“I’ve Rarely Come Across A Case Where Magento Was Too Limited,” Says Sander Mangel, A Self-taught Magento Maverick

by Saad Khan  December 2, 2014

Sander Mangel owes his success to his determination, dedication, passion, and hard work. With a generous heart that helps out others on different Magento forums, Sander has come a long way in making his name in this challenging field of Magento.

With over 8 years of experience, he has established himself as one of the most sought after PHP and Magento consultant in Scandinavia. Currently, he is working as a Magento Consultant at Experius.

We are honored to have Sander Mangel on board with us. In this interview, he has shared his professional experiences, his love for PHP and Magento. He also sheds light on the current challenges being faced by Magento developers, about customers’ perspective on Magento, and about security issues facing the Magento’s ecosystem. Follow Sander Mangel on Twitter (@sandermangel).

Interview-Banner-with-Sander-Mangel

Cloudways: Sander, you’ve been involved with PHP and Magento for a quite long period of time. Take us back to the beginning: How did your career start? What were the biggest challenges along the way? What are you currently working on?

Sander Mangel: I graduated as a cameraman, and took a freelance work in the same field for a few months. When it came to finding a job, there wasn’t that much around. Since I built websites as a hobby back then, I decided to try my luck at a small web agency in Rotterdam. I worked there for 4 years mostly with CodeIgniter (CI), osCommerce and an in-house built CMS merging those two together.

When I was offered an interview with a company that was starting to set up an ecommerce department, 250 meters from my house, I decided it was time for a new challenge (and the traveling time was way better). After a couple of interviews, I had no knowledge of Magento. Absolutely none! I bought 2 books, The Definitive Guide To Magento and the other one was something like a “cookbook”. I tried to get myself up to speed before I started the job next month. 4 years ago, at least from my perspective, the community was too small and I remember having a hard time finding any answers to issues I faced. And that was probably the biggest challenge, the steep learning curve.

Coming from CI and osCommerce where you could just poke around and see what happens. Some stuff just happened by plain magic. And I was the only Magento developer back then apart from two Romanian devs we outsourced some work to, but were about on the same level as I was. So, for the first 6 months, there was a lot of hair pulling and staying long hours to figure the inner workings of Magento out.

For the last 3 months, I’ve been working at Experius in Utrecht with a great team focusing on B2B and B2C models. The first project I got involved there is great. It was a Dutch t-shirt website. The owners wanted to get everything up and running before the holidays including some bundle pickers and other special ways to select your shirt.

Rebuilding the catalog, at least on the frontend, to suit the clients’ needs on how users interact with their product is always a fun challenge. Magento is quite flexible with that once you figure out how the cart and the product models work. So that’s what I’m currently working on right now.

Cloudways: Why, in your opinion, Magento is a popular ecommerce platform? What are some competitive advantages? Are there any must have features that Magento lacks?

Sander Mangel: Magento is great out of the box. Install it, throw in a template and some modules and you pretty much have a shop up and running. WooCommerce and Prestashop can do the same thing but they are, in my opinion, quite limited when it comes to growing your online business. I love the fact how Magento facilitates built-in multishop or multilanguage interface. Every core feature has tons of options to suit your needs which makes Magento a great platform to start out on.

On the other hand, when taking your online business to the next level, Magento allows you to easily hook in to the core where you have the option to expand functionality or create your own. I’ve rarely come across a case where Magento was too limited or couldn’t be modified in a way that would satisfy the clients’ needs. This makes it such a popular platform. It’s a solution for pretty much any budget and able to scale to any project size you want to use it for.

Another great advantage over other platforms is the sheer amount of plugins and integration partners. There is money to be made with anything concerned to Magento which means that companies can invest in building great modules to integrate ERP systems. For example, name a platform and there is a module out there that integrates with Magento.

That said, when building B 2B shops, Magento is lacking tons of functionalities that are essential to any B2B shop. Starting from prices per customer to requiring login to enter a shop. B2B and B2C for whole sellers will be, in my opinion, one of the biggest growth markets for ecommerce in the next few years. I would love to see Magento developers to focus on that like they are doing with the retail clothing branch right now.

Cloudways: How do you compare Magento with WooCommerce and PrestaShop and hosted carts like Shopify and BigCommerce? Will Magento continue to be the most popular ecommerce solution out there or lose the competition in future?

