Being in touch with most Magento experts around the world, and talking on a daily basis with French, German and English system integrators and hosting companies, I heard a lot of people wondering about Magento’s future lately.
Critics are rocketing and doubts are growing about the future of Magento, which always proclaimed itself to be « the future of e-Commerce« .
As an early adopter, an evangelist and one of the community managers that helped starting the fire years ago, I feel like it is time for me to stand and explain why I trust Magento still has some good years. After having animated nearly 10 Magento community meetups in France, writing a book about e-commerce solutions (read by 35 000+ people across the world) and wandered in most of the major Magento shows across the world, here is my opinion.
Not many people involved in the community come public with their insider knowledge, because speaking about progression margins at Magento as always been a taboo. Even if it is a very American way to proceed (all is perfect, we acknowledge no problem), it’s not the way German, French or other countries handle their business. Most of us like to know where we are heading and agree that nothing and no one is perfect, but knowing the holes to fill before is better than after.
The half-empty glass
The recent months have been hard times for Magento and the list of troubling signals gets longer everyday. To fully understand the raising defiance, one needs to understand the layers of the sandwich that led to the current state. In my humble opinion, and once again, it’s just mine, here are what I call the 12 Magento wounds:
12 Magento wounds
- Yoav (former CTO), « dismissing » him for arguable reasons left the company without technical vision & leadership
- Roy (former CEO), left the company right after its lockup, which is understandable, but still a hard blow
- Bob (former President), was a serious talent in communication and diplomacy, who helped Roy & Yoav in their journey
- 50 employees were laid off some months ago for financial reasons, and the local wages, cheap when Magento started, are rocketing 20% per 6 months recently, making this workforce not so affordable anymore
- The architects of the solutions and top guns of the code partially followed their past leaders or created their own companies
- Ukraine, where Magento is coded, is currently facing a very deep crisis
- Moreover, when eBay decided to fusion 3 production centers into one, many people have quit, amplifying the bleeding
- Imagine (the Las Vegas show of Magento) was smaller this year than before and the announced 2000 attendees could all fit (with free seats left) in a 1400 place auditorium… It’s far from the first time Magento « emphasized » figures, but that was seriously more visible this time, even the mood was not the same, by far (and I attended all Imagine events)
- The classical critics made to Magento for years have not really moved the lines. In Europe we get almost no support to presales actions, support is still very average and prices are raising…
- The constant turnover of the various heads of various positions slowed down many projects, agreements, partnerships and, globally, the business
- Magento performances are not the highest around, even if the solution made meaningful progress over the years.
- Magento 2 is not only very late, it’s also relying on Zend Framework 1 instead of ZF2 which as been released already sometimes ago. Many features currently developed, like dependency injections or unit testing are natively built in with ZF2. Hence, the choice of ZF1 seems to be awkward at some point.
That mainly explains why Magento 2, long awaited, has been delayed for more than 2 years now. Also, the lack of a precise plan of the eBay group when Magento was acquired contributed to the failure of various other Magento related projects like Go, Fabric, X.Commerce, etc.
If you stop only to that picture which everyone in the community has witnessed, you could think the glass is far more than half empty…
The half-full glass
I analyzed 12 e-commerce product in my book. Digging in every and all of them, about features, technical socle, strategy and positions. None of them is as strong as Magento is in the mid market. Yes, the dream of the company to be the one solution also for larger accounts doing more than tens of millions of turnover online has not come to reality, but for a site doing between 0,5 and 10 millions online, Magento is a no brainer, it’s the reference, worldwide.
Some countries like England only pray by Magento, some like Germany have a variety of alternative, some like France use it even if complaining, but worldwide, and even locally, Magento is always competing and in the loop, when not a de facto choice in the mid market.
The momentum has maybe slowed down, we are no longer in the early adopter period, but the fate of Magento in mid market in far from being doomed.
When I talk to many clients around, Opensource is still a key decision maker, and in this area, no competitor approach Magento’s ecosystem, maturity or even feature list yet, and by far.
Even if delayed, even if relying on ZF1 and even if it forces people to migrate, Magento 2 is a technological break.
It will simplify the code, document it and make performance better. Some industry standards that emerged over the last years will be included, like dependency injection, templating, unit testing, etc.
Magento 2 will bring more flexibility to the solution and a new breath to all the sites around the globe that already are using Magento. From what I can see so far, the rumors about Magento 2 never being released are probably false, it seems that the company committed to a serious roadmap where we should see the product at work early 2015 and probably in production environments end of 2015.
Whatever the successes and weaknesses of Magento might be, everybody around the world agrees to say that its ecosystem is not only huge, faithful and alive, it is also unique, trained and growing. This is where a solution becomes immortal. Simply put, when too many people have spent too many days and months to master a product, when those people also have acquired a name in this competitive arena, they are not about to change their work force habits and skills for a new product anytime soon.
