Fast Forward San Francisco: The (Golden) gate to going composable

Fast Forward San Francisco was a golden gate to composable content, building a better brand and replatforming without sacrificing speed or reliability.
December 9, 2022


The team at Contentful has been quite the jet setters recently, traveling around the world to champion composable content. We hosted in-person Fast Forward events in Berlin, New York, and London before rounding out the roadshow in San Francisco on Dec. 6. 

While San Francisco is home to one of Contentful’s three offices, instead of hosting the event in our conference rooms, we decided to go out with a bang. We invited attendees to the stunning hotel Nikko in the heart of Union Square for deep discussions on the trajectory of digital content and product demos. 

And, just like our Berlin, New York, and London stops, we didn’t go at it alone — several partners and customers joined the conversation, offering thought leadership and sharing their first-hand experience with Contentful. Plus, Contentful CEO Steve Sloan took the stage.

We don’t want to gatekeep (or should we say golden gatekeep) the insights and advice shared, so here’s a high-level look at what was covered during our afternoon panels.

Contentful CEO Steve Sloan at Fast Forward Roadshow San Francisco

Customer panel: How consistent brand reputations get built

Steve Sloan kicked off the afternoon outlining our vision of a composable content platform. He was followed by Julie LaPlante, Vice President of Customer Success, leading a panel of customers from Heap Analytics, Peloton, Stripe, and UiPath.

For Peloton, Contentful has brought forth a dynamistic era. According to Clarissa Woods, the brand is no longer flatfooted when confronted with urgent content change requests — like lower APRs or last-minute holiday promotions.

“We sometimes get requests to change content in less than a day and you can imagine there's different markets, languages, and platforms to consider. But the beauty of Contentful is it’s super quick to respond to those changes and in a way that isn't all hands on deck. We actually have a process for this now —  it's pretty easy to go in, locate and change content in one place and have it show everywhere with that sort of modular infrastructure.”

With an understanding of the agility and iteration composable architecture offers established, the conversation shifted to the potential drawbacks of so much flexibility and freedom — something of chief concern for financial service software company Stripe. 

Over the years, the company has cultivated a dedicated following which Jamie Kosoy, Engineering Manager at Stripe, compares to that of Apple. Jamie credits the brand’s user-first principle for this. He also acknowledges that this could shift in the blink of an eye should the wrong hands get into the wrong bucket of content.

“We don't want to give individuals the power to hurt Stripe’s reputation. We don't expect everybody to know design or to understand [how the platform works],” he says. The company’s engineering team is a  big believer in content governance and workflows to prevent such issues and retain the loyalty of their customers. 

Skipping ahead, Julie asked attendees what each company planned to do with Contentful over the next 12 months. Ben Lempert, Director of Web and Content with Heap Analytics, said what was likely on every panelist's mind.

Their goal, he said, is “to strategically reuse messaging across the site so that every site visitor, no matter where they come from, gets a message that is both tailored to them but consistent with everything elsewhere.”

Customer panel: How consistent brand reputations get built

Customer spotlight: Replatforming with the reward of reliable delivery

Next, Reuben Kabel, VP of Digital Platforms at Hydrow, joined Tara McGrath, Managing Director of Client Services at Contentful partner Gorilla Group, to discuss how — with Gorilla Group’s support — the budding Live Outdoor Reality (LOR) rowing machine retailer replatformed to a content management system that'd better communicate the premium nature of its products. 

To Hydrow, creating this caliber of content and experience mandated a platform that boasted ease of authorship and agility — things the retailer wasn’t getting from its previous solution. According to Reuben:

“We've been able to reimagine our digital content experience. Everything from site micro copy to broader activations that took days are now down to hours and minutes for publishing — which really allows us to distribute what we want. And at the same time, on the front end, the buying experience and [website] is incredibly fast.”

Reuben then divulged that the true test for the new site came less than 24 hours after replatforming when Hydrow’s marketing team told him that Khloe Kardasian would be promoting its rowing machine on her Instagram account — which has over 300 million followers.

Although Reuben had little time to sweat the possibility of downtime in the face of high traffic following this promotion — he didn’t need to sweat it at all. Hydrow’s Contentful-powered site didn’t flicker as site visitors stacked up.

