The clarion call for Scott Wilson came in five simple words: Risky is the new safe.
Wilson said after 30 years developing software for companies, he found comfort and confidence in those words and stepped out to start his own business. From his perspective, the entrepreneurial risk seemed smarter than staying pat.
“My parents worked for the same company for 35 years,” Wilson explained. “That life doesn’t exist anymore. So … it’s risky actually to keep a job because you could get laid off at any minute.
“You can be doing a great job. You could be well thought of and everything, and then boom, there’s a budget cut. You get laid off. That’s why I’m doing my own thing now. It’s rough out there. It’s really rough.”
Wilson’s own thing involves developing software for companies that allows them to sell goods online. His clients include a company that sells groceries via mail in Alaska and a plant distributor in Hawaii. He manages their unique software needs from a desk in the Rising Tide Innovation Center in St. Petersburg. Let’s learn more about Wilson and why he goes by the name, “That Software Guy.”
Tell me about your business
So, if you decide that you want to sell something online, whether it’s a product or a service or digital works like photographs or documents, or in my case, software, you have a lot of options. The one I particularly specialize in has a couple of characteristics. One, it’s self-hosted. Self-hosted vs hosted is the first big decision you must make when choosing a shopping cart solution. Do you want a hosted product, which means someone else has taken care of it for you? Or do you want a self-hosted product, meaning, you have to acquire and manage a hosting account, an SSL certificate, and so forth. Two big hosted options are Shopify or Big Commerce, and with solutions like that, they provide the software and they do the hosting for you.
So, if you decide — and there a bunch of decision points that get you there — that you really want a self-hosted site, you have another whole set of decisions involving the underlying technology that you want to use. And the technology that my solution uses is a programming language called PHP. So, there are a whole bunch of different programming languages in which a shopping cart solution can be built. PHP is one of them. And this is the one I specialize in. So you say, okay, I want a self-hosted shopping cart, I want to use the PHP technology stack. You still have a bunch of options. The one option that I am most focused on is a solution called Zen Cart.
Zen Cart. What makes it ideal for certain businesses?
If we climb back up the stack here, Zen Cart is a self-hosted, PHP-based, ecommerce solution. It’s very appropriate for people who have requirements for additional business logic and custom programming for their shopping cart. For example, if you have suppliers that you want to drop ship with, and you need an interface to send them an XML file or send them a … document, Zen Cart is a great solution because it’s really easy to drop in customer logic. It’s really difficult on a platform like Shopify, for example, to do that. The kind of people who have those kinds of needs, that’s my target market.
What’s your message to people who believe it’s easy to run an e-commerce site?
Running an ecommerce site is just like anything else. It’s a specialized skill. Look at accounting. You might have enough knowledge to do your own basic bookkeeping, but chances are you’re not confident enough to do your tax returns if you’re running a small business. You might be capable of renting space in a coworking office, but you might not wantn to rent an entire office space and furnish it yourself – you’d hire an experienced coordinator to do that. Similarly, my skill set is pretty specialized. It’s around software development and e-commerce, and so I provide this as a service to people who need help doing their e-commerce implementation.
What kind of solutions do you offer to companies?
An e-commerce shopping cart is a piece of software and software needs care and feeding. It needs to be updated. It needs to be modified, tweaked and tuned and enhanced for your needs. Like I said, I have known a number of people who kind of tried to do it themselves and to a degree you can do it yourself. But it’s tricky. The solution I offer is worry free e-commerce implementation. You can just run your business and let me run your website. I’ll take care of the whole thing for you.
You have to like the idea that you’re helping others succeed.
That’s the beauty of it. You’re not just doing this thing. You’re really helping other people. I mean it’s a tough game out there trying to sell something online. So, I’m really helping these guys provide for their own families.
How did you get in this line of work?
I went to college and trained as a software developer. I had a 30-year career in IT, engineering, programming, project management, things like that. I was sort of at the end of my career, and I had decided a few years back I really wanted to run my own business. I had been doing this on the side for over 10 years – back in the mid 2000s, a friend of mine said he wanted to run an e-commerce store and he asked me to set it up for him. So, I started working with Zen Cart and found that I was able to fill in a lot of the gaps. It was a good basic product, but there were a number of features that were missing that I was able to add. I got pretty good at it and got some recognition as a skilled developer in this environment, and it just took off from there. People ask me to help them and I said, okay. And I built a business out of it.
You like to say, “Risky is the new safe.” How much are you enjoying the risk of running your own business?
The good thing about running your own gig is, hey, “It’s all on you now.” That’s the bad thing too, of course. But there you are. You know you’ll never get laid off. As long as you can keep it going consistently, you’ll be okay. So that’s what I’m doing.
You’re “The Software Guy,” but it’s just you. Is it challenging to be a business of one?
One of the challenges is that for about the first year, I was doing this full time, I was just working out of my house and my wife was at work all day and it was kind of lonely. So, the great thing about Rising Tide is I can come here, I have friends here, I know people, I see people, chit chat and just enjoy the day. It’s very nice. So, it is a bit of a challenge working completely by yourself, but of course, I also chat with my customers every day.
How did you find out about the Rising Tide Innovation Center?
I was telling a friend, you know, I’m fed up with this (working at home). I need to get out and just see some people, and I don’t even mind that there’s a commute. I just want to get out of the house and see some faces instead of just sitting around my empty house. So, I looked at a few coworking spaces and I looked at this and I said, “Wow, this is really nice.” They had these beautiful plants and it’s just very pleasant. I knew this was the place for me.
You worked for 30 years. You’re doing this on your own now. How long before you give this up and start going out to Pass-a-Grille every day and stick your toes in the sand?
No, I get bored easily. I can’t just sit on a beach. I have to be doing something. This is just enough work for me to keep me happy. I still have time to do my wife’s honey-do list, take care of things around the house and so forth. But I still get the interaction. I still get to make a little extra money. It’s a good balance for me.
The Member Spotlight is edited for brevity and clarity.