A recap of our second ama (ask me anything) with Gavin Ballard

On March 18th, Gavin Ballard author of Bootstrap for Shopify framework and Mastering Shopify Themes joined us in the #ama channel to answer some questions. It was great having him and we thank him again.

We plan on doing #AMA sessions a few times a month that feature top Shopify Experts, store owners and more. If you'd like to participate in the chat, join now and DM me.

Here is the transcript from the second Talk Shopify #AMA Session.

gavin [12:00 PM] Hi everyone! I’m Gavin, founder of Disco. We’re a small Shopify consulting company that (now) specialises in app development, although we got our start doing lots of setup work and theme development as well. We maintain a bunch of Shopify-related open source projects and have released two paid products: Bootstrap for Shopify (http://bootstrapforshopify.com) and very recently a course on building Shopify themes (http://gavinballard.com/mst/). (edited)

alex_refersion [12:00 PM] :simple_smile:

josh [12:00 PM] ?

gavin [12:00 PM] Really stoked to be in here today :simple_smile:.

guyfedwards [12:00 PM] ?

gavin [12:00 PM] Hoping you all have lots of great questions and that I don't injure my typing fingers :simple_smile:.

rickydazla [12:00 PM] @gavin: love your work. why the move from themes to apps?

joshhighland [12:01 PM] @gavin how long have you working on the Shopify platform?

josh [12:02 PM] @gavin what, or who introduced you to Shopify/got you interested in doing Shopify development?

bvaccel_kenny [12:02 PM] @gavin Does your team develop projects locally first - then integrate into Shopify? Or do you directly upload after changes are made via shopify grunt during the development process?

gavin [12:02 PM] @rickydazla: Thanks! Primarily it's because my background is software development more than frontend development, and that's what I have more fun doing. The secondary reason is that it's easier to find clients who'll value you (== $$) when developing apps instead of theme work. (Not that it's impossible for theme work).

bvaccel_kenny [12:03 PM] @gavin What has been the most challenging Shopify project Disco Labs has encountered so far and why?

gavin [12:03 PM] @joshhighland: Started my own store on Shopify back in 2006 and started messing around with it. Didn't really get into it until 2011, then went full time at the end of 2013.

felix_shopifymasters [12:04 PM] @gavin which is more fun? consulting work, creating apps or writing books/courses? :simple_smile:

gavin [12:05 PM] @josh: Sorta answered your Q there... was running my own store (http://citiposters.com, by the way, very neglected these days) and helping friends out with selling stuff online. I have a software engineering degree so always been interested in building webby stuff so it kinda grew from there. (edited)

benje [12:07 PM] have you been involved in any other software projects/communities before Shopify?

gavin [12:08 PM] @bvaccel_kenny: I am dreaming of being able to do all theme development locally and then pushing to Shopify later. Sadly, there's nothing that I've seen that solves that perfectly. Right now, I use the Shopify Theme gem to watch for and upload changes during development to a development store, then I'm commiting to Git and auto-deploying to production themes using the Beanstalk integration.

I wrote a short blog post about the dream of developing locally ages ago (http://gavinballard.com/offline-shopify-theme-editor/) and currently have a list of about 100 people who are also interested in it. I have made a few little forays into getting something built but nothing too concrete yet. (edited)

rickydazla [12:09 PM] make it happen!

joshhighland [12:09 PM] nice

ben [12:09 PM] @gavin - On average, how many hours would you put into a project to deliver a custom Shopify theme for a client, and what sort of price would you charge for that work? I realise each client is different and it depends on what they're after, their budget etc. but if you even it out across the sites you've done - what would the median look like cost wise and time wise.

gavin [12:11 PM] @bvaccel_kenny: As to the most challenging projects... great question! We have a long-standing client who runs their entire business on software that we started building a year and a half ago as a simple Shopify integration app. It's been built up over the years and does a lot of very cool stuff. Some of the features it's had to implement have been pretty challenging (like hacking Shopify Admin to expose non-API functionality, bridging the gap to make other 3rd party applications play nicely together.)

gavin [12:12 PM] Doing all of that while maintaining a solid maintainable codebase has been challenging at times :simple_smile:.

joshhighland [12:12 PM] @gavin Do you have any plans to release an app in to the Shopify app store?

jevyjevjevs [12:13 PM] @gavin: How hard is it to get themes into the theme store these days? I've heard it's tightened up quite a bit.

gavin [12:14 PM] @felix_shopifymasters: Consulting, creating apps and writing courses is all fun! ?. Which I enjoy more is totally dependent on time of day, mood, whether I've been doing a lot of it. It's going to sound really cheesy, but I am super grateful that I'm in this profession, as I really do enjoy almost everything I do on a day to day basis.

