One British entrepreneur is placing a bet on the future of commerce and the way people will buy and sell, online and offline with his new e-commerce startup.
Terry McGinnis, founder, and CEO of UK-based Online Shop, an open-source and community-driven marketplace, isn’t interested in unicorn valuations bestowed upon startups by venture capitalists, or high-margin subscription models. Instead, McGinnis is keen to reimagine the online marketplace business model as a necessity, and not a luxury.
“Just like buying something in a shop is considered nothing more than a simple act of utility thanks to commercial evolution; from transit and logistics to cash registers and card readers. Many people still consider online shopping an action which is driven by utility rather than a luxury. Whilst the notion of this is true, it’s a luxury spearheaded by the need for utility and as such does not offer the same conservation as a service built purely for utility does,” says McGinnis.
“Our competitors were formed out of a need for utility, such as payment processing online or product catalogs but have focused on a lot of unnecessary additions to boost profit margin and shareholder returns to appeal to the widest demographic possible – without realizing they are making it overcomplicated and unnecessarily difficult. They started churning out Swiss watches embezzled with diamonds, instead of military-grade utilitarian pieces built to withstand time itself…,” he adds.
“We are not going for the prestige and luxury market which requires velvet gloves and careful handling, we are going for the utility market; the small businesses and entrepreneurs that drive every economy.”
Building a hybrid open-source community-driven ‘marketplace’
McGinnis asserts that imbalances still exist in the online marketplace model. This return to utility requires founders to refocus on the basics. “We are bringing back everything to the basics. No overcomplication but the oversimplification of an extremely powerful array of tools and systems in place to do everything for you in the background. Transforming luxury and complexity of starting up an online shop into a utility, as basic as handing cash to a cashier down at the local shop.”
A battle for utility over luxury
While the end buyer of online products or services might not even give it a second thought, the enterprises that provide marketplace services and tools capitalize on a highly unregulated market where a one-button checkout can be patented and used solely by one company (removing the adoption of a simple innovation by other companies).
The monopolization of utility
This was the case with e-commerce and data juggernaut Amazon, which managed to secure a now-expired patent on “1-Click” ordering in 1999. Critics accused Amazon of monopolizing an e-commerce convenience (taking away the utility of purchase convenience) and making it inaccessible for other e-commerce brands.
The patent transformed a utility into a luxury, accessible only to one company. It created a monopoly of features and services in a category of offerings protected under patents and legal shields to aid only the largest conglomerates who could afford licensing fees to use the patented technology.
Yet, there is hope at the end of the tunnel.
Online Shop aims to demolish barriers to entry in one fell swoop. The startup is leveraging tools and best practices that built billion-dollar powerhouses to provide oversimplified access to people who make up the economy. “We’re built to support local businesses, entrepreneurs, and of course dreamers like ourselves,” McGinnis adds.
Most marketplace services are monetized in one way or another – every button click and scroll has value. The team behind Online Shop aims to ensure strict and rigid privacy protections for both, users of the platform and their customers.
Create utility first, luxury second
Online Shop CTO, Siraaj Ahmed suggests: “Create utility first, then if necessary worry about and develop the luxury second. We’re working tirelessly to bring in a new wave of web commerce, grounded by the principles of what made browsing the internet and shopping online great. The freedom to discover and for developers like myself, to innovate and experiment freely, to build a community of like-minded people.”
A community-driven open-source approach to electronic commerce has become more popular across the world as remote work and digital nomad lifestyles become commonplace. Online Shop has tapped into this concept with many aspects of the tools and services offered being researched, developed, and nourished by its community.
“I think a lot of developers nowadays feel the need for a unified community, and I think this is shared across a lot of businesses too. We have a lot of smaller businesses here locally that champion co-operation and community efforts, and it just makes sense we bridge the gap somehow,” Ahmed adds.
The startup recently signed partnership deals with Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and more recently Google, to provide new offerings. Beta test users laud the new platform as ‘brilliant’ with one user stating:
“Mind blown at what they are doing and providing, especially after we switched from one of their competitors to them. Couldn’t believe how much we were paying and how little we got in return, or not even at all in some cases for their competitor and how much of what Online Shop does was not offered by their competitor or even locked away and hidden for big clients!! All I need is to put up my products, do the admin bits and I’m off to the races. Bloody brilliant.”
Startups need top talent to carve out global market share
Terry McGinnis and his team’s investment in an idealist belief of utility over luxury has attracted global talent and investment from notable investors, including lead investor Robin Vauvelle.
Online Shop has attracted top talent from North America (NA) including Alan Zadeh and Ziad Barakat who now use their combined decades-long experience and expertise in management and creative to help the startup capture NA market share while balancing the varying requirements of European and American consumers.
The company also boasts research and development talent with Dr. Torin Cannings PhD., working closely with small to medium-scale businesses to pinpoint the most necessary of features, and Usman Farid, who leads a team of half-a-dozen blockchain engineers on a new architecture system powered by artificial intelligence to enable automatic optimization of storefronts (e.g., removing hours of daily maintenance tasks for shop owners and streamlining payment management to include cryptocurrencies).
It’s not often you hear of tech companies pivoting based on pure empathy and a willingness to do good. Hopefully, it is the right time and Online Shop can set an example for others to follow.
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