Episode 249 Featuring Alex Bond

Seamless Software Integrations with Cristina Flaschen

Seamless Software Integrations with Cristina Flaschen

Cristina Flaschen is the Founder and CEO of Pandium, an eCommerce platform designed to better build, launch, and promote native software integrations. Cristina has worked in technology for over 15 years, running technical implementation, professional services, and sales engineering teams for enterprise software consultancies and B2B SaaS companies. She managed her first product integration project in 2007 and has been obsessed with helping software companies solve interoperability problems ever since.

On this episode, Cristina and I discuss software integrations, how she's seen eCommerce tech partnerships evolve over time, common barriers for B2B eCommerce companies that are looking to grow their partner ecosystem, and much more.


What is Pandium

Christina Flaschen: Yeah. So we are a B2B SaaS company. We help other SaaS companies make more money through their technology ecosystem. So we're really focused on helping mid market size B2B SaaS companies build and launch more integration so that the end customer, oftentimes merchants, folks that sell online have a native interoperable experience. 

Alex Bond: Awesome. And so what sort of specific problems prompted the founding of Pandium? 

Christina Flaschen: Yeah, so I could, I mean, I could talk forever about my origin story, but I've been working in the space for 15 plus years and working in integration, sort of management and development that entire time at various companies.

You know, back in the day, you know, the early 2000s integration was really something that companies that were really large, you know, like Fortune 500 companies paid a lot of money to have consultants come in and build a connection between their SAP instance and their warehouse management tool as an example.

And what we see now is more and more smaller companies are building that interoperability off the shelf so that the end customer, the merchant, doesn't have to pay a consultant to build that connectivity to use their, you know, their kind of tech stack for their fulfillment and sales of their goods. So following that transition over the course of 15 years, I saw that there wasn't really a good tool to help accommodate that second use case.

So to make it really It's easy for SaaS companies to build these apps that their customers really see as features of a product. So as an example, if you're a merchant and you sell stuff online, when you're gonna go look for a new WMS, if you're a Shopify shop, you are likely gonna go to the Shopify app store and look and see what integrates with your Shopify store so that you don't have to go pay for something additional or zapier or something like that. 

That is the type of experience that we power for SaaS companies is that point and click, like very easy. You don't know Pandium's there, but we're helping our customers onboard more merchants onto both solutions. 

Alex Bond: You mentioned something very important there. And I think that's, you call it like the white label. And you don't know that it's there oftentimes you don't know that it's there. Can you kind of explain that to me? I mean, a company using your services and then not giving you credit for it because they want it to look like it's done in house or yeah, dive into that a little bit for me. 

Christina Flaschen: Yeah, yeah. So we try to think about it as credit, right? But we really do one of our primary differentiators from a lot of competitors and other folks in the space is that we're very under the hood. 

So folks that have talked to us in the past will hear us say we're homegrown on steroids. Like we want the experience for your development team and your product team to be as flexible as possible and for your customers to feel like it was something that was built in house and is something that's supported by you.

So you don't have a login as a merchant to Pandium. The experience is right within our customer's application or the app stores of their partners. And yeah, you shouldn't see our name or logo anywhere in that experience as a merchant in the same way that if you're using a SaaS product, you don't know that they're hosted on AWS or GCP, you know, our customers obviously know that we exist because they use a bunch of our features and they deploy technology onto us, but you know, it's a little less sexy being an infrastructure tool in that way.

Like, you know, your logo is not splashed all over everything, but it is cool to know that every month, thousands of merchants are using apps powered by us to the tune of, you know, tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of revenue that we're enabling for these folks. 

So I will say for your listeners, if you're going to be an infratool, you have to be intrinsically motivated because it's not as cool as you know, having that big splashy launch, but we do get to see our customers have those launches, right? Like they get to announce a new partnership with somebody. And we know internally that we help them do that. 

Maximizing Revenue Potential: The Key Role of Seamless Integrations with Pandium

Alex Bond: So how do seamless integrations directly correlate as you're mentioning with an increase in revenue for the company using Pandium? 

Christina Flaschen: Yeah. So there's so many ways to answer that question. So the way that we think about the market B2B SaaS market generally in terms of our. The problems that we solve is in roughly two segments, right? 

