, A motorcycle webshop

It was the 10th of december 2009, the day I officially became an entrepreneur. I had opened the digital doors of my webshop just a month before that. And although people told me I was crazy to start a webshop in the midsts of a crisis, I proved them wrong. Because that first order was one of many to come.

2009, in the mid of the financial crisis I decided to start my own webshop. Why? Well I could name a couple of reasons. But looking back, I think the most important reason for me to start my own business was because I wanted clarity and certainty. And I know that sounds strange. Because starting your own business gives you anything but clarity and certainty. But then again, I am not like most other people. Because I had been working for multiple managers already. And everytime I finally found a good working rhythm, I would get a new manager. A new manager, with new ideas and new ways to work, and I could start all over again.

But for me change doesn’t come easy. And so I figured, what if I could become my own boss? Then I could determine my own ideas and my own ways of working. I could define my own rhythm without having to change it every so often. And so it happened that I started making plans on becoming my own boss. But what kind of business would I start?, based on Zen Cart, based on Zen Cart

Well, ever since I left school I had always worked in sales. And besides that I had a passion for both programming and motorcycles. So what better way to combine my knowledge of sales with both my passions and start a webshop? A webshop in motorcycle accessories. And so, on the 22nd of september 2009 I registered my own company, And 1,5 month later on the 11th of november I opened the digital doors of my very own webshop. I had prepared for everything, or at least so I thought. In the months before I had registered a domain. I had oriented on a webshop platform. And I had taken a (at least for the time being) last holiday, since I assumed I wouldn’t have much time for that anymore.

Zen Cart

In 2009 the biggest webshop platform was by far osCommerce. It was open-source, the easiest to learn, it had an active support forum and there where a lot of addons available for it. If I wanted to have taken the easy way I would have definitely chosen osCommerce. But I wasn’t gonna take the easy way. Because to me osCommerce looked outdated and all the webshops running it looked like a dime a dozen. I could easily recognize every webshop running on that platform. And I didnt want that for my webshop. I wanted to have a webshop with its own identity. And so I needed a platform that would allow me to customize the look and feel to how I wanted it.

And so I eventually came to Zen Cart. Zen Cart by itself was a fork of osCommerce. It was created for exactly the same reasons I had for not wanting to use osCommerce. The greatest benefit of Zen Cart was its implementation of a template system. This allowed me to make my own custom webshop design. Since I already had experience with html and css this was quite easy for me to do so. More difficult would be the alterations to Zen Cart itself. Zen Cart itself was php and mysql driven, and since I didn’t had any experience with either php or mysql, I had to learn it on the fly. And so I learned the basis of both php and mysql through self-learning but also through trial and error.

First steps in php and mysql programming

Choosing for Zen Cart also had his downsides. Mainly because the structure of Zen Cart was different then the structure of osCommerce. This meant that addons for osCommerce needed to be ported to Zen Carts structure before they could be used. Some of the popular addons where ported over already. But for I needed one specific addon that wasn’t ported yet. Because on the webshop I was selling a lot of motorcycle parts that where brand, model or even year specific. And so I wanted to have a Make-Model-Year filter on the webshop. On osCommerce there was a addon available for that, but of course that didn’t work on Zen Cart. And so, even though I still had only limited php and mysql knowledge, I ported the addon over to Zen Cart.

While I was busy writing this post I searched online if I could still find some remains of what was once my pride and joy. And much to my surprise I found out that has been saved and indexed by the Internet Archive Wayback machine. The best working version that I could find was this one.

Prestashop, based op Prestashop, based on Prestashop

After a few years Zen Cart itself had started to be outdated too. Development on Zen Cart had slow down, and competitors had come along. And besides that customers had become to expect more functionality and more dynamic experience on the webshop. And so I started searching for a new platform. I ended up choosing for Prestashop. Prestashop was by that time an up and coming open-source webshop platform. It was way more refined than Zen Cart and it made use of javascript to deliver a more dynamic experience. It was web 2.0 ready. Also a lot of the features that were only available with addons in Zen Cart where built into Prestashop already. All by all was Prestashop a more modern platform.

The only thing Prestashop didn’t have was a Make-Model-Year filter. There was not even an addon available. But my customers were used to the Make-Model-Year filter. So for me it was not an option not to have it. And since Zen Cart and Prestashop where not even related in any way, I needed to make the addon myself this time. And so I did. Luckily the mysql database could stay the same and that would become my base to start from. From there on I developed the entire addon until it had the same functionality as it had on Zen Cart.

Closing down

At the prime of the webshop I had almost 20.000 product up for sale. And on top of that I managed to make more profit then my day job (at least in the summertime). But still, in the end I decided to close down the webshop. Why?

Driving your passion vs Driving my passion

Well, my passion was, and still is, motorcycles. Besides that I really enjoyed the programming of the website. More so than the selling. Because selling was never my passion to begin with. Selling was my profession, it was what I was good at. So what I started to realize is that I wasn’t driving my own passion anymore. Instead I was working hard to make (drive) the customers passion.

What also didn’t help was that I had so many products in the webshop. When I started I decided that I wanted to have a broad assortment of products. This seemed to be a good idea at the time. Because offering everything meant I never had to sell a no. Only I didn’t think of all the maintenance those products needed. Every year items when out of fashion or prices changed. And maintaining all that became a yearly bothersome, that became just too much for me to do alone.

But no matter the outcome I don’t have any regrets. I learned a lot, I learned about php, mysql. But also I learned about seo and website design. Maybe one day I’ll setup another webshop. But for sure I will do some things differently. I won’t setup a broad assortment again. Instead I would try to focus on a niche market. Preferably something I can use to drive my own passion with instead of driving other people’s passions. Because most of all I learned that life is too short to not do what you love.

Posted in: Motorcycles, Programming, Projects
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About Remco

Hi, I'm Remco and I'm the founder of Yosora. I'm a self taught web developer and a technology enthusiast with a passion for motorcycles. I have been a web entrepreneur, and since 2018 I'm working as a systems administrator. For my day job I administer Microsoft systems, but in my spare time I still prefer to work with Linux systems.

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