Interview with Fooman’s Director and Magento Master 2016 – Kristof Ringleff

by Fayyaz Khattak  May 18, 2017

Kristof is the extension guy behind Fooman. He’s been coding with Magento since 2007 and has spent the last 1.5 years writing time-saving extensions for Magento 2. A huge fan of the Magento community, Kristof is glued to Twitter and Magento StackExchange, as well as running the local meetup group in New Zealand.

Kristof Interview Banner

He founded the Magento Extension Developers Network to give a stronger voice to extension developers committed to quality coding, customer experience, and a strong Magento ecosystem. Kristof is also a very big fan of coffee.

Cloudways: Kristof, let’s start off with the introductions. Can you share a little bit of background about yourself and the kind of business you do?

Kristof: Hi and thanks for having me here. I’m Kristof – the extension guy at Fooman. We’re Magento Technology Partners who code Magento 1 and 2 extensions that save people time and money. We believe strongly in quality code backed by reliable support – without extension headaches.

I’m originally from Germany but New Zealand is now my home. On a typical day, I’ll spend my time coding extensions, writing, doing customer support, tweeting and chatting on Slack to other Magento developers.

Cloudways: How did you get started in Magento? What actually prompted you to work on extensions that are now used the world over by merchants and owners?

Kristof: I always knew ecommerce was only going to get bigger and that I wanted to be part of it, but like most people didn’t really know where to start. The pre-release of Magento caught my eye back in 2007, and I started experimenting with it in my free time.

My business basically started with the first extension I created purely as a hobby – Fooman Speedster (a free extension that compresses and combines JS and CSS to make people’s sites load faster). I never expected it to go viral and get so much traction but to my surprise it did – it was featured on the blog after blog and really helped to get my name out there.

From there, I juggled freelance work and extension development for a few years before deciding to focus all my effort on extensions, full-time. A couple of years later I was able to hire my first developer to help, and now Fooman is a small team that I run from the furthest corner of the world – New Zealand.

Cloudways: Magento 2 was released more than a year ago. What are your thoughts on Magento 2? How well has it fared so far?

Kristof: I’m a big fan of Magento 2 and the new things it offers like using the included testing frameworks and the new plugin system which allows us to customize the platform on a very granular level.

Since the developer pre-release, Magento 2 has come a long way. As can be expected with any major new release, there are going to be a few rough edges to be worked through. Magento 2 has been no different – especially with the initially very prescriptive permission setup coupled with the new way to deploy. I’m especially happy to see the recent efforts in stepping up the community effort to get pull requests into the Magento 2 codebase. If this can be sustained, I do see a bright future for Magento 2. More and more people are beginning to build on Magento 2 as it’s seen as a viable option.

How has Magento 2 fared so far? From the perspective of a Magento extension developer, we took a calculated risk and decided to go all in with Magento 2 from way back in 2015 when the first beta release came out. I think it’s important to be seen as an early adopter of the new technology, even if there realistically wasn’t going to be much demand for Magento 2 extensions for quite some time.

This meant completely re-writing our Magento 1 extensions from the ground up to reflect the new Magento 2 approach and possibilities. It’s been a huge amount of work. In the last 6 months or so, we’ve seen a sharper uptake in the number of Fooman customers moving over to Magento 2. At the same time, demand is reducing for Magento 1 extensions. Pretty soon, we’ll reach the point where sales are half Magento 1 and a half Magento 2.

Cloudways: Magento extension developers are gaining a lot of traction in the market. You being a successful developer and marketer yourself, what advice would you give to budding Magento developers?

Kristof: The best advice I can give is to start small. I think people are always surprised to hear that writing the extension code is only the beginning. From there you need a platform to sell it, product and feature descriptions, you need documentation and there will be lots of questions before and after an extension is installed. If you try to do too many things at once in the beginning, you will lack the focus to provide your customers with a good experience.

These days there’s a lot of competition in the Magento extension market and you need to stand out with innovative ideas.

