Talking with Elastic Path

Elastic Path is a high end online-operations provider focusing on businesses with annual online sales in the $5M-$200M range. I was able to chat with Jason Billingsley of Elastic Path yesterday about his company and the world of shopping carts.

TheCartBlog: Looks like you’ve got a lot of Java in your product – tell me about that.

Jason: Most enterprise software is written in Java these days. There would be a lot of pushback from our customers if we offered a scripted solution. We look at PHP as really an entree into web development, not something we could put into a large scale project. We also have a desktop client which uses the Eclipse RCP, which our developers just really love.

TheCartBlog: What do you think the best entry level solutions are?

Jason: What we tell people who are doing less than 1M in sales annually is that they should really look at Yahoo stores. Some of our conversions involve vendors who are doing $35-40M annually on Yahoo stores, so there’s no question that it’s scalable. They take a cut of your sales, but you save the hassle of maintaining your cart.

TheCartBlog: What about Magento?

Jason: Roy and his team have done something really special … I think this could be revolutionary for the entry level. In fact, sometimes we look at their work and think “gee, that’s an interesting feature; we should do that!” Of course, he’s done the same with our work, so there’s a lot of cross-pollination going on. LOL!

TheCartBlog: So you think Magento could take off?

Jason: I think that if they develop workable migration plans for people coming off OSCommerce, it absolutely could.

TheCartBlog: What parts of Magento are you most excited about?

Jason: The idea of pushbutton upgrade is absolutely brilliant. Now of course, in order to play well with a feature like that, you’re depending on developer compliance with your modification guidelines and best practices.

TheCartBlog: You’re not saying some developers would take a shortcut and circumvent the proper procedures, are you? 🙂

Jason: LOL! You can buy Elastic Path in source or object code format, depending on your customization needs, and we have customers who tell us, “don’t give us the source! We’re afraid we’ll mess it up!”

TheCartBlog: What’s the split between DIY’ers and people who also contract with you for professional services?

Jason: About 50/50. Our customers typically have a significant existing infrastructure, so there’s going to be systems integration work – some want to do it in house; others outsource it to us.

TheCartBlog: Say, speaking of outsourcing, I know this sole proprietorship that does software development

Jason: LOL we haven’t worked with sole proprietors for at least five years.

TheCartBlog: D-ohhh!

Jason: You need to be significantly larger to handle the customers we have. Right now we’re working with outfits like Avenue A – Razorfish.

TheCartBlog: Wow.

Jason: Yeah. We’re actually envious of the creative resources they have – but they’re a great partner.

TheCartBlog: So what’s next for Elastic Path?

Jason: We’re seeing a lot of really unique buildouts now. Of course the classic model of online operations is you have a catalog, you do payment processing and order fulfillment, etc. but what we’re doing now is different things. For instance, there’s the Netflix model of subscription and product queue, or TV enabled transactions where people order products and services using their remotes.

TheCartBlog: That’s fantastic. Congratulations on your tremendous growth, and we’ll look for great things coming from Elastic Path.

Elastic Path has a staff of 80 people and is currently hiring. Their offices are in Vancouver, Canada. Thanks, guys!

E-Commerce for Everyone – an Amazon Storefront solution

I have blogged before about how I admire Amazon’s associate program. Their widget solutions make it even easier to sell targeted products on your niche website. But to take it to the next level, to create a storefront, you really need at least some web skills – HTML, CSS and probably Javascript.

E-Commerce for Everyone is lowering this barrier by providing a hosted solution for Amazon storefronts. This is an interesting idea; we’ll see if it catches on. The vendor claims that freedom of design and video reviews are the key differentiators of his offering.

Non-hosted alternative: Instant Associate Store.

Free alternative: Amazon aStore (many limitations).

Magento installation – not there yet

Last weekend I upgraded my system and installed Magento. Since my Linux system is still on FC4, I had to download Apache and PHP sources and rebuild them by hand – no yum for you, young man! This was an interesting experience, and was useful in its own right since it allowed me to start using PHP’s built-in SOAP calls in some other software I’m writing.
However, Magento was disappointing. It kind-of sort-of works sometimes, but mostly I get these incredibly irritating blank page errors.

Magento errors

Based on what I’m seeing on their forum, this might be related to PHP 5.2.5. We’ll see …

Update: It seems that by using the private (192.168) IP address instead of localhost and updating httpd.conf to explicitly set the include path, you can get around this problem.

Key Magento resources

Magento documentation is really building up.  Here are a handful of key links.

Wiki:  http://www.magentocommerce.com/wiki/

Knowledge Base:  http://www.magentocommerce.com/knowledge-base

Design Guide: http://www.magentocommerce.com/design_guide

Magento Architecture: http://www.magentocommerce.com/wiki/doc/magento-architecture

Create new page/custom module: http://www.magentocommerce.com/boards/viewthread/2191

Customization: http://www.magentocommerce.com/wiki/how-to/customize_part_of_configuration

The Magento Partner Program

The Varien guys did a webcast yesterday talking about the Magento Partner Program.   It’s an interesting idea and I’ll probably become an associate ($350); I suspect this will be required to participate in Magento Connect, the online marketplace for software and services.  I would actually be willing to consider participating at a higher level (assuming the benefits were commensurate), except that the higher levels have a certification requirement, which is an additional $1000 in cost.    They were a little vague about this; perhaps in the future you’ll just be able to do the training independently and take a test for a lower fee.