Today, Episerver benefits from having hundreds of partners and thousands of customers worldwide making use of its Digital Experience Cloud™ platform – as well as many hundreds of employees who support it. A decade ago, however, Episerver’s narrative of hyper growth had yet to be written, particularly in North America. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to understand where we’ve been, who helped us get to where we are and how it helps direct where we’re going. Here
A big part of Episerver's success has always been its partner network, and the story of the first partner in North America, Blend Interactive, is a special one to tell as it helped establish the initial foothold in the region. In honor of Blend's 10-year anniversary with Episerver, let's go back to 2006 when Episerver (still called ElektroPost at the time) reportedly hired its first employee outside of Sweden (in Denmark) making way for the second Denmark hire, Allan Thraen, to sign Blend Interactive in 2008.
According to Thraen's perception, Episerver was a bit hesitant to invest too heavily in new markets (like North America) as Episerver was focused on organic growth in Scandinavia at the time. While there were a few U.S.-based clients, they were not managed locally and were very often subsidiaries of Scandinavian companies.
As Blend Interactive Chief Strategy Officer Deane Barker recalls, he met Episerver Founder Mikael Runhem at a Chicago-based web content management (WCM) conference where Runhem, after hearing Barker complain about another CMS, told him that Episerver was interested in entering the North American market but needed partners. They agreed Thraen would demo the product for Barker in Blend’s hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
[An email to Deane Barker from Mikael Runhem on July 3, 2008.]
When it was time for the demo, Barker—who would later write the book on content management systems—and his co-founder Joe Kepley, tried to stump Thraen who couldn’t be stumped.
[Copy from an email from Deane Barker to Mikael Runhem on July 14, 2008.]
With mutual respect and growth goals, a partnership was duly signed and Thraen, being a developer trainer and someone reporting directly to Episerver’s founder at the time, was sent back to South Dakota to educate Barker and his team at Blend Interactive. What sticks out to both Barker and Thraen was the timing of it all. Remember what happened on November 4, 2008?
In the U.S. to train Blend, Episerver’s European-based team happened to be staying at the same hotel where the South Dakota Republican Headquarters had planned their election party to celebrate then presidential hopeful John McCain’s pending win with running mate Sarah Palin. History had other plans, of course, and they lost the ticket to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Witnessing the crowd’s reaction as the night wore on at the hotel, the whole situation was “pretty interesting to a European like me” remembers Thraen who continues, “What would come of that week professionally, however, was an awesome experience meeting such a dedicated and passionate team in Blend Interactive. The week kickstarted long-term business relationships and personal friendships I cherish 10 years later. To this day, I still often reach out to Deane whenever I have a new crazy idea for a content management feature and value his opinions and input.”
Bonding and learning aside, it was time for Blend to get to work in November 2008 as the sole U.S. partner to a company with little-to-no North American presence. The first sale was the College of Nurses in Ontario, who is still a customer to this day; then came sales two, three, four, five and so on. With each pitch and conversation, Blend evangelized Episerver as the de-facto choice for web content management.
“In those early days, Blend thought the best thing to do was to get Episerver’s name out there and to get people – even other partners – working with Episerver,” said Barker. “We even helped with partner recruitment; I wouldn’t shut up about Episerver and so we did this non-stop.”
It was the partner-advocacy model driven by Blend in North America that helped, as founder Runhem shared in this interview:
“[…] our partners became our sales staff. Instead of our two sales guys, we had 200 sales guys. Everyone at our partners, when they heard about a new web product, they asked the customer, ‘Have you looked at Episerver? Our software works great with Episerver, our search engine is built for integration with Episerver,’ and so on and so forth. So, our sales staff were actually larger than many of the big competitors.”
"Episerver was betting the house on North America, and it worked,” said Barker. “I have so much admiration for how whole heartedly they flung themselves into this market without reservation. Blend has had a front-row seat to the makings of the industry’s top-tier CMS. We’ve been at every event and seen it grow from the humblest of beginnings; it’s a breathtaking thing. The IT is just out of this world now; nothing we’ve ever seen."
Blend is equally impressive, blending design and development to help institutions and agencies tackle complicated web and content problems (get to know them by watching this video). Episerver has benefited from partners' passion for product, people and problem-solving, now experiencing the largest concentration of new business in North America.
"Growth and progress can make us all lean toward ‘what’s next’ and leave little time for reflection about what was,” said James Norwood, EVP Strategy and Business Development, Chief of Staff at Episerver. “For 10 years now, Blend Interactive has been an Episerver partner in every sense of the word. Sometimes it takes an anniversary – like Blend’s this month – to reflect on how grateful Episerver is to Blend for a decade of enthusiasm for and expertise with Episerver. They continue to deliver on frontline projects, consulting work for Episerver implementations and ongoing management of deployments for all types of companies who lean on their extensive Episerver experience."
[James Norwood with Blend Founders Karla Santi (CEO), Deane Barker (Chief Strategy Officer) and Joe Kepley (Chief Technical Officer) in November 2018 in Minnesota.]
“There’s no question, however, that web content management has changed in the last decade," said Norwood. "As the demand for individualized content intensifies and companies who don’t traditionally sell online need access to digital commerce, our partner network has rose to the occasion in working with Episerver and our Digital Experience Cloud. Technology doesn’t stand still and neither do our products and partners.”
“Episerver’s product growth reflects the trend of where things are going,” said Barker. “Everybody can let you edit content but how you optimize that page after publish is where companies get measurable business objectives. After you hit publish is just the starting line, and that’s when Episerver starts to provide its value.
“Like their move into North America, Episerver was one of the first to take another big gamble on digital commerce, and they're doing a phenomenal job, blurring the lines of commerce and content and offering an integrated package where most other systems are very, very separate. There’s often a commerce system with a light CMS or vice versa or you have two loosely integrated yet separate platforms. Episerver has the most defined commerce strategy without question after rolling the dice on this not long after we came on-board.”
In the same way, Barker and team rolled the dice on Episerver helping the company establish a real presence in the USA over a decade ago. It’s safe to say both gambles paid off for blended success.