Sander Mangel: There is some overlap with Magento and WooCommerce or PrestaShop in small e-stores but as a general rule, I think any online business trying to expand its services will find that it’s much easier to scale up with Magento than with the other two.

In all honesty, I’m not that familiar with Shopify and BigCommerce except from setting them up and clicking through for a couple of hours but inherently any hosted solution will be limited to whatever is offered by those services and in the long run, it will always be a more expensive solution.

If Magento is to continue to be the most popular ecommerce solution that’s hard to say. If they keep up with the development (let’s not wait another 4 years or so with Mage 3) and keep supporting Magento CE, I think it’ll be a long time before a more popular platform will appear. It’s hard to compete with Magento’s sheer amount of modules and amazing community.

Cloudways: You live in Rotterdam and work in Utrecht. How has Magento fared in the booming CMS industry within the Netherlands? What are the the biggest challenges facing local Magento developers in the country?

Sander Mangel:  In the Netherlands, Magento is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms and there are plenty of (actually most of them) web agencies that deliver good quality ecommerce websites. The biggest challenge is in finding good developers from my point of view. Partly that’s why outsourcing is so popular, not just because of the reduced cost but simply because there are a lot more developers abroad than in the Netherlands.

Cloudways: As a Magento consultant and Magento developer for Experius, you definitely know what are the most common questions among Magento users? What are the main issues in managing Magento store? Why do these problems typically arise and how to avoid them?

Sander Mangel:  It’s amazing how clients can always come up with a new challenge that you’ve never encountered before. That’s what makes working with an ecommerce platform so much fun, the fact that every business has it’s own take on selling online. But generally pricing rules are a big challenge when it comes to existing companies that are starting to sell online, integrating Magento with their ERP, CRM, and warehousws and determining what the best architecture is for their shop.

As for the first two, it’s always good to see if you can standardize to some extent. Do you really need a price per customer per product? Or can we bring it down to certain groups getting a fixed percentage discount? Or can we find a solution for the custom shipping costs you calculate per order so we can easily integrate you with a warehousing solution.

For the last one, it’s all about knowing your customers, thinking like them and doing a lot of A/B testing to see what works best.

Cloudways: I have noticed on your Twitter profile that you love coffee. What are some places in Rotterdam or Utrecht that anyone can enjoy coffee? You also love science fiction. Which movies do you love or do you read Sci-fi? Any favorite authors?

Sander Mangel: Rotterdam is all about its coffee. In the last couple of years coffee places have been popping up on every street. “CEO Baas van het Vlees” is a restaurant with my favorite coffee brand “Cafés Richard”, and for the mornings there is Lebkov near the central station that has some great coffee. And at home, I stick to a french press, the best way to make coffee.

I love Sci-fi series. Star Trek, Battle Star Gallactica, Stargate… anything related to space and aliens works for me. I rarely read books about Sci-fi though. I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie, George Orwell, and everyone should read The Shadow Of The Wind. Having close to two hours each day on the train, I go through books pretty quickly, so I’ll read just about anything I can get my hands on.

Cloudways: How do you maintain work-life balance as you are working full time with Experius and as a freelance Magento consultant?

Sander Mangel: For Experius, I work 4 days per week and with a great team, the over hours are very limited, so that’s great. Freelance is one day a week and I’m very picky in what I take on. I started freelancing mostly as an opportunity to grow, so I take on jobs that are a challenge for me personally either technically or as a person.

I love to conduct trainings for new developers or help a shop owner out with issues concerning how to fit the business model into Magento or the other way around, but always limited to 6 or 8 hours per week.

I think the biggest issue is related to my projects that have become my hobby. There’s so much fascinating stuff out there, and I have a terrible focus so a lot of evenings are spent on experimenting with stuff that never gets finished.

Cloudways: What are the 10 must-have Magento extensions every ecommerce store needs to install?

Sander Mangel: Anything with an Aoe_ prefix is a must! Well, at least the profiler, template hints and scheduler. I’m also a big fan of the Webshopapps Matrixrate shipping extension as it gives a little more flexibility than Tablerates.

