Thursday, April 5, 2018


So I've gotten quite a bit done on the site the last few weeks. Not so much this week, but over the last 3, I've really made some progress.

Well, one after another, the problems kept hitting me. I won't claim to be the most IT technically savvy guy when it comes to programming. I'm very good at project management, keeping in tune with deadlines, etc. I'm also good at infrastructure, and keeping a cool head when in the midst of a technology crisis. But when it comes to coding, and HTML, I really haven't been to focused on that stuff for nearly 15 years. So, the latest series of problems were really issues.

  • Several DB problems. Wow, it seemed like every time I wanted to make a structural change, I ran into some database issue. Part of this had to do with the software I'm using for the storefront, but a lot of it had to do with my apprehension regarding making an internal DB change.
  • PHP issues. So, I'm not very well versed with PHP. I've made many changes to the .ini files to get the site to do what I wanted it to do, but displaying .php pages is not like traditional .html or .htm files. PHP is infinitely more powerful (in my experience), but it amounts to a programming language.
  • Magento issues overall. Not much to blame on Magento here. The distribution, even the free one, is pretty much amazing, and works well right out of the box. Some of the issues I had here were really with regard to trying to deploy the Magento OpenSource software with Sample Data. Referring back to the database issues - no manner of deployment using the Installatron application would work. (For those who don't know, Installatron is a software application that is embedded in cPanel - a hosting management interface - which allows you to install applications and services that can help you with your hosting platform.) Anyway, the Magento application kept failing to install, with some ambiguous error executing the application API, and pretty much always at the point when it was attempting to create and populate the database to support Magento itself.
  • Hosting - Well, hosting turned out to really be the crux of the issue. I'm using GoDaddy. So here's a quick sub-list of the issues I ran into there.
    • Initial hosting - I started out with their Deluxe Standard Hosting. Ran into a lot of installation issues. Here's where I hit my first Installatron bugs, and some research suggested that the standard hosting is shared - and would not only cause these types of issues, which could really not be resolved, but I'd eventually need to move to some form of upgraded business hosting, so that I wouldn't be sharing resources, and potentially affect traffic when the site becomes successful. I ran into all kinds of hosting issues here, and my files failed to upload using FileZilla (their recommended client). I had to do manual uploads, to get Magento onto the site so I could at least get started. I did finally get it online, but I had several problems trying to upload content. So, screw it... I paid the extra money for business hosting.
    • Business hosting - Given the pitfalls I mentioned in the initial (shared) hosting, I upgraded to Business Hosting. This was another ~$300, pushing me to about $1K. It was for 3 years of hosting, so I felt the price was OK.  Anyway, This did allow me to successfully using Installatron to get Magento onto the site, which did indeed remove a few of the issues I was having.  However, for reasons that still escape understanding, Installatron wouldn't install a version with Sample Data. Anyway, after dozens of attempts, and finally doing everything from the ground up, I got Magento online.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get the application to do a few simple things (e.g. uploading graphics and favicons). Days upon days I spent trying to overcome these "invalid scope or scope id" issues. I finally worked with GoDaddy support, who was relatively helpful, and were kind enough to actually login, check my configurations (which, ironically, were actually correct - yay, go me!), and try with me to make some changes to see if we could remediate my problems.  Ultimately, no joy, and I ended up with a few links to information, most of which I'd already followed. Their final recommendation... was to move to VPS hosting, which would provide me, by and large, the same features as dedicated server hosting on their platform. VPS is nice though, since it's essentially a virtual appliance that has the same resources as a piece of hardware. It's nice though, since virtual servers allow for 'snapshots' which allow you to rapidly restore the server to the same state it was in after some catastrophic mistake (e.g. applying a patch or template that breaks something major). It really can save you a lot of time and effort when things go wrong.  So, after a couple more days... I went to VPS hosting.
    • VPS hosting - OK, so this was probably my wisest move.  Fortunately for me, GoDaddy provides a 30 day money-back guarantee. So, I still had another couple of weeks on my 30 days, and they actually converted my entire previous expenditure to in-store credit, set me up with Deluxe VPS Hosting, charged me the $200 difference, and got me going within an hour or two.  Still though, I get a brand new 30 day money-back guarantee, in the event my issues don't get resolved. But hey... things went well.  I of course did have a HUGE learning curve, since they put me into a WHM interface. While a problem for me, due to unfamiliarity, I did need 2-3 days to get past that learning curve.  The good news though is that the VPS hosting includes several IP addresses, and some additional features that I can use. Ultimately, it will save me hundreds of dollars over the next few years, assuming I stay with GoDaddy.  In any case, this hosting solution did finally allow me to do everything I needed to do.  While Installatron STILL didn't allow Magento (actually in any form - no matter what I did), I was able to manually upload the application, WITH the Sample Data (Woohoo!), and run the necessary wizards to help me establish the database and get things going.  I had a few issues with the web server, but my nephew was able to hop online and help me resolve my Apache dependency issues. The following day, I installed my template (Argento), and finally had the site I wanted online, and I was finally able to start modifying the content and features.
  • Argento - This is the theme I'm using to customize my web store. Argento, from Swissup Labs, is an amazing theme pack. It actually had 5 layouts that were included, and has since been upgraded to have 6 layouts. It includes quite a few extensions which both accelerate the content and enable a bunch of features, not the least of which include various Search Engine Optimization (SEO) options.  SEO is critical in today's online sales process, since it helps your web site appear in, if not at the top of, the search results of people online trying to find things you sell using their favorite search engine. Keywords and tags are critical, and SEO gives them functional life on the Internet. Further, these guys have some of the best support I've experienced. Once I was in my VPS solution I ran into a glitch or two enabling the Argento modules. However I went to their online chat utility, was immediately connected with someone (which is common for the few times I've contacted them), who successfully resolved my issue. In the final case, they did ask if I'd be willing to let them login and fix it themselves, and I allowed them to do that. However, even in this case, they set me up with an online encryption system that let me pass my credentials to them for their use. And, of course, any good IT guy will either change those credentials either before or after the support experience. ...yes, I'm a good IT guy. LOL
So, after all of that, I am here today updating my blog with good news.  All of my logos are finalized. I have the site up and running - albeit with no products yet to sell, but I've begun establishing a few relationships so that I can begin offering a few items that might get the business going. I mean, really, I'm actually, technically, ready to start selling. These are my last couple of activities before I begin marketing the site:
  1. Modify the company address on the site to be a PO Box.
  2. Establish an additional phone for Customer Service Contact.
  3. Create product categories (both as offerings, and as online entities).
  4. Compile a list of products in each category.
  5. Establish relationships to provide the products (whether dropship or reseller).
  6. Populate the online catalog of products.
  7. Modify the site layout for ease of search and purchase.
  8. Create email templates for customer contact.
  9. Create newsletter templates for customer communication marketing.
  10. Some other miscellaneous tasks necessary to tweak site pages (FAQ, About US, etc).
That's it.  A lot of progress, and still quite a bit left to do.  With any luck, I'll go live in a short while and bet ready to get things in gear.  

