From a $200M Acquisition by Uber to No-Code Shopify Tool, Replo - Startup Stories with Justin Wiley
Anton Oparienko (COO, Upsilon): Today, I'm pleased to have Justin Wiley with me, the Chief Business Officer at Replo, a visual web development platform that allows teams to create high-performance landing pages on Shopify without the need for developers. Justin, tell us a little bit about your background.
Justin Wiley (Chief Business Officer, Replo): Hi Anton, thank you for having me! I graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2009. Before completing my degree, I started a bike share program on campus and founded a bicycle shop that still operates today on Lower Sproul. After graduating, I expanded my entrepreneurial endeavors by establishing Green Bike Share, a business focused on providing locking technology for bike share systems.
During this time, I connected with Ryan Rzepecki and Nick Foley, who were developing a bike share technology company in New York. I joined them at the onset of Social Bicycles, and together, we built groundbreaking bike share technology, including a bike equipped with an integrated lock and wireless connectivity. Users could unlock the bike through a mobile app, ride it around, and drop it off at another location, making it the first of its kind in the smart bike space. Later, we incorporated electric components into the bicycle, rebranded the company as JUMP bikes, and in 2018, sold it to Uber for $200 million.
Since then, I've been involved with several technology companies, such as Swiftly, a public transit software company, Denizen, which creates personal livable spaces using fully recyclable 3D-printed materials, and, most recently, I joined Replo last year.
Anton: You have a long story with JUMP bikes, so let's talk about it in more detail. How did Uber approach you? Were you planning to sell the company before their offer?
Justin: When we introduced the electric bike share system in 2018, we initially launched in San Francisco, which happened to be Uber's base as well. Our pilot project demonstrated incredible utilization rates; while non-electric bike share systems typically saw around one ride per bike per day, our electric bikes achieved upwards of 10 rides per bike per day.
These impressive results caught Uber's attention, and we began discussing the possibility of integrating our system into their platform. The overarching vision was to create a seamless, multimodal transportation system where users could effortlessly transition between different modes, such as bikes, vehicles, public transit, and other options. So, our focus wasn't on selling the company; it was about connecting and integrating our offering with various transportation modes to provide a comprehensive and accessible solution for urban mobility.
Anton: What do you think was the key factor behind these numbers? Was it the right time, hype around the electric, or was it a convenience?
Justin: I think when people got on the bikes and tried them for the first time, the initial reaction from pretty much everyone was that they felt superhuman. The ability to have freedom within a city and to go wherever you would like, convenience and efficiency at a price point that made more sense than sitting in traffic in a vehicle was sort of the game changer there.
Anton: What benefits could the acquisition bring to JUMP and your clients?
Justin: The acquisition provided us with the resources and capital to scale our operations rapidly on a global level. This allowed us to make a significant impact on the micromobility industry during our time in operation.
The acquisition also presented an opportunity to overcome some of the challenges we faced as a hardware business, such as securing sufficient funding. The financial support during the acquisition period enabled us to push the boundaries of our products and services, ultimately benefiting our clients and the broader micro-mobility sector.
Despite the company being wound down during the pandemic, JUMP's technology and IP were transferred to Lime Bikes. This means that the legacy of our innovations and advancements in micro-mobility continues to live on through Lime's bikes and scooters. While it may not have been the ideal outcome, it does show that our efforts have made a lasting contribution to the industry.
Anton: Were there any other options except Uber?
Justin: Yes, there were a few alternatives besides being acquired by Uber. One option was to continue seeking venture capital funding and pursuing growth as a private company. Reflecting on this decision, it was always a difficult choice between being acquired or remaining independent, especially considering the complex funding requirements we faced throughout our decade-long journey building the company.
However, I believe we made the right choice. The acquisition ultimately enabled our technology to be integrated with the leading operator in the micro-mobility industry, which has proven to be an excellent match. JUMP's cutting-edge technology continues to play a crucial role in advancing the sector.
Ultimately, the most important outcome is the increased adoption of bikes and scooters, leading to more sustainable transportation systems in the long run. Our technology's current position within the industry aligns well with this goal, and we're proud to have played a part in making it happen.
Anton: Now, let's get back to Replo. Can you describe what Replo is in one or two sentences? What problem are you solving?
Justin: Replo is a visual web development platform that allows teams to create beautiful, high-performance landing pages on Shopify without the need for developers. We have a library of hundreds of proven landing pages and sections that anyone can use, as well as certified experts who can help build new pages in just a few days.
We are enabling marketing teams to build pixel-perfect landing pages without the bottleneck of having to work back and forth with developers. So when an e-commerce team wants to build landing pages or websites that match their brands perfectly, we easily enable that.
Anton: How did it begin? How did you meet Yuxin Zhu and Noah Gilmore, co-founders of Replo? How did they approach you to join Replo?
Justin: We all went to Berkeley, but I graduated a few years before them. Yuxin Zhu and Noah Gilmore graduated together, and they were actually in the same dorm during their freshman year. They launched and sold Berkeleytime, an educational platform that digitized Berkeley's antiquated course scheduling system. And prior to starting Replo, Yuxin and Noah held senior engineering and management roles at Uber and Plangrid, respectively. Yuxin was actually working at Uber under the New Mobilities division that was spun up when JUMP was acquired.
