Once you go low, you can't go slow: DoTERRA VP of Innovation Seth Winters

Welcome to the fifth episode of the Low-Code Ninjas Podcast

Low-Code Ninjas shines a light on industry thought leaders and the strategies they embrace to do business successfully in an app-first, unpredictable world.

Meet our hosts

John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz

John Koetsier
John Koetsier is a senior contributor to Forbes, host of the TechFirst podcast, and a mobile industry analyst.

“Previously, he was the Mobile Economist for TUNE and the VP Insights for Singular.”

Peggy Anne Salz
Peggy Anne Salz is a mobile analyst, a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe, I track and document the trends, companies and innovators shaping how we do business and engage with consumers across the multiple screens, devices and apps that define our daily lives.

IN THIS EPISODE OF LOW-CODE NINJAS :

Get a feature-rich app in a matter of days. It sounds too good to be true, right? Tune in to our latest episode of Low Code Ninjas to learn how Seth Winters, VP of Digital Innovation at doTERRA, went from low code skeptic to an evangelist. 

Saddled with a legacy e-commerce platform, the doTERRA team found itself looking at multiple years worth of work just to create an app, but didn’t have the time to spare as COVID-19 — and the increasingly mobile expectations of shoppers — made an app a must-have. But the doTERRA team also needed to ensure the app could handle the demands of eager shoppers. 

“So when we run our promotions, we can generate tens of thousands of users in less than an hour, sometimes in less than minutes onto the site, which overwhelms a lot of our infrastructure,” says Seth. “So one of the important things we found is we did not want to actually put something in-between our user and the application… And when we work with FollowAnalytics, it’s actually loaded on the device, so it’s actually interjecting nothing in between, which actually was a huge win from our perspective.” To learn more about how Follow Analytics helped doTERRA get its app to market quickly and with a great user experience, tune in to the episode.

Full Episode Transcript

(This transcript has been edited for clarity).

John Koetsier: How did a low code skeptic transform into something of a low code evangelist? Welcome to Low Code Ninjas. My name is John Koetsier. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And my name is Peggy Anne Salz. And you know, John, it’s a natural to think about native apps. You want to have a good experience for your customers. Particularly now, customer experience is everything. But there are other considerations. And we’re going to talk today to an executive who weighed the pros and cons, had an opportunity to kick a few tires, look under the hood, and — I wouldn’t say maybe convert, but let’s just say become very convinced of the advantages of hybrid via, of course, low code.

John Koetsier: Yeah. And today we’re chatting with Seth Winters, he’s the VP of Digital Innovation at doTERRA, a health and wellness company. So Seth went native at first, and he still likes native code in a lot of cases, but he seems to have found that once you go low, you can’t go slow.

Seth Winters: That’s very true.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, and on that note, you know, Seth is a native fan by nature, I would say. But we’re going to find out what he has found out, because it’s been a journey over the last nine months … looking at low code solutions, looking at the pros and cons, and finding out a lot of interesting innovation and advantages to that. So, Seth, it’s great to have you here on Low Code Ninjas today. 

Seth Winters: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to chat with you guys today. 

John Koetsier: So are we. Let’s start right here, because of course this is what we’ve been talking about with the whole intro. You’re a fan of native code. You have a team, in fact, that builds some native parts of your app, as well as a native app. But you’ve opted to also use low code. Why? 

