The CEO of Wix, Avishai Abrahami, doesn’t fear that AI will destroy the web. Today, I spoke with Avishai Abrahami, the CEO of Wix, a competitor to WordPress and Squarespace, known for its website building capabilities. However, the company’s focus has shifted to providing software to assist business owners in managing their companies. Avishai has established an intriguing framework within Wix to facilitate this shift.
Wix, an Israeli company, operates from its headquarters in Tel Aviv. Our conversation touched on the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on the company, making for an intense discussion at times. The primary focus of our conversation was the future of the web, particularly in light of the anticipated influx of low-cost AI-generated SEO spam. With many small businesses and creators favoring platforms like TikTok or Instagram over the web, I raised the question of why anyone would want to build a website in 2023.
Given Wix’s significant investment in AI, enabling the construction of complete websites through a chatbot on their platform, I was keen to explore Avishai’s perspective on AI-generated content and its impact on customers, especially if it leads to a web filled with AI-generated subpar content. We also delved into Wix’s role in the moderation landscape, given its unique position between infrastructure providers and social networks.
Our conversation also touched on complicated moderation decisions, such as Etsy’s recent ban on merchandise featuring the phrase “from the river to the sea,” and whether Wix would consider a similar ban on its platform. Avishai provided a clear stance on content moderation, emphasizing Wix’s approach to the subject.
Additionally, I inquired about the Israeli government’s involvement in Wix’s operations during the war, as well as whether recent news reports about the company firing employees for incendiary rhetoric regarding the conflict might influence its moderation policies.
This interview was conducted just before the tumult at OpenAI.The events that led to Sam Altman’s firing and rehiring within a single week have been quite surprising. In the following conversation, Avishai and I discuss OpenAI and ChatGPT. Wix has been a long-time customer of OpenAI and relies on its technology. Little did we know that significant events were about to unfold when we had this conversation.
Avishai Abrahami, the CEO of Wix, joins the conversation.
Avishai Abrahami: Thank you, it’s my pleasure to be here.
Interviewer: You are talking to us from your offices in Tel Aviv. Thank you for making the time. Let’s start at the start. What is Wix?
Avishai describes Wix as a platform that enables everyone to easily create web content and websites. Over time, the company has evolved from creating simple pages in Flash to offering a comprehensive range of business solutions, including e-commerce transactions, scheduling, restaurant orders, backend management, and customer engagement.
He further explains that Wix is designed to be user-friendly, comparable to using PowerPoint or Excel. While these applications may not be easy for everyone, they allow users with computer knowledge to create remarkable content. Avishai emphasizes the goal of making Wix accessible for users with a range of computer skills.
The interviewer draws comparisons between Wix and Excel/PowerPoint, highlighting the potential for Wix to serve as a platform for creating other applications.
The discussion concludes with an exploration of Wix’s diverse customer base, from individuals creating simple web pages to businesses utilizing Wix as an application layer for their operations.
The conversation sheds light on Wix’s evolution from a website creation tool to a comprehensive business platform, catering to a wide range of users with varying technical expertise.
Are businesses able to tailor the applications to their specific needs or are these more of a one-size-fits-all solution?
We have templates, mainly for the visual aspect, but we also offer applications designed for specific types of businesses. For instance, we have an app for restaurants that facilitates various restaurant operations. Additionally, we have apps tailored for hair salons, gyms, e-commerce, and physical stores, which can be integrated with Wix to manage businesses, process orders, handle reservations, and coordinate events. These are separate applications that can be added on top of the Wix platform.
So, all of these operations are conducted through the web?
Yes, these tasks are managed through web-based applications. Whether it’s about displaying information, managing schedules, booking classes, or executing marketing strategies, Wix provides comprehensive solutions. For instance, if you own a gym, we can offer a web-based solution along with a native application for iOS and Android devices that allows you to handle memberships, track attendance, and provide reservation functionality for members.
So, Wix is not just a website builder; it’s a provider of small business software solutions?
Exactly, Wix is more than just a website builder. We offer a range of software solutions for small businesses including the development and deployment of custom applications across various platforms.
Do you mainly cater to small businesses, and is this a growing market?
While we also serve enterprises and individuals with personal sites, the majority of our clients are small and micro businesses, and this market segment is indeed expanding.
Is the growth of small businesses organic, or do you actively engage in outbound marketing?
Given the strength of our brand, our marketing efforts primarily serve to supplement our existing market presence. We currently attract approximately 2 million signups each month.
How large is your team at Wix? And is it predominantly based in Israel?
Avishai Abrahami, CEO of Wix, has seen the company grow significantly since its founding 17 years ago. Despite having to make some adjustments, the company’s structure remains similar to its original setup.
Abrahami explained that while there were some layoffs during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wix primarily refrained from rehiring after experiencing a decrease in demand following the global economic downturn. He further elaborated on Wix’s organizational structure, likening each division within the company to its own independent startup.
He emphasized the importance of hiring intelligent individuals and empowering them to manage their respective divisions as if they were standalone businesses. This approach has enabled Wix to adapt and thrive in diverse markets, with a unified infrastructure that encourages collaboration and code-sharing.