That’s how OS Commerce survived so long, and Magento’s ecosystem strength is way above what has been OS Commerce at its maximum. To put it short, even if the product was stopped, stalled and even if eBay dropped it, the installed base of professionals would go on making business with the product for at least 3 years and would have to maintain the existing customers for another 3 years.
With such a strong ecosystem, Magento cannot « die » before half a decade at minimum.
If the company reacts and regain strength and momentum with Magento 2, you can at least count on ten years.
A Titan backing a Giant
Yes, eBay has not made the best choices after acquiring Magento. Loosing Yoav, launching a SaaS, postponing Magento 2, trying to sell « marketing only » services like Fabric & X.Commerce was probably not the wisest decisions. But eBay is not an editor. When Oracle acquires ATG and Endeca, or when SAP acquires Hybris, those groups have the « know how » about fusionning offers & product and making them grow. Ebay hasn’t this background.
But even without this experience, eBay is a titan, a multi billions, profitable, company. And Magento is no small part in their strategy. In a world where eBay is competing with Amazon and other giants, its most wonderful gold nugget is PayPal. Only 8% of the turnover of eBay is related to PayPal, but still 50% of its profits comes from PayPal…
And guess what… Magento is the perfect Trojan Horse for PayPal. Hundreds of thousands of merchants now have a default choice through Magento: PayPal. This is a massive strength and the group knows it. So is eBay likely to let Magento decay slowly? No. Does it have the means to pump money and key executives into the company to make it shine again and spread even more PayPal? Yyes.
PayPal is Magento’s life insurance.
Solutions to the wounds
If you organize the 12 wounds in categories, Magento faces mainly 3 issues:
- Leadership: Yoav was a visionary technical leader, a guru to its team. Without him, there is no « spiritual » guidance for the team. Roy was a mastermind, stubborn and rock solid when it comes to leading a plan to execution, showing a path.
- Work force: Ukraine, reorganizations, workforce, wages, brain exodus, all is related to this HR problem, mainly Ukraine-based. Magento needs to be able to regenerate a high level work force, trained and stable over time.
- A plan: Plans brings trust, investment and goals.
Regarding the plan, I would dare to advise even the creation of a council of the wise, where community people, former Magento staff and the management team would exchange ideas and opinions to help leverage a new plan. If not under this form, the plan still needs to exist and be coherent with the ecosystem & merchant needs. Moreover, this plan needs to be shared and known to regain trust and get feedbacks. People like Vinai Kopp, Alan Storm, Brent Peterson, Piotr Kaminski and many other community oriented profiles, knowing the market and the product, would form a wonderful and trustable council up to me.
Leadership is not something you can improvise. PayPal and eBay have quite a pool of skilled people and manager. But it’s not really the topic. Magento doesn’t need only an accountant to milk the cow or an HR expert to build a team, Magento needs a vision, a momentum, a goal and people with auras large enough to impersonate this, to transform the vision and the plan to real actions. People we would trust, whose decisions would be once again changing the face of E-commerce. A technical lead is a critical need in the Opensource area, and this lack is probably even the most important now.
Work force is a tricky one. Ukraine was a smart choice when Magento started, a complicated one nowadays. It is nearly impossible to change orientation in small delays, especially without impairing Magento 2 development schedule. Still the fate of Ukraine is more than uncertain actually and sticking to this choice may not be the best option. Another way could be found also by subcontracting to MageCore (ie the company of Yoav) or by involving community coders since some of them are the best in class and could provide skills to help achieve some of the code. This point anyhow can definitely be solved with money.
As a Magento very old timer (August 2008), a community manager, but also an entrepreneur whose enterprise relies on Magento business for 50% of its turnover, I still believe in Magento. I still see the half full glass and I still see a future for the product and its ecosystem.
The king is weaker than ever, it’s true. Still the legacy is so large that the newcomers like Drupal Commerce, Prestashop and many others are not yet about to take over it (if they intended to, which is not really the case). In my opinion, the only short term danger for Magento is to stay on the same slope and to not react.
Magento is propelling more than 200 000 sites across the world and tens of thousands of experts and companies need it, which is, according to me, the best guarantee that the product will live a lot longer.
Yes the new management will have a lot of work understanding what failed and how, but eBay has many skilled managers, experimented and able to put the company and product back on track. Let’s help them (if they want our help) and judge on results.
Oh, and don’t worry, when they act like everything is perfectly fine and optimal, this is the American way of proceeding. They do are aware of problems & troubles and are most likely working hard to find solutions as we talk.
In the end, and on the contrary of what is frequently heard lately, Magento might as well still be « the future of e-commerce« , at least for a while.