Seth Winters: Well, it really comes down to the environment, right, and speed to market. We found ourself in a situation — we have a kind of a legacy e-commerce platform that had no APIs that are exposed — and it was going to take our internal development teams multi-years to even get to a point where we were going to have services. And with COVID, and kind of where we’re at from a kind of an industry standpoint, everybody’s like, ‘We need an app now!’ And it was just, the pressure was overwhelming from our customers. And I was challenged by the chief commercial officer to come up with a solution, and they’re like, ‘Hey, how do we … you have to be able to solve this problem. What can we do?’ And so I started looking at solutions, and they were okay, there was nothing out there that was really overwhelming. And I found this technology called FollowAnalytics, which is definitely a low code solution. But I think what their differentiator was for me, is the blended experience. I can actually, I can use the technology to lay on top of our site as well as I can add native components into it. So it’s almost like I can get — I have the best of both worlds. I can go as far as I want with kind of the hybrid technology, and then I can actually code myself out of any corners we got ourselves into. And with that blend, I think — I’m an experience person, right? So I work with the technology teams, but I also work with our product management organization. I think user experience, UI/UX is I think, paramount to delivering a good solution. And so what we’re able to do is — and there’s differences, but if you blend the two together the average person has no clue, doesn’t really understand what’s going on, and they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s just a great experience.’ It shouldn’t matter. The technology shouldn’t matter. It’s like when somebody comes to your site and they shouldn’t know what you’re using, just like, ‘Wow, that was good. That was easy. That was intuitive.’ We weren’t trying to reinvent shopping. We’re just trying this, like, ‘Oh yeah, that worked, that was easy. ‘ That was what we were going for, and we were able to do it in a record amount of time. We were talking multi years before we could even get the services, and then build in a native app on top of that was going to take a year plus after that. And so I was like, we’re talking 2023 before we’re going to have something. Or we could go this other approach … and we had it in about three to four months.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Seth Winters:  And it’s just incredible the rate in which we can do it. And one thing was interesting is when we started along this path, when we heard about FollowAnalytics, it was like, ‘Wow, that’s too good to be true.’ We’ve all been around the block once or twice, and when something’s too good to be true in technology, it generally is. You’re like, okay, there’s going to be an ‘I gotcha.’ And I think we really put them through the ringer for about a month and a half, just like hammering them. Like our volume crushes most systems when we use it. Between our volume, between our users, between our user experience requirements … I’m like, there’s —  I’m missing something. How do I get past this? And it wasn’t. And we took the bet on FollowAnalytics and we haven’t looked back since. It’s been phenomenal. You have to have a good base site to go with … and if you do have that, it’s a great solution. 

John Koetsier: Amazing. 

Peggy Anne Salz: You were talking about how you did that, but I still sort of want to hear about the road test. You were pretty hard on it, you know? 

Seth Winters: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: You were sort of convinced that it was not just a speed question, but a quality question. So, Seth, what I found really interesting here is, not only the SWOT analysis you did, but you really did a diehard test here. You weren’t just looking at speed. You were looking at the features, you were looking at the — not just the performance, but you know, the actual experience. So I’d like to hear a little bit more about that road test that you did, because you were really hard on these other solutions. And, you know, that’s something that we can all learn from. 

Seth Winters: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll start with everything breaks in our world with the load. When we have our promotions, we can bring so much traffic in such a short period of time. It’s a great problem to have and a horrible IT problem to have. So when we run our promotions, we can generate tens of thousands of users in less than an hour, sometimes in less than minutes onto the site, which overwhelms a lot of our infrastructure. We create bottlenecks everywhere from this. So one of the important things we found is we did not want to actually put something in-between our user and the application. A lot of these solutions put something in the middle, so you go through their server, their services to get to it. And when we work with FollowAnalytics, it’s actually loaded on the device, so it’s actually interjecting nothing in between, which actually was a huge win from our perspective. And so we could actually … we didn’t have that bottleneck experience. So that was, it starts there. Like that’s one of the first kind of thresholds for us is, hey, if it can’t work, we don’t need it.

The second thing we would need to do is page performance. One of the main differences between like a native app and kind of the hybrid app is speed, right? And the more stuff you do to it, the slower it gets. And with their technology set that FollowAnalytics brought for us, it was definitely — they were able to improve the speed substantially and really work through it. And this is something they do as a service on their side. That’s not something we had to do, we had to figure out, we had to become experts in this … they were able to provide that. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s getting slow.’ And they worked through it in a matter of a couple of days and they were able to resolve it.