Abrahami cited Wix’s Nile project as an example of the company’s unified infrastructure, which automates server architecture and facilitates code-sharing among various projects. He also highlighted the use of unified user interface libraries and common code, enabling bug fixes and feature enhancements to benefit all divisions within the company.
By prioritizing a unified codebase and streamlined processes, Wix has positioned itself for continued growth and innovation while maintaining a cohesive and efficient organizational structure.
The challenge of managing multiple divisions and customer sets
When managing multiple divisions or units with differing needs, finding a balance becomes essential. While each division may want to operate autonomously, complete independence can lead to chaos.
For example, when building a web service, there is a wealth of resources available. However, the dynamics change when managing and maintaining a large number of web services. The initial agility can turn into a hindrance when dealing with a significant volume of services.
Accumulating numerous services without early intervention can result in a daunting migration process, hampering the overall agility of the company.
Implementing discipline and standardization is crucial, despite developers’ inclination to explore new methods. In the long run, such discipline proves to be essential for the company’s infrastructure.
As demonstrated by the example of Nile, initial resistance to new infrastructure can evolve into widespread adoption as its value becomes apparent. Ensuring developer-friendly infrastructure is crucial for fostering innovation within the company.
Divisions and infrastructure allocation
The smallest team we have is about 15.
Is that for engineering, design, or product management? Is it a standard team, or how does it work?
Exactly, it’s about proving the viability of their work. They need to demonstrate the opportunity before increasing the team size. The largest team is around 190 people.
What are the smallest and largest teams?
The smallest team focuses on online education, while the largest team is the editor team.
Is the editor X the new editor?
No, the entire editor group is managed as one, with smaller teams below it.
Is Studio the tool to create a Wix website?
Yes, the new tool is called Wix Studio.
After more than 17 years as CEO, how do you approach decision-making?
I don’t make decisions frequently. It’s better to delegate and empower others to make smart decisions within defined rules and measures of success. We have a meticulous method for decision-making and measure everything rigorously.
The culture at Wix encourages making big bets and taking risks in developing new products. As echoed by Nir Zohar, Wix’s President and COO, “Sometimes, there is no single way to anticipate what kind of change will happen.” This bold approach is underpinned by a focus on understanding the pain points of their customers. Zohar emphasized the importance of feedback and the need to encourage testing and experimenting, regardless of the outcomes, in order to drive innovation.
Zohar also discussed the strategic approach Wix takes in decision-making, emphasizing the use of data to create roadmaps and the importance of strategic thinking in guiding the company’s direction. He noted the necessity of balancing data-driven insights with visionary strategic bets, such as their focus on AI, which may not have historical data to support them.
Furthermore, Zohar highlighted the significance of understanding customer needs when developing new products, stressing the importance of empathy and usability. He emphasized that the key to predicting successful products lies in understanding what the customer is trying to achieve, rather than just focusing on their demographic identity.
In terms of encouraging innovation within the company, Wix actively measures and promotes interactions with customers among its product teams. This practice is aimed at fostering a deep understanding of customer pain points, which in turn informs the development of solutions that directly address these needs.
Nir Zohar’s perspective on building successful products diverges from traditional views by focusing on understanding the customer’s goals rather than solely their demographic profile. This approach aligns with Wix’s bold bets on future technologies, such as AI, and highlights the company’s commitment to innovation and customer-centric product development.
Zohar’s insights offer a unique perspective on product development, emphasizing the need to understand and address customer needs as the foundation for successful innovation. This customer-centric approach is evident in Wix’s strategic focus and their pioneering investments in technologies like AI, which demonstrate a commitment to shaping the future of the web.
Wix.com has introduced ADI, an AI designed for creating websites. With this tool, users can provide minimal input and it will autonomously generate the entire website. While it is not as sophisticated as transformer-based AI, the algorithm, developed in 2017, is capable of swiftly creating functional websites.
When attempting to implement an AI-based project within the company, it initially faced resistance. However, over time, the acceptance of AI technology increased significantly. ADI became an influential mass-market product, marking a notable shift in the perception and utility of AI technology. This widespread usage provided valuable insights that suggest a significant transformation across various industries, not just confined to web development.
In terms of utilizing OpenAI models, Wix.com does not have its own LLM and currently relies on OpenAI as the most superior option available. While the quality disparity between different AI-generated texts may reduce in the future, OpenAI is presently the preferred choice for the company.
Assessing the quality of AI-generated text is primarily based on customer satisfaction, which serves as a suitable indicator. Despite not exploring other options such as Bard, Wix.com has been utilizing OpenAI for over a year with positive outcomes.
Regarding the cost and revenue model, Wix.com currently sponsors OpenAI for its customers due to the significant value it adds to conversions. Although there may be plans to introduce a charging structure in the future, the current priority is to maintain free accessibility to Wix’s OpenAI service, which significantly enhances user experience and conversion rates.
In the long term, Wix.com anticipates the cost of OpenAI to decrease, making it a commodity accessible at competitive prices without compromising quality.
It is my desire to remain with OpenAI as I have been their partner for an extended period. I anticipate a decrease in cost. What are your thoughts on this? Let me turn the question around for a moment.