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Sitecore's headless commerce play fuels ambitions

Sitecore CEO Steve Tzikakis took over during the pandemic -- amid massive growth -- and has reimagined the company as a digital experience provider with a composable commerce bent.

Several web content management vendors, including Sitecore, Optimizely -- formerly Episerver -- and Acquia, have remade themselves as digital experience platforms in recent years, adding marketing automation, customer data platforms and headless commerce capabilities to their product lines. They are all taking on the monolithic Adobe.

Steve Tzikakis, formerly of SAP, joined Sitecore as CEO in September 2020. Early in 2021, Sitecore acquired headless commerce and customer data platform (CDP) companies to add digital experience (DX) capabilities. We interviewed Tzikakis to discuss these trends as well as Sitecore's future plans as the company builds what it calls a "composable digital experience platform" (DXP).

What was it like joining a company as CEO in the middle of a pandemic?

Steve Tzikakis: In true digital format, I didn't meet anybody [in person] during my interviews. And they didn't meet me for many, many months. We made four acquisitions, we didn't meet anybody. We hired 1,200 people -- most of them hadn't been to a Sitecore office. We achieved amazing things during the last year and a half or two years -- more things than we had achieved the five prior years.

A company that's all about digital experience has to be agile and quick, so we can operate in both environments. And I think we passed that test. Most importantly, we helped many clients pass the test and quickly convert from physical to digital.

Sitecore is on a growth trajectory, acquiring technologies for its platform and opening offices in Boston, Dubai, Madrid, Tokyo and Paris. Which came first, the growth plan or the pandemic?

Our eyes are set for the future and how we can help customers -- not build more functionality on the platforms that we see today.
Steve TzikakisCEO, Sitecore

Tzikakis: The pandemic. It helped us realize what customers -- and their consumers -- actually want is not available. And it was an opportunity for us. Composable DX is what our customers and their consumers want -- a flawless, not-siloed digital platform where you're attracted to it, you have a beautiful experience, you love the product, you click the buy button, and the products are delivered to you. Simple, but sophisticated.

Our clients wanted a composable platform where we show respect to what they had working, even if it was provided by one of our competitors or partners. But they wanted Sitecore to fill the gaps. We had the fundamental know-how to expand our portfolio and at the same time modernize. We adopted the composable DXP strategy: Basically, it's a little bit like playing with Legos. I can have five sets of Legos, but building just one gives me the autonomy to have fun and play with it. I can keep adding and building the other sets, which at the same time all sit on the same platform, and I can start exchanging little pieces around. This is how our strategy kind of proliferated.

What did you learn in your time at SAP that you've brought to Sitecore?

Tzikakis: SAP is a great company. Two-thirds of the world's transactions, one way or the other, are on the SAP platform. Customer centricity, integration, industry focus -- these were some of the things that I've learned -- and the power of the ecosystem. These were the things that we could do better at Sitecore, but above all, knowing what good looks like and the magic of boldness in achieving things.

We want to be No. 1 in our industry.

Steve Tzikakis, CEO, Sitecore
Steve Tzikakis, CEO, Sitecore

Sitecore is placing heavy bets on its CDP and headless commerce technology. Why do you think that is the future?

Tzikakis: Our customers wanted us to innovate and develop for their future. We wanted to learn from the companies we acquired, [more than] the revenues they brought. That allows us to acquire functionalities we couldn't build ourselves. They had some amazing [users]. For instance, Boxever [acquired by Sitecore in March 2021] runs the personalization and CDP for the world's largest airline and for some of the world's largest banks. So you have billions of profiles online in a SaaS platform, in environments that actually make a lot of money, as part of personalization as engines for their own clients.

Four51, as a headless commerce platform [acquired by Sitecore in April 2021], allows us to go beyond the classic e-commerce approach. We believe in headless commerce because every single Google search ends in Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook -- these are the user interfaces. These are the heads, and commerce couldn't be happening there. Same with the metaverse. Will you need a user interface in the future? You may not even need a device.

That's the thinking we had when we were making these acquisitions. And we coupled that with a lot of innovation that will enable our customers to go beyond the classic content experience in commerce, giving them an advantage, with quick implementations, very quick integrations and respecting the fact that they may have other assets implemented as part of the digital stack.

How would you describe Sitecore's acquisition strategy and what kinds of companies you're looking at next?

Tzikakis: Our strategy is not to grow our product portfolio by acquisition. We complement our organic innovation by acquisition. We acquire things that we know their leaders have the same mindset we have. There are some beautiful, amazing technologies out there. Our eyes are set for the future and how we can help customers -- not build more functionality on the platforms that we see today.

Think about 5G. Think about Bitcoin. Think about the metaverse. Think about Web 3.0 and how it all comes together around content. This is what we are working on, innovating with partners and customers.

Editor's note: This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget.

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