Throughout the computer science community, one may hear whispers of Python dying out as a programming language. Its slower operating speed compared to other languages, many claim, renders it useless. ANTrepreneurs Alec Kriebel and Ofri Harlev, however, disagree.
That is because on May 1, the UC Irvine startup InstantCustom, of which Alec and Ofri are developers, released its drop shipping platform. Integrating both the Ruby and Python languages, the two students created a means for sellers to quickly order and receive customized goods.
When the founders of InstantCustom established the firm, then known as InstaButtons, a drop shipping platform was not on their minds. Alec, three of his roommates, and third year Business Economics major Kristie Lin instead focused on quickly producing customizable buttons.
“We started InstaButtons in January 2016,” shared Alec, who is also Chief Executive Officer and one of our student consultants. “It’s a niche, buttons. Organizations need buttons, Greek Life needs buttons, clubs need buttons.” The company included potential for growth as well. “In about October or November, we started this idea we could be selling custom goods for other people,” said Alec, “and if we did so, we wouldn’t have just our own shop but a lot of other people’s shops too. That’s a way to scale for us.”
Prior to the website, this startup sold its product through Esty, an e-commerce platform. But when InstantCustom realized that other sellers would pay the company to create their buttons – and then resell them on their own Etsy pages – creating a platform provided the team a way to scale up.
Kristie Lin, Chief Marketing Officer and another student consultant, explained the business model. “You put the designs on the post and you list it on your shop. If your customer orders it, you place the order in our platform and we ship it to your customer. Your customer does not see any logo or brands from us: it’s all you.”
Making that transition also involved one consultant from the ANTrepreneur Center learning from another, specifically, Executive Director David Ochi. Alec recalled that David suggested the platform due to its ability to develop revenue.
“I think a few of my other ideas would have taken longer to build out and establish, and I think this was the quickest one to get to revenue within a short amount of time,” he said. “So David uring that was really helpful.”
To develop instantcustoms.com, Alec programmed the site from late November last year until the middle of March. He implemented a framework, Rails, which allowed him to use the Ruby programming language for a website application. Yet, individual development was not enough for the officers. It was too slow, and almost all code – if not, every single line – was made from scratch.
Hence, Ofri joined as the Chief Technology Officer in March 2017. Within a month, the site was completed, and involved nearly going back to the drawing board. Although many assets from the old site were integrated into the new, the team abandoned the previous foundation for open source code, which is widely available for anyone to use.
“That meant we could leverage years of ecommerce experience of people who have tried this and and iterated on it, and found what works,” justified Ofri. “And we could take a good core to build on top of it, and enabled us to move faster once we got up [and running].”
On the server side, InstantCustom relies on multiple resources to transfer data in the cloud: PostGreSQL stores customer information, Amazon Web Services handles image management and computations, and Heroku hosts the company’s web application. Manufacturers and shippers of the goods also need to be kept aware of orders, and so InstantCustom provides a communication method between programs, designed in Python.
According to Ofri, “we’re not using the latest, coolest, thing out there,” but, the affordable resources InstantCustom tapped into provided a cost efficient method to expand. “It’s a lot easier to start a business now, you don’t need to have a lot of overhead,” added Alec. “The production and equipment and all the hardware that goes behind the production itself isn’t free. But if you were building the website it would have been free.”
But in devoting time and effort into the website, the team had to essentially halt e-commerce presence. InstantCustom depends on turning common Internet queries into designs, so search engines would include their products. Alec helped to create new designs, but his involvement in the Ruby on Rails application left him little time to market.
“For most products, marketing is just as important as the technical side of things,” he said. “And if you’re a technical team you probably want someone with experience in full time business or full time marketing. We’re past the stage of ‘building something and they will come.’ I don’t think that’s true anymore.”
In fact, the challenge of developing the site was not the site itself, but balancing it with other priorities. The team did not add more designs for upcoming events, like Mother’s Day, when the manufacturing technology to develop its custom goods could be used more often.
But if InstantCustom plays its cards right, the decision may pay off long term.
“We’re only ten days in with launching the platform, but the platform has already brought in some sales,” Ofri shared earlier this month. “We’ve already seen an increase in sign ups. We’ve seen an increase in interest. We think that we can make this thing take off.”
“If our business is going well and our shop dies out, we’d be fine by that,” said Alec. “Because if the platform works out, it’ll mean so much more than one ecommerce shop for us.”