Bob:Welcome to episode 33 of “The Bob Bloom Show”. Today is Thursday, May 26, 2011.
This is Bob Bloom from Toronto, Canada.
David de Boer joins me today for my first interview this year on “The Bob Bloom Show”.
David is the founder of ChillCreations.com. Nicholas mentioned one of David’s Joomla extensions, “ccInvoice”, on episode 5 of The Round Table Show (a podcast I've deprecated -- Bob.). Not being familiar with this extension, I looked it up. A very interesting site… hmmm, I should contact David for an interview. And here we are!
In this first of two segments, we get to know David and ChillCreations.com.
In our second of two segments, we talk about JAB11, and the changing Joomla development environment. David attended JAB11 and has a different perspective than my Round Table guests — whose podcast about JAB11 I just published athttp://southlasallemedia.com/2011/trts7.
Bob: David, I notice you started Chill Creations while at University?
David de Boer: Yeah, correct and actually I even stopped university to continue working on ChillCreations and I’m not sure a lot of people are school dropouts because of Joomla but Joomla should feel ashamed because it caused me to dropout. I do know that a lot of people working in Joomla actually came from other professions first. So they worked as site developers, they were, for example, engineers or working somewhere else and now started working with Joomla.
Bob: You dropped out of university because of Joomla?
David: Well, maybe I shouldn’t say because of Joomla but primarily because I’m really an entrepeuneur and that sounds nice in English, in Dutch it sounds more boring, and that I actually dropped out of university because I am an entrepeuneur and the way I was being taught things in university didn’t match my learning style. So I had advice from an education expert/specialist whatever, and he told me, “well this isn’t going to work for you, you learn in a different way, so you could consider dropping out”, and I did.
Bob: I thought the standard career path if you’re dropping out is to go to Harvard, and then you drop out of Harvard.
David: Well, we don’t have Harvard in the Netherlands and I had a nice girlfriend at the moment and I wasn’t planning on going to the U.S. just to drop out of Harvard. [laughter]
Bob: I went to, they call themselves “The Harvard of the North” – University of Toronto.
David: Well, I went to the Harvard of the Lowlands…
Bob: I deserve that!
David: … The Hague University.
Bob: Now there are several things that caught my eye about your site. I think it pressed hot buttons. You have Virtuemart extensions (I’m a Virtuemart specialist), you have a blog post entitled “No Joomla! 1.6 extensions from Chill Creations” (David and Nicholas on my Round Table Show have talked about that), and you an invoice extension. I wanted to hit these one-by-one.
Bob:In your blog post, you say that “we don’t want to maintain different versions of our extensions for Joomla! 1.5 and 1.6″ and “Joomla! 1.6 is a ‘short term support’ version and will be at the end of life in 4 months”. I was thinking how will Joomla’s separating its CMS & platform development affect your extension development?
David: Well, I don’t think that the separation of the platform and the CMS will have a big effect on extension developers or end users in the near future. Because as extension developers for the CMS we still have to focus on the platform version in the CMS. We can’t use another platform version because our end users, our customers, will be using the platform version in the CMS. So we’ll still be focusing on Joomla at the CMS and not Joomla at the platform as extension developers that build solutions for end users. Is that logical? Does that sound understandable?
Bob: Well, I’m thinking it’s so early for splitting the development, it’s hard to know where to take it. You write in your blog post that you’re kind of going to wait and see about 1.7 and 1.8? So I’m thing thinking just from the other shows I’ve done, it’s hard for the extension developers to plan and they kind of have to wait for Joomla to settle down a little.
David: Yeah that’s true, but I really think this is only temporary because Joomla has shifted to the new development strategy where there is a release every six months. And I think it’s really temporary that we, the extension developers, and we not just extension developers also, for example, people that develop training for Joomla or video tutorials. We just have to, or we should take a risk and hope that our decisions are correct in the long run or we should sit back a little and see how these new developments pan out.
Bob: And see if you get a demand to create extensions for the new versions. Moving on to Virtuemart, I found Virtuemart is for me, a declining area to be in. And you have Virtuemart extensions and you don’t have extensions for other carts. So is it stronger in Europe than here?
David: Well, it is very strong in the Netherlands, I’m not sure about the rest of Europe. I know that my sales are not declining for those extensions. I have been saying for about a year now that I think that Virtuemart will become less popular in the future because of the other shopping cart extensions like Red Shop and Tienda, etc. But until now I still believe that, but my sales don’t communicate that. My sales are still increasing, so I’m starting to believe that end users don’t really care about the spaghetti code in Virtuemart. [laughter] I don’t want to, but if I look at my sales and look at what my customers are saying, they are just still installing Virtuemart even knowing that there are other extensions out there.
Bob: Maybe the Virtuemart extensions are a good place to be in, but the consulting, I am finding, it’s not. It hasn’t been for a while.
David: Well, I think if you look on a higher scale that consulting for Joomla, because I’ve also done that, I’ve done web development and web design activities and consulting activities until 2009 when I switched to extensions full-time, and I can agree that it looks like there is a lot more competition, especially in the Netherlands, of people doing the same activities. So that’s probably harder now than it was in 2006.