“We didn't see any of the performance impacts that  we were concerned about — I think on different platforms that would’ve happened. We were really thrilled to be able to support  such a large influencer collaboration for our marketing stakeholders immediately after launching the site,” he told Tara. 

While we can’t guarantee that all Contentful customers will come across wild celebrity collabs like this (but here’s hoping),  we can help ensure agility and improved authorship following a replatform — especially with added support from a solution partner such as Gorilla Group. 

Customer spotlight: Replatforming with the reward of reliable delivery

Partner panel: Content experiences set to the speed of streaming services

You might wonder how customers like Hydrow go from monolith to composable so quickly (and without fuss internally). Most don’t — as with the adoption of any new technology or architecture, it takes many Contentful champions time and effort to get buy-in.

This topic was front and center during our San Francisco Roadshow, which featured representatives from Apply Digital, Appnovation, commercetools, Netlify, and Kin+Carta

Dina Apostolou, Contentful Vice President of Content and Experience Marketing and panel moderator, kept the conversation flowing by asking panelists to share what they perceive to be the most pressing customer demands today. After all, meeting those needs or running into barriers along the way are what drive brands to modernize their technologies and ways of working.

There was unanimous agreement that delivery at the speed of light and moderate personalization were the hook, line, and sinker for attracting, converting, and retaining customers.

As Alison Hawkyard, Head of Business Development at Apply Digital, puts it, “customers are no longer okay when their healthcare provider isn't offering the same amazing experiences as streaming providers. We have become very, very used to having digital experiences integrated into our lives which are extremely easy to use.”

She went on to explain how pharmaceutical tycoon Moderna purposely sought out Apply Digital to support its Contentful implementation because of the solution partner’s track record with entertainment brands. 

Brian Browning, Vice President of Technology at Kin + Carta, added to Alison's analysis of customer trends, speaking to the fact that excellence is also expected in how companies speak to and serve the individual customer. 

“We expect personalized experiences. We expect brands to understand the context of the customer journey an individual is on. Maybe they’re there to educate themselves about something, but maybe they’re there to actually conduct a transaction. Regardless, you should know who they are and what they’re trying to do.” 

Panelist Gavin Estey, Vice President of Technology at Appnovation, warned that customer experience isn’t the only thing that should be considered. Doing so fails to consider the important role that developer or market experience plays in creating such an experience.

Wrapping it up in a bow, Gavin said, “traditionally, everyone focuses on that front-end experience, that great user experience and those backstage experiences — the altering experience, the developer experience, that internal experience needs to match it one for one in terms of quality.“ 

Dina then asked the panelists to consider how onboarding technology, such as Contentful, with the intention to create a balanced customer and internal user experience has changed over time.  

“Before the process was [immediate, widespread adoption] — customers would say ‘I’m gonna go build this experience and see if it returns business value.’ That's not how they do it anymore. Now what we do is we say, ‘Let’s put it in the water and see if it will float.’ We want to prove that this works, and their viability behind this before we ask you for the bigger investment,” noted Brian.

For Alison and Apply Digital, the approach is similar. “It's really about enabling that test and learning culture within these massive enterprises,” she said.

Gavin added to Brian and Alison's comments and ended the session with an explanation of why composable solutions lend themselves so well to proof of concepts.

“To focus more on composability. No one who adopts it says, ‘ love that architecture, but could you make it more monolithic.’ I think what’s really tied to the success of this architecture is that people can make bets on smaller, less risky pieces of the puzzle and refine their existing solution.”

Ask the Experts in action at FF SF

Dropping out of San Francisco with dim sum

As the day drifted into happy hour, we invited customers and partners to continue the day’s conversations with us over drinks, dim sum, and live music in the Anzu Room.

Although the mixer marked the end of the conference and Fast Forward as a whole, it was also a celebration — a celebration of a new era for content and all the goodness it inspires. 

For our technology partners, this new era of composability means endless possibilities for integrating content and tools.

For our solution partners, it means greater confidence in their ability to set clients up for scalable success.

For our customers, it means enabling everyone on the team to build consistent and captivating experiences at scale.

And for Contentful, it means building a new category once again — one that gives everyone the freedom to love what they build.

Solving the bigger problems

For a high-level view on all the major announcements stemming from Fast Forward Live, check out these posts:

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Editor’s note: statements made by speakers have been edited for clarity.

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