to focus a little bit on working with other companies that we thought could have usage of community feature as we were building. And looking at starting to work with Björn Borg, that kind of companies like e-commerce companies. And this was still quite early, like 2015, '16, somewhere around that. But we were doing a lot of, like, become, I guess, influencers.
00:03:20 Andreas: So doing blogs and so on, but combining it with Stadium, which is like a sports warehouse in Sweden. Quite big, doing competition where you could take pictures of yourself again, before Instagram and send them up to... your picture of yourself in your underwear, your Björn Borg underwear, and then you could... there was like a weekly win. This was really, really popular, extremely popular in the gay community. Actually, it was fun. Everyone was looking amazing. So that's that.
00:03:49 Andreas: And then we did that for a while, but that was installation software. So it was kind of Zombie software. We thought that we need to come up with something. I can't remember now some of the King project that we were working with at that time. We were building, I don't know, maybe 30, 50 sites, something like that for them, for all their brands like Candy Crush Saga and so on. And we were duplicating endless amounts of code for all these sites.
00:04:15 Andreas: And every time we were doing this, they had to pay like 5,000 euros for changing an email address or something like that because there's a lot of releases and stuff like that. As React was coming to the market and getting more and more mature, the Language React, we found a way to start backend rendering and frontend rendering, quite complex functionality and stream it to the frontend. So that was the original idea. Not a very short story there.
00:04:46 Andreas: And we thought that was cool because then we could have the code centralized and then just have a small tag at these 50 sites or whatever and stream it to those so you can have the same footer and so on. And then that evolved and we thought that was the product. And then we realized that, "Hey, it's even more fun if you combine it with shopping." And then live shopping was starting to come in Asia, et cetera. So it's sort of evolved from there.
00:05:17 Eamonn: Tell us a little bit about Stackend as it is today, then, what's the elevator pitch? How are you helping these kinds of e-commerce companies and how are you going to track success, I guess?
00:05:28 Andreas: Yeah, the elevator pitch: it’s a social shopping platform today targeted towards Shopify because of their market size, but it's not limited to Shopify. We could integrate towards anything if it's worthwhile. And what it does is that it combines content commerce, live commerce, community commerce as modules that you add to your Shopify store.
00:05:59 Andreas: Why we think this is something is that: the more loyalty you can build with, community on your own platform, rather than on Meta or Facebook or on Instagram or Facebook or God forbid, TikTok, the more loyalty you can build around your products, around your brands. So it's an excellent way to build a brand story and build relationship with your user. If you have a relationship with your user on Instagram, then that's owned by Instagram, but we want the store owner to have the relationship with them right from their store.
00:06:38 Eamonn: What does success look like for your customers then? It sounds like it's increased retention, it's increased revenue, it's all of that and more, I guess.
00:06:47 Andreas: Yeah, I mean, the boring topic which works best is that it lowers customer acquisition costs. It increases loyalty, it increases the inspirational mood that you're in. You increase trust because you trust word of mouth. And that's actually - the smaller the community, the higher the trust value for word by mouth, equity, and so on. So it's like lower customer acquisition costs, higher loyalty or increased loyalty and increased conversion are the pillars.
00:07:18 Eamonn: What's the biggest challenge for you, guys? I guess there are so many Shopify merchants out there that one of them has to be kind of how do you reach the right people, how do you convert them? But maybe talk me through some of the biggest issues that you guys are facing.
00:07:31 Andreas: We've been in a similar situation, actually, quite long ago with our former software. And that's when we tried to convince someone that something that doesn't really exist, that this is the right way to go. And it's always easier to do what you did yesterday. It's always easier to pay another week where we pay Google for the ads, et cetera. Rather than start building up.
00:07:54 Andreas: So taking people to the place where they think that, okay, what you're saying seems right. It makes sense. It's logic. But maybe next week, or maybe in three months, or maybe... And then you meet a few people that are not like that. It's like, "Hell yeah, let's do it." And then they just do it. But for every, I don't know, number for this like a million or something like that, that's one in a million of those people. Most people like to do what they did yesterday. I think that's the struggle.
00:08:31 Andreas: On the other hand, once you get past that and they see three or four are doing it, or you can point to something. So it's always that first hurdle. I think it's the hardest, which is where we are now. And we started to gain our first two, three clients that we actually can point to and say, "Hey, look, they are doing this." And then the next excuse will be, "Yeah, but they're selling clothes and we are selling barbecue," or whatever, or fish. But at some point they will run out of excuses and then it tends to go a lot faster. It’s my gut feeling for this as well.
