Disco Labs’ Gavin Ballard On All Things Composable Commerce

Unlock the potential of composable commerce to enhance operational efficiency and elevate customer experiences.

Modern shoppers want everything faster, more personal, and more convenient. That means faster sites, customized shopping experiences, and a seamless shopping journey across multiple touch points. Composable commerce addresses these challenges by offering a solution that allows brands to select the most appropriate commerce components and combine them to meet their unique needs.

In this episode, Gavin Ballard, founder and CEO of Disco Labs, explains how composable technology can optimize operational efficiencies and create personalized customer journeys.

Gavin’s experience building technology stacks for billion-dollar companies such as HarperCollins, Four Seasons, and JB HiFi has taught him that high revenues don’t necessarily mean complex operations. The key is to use business-centric solutions tailored to address specific business needs.

Tune in to this episode and learn:

  • What a brand’s billion-dollar success looks like operationally
  •  Why the hype surrounding “Headless” outweighs its actual value
  •  The appropriate time for startups to incorporate technical skills as essential competencies within their teams
  •  Maximizing operational efficiency through pre-sales and crowdfunding techniques

Tune in on: Apple | Google | Spotify

“As anyone running a small business would know, one of the biggest resources you have is time, so if you’re hiring someone who is optimizing for that, that’s gonna be a big win completely.”
Gavin Ballard, founder & CEO of Disco Labs

Meet Gavin Ballard

Gavin Ballard is the founder and CEO of Disco Labs, a leading Shopify Plus Partner. Disco Labs focuses on developing custom Shopify applications to meet the needs of some of the platform’s largest merchants. He’s the author of The Definitive Guide To Shopify Themes and a number of popular Shopify frameworks like Bootstrap For Shopify and Cart.js.

Connect with Gavin on: LinkedIn | Twitter

About Disco Labs

Disco Labs is a world–leading Shopify Plus Partner specializing in custom software and integrations for Shopify Plus merchants. Gavin founded it in 2013 after realizing the engineering skills he was applying to his online store were valuable to others.

Since then, they have built some of the most complex projects in the Shopify ecosystem, building back-end functions for billion-dollar businesses like HarperCollins, Four Seasons, and JB HiFi.

Disco Labs focuses on building innovative experiences and solutions for large merchants via the Submarine platform, primarily around subscriptions, presales, tokenization and crowdfunding.

Learn more about Disco Labs on: LinkedIn | Website

The Checkout episode 59 unpacks:

In today’s episode, Gavin breaks down the complexity behind composable commerce and how brands can leverage a flexible tech stack to reinvent the entire customer experience. Here are the highlights:


What a billion-dollar success looks like operationally

  • “It doesn’t matter how big your revenue is. The bigger determinant (of growth) for me is how brands can successfully navigate the complexity of the business and all the stuff they have to be doing in the back office and the backend.”

Identifying opportunities to improve operational efficiencies

  • Gavin shifted from running an agency to offering a Shopify SaaS platform targeted toward billion-dollar merchants. This is because such merchants realize that even a marginal increase of 1% in revenue can translate to a substantial 10 million dollar increase, making it worthwhile to invest in the platform.
  • When you’re generating millions of dollars per year, you can invest in a team or hire an agency that can identify gaps and improve efficiency in your operations because “the opportunities that you can look at when you’re a large retailer are more fine-grained”.
  • “As you’ve got more revenue coming in and more back office costs piling up, there are gonna be more and more opportunities looking for efficiencies whereas previously your biggest problem may have been, how do I get a customer to my site?”

A big win for startups is hiring their own tech star earlier on

  • “I feel bad about saying this because it’s one of those things that’s quite difficult for a smaller brand to do, but investing in in-house development is, I’d say, something that brands could look at doing earlier on in the process.”
  • Find your unicorn hire–a fully-fledged tech generalist who can set up a Shopify flow, hack together an API connection or pull data from a spreadsheet. Don’t make the startup mistake of hiring a freelancer tech person
  • “Someone who’s able to help you test out new apps or test out new markets, rebuild new sections of the website in a way where they understand your brand. That’s a pretty big lever to pull. The sooner you can do that, the sooner you get a bit of a boost.”
  • When you leverage automation, you can start working at a higher level that has more impact on the business
  • “As anyone running a small business would know, one of the biggest resources you have is time, so if you’re hiring someone who is optimizing for that, that’s gonna be a big win completely.”

The hype surrounding "Headless" outweighs its actual value

  • “If you want one takeaway from this episode, don’t go headless unless you have an in-house development team or are prepared to stick with an agency to build and maintain it for you for the foreseeable future.
  • “The term “headless” has become a buzzword in ecommerce, but it’s more important to have a clear objective for going headless before jumping into the bandwagon
  • If you’re a design-heavy brand, having complete design control over the front end of your site is an understandable objective, but if you can see the same net positive ROI from a non-headless setup, going headless is not practical (for small merchants)



Simplifying "Composable Commerce"

  • Composable commerce (coined by Gartner in a 2020 report) gives you the advantage of “composing” your tech stack from the best-of-breed components, whether it’s a CRM, marketing automation, or analytics, from different solution partners (not limited to Shopify)
  • Having a composable approach to your tech stack means you can freely customize the experience for omnichannel shoppers and not be limited to your ecommerce platform’s integrations
  • “I think one of the biggest things with the composable commerce trend is that you need to understand your choice of “glue”. How are you stitching things together?”
  • Find a powerful and flexible “glue” like an agency or an in-house team to stitch together different integrations from multiple solution partners



Pre-sales and crowdfunding as an alternate business model

  • More and more merchants are leveraging pre-sales and crowdfunding to test market demand, generate hype, activate a brand’s community, optimize inventory levels and avoid overstock or understock issues
  • Pre-sale promotes good cash flow management because you can reliably predict your inventory demand
  • “If you are capturing a pre-sale with a 0% deposit upfront, it is a lot better than something like a wait list because you have not just an intent to purchase, but you’ve got a commitment to purchase.”

How to use preselling and crowdfunding as a powerful acquisition model

  • Gavin shares the strategy of combining preselling with cobranding — for instance, a fashion brand collaborates with design houses to help expand their promotional efforts and reach
  • Classic men’s clothing Taylor Stitch creates its own crowdfunding platform and gets customers involved in the product creation process, driving both customer acquisition, engagement, and loyalty
  • “They [Taylor Stitch] have a very dedicated customer base who are very much advocating and pushing those campaigns out through social media and referrals and things like that. So it can be really powerful for acquisition as well.”

How preselling flips the cash conversion cycle and minimizes waste of resources

  • The typical cash conversion cycle starts with businesses purchasing inventory, selling that to customers, and cash flows back through sales
  • Preselling flips this. The customers can finance the next purchase order, already shortening the cash flow cycle
  • “Another one that we see increasingly is how preselling reduces wastage. Especially now sustainability’s becoming a bigger and bigger thing that brands are focusing on.”

How Submarine is reinventing the customer experience

  • Launched in early 2023, Submarine is a platform by Disco Labs that allows Shopify Plus merchants to build their own experiences around pre-sales, crowdfunding, and various customer loyalty programs
  • It’s a massive ROI win for merchants that have an established customer base and already have a good understanding of their cash conversion cycle
  • “We’ve found that a lot of brands want to own the end-to-end experience when it comes to pre-sales and crowdfunding. So our motto is to let merchants completely own the brand experience that people go to.”
  • Want to drive better outcomes and create tailored experiences for your customers? Checkout Submarine.