There's going to be companies that have a mature concept of ecosystem, like e commerce is a good example of that. Anyone in like the SMB tool space, like smaller CRMs, accounting softwares have really embraced the idea of like not being everything to all people and trying to partner.

Then there's the other side of the coin with maybe some older technology or like deep enterprise, very bespoke pieces of technology where ecosystem is a little less. a little less common, right? For reasons around the tech limitations, the market, etc. 

So for those second guys, where like the ecosystem thing is not necessarily something, like there isn't an app store, you just assume nothing is going to connect to your system, it can really result in a huge market differentiator.

Like if you're looking at a space that is all kind of point solutions and most tech spaces, even the older ones are today, it's likely that your competitors also haven't tried to go down that path because it's hard. So if you can offer a solution that can really make a huge difference in your sales conversation, just being able to say not even having an official partner, but like, Hey, we integrate with your ERP.

That is a very important thing because business users are starting to mimic in my opinion consumers more and more they're like expecting this interoperability. It's not something that they that they want to pay for. They just assume it's going to happen. So that can be a real competitive advantage on that side.

It could spur innovation and all that. But we really spend most of our time on the other side of that coin where ecosystem is pretty either, already common or it's emerging in certain sectors. There's this role now at companies called partner managers. So technology partnership managers is where we sit. There's also like channel and reseller and agency. 

But if you are a company that has a technology partner manager or a person that's working on that, that means that you have enough partners that there needs to be a relationship that's managed and there will be revenue associated with that, whether that is rev share, whether it's just referral revenue flat fees, whether it's that merchants that are referred by certain partners have like a way higher ACV because their transaction volume is higher or just that the retention is much better.

Because they're stickier when they are, they adopt more features when they are working within a partner ecosystem, there's always dollars and cents associated with partnerships, right? Like, even if it is customer satisfaction, that boils down to money, right? That boils down to lower churn more upsells, et cetera.

So there are really like innumerable ways that this stuff helps. I will say in our space, it's an interesting challenge is tracking that attribution because, you know, if a merchant comes in and they, you know, sign up for a free trial for your product, they may have seen you in the Shopify app store, but you maybe don't know that.

Or maybe they saw you in a bunch of app stores and then came through and that partner person may or may not be able to track. That that ecosystem is working, but what we see with leading companies, like the Shopify, the Salesforce, NetSuite, HubSpot is that they have these huge, this huge like ecosystem of technology around them and everybody makes money in that world.

Alex Bond: And I think one of the things that's interesting with Pandium is it feels indefinite how long a business is going to be using your software. If I'm like a growth agency, I use, you know, a company uses my services as long as they're trying to grow. And then once they hit a good limit, they stop using it.

But with this sort of software, If people are putting, you know, applications for integrations by a marketplace onto their website, they can't really take that away. Or, you know, the user's going to be like, it doesn't make any sense. So I feel like that's a major benefit in your company's business model is the extreme longevity of it was part of that in the business model of having that sort of a long term gain or was that just a total serendipitous benefit?

Christina Flaschen: No, and it was definitely intentional. So our net revenue retention is very very high to your point. It's really once you're launched like, you know, your customers won't really tolerate you taking these things away. From my vantage point, you know, we are a lot of things but at our core We are hosting and running these apps, right?

So we're an infrastructure tool to that end. From my vantage point, as long as that infrastructure tool is working, like it's doing what it says it's going to do and the price is worth it. Companies will not leave. Like, why would you leave? The product works consistently, like the reliability is there.

Like you're getting the support you need and you're, you feel like the price, the ROI exists. And you can either save money or make more money as a result of using the tool, you'll stay with it. Like people don't switch cloud providers unless they absolutely have to like migrate from AWS to GCP. 

Like you just, you don't do that in the same way that you would potentially switch like a data enrichment platform or a martech tool where you just, you know, export your customer list, use a new one and no one really notices except marketing. This is something that would be more disruptive. 

So our primary goal is to make sure that we're hitting those two boxes, right? Product works uptime is great. Like, we're highly reliable. Our customers rely on us for a huge part of their business and make sure that the price makes sense and that the ROI is there at scale.