00:09:08 Eamonn: Yeah, I know when we started talking first, we talked a lot about this kind of idea of almost hybrid shopping that the e-commerce retail at the moment is very boring. It's very similar to when I bought the first book on Amazon 20 years ago. How do you make that kind of store experience more engaging and more compelling? And I think you're right. It feels like it needs a few big names to get over the line or a few well known companies to get over the line before everyone starts doing it. Are you seeing any common threads?
00:09:38 Eamonn: I mean, I know you post on LinkedIn about some of the companies that have been signing up and it is across a pretty broad range of industries. And I know you're talking to some larger clients and partners as well, but is there any common thread that those folks have? Is it certain industries that you're seeing more pull from, or interest in different, kind of aspects of the product?
00:09:56 Andreas: I think it's maybe a quantity in skincare and beauty. It's quite easy to imagine, now, I'm putting on makeup or if it's video. That kind of stuff. There's also a huge company in Sweden or actually in Europe even, called Lyko. lyko.com that has built their own community, invested millions into this, and is focusing a lot on community and they are within the beauty segment. So there's like a shining star there. And what we're offering is basically that on steroids, pardon my speech.
00:10:39 Andreas: Anyway, but for $60 per month and they will be ready in 15 minutes or an hour. Something like that. That's the easy segment because they are all very, very stressed, because they are doing really well. And they are doing really well because they've managed to build a community around their beauty products and so on. So it's easy in that segment. So most of the leads we have are in that segment.
00:11:07 Andreas: Otherwise, I would say it's on a more like almost a personal level, where you meet founders that have created their own product. That takes a lot of drive, created their own alcohol-free alternative for women and so on, from Holland or similar things, a jewelry or whatever. But when there's a founder who actually has a product, not just like drop shipping something from Asia, then it's also a lot easier because they have that true entrepreneur spirit.
00:11:38 Andreas: They know that I need to try everything because you never know what works. So those kinds of personalities are way easier than say the catalog or something like that. That's a lot harder to discuss or to get them over.
00:11:58 Eamonn: Yeah, that's a bigger beast to deal with and a slow moving oil tanker. I know you have one or two enterprise customers that are taking a little bit of time to get to full employment, so.
00:12:08 Andreas: Yeah, two years and counting.
00:12:12 Eamonn: On that topic, what keeps you awake at night? What are some of the big areas of concern that you have around the business?
00:12:18 Andreas: Well, my dogs keep me awake at night actually. I focus a lot on trying to find that magic formula that never is just one thing. It's like or for at least my experience, never one thing. So I'm sort of like, "Okay, I'm succeeding with this. I get your intention. How do I get to the next step?" Or, "What am I doing wrong with the videos?" Or like promo videos and so on for the products.
00:12:46 Andreas: So I think that there's a lot of stuff like in go to market, increased traction basically. That's almost the only thing I think about right now, which is a shame because I love thinking about product development and new buttons and so on. But right now, the focus can't be that much new buttons, but rather like go to market and traction. So, yeah, a lot of focus on that right now.
00:13:10 Eamonn: What would you say, I mean, outside of thinking about buttons, what would you say is your superpower? What's the thing that you're best known for?
00:13:19 Andreas: I think I'm quite good at coming up with new stuff that hasn't existed before, even though I'm decently technical at one point in my life. I was an absolute awful developer, but –
00:13:31 Eamonn: I know that feeling. I was like that too.
00:13:34 Andreas: But I still understand because I've done it for a few years and done the backend, done the frontend. I understand the whole idea around how it works. And sometimes even, I can find reason why something doesn't work.
00:13:47 Andreas: But I love to combine this with that and then create something new that people would find useful. Whatever fields it's in, I like to create experiences for people that… and I find it extremely boring to do a copy of something that exists, but it's a little bit cheaper or maybe a little bit more bluish or whatever. So I like to build something that hasn't existed and have actually, like a track record of ideas that was never launched at YouTube before, six years before YouTube and so on. Which I realized 50,000 other people as well had.
00:14:31 Andreas: But then, also, I don't typically just have the ideas, regardless if it's within the company. I also pushed them through. I learned to develop or I learned Arduino to be able to build something or whatever. So I have this. The superpower might be called ADHD, but it's, you know, I never stop. I just continue until it's done. So I think that's my superpower.
