Interview with Mario Zanier, inventor of xt:Commerce
Mario Zanier, 29, is the brains, inventor and developer of xt:Commerce. Zanier has a Bachelor of Science in medical information technology, executive of xt:Commerce GmbH and director of market.com. Shortly before this year’s CeBIT the developer and technical manager took the time to speak with us.
There’s not exactly a lot on the Internet about you?!
What’s important isn’t me personally but what we do.
However, there is an extremely knowledgeable eCommerce guide from 2008 in which you’re being interviewed.
How did this cooperation come about?
The eCommerce guide is a project we have been sponsoring for the past six or seven years together with other partners. Back then the University of Regensburg was looking for partners and approached us. They were looking to know and describe what a person should do or consider in operating an online shop. The interview came about in the course of the consultation.
Has anything changed in eCommerce since 2008? If so, what?
A lot has changed, do you have until next week? The only thing that’s remained unchanged is: we’re still the best solution for customers.
For every solution there is or was always a problem.
What was yours?
In 1998 we were supposed to take my father’s sporting goods store online. First I played around with the Data Becker Shopsystem on Windows 3.11. Our Internet connection was through CompuServe and we had an old modem. Well, and then people placed orders.
We couldn’t believe somebody would actually order something with their computer, without ever seeing us or speaking with us.
Things with customers were great, but the shop didn’t quite do what we wanted. So after a year I started developing something in PHP myself.
At only 15 years old...
Programming has been a hobby of mine since I was nine or ten years old. I had an actual Personal Computer, a 486 with 50 MHz and turbo button. I learned programming by myself. When the IT school didn’t accept me because my English wasn’t good enough I first studied structural engineering at a secondary vocational school and later medical IT at a private university. IT alone would have been to dry of a subject for me.
What happened after that? After all you turned your hobby into a successful job?
Seven of us formed the German forum for OS Commerce and put the software out there to download. That was basically it. More and more people started downloading the software. Eventually we had a falling out with their developers because we strictly refused to turn this into something commercial. In 2001 we split off as xt:Commerce.
Did you check the log files to analyse the type of downloads?
Now, we didn’t. We focused on the forum. I think the forum now has over 100,000 registered users and over 150 customers a day launch online shops with xt:Commerce. This forum resulted in one of the most widely used shop systems.
How are you living off this hobby?
Until 2004 we provided everything free of charge. In 2004 we said technically we could and should ask to be paid for our work. We converted the entire website over night and From one day to the next asked for 100 Euro. This caused an enormous stir in the open source network. But it also set the foundation for many other open source projects that followed in our footsteps.
Two years ago I sold xt:Commerce to SafeCharge pro rata. At that time almost every month somebody wanted to buy or invest in it. Even big investors from the USA. SafeCharge was a good match.
How much previous knowledge is required to use the community edition of xt:Commerce?
Where open source solutions differ is where they’re from. If they originated in a community it typically requires fixing errors, which requires programming. When it comes to documentation or tutorials it becomes complicated and a community doesn’t necessarily think of building a shop so novices are also able to use it without a problem.
Another crucial factor has less to do with open source but instead with the target group of the respective retailer or manufacturer. The more complex the target group, products and functionalities, the more is required of the online shop. There are open source systems which are easy to use but the bigger ones with a greater spectrum of functionalities require previous knowledge. Our community edition requires previous knowledge. We will gladly help those who don’t have the knowledge. Our customers appreciate that.
So your customers are satisfied?
Our customers come from a variety of SMB fields [rem.: small and medium sized businesses] all the way to large corporations, e.g. VW or OSRAM. They appreciate the firm footing of our work. We keep our promises and deliver exactly what was discussed.
Why have you been at CeBIT for the past several years?
We’re there for different reasons: because it’s the biggest expo in our field, because we’re looking for personal contact with our customers, and because that’s where you will find all the partners, such as ERP manufacturers. It’s about exchange and networking.
The xt:Commerce online shop is the current market leader in Germany. What are your plans for the future?
Our investor has bought several companies. Right now for me it’s important to successfully merge these on a technical level: us [ xt:Commerce] being the shop system, SafeCharge the payment company, and our affiliate network providers. All three will be merged into one company under the name market.com.
The goal is to implement other cross company projects, e.g. our new payment process xt:Payments, a mutual development of xt:Commerce and SafeCharge introduced to the marked about three months ago. Other than that my top priority is internationalising xt:Commerce or market.com respectively. Right now 85 to 90 percent of our customers are from the German-speaking region. Doing the same for France or Spain would be quite the task.
Thank you for the interview.
Interview by Gesine Jüthner