It’s hard to believe that just five years ago it was still nearly impossible to buy a custom surfboard on the Gold Coast.
The inconvenience led Ryan Mets and Chris Greben to create their own online surfboard store, Boardcave.
They didn’t realise at the time that saving their own problem would see them solving one of the biggest challenges retailers face in a digital, globalised world: tracking the delivery process across suppliers, manufacturers, and inventory systems.
Boardcave started as a blog, but Mets and Greben soon realised there was a gap in the market to sell quality local surf products online, so they built a custom e-commerce platform for the site. They called it Cavewire.
“The first thing you do when you’re going to buy an $800 product, is you go online and you research. And at that stage there was no information available online really for surfboards, and surf accessories and so on,” Mets told Business Insider.
The site was so successful at selling customised surfboards, the manufacturers started taking notice.
“A lot of the brands that we shopped early on said, ‘What are you guys doing? You’re a small scene to be managing orders from 30 different brands. How are you doing that?’,” he recalls.
So the pair showed the retailers the software they had built to power Boardcave and those companies were so impressed that they wanted to licence Cavewire.
“It was at that point that we realised that there’s a massive gap in the e-commerce space,” Mets said, explaining that bigger brands were slowed by having to enter their product data into multiple systems.
The Cavewire software allows a business to enter the product information once, then have the information available to manufacturers, inventory management systems and retailers – making the system more efficient and transparent.
“Boardcave was essentially the proof case for Cavewire. We see e-commerce as broken, and that’s the problem that we’re attacking. We’re solving it in some pretty unique ways,” Mets said.
Cavewire is now being leased through a software as a service (SaaS) model to online retailers all over the world, while Ryan and Chris continue to expand their team in Australia. Manufacturers from China, Thailand, Vietnam and the US are now using the Cavewire platform, which has made access to fast broadband via the nbn™ broadband access network critical to the business.
After processing more than $35 million in network transactions in the first 12 months, Cavewire also had to upgrade its leasing infrastructure to meet client demands.
“It’s pretty funny seeing the increase in productivity since we connected to services over the nbn™ broadband access network – it was just ridiculous. I still think to myself every now and then how bad it was without having the broadband speeds that we have now.”
In the 2017 Inside Australian Online Shopping report by Ben Franzi, Australia Post’s general manager of eCommerce wrote about the disruption online shopping will bring. “Retail as we know it won’t ever look the same,” he wrote.
While the Cavewire team still run their entire operation online from the Gold Coast, they believe the integration of the online customised experience and offline sales should be the focus for Australian retailers trying to compete with big international players.
For Mets, online technology can be used to help build the emotional connection with a customer.
“Like when you’ve got yourself an Uber, and suddenly it arrives and they know your name. If you have products in your store, it should mirror the online experience as well,” he said.
The Cavewire platform can allow small Australian retailers to use online shopping data to improve the in-store customer experience, which Mets said could play a big role in helping them compete with Amazon when it hits local shores.
“Amazon is big warehouses that keep their products there. They ship them out. There’s no real kind of connection, whereas these individual brick and mortar stores that have all these product experts can meet and greet [the customer]; there’s a lot of value in that and we really want to expose that using our technology to connect and push people in stores,” he said.
The Australia Post report showed that Australian retailers that are “investing in digital innovations and focusing on customer experiences” are reaping the benefits, as demand for personalised products jumped 28.2% in 2016.
“Our vision revolves around making product information available when and where you need it. Many retailers don’t have the resources to wholly manage their product offering, especially when it comes to competing online against bigger pure play players like Amazon,” Mets said.
Mets and Greben already know a thing or two about the market’s big players, after starting their careers at Wotif.com, the Australian tech startup acquired by Expedia for $703 million.
Wotif founder Graeme Wood is on the board of Boardcave and Cavewire, and continues to mentor the duo as their business grows.
“Graham and his team have just been an incredible opportunity for us. And we really value the support that they have given us, from other software engineers to the financial side of our business, to expanding globally,” Mets said.
“It’s just an endless network of advisors that help us navigate towards where we need to go in five to 10 years’ time.”
One thing that won’t change in the next five years is the Cavewire team’s hope of keeping the business flexible, so they can still go for a surf before logging on for the day.
“Most mornings there’s a discussion [about going for a surf],” Mets said.
“Being able to both work on the Gold Coast and live your life is pretty cool.”