However, we didn't meet until six months ago. The idea of building this no-code platform to help teams build landing pages without developers sounded very interesting. I started talking to customers and realized very quickly that it was something that was solving a major pain point in the market. That's when I got really intrigued and jumped in.
Anton: Now there are plenty of e-commerce platforms, for instance, Wix, WooCommerce, Magento, etc. Why did you choose Shopify? Are you planning to expand to new platforms?
Justin: Our decision to begin with Shopify was based on our assessment of it being the leading e-commerce platform in the market. Their comprehensive suite of tools and features, combined with a large and active user base, made it an ideal choice for us to focus our efforts on.
While we do recognize the potential to expand to other platforms in the long run, our current strategy is to concentrate on excelling within the Shopify ecosystem. By maintaining a strong focus on this platform, we aim to deliver the best possible solutions and experiences to our clients. As our business grows and evolves, we'll continue to evaluate opportunities to broaden our reach, but for now, our primary objective is to succeed in the Shopify space.
Anton: You were talking about the pain points of your customers, but what is your main customer profile? Is it like a mom-and-pop with two people or a large household company?
Justin: Our primary customer profile consists of brands and agencies that are seeking to efficiently scale their landing pages and unblock the bottleneck between marketers and developers. While our platform is designed to be user-friendly for anyone using Shopify, our core customer base tends to be medium to enterprise-sized businesses.These businesses typically generate tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, and they require robust solutions to support their growth and manage their e-commerce presence effectively. By catering to their specific needs and addressing their pain points, we help them optimize their online presence and drive success in their respective industries.
Anton: How do you attract such customers? Do you run advertising, or is it word of mouth?
Justin: Currently, we don't rely on paid advertising. Instead, we concentrate on several targeted channels to engage with potential customers. Our approach includes outbound communication through email, a strong focus on SEO, and content production that covers a variety of formats, such as a weekly newsletter, events, and a podcast.
One of our most effective growth channels, however, is word of mouth, which has been occurring organically and gaining traction on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. This success can be attributed to the fact that our customers genuinely appreciate the product and recognize its value, which inspires them to share their experiences and recommend our platform to others.
Anton: It sounds like you're focused on building a community rather than using paid channels. Replo has a strong Slack community that is now joined by more than 1,000 people. What value does it bring to your business?
Justin: From the outset, our emphasis has been on fostering a strong community, as we believe that a company's most valuable asset is its customer base and the community it serves. The Replo community consists of brands, agencies, tech partners, and the broader e-commerce ecosystem.
Our goal is to create something much larger than just our no-code platform; we envision a thriving community centered around e-commerce and direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategies that can support businesses in their growth journey in a variety of ways beyond our own offerings. By cultivating this engaged community, we not only increase brand loyalty but also create a network of users who can learn from and support one another, ultimately contributing to the success of both Replo and its users.
Anton: What are your tips on how to grow a community?
Justin: Successfully growing a community revolves around consistently delivering value to its members. To achieve this, it's crucial to have a deep understanding of who your customers are, their needs, and how best to support them. At Replo, we ensure that every department, from business development and marketing to product development, engineering, and customer support, is geared towards meeting the needs of our community members.
By demonstrating our commitment to their success and providing unwavering support at every stage, we build trust and foster strong relationships within the community. It's this mutual support and dedication that drives the growth and strength of our community, creating an environment where both our clients and our company can flourish together.
Anton: Seems like it actually brings you the desired results. You recently announced that Replo has raised a $4.2 million seed round. First of all, congrats! Can you share the product roadmap for the next six months to a year? How do you plan to scale the business taking into account the raised capital?
Justin: Thank you! We're thrilled about the funding round, which included investments from prominent investors such as Figma Ventures, Y Combinator, Infinity Ventures, La Famiglia, and other strategic partners in the e-commerce space.
We have an ambitious product development roadmap for the next six to 12 months, with several key initiatives in the pipeline. In the coming weeks, we'll be launching Replo UI, a comprehensive library of pre-built, responsive templates, sections, and components designed for both Figma and Replo. This project was inspired by our customers' workflow, which often involves designing in Figma before transitioning to Replo. We believe Replo UI will significantly accelerate the building process on our platform while bridging the gap between Figma and Replo.
Additionally, one of the most exciting developments is the introduction of Replo AI, a revolutionary solution that leverages artificial intelligence to create high-converting landing pages. Replo AI empowers users to craft engaging pages with AI-generated copy, design, and optimization features that take the guesswork out of landing page creation. By harnessing data-driven design optimization, Replo AI ensures maximum audience engagement and conversion potential.
As we move forward, the newly raised capital will enable us to scale our business effectively and continue delivering innovative solutions that cater to the evolving needs of our customers.
Anton: Maybe there is something else you want to say?
Anton: Great! Thanks a lot, Justin, for your time and for sharing your story.