The People Behind the API: An Interview with Chris Schagen, CMO at Contentful

As we continue with our Contentful featured week, it's time to get acquainted with some of the people behind this API-first CMS, that's both SMB and enterprise ready.

We have already touched on Contentful's uses and beneficial features, along with its response to emerging trends.

Now though, let's take a look behind the platform's digital curtain.

Who Is Chris Schagen?

Chris Schagen joined Contentful in October 2014 as a marketing consultant, and then became a part of the management team as a Chief Marketing Officer.

With Contentful original DNA being predominantly technology, Chris built the marketing and customer success organisation, and reworked and repositioned the messaging with a focus on the developer audience.

Prior to Contentful, Chris was the founder and CEO of digital agency Quan Digital, search marketplace Linklift, and also a co-founder of a gaming company Wooga, as well as speech recognition company Mundwerk.

The Interview

KI: Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Contentful?

CS: I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at Contentful, and next to the typical marketing tasks I am responsible for evangelizing our developer audience. Also, our marketing does not stop with the sign-up event: rather, it encompasses the whole user experience within our apps in terms of onboarding and helping our users complete their goals. The number one metric we optimize for is user happiness.

KI: Can you briefly explain what Contentful is, and who it's for?

CS: Contentful is an API-first content management system that makes is really simple for developers to manage and deliver content to any kind of device. We are achieving this by doing a couple of things very different from your traditional CMS of old.

(a) The content in Contentful is stored free from presentation, because presentation on one platform (think HTML tags) is most often “pollution” on other platforms, making the life of front-end developers harder.

(b) Content is captured in a structured “chunk” kind of way, as opposed to page-centric unstructured “blobs” of content, so that developers can access the content in a meaningful programmatic way.

(c) Contentful is designed from the ground up to deliver the content via an API, as opposed to a browser. That way the system plays nicely with mobile apps, one-page web apps, and lots of new technologies that equally prefer an API endpoint to access data.

(d) Finally, Contentful is a cloud service that scales seamlessly and delivery really quickly – even in challenging mobile networking environments.

KI: There seems to be a big focus on delivering content in isolation, allowing developers to design their websites and apps around their content, rather than the other way around. What drives this focus?

CS: Presentation-free content is what mobile app developers usually cry for when they are trying to retroactively sanitize the existing HTML invested content – not an easy thing to do. But seriously: when you look what content strategist propagate with COPE – create once, publish everywhere – content that is free from presentation is one of the cornerstones of making this happen.

In the bigger picture, this separation is in a way just another form of decoupling. That trend has been prevalent across the board in web development. Just think of how CSS enhanced from HTML. In the beginning, web developers kept the style sheets right inside the HTML code, and it was a big mess to maintain.

While this decoupling comes with a lot of developer benefits, there typically are also some caveats. It definitely takes some adjusting for editors who are used to WYSIWIG their work and are now told to please not do this anymore.

KI: Contentful was founded in 2011. How has the market changed since then? Has Contentful adapted much to accommodate any of those changes?

CS: To be honest, when we started out in 2011, lots of things were different then. Mobile was still early, with most mobile sites – if existing – looking rather terrible, and mobile app penetration was a fraction of what we see today. JavaScript frameworks were immature, JS engines not nearly as fast as today, and even innovative platform adopters like YouTube only had 10% of non-browser based content consumption.

In short, back then there was no crucial need for Contentful, except for only a small group of early adopters. Thankfully, in 2015 we are seeing customer uptake moving beyond early adopters to an “early majority”.

Another thing that we are experiencing is how purchasing is changing. In the past, you would expect a huge RFP with vendors and their partners filling out long form checklists and benchmarks, wine and dining, and the whole shebang.

Now, we see a lot of companies adopting agile development methodologies, and somehow this also translates into agile vendor selection, where the ability to get a product shipped in a short period of time and developers having an ever larger share of voice in decision making – or better influencing.

KI: Can you tell us what's in store for Contentful in the coming months? Is there anything planned to happen before the end of 2015 that our audience should know about?

CS: First off, being a cloud service means that we are liberated from a major release cycle, where every major release causes tons of hassle and updating frenzy for customer and partners. Instead, we roll out many incremental and subtle releases, often quickly delivering features based on our customers’ or prospects’ wishes.

But not to be too anticlimactic, we are currently focusing a lot on improving the editor experience, and will roll out major improvements in the next month. Also, are going to enhance the querying capabilities of our API, as well implement a much more sophisticated audit trail and permission system.

KI: Finally, if you had just three short sentences to sum up why an enterprising company should opt for Contentful over any other competitor, what would they be?

CS: Actually, the question is twofold: Why should I choose an API CMS is the first place? And if I know that an API CMS is the right thing for me, which one should i choose?

Focusing on the second question, amongst the existing API CMS on the market Contentful is by a large margin the most established and proven choice, with billions of API requests every month and mission-critical operations by some of the world's largest brands relying on Contentful.

Also, we put a lot of effort in developer support – from great docs to lots of SDKs and librarie, to example apps that you can use as a starting template to build your own app.

To find out more about Contentful, visit their website.