Two questions for you:
- What if multichannel software didn’t have to cost the earth?
- What if you knew of a way to deliver multi channel software that can meet the needs thousands of cool people?
What would you do?
Sit on it? Work out a business plan to bundle it up and sell it as typical 2nd generation software? Or would you go a different route after trying both?
I’d like to share a story of what happened last year, when looking for multichannel software to launch a new business onto eBay, Amazon and to build their own website and the typical options out there, just didn’t work.
Backed into a Corner
Back in March 2013 we were looking for multichannel software to launch a new business onto eBay, Amazon and to build their own website.
The natural option eSellerPro wasn’t an option and neither of us were fans of ChannelAdvisor, plus both of these were really expensive for a start up (you’re talking +£500 a month and £2,000 upfront costs), so we picked the next best option.
After 3 weeks in all the stuff I took for granted was missing.
- What do you mean we can’t import 61,000 products in one go?
- What do you mean we’ve got to assign one of the variations as being the parent sku?
- And where on earth are child sku’s?
As we dug deeper we soon realised that the normal alternative wasn’t going to work (I’m doing my best not to name them), it was so far away from what I was used to. What I took for granted that should be in multi-channel software, well… was missing.
This just isn’t working out is it? What are the options?
I don’t know we’ll try a different provider, after a phone call they also wanted £500 a month and 1% of sale because we had soo many products (61,000 is apparently lot for most companies).
This is just nuts, how could you start a multi-channel business without the software that was so sorely needed? There was no way this could be done manually. There was just too many products to do it with.
It can cope with that number of products easily, it can handle complex product relationships, variations, multi variations and so on…
After all it’s the most popular open source software to build eCommerce sites with and powers 26% of the top 1 million eCommerce with (see here), so it’s at least got to have a decent founding.
So that’s the inventory & order management part taken care of. Ok what about the eBay & Amazon part?
Why don’t we give M2E Pro a whirl? It can’t be that bad and hell it ain’t going to cost us £500 smackers to get started with is it?
So that’s what we did and what we ended up with something quite different.
Note: If you’ve never heard of M2EPro before, it’s an extension for Magento that allows you to use Magento for the order & inventory management and allows you to sell on to the marketplaces using the same inventory. Oh and it’s subsidised by eBay too.
“Did we just replicate eSellerPro?”
As near as dammit we had.
Yea not everything & all the bells & whistles, but it was close. Scarily close.
An import system that could take all 61,152 products in one hit, a templating system that allowed us to make comprehensive listings onto eBay with keywords, the stock levels were kept up to date pretty much in the same manner as what the Channel Profile does.
And for orders, well the framework was there to automatically deliver the orders to the supplier, then once the order was shipped, grab the tracking numbers and delivery back into Magento which in-turn, M2E Pro would pick up and notify eBay & Amazon.
Holy moo-moo, what if we bundle this up into a business?
So we did, we put the numbers down on paper, moved them, added, removed and that’s where we got stuck.
The numbers just didn’t work.
It wasn’t really until year 2 where after a huge amount of risk a lot of unknowns that such a business would hit any form of black. And that’s where it got curious…
If we couldn’t make the numbers work on software that was basically free, how the hell do the existing providers actually turn a profit? And that’s where things started to make sense, they do but they don’t. SaaS products/services tend to be highly lucrative, however the life is being sucked out of them by bloat.
So to support N number of businesses you need N number of support staff, N number of developers, N number of account managers and so on… Humans need humans, especially if you’re looking at a high monthly fee product and especially one that takes a percentage of their sale. It just doesn’t scale very well.
Basically, none of us particularly liked the numbers, great idea but we were all out.
I’m sat there with the tools and the knowledge to make a massive, positive difference to the world. But the normal thinking of bundling this up doesn’t work.
Dave, what if we gave it away for free?
Dave looked at me oddly.
Yea seriously what if we gave away the knowledge on how to do this?
It’s not the original business model, but we know that won’t work, the numbers say it won’t. So why don’t we take a completely different tack and share. I know that if you do something with passion, the money part kinda sorts itself out, I’ve seen this time and time again. I know it works.
Note: This is not for the faint of heart, you have to have some heavy form of commitment to even consider doing something like this, a topic for a different day
So that’s what we decided.
Show the world how they could gain access to low-cost multi-channel software, that didn’t cost £500 a month, didn’t come with all the expensive bloat and if you needed something extra then you bought it off the shelf, without paying oodles to support 100% of a product for which you were only likely to be using a mere 40%.
We hammered out a vision that encapsulated this, a goal for us to follow that followed this line of thinking and we came up with this:
“A hybrid of both free and paid for open source software where multi-channel business owners can pick & choose the tools that suit their business, both now and in the future.”
Quite a hefty goal, but that’s where we’re swinging for.
And that was back last September.
Since then we’ve been working our little socks off, mainly because I set such a ridiculously high goal that we’d have to think differently. Did we hit the final goal? No, but we got bloody close though.
We called it “UnderstandingE”, a name that I been sat on for a few years, it seemed perfect for what we wanted to do and that’s what we rolled with.
What I needed TEN Years ago
When working at Marketworks & eSellerPro, I always kept in the back of my mind, what did I need when selling online. “How does this port to what the person to I’m speaking to right now?” and crucially “How does that port to the multichannel software that I working with right now?”
I think that’s the key reasons why working at eSellerPro was like being a pig-in-poop, if it was a good idea and the demand was there, then it got put in. That was some wild times, but ultimately ended up in a product that has issues dealing with such a veracious amount of development being applied to it.
Basically in hindsight, it was overkill. Really good overkill I hasten to add and nothing has even got anywhere near it since.
Stuck in a rut
The thing is, businesses that are using current software tools they’re used to paying silly amounts each month and there does come a time where the brighter business owners work out that they’ve just paid way over £30,000 (say $50K USD) for software that yes has helped them to get them to the stage where they are at, but for that kind of money it’s starting to hurt and hurt bad.
Some of you reading this you’re just too far down the line, you’re too comfortable with paying this kind of money, as much as you hate it, you’re stuck with it.
And my advice for a long, long time has been not to move software providers, it’s painful and doesn’t happen over night. It’s really up to you to work out how much of a difference it would make to you and your business.
A Different Way
But what we can do is make a difference to the businesses that have not got to this stage of lock-in yet, that can still be nimble.
So thinking back to the original questions:
- What if you knew of a way to deliver multi channel software that met the needs thousands of cool people?
Yea I’m standing up (Dave too) and are firmly planting ourselves off the fence and are saying there is a different way. It doesn’t have to cost oodles, we’re not saying it’s free, but we’re saying that it’s a damn-sight cheaper than anything else out there and it’ll get you far, wayyy far down the line.
And there is nothing quite like putting money-where-your-mouth is, so that’s what we’ve done.
UnderstandingE went live on January 1st 2014 at around 4pm (kicking & fighting, we had to do an emergency site move the day before).
It’s not finished, it will never be finished. But we’ve started and that’s what matters.
Let’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
I don’t know where it leads, but to be honest it doesn’t matter where it ends, as it’s about the journey to find the end.
Fancy coming along for the journey?
Whack the button below and get dug in.
[button size=”large” style=”round” color=”blue” url=”http://understandinge.com/”]Say Hello to the 3rd Generation[/button]
PS. If you’re looking for me to write anything about eSellerPro over the next year, it’s doubtful. Even with my ability to remember screens and how things interact, that knowledge has been put aside, what’s been left undocumented is just that undocumented. It’s time to move on.