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Tag Archives: JadedPixel Shopify
Financial management is the delicate balancing act that transforms marketing success, operational results, and managerial savvy into a viable, durable business. In order for a small business to be efficient and effective in managing its finances, computerized accounting and digital financial services tools must become part of its daily kit. While such tools are traditionally desktop-based software programs, a new breed of online financial management applications has emerged in the last few years, taking advantage of the growing confidence that businesses are developing in the Web as a safe business environment. Now that entrepreneurs are indeed becoming comfortable with the “software in the cloud” model and the inherent benefits it offers, they are in growing numbers starting to look beyond e-mail or office productivity to more sophisticated and sensitive applications like financials. Web-based financial management applications are not new — think online brokerage and banking. But fully featured online packages are just now fully blooming, not only rivaling in functionality their desktop-based counterparts, but also extending their usefulness through value-added online services such as bill payments, electronic checks issuance, digital invoicing, or customer credit verification. Moreover their collaborative features, such as multi-user access and accountant view make it a natural fit for the “on the go” lifestyle of most modern small business managers. Accounting online The heavyweight of small business accounting, Intuit, has launched an online alternative to its Quickbooks software that can be finally considered a valid option. While its previous attempts were not very successful, the current version of Quickbooks Online, priced from free to $34.95/month, is a quality product that, while not as powerful as the desktop version, does a pretty good job. Peachtree, a longtime small business favorite, also has debuted a well featured online version starting at $150/year and representing a very viable alternative. Notable new online-only accounting packages for small businesses include Clarity Accounting and Less Accounting which is nicely integrated via mashups with Web favorites such as Basecamp, Shopify, and PayPal. Almost ready to re-launch is NetBooks, a product with a bit of a troubled history, but with a very interesting and complete set of features and now in final Beta release. Accounts can now be opened and used for free. A truly superb product, designed for mature small businesses is Intacct. Created from the ground up as a Web-based application, it provides very sophisticated accounting features and it natively integrates with a number of other Web-based software offerings such as Salesforce.com. For even more mature and large organizations, requiring not just accounting but a comprehensive online suite of business management applications, NetSuite is the leader in the space. Online bill payment If you think for a moment about what it is truly involved in paying your business bills using the traditional checkbook and snail mail, it is not difficult to imagine that there must be a better way to do it. Well, there is, and it is called “online bill payment.” While banks have offered similar services for quite a while as part of their online banking offerings, there are independent services that go well beyond the electronic check, and make the process of receiving, screening, tracking, and paying bills extremely efficient. Both Paytrust — owned by Intuit — and CheckFree can receive bills on your behalf, scan them, make them available to you in digital format via a secure Web interface, and allow you to pay them with a click of the mouse, issuing an electronic check or an EFT order. This approach can be adopted for all vendors and all invoices, and cuts the average time needed to process a bill by more than 50 percent — in my experience — and greatly simplifies the record keeping aspect, eliminating paperwork. Online invoicing When it comes to get paid, or at least to efficiently issue and send invoices, there are a plethora of Web services available. The most notable is Freshbooks, a pioneer of the Web 2.0 era, which allows for efficient time tracking, billing, quoting, and more. Intuit has its own offering tightly integrated with Quickbooks online called Billing Manager, while Zoho Invoices comes as part of the Zoho online productivity suite. A roster of other minor offerings fill various professional niches and differentiate on price and unique features, including: Free Agent, Simply Invoices, Invoice Place and Billing Orchard. The Web is opening the doors to scores of new software developers every day, reducing the costs to develop new products and services, creating competitive opportunities for better, less expensive products. Online financial software is just now entering the realm of full acceptance among small businesses. Expect an explosion of new, more tailored applications from large players such as Google and Microsoft as well as upstart companies. New products will surface on the horizon in the next couple of years offering true integration with banking, invoicing, billing, and all the other financial services that small businesses use every day, together with more robust ways to analyze performance, giving way to a new generation of well managed and more robust small enterprises. Andrea Peiro is the Small Business Market Expert at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Founder of the Small Business Technology Magazine, a recognized authority, author, analyst and speaker on high-tech marketing and use of information technology in small and mid-sized businesses, he has been frequently interviewed and featured in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Inc. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In three years, Tobias Lutke has grown his Ottawa, Canada startup company, Shopify, into an online marketplace of more than 2,000 stores. MSN Shopping, which has more than 8,000 stores, probably isn’t losing any sleep over Shopify, yet. But the way things are going for Lutke, who is one of only five people that staff the company, it may not be long. The secret of Shopify’s success: the Web application framework, Ruby on Rails, and the programming language, Ajax. Both are open source, free, and insanely easy to use to develop websites, he says. “When we incorporated three years ago, our business was actually going to be a retail store. But in looking around for software to build an additional ecommerce platform, we found Ruby on Rails,” Lutke says. “With Ruby on Rails, we were selling online within two months with a fully functional ecommerce site that included an online catalog and checkout. It was so easy and fun to work with we completely abandoned the idea of a retail store by the next year.” What makes Ruby on Rails so advantageous compared to other frameworks is that it provides a boilerplate of foundational code, so developers don’t have to build from the ground up. “It eliminates all that initial busy work. Programmers can focus on the coding that makes their application unique,” says David Heinemeier Hansson, the Chicago-based developer who created Ruby on Rails. With more than 10,000 members in his online community of Ruby on Rails enthusiasts, Hansson says most companies adopting his Web framework are smaller businesses and here’s why: It’s fast. “The average Ruby on Rails project takes about three to six months versus the one to two years it would take using Java, for example,” says Hansson. It’s cheap. Being open source, the code is free. Additionally, the environment it operates within is modestly priced, as well. That’s because it works with all the other popular open source solutions like the Linux operating system and Apache servers. Costs are minimal because there are no licensing fees. Staffing the development team is minimal. “You don’t need a staff of 10 to 15 people, including a dedicated project manager, to get an application out the door. Typically, it takes one designer, one programmer and maybe a third person who does a little of both.” says Hansson. Enter Ajax While Ruby on Rails provides the framework, Ajax is the programming language that provides all the bells and whistles on top. As mentioned, it is an open source code, as well, and is free and easy to use. Together, they are a Web developer’s dream team. “Ruby on Rails was one of the first Web applications to take Ajax seriously. We now treat it like an essential piece to our framework,” says Hansson. While developers love the ease of use working with Ajax, business owners love the results: a far more elegant and easy-to-use site especially when it comes to ecommerce. “Typical Ajax-like behavior allows elements of a site, like adding comments to a blog or adding a product to a shopping cart, to update without requiring the entire page to reload. Visual effects that highlight those changes, called the yellow fade technique, replace that jarring change to an updated page,” says Hansson. Aside from the aesthetics of Ajax, the benefits to selling online are enormous: Completing the sale. Every time a page has to reload during an online transaction there’s a risk the sale will be derailed by either the browser crashing or reloading so slowly that the customer clicks away in disgust. With Ajax, updating without reloading makes the transaction faster, seamless and less prone to technical glitches. Viewing products. On an Ajax site, the user clicks on a picture and it blows up to a larger size, perhaps with added information, without creating a new page. The ability to interact with that single element, without loading a new page allows for speedier access. Speedier access makes it easier and more desirable to look at more products. The more products viewed means more opportunities of making a sale. Easy customization. “The most visible benefit of Ajax to Shopify is for our customers who use our administrative interface to design their store fronts to sell on Shopify. It allows them to incorporate Ajax features within their designs to also avoid page reloads and speed up their transactions, as well,” says Lutke. Steering eyeballs. The so-called “fade to yellow” technique is a great way to visually lead customers to additional products, user-friendly feedback surveys or through the transaction, itself. This is especially beneficial with a not so tech-savvy customer base that has a tendency to get confused or lost somewhere between adding a product to their basket and hitting the “submit order” button.
