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Behind The Tool: Oisin From Recharge

In this Behind The Tool, I had the pleasure of chatting with Oisin from Recharge. Oisin is a co-founder and the CEO of Recharge, the subscription platform category leader. Recharge, founded in 2014, recently announced that they had achieved $100,000,000 in ARR and have over 100,000,000 subscribers across their customer base.

It's very impressive and not many Shopify Apps get to this point. It was only right to interview Oisin and share some his learnings and stories!

It was a fantastic interview; we chatted about his story, some of the key entrepreneurial lessons he learned from building to $100,000,000 in ARR at Recharge and his overall thoughts on the current App Store trends.


Oisin, Tell us about the founding story behind Recharge, where the idea came from and how you built the initial product.

Oisin: I was 30 years old at the time and I had a couple of failed startups and one that was somewhat successful. I was broke, living with my parents, and just knew that my entrepreneurial journey had to amount to more than that. I did a hard evaluation of my skills to figure out what I was good at, bad at, and what I loved doing. 

I realized two things: First, I need a great co-founder who can help me dive into the details. I was always great at seeing the opportunities, but I needed that person to keep me honest constantly and take me from 80% to 100%. Second, I realized it’s all about the market you choose. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t choose a good market or a bigger market trend, it’s very hard to hit true scale. 

I met my co-founder at a barbeque in Santa Monica and we went through this period of cold calling a ton of people to figure out what to do. Mike and I complement one another; it’s a 1+1=3 type of thing with us.

So we had the foundations and just needed to find a market and opportunity. We showed a lot of humility and vulnerability at that point - cold calling, messaging people on Linkedin - and we got a ton of help. It was pretty amazing. 

We talked to tons of successful people, including Harley Finkelstein. At that point, Shopify had one hundred employees. It was small. Harley had convinced us that this commerce revolution was going to change everything. Before, you had to be this big brand, distributed everywhere with huge capital. Now, you can become an entrepreneur in your garage. You can create a physical product and sell it online via Shopify and Facebook Ads. 

He sold us on the opportunity in 2011. We initially started out as a development agency because we’re both software developers and product designers. We launched about six different products and Recharge happened to be the last one we launched. It just took off like crazy.

You can probably count on a few hands how many Shopify Apps have got to or will get to $100M ARR. Why do you think Recharge has been of the few to get there?

Oisin: There's always a blend of a little luck and skill and timing. When we launched, there were probably a dozen subscription apps. It wasn't like we had zero competition. In the beginning, we got really good at understanding how to strip all of the friction away for merchants to set up subscription programs. We started off as an easy plug-in that you could just throw onto your website and get going in under five minutes and we were the best at that.

The key thing for us was to be driven by what our merchants need and build tools that help them become more successful. If we build the best tools and solutions for our merchants, then our merchants will win and so will we.

At first, when we started Recharge was very much a simple subscription widget. Then we evolved to be more of an API platform with a really strong subscription management point solution, and now we’re a much bigger, more powerful, smarter subscription platform that takes merchants from converting customers to retaining them. We’re bringing together not just the subscription management piece of it, but also insights and analytics to power retention and growth for these brands. So really, it’s all about having a vision but also constantly talking and listening to your customers.

What do you think has changed in the Shopify App market in the last 8-12 months? What do you think will continue to change in the next 8-12 months?

Oisin: The trend that we’ve felt in the last 18 months or so is the hangover effect from COVID. We had this glut of money come into companies, and what we are now starting to see is high interest rates force companies to get lean and not just throw money at a problem. We’re also seeing the marketplace for D2C brands get more competitive. With competition, it’s more expensive for brands to get conversions and payback on their first purchases. We’ve seen companies become much more operationally capable and become more holistic with how they think about their customer lifecycle. 

Most consumers are buying products in the health & wellness, food, and baby categories, specifically to get a job done in their daily lives. The best companies now realize how to embed themselves in the consumer’s daily life.

The big trend that we’re seeing is merchants who don’t just want their products bought but brought into the consumer's ongoing lifestyle. That’s how they’re starting to define a good customer.

We also see the best D2C brands starting to get into wholesale and retail channels a lot earlier. They’re not thinking of themselves as only an ecommerce brand anymore. They’re thinking about how retail and ecommerce feeds into retail. I think in this next evolution of ecommerce, we’ll see a lot of successful D2C brands getting to $50M in GMV. 

If you look around some of the other bigger apps everyone is launching tons of products in as many categories as they can. Do you feel pressure at Recharge to do the same?

Oisin: It's funny. I see so many people doing this and thinking that they have to build more and more products and often forget whether to consider how good of an idea it is. What gives you the right to do it? And does it really become a 1+1=3 moment? I think that’s where a lot of companies aren’t considering the end merchant perspective.

The merchant must be like “Okay, cool, now there are five different things this app can do, but how do they work together?” It’s one thing to launch something completely new and complementary to your core product, but it’s another to just try to just bill people all in one location.

For brands that have subscriptions central to their business, we are becoming the core of their tech stacks since their business revolves around subscription. And whatever we build should resonate with wanting to strengthen our existing product and the end consumer experience.

For example, we recently launched Rewards. As people subscribe and place more and more orders, they get rewarded and unlock special perks. It makes total sense to be a Recharge subscription product. It’s special because it lives directly in the customer’s accounts and is easily accessed. It makes the end consumer experience better.

We try to think cohesively about how we bring our products and features together for subscription-first merchants and what makes sense for them and their customers. We aren’t just looking to provide generic solutions that try to do the same thing everyone else already does. That’s not special. 

If you could go back to the first year of Recharge and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Oisin: In the early days, it was the most stressful I’ve ever been in my life, right? There was a point when my co-founder was ready to give up, move back in with his parents, and get a real job. We were working out of his apartment and I could always tell how the previous day went for us based on how many boxes were getting packed up. 

You always have to ask yourself what type of value you are providing to people, what you really want to build, what you stand for, and so on. When things get hard, you sometimes get a moment of pure clarity where you can see everything crystal clear. That’s when you have to go with your gut on everything.

I think as you get bigger and more successful (or just higher scale), you start to lose some of that confidence and some of the things that made you great early on. I would have to tell myself to stick to what made us great and special in the early days. When we’ve done our best, especially over the last two years, it’s really because we went back to our core. 

That has paid huge dividends. There’s this book called “Good to Great” and it’s a study of great companies, different cultures, and different ways of operating. That book stuck with me a ton because I was going through it.

The more you stick to the way that is true to yourself, the more you’ll succeed. So my advice for Oisin in year one would be to stay true to myself and don’t ever deviate.