It’s Tuesday morning. I’ve checked my Premium Bond winnings for August and I’m 225GBP up before 9am. Buoyed by this early win, I cracked open a can of Monster Rehab, slipped a drinking straw in and had a victory sip. And with that, it’s time to tackle an ongoing project that I’m starting to lose patience with. It still has some life left in it. Exactly how much I don’t know.
A potted history
Pragmatika Data Security is going to be an online store. It’s been an online store previously, and ever since I left Sophos in 2006 I’ve wanted to do something to do something involving selling their wares. This is, perhaps, misguided or overly-nostalgic. Bluntly, why would I want to sell the product of a company that I no longer work for and was tactically ‘managed out’ of? Honestly, I am not totally sure.
Late 90s and early 2000s Sophos was at the top of its game, a few hundred people made up a company that punched above its weight. Then it got a bit stodgy and middle management multiplied. Acquisitions replaced development evolution and the portfolio grew considerably. What was a relatively straightforward product set a decade ago has evolved with the changing nature of computer use, and now it’s vast. As a Sophos partner I must (and will) abide by NDAs and confidentiality agreements, but I can say that the product + pricing matrix spreadsheet is almost as technical as the software itself.
I had a plan a few months ago to trial various online cart software products with a view to writing up my findings and ultimately selecting one based on my research. In the past, I’ve used Zen Cart and Magento. Zen Cart is a dim and distant memory, and I recall it being plagued with all manner of things that I couldn’t work around. Magento, equally, was a beast of a product but was streets ahead in terms of functionality. I have memories of an abusive relationship with Magento, the Stockholm Syndrome was strong with that one.
Both of these solutions, at the time I was using them, were run-it-yourself applications. That is to say, a download was snagged from Zen Cart or Magento, it was uploaded to my website, then cajoled into life. This involved a variety of dodgy hacks, software tweaks, much prodding and some swearing. I remember the time when I was building Green Shopping back in 2009 that I got so mad with Magento I punched my MacBook trackpad and broke it.
With all the punching and swearing, it was clear to me that I was perhaps not best suited to Magento for the long term. What worked in it’s favour was that I knew how it worked and it was free. That was a big draw for me, especially during the development phase where I can build, test, tweak and persuade without paying money to a cart provider. Regardless of whether I’m paying a monthly fee or not, there are always hours, days or weeks of development time involved. Each store is different, there is no one-size solution.
Pragmatika Data Security started on Zen Cart. It went on hiatus while my life went off the rails, and now I’m more settled I want to bring it back. I think. Probably. If I was filling out one of those 1 to 10 surveys where I can Strongly Disagree, Agree or Strongly Agree I’d be hovering just above Agree with some defensive body language.
It begins. Sort of.
I mention all this because earlier this year I forced myself to look a software as a service (SaaS) providers like Shopify, Lemonstand, Volusion et al. The premise here is that I don’t need to run the platform itself, no download/upload/cajole involved. I pay a monthly fee for someone else to take care of all that stuff, and I get to spend time tweaking. Online commerce is sometimes murky, and everyone wants to take a cut of your profits. For some SaaS cart vendors (hi there, Shopify), there’s a monthly fee and a percentage of sales on top of that. Then there’s credit card processing fees.
I absolutely do not begrudge any service provider charging for their services, not even slightly. What’s annoying me is that I haven’t yet found a solution I can work with for Pragmatika Data Security. It’s actually quite draining when there’s little or no progress being made, which is the case right now.
This is a true story, with some names omitted. A month ago I started a trial with a SaaS cart provider. It’s pretty common to have a one- or two-week free trial of a service to see how it plays out. I signed up for the trial and explored for a few hours. I got serious enough that I scheduled time into my days to set up test products with options akin to what I would want from the final product. In short, I was seeing if it was fit for purpose.
Overall, I was very pleased. It almost seemed too good to be true; I could have all my products displayed as I wanted them, with a smart and secure store for less money than I was budgeting per month. Good news. It was day three of my trial when I couldn’t find how to set a minimum and maximum order quantity, also known as MOQ. I’d used this feature before in Magento, so figured it was a fairly common thing with most cart setups.
A week ago, I received an email reply from the vendor CEO with an apology for not responding sooner. This was a pleasant surprise, though it’s not the first time I’ve had email to-and-fro with this particular person; back in the first half of 2013 there was another email thread. The CEO in question was very personable, respectful and straightforward — I recall at the time being a bit perplexed as to why a CEO would be emailing me directly, but the more I deal with small & growing businesses the more I encounter it.
The MOQ stuff was clarified as not being a priority, with single-digit number of requests from paying clients. I still couldn’t see it on the public roadmap, though. I was offered a generous discount if I would sign up and become a paying customer, giving me more influence with the development process. The store I want to open needed MOQ to be in place at launch, and so I countered with a proposal for an annual upfront payment to commence at the start of MOQ being available to customers and an extended evaluation period in the meantime, during which time I could build my store innards.
I had budgeted for the second tier of 4 packages, the first being the cheapest, no frills option and the fourth being a get in touch with us option; that’s way beyond my needs. I could afford a year upfront for the first tier and, with some finagling I could just about cover the second tier if required. Yesterday I was told the MOQ feature I want would be developed as an extension to the the third tier, but that I could get tier three for the price of tier two for a year if I could pay upfront, something that I’d already proposed in an earlier email, and could help steer some of the development during the beta testing phase.
It ends. For now.
I have, respectfully, declined the discounts and offers. It made me nervous that something I need to run with is effectively ransomed to that third tier. It’s an awkward chicken and egg situation that I need something they don’t currently offer, but don’t have the budget to help fund. I don’t have any connection to the vendor in question beyond being interested in their product, and I’m hoping to use them in a future project with less specific requirements.
As I began my morning walk today, I worked through some of the cart vendor thought processes and decided that Magento might be the best solution for now. Then I read about Magento layoffs. Not a good sign. Yes, the software itself is available as a free download, but it’s so darned complex that if eBay (its owners) decide to jettison it like they did with Skype, who knows where it’ll end up.
I signed up for another SaaS vendor trial today, but the button confirming my details didn’t seem to work in my browser. I closed the browser and started to write this instead.
Magento — sweetheart — I loathe you. See you at dinner. I’ve cleaned the house. Don’t beat me up too much.