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If there’s anything that Facebook Messenger, Slack, and Operator have shown, it’s that we’re in an era of conversational commerce. It’s an environment where phone calls are eschewed in favor of instant messaging. But even with more applications and services incorporating chat services, until recently, developers were resigned to building their own. Now, with the communication platform Layer, things have gotten much easier for many — in fact, the company reports that it’s now integrated into nearly 500 live applications.
Although it’s been around since 2013, Layer publicly launched last February. During this time, it had “roughly 30 applications” using its communications infrastructure, but in the past year that number has increased 177 percent. Layer CEO Ron Palmeri explained that although some may consider 500 applications a small number, he thinks of it as the “right sample group” to understand where there’s something interesting to be created.
“As we built this out, we really discovered the full range of what it takes to build a best in class messaging stack and deliver it at scale,” he said. “It started out with a request for sample code, and when we dug deeper, we really understood what a very helpful thing is an open-source user interface framework in how messaging gets synced and customizable.”
“We covered the sweet spot in what people need,” Palmeri went on to say. “Layer only released in Q4…and we’re seeing it now, substantial acceleration in the number and type of apps due to the backend integrations, web hooks, and open UI framework. That took us a while to get to that foundation. Now that we have it, we’re going to see more customers.”
According to Gartner, by 2017, 50 percent of all U.S. online commercial revenue will come from mobile. What’s more, the research firm predicts that by the end of this year, more than $2 billion will be spent on ecommerce stores just through mobile digital assistants. The bottom line is, brands want to communicate with their customers.
In a time when platforms dominate the landscape, Layer is looking to monopolize the messaging space, as Twilio seems to have done with telephony and SMS. Layer’s ask is simple: Developers shouldn’t have to spend countless hours building their own communication feature; instead, they can let Layer do it for them using its suite of tools.
Facebook is taking this approach with its Messenger platform and has brought on board retail companies like Everlane and Zulily. However, trust can be an issue. “A lot of the companies we talked to, they may be present in a Facebook context, but they don’t want to give up their users and data, and the relationships they have with customers,” Palmeri said.
“Facebook is doing incredibly interesting work but they’re pulling everything into their context,” he continued. “The companies that we talked to want their own customer relationship. They don’t want it to go through Facebook. What’s interesting is that Facebook is pushing the ball forward as to what’s expected in messaging, which helps us.”
And while Facebook operates on one end of the spectrum, on the other end are services like Operator, which Palmeri complimented as being “a great example of building a messaging service around the commerce experience.” Layer cofounder Tomaz Stolfa believes that brands want to feel like the experience customers get when interacting with their business represents the brand. “They don’t want to let it go to a fully wide non-branded storefront.”
Layer claims that some companies using its platform have seen a 25 percent increase in engagement and retention rates. The company believes that its service enables developers to focus less on the programming and more on the overall experience users have when communicating with a business on its native app. Some companies already using Layer include GoButler, Hinge, Udacity, Forbes, and Trunk Club.
Now that the company is accelerating adoption of its platform, Palmeri said that it’s not wasting time releasing more updates: “We are fundamentally building this core messaging service so that any conceivable pattern that a designer, product manager, CEO can imagine, Layer will be able to service that.” The platform will add new integrations and should be viewed as a service creating “a great unbundling of capabilities that Facebook is pushing into Messenger.”
“We want to make communication better in the products that they use daily,” explained Stolfa. “The way we’re evolving the product is around things for the core messaging product that would add value on experience. We’ll have really cool things to show very soon.”
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