Now that the cat is out of the bag, I can share some recent news with you. Earlier today, we announced that Blue Box Group had acquired Rails Boxcar, our kickass deployment solution for Ruby on Rails applications.
Our team has been offering hosting services for over six years. When I made the decision to start providing Rails hosting over four years ago, it was something that I thought the community needed to validate that Ruby on Rails was a viable solution for building web applications. At the time, there was only one or two companies offering pre-configured solutions. The good ole days. :-)
Over the course of the past 4+ years, we’ve helped deploy and host well over a thousand web applications built with Ruby on Rails. Perhaps we even hosted your site at one point or another. We definitely had a lot of fun and learned a lot from our experience.
Fast-forward four years, the community now has several great solutions and options for hosting their Ruby on Rails applications. Knowing this, we began to look over the plethora of services that we offer and felt that we had been spreading ourselves too thinly. We were faced with the big question of: Should we focus our energy on trying to innovate in this competitive space or should we find a community-respected vendor to pass the torch to?
Rails Boxcar is a product that we are extremely proud of and believe the acquisition by Blue Box Group will be great for our existing customers. The acquisition is going to benefit our customers as they’ll be able to interface with a team with more resources. A team that also aims to innovate in this space and believes that Rails Boxcar will help them do that.
As a byproduct of this deal, our team has an opportunity to focus our collective energy on designing and developing web applications, which has also been a central part of what we do for as long as we’ve been in business. We plan to speed up our efforts on a handful web-based products that we’ve been internally developing and hope to release in the near future.
I had the pleasure of getting to talk thoroughly with the team at Blue Box Group and really feel like they’ll be able to focus their energy on maintaining and innovating within the Ruby on Rails hosting world.. definitely more than we could over the coming years. In the end, the acquisition is going to benefit our customers the most as they’ll be able to interface with a larger team that is innovating in this space.
If you’re interested in learning more about the acquisition, please read the press release.
From our perspective, this is a win-win-win situation for everyone involved. Expect to see some more news from us in the near future… and if you’re looking for a design and development team, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Zack Chandler (author of the TrustCommerce gem) writes..
“How do you like Braintree? I’ve haven’t used them yet but may in the future…”
Good question. I was actually planning to write up a quick review of their exceptional service because not many people know about them yet. Now is as good of a time as any.
We’ve been using Authorize.NET for over four years as it’s what our primary banking institution hooked us up with when we began researching merchant services. However, they didn’t provide us with some of the subscription-based management features that we found with some other payment gateways and we began referring our customers to TrustCommerce. We planned to switch over to TrustCommerce with the development of Cobalt (our new billing and hosting support platform).
After we began to set milestones for going live with Cobalt, I tried to get in touch with TrustCommerce. I was provided a demo account and really wanted to get in touch with their sales department to get an application.
...a week goes by. No response. So, I tried to contact them again. No response. tried again… and (yet) again… no response. To date, I have yet to hear back from them.
This was echoed by one of our consulting clients that said, “their support staff seems real responsive, but I can’t get ahold of anyone to actually get an account.” So, I planned to start looking at other options or stick with Authorize.NET.
..and then (as if they were listening to my thoughts)... I receive an email from Bryan Johnson, founder of Braintree, a payment processing company.
“I am the founder of Braintree, a payment processing company. We provide credit card and electronic check processing, simplified PCI DSS Compliance through remote storage of credit card data, payment gateway/virtual terminal, etc. We’re a one stop shop.”
He goes on to introduce himself and explain that they’re really focused on subscription-based services, which is exactly what our new centralized billing app is handling.
So, since I hadn’t heard from TrustCommerce, I requested a demo with Braintree. We were able to take advantage of the hard work that has put into the ActiveMerchant project, which already works with Braintree. So, our application that we’d been focusing on integrating with TrustCommerce was just a few lines of code away from working with Braintree.
While I’m sure that many people have had great experiences with TrustCommerce (as I did when I worked with their support team while working client projects)... not being able to order an account isn’t doing them any favors.
So, we just launched and now running Cobalt with Braintree as our backend for managing recurring credit card processing. Their customer support has been great so far. In one case, I messed up some security settings and locked myself out and after they saw that I had failed to login a few times, I received a call from one of their support people. I didn’t prompt it… they took the initiative to call me. She said she’d look into it and called me back when she figured out what I had done wrong. :-)
On Monday afternoon, after I announced that we launched Cobalt on my blog, I got a congratulations from another of their developers who congratulated us and wished us the best of success.
So… Zack. To answer your question, “How do you like Braintree?”
