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What’s up with support?

Jan-29-2013

This has been a hot topic lately. In all honesty, yes, I can say that lately our support has sucked. Many people want to know *why* our support has sucked lately. Asking “why” is really an attempt way of getting a guarantee from me that sucky support isn’t going to:

a. happen ever again
b. be an ongoing problem

Having sucky support is no fun for you, and it’s really no fun for us. So, to answer a & b… no I don’t expect it to happen ever again, and I don’t plan on this being an ongoing problem.

So anyway, here’s the reasons we’ve had sucky support. And by the way… I offer no excuses just background. So here’s what’s up.

1. I’ve been ridiculously sick for a ridiculously long time
2. We lost a key player at a really inconvenient time
3. Holidays are murder for commerce
4. I had plans already in place to create a better support path, but life had other plans…

The first issue, and most important to me is: I’ve been really sick for a very long time. I’ve been almost non-stop sick since the end of September, and the intensity and duration just kept surprising me over and over slowly dragging me more and more down. I never expected to become essentially useless, but my health just kept deteriorating over the last few months. Basically I’ve been sick and naively thought it would run it’s course and nearly put myself in the hospital over that. I’ve run myself ragged for years busting my ass building CT and providing support and doing custom work for people and it finally just really caught up to me. Hard. If I was a rock star I would have cancelled my tour due to “exhaustion.” Instead I finally just had to take some time to get better. Antibiotics, rest, a step away from stress have done wonders. I’m still not cured, but I’m on my feet and putting in mostly full days. 

The second issue which had a major impact was Rob Sanchez leaving the company… at a time that was inconvenient for us. Rob’s a great guy, a great developer, and in the early years was absolutely critical to the development of CartThrob. But recently he’s moved on to a great new job, and we’re happy for him. Honestly, this is a small company, so moving on is just natural. Timing wise… when he left we had a number of pieces of software close to launch, a new website in development, a few major custom projects down to their critical finishing points all coming right into the holiday season. I don’t begrudge Rob anything, including his timing, but if I always got my wishes, I would have wished him to stay until middle of January rather than leaving in the beginning of October. It threw me off.

Third: holidays are murder for ecommerce. Last year was pretty crazy, and this year was just through the roof. I’ve been looking for staff for support for about a year, but I haven’t really found anyone… then Rob left, all the while I’ve been joking about my demise when asked “how’re you doing.” Next year… I don’t care what I have to pay, we’ll have more staff over the holidays. Even if it’s seasonal and expensive, we’ll have more people.

Last, I’ve known for a long time that we’ve set a high bar for support, and one that I wanted to keep meeting. I’ve known that we needed to staff up with more trained support people, that we needed to raise prices to ensure better support without me working myself into the grave,  that we needed to have some methods in place to provide paid support for those that really want first-of-line privileges, and I’ve known that we needed to refine both our offerings and our policies to meet support head on. While I have been putting the pieces together for all of this (rebuilt website with better custom development offerings, outlined support plans, integrated support portal, updated software) I haven’t been physically well enough to complete my plans before the time came when they were needed the most.

Ultimately, I humbly apologize for the frustration. I really can’t apologize enough. All I can tell you is that to make up for it, we’re getting back to our awesome levels of support. Oh, and if you are curious… some have asked, “what about my 60 days of level 1 support”. The sixty days hasn’t started on our clock…. I’ve been burning through those days, so you’re getting them back. We’ll start the clock in March. Till then, it’s open season on support for everyone.

Best wishes, Newton


What’s up with higher prices?

Jan-15-2013

You may have noticed: we raised our prices on a bunch of our core offerings. Why? I don’t need to get rich, but I do need to be able to finance ongoing development of new features, and I need to provide great support. At CartThrob’s old price, that was not possible.

From the beginning of last year, I started keeping an eye on the books, on our support time, and on our development time. What I found over time was that what we make off of CartThrob and related products was only enough to support about 30 to 60 man-hours a week on support and development. What I found was that we have been spending about 80 to 100 per week on support and development for CartThrob.  The books tell me that I’ve been financing CartThrob with custom work. Though I long suspected, it’s official: CartThrob has been subsidized by other non-ecommerce related client work for years. I always assumed that was the case, but once you look at the numbers starting in your face… it’s pretty shocking.

So, that can’t continue. If we were breaking even on CartThrob, I would have left pricing alone, but it doesn’t make any sense for me to lose thousands of dollars a month, regardless of how much fun I have working on it, or how much I like the product or think it’s awesome. It has to pay for itself.

Early results show that we’re now more on track, now that I’ve raised the prices a bit. I can hire new employees for support and ongoing development. That’s a good thing. Very good. I’m looking forward to some great new surprises this year.

So I’ll leave you with one more comment: As you can guess there have been a few complaints about price increases. Most of it comes down to: CartThrob + ExpressionEngine = Too much money for X project. That may be true for some projects, but that’s OK. If about $600 in software is too much for a project, my advice is: don’t take that project. There’s always a developer that’s cheaper, that does things for less. Don’t compete for that spot. I never ever attempted to build CartThrob to be the budget alternative to any another solution. It’s not. I don’t want it to be. I want it to be a serious tool, for people that are serious about doing good work (that said, I still think it’s an incredible value at $299.) We built CartThrob for customization in mind… at $299 that means if it saves you 3 hours of time (if you charge $100/hr), it’ll be making you or your customer money. And after all… this is ecommerce. Shouldn’t you be thinking about making money? 

Anyway. I have no new price increases in mind. As I said, not trying to get rich here. Just trying to be realistic and maintain a functioning business. The changes I’ve made are doing that.


New in the Queue

Jan-03-2013

The what:
I’m always working on bits and pieces of code. This linked item is the Multi Modifiers extension for CartThrob. What’s it do? It makes it so you can add one price modifier to an item multiple times.

The why:
People ask me a lot about being able to add the same modifier 10 times to one product without creating 10 price modifier fields. With standard CartThrob, if you wanted to bill someone for 10 price modifying pickles on their burger, you’d have to have 10 price modifier fields to do it. This extension lets you cut it down to just one field.

Caveat:
If you have inventory tagged to your price modifiers fields… I think only the first modifier will have any effect on inventory. I haven’t tested it, but I have a strong feeling that’s the case.

Will this ever be in CartThrob core?
Maybe. Not soon. Not until I look at the inventory stuff in more detail. For now, if this fits your needs, try it out.