To give the answers a little more substance, I'd say that right now I'm really enjoying app building.

felix_shopifymasters [12:14 PM] ?

timcheadle [12:15 PM] @gavin do you focus on one-off custom apps, or do you try to "resell" those apps to other clients?

timcheadle [12:15 PM] @gavin related, do you retain ownership of the apps, or do you deliver IP ownership to the clients?

gavin [12:16 PM] @benje: Before I went full time with Shopify consulting, I worked at an Australian "startup" for a couple of years as a developer. Like most developers (I guess) I've always been tinkering around with code and little projects. Spent a lot of time writing for and being a form member of www.tweaktown.com when I was in high school (it's awful now, don't look).

gavin [12:16 PM] forum*

benje [12:17 PM] too late I looked :simple_smile:

felix_shopifymasters [12:18 PM] same, couldn't resist

benje [12:18 PM] thanks

joshhighland [12:18 PM] Any idea how many sites are using code from http://bootstrapforshopify.com ?

gavin [12:19 PM] @ben: Trickiest question so far! I can't say we've ever really been in the business of completely custom theme design from scratch to completed product, apart from a few very simple themes based on Bootstrap for Shopify. I'm wrapping up what will be our last store setup/theme installation + setup project (outside of Shopify Plus) for a client right now and that's scoped at around $5,000. I think it will end up taking around 30-40 hours of developer time. Does that answer your question?

ben [12:20 PM] @gavin - yes, that's a solid answer

tjmapes [12:20 PM] How long did it take you to launch Mastering Shopify Themes? And what did you learn from launching it?

gavin [12:21 PM] @joshhighland: "Do you have any plans to release an app in to the Shopify app store?" - You better believe it! While most of our client work has been custom apps, we have two client projects going in to the App store in the next couple of months and I've been working on a couple of apps for us outside of that. I had hoped to get them done and out earlier, but... well, you know, life/clients get in the way :simple_smile:.

joshhighland [12:22 PM] I'm excited to see them

gavin [12:23 PM] @jevyjevjevs: Yes, it's very hard (I worked with a great designer to get a theme submitted last year, but it was knocked back). We're trying again later this year with something a bit different.

rickydazla [12:23 PM] @gavin

rickydazla [12:23 PM] what were the reasons?

rickydazla [12:23 PM] given

gavin [12:24 PM] @jevyjevjevs: My advice is to be talking very closely with the Theme Store folks to make sure you're putting out something they want. It is getting pretty saturated in there.

jevyjevjevs [12:24 PM] .. and how can Out of the Sandbox have some many in the Store when others are rejected?

gavin [12:24 PM] @rickydazla: Too similar to an existing theme (which we though was debatable but what you gonna do).

gavin [12:24 PM] @jevyjevjevs: I guess they are right place, right time kinda people :simple_smile:.

jevyjevjevs [12:25 PM] Cool. Thanks!

rickydazla [12:25 PM] vs. Theme Forest

jevyjevjevs [12:25 PM] (not looking into building one BTW. Just always interested in market dynamics)

gavin [12:28 PM] @timcheadle: Most of our work is one-off custom apps for clients with unique integration needs. There would be the possibility of building something that's more generic but that does take extra time and effort so most clients aren't interested in that approach. All "custom" code we write for clients belongs to them, although we've done enough apps now that we have extracted stuff that's common in most Shopify apps into frameworks so we can get a new app up and running in 30 minutes. We make provision for that code in our contracts.

timcheadle [12:28 PM] cool, that's a similar approach to what we do as well. thanks!

gavin [12:30 PM] @joshhighland

Any idea how many sites are using code from http://bootstrapforshopify.com ?

I regret not installing a little tracking GIF or something so that I knew for sure :simple_smile:. If most people who bought it used it on a site, then there's at least a few hundred out there :simple_smile:.

bears [12:30 PM] @gavin: so why python? I was excited about your django app in 15 minutes but then was like "dang another language!"

bears [12:30 PM] ^just an objective question, nothing against python

rickydazla [12:31 PM] What is your workflow when working on Shopify themes? What tools do you use? You mentioned your possible offline app, what else do you think is missing?

gavin [12:32 PM] @tjmapes:

How long did it take you to launch Mastering Shopify