00:14:55 Eamonn: Yeah. I think every founder has a little black book of ideas that they're building or that they'll get to, or that they have a side hustle for once they got away over the years, so I can definitely empathize with that. Are there people that you look up to? Are there people that you view as mentors? You mentioned Sebastian from King.com and obviously, we're co-investors with Lars, one of the other co-founders of King.com in Stackend. But who are some of the people that have made a big difference in your life, in your career?
00:15:28 Andreas: Yeah, I think that going from pure tech guy to being more like a product and concept developer, not just, but actually do it as a work, as a job. That was Sebastian who hired me for that. And we worked together for four years. And he's super fun to work with because he's creative and he's also very, very friendly. But it's also a bit frustrating because regardless of what idea you had or concept you had, his reply was almost always like, "Yeah, I think I have a PowerPoint," and then he made the whole idea to know. He's also constantly coming up with these small schemes and ideas, et cetera. So, but that was very inspiring.
00:16:22 Andreas: And it's also quite competitive so you thought like he's undoubtedly successful, you know? So, but at that point he was like a little bit more mediocre successful. So you sort of compete with one of the best, which I don't, but like in my inner feeling is that I'm competing with something. And at that point, that was really good because he wanted to bring something better to the table than what he could come up with, which was hard, but that also put a level on him. I think that he was inspiring.
00:17:01 Andreas: There's also, I don't know, Jonas Kjellberg, he's a Swedish investor and was running Skype with Niklas for a while. He's a really... I don't know, we only worked for a few months, but the energy that guy has, we call him Duracell Guy. He might be funnier in Sweden, but in Swedish because his name was Kjellberg. The energy he had was very inspiring. And he was also all about sales and he was not ashamed. He was almost like an American approach, which is quite unusual for Swedes.
00:17:40 Andreas: Yeah. And then you meet so many, I like Tuomo. I like talking to Tuomo from Rentle and it's not about being starstruck, but rather like, "I love talking to this guy." And I feel that he also enjoyed talking to me because we click on the same level and value and then you grow with that basically. So.
00:18:04 Eamonn: I suppose, people will know Sweden for a variety of different reasons, right? Whether it's Ericsson or Klarna or Spotify or Volvo, right? But maybe they don't know the tech ecosystem so well. How would you describe the Swedish ecosystem? It sounds like from what you said, it's still small enough that you can know the people who run the very successful businesses. So is it quite a supportive place for vendors? I know certainly there's tons of angel investors and funds there.
00:18:34 Andreas: Yeah, I think depending on age. But if you're plus 40 in Sweden and you work within the internet, there's a huge chance if you were in Stockholm that you'd be in one of four companies that then ended up to 4,000 companies basically. So it was like before the internet bubble in the early 2000s, there was three or four major companies that was doing consulting or was doing internet basically before it was cool.
00:19:05 Andreas: Then one of them was Spray Network, which was Sebastian and Dan. And it was Richard that started Crea, it was Sebastian who started, I think it was some kind of a online paper dolls, but that ended up in something else. And that ended up in being some of the founders from Spotify, et cetera. And because you know like five of these guys, and then you know their friends’ friends, and so on, it's quite easy. You can ask Sebastian, "Could you talk to this guy on Klarna?" Sebastian on Klarna or something like that, and he can reach out.
00:19:41 Andreas: So I think it's way much harder to be in New York trying to reach out to the CEO for a NASDAQ company than it is in Stockholm. But I think it's cool because Swedish company typically at least have always almost a global approach. Spotify, Klarna, et cetera. The focus is never Sweden, you know, and that's also coming from that time when that internet companies were like, "Hey, this IP address or domain, it works in other countries as well."
00:20:16 Eamonn: It's something that's very similar in Ireland, right? Like your home market is never going to be big enough for you to build a really big company. And so you have to think kind of UK or US or other places. And I think you're right, that kind of density of network that you probably know someone who knows someone and can get you an intro or a connection is just absolutely invaluable.
00:20:38 Eamonn: So let's move on to the speed round.
00:20:40 Andreas: Okay.
00:20:42 Eamonn: We talked a little bit about Stockholm and Sweden, which I can recommend as a place to visit. But if you could live anywhere else in the world for a year, where would it be?
00:20:53 Andreas: Australia. Yeah, for sure. I love this whole overlanding and four wheel driving and fishing and hunting and all that, beside the fact that everything wants to kill you if you're there. But the whole like I haven't been there. I've been in a lot of places. I haven't been to Australia. So I would really want to experience Australia for a year.
00:21:14 Eamonn: I've only ever flown over it on my way to New Zealand, but the thought of going somewhere where so many things are actively trying to kill you is slightly terrifying.
