Occtoo featured graphic with headshot of Niclas Mollin and Occtoo logo

If you haven’t been to the British Virgin Islands, go. They are a jewel in the crown of the Caribbean. Beyond the sugary sand beaches and predictable tourist bars, a rugged, untamed beauty makes it all feel... undiscovered.

A few years back, I took a snorkeling excursion to the Baths on the island of Virgin Gorda, a nature park that offers a labyrinthine journey through a network of caves and secret pools. That might sound a bit daring, but there’s no spelunking involved. Just bring a good pair of shoes.

At the other end of this trek is a spectacular beach called Devil’s Bay. As you emerge from the rocks, it unfolds like a dream, with unspoiled turquoise water shimmering like diamonds in the sun. It’s worth the hike to experience it.

As I explored the crystalline depths, I encountered an octopus. It was a little bigger than my hand but full of vigor. I followed it for what seemed like hours, darting about the submerged rock formations, constantly changing its shape and size.

When I think about the octopus (or plural, octopi – that’s fun to say), the first thought that enters my head is “alien.” It’s not hyperbole: a scientific paper released last year postulates that these critters exhibit "extraterrestrial biological features." If that sounds more like science fiction than fact, watch this video of octopi making spectacular escapes from impossible places. They are cunning, intelligent, and able to reach places other species can’t.

It’s clear why this unique creature influenced the name Occtoo. The etymological allusion is obvious, but I wanted to ask Niclas Mollin, co-founder and CEO of this new breed of business, how this permutation came about – and why it’s so apropos to his company’s ethos.

“We had a lot of ideas,” he said, bouncing around concepts of infinity and its relationship to persisting data. But under it all, the octopus motif seems to align with the company’s values to reach, connect, and unify – like a cephalopod’s long, sticky arms.

As it so happens, a design company located in their shared workspace helped bring the brand to life – and the rest, as they say, is history. Since its launch in 2019, the startup platform has grown to almost 50 employees across 14 countries, with a hub in central Sweden.

During the course of our conversation, I asked Niclas about the murky depths of digital experience composition (DXC) and how Occtoo is shining through the confusion. We also discussed the importance of the MACH Alliance as a force for shaping the composable landscape and what’s on the roadmap for his vibrant young company.

Swimming in rivers and oceans of data

Building businesses from the ground floor is nothing new for Niclas. He’s a steely entrepreneur that exudes confidence, masterfully translating business value into something scalable.

He mustered those traits as a founding member of inRiver – a product information management (PIM) system that simplifies multichannel commerce by making it fast, easy, and visual in nature. The platform enables customers to create, maintain, and distribute product information across multiple sales channels.

inRiver started flowing in 2008, and Niclas spent nearly a decade building it into a powerhouse PIM. Along the way, he saw the opportunity for Occtoo to emerge, specifically as fragmented and siloed data became a key inhibitor to building modern apps.

“There was a big challenge with flowing data and making it available in real time,” he said. “We couldn’t take so long to launch digital experiences. So I decided to explore if we could build something that can help customers innovate faster and launch in a more capable way.”

While not all startups have the good fortune to start with an international customer like Cartier, Niclas was able to leverage his network of partnerships to prove out Occtoo’s utility. In the first two years, they landed Fenix Outdoor and other leading brands, helping the company reach 500% revenue growth between 2020 and 2021.

This led to an investment by Sweden-based Industrifonden and 42CAP for €2 million in early 2021, no doubt buoyed by the rapid acceleration of digital transformation by the Covid-19 pandemic in areas like eCommerce. This continued in November of 2022, with an additional infusion of €4.6M in a round led by Newion.

Building customer experiences at lightning speed

Occtoo is purpose-built around data, hence its claim to the mantle of “The Experience Data Platform.” But therein lies its competitive distinction: Occtoo helps companies build experiences faster by harnessing real time data from internal and external sources – from CRM to ERP, PIM to DAM – and combining it all in a low-code platform. With everything persisting in one place, you can assemble product and editorial content using data from various relevant places.

Sounds cool. But how?

APIs, baby – which, according to Rebecka Löthman Rydå of Industrifonden, can be rendered in Occtoo “as easily as creating a Slack channel.” These APIs also power additional capabilities like headless personalization, allowing for greater experimentation and optimization.

One of Occtoo’s strongest attributes is its ability to tap legacy and siloed data and make it available and reusable across an omnichannel of frontend screens and devices. At the same time, it’s bi-directional, allowing you to collect behavioral data from app users.

Occtoo’s cloud-native SaaS posture makes it a composable play that accelerates everything in the ecosystem, enabling a faster time to innovation – something critical in our rapidly evolving digital economy. Occtoo also offers a visualization UI that allows for simplified management.

On this point, Niclas analogized Occtoo to an iceberg. “We spent the first couple of years building, [figuring out] how to store data, our graph database – so customers don’t have to think about it,” he said. “Now, Occtoo Studio is the user interface. You can see it, activate it, and front-end developers can get the APIs. It’s all visual.”

The integration killer

In my recent interview with Darren Guarnaccia, president at Uniform – a digital composition experience platform (DXCP) –  he emphatically denounced integration glue code as “the lowest value code.” No disagreement from me, but many SIs subsist on costly, long-term engagements and retainers to manage a hornet’s nest of integration code.

Like Uniform, Occtoo is appealing to both enterprises and SIs with the practical equation of time = money. By eliminating the friction around combining and activating data from any source, you can effectively kill the reliance on costly, time-consuming integrations that can sometimes take three, six, or even 12 months to build.

