Biponee is a quite successful e-commerce site of Brain Station-23, a quite successful software company of Bangladesh. We choose to use nopCommerce as the technology base to work on instead of building from scratch or using any other more popular open source platform. This helped us grow and really scale quickly. Here, I’m going to explain our technology decisions and journey, successes and challenges.
Starting of Biponee
Brain Station-23 Ltd is one of the top software outsourcing company in Bangladesh, receiving multiple awards recognizing so. While doing outsourcing we were thinking, what can we do next and we planned to make an e-commerce site. E-commerce was growing heavily and decided to use our technical capability and strength to utilize the market trend. In 2012 board approved of it and just working on it for 3 months, our site was ready.
Picking nopCommerce as base
Our vision was to make Biponee #1 e-commerce site in Bangladesh. So, we were looking for a platform that very easy to use, very easy to customize and robust technology support. So, we were looking for .net instead of PHP.
Brain Station-23 has a very strong foothold in asp.net, more than 60% of the 150 people company (in 2017) works in asp.net projects. Initially, in 2006, we were PHP focused company. Because I myself loved and worked in PHP and I was Zend Certified Engineer also. But, we found larger clients and enterprise clients were more looking for asp.net, so we started working on it and eventually became one of the best. We now have multiple Microsoft MPV, NopMVP and lots of MCP. So, asp.net became kind of home ground for us.
Another reason being, in ASP.net, it is easier to make a better performing application because the code runs directly from ram by compiled dll. On the other hand, PHP being scripting language is loaded from a file system and then for every time it’s interpreted. That’s the default system. It can be optimized and make to perform awesome, but it’s difficult and not many people can do that. In ASP.net, by default, it starts running faster. In PHP, if beautiful, scalable and object-oriented frameworks are used, then in order to create a lot of classes, you need to use a lot of files. Loading all these files makes it, by default, slow. Then again, it can be made faster, just need that expertise which we didn’t have at that time.
Finally, another reason was resource availability. Not only in Bangladesh, all over the world, general asp.net developers get more salary than asp.net and that results in better developers moving toward asp.net. So, more talented developer become, by default, available in asp.net than PHP. Also, somehow, better developer tend to love ASP.net or Java more than PHP. In our company, we don’t make any such discrimination, because in our company, we just hire talented people. A language is just a tool – in our company. But generally, more better developer becomes available for two above reasons. I know personally many PHP developers, who earn lot more money than asp.net developer and I have lot of respect for PHP (since I myself also am a PHP developer). But, this created a challenge. I have lost some great developers during our company’s PHP age, because they wanted to move to some company where asp.net is used.
That said, it’s changing. I recently found talented developers, who have love and passion for PHP and is doing very good. So, it’s changing. Back at that time, I had this talent problem. I needed talented people and it was difficult to find those talents in PHP and easier to find in asp.net
So, with above these things, we decided to use ASP.net
Why Open Source
With our capability, it was very easy for us to make a software from scratch. We have made projects for many startups and big companies (like British Telecom) which is used by millions of people. So, making an app from scratch, where I know everything made the most sense. There are a couple of reasons for which we decided to go open source, while many goes other way.
Not reinventing the wheel – There is no reason why we should reinvent the wheel, all the same features are needed, category management, product management, login module, order processing etc. Not to mention, there are hundreds and thousands of people are using it, testing it, fixing bugs, fixing security whole, adding new features, common plugins are easily available – lots of benefits of open source project. And we found that it helped us great extent. We could do all these. But, even being an outsourcing company, where our cost is most probably the lowest among all other outsourcing countries considering the high talent we have, it would cost us lot of money to build and test such application.
Faster time to market – since we didn’t reinvent the wheel, we could go to market very quickly. We knew what we are using is the best possible way to do e-commerce. We just modified based on our country needs and potential customer needs. Thus we could make the first version to go live within just 3 months, with just one junior developer with senior supervision and guidance.
Technology advantage – when we make an application, it’s not unusual to have bugs or security issues which need to be tested, found out and resolved. When we are using an open source, those security issues are already solved. Bear in mind that, we are a very good and strong company. So, we can make a secured application. But, even the most secured application can have a security flaw, which is why internationally so many hacks happen all over the world. So, when it’s an open source project, most security flaws are already tested and fixed, since it’s being used by thousands of company. While writing this article, I know there are more than 20,000 websites using nopCommerce.
When looking for open source, we thought of Magento, but for above reasons we decided not to use. Magento has very strong and beautiful architecture, which makes it slow. I have seen companies suffering with hundreds of product, but I have the vision to have hundreds of thousands. During that time, it had more than 200 tables. So, I felt, managing and customizing it is going to be quite challenging. It’s very easily customizable without code. But, if we want more than the customized software, where we code to make special changes, it’s going to be very difficult.
We found nopCommerce during that time had less than 100 tables with very beautiful and easy to understand MVP architecture. With that, we can quickly enter into the core codebase and modify to whatever we need and however we need them. Making plugin is very easy – create a new MVP project and add to the solution. Making and customizing theme was also very easy. Besides, we already have been working on nopCommerce since 2010.
We looked into other ASP.net open source e-commerce project but none were as much popular as nopCommerce.
Server cost, license cost, Microsoft, fear!!
One fear for us, really, was server cost. For all other projects - it’s client’s project, the client has to pay the server cost and license cost for the server, the client decides whether to use asp.net or PHP and we just follow that. We didn’t have to decide technology before most of the time. Now, when we are making our own site. So, these were a big challenge for us. What’s going to be the cost long run? Because we can’t just change technology after a while. In the same technology, we can refactor and modify to harness the power, but if the technology is changed, it would not be possible to just refactor.
However, we found out our fear was actually wrong. We are the big believer of lean startup, don’t spend money when not needed! So, we started with Arvixe shared hosting for only $8/month during that time. That went on for a couple of months. As sell started to grow, we went to $27/month with professional asp.net hosting in Arvixe. As sale grew further, we went to VPS of Arvixe for I think $40/month that time. Finally, when that exceeded, we started having a good amount of traffic, we went to Amazon Web Services. Finally, when we sold off, our server cost was somewhere $160/month where we had all license cost covered.
Also, we applied for Bizspark in Microsoft. That enabled us to have some further license. So, with no cost, a asp.net based startup can launch, hurray!!
Fees for commercial use
This is one interesting thing about nopCommerce. For using nopCommerce for commercial use, the license cost is very low. Around $70 per domain. So, we had no fear there. Because Magento commercial license was like insanely expensive back then.
Faster and easier customization made us grow faster than competitors
So, we launched our Biponee site. As customers started to come, we found we need to develop different things for changing customer needs and faster business operation. With such beautiful architecture, it was very easy for us to customize to meet changing customer need. We made lots of plugins and modified a number of free plugins to meet our need best way. To give some example –
- Bulk product edit – we created a plugin for easily editing all the searched products in a faster manner.
- Vendor extension plugin – we had 80+ vendors who were giving us the product. We made a plugin for them for their monitoring of sales.
- Quick order processing – we made a number of plugins for quickly processing order based on the need of our vendors and our couriers.
So, with all these, it became easier for us to become one of the top e-commerce site. However, technology is just 20-30% of the business, of course the main reason for success was operations. But, without proper technology support the company suffers. We made sure that it doesn’t happen.