When a small business uploads its products to a third party e-commerce platform like Amazon, it’s giving away control, David Tai said.
“With things like Etsy and Amazon, it’s very hard to communicate and build your brand because you’re building your brand on their platform,” said Tai, CTO of Hanzo. “Your products are next to everyone else’s products. If you took a brick-and-mortar store analogy, it’s like one shelf with an infinite amount of products that aren’t yours.”
That makes it difficult for startups to differentiate themselves — a leading problem in today’s economy, he said.
Tai and CEO Zach Kelling co-founded Hanzo in 2014 to streamline the steps within the online buying and selling process. The firm also aims to help customers maximize the advantages of selling online, rather than just replicating the traditional storefront style.
“What we’re doing is enabling people to build,” Tai said. “We put the same really nice e-commerce experience, powered by data, on their own sites so they can create their own brand.”
The software-as-a-service – which earned a spot on the inaugural Techstars KC cohort – offers three products: analytics, commerce and marketing.
Each product features a distinct technical solution, widget or plugin, though Kelling said the products work best in tandem.
“Our unified platform combines all the analytics necessary to understand how to market and operate an e-commerce platform,” Kelling said. “People are launching online businesses more than ever, but the e-commerce platforms that exist today are not designed to leverage data. We want to give smaller brands the same tools that the Amazons of the world, with millions of customers, have.”
The firm “democratizes” e-commerce, he added. Hanzo has open-sourced hundreds of libraries and APIs, as well as widgets for “every part of an online store you need,” Kelling said.
“The firm has been difficult for us to explain as the business model is changing,” Tai said. “But, once you see it working, it makes total sense. We want to give people the freedom to build whatever type of experience they want.”
Both Tai and Kelling call Kansas City home, but spent the majority of their careers in technology on the West Coast. When the pair found out that Techstars was launching its Kansas City program, it was the perfect opportunity to jump, Tai said.
“We always wanted to be in the startup scene in Kansas City, so we heard that Techstars was doing something here and it was kind of an obvious move,” Tai said. “There’s a lot more people around here than you would think, too, and Techstars has been a great opportunity to bring the community and its excitement all in one place.”
The Techstars KC program is slated to culminate in a demo day Oct. 12. Following the program, Hanzo plans to onboard more small-to-medium enterprise businesses.
Kelling is happy to be growing the firm in Kansas City.
“I didn’t see any reason to build the company out in the bay area when I could build it in Kansas City and try and do good to help my community here,” he said.“I’ve always been a fan of Techstars, – it’s been tremendous validation that what we’re up to has value and that we’re pursuing a course of action that has an ability to help a lot of entrepreneurs.”