Also, the Layered Landing extension—I developed it with Matthias Kleine (@klein0r) at a hackathon—in Oldenburg, the Inchoo Social Login and for any developer, the Ultimate Module Creator by Marius Strajeru (@MariusStrajeru)

Cloudways: Magento has now become an integral part of Ebay. What are your thoughts about Ebay’s acquisition of Magento? Will it help Magento and its community, or does it spell Magento’s downfall?

Sander Mangel: That’s a tough one. It’s hard to say what Ebay’s plans are with Magento. It’s great to have a big company behind Magento as it can provide some (financial) security but then again, what happens to it when it no longer fits Ebay’s plans in it’s current form. In the end, with the popularity of Magento as a platform and the community around it I think, no matter what happens, Magento will continue to exist.

Cloudways: Different platforms are suitable for different kinds of businesses. Have there been any cases when you said to your client: “No, you shouldn’t use Magento. Try a simpler/different solution instead”?

Sander Mangel: Rarely! Though on a very small budget only, having one or two products and limited wishes in some cases, clients will be better of using maybe something like WooCommerce. It comes down to their goals. If they’re not planning on expanding their business in the next couple of years, investing in a well developed Magento setup might just not pay back.

Cloudways: IMAGINE is the flagship Magento event. Have you attended any? What was your experience? What other Magento specific events do you attend in Netherlands to meet local community?

Sander Mangel:  I’ve never been to IMAGINE. I would love to go, but since I have a limited budget for events I rather stick to the awesome Magento events we have in Europe. I’ve attended Meet Magento in the Netherlands and Romania and both were great.

Lately I’ve been a little short on time but I am looking forward to visit some more in the upcoming year. But as a general rule every Magento event is great, especially once you get to know the community around it.

Cloudways: What are your five tips to optimize Magento performance and to improve Magento security? (Please elaborate separately).

Sander Mangel: On security, I’m not that knowledgeable about , just make sure you filter your input. The rest I leave up to some very capable colleagues who know a lot more about it. 🙂

On performance, it starts with building the template and modules. Think about the data you really need to retrieve from the database, especially with product collections, instead of just using a *. Don’t load a whole model to just get one attribute or field. Reuse data if possible when retrieving it somewhere.

Think about what kind of third party modules you want to install. We all love having a bunch of features in a shop but do you REALLY need them.

Turn off core modules like Downloadable products or RSS if you’re not using it. Turn off the logging observers in Mage_Log and always compress your CSS and JS if possible.

Only after optimizing as much as you can and using Aoe_Profiler to filter out the most resource consuming parts of code, start thinking about stuff like Full Page Caching or Varnish.

More than once, I come across stores that use Varnish or other caching mechanisms to hide poor code quality or use excessive Javascript to modify the frontend while it could have been done from a block or phtml file.

Having said that, don’t use standard third party modules for everything you want to accomplish on a shop. Build your own functionalities made to fit for your case, instead of throwing in some huge module that can do a hundred things but you only use one functionality.

A well crafted Magento e-shop shouldn’t need too much tweaking, caching and huge servers to run smoothly.

Cloudways: There are individuals who tend to inspire us with their work with their thoughts. Name five of the most important Magento influencers, who have had a profound impact on your life?

Sander Mangel: First of all, Marius Strajeru for the endless amount of energy he puts back into the community in the form of answers on MageSE and modules that he shares with them. Oh and for supplying me with Palinka. He’s a great developer and an even better person.

Also Anna Völkl, with whom I organized MageStackDay. I’m sorry to say I’ve never met her in person but working together with her via Twitter and then Skype has been great. Hopefully I will get the chance to do that again.

Vinai Kopp, of course for his Grokking Magento book, seminars and talks at events and resources he puts up online. I would love to attend one of his trainings. There’s so much to learn from him.

Then Ben Marks, for showing us the fast life of being a Magento community leader and just being a great person in general. It was great meeting him at MeetMagento Romania 2014 and hearing his thoughts on Magento.

And Fabian Blechschmidt, for inviting me out to the first Magento hackathon I attended, challenging me on MageSE, (I will take back that third place some day Fabian…) and working on some great FireGento extensions.

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About Saad Khan

Muhammad Saad Khan is Growth Hacker & Content Marketing Strategist at Cloudways. He is a columnist at VentureBeat and a full stack marketing advocate. He works on business growth, influencer engagements, and innovative content strategies.

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