I’ve covered some technical advice for people wanting to get started developing Magento 2 extensions in a recent blog post – it focuses on what 2 years of developing Magento 2 extensions have taught me.

I also think there’s a perception that extension developers are running the ultimate passive income businesses which unfortunately is not the case. This inspired another blog post which busts common myths people have about the business of being an extension developer. I’d recommend reading it if you’re looking to get into the extension development business.

Cloudways: Support for Magento extensions is essential. How do you manage this critical component?

Kristof: I totally agree. We always say that developing the extension is the easy part (relatively) – anyone can decide to sell an extension. Maintaining and supporting the extension, and making sure that merchants and developers get the most out your code – that’s the hard part. But it’s so important to get support right – it will make or break your reputation.

Because of this, support is a top priority for us. I have two awesome people who help me with support. But I also spend a lot of my time supporting our extensions. The reality is I write a lot of our code, so I know it best. If a bug develops or someone happens to run into a compatibility issue, it’s on me to fix. It’s what I expect when I’m a customer so it’s what I do for our customers. Support is essential for extension developers to get right – it’s not something you can just outsource and forget.

The other thing is that developers often take an extension as a base point, and want to edit the code to meet custom client requirements. So a lot of the time I spend on the support isn’t on things like bug fixes, but it’s talking to other developers. I’m usually able to give them a good introduction on how to tackle a custom client requirement using our extension as the base code, to save them time figuring it out themselves. Lots of developers don’t offer this service, but I think it’s important. It keeps digital agency and freelancer clients happy!

Cloudways: There are a number of extensions on the Magento marketplace. Which ones are your personal favorites?

Kristof: The Fooman website is a Magento 1 site, but we’re planning a Magento 2 rebuild. I’m very fussy with code and which extensions I will install – it needs to be from a trusted developer.

We use most of our own extensions on the Fooman website, including:

Some of the other extensions we use and find valuable are:

Cloudways: You are an active member of the Magento community in New Zealand. Can you share a little bit about the experience with this awesome community? How important is the community for the growth of Magento?

Kristof: Sure, the community is so important and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. We have an awesome Magento community where I live in Auckland (the biggest city in New Zealand, the population is about 1.5 million people). I started our Magento Meetup group back in 2009 and we meet every few months. We have agency developers, freelance developers, merchants and technology providers attending – some people have turned into friends, too. Magento high-flyers have even given us some love – Ben Marks has been out to visit a few times and Sherrie Rohde popped in to see us last year.

The community has been and will continue to be very important for Magento’s growth.

Cloudways: On a related note, what Magento meetups and conferences have you attended in New Zealand? Do you think that these events serve their purpose?

Kristof: Other than our Meetup group, there aren’t any official or affiliated Magento events hosted in New Zealand (yet). These all take place in Australia. Many New Zealand Magento developers (including myself) try to attend the Magento Live Australia conference which is held each year in Sydney. I find this is a great conference because a lot of Magento representatives attend, and it’s easier to have a conversation with them than at the bigger Magento events held in the USA and Europe.

It would be awesome to have a national Magento New Zealand event in the future but with only a population of 4.5 million with the closest neighbors 3 flight hours away, we would have to figure out a way to align lots of overseas visitors’ holiday plans for this to be a reality!

Cloudways: How is the ecommerce landscape in New Zealand? Could you name some popular ecommerce platforms in New Zealand? What local ecommerce websites are doing well?

Kristof: New Zealand is an interesting one when it comes to ecommerce. We don’t have Amazon or Ebay so ecommerce purchases tend to be from local online retailers, international online retailers who do offer affordable international shipping, and a local auction site called Trade Me (similar to Ebay).

Magento is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms here in New Zealand. I’m aware of quite a few internationally successful New Zealand brands that use Magento because they’re also our extension customers. Sites like Trilogy, Mocka and I Love Ugly are doing well here and abroad.

Cloudways: A lot of people are looking to get into Magento. What advice would you like to give them? What events should they attend? Are there any specific people or influencers that they should follow to build upon their knowledge of Magento?

