Online enablers

By Nandini Vaidyanathan

Last week I had organized an open house for entrepreneurs in one of the business schools where I teach entrepreneurship. We had six entrepreneurs from diverse domains, attitudes and aspirations. During a fairly intense interaction, one of my students asked a mentee of ours what her challenges were in building the business. Given her age (22), he probably expected her to say not knowing what was the right thing to do was a challenge, or how to get customers was a challenge. She surprised everyone by saying the biggest challenge, especially if you are in the e-commerce space, is the absence of a fully-evolved system of enablers that are necessary for the portal’s success.

What did she mean by enablers? Broadly, they are web portal developers, payment gateway providers, logistics partners, social media agencies, mobility app developers, digital footprint managers. As the first three are my pet peeves, I will discuss them in the next few columns.

Web portal development

For this issue, let us focus on web portal development. The challenge of finding the right company is as much of a challenge as getting it to deliver within the agreed time frame, quality and cost. Whilst like gully cricket there are gully developers, their ability to deliver is hugely suspect. There are two categories in this space. One is small shops, maybe one or two men armies, mostly moonlighting. The reason startup entrepreneurs gravitate towards them is they seem to be wallet-friendly, at least before they start work on your project. These guys have the gift of the gab. They empty your pocket convincingly for three months saying that all the HTML coding is ready without as much as showing you a wireframe!

The second is those companies which mostly work with overseas markets. These guys are completely disdainful of the ‘domestic’ market so they treat you like Cinderella after midnight. Then they quote outrageous prices linked to a complicated algorithm of senior/junior developers and their man-hour costs which is gobbledygook. The icing on the cake is that at no point does it occur to them that they have to deliver. They plod, stringing you along for months on end (in the case of one of our mentees, coders came and coders went but he hasn’t gone live even after 16 months).

During this time, you will learn strange expressions like wireframe, version control, JQuery, PHP, UI, navigation friendliness (I’m sure Columbus never worried about this!), landing page (an astronaut, eh?), cloud (is this different from Kalidasa’s lyrical ode called ‘Megha Sandesha’?), bugs (how did they worm their way in?) and the biggest of them all, browser compatibility! At the end of it all, have you gone live? No way! Now that I got started on this subject, I have so much more to share with you, wait for my next column please.