I know enterprises are seeing the benefit, but I asked if SIs were on board with "anti-glue code" solutions like DXC – and if they’re already seeing potential with these tools.

“Yes,” Niclas said unequivocally, “because glue code isn’t fun. The amount of time spent on projects is becoming an issue, but SIs also need to do something with their offerings, as there’s more than just commerce. We need to be asking, 'how can we help with the customer journey?'"

He also believes the SIs realize they can deliver their first DXC-powered project successfully and will be positioned to deliver more projects – and Occtoo has the perfect solution to make that happen.

“If you have Octoo in the offering, you can spend more time working on the dynamics of project cost. That creates more dollars to reallocate to do more – and that’s incentive for the SI. We have all the data needed in Occtoo, and launching the next digital initiative is five times faster.”

Five times faster. Not too shabby when considering time to market. Or your bottom line.

To be a DXC, or not to be… is that the question?

Earlier this year, Kelly Goetsch – Chief Strategy Officer at commercetools and co-founder of the MACH Alliance – hosted a sort of DXC Family Feud on LinkedIn. The purpose: bring some definition to the emerging “digital experience composition” category. The contestants included Niclas, Lars Petersen (CEO of Uniform), and Sana Remekie (CEO of Conscia.ai).

The word “family” is apropos because everything about this webinar felt amicable. As Sana observed, this was her first time amongst frenemies. Kelly further amplified this point, suggesting all three panelists might be competing for market share – but only after a category, Wave, or Magic Quadrant had been codified. 

As I shared with Niclas, my experience with each of these leaders has been one of true composable ambassadorship for DXC, where rising tides lift all ships. He agreed and took it one step further.

“Lars came out of CMS, Sana out of search, and Occtoo out of enterprise data,” he said, noting the different layers of the stack. “When we talk to each other, we’re not competing at all. We’ve even pitched together [and] provided elements to help Uniform build cool frontends.”

That camaraderie sounds great, but the big challenge plaguing these innovators is a continued lack of clarity. While Gartner mentioned DXC as an important trend in its recently published Magic Quadrant for DXPs, the lack of “category guardrails” can still confuse potential buyers. Add to that a parsing within the proto-category, from Occtoo's "Experience Data Platform" to Conscia's "Digital Experience Orchestration." 

Niclas didn’t seem troubled by this, perhaps because of his clear focus on data.

“CMS is great, and you need to have that. The commerce engine has its purpose. But you have to include PIM data, enterprise ERP data... and this is where the magic happens [with Occtoo]. We want to help take care of the real business data, the kind that resides in internal facing systems. Persisting the data, the ability to unify data from different sources, and the ability to make it available from one API.”

I asked Niclas where he sees demand. Are RFPs specifically calling out DXC or Experience Data Platforms as a requirement?

“We’re in the early days,” he said. “but now we’re moving towards [being] a best-of-breed solution.”

And with a customer list that includes Cartier, Marquet, and other leading brands, they’re already carving out demand for their service.

MACHified for a composable world

As a member of the MACH Alliance, Occtoo has undergone a rigorous approval process to meet the organization’s certification benchmarks. Additionally, Niclas serves on the Executive Advisory Board, which is helping to shape the future of the Alliance and serve its growing member community – which now includes 80 vendors, SIs, and enablers.

I asked Niclas what the MACH Alliance means for Occtoo and the industry at large.

“It has a fantastic role to play,” he said. “It puts a light on it, and it would be hard to do [this] alone. The collective power is amazing and the team has done an amazing job.”

Niclas also reinforced what I’ve heard from multiple members and outside analysts: that the Alliance needs to continue its investment in education and certification, so it doesn’t dilute its value. This will continue to be a challenge as more monolithic DXPs shift to composable offerings and focus their marketing on the hype.

As Niclas created one of these MACH-certified composable solutions, I probed to see what he thought of these chess moves by more monolithic DXPs.

“It’s good – they recognize they can’t have data locked in,” he responded. "This is a tricky topic, but I believe that a DXP needs to be constantly evolving to include new technology and approaches – hence, interoperability is going to be key, even if this is a suite bought from one vendor or multiple vendors. The MACH Alliance is important to validate which vendors adhere to MACH principles."

The good news, as Niclas predicts, is that DXPs can use Occtoo to aid their transition to a modern posture. "This is the path moving forward. We can tap into legacy players, and it works – if they admit they are good at one part, and not another. DXPs have strengths.”

Eight arms towards the future

Design has been an important attribute of Niclas’ entrepreneurial makeup, from brand to business value. I asked what the roadmap looks like for his still fledgling company and what it takes to design an entirely new category – especially at a time when the economics are, shall we say, rattling the cage.

“You need to be a little crazy to do it,” he said, bending a wry smile in my direction. “When I left inRiver, I [swore] I would never build a category again. I love the building part, but it’s frustrating. Change is hard, and there’s a lot of resistance.”

Resistance may seem futile, but not to this business builder. He is undeniable in his quest to "empower people with data," and he’s focusing his passion on the possibilities – as crazy as they might seem.

Maybe those risks are less daunting when you have more time to explore. As we parted ways, Niclas shared how his two kids (a daughter and son, 20 and 18) have left a wake of space, allowing him and his wife to travel, hike, and even enjoy a glass of wine in the middle of the week.

As I think about Occtoo and its future, I’m reminded again of the octopus. In some ways, its otherworldly abilities to change form and reach impossible places are the very essence of being composable. DXC may feel a bit like wading into alien waters. But a new world of potential awaits below the surface – and leaders like Niclas are taking us there.

If you haven’t yet explored it yet, go.