My answer is… I think they’re fantastic so far. Their web interface for managing your account could use a few IxD eyes, but we like that it’s minimal and most importantly… the core functions of their product appear to be working great. Our team has now talked to roughly 5-6 different team members at Braintree and have nothing but great things to say about those interactions. Great customer service that definitely seems to echo that they want their customers to be successful and are here to do what they can to provide us with the tools we need to fulfill our goals.
I only wish that we had the same service from all of our vendors.
Bryan, thanks for introducing yourself. You have a great team.
- For more information, visit http://getbraintree.com/
Wow, 2007 has gone by really fast. I’ve been fairly busy wrapping up projects and getting ready to start new ones at Planet Argon. I’m sure that when many of you start a new project… you look back at what you’ve learned from previous ones. Even throughout iterations in a project, we try our best to have retrospectives to be sure that we’re all learning from what has and hasn’t worked. A few weeks ago, I decided to drop a note to the members of the Business of Rails community to ask people to share some of their lessons from the year. My goal was to get people to share their experiences from over the year with other members of the community and see where the dialogue takes us into 2008.
As expected… I got some great responses, which I encourage you to read for yourself. You might even participate in the conversation(s) and share your experiences. We’d love to hear them.
Side note… I’d like to thank all of you who have participated in the Business of Rails community over the year. It was an idea that came to me during RailsConf 2007 after I participated on a panel with other business leaders in the Ruby on Rails community. We now have over 800 members on the mailing list! I’ve learned a lot from the community and hope more of you decide to join. :-)
As I mentioned in my last review, I wouldn’t be updating on a weekly basis, which is a shame because there are so many fascinating discussions going on that might benefit you if you’re running a business that uses and/or relies on the Ruby on Rails framework. I’d like to highlight some of the discussions that have been taking place over the past month or so.
First off… wow! As of this morning, there are 650 members!
Some Recent Discussions
Obtaining Ruby Gigs
Johan Pretorius started a discussion with the following…
“I’ve been lurking on the group for a while now, the time has come to participate … What strategy would you recommend for somebody that wants to break into the Ruby (on Rails) market?”
On a related topic, Jose Hurtado started a discussion asking for tips on how to get a reputation in the Ruby on Rails community for you business.
Some of the responses included:
- Start a portfolio
- Contribute to Open Source projects
- Contribute to Rails through Documentation
- Subcontract through well-known developers
- Start a blog
- Write a book
Read the entire thread and please share any other ideas that you have on this topic with Johan, Jose, and rest of the list. :-)
Taking a full-time job, what about your freelance clients?
Oren writes, “I got a full-time job offer as employee (and not on as a contractor). My current client might need some help on the weekends in the next month, so I might still do contract work. Can I keep my corporation (corp S) while working full time?”
Starting your own business might sound like an amazing thing to do, but it often comes with a lot of consequences and struggles, which I’m definitely not been immune to.
Michael M. writes, ”...added to having to create a company, perform customer support, continue to grow the features, marketing, and the loads of other things I haven’t thought of yet…is there any hope that one person can pull this off while still working at my current job ( with hopes of going it alone when I’m sure it can fly ), and giving time to my family, with very little up front costs. I’ve been reading quite a bit about bootstrapping lately, but to really make the time has been very difficult.”
There were several thoughtful responses where well-known members of the Ruby on Rails community, such as Joe O’Brien Ben Curtis shared through personal experiences.
Joe O’Brien wrote, “I wanted to mainly chime in on the family part. Something that has taken a year for me to figure out how to balance. I would not have been able to do any of it, had it not been for my wife’s full support. I have three kids, all of whom I love spending time with, so figuring out a way to balance it all has been very tricky. Up front though, my wife and I knew this would not be your typical job. It helped that I used to travel and now do not, but it has still been an adjustment.”
If you’ve been running your own Rails business, please consider responding to this thread and sharing your experience.
Join the Community
As mentioned, this is just a small sample of some of the great discussions taking place on the Rails Business mailing list. If you’re an aspiring Rails freelancer or business owner, be sure to join the community and share your experiences and learn from other members of the community that are willing to share theirs.
As always, have fun!
It’s been about six weeks since the last Rails Business “Weekly” Review on here, so perhaps it’s worth changing the name to cut me some slack on not being consistent. ;-)
Since the last post, we’ve gone from around 400 members to 555 as of this morning. We’ve had 562 messages as well, so there hasn’t been a shortage of discussions taking place. I’d like to take a few moments to highlight some of the discussions that have taken place and encourage you all to consider participating, if you’re not already.
Licensing and Client Agreements
Tim Case writes,
“My client sent me this agreement drawn up from their lawyer that included the following:
(c) the Contractor shall not bundle with or incorporate into any Work Product any third-party products, ideas, processes, software, codes, data, techniques, names, images, or other items or properties without the express, written prior approval of the Company;”
Tim then goes on to ask how his applies to using Ruby on Rails, which as a MIT license and how other consultancies are handling these types of situations. Follow the discussion…
Gustin writes, “Does anyone have any escrow experience, legal and cost? I am dealing with a client that got burned bad and we are reducing their fear with escrow on the first two iterations.”