Bob: Well, I didn’t want to get into a big Virtuemart discussion, it’s probably a subconscious thing. Just the kind of clients who want to get into in are probably more amenable to buying extensions and add-ons than the consulting. Are you thinking of porting your Virtuemart extensions to other carts as a diversification?
David: No, not at the moment because I still don’t see a lot of users asking for ports. We do have one extension but that’s really specific to the Netherlands that adds the Dutch payment method Ideal to Inkashop, which is also one of those e-commerce extensions. But that’s actually the only one at the moment and I don’t get a lot of people asking for extensions for the other shopping cart extensions, but that could well be because we communicate a lot about Virtuemart and they just think they should have asked us. So, I’m not planning to do it anyway and I don’t see a lot of questions at the moment.
Bob: Are you compelled to touch the Virtuemart source code when you do your extensions?
David: No, we’ve done this with my first extension that we released in 2008 which has a few Virtuemart hacks and it’s a profitable extension but it’s really a pain supporting it and helping customers, so in the latest extensions ccVOAM which adds invoicing and advanced order management to Virtuemart we don’t hack Virtuemart at all because of the bad experience you had previously. So the only thing we do is communicate with the Virtuemart database but we don’t do anything in files.
Bob: Right. That’s when you can just play with the database, it’s great! Then you can write just Joomla extensions.
David: Yeah, so it’s really coded better than Virtuemart 1.1 obviously, and it’s just really stable because we only work with the database, so no core hacks – hallelujah!
Bob: Amen! Now I haven’t installed or looked at your extensions, but you have an invoice extension for Joomla and one for Virtuemart. What is the difference?
David: Well, the difference is that I built the invoicing extension for Virtuemart from my personal need because my wife and I have or have had a few web shops in the past and for Virtuemart you don’t just need invoicing, you need advanced order management if your shop is a little bit bigger than most shops. So if you’re getting thousands to tens of thousands of revenue per month instead of a few hundred, then you really need a way to more efficiently manage your orders. So the ccVOAM extension adds invoicing but most importantly adds advanced order management where you can batch process your orders and that’s the biggest difference between ccVOAM and ccInvoices.
Bob: Is that the batching is changing order status from pending to confirmed? That sort of thing. or shipped or whatever?
David: Yes, it’s actually I think we’ve got everything covered that you would want to do. You can batch-download orders so select, well you could look at the demo video later, but you could say I want all the orders from the last week I want to batch download them as PDF and click “go” and you’ll get a batch with maybe 300 orders. You could also select four orders and then say change order status to shipped and email client. So that’s click, click, click done! And if you would do this in Virtuemart it would be click, click, click times four – because you would have to do it for every individual order separately. And, now different actions are they are almost automated as you just select the orders and then say what you want to do with them.
Bob: This is my 58th podcast in a year and a half and I kind of coming in a little cold and then having the interview and then looking later at the demo stuff if I’m not familiar.
Bob: Extensions such as yours actually extend the useful life of Virtuemart, so it’s very important to the Virtuemart eco-system, the things that you’re doing. I haven’t looked at ccInvoices and Nicholas was [referencing] it on the show, in context with his new Akeeba Subscriptions. Saying I don’t need to build an invoicing feature on my subscriptions extension because there’s ccInvoices, but ccInvoices you said doesn’t integrate with anything, it’s a stand alone?
David: At the moment it’s a stand alone extension and I’m really pro integration. I’d really love to work more with other extension developers so we don’t all develop our own extensions but have a little bit of integration so we can focus on more innovation instead of competition. But, it doesn’t integrate with any other extension at the moment because we’re just not that far yet. But it shouldn’t be hard for Nicholas to integrate it with Akeeba Subscriptions because ccInvoices is a really simple extension and one way to do it would be just to add the details from Akeeba Subscriptions into our database tables and otherwise I also propose to him we could add a plug-in event so if there was a certain action in ccInvoices then it would update the data to Akeeba Subscriptions also. But, it won’t be hard in any way to integrate ccInvoices with any other extension. If the other extension is of course very complex, it will be harder but it should be possible because we’re trying to keep this in mind while we’re developing it.
Bob: So, for instance, as a consultant I could use ccInvoices to create invoices that I will use to bill my clients and it will create PDF’s that I can send them.
David: Yeah, and it also sends from the interface so you don’t have to get a PDF, put it in your email program, click send, etc., you just click send in ccInvoices.
Bob: and if my client is a user on my Joomla site, then they can log in and see a history of their invoices?
Bob: and does that integrate with your ticketing extension?
David: You’re probably talking about ccHelpdesk?
David: Yeah, it’s one of the extensions on our site but it’s listed on our site as an “indev” extension or in development extension. Yeah that’s actually a section I use to get feedback on ideas, so it’s not an actual extension that can be used by our end customers at the moment.
Bob: I thought “indev” was a subsidiary or a partner, that’s what I thought indev was!