Expanding Horizons: Beyond CRMs - Diverse Case Studies Showcasing Pandium's Versatility

Alex Bond: I'm curious you mentioned and I think your website mentions CRMs as a typical use for Pandium, a typical company that would use Pandium. I'm interested if there are typical case studies for its use in the marketplace. I mean, is it pretty much CRMs? I mean, what are some of the other types of companies that are using your software?

Christina Flaschen: Yeah, so as you might guess, we have a strong like reference ability because every time a customer launches their like app store or whatever with us, we are typically exposed to their partners in some capacity, whether their partners know that we're there or not is a different story. But oftentimes they, you know, were introduced as a courtesy.

So we have concentration in certain parts of the market because we're like talking to the same kinds of groups of people. And SMB eCom is a great spot for us. So 3PLs, WMS, ticketing systems, returns management, sort of the entire constellation of tools around that, you know, not that like JCPenney or target level merchant, and maybe also not that like DTC, very, very, very small merchant because they don't have the pricing tolerance for our customers.

But that sort of middle range of folks that sell Wix, those are really the folks that we serve well and more generally zooming out if we look at what's common amongst those folks and then also amongst our other industries that we work with. What we're really seeing is high transaction volume.

So like the data that's moving between systems is moving a lot, like very chatty. Might not be the volume in terms of like the size but more just like Constantly happening that it's business critical. So it's not like a Slack bot or something. It's like, this is like moving information on an order to the thing that fulfills the order.

And the buyer or the user is not an engineer. So like, they want to be able to just go in on their own, maybe have a couple of questions, but like make some selections, turn it on and like, they're done. That is they're all similar. In that way. 

Seamless User Experience: Prioritizing Intuitive UX and Polished UI for Non-Technical Users

Alex Bond: With that being said, my logical brain would say that the UX has to be pretty tight and the UI has to be pretty tight because if I'm not an engineer and I'm going to be using it, then it needs to be pretty seamless. Is that accurate? 

Christina Flaschen: Yes. Yes, that is accurate. And so our flagship product I talk about, the Shopify app store. We can have folks listed in those app stores, but our flagship product is really the app store that lives inside our customers. 

So it enables every company to have like a Shopify experience of their own and also be in those places and we spent a lot of time early on looking at what we consider to be like the best in breed app stores and designing our UX around that. And our UI is around that. 

So like, what are your merchants as an example, what are they already looking at all day every day? What are they used to looking at? Let's like, try to mimic the functionality of that, keeping it very, like, customizable and themable, like you can add your own text and fonts and colors and change the layout and stuff. But a lot of those experiences look very similar, you know, there's different theming, but like the nuts and bolts of like how you get through the workflows are pretty, pretty much the same.

So we really focused a lot of time early on and making sure that that was a really good experience and that people didn't get confused and that it wasn't too complicated, lots of like CTAs. So that you know exactly what you're supposed to do. So your customers are able to get through that installation without having to talk to somebody. That's the goal.

Alex Bond: Once people are using something and that's kind of their default, they expect everything to be that default. I mean, the, the example that I think of is, you know, Netflix was the first streaming service.

Now, all of them, essentially, it all looks kind of like, it's a little different, but it looks like how Netflix is search looks like or how you scroll. So people are going to be used to that. So what you provide them as something that is similar, but I think that custom ability to be customized is important too, because different people have different sensibilities.

Christina Flaschen: Yeah. And people care about their theming, right? Like drop something in that looks totally different, even if it's within their application, you know, there's just only so many creative ways to authenticate into a system, do some configurations, but then like go back to monitor it.

And, you know, we have ideas with a couple of different themes and we have different skins and stuff, but we really wanted it to be functional. Above all else, it should be very easy for that merchant to find what they're looking for, search for the, you know, the WMS, see the options, find it. Install it, configure it, and be done. 

Forging Stronger Alliances: The Evolution of eCommerce Tech Partnerships in Recent Years

Alex Bond: And you mentioned your relationship with partners and how valuable that is to the company. How have you seen e commerce tech partnerships evolve over the past few years?

Christina Flaschen: Well, technology partnerships weren't even really a thing that much in smaller companies. Like even if you go back five years, you know, the big guys like the Shopify, we think of it as like the big fish and the little fish. Like the little fish does the building, the big fish has the distribution.