Project Planning tools
Mike Pence writes, “So, I used to use MS Project for the composition of those dreaded Gantt charts, but it has been a few years since I had to be so formal. Anything new and exciting – and more robust than Basecamp – happening in the world of project planning software?”
Not long after, Jim Mulholland started a new thread on the same topic and brought up the open source application, redMine. Follow this discussion…
Ruby on Rails versus .NET
Michael Breen asked a big question on the list, which has sparked an going discussion about the benefits of using Rails versus .NET (and other platforms).
“A couple of months ago I decided to stop actively pursuing .NET gigs to focus on Rails. Several of my existing .NET clients have learned of this through the grapevine and have contacted me to discuss.”
Three things Tim’s learned from Freelancing Rails
Tim Case shared his experience of freelancing with Ruby on Rails and highlights three things that he’s learned.
- The non-code business aspect of Freelancing is demanding.
- It takes 10 hours to bill 6 to 8.
- Figuring out your rate is hard.
Client issue tracking and documentation
Jeff Judge writes, “Hello all! I was curious to here how people are handling client issue tracking and documentation.”
Several applications were mentioned for handling issue tracking and the general consensus was that there was still a lot to be desired that current options didn’t provide. Be sure to follow the discussions…
Join the Community
These were just a small handfull of the discussions that have taken place over the past several weeks. If you’re an aspiring Rails freelancer or business owner, be sure to join the community and share your experiences and learn from other members of the community that are willing to share theirs.
Until next time, have fun!
In response to my article, Audit Your Rails Development Team, Tim Case writes,
“I think what you are doing has value and I’ve been anticipating that someone in the rails community would step up and do this, hence the question I posed because I’ve thought about that thorny issue too. I have a feeling Planet Argon is making the first step in a direction that has been building, Peer review has the potential to be positive for the entire community, provided that it’s shepherded properly and with care.”
It’s been just over a year since we first made a public announcement of our Rails Code Audit and Review service and we’ve had different types of clients inquire about it. We make sure to call it a code audit and review because we’re not aiming to only point out flaws. We see our service as a way to help stake holders gauge the capabilities of their developers while also providing developers with some more insight to how things could be done differently. There are a lot of developers using Ruby on Rails now and it’s safe to say that there are many that aren’t very good yet. Some may argue that the ease of getting started with Rails makes it easy for inexperienced developers to stay just good enough and never take the next step. We’ve seen some beautiful code and we’ve seen some horrific code. Some of our clients have made the tough decision to fire their existing freelancers after we’ve completed our analysis… but we’ve seen several situations where our clients were happier with their developers after.
For example, we recently completed a code audit and review for a client, which came to us with some concerns about their development team. Things seemed to be going slower than they thought it would and really wanted to have an outside opinion about the quality of their work. Overall, their application was being developed really well and the biggest problems that they had were related to a lack of testing. So, we’re now walking them through the process of integrating RSpec into their development process. Their development team admitted that they suffered from a lack of testing, but were very honest about the fact that they just didn’t know where to begin as it wasn’t something they had time to learn before. We’ve been able to provide them with some direction and now we’re available to answer questions and review their work from time to time. The outcome was good for everyone. The developers are better off because their manager has more confidence in them. The manager has more confidence in the product as a whole and knows exactly where his team should focus their attention on next. We’ve gained a new Rails consulting client and get to help them with their cool project.
While we love working on entire projects from start to finish, we also love working with other developers and development teams. This has been one of our favorite types of client relationships. We’re currently working with a handful of people as they work their way through the project life cycle and we’re always a phone call, Basecamp message, or email away from assisting them. I feel that these types of services are important to the Rails community, because we’ve witnessed situations where clients were unhappy with Rails because they weren’t happy with their developers. We’ve seen people drop Rails in favor of something else because of the poor quality of code that was being written in Rails. When bad perceptions spread, it’s bad for the community as a whole.
What we can do, is become the backup team for the client and/or development team. Should they run into any weird deployment issues at 2am on a Sunday morning or aren’t able to track down the cause of some performance issue, we’re another set of people that can help out. While we don’t know every nook and cranny of our consulting clients’ applications, we do have a good understanding of them. This allows us to dive in and help more quickly than we can for clients that call us for the first time a few hours after they had an emergency.
It’s my opinion that these types of services are very valuable and highly encourage other consultancies in the Rails community to offer them.
If you’re part of a development team and/or a freelance developer and looking for this sort of relationship, please contact us to see how we can assist you.