David: Well, more people get that, so in the next few months I’ll remove that section and I’ll move the extensions to the normal drop down on the website when they are ready. But my plan or my goal is always to integrate our own extensions and integrate with other extensions from other developers, so when it’s done it will definitely be integrated on some level, of course we have to see what’s logical.
Bob: I feel that you’re brave about having a newsletter extension. Because there’s a lot of other newsletter extensions. Plus you know, there’s sofware as a service sites. Is that a good segment to be in?
David: Well, interesting enough we were, I believe, the first or the second Joomla 1.5 newsletter extension. So, it wasn’t really brave at that time because at that moment I was still consulting and I needed a newsletter extension for a few of my clients and there was SBS newsletter which wasn’t developed anymore so we kind of ported that and kept improving it for our own use. And, on a Blue Monday I decided to give it away as a free extension and well that was the best and worst decision in my development career, so we were already there. So all the SaaS solutions and the other extensions kind of came almost came later, at least I didn’t know about them at the moment. So, I’m not sure I was brave. I probably wouldn’t have done it again today if I knew about the current situation.
Bob: Why was it the best and the worst decision?
David: Well, the best because it was in the beginning a lot of fun to see that we had tens of thousands of users using it. That was just great, and the worst, because support. It was a free extension, there was really no commercial part or section or any way for me to earn any money with it, so we were doing support for free and development for free and after a few years that really adds up, in our case. So that’s why it’s not free anymore since last month. It was listed commercial on the JED for some time now but you could still find a free download link if you looked good but now it’s really completely commercial because support was really a pain in the ass, for at least us – other developers have more success with the free/commercial model but not me.
Bob: Well, you didn’t have a commercial version and a free version.
David: Yeah, that’s true.
Bob: So there’s no conversion for upgrades or for the professional support because it was all free.
David: Yeah, exactly. I’ve played with the idea and I really have it as a “Seniors Letter Pro” on the shelf, it’s been there for about a year but I just didn’t release it because I was still kind of finding my own way, how do I want to build extensions? What’s important for me and I’m starting to see that easy-to-use extensions is the way I want to go and having a pro version of every extension doesn’t really fit into that idea, because then you just have a huge extended. I don’t want to build a pro version with a lot of functions just so I can make money. I want to make a great extension that works for everybody or a lot of people without thinking about money up front. And, if I was going to release the pro version it would be purely for the money to get some return on investment on the free version, and well, that’s just the wrong motivation, at least I think it is.
Bob: Well that’s funny, it’s a hot button because we talked about this at length on the other one, it’s interesting what your experience is and that you just took it off.
David: Yeah, but that was a hard decision.
Bob: Well 10,000 users to support for free is ….
David: Tens of thousands.
Bob: Tens of thousands, it’s like a tsunami.
David: To share the numbers, because I’m not sure that’s a good idea but, it was expensive in the last few years. Really expensive. Because I tracked everything, I tracked hours worked and everything, not even my own hours but my developers hours. So I know exactly what it cost me and it wasn’t cheap and some people said, well then you’re probably sell more of for example ccInvoices. Well, I have the numbers and I know that that’s not true. I didn’t sell a lot more ccInvoices to compensate for the costs in supporting free ccNewsletter. But I know other people have different experiences, I know that Fotis of K2 for example, he really likes the free versus commercial idea and that other developers have a free version and a commercial version and it can work for them but it just didn’t work for me and yeah there could be different reasons why not. It just didn’t work, so I’m changing what I’m doing to make sure that I have a system that does work.
Bob: And that’s phenomenal that you have a cost/benefit analysis and that you tried it. You tried it and then you went through the analysis. That’s terrific. And Fotis has a community around K2 that helps to support it and has, you know, the forum and everything. Which is another effort but it’s different. It’s interesting the kinds of extensions that work to have a free and a community and a professional version.
Are you taking a look at Molajo or Nooku?
David: Yeah, I’m actually aware of almost anything that’s happening on those areas. So fire away with your questions.
Bob: So, you’re just waiting and seeing how they develop but not jumping in on anything yet.
David: No, that’s primarily because I don’t think it ‘s my position to jump into anything. If I was a Consultant I would definitely try to use Nooku server or Molajo in a small project to see if I could use them for clients. But I’m an extension developer and as an extension developer as a business I have to focus on extensions for the Joomla 1.5 and later 1.7, maybe, CMS, that’s just the business part. Personally I’m extremely interested in these developments in Molajo and Nooku Server and that’s why personally I have installed them and played with them and I keep up to date with what’s happening. But that’s really my personal time and as a business I don’t see a reason to jump into that development at the moment.
Bob (closing): David, thank you for being here; and, thank you for sponsoring today’s show transcripts.
This is the first of two segments today with David de Boer of ChillCreations.com.
This is Bob Bloom, signing off, wishing you a profitable week.
You have been listening to a SouthLaSalleMEDIA.com production. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of SouthLaSalleMEDIA dot com, nor of the organizations represented. Links and materials discussed on air are available in the Show Notes for this show. Information contained herein have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but are not guaranteed. Podcasts are released under a creative commons licence. Some rights are reserved. Email correspondence to the attention of Bob Bloom at info at SouthLaSalleMedia dot com.