Essentially the big fishes had partner folks, but the little fish typically did not. And those little fish in this example can be big fish to their downstream partners, but there's somebody that does the building and like owns the app. And that in our example, typically it's the little fish. So partner managers weren't even a thing, right.

And you would have agency reseller, you know, all kinds of different partnership types, but those didn't have like technology underpinning them, right? Like they're really more commercial straight biz dev. I'm sending you leads. I'm taking a rev share off of selling your product. Technology partnerships are different because there is technology that's required to make that, that work.

And just since we've been, been in business, right? Like we have seen the sort of evolution of technology partnership roles going to smaller and smaller companies. Like now you see companies that within their first 10 hires, especially in things like e eCommer. 

Because it's so important to have that connectivity that they will hire people and they'll hire people specifically that have good relationships, existing good relationships with some of the folks they're trying to play nice with, which I don't think you would see, you know, 5 years ago, 10 years ago. Definitely not. 

And we're also seeing, you know, as time evolves that a significant percent of a company's net new revenue can be associated with partnerships. The way that association is measured like the rubric for that is different in every company like is it something that you got an email from a partner with a lead and then they converted directly or do you have a tool that actually tracks with cookies where they came from like there's all different ways companies used to measure that and that's a different conversation.

But we're seeing, you know, companies over time go from like one, 2 percent of net new revenue being partner like affiliated, like it comes something with a partner to like 20, 30 percent in the course of, you know, 12 to 18 months. And if you're a company, yeah, if you're a company, a post series C company, you've got, you know, 3000 employees.

I don't even know a hundred million dollars revenue, whatever, like that's a meaningful number. That's not like one percent of a hundred and then twenty percent of a hundred. Like this is big dollars associated with this, with this stuff. 

So my kind of take on the entire sort of SaaS sales market is that it's moving towards a lot of Like hands off selling, like even for like larger, more expensive tools, folks don't want to talk to somebody and they also don't want to be called or emailed. So how are these merchants as an example going to find the next solution they're going to use? 

They're going to look in these app stores of the partners they already use same thing with our customers, if they're inside their app and they're looking for a new return management tool, they're going to go and see what integrates out of the box and that's what they're going to buy. So we think it's more successful than you know, then like a billboard or a sign on a bus cause we're all living online. 

Alex Bond: It stays more inside baseball and it's already being peer reviewed. Pretty much. I mean, this guy trusts this product. So I'm automatically, I trust that guy. That's kind of a bingo bingo scenario instead of having to actually like pitch and sell as much as it's just relationship based.

Christina Flaschen: Yeah, it's actually it's a cool space to work in. So I've been on the technical side of tech partnerships. I've also done some of the Commercial management as companies that I worked with started to have those as a byproduct of having these integration. 

But it's been a really fun to work with partner professionals, which we typically work very closely with because we want them to be rock stars within their organizations at our customers because everybody wins in these scenarios, right?

Like, 3PL provider, And you integrate with Wix and then you also downstream integrate with a returns management tool, whatever. Like the merchant wins when you have the interoperability because they're happy that they have something that just works. Wix is happy because they're getting a rev share from that 3PL if that merchant converts because that probably originated in Wix.

The downstream company is happy because they're getting a referral from that middle guy who's our customer and our customer is happy because they got a brand new lead right and there's just money flowing throughout that whole experience and nobody is like holding the short end of that stick. 

Like the merchant wants this like the end customer wants all this stuff to just work they want to hook it up once and have it just do its thing so that's fun you know like we're not like we're in a space where everyone is kind of aligned on the common goal which is obviously money but then the way that you get there is by providing a great experience for that that shared customer.

Breaking Barriers: Overcoming Challenges in Expanding Partner Ecosystems and User-Facing Integrations for B2B eCommerce Companies

Alex Bond: Yeah, absolutely. And it really sounds like a win, win, win scenario. I'm curious what's some of the common barriers for business to business eCommerce companies that are looking to grow their partner ecosystem and offer user facing integrations. 

Christina Flaschen: I mean, it's always time, which is money, right? I don't like referring to like engineers as resources. Cause like, I just think it's kind of depersonalizing to be like, we don't have enough resources. I'm like, you're, you're actually talking about people and like hours of their day. But that is often what it comes down to is just trying to prioritize this.

