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I've just met a guy, an engineer but a software naif, who's designed, produced, and is now selling a very nice product, a backyard zip line. He devised a new braking system for the thing and has a patent pending. He conceived and put together two zip-line kits and he's selling them on the web.

I am guessing that he's put in at least 6,000 hours and $50K (counting the legal fees for the patent app), all on his own. Not the least bit unusual for starting a biz.

The issue has been that the web developers (sic! plural -- you can imagine) he's contracted with have, out of immaturity or ignorance, just taken him right over the coals: he's spent, he says, many many more bucks than he should have bringing up his e-commerce site. I don't want to say how many bucks, but a lot.

I think that if any of those developers had gone through the endless excruciating ass-pain of bringing up a business from scratch, it would have been a lot different and a lot happier all around.

So I ask you: should the gating question in hiring a web developer be "Have you by yourself, or with one or two partners, ever brought a product to market? I don't care if it succeeded or failed, but tell me about it."

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I question "$hitload" if the total he's spent on his entire business is $50K. Regardless of the amount, I question this statement: "he's spent, he says, many many more bucks than he should have bringing up his e-commerce site." How does he know how much is too much, considering he doesn't even know how to hire a good web developer? –  NickC Sep 1 '11 at 1:06
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I'm not quite sure, is he selling 2 products and that's all? Are they reimplementing magento from scratch around him and making him pay by the hour? Does he have some crazy requirements? you know, many web devs are incredibly expensive, but many web customers on their part, have incredibly crazy requests. –  ZJR Sep 1 '11 at 1:25
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Sounds like he'd be better off with a hosted solution - something like a yahoo store. At least until he gets established. –  GrandmasterB Sep 1 '11 at 3:55
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Why not use existing solutions for his e-commerce site? example: between Wordpress+Plugins OR Shopify should cover perhaps 90% of most requirements. If those solutions do not fulfil his requirements. You should only then consider a custom e-commerce solution –  Darknight Sep 2 '11 at 15:40
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Does every sentence on his website need to have a "!" at the end of it ? It's exhausting... –  Matt Sep 2 '11 at 16:55

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

No. The gating questions should be: "what is your experience in setting up e-commerce sites and optimizing for search engines? Show me your portfolio of those sites and let me know your references so I can contact them."

I set up an e-commerce site over a 3-day weekend from scratch (after about 2 weeks of research) and most of that was in figuring out how to handle the credit card transactions; I don't consider myself a web developer.

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Yeah! The key is "so I can contact them." –  Pete Wilson Aug 31 '11 at 23:29
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"how to handle the credit card transactions" - using a licensed third party, I hope. –  StuperUser Sep 2 '11 at 16:27
    
can I see the sourcecode of your e-commerce? im impressed. what is the language? –  Totty Sep 2 '11 at 19:26
    
@Totty, most likely he used an existing solution. This means Jonathan only had to figure out how to configure it and provide any branding (CSS / images / etc.) that were needed. If you just search for "open source e-commerce" you'll find plenty of different solutions (the language isn't important unless you have specific hosting requirements or your solution may need some kind of specific extension custom coded). –  Ken Henderson Sep 3 '11 at 0:49
    
@Ken Henderson: sorry I read that he built an e-commerce, not set-up an e-commerce xD. I was amazed because 3 days to build an e-commerce is quite little, even with 2 weeks of research xDD –  Totty Sep 3 '11 at 3:15

It seems that you're not sure how much this site should cost.

The big questions is what, exactly, are his requirements. Is he happy with a service such as Google Checkout, PayPal, or Amazon to take a few percent off of each sale? If you're only selling one or two products, and they are physical products (no electronic delivery), and he's happy to use the Google Checkout interface himself (get an email, send the product, click a button to charge the client), and he's happy to make any future edits to the products or images manually (or hire someone to do it when the product changes), i.e. no content management is needed, then I would estimate that it's possible to write the actual code within low four figures, possibly even less.

I don't know about design costs however. I'd expect them to be in the same range, possibly higher.

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If you've got the "bucks" I would recommend finding a reputable development organisation to make this website. e-Commerce sites are expensive and I would estimate the cost to be 5 figures, but if you want a quality product that works, looks good and has support, that's the price you pay.

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If they are only selling one or two products is the cost still going to be in the 5 figures range? I would expect an e-commerce product that handles many products to be more expensive then one to handle one or two. –  James Khoury Sep 1 '11 at 3:42
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To a certain extent you're right. But generally selling a lot of items means an "off the shelf" database, cart, checkout. While selling one or two items might encourage some developers to make a custom cart/check out which would actually push the price up... –  Coomie Sep 1 '11 at 3:54

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