Headless CMS platform Payload goes open source

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The WordPress Content Management System (CMS) may be the world’s favorite, powering about 40% of the world’s websites, but options are steaming up with the promise of a more sophisticated approach to help companies create and manage all their digital content.

One of them is the payload, which was recently accepted in the Y Combinator (YC) Summer 2022 batch with 500,000 funding, promising developers the “most powerful” TypeScript headless CMS. And now, the company has completely switched to open source model.


“Headless,” for uninitiated, refers to an underlying software architecture where backend and frontend decoupling, giving developers maximum freedom and flexibility. With headless CMS, users have backend tools and technologies to create and manage content, but can use third-party front-end technology (in any language they want), including popular frameworks like React.

Headless is part of a broad set of design principles known as MACH (Microservices, API, Cloud and Headless), which gives companies greater flexibility and access to the best technology for every task at hand.

There is already no shortage of options in the headless CMS space, with the choices of Storyblock, Prism, Contentful and Contentstock each increasing in the multimillion-dollar funding rounds over the past year. But while they are the best at managing content, given that they host all of their customer data and APIs, they may not be appropriate for every use-case – this limits how companies customize features in their websites and applications. Can.

There are also options that exist in the open-source “self-hosted” sector, including Directus and Strappy. But Payloid argues that its “unique” approach lies in the fact that it is designed with developers in mind, giving them “all the tools and features” needed to develop websites, native applications, ecommerce platforms and more. .

These include user-authentication, which can power individual customer accounts in an eCommerce application or SaaS product, or even an online game to enable players to track their progress over time. Additionally, Payload offers GraphQL, REST, and a local API, enabling subsequent developers to create programmatic ways to retrieve data in an application without having to make a web call. And then there are the “hooks” that allow companies to build payloads more like application frameworks than traditional CMS. Hooks can be used to automatically integrate with payment providers (e.g., Stripe) to process payments whenever an order is generated, or to send copies of all files uploaded to an object storage service such as Amazon’s S3.

So, Payload handles things like APIs and admin panels, saves backend developers a lot of time and effort and allows their frontend counterparts to work with whatever tools they like. It all boils down to flexibility.

“Freedom is powerful,” Elliott Dinolph, co-founder and CTO of Payload, told VentureBeat.

WordPress factor

But let’s take a step back. If WordPress is so ubiquitous, surely it must be doing something right – what is the real problem that payload and its headless people want to solve?

“While WordPress runs most of the Internet today, it was built as a blogging platform, but since then it has been pushed to many other use-cases for which it is not suitable,” said Denolfe.

Indeed, when WordPress powers all kinds of websites today, developers often have to force them to do things for which they were not actually designed. And while it is possible to develop custom functionality in WordPress, according to Dinolph, it is often done using “old code conventions and unorganized patterns”.

“Web developers these days use frontend frameworks like Feedback to build their websites and they want a powerful backend to accommodate that decision,” Denolfe explained.

Additionally, since payloads are based on typescript, anyone who knows JavaScript will be able to reach the ground by walking with payloads.

It is also worth noting that people in WordPress have noticed the headless CMS movement. Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com and the driving force behind the open-source WordPress project, recently acquired Frontier to help developers leverage WordPress as a headless CMS with React.


Initially established in 2018, Payload is used to pilot and launch a variety of digital products, from online video games and mobile apps to web apps and websites. However, the payload has only been available in public beta since last year and its official launch is marked by its conversion into an open-source product available under the MIT license. The reasons behind this decision are manifold, but in the end, it all comes down to promoting transparency with its users.

“The number one advantage for us to switch to the OSS model was just trust,” Dinolf said. “We want users to know that our product will be around and they can use it as they wish. Open licenses like MIT allow this and also reduce friction when it comes to adopting payloads everywhere.

This also indicates a large-scale business model shift for payload, although it was previously only available through proprietary licenses requiring payment for more than one user in the admin panel.

“We sold a lot of licenses and got a very good response, but the fact that we had proprietary licenses made us a little more cautious about using our product,” Denolfe said.

The financial gap created by this transition has been filled by a new enterprise-focused offer, which will include technical support and service as well as the sale of plugins for single-sign-on (SSO), two-factor authentication (2FA), audit logging and metrics. – Level Agreements (SLAs).

However, as an open-source product with enterprise support, this payload strongly indicates the target market size – it’s not specifically SMEs or ventures, it’s just developers. And it has a very large audience, although each company is effectively a software company these days.

“Any developer or team that needs to manage digital content for power experiences can use the payload and that means our audiences have access to everything from solo developers building their portfolio site to mission-critical enterprises that want to create, “Denolph said. “Many digital development agencies are finding great value in adopting payloads as their primary CMS, which over time allows them to become more efficient while delivering effective solutions to their customers.”

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