Practical Ecommerce

Ask an Expert: Managing Outside Developers

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural edition of “Ask an Expert,” a new Practical eCommerce feature in which ecommerce merchants submit a question to be answered by a fellow merchant or an industry colleague. Our goal with “Ask an Expert” is to allow you to tap into the collective knowledge of veterans in the ecommerce space.

If you have a question you’d like to submit, email Kevin Patrick Allen, contributing editor, at and we’ll attempt to address it.

Jill Exler

Jill Exler

Today’s featured question comes from Jill Exler. Exler is the founder and CEO of, an ecommerce site for authors to sell their self-published books.

Our featured expert is Ken Kikkawa. Kikkawa is an ecommerce veteran and CEO of, which was founded in 1999. eHobbies is a leader in the field of hobby and toy retailing. Kikkawa also writes “The (eCommerce) Corner Office” blog at Practical eCommerce.

Jill Exler: “What’s the best way to manage the technology side of the business if you don’t know a lot about technology and you rely on outside developers to manage it for you?”


Ken Kikkawa

Ken Kikkawa

Ken Kikkawa: “That’s a great question since I don’t consider myself a technology expert either. However, over the years I have learned enough to be able to ‘speak’ it and, more importantly, to be able to distinguish which developers have the potential to work with us.

“I was able to accomplish this by relying on a merchant network of people that I know and trust who have worked with new developers. I usually work with a developer only if they have worked with someone that I know.

“In the case where I am bringing them in on my own, I always ask for multiple referrals. The referrals should be other merchants similar to you in size, experience and at your level of technology. This is a great way to meet other merchants also. If you have a potential developer that has not worked with anyone of your size and experience then it may be a red flag to use another developer instead.

“Also, remember the bottom line: You are the customer in this transaction, and the developers you work with need to speak your language instead of you adapting to theirs. Tell them what you want to accomplish as if you are a customer of your business. Let them figure out how to make it work in a way that makes sense to you.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Suzanne Rielle December 24, 2009 Reply

    Hi, I agree that a developer should be able to accommodate your skill level and your language. It’s also important to maintain leadership of your project in order to obtain the desired results. In other words, don’t "throw it over the wall" to your developers, you’ll only be asking for disappointment. Communication is an imperative – developers can’t read your mind. It’s critical to communicate on design and requirements until you both feel confident you are on the same page (before extensive coding begins). Web development is an iterative process and its o.k. to allow the developer to put simple prototypes out for you to review.

    Done the right way, these prototypes can be effective in helping you move forward, but they can also lead to increased cost. So, be sure your developer doesn’t move too far ahead of you, or rework is almost inevitable. If interested, I [wrote about the use of "freeware"]( to help successfully manage a web development project and assist with seamless communications.