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Importance of technology barrier in selling web-app?


I'm wondering how much I should worry about language/platform as a barrier to selling a web application. My product idea (I'm new at this) is basically a shopping-cart with a twist (enough of one to make it stand out I think).

The application would be targeted at smaller businesses that are traditionally not very computer savy, and hence tend to use basic web sites on shared hosting. I'm worried that this could pose an adoption hurdle for these companies if I went with a Java based app instead of a PHP based app (for example).

How concerned with this should I be? Should I always shoot for the least common denominator even though I know that platform less? Are virtualized servers making this less of an issue?

Josh Z. Send private email
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I would say you should be very concerned. 

Firstly, most small businesses are going to have shared hosting (although I have no data to back this up).  Of these hosting plans the vast majority have PHP available and no Java.

Secondly, you're targeting small business, but you also have to consider the skills of the web developer/designer who will actually integrate your cart.  The vast majority of these guys know PHP and no Java.

On the other hand, you could niche it by building a Java solution and sell to medium-large businesses instead and make a killing ;-)
CRM Send private email
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I would suggest to really make sure that your twist is something highly valuable, because eCommerce is really a tough market (see http://blog.vermorel.com/?p=84 for some personal opinion on the subject).

Then I think that most of market is heading toward fully hosted / managed solutions for the shopping cart market. In that case, the platform used for the development becomes somewhat irrelevant to your customer.

Hope it helps,
Joannes Vermorel Send private email
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
You know, josh. I was in your position not too long ago. I'd prototyped my live chat application in python. I would have stuck with python, too. But I knew that I wanted to offer a "self-hosted" option. So I bit the bullet and rewrote it in PHP.

And you know what? I realized that php isn't *so* bad. :)
Starr Horne (ChatSpring) Send private email
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
In my opinion, you're missing the boat by going with Java when your customers are actually going to be web developers who need a PHP or ASP cart to drop into their small business clients' sites.

My other concern is that it sounds like you are writing software for an industry you are not familiar with. 

To create and sell an online shopping cart, it will become your duty to understand hosting environments quite thoroughly if you expect to provide quality support.   

Know your customer too.  The guy down the street running a tackle shop is not going to be the one trying to figure out if he needs a PHP or Java based shopping cart, that's what he hires a local web developer for, and I've found that most web developers either work in PHP or ASP still.  The web developer who knows Java really well usually has bigger fish to fry than to build a small business website with a store.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
So I didn't think the product idea was all that relevant for the question so I just gave a very generic description of it. Looks like I could benefit by going in depth a bit more.

The idea isn't so much a shopping cart as a reservation system (not hotel, air travel, etc...). The focus would be to provide a very simple public online reservation process that put you on a "trip" and charged your CC (or check by mail, etc...). The meat of the application would be to provide a comprehensive system for a reservationist to be able to utilize that and further communicate with the customer.

Believe it or not, but most of the competing reservation systems I have seen are overly-complex and don't provide the right type of interfaces. Even more importantly they are built around this partnership process that charges 1% of sales. As far as I can tell this is for the extensive customizations that these massive systems need.

I actually work closely with a domain expert, and my current day job actually puts me in close contact with a number of potential buyers. The %1 charge and the needless complexity of the competing products makes me think that I can do better. These are also the primary reasons that those who I have talked to have rejected those systems.

So hopefully that clears things up a bit. I was using the Java v. PHP example as an example, but in truth I was actually thinking along those lines. I'm very comfortable with Java on the server side and GWT on the front end (compiles Java to Javascript for the web end). I'm not as comfortable with PHP and especially not ASP or Python or RoR etc... I know that I can make the public facing side easy for a web developer to integrate with. What concerns me is the apparent hurdle for getting the server-side Java working (few shared hosting services support it that I have found so far).

Most of the potential customers I have worked with actually aren't all that opposed to even buying a server and co-locating it. But I don't want to lock myself in in the future. To use PHP I would have to invest time in learning to use PHP better, and more importantly the easy communication/code sharing I get for free between GWT and a Java servlet goes away. So there is certainly a cost, and I'm not sure if it's all that necessary. And it could sink the entire thing as I do have a day job and this would be in my spare time.

Does anyone know of a shared hosting company that supports J2EE and that is professional enough to suggest potential buyers to switch to?
Josh Z. Send private email
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Different people have recommended me Kättare for J2EE hosting. Probably not the cheapest but supposed to be very professional and knowledgable. Personally I am not in the US so I use a local provider.

By the way, I sell a J2EE web component fairly succesfully, but it is marketed to developers so it's a different market, and one where J2EE is not a drawback.

I've also sold numerous hosted J2EE web solutions.

My next product will also be J2EE with a GWT frontend - I believe GWT will be a huge competitive advantage. Additionally, I wouldn't ever consider changing platforms, since I am a J2EE expert and not utilising that strength doesn't make any business sense. I'd rather change product than platform.
dabbler Send private email
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
About 5 years ago, I remember a friend of mine tried to find a reservation system for some purpose (home rentals?), and he found squat. So there might be some gaps there.

There are a few reservation-related things that have made me wonder why there isn't a dominant website to serve them. Corporate apartments jump to mind. Doesn't it seem like there would be some snappyname.com that competed directly with hotel chains but that offered a network of corporate apartments? Not saying it's easy; I'm just surprised nobody has made it work. Same thing with taxicabs and transportation to/from airports. I want to go to the same website regardless of my location, personally.

+1 on focusing on hosted only. Don't have a great justification, but my instincts tell me you could make this work as a hosted-only solution, and you'd save yourself a lot of (some kinds of) hassle.

And being from Microsoft, I feel compelled to mention that you should build it on our stack, of course ;-) PHP works great on Windows now, you know ...
Patrick Foley Send private email
Friday, February 29, 2008

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