If Web development application tools were a music festival, Ruby on Rails would be the hot up-and-coming act, stealing much of the attention away from the aging headliners, such as .Net or Java. The band’s sound would be clean and melodic — opposed to the unnecessary noise emitting out of the competition. Forgive the musical analogy, but if you’ve spent any time using “Rails,” as it’s affectionately referred to by its legions of programmers — in fact, more than 1,200 of them are congregating in Portland, Oregon, in May for a Ruby on Rails conference — then you know how it could help quickly establish and grow the Web presence for your small-to-mid-sized business. Rails was created by 27-year-old David Heinemeier Hansson, a partner at Chicago-based 37signals, a Web-based software company best known for the award-winning Basecamp, a Web-based project management and client extranet tool, and Backpack, a Web-based personal information tool used by many small businesses. “Ruby on Rails” is a full-stack, open source Web framework that lets users create full-featured applications — from collaboration tools to ecommerce solutions to Web 2.0-based community sites — but with less code and less hassles than other tools. The theory behind rails “Quite simply, Rails is a set of tools that makes it easy for programmers to do what they do,” says Hansson, a Danish-born programmer who won the first Google-O’Reilly “Hacker of the Year” open-source award in 2005. “Instead of the experience being a frustrating and disappointing one, we chose to take programmer-friendly approach to development.” Adds Hansson, “From day one, our goal was to ‘optimize programmer happiness,’ which is the reason why Rails has received so much attention.” Hansson says Rails wasn’t just created for the small and mid-sized business market. It was born out of it. “We were just three people working on Basecamp, the app that founded the Rails framework,” recalls Hansson. “We found existing tools weren’t productive or rewarding enough for small teams — Rails is the framework for small teams to do big things.” On how they achieved this lofty goal, Hansson says it was a desire to create “beautiful code.” “We don’t treat code for something as machines to interpret, but rather, it’s designed for those who are writing or changing it,” says Hansson. “Rails is clean, consistent and simple — almost elegant — like good writing, if you will.” Convention over configuration According to Hansson, too many programming packages require an enormous amount of configuration just to get started as they assume the programmer wants a clean slate. Ruby on Rails, however, assumes “most people want to the same thing most of the time,” says Hansson, offering a significant productivity benefit, especially for companies that are short on resources and tall on IT marching orders. “We offer conventions as a starting point, which is how applications can be structured, instead of relying on new configurations.” Instead of forcing the programmer to make new decisions every time they create a Web application, Rails “shoves” these decisions into the framework to help programmers along. “We wanted to get rid of ‘Groundhog Day,” adds Hansson, referring to the feature film where every day follows the exact pattern. “We make a set of decisions everyone will live by unless they say otherwise.” Put your mouse where your mouth is The aforementioned Basecamp is the original Rails application. Basecamp is a project collaboration tool to help employees collaborate around projects. Because Basecamp is hosted on 37signals’ Web servers, users need not download, install, upgrade or configure anything — all that’s required is a Web browser and Internet connection. Tobias Luetke, who co-founded jadedPixel, which developed Shopify, a hosted e-commerce platform used by more than 17,000 stores to date, maintains that Ruby on Rails has helped the programming community. “Ruby on Rails is the closest thing to the mythical ‘silver bullet’ there has ever been in Web programming,” he says. “It’s a language and framework for writing modern webpages in a fraction of the time it used to take using traditional tools and with a fraction of the team size.” Luetke has used Rails in developing applications, including Shopify, and he sees it as a watershed development. “The technical superiority of Ruby on Rails is leading to a golden age of entrepreneurship in the Web programming industry which often sees people quit their day jobs and then accomplishing in a month what their old team tried to accomplish in years,” adds Luetke.