And again, because the partnership stuff takes a little bit more time to start to bear fruit directly. Like you have to first like prove that this, the integration works and then that the partner is worth it. And then eventually, you'll get to tracking it. It's not like that like immediate quick win from a revenue perspective, necessarily, it can be really hard to prioritize this stuff.

Product engineering teams don't want to work on integrations. Like I've built my entire career on the fact that I really like working on these things. And I've gotten good at it because I've done it so much. And now, you know, we think that this is the future. And like, we're building an entire market around it.

But the vast majority of P& E companies departments at companies did not join that company to build integrations, right? They joined to build the cool, you know, IP, they joined to build, you know, to solve interesting problems, to be able to have a cool roadmap and integration is. But it's much less sexy, oftentimes, and it can actually be hard.

So when folks join a company and they're trying to do this for like the first time, if somebody has any experience, they'll recognize that like, Hey, this isn't actually like a two week long thing. It's like supporting a whole new product and building all of the things around that product that. You need to make it successful.

Like even like observability and alerting. Like there's so much stuff that goes into this that folks don't think about until they've done it in a few times. So we really want to lower, like we lower that barrier to entry, to the things that we think are really specific to your business that you will know best that we, you should not rely on another platform to make decisions for because you know, your customers, you know your product. 

But let us deal with all the rest of the stuff that. Make this a real pain in the ass, especially when you don't just have one customer using that HubSpot integration. You have 10 or 100 or 1000 or 5000. Like, then it becomes a whole DevOps team to keep this stuff running. So that's what we do, right? Like, we take that away from you so that your partner people are happier.

They can say yes to their commercial relationships and your P& E team isn't staring down the barrel of what they think is a three month project that ends up being an entire team to maintain and build over time. 

Alex Bond: So how easy is it, you know, succinctly, how easy is it for developers to work with Pandium if I'm in that organization and I want to maybe there's a integration or connector that isn't available, but I want it on my marketplace store. How easy is that to do? 

Christina Flaschen: Yeah. So launching the app store itself like that UX where your customers can browse hands on keyboard time is like an hour worth of work. So very, very late. 

The building of the app itself. What we ask engineering users to do is essentially write a little bit of code that handles the business logic for the integration. So that can be anywhere from, you know, like a day or two to like a week or two. It depends on how complex and you know, what processes you have internally, we believe, and we urge people to treat these apps. These integrations as features. 

Like your customers see them as a feature, whether or not they know that you built it, someone else, whatever. They're not decoupling it and saying, like, oh, that's just an integration. Who cares? Like, they probably bought your product in part because you had this thing.

So, you know, we advise folks and we enable them to do things like run their automated test sweet. Do code reviews, like use their GitHub account or Bitbucket or whatever they're using, like really closely mimic what they would do when they were building anything else so that the engineering folks that are using Pandium don't have to learn anything new, right?

So there's no, like, Pandium Academy where you have to go spend. You know, eight hours learning how to use our UI, like deploying to us is very similar to deploying to like a lambda on AWS. So distilling it down to like, hey, you, Alex, you know, your customers, you know, your API, you know, all the weird things they're going to try to they're going to want to do when they use your tool with HubSpot focus on that.

And let us do all the rest of the stuff and also allow it to scale. So when you do have one, you know, that one beta customer is good, you can launch it to your 5,000 other customers. And no matter how many people adopt it, you're not going to feel anything additional.

And also, you know, there's all kinds of other stuff, but you know, giving your CS team a place to go to troubleshoot, like giving your partner team a place to go to. It's like all that sort of tangential stuff that companies don't think about when they're doing this for the first time, but when you start to have that real, like, ecosystem and partner led sales motion, all of these things start to come up. 

Alex Bond
Alex Bond

Meet Alex Bond—a seasoned multimedia producer with experience in television, music, podcasts, music videos, and advertising. Alex is a creative problem solver with a track record of overseeing high-quality media productions. He's a co-founder of the music production company Too Indecent, and he also hosted the podcast "Get in the Herd," which was voted "Best Local Podcast of 2020" by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, USA.

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