Kristof: If I was entering the Magento world now I would do 3 things:

  • Forget about Magento 1 and start with Magento 2. It’s the future and it’s a very different platform to learn. Many experienced developers are struggling to get their heads around Magento 2, so coming in with fresh eyes and a hunger to learn could actually be an advantage right now, especially if you have worked with other modern PHP frameworks and tools.
  • Network like crazy. Attend local meet up groups, join Magento communities, and sign up to things like Nomad Mage, a virtual user group for Magento developers.
  • Figure out a way to contribute to the community – even as a newbie this is possible. What unique angle you can offer? Perhaps it’s code contributions, blogging about what you’re learning, participating on the Magento StackExchange, as once you are involved you will get feedback which will accelerate your learning.

As far as influences go, the top 3 people I would follow on Twitter are:

  1. Alan Storm (Renowned Magento Developer & Blogger)
  2. Sherrie Rohde (Magento Community Manager)
  3. Vinai Kopp (Renowned Magento Developer & Trainer)

Cloudways: There are a number of ecommerce applications out there in the market that are looking to eat up a chunk of the Magento’s pie. How do you see Magento coping with the likes of WooCommerce, Shopify, and Prestashop etc?

Kristof: Competition is good as it keeps you on your toes. In particular, Shopify seems to have a fair bit of money behind them at the moment to pursue new customers. Ultimately whoever serves the merchant best will be successful. Plus, different sized merchants at different stages of their business will require different tools and approaches when it comes to ecommerce.

“Magento is the last commerce platform you’ll need” – this comment that stuck with me from the Imagine 2017 conference and I think it summarizes Magento’s strategic direction well. In other words, there is no ceiling with Magento – it hosts the big names and is international. One thing which I am confident about is that successful merchants will be the ones that can move fast and differentiate themselves. I’m 100% confident that Magento allows merchants to do this and it will be one of the leading ecommerce platforms for some time to come.

Cloudways: Stepping aside from work, what do you do in your free time? How do you unwind yourself after a long day at work?

Kristof: This year I was training for the Magento Imagine big dam run, so doing pretty much anything to get fit – running, cycling (there’s a lot of hills where I live) and playing volleyball. Apart from that my interests are quite random – it’s summer in New Zealand so I’ve been spending time at the beach, I just built my kid a sandpit, and am also watching quite a bit of Netflix.

For me, the biggest benefit of being self-employed is freedom over your working hours. I tend to be really productive at night, so often do coding or work on customer support cases on the couch rather than ‘unwinding’ in the evenings. I make up for it in the mornings when I usually spend time drinking a leisurely coffee and reading books with my daughter.

Cloudways: Hosting is an essential part of Magento Stores. There are a number of Shared Hosting providers, and then there are Managed Cloud Hosting Providers like Cloudways, that provide 1-click installation for Magento. Which one would you prefer and why?

Kristof: I am a fan of specialized hosting providers that know the platforms they are hosting inside and out. With shared hosting, you get what you pay for and you will only get limited support when you need it. Specialized Magento hosting providers have a lot more know-how and can generally offer better help when it’s needed.

1-click installers that are done well and don’t miss out important aspects like setting up cron jobs have their place. But they are really only the start of the journey and merchants will need ongoing support beyond the 1-click installer on future upgrades.

One thing that I would like to see more of in the future are hosting providers that add a staging environment as part of their standard setup (whether it’s 1-click installation or another set-up), with a solid way to sync code between them. I see too many cases where people work directly on their production instances as that is their only running instance of Magento or the process of syncing the two environments is not well automated leaving the staging environment not reflecting the current live site.

Cloudways: For our readers, can you please share your workplace picture.

Kristof: Sure. I renovated my home office 2 years ago. It’s nice to be able to look out into the trees  – I love working here.

Kristof Work Desk

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About Fayyaz Khattak

Fayyaz is a Magento Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed Magento Hosting Platform. His objective is to learn & share about PHP & Magento Development in Community. Fayyaz is a food lover and enjoys driving. You can email him at m.fayyaz@cloudways.com

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