00:21:21 Andreas: Yeah. I have actually some friends that live there as well, and they are still alive. You know, been there for the last 10 years.
00:21:27 Eamonn: They've made it so far.
00:21:29 Andreas: So it's doable.
00:20:31 Eamonn: Any books you're reading or podcasts that you're enjoying at the moment?
00:20:33 Andreas: Yeah, it goes in phases, obviously. But right now I'm reading, Peter Englund is in the committee for the Nobel Prize. And it's called Even Nights Dreams if I translate it to English. He's an historian. And it's based on letters from World War II. Yeah, it's a thick one. He's excellent. But you can't be a bit sleepy when you start reading it, but it's very interesting. I like history and stuff like that. And I also listen a lot to various history podcasts and so on.
00:22:11 Andreas: Like listening to technical or media podcasts and so on. Obviously not this one, but it can be inspiring. But a lot of these big podcasts and so on, I feel that it's a bit like kicking in open doors. “It's about AI” or something like that.
00:22:30 Eamonn: There's a touch of grand hockey.
00:22:31 Andreas: Yeah.
00:22:33 Eamonn: Just repeat over and over and over again. So I'm with you on that front. Any productivity hack? Any ways that you kind of psych yourself up or things that you do to get yourself in?
00:22:45 Andreas: I copy paste initially and then I change that, and that typically gives me new ideas and then I rewrite it. But just to have something to start with. It's been a dream come true actually, with Chat GPT when you were to write text or when you were to create something and produce something. I set it out so he has different personalities depending on what I want to do. It's really helpful actually. So again, we were not talking about AI and so on. But it's been really, really good just to have someone to throw ideas with and so on. Productivity hack, I want to say something smarter than that but that's probably the one.
00:23:23 Eamonn: I think that's a pretty good productivity hack. I think having someone to bounce ideas off and use as a sounding board, someone and then for the comments that is not a bad thing. And from what I've heard, anyone who's had the chance to check out the new version of the product where you can physically talk to the Chat GPT, it kind of changes the game again and becomes almost kind of like a “Her” type of experience where it feels really like a person rather than the slightly clunky verbose app.
00:23:51 Andreas: Yeah, it's scary how good it is, actually. Obviously, it's scary, but it's also very useful. So yeah, I use it for everything, hours per day, actually. But then it's not like, write my resume or something like that, but rather write something about this, give me 10 ideas around this and so on. And then you pick, combine two and three. So it's like having a slave or something. A text slave.
00:24:21 Andreas: I'm trying to force our developers to use it, which is tricky. Because there's like a million stuff that they can do, obviously, it just goes so much faster. So it's basically like it's the same for them. It's quite decent or actually really good at coding. But now I haven't been successful in that area yet.
00:24:44 Eamonn: Give it time. We'll revisit it in a year. See if it's made a difference.
00:24:48 Andreas: Yeah.
00:24:49 Eamonn: And then last question, where can listeners find you if they want to find out more about Stackend or if they want to connect with you or your LinkedIn or?
00:24:57 Andreas: Yeah, I'm on LinkedIn, Andreas Ströberg obviously, and then stackend.com or Anton@stackend.com if you want to email me.
00:25:06 Eamonn: They can find you if they ever find themselves on a beach in Sweden and see a tiki bar, where you can buy them -
00:25:13 Andreas: Yeah.
00:25:13 Eamonn: - another drink.
00:25:15 Andreas: Yeah, they should. They should. I reply to everything except people who want to sell me offshore developers.
00:25:25 Eamonn: That's fair. That's very fair. The property market in Bulgaria is not as hot as it used to be, I guess.
00:25:30 Andreas: No, it's like 500 a day or something like that. I feel sorry for them. I do.
00:25:34 Eamonn: A dirty job, but someone's got to do it. Anton, thank you for taking the time to have a chat and tell us about Stackend. And we look forward to following your progress over the coming weeks, months and years.
00:25:45 Andreas: Yeah, thank you very much for having me. It was really fun talking again.
00:25:51 Scott Hartley: Thanks for joining us and hope you enjoyed today's episode. For those of you listening, you might also be interested to learn more about Everywhere. We're a first-check pre-seed fund that does exactly that, invest everywhere. We're a community of 500 founders and operators and we've invested in over 250 companies around the globe. Find us at our website, everywhere.vc on LinkedIn and through our regular founder spotlights on Substack. Be sure to subscribe and we'll catch you on the next episode.
Read more from Anton in Founders Everywhere.