Afterthought... given that I am in a 30 day window, and I've been recommended to a different online sales hosting solution, I'm just typing this reminder to download and make a full backup of the site here in my personal data center. That way, if I decide to leave GoDaddy, I should be able to just upload everything to a new solution (after configuring the various servers and software applications) and get back to selling.  ;)

Thanks for reading! Hope you are having a wonderful day!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Some progress on the site.

What a week!

I didn't get a lot done on the site this week. However, since last week, I did accomplish a few things. First, the site is up now. You can see the splash page at I know I don't need to capitalize the words in the domain. I just do it for the purpose of branding, in the obvious hope that the name sticks in peoples' heads.

I also overcame nearly all of my Magento issues. I probably should be documenting a lot of the obstacles, for future reference. I'm likely to do that moving forward. Boy were there a lot of them. I still have a few more obstacles (e.g. uploading a logo returns the error "invalid scope or scope id."), though I expect that I may be able to overcome those with a template. Even if not, the template I'm currently considering comes with installation (and ongoing) support at a very reasonable cost. The company is in Switzerland though, so we'll see how I can work that out. Hey, I'm single, shouldn't be an issue staying up late to work with them if need be. Anyway, a lot of progress on that front. What's weird though is, when I look at all I've done, I find myself thinking I didn't really accomplish a lot - which is probably because it's all back-end stuff, and I can't show anybody any of it. It's a lot of reports customization and the like, which is still in its infancy. I won't really be able to get those in place until I have something on which to report and I can see it. Doh! LOL

From a business perspective, I have also applied for my DUNS number from Dun & Bradstreet. I don't plan to buy things on credit, at least not until orders exceed my one-man-band capacity to service them, but I know it's essential.

