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As e-commerce proliferates over new sales platforms, mobile apps and devices such as smart speakers, more companies are looking to headless CMS to manage those processes.
Headless content management systems use APIs to deliver content instead of traditional content management applications. While API-driven systems make it faster to add and subtract channels to deliver content, they require more development work to maintain.
Last November, Steve Sloan bet on the future of headless, as he left his post as chief product and marketing officer at cloud communications vendor Twilio to take the helm as CEO of headless content management startup Contentful. Former Contentful CEO and co-founder Sascha Konietzke remains with the company as chief strategy officer.
Here, Sloan discusses the headless CMS market, how Contentful plans to compete with larger content management vendors like Acquia and OpenText, and the company's product strategy.
What is the state of headless CMS today? The hype cycle peaked a couple years ago.
Steve Sloan: As we look today at the customers who started adopting two years ago, we see them moving on to their second, third, fourth and fifth projects. They're integrating a much, much broader set of digital experiences into that initial infrastructure. I would say we're shifting into what Geoffrey Moore might call the early majority, where this is becoming much more of the de facto way of building.
Two years ago, it was common to explain what headless is to a customer. Today, they frequently call us saying we've already made this architectural decision and they want to start using [Contentful]. So, they really understand the concept and they're trying to figure out how to scale it, as opposed to implementing it for the first time.
Contentful is taking on some larger competitors, like Acquia and OpenText. How do you succeed against them?
Steve SloanCEO, Contentful
Sloan: Being API-first means you can live side by side, in many cases, with what already exists. I was talking to a customer today, one of the large sports leagues, and they're doing exactly that.
We're not going in and saying, 'Oh, gosh, you have to rip and replace everything.' Instead we're saying, 'Let's focus on the next set of critical digital experiences you need to build for your customers.' And then we can figure out a way to live side by side with some of the legacy investments you already have. And then over time, you can move whatever content lives in those legacy systems over to Contentful. But you don't have to make a harsh rip-and-replace decision on day one. Because that can be risky, and is frequently an impediment to adoption.
Sloan: Two things: First, private equity investors really value the certainty of the businesses that they're acquiring. [Their acquisitions of Acquia and Episerver] validates that this category is essential, and it's not going away. The content management space is going to be here for a very, very long time to come.
Second, private equity investors are investing in the last generation of technology. There is a new generation of players whose investors include mostly venture capital funds, who are building the next generation. You have this moment in time where there is this generational shift where we have what we've created over the past 10 to 15 years, and then you have what is being creating today for the future.
Contentful App Framework adds APIs, blueprints
The new Contentful App Framework released this month extends Contentful's platform for building digital experience stacks and brings the company in line with other offerings from competitors such as Contentstack and DotCMS.
So far, it includes APIs for writing and installing Contentful apps, and a set of open source app blueprints that developers can use to customize their own connections to other content platforms such as Dropbox, Google Analytics or e-commerce platforms, including Shopify. They can also be used to tap into content services such as translation, optimization and collaboration.
"What we're doing with the Contentful App Framework is making it really, really simple for these builders to write to us, and then giving them blueprints for some of the most common scenarios," Sloan said.
Have you gotten any calls from private equity firms?
Sloan: We have been very fortunate to have a lot of interested investors contact us.
The consistent rap against headless CMS we hear is that it's too developer-intensive. What do you say about that?
Sloan: If a customer really just wants a vanilla, out-of-the-box experience, there are definitely other products for them. If they're trying to create a differentiated experience that allows them to separate themselves from their competition, they're going to end up building.
Many companies are going to go through this transition where they will do at least some of the building themselves, because it will be essential to create these differentiated experiences to win in an increasingly competitive landscape.
What's on the product roadmap for Contentful?
Sloan: We're really focused on getting these [APIs and blueprints announced this week] out into the hands of our customers and our partners. We will expand the number of blueprints that we offer and then look for the way our customers are using these API endpoints. As we begin to see patterns emerge, we'll make sure that we build up the API endpoints to solve customers' adjacent problems.