Stephanie Leffler started selling sun protection products online while in college. That was around the year 2000. She became frustrated with her web developer and she decided to produce, with her partner, a shopping cart herself. That cart became MonsterCommerce, an early-day hosted ecommerce platform that she sold in 2006 to Network Solutions. She’s an ecommerce pioneer, in other words, and she spoke with us recently about the state of ecommerce and about her new venture, Juggle.com.
PeC: Stephanie, you’re an ecommerce pioneer. You founded MonsterCommerce, grew that company, and then in 2006 you sold it to Network Solutions. Why did you sell MonsterCommerce and what have you done since then?
Stephanie Leffler: “Well, thank you. Yes, I get excited every time I talk about this still. In terms of why we sold to Network Solutions when we did, MonsterCommerce had grown to be a pretty large group of merchants. We had about 6,000 when we sold the company. My partner and I started MonsterCommerce almost right out of college and we invested almost everything that we had into the company and it got bigger and bigger. As that asset grows, as a small business owner, there comes a point where you start asking yourself, ‘Is now the right time to take some of the chips off the table?’ We met Network Solutions and we realized it was a great company to partner with. So, it seemed like good timing.”
PeC: So, you built MonsterCommerce up, you threw everything you had into it and then you sold it Network Solutions. What did you do then?
Leffler: “Well, immediately following the acquisition, my partner and I both stayed on at Network Solutions. I worked and ran the new channels, sales and partner team. So I helped them go out and find new business and all sorts of partners and places that they hadn’t been before and that was really exciting. The majority of my job, however, was still putting two companies together, which was a new experience and something that was really exciting to be a part of because I was learning something new every day. I did that for 18 months. Around that point, I realized that what I was learning everyday was starting to decrease.
“So, my partner, who is my husband, by the way, and I both left Network Solutions at the same time. We decided to purchase an RV and drive across the country for a year with our dog and see all the places in the United States that we had not seen. That was a great idea in concept. Unfortunately, that trip only lasted about two weeks. After two weeks on the road, we stopped at a Wal-Mart and bought about eight whiteboards and started brainstorming new business ideas and before you know it, we were turning that RV around and heading back to Belleville, Illinois, where we live, to rent some office space and start to build our next great venture.”
PeC: That’s a great story. So, tell us about Juggle.com.
Leffler: “Juggle.com, our new company, was born out of our experience in ecommerce and thinking about products and how information about products is structured. We were using Wikipedia a ton and seeing all of this information that had never before been put out to the world in such great quantities. So, we started to think about this all of this data and how it’s all out there. It’s unverified, it’s spread around, tough to find what you’re looking for, and we started to think, ‘Well, a product has attributes. It’s structured. You can say product has a color, it’s made of a material, it might have a height and weight, and across the whole category of products these attributes are the same.
“If you think about data like that, you can start to structure information about many, many things and by structuring it, you can organize it, you can verify it, and you kind of know what you don’t know so you can have people go out and research things that you don’t have coverage on as of yet. So, Juggle in its current form is an online resource website. You can go there and find information on about 400,000 topics and on about 1.5 million to 2 million products on any given time. We’re continuing to build on that information base and we are now working on a stage where we’re going out and adding additional data that we don’t yet have about these topics.”
PeC: How do you get the data and information that’s on Juggle? Where does that come from?
Leffler: “It comes from several sources. We use a huge set of public online data. We start with this big corpus of data that’s out there in the public domain. Then once we have that data, we start to go and find specific pieces that we feel are absent or missing and we use a scalable workforce for quite a while of those small pieces of data that we know we need that aren’t available in these sources that we’re already aggregating.”
PeC: Give us some examples of some of the data that’s on Juggle.
Leffler: “It really ranges across a huge number of topics, but take the U.S. president for instance. We have extensive data on every US president. We have data on countries and automobiles. So, we have all these different categories in terms of what do we have on a given topic. For a car, for instance, we’ll have every last attribute that’s on the sticker, plus we have all of this fuel economy information from the United States government that they published. We have the safety ratings from all the insurance organizations out there. Just about anything and everything that you could come across about a given automobile, we will aggregate it and have it on our website. For the presidents, we have bills that they’ve passed, the people who were in their cabinet, their height, information about their wife and children, really anything you can imagine from their public to their private life.”
PeC: Changing the subject, you started your career in ecommerce. I suspect you have thoughts on the future of ecommerce. Could you share those with our readers?
Leffler: “Yes. In the United States, we experience information overload on a daily basis and I think the great thing that ecommerce has going for it is that people have adapted to online purchasing in droves. I don’t think that the kind of fear of buying online is there the way it once was. The key now is the simplicity of the purchase and helping people filter the noise.
“Some of the largest ecommerce merchants are getting very good at predicting what you might be interested in and what you might want to buy, helping people filter out all the noise and not putting everything under sun in front of them. I think is going to be a big key going forward. Payments are sure to change. You have Squareup.com, which is a payment platform that just launched a couple of weeks ago by the gentleman who founded Twitter, I believe. It’s a brilliant platform. I think how people actually can get their payments into their computer is going to get a lot more simple.”
PeC: Here in Practical eCommerce, we count an excess of 350 separate shopping carts. There’s probably more than that, but that’s our latest count. What’s the future of all those shopping carts?
Leffler: “That’s a great question. For a long time, I thought that the security and all of the requirements to be highly secure would cause a consolidation in the industry. So far, that hasn’t happened. But I think the one thing that is certain is that some of those shopping carts and software companies are going to realize that the key is not just providing a platform for sales, but it’s actually helping those merchants sell. I think there will always be a lot of ecommerce providers, but there’s no question that there’s a handful today that are kind of in the lead and I think if they can help their merchants sell, that’s going to solidify their position.”