The next thing we did was experience-wise. One thing I can’t stand is when somebody takes a website and they make it a hybrid app, they throw it in the store and I’m like, it’s just a responsive website. It doesn’t have the app bar. It has a hamburger menu. It looks like you just wrapped their website, the same kind of navigation structure. I’m like, why did you do that? Just tell me to go to your site. And so maybe it’s a personal thing that I can’t stand, but drives me nuts when they do that, ’cause there’s really no value. And so one of the things that we did was we actually took the website, we stripped out all the extra web components and made it feel very native — maybe native’s the wrong word — an app experience. And I think that was really a key differentiator for us that’s like, wow, we didn’t get a hybrid app, we got a native feel. So that was kind of, from a user experience standpoint, that was really important. And then at that point we start — how can you tie in some native pieces? One of the big things about native apps, or apps in general, is login. I don’t want to have a login every time, and I don’t want to have to type in my password. That’s why I use an app, because I always forget my password or I have to go somewhere else. And I go to my app … I’m just there. And you’re able to achieve that through some of their kind of out-of-the-box components on it. So kind of, those were some of the big hurdles, like, hey, yeah … if we can do this, we’re willing to take the chance and get to all new technology. You’re gonna have to have a little bit of faith and you’re gonna experience things. You’re gonna have to work through it. But those were just some of the big ones that we covered that were really important from our standpoint. 

John Koetsier: That’s very, very cool. You talked a lot about the speed. You talked about native performance and you mentioned a couple of features, including persistent login, right? And that is the most annoying thing. It’s supposed to be an app, supposed to be, you know, and I have to log in every single time. Wow! Facebook has taught us. Google has — everybody has taught us how an app is supposed to work, right? What were some of the other key features that you were looking for, that you wanted, that you needed for a great user experience, that you could just get sort of quote/unquote “out of the box”? 

Seth Winters: So we were actually scanning our bottles — our bottles have QR codes — and so we’re able to scan them and actually be able to order the product. That’s been a feature that our executive teams are like, they’ve wanted this for years. And it was like, oh look, we can do that really simply. I think the login — login is one of our number one drivers on our call center, like, ‘Hey, I forgot my password.’ I know it sounds silly, but if you don’t have to log in, It just removes that from it. But that’s actually a huge, was a huge benefit. The other stuff is the native integration to Salesforce Marketing Cloud. We’re able to do our push journeys and this was a huge driver from our marketing side, because now we’re sending email communication. Hey, if they don’t open that, we’re like, okay, wait three days, then we send a native push or vice versa. We’re able to build that blended marketing experience on our sales. We drive a lot of volume instantaneously. Well, now we just make it harder on ourselves because now we send a push notification immediately, and the response time from a push notification versus the email is more immediate. And so, well that’s all right, at least we’re engaging with people and we’re kind of meeting them where they’re at. Their engagement on those push notifications has been phenomenal. And so those are some of those features that we’re like, okay, these are some of the benefits that we’re getting that were just kind of a checkbox to get, right? 

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Wonderful. And one of these days you’ll probably start sending out push notifications via time zone, or maybe a major district or something like that. So that you’ve got a little bit of a spacing in there. 

Seth Winters: Yeah, well, we do that by country. But everybody wants to know immediate[ly] — in our world it’s like everybody wants to know. They don’t want to be delayed. They don’t want to wait. East Coast knows that 6:00 AM and they’re like, we want to know at 3:00 AM. If you wait to six, they feel left out or something’s sold out, and it’s … so, we don’t do that, but we do it by country. So at least for Europe, it’s a little  different. And [the] U.S. is a little stretched out, but our folks are okay with it. 

Peggy Anne Salz: So you are into innovation. That’s what you do, right? And a fantastic experience has a little bit of magic to it. We talked about that in general, you know, we have got convenience … super important, right? Which streamlines the experience. We’ve got a little bit of push, some communication going on. But how can you make certain that the tech doesn’t overshadow the experience? ‘Cause that’s what’s going to win and keep the customers in the end. 

Seth Winters: Well, I think — yeah, that’s an interesting kind of question, right? I think we start with the user experience first, and then we work technology into it, instead of starting with our technology then working our experience into it. It’s a little bit of a different approach.  But when we looked at this app and we’re looking at, okay, we have the taking a hybrid approach — we already have an existing site — we wanted to simplify it. So we actually — I think our website is complicated, and it can be complicated ’cause it’s a web experience. But you start getting into an app experience, you want to simplify it. And so we started removing things, actually. We actually built a much simpler, streamlined approach with the same screens to do it. And that’s, I think that simplicity is really straight forward. Like we did things in the app that we’ve wanted to do on the web for years. I couldn’t — I still haven’t got it prioritized and got it done through our teams, and we’ll get to it, but I was able to achieve it in the app. And so it really allowed — it was a test bed for some of this stuff, and it really allowed it to have a funnel-focused experience for our users. 

John Koetsier: I love that.

Peggy Anne Salz: That’s impressive. You could get to things in the app you wanted to have on your website. I love it. I do love it.

John Koetsier: I also like, because sometimes that’s a really interesting process. You’re taking things away … and improving the experience. Because the web is endless, you have a large screen in a lot of cases, you’ve got — it can scroll for forever. Right? You’re tempted to just add, oh, we’ll add that. Oh, we’ll add that. We can hide that in a menu. And that’s easy to do. In the mobile world, you really have to pare down. That’s really interesting. 

Seth Winters: Or you’re going to have a hamburger menu, or 16 options, and people just don’t find them, right? 

John Koetsier: Yeah. Yeah. I want to go back to something that we touched on earlier but we didn’t get to all the depth of it. You were originally working with SAP Hybris, if I’m correct. And you were going to wrap some of their technology. Can you talk a little bit more in-depth about what you wanted to do there? Some of the roadblocks you encountered, and how you worked through it? 

Seth Winters: Yeah, absolutely. So, working with SAP Hybris, it’s … our load is number one, right? So I’m just kind of redundant there a little bit. So it can handle our load that — a lot of the smaller forms when we start on those big sales days, things topple over. So it can handle our load. Great. Well with that, there’s the pros and the cons. So we got some of the complication, the slowness, the nimbleness is not quite there. And so we hit customized with our experience. So it got customized and we just didn’t have the ability to have services. We maybe have half our services. We’re working on building a microservice architecture. Great. That’s really a long term play, not a short term play. And to get all the services we needed to drive an e-commerce experience with a native app, it was going to take us a year plus.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Seth Winters: And we know everybody’s microservices are kind of a goal, right? You’re never done when you’re kind of going for it. But because of the timeframe and we needed it now, it kind of was not an option. Like we didn’t have — it was either this, or kind of a hybrid experience, or nothing. Like, which one do you want for the next couple years. And  we took the gamble. It’s kind of, after we kicked the tires, it was a little bit of a gamble for us. And we’re like, hey, this is what we can do, we believe we’ve done everything we can. Here’s an example of a prototype. We think it’s going to be great, but it’s a little bit of a gamble. We were willing to take it because the alternative was … waiting. And our customer base wasn’t going to allow it. 

John Koetsier: Can you put your business on hold for three years, please? We need to get the technology in order. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Then we’ll be ready to rumble. Absolutely. I mean we talked—

Seth Winters: Oh go ahead.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay. We talked about the experience. We talked about the speed, agility, all of these reasons, but at the end of the day, an app experience also has to deliver the analytics that you’re going to need to run your business, right? Analytics is a huge part of this. And interestingly, you’re not just a commerce company in sort of the shopping commerce sense of the word, right? So we talked about the experience, convenience, all of these points that you have to get right in your app experience. But you also have to get analytics right, you know, that’s a big part of this. And for you, you’re a commerce company, but you’re more than a commerce company — you’re B2C, you’re B2B, you’re probably B2B2C, right? How are you managing this? And how is your app experience giving you these analytics that you need to run your business? 

Seth Winters: Well, it’s interesting. FollowAnalytics — analytics is in their name — it’s kind of like first it’s obvious when we started talking about it, like, you want an analytics platform? No, it’s mobile app, but it’s FollowAnalytics. It’s just kind of where they came from. And so it’s kind of that core data’s baked in. I look at it from a product perspective, like a digital product perspective when it’s all about data-driven research, right? And so being able to have those key metrics about utilization, how they’re doing it, conversion, stuff like that … really matters from what features we’re doing and how we’re implementing it. But as well as when giving credit to when sales would go through, all that stuff is incredibly important to our business. And we’ve just been able to leverage their core platform to give us the data that we need when we need it. So it was kind of — it just fit really well into our existing kind of ethos as a company. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm.

John Koetsier: Cool. So you’re doing some amazing things. Ultimately you had to make a business decision and we talk a lot about low code here, but it’s not just a rah-rah session, right? Sometimes there’s downsides, sometimes there’s issues. What are some of the downsides that you went through? Were there any downsides? Did you have any challenges? Talk about how you — this was your first low code project. Talk about how it went. 

Seth Winters: Yeah, it’s a really interesting question because we knew this going in, but it kind of proved itself out to be true is — I call it the “testing tax.” So, when it comes to our platform, we roll out … what, at least weekly, if not multiple times a week, and we have to make sure that we’re testing the app along the way. And so as we changed our release process to put a phase gate in there like, hey, we have to pass this in addition to the other testing we do to go out the door. And so it can slow down the process. Working with FollowAnalytics we were actually able to achieve — they understand it — and so 95 plus percent of the time we’ve had no issues, right? But there’s been one or two times since we’ve done this, like, oh, we caught something pretty major, and we had to delay it. And so it took a little adjustment in our organization to say, ‘Wow, this actually is an official phase gate. You can’t go, you can’t fake it. So we just do creative things — there’s some kind of hidden things we can switch between environments so they can test sooner. But that definitely, that tax is something that’s important. 

John Koetsier: Is that something that you would have with any addition, like adding any mobile app? Or was it special in this case? Was it significantly different in this case than just adding a mobile app to what was primarily a web-based business?

Seth Winters: Yeah. It’s different, this is a hybrid issue, right? Because you’re sharing components and screens— 

John Koetsier: Okay.

Seth Winters: You’re going to have that challenge. Theoretically, if they did the correct testing for a responsive design, it should work. But if they didn’t, or it rendered slightly differently, or we did something special to make it feel app-ish versus website-ish, you have some challenges. Whereas you will have that from a native approach, but it’s more services based, right? Did your services change? And your services from a commerce experience should be fairly hardened and change fairly infrequently. So it is something that I say is more unique to this solution. But for the speed that we got and how quick we were able to roll this out and make a huge impact, it’s something we’re willing to pay from a company standpoint. And nobody regrets it even to this day, right? It’s not like, man, I regret doing that. It’s like, no, it went great. So I consider it a win. 

John Koetsier: A developer I used to work with had a phrase he said quite frequently, which was that ‘Theoretically, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.’ Right? Theoretically, this component will work the same wherever you put it. And theoretically it will, but actually… I guess we have one last question for you, and that one last question is, you’re talking to an executive who has never tried low code or a hybrid app before and is thinking about it. What do you say to her or him? What do you suggest?

Seth Winters: I would suggest understanding what your end business goals are and start from a usability side, right? What do you want to achieve? And understanding that from the beginning is probably where it starts. I think that will guide your direction.  Understanding time to market, understanding what their kind of willingness is to make change. The quicker time to market, I think at this point, not an executive, the world’s like, nah, I wanted to take a year. I’m okay with this. So they’re going to naturally want to go that way. I think it’s important for them to experience it and you point out kind of the differences, so they’re going to understand. The worst thing would be is to deliver like, hey, this is — we’ll deliver in the short term and they look at it like, oh, that misses the mark. So setting their proper expectations up front, that’s something we did. And then after, we said, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to be, this is how it’s going to feel, this is how it’s going to look.’ And maybe I even oversold it a little bit and said it’s going to be worse than it was. And so when they saw it they’re like, ‘That’s great!’ Like, they were ecstatic. And you did that three, four months in timeframe, like it was a win. I think overall it’s balancing time to market, with the technology and what you want it to do.

John Koetsier: Perfect. 

Seth Winters: That’s it. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And of course you were really hard on it. I mean, they know from working with you probably, Seth, that you didn’t — you know, this wasn’t spontaneous. 

Seth Winters: No. Yeah … if I said it was good to go, they’re like, okay, let’s do it. So definitely have some support and some great leadership out of doTERRA as well. So… 

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, Seth, we covered some great ground. We understand experience, speed to market. We understand pros and cons. You’ve gone through all of that. Of course, your position is innovation. You’re always focused on what’s next. So I’m going to ask you as we close here, you know, what’s next? How are you advancing your mobile agenda? 

Seth Winters: Yeah, so there’s numerous options, right? So it’s kind of an exciting space. One of the areas we’re looking at is kind of virtual reality and really looking at our product inside your home. And so it’s kind of like the Pokémon Go, you have your camera and your Pokémon it shows up — well, now you have our product, our diffusers, other things you can see, oh, which one will look best in my living room. And so it’s just really providing a deeper level experience. We definitely have some advocates at our company for new technology. One of the things we added to recently was a sticker component, and that’s — it’s something about you live the doTERRA lifestyle and you can use them and interact. And so that’s something that we wrapped in this experience. That’s been highly successful. One of the stickers we had, had over a million uses in probably the first month. 

John Koetsier: Wow.

Seth Winters: And so it’s just kind of that evolving the technology and kind of that  fun factor. One other thing we’re working on is we’ve really focused on the customer experience after you were a doTERRA customer. We wanted to change focus, and focus on acquiring new customers. And so, yeah, in today’s day and age, yes, the kind of older generation they’re gonna go to your website first after they become a customer, they’re actually like, okay, maybe I’ll go download the app. And so it’s — but with the millennials and kind of the new, younger generation, their first stop is the app store. And so, although people are like, ‘Oh, you don’t need an app for those people.’ In this day and age you actually are needing to get there. And I think that’s a little — from an innovation standpoint — I think that’s a really important thing to really target and really kind of go after the younger audience. So… 

John Koetsier: Now I really feel like I’m about a thousand years old … the older generation goes to the website. I’m like, wow! I was like, the older generation goes to the phone book. The older generation goes to the phone. The older generation goes to the website. The kids go straight to the app store. [laughter]

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, I guess we have to call the kettle black here, I guess. 

John Koetsier: I guess we do. Seth, it’s been wonderful having you. Thank you so much.  We really do appreciate your time on this show.

Seth Winters: Yeah. Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here, and thanks so much for your time guys. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And also, I want to say thanks for sharing where this is going, because social and shopping and commerce, that’s such a great fit. So a lot of innovation, a lot of great ideas there. Yeah, I’ll join with John in thanking you for being with us today on Low Code Ninjas.

Seth Winters: Thank you guys. Pleasure to be here. Have a great day. 

John Koetsier: Great to have you. For everybody else, thank you for being with us as well. You know where to subscribe — all the usual suspect platforms. Until then, this is John Koetsier for Low Code Ninjas. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz … stay well, keep safe. Have a great day!