I'm reading some information on StartUpPrincess(dot)com regarding starting a small business. I suppose it's useful to mention that I've been going back and forth between the dropship and reseller models. Dropshipping has it's obvious benefits, but I'm thinking reseller agreements would be a better way to go. Something about the reseller agreement seems to have a likelihood for higher profit potential, at least over time.  I'm thinking (and I realize I may have blogged this before) that some dropshipping in the beginning will be a good start, and allow me to get into all the marketing and ad stuff. Again, as I KNOW I've blogged before... it's all a bit overwhelming.

At this point, you (if you even exist - since who is bothering to read my stuff here? LOL)... anyway, you're probably wondering why I'm doing it alone.  Well, because nobody wants to help. I haven't really asked, but when I bring it up all I get is encouragement. I spoke with my buddy, who was making some good money in online retail, but he really wasn't listening to me. **sigh**  Every time I mentioned a topic, I'd get a few words out and he would start telling me what he knew. I couldn't get a word in edgewise, since he was essentially recreating the wheel with his advice. I kept telling him that I knew where he was going, and that I had already worked out a lot of the details he was "introducing me to," but he just got into this zone where I had to sit and listen to him while he petered himself out on the topic.  It's was pretty frustrating - but, at the same time, it was a healthy discussion in understanding what a future in business partnership with him might hold. We got past that discussion and, a few weeks later, the next time we talked, he brought up the concept of "dropshipping" to me, as if I had never heard of it. LOL  I'm sure he recalled the discussion of it, but I wasn't talking to him about dropshipping, I was talking to him about other outlets and resources to promote the online business and expand sales in a capacity that would corral satellite customers from those outlets and resources to the primary iBuildThings web site.

All that being said, he clearly has my best interests at heart. He and his wife are wonderful friends of mine. It's just that his level of focus is so diffused that progress is excruciatingly slow. I'll circle back around with him after there's an online catalog, and no reason to discuss startup topics.

Outside of that discussion, I have other friends who have a lot of great ideas on where to take the idea, but I'm guessing I'm a bit poor at conveying my focus. Which, of course, causes me to consider that my own focus leaves a bit to be desired. I mean even in that rant you just read, I have to assume at least 50% of the cause for him not being able to focus on the main idea. I guess I need a 15 second elevator pitch.

So, I'm getting rambly here. LOL  My mind is wandering away from the details of the store. 

So, over the weekend, I need to review the rest of the StartUpPrincess info, and put together the details for establishing reseller agreements.

Today, I'm going to review some payment processors, and engage a dropshipping company or two and try to get the makings of an online catalog together. I'll also be contacting the Argento (theme people I mentioned) and see about purchasing that theme and its related extensions and getting those installed. Once those things are in place, I should be able to soft-launch, and begin a couple of ad campaigns and see if I can get a few products sold. I mean hey, until I am actually in the water, I can't see how well I can swim.

Thanks for reading this. Even if nobody does, it's cathartic to type it out. ;)

Hope you're having a fantastic day!

Oh, and here's the parent company logo... I finally go this finalized. :)

Friday, March 9, 2018

So I've been working on my ecommerce site over the past few days. What a pain. I'm using Magento on a hosted solution. Oy vey, one problem after another. Failed Magento installations, failed dependencies, etc. Terribly poor documentation for what is supposed to be an automated process. However, I learned quite a bit, and finally got the site to complete installation. Unfortunately, I now cannot run the new site installation tool. This is even weirder, since a previous installation that failed actually gave me the tool, but then failed to install the demo content I requested. I attempted to not install that (opting to install it manually later), and now the installation completes, though with an error claiming it cannot process the request for the web site (either at the standard dot com URL or the setup URL).  **sigh**  One weird thing to note though is, after the (failed) installation, it appears that the URL for the setup is visible on the public internet. Anybody who might go to the web store before I did would have been able to run it first. You would think they'd incorporate some login credentials to actually run it. But nope.  Did I say "Oy vey?"  LOL

I posted a plea for help in the Magento forums.  Let's see what I come up with.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

So I decided to try out Blogger to see what I may or may not like about blogging. I'm not much on sharing aspects of my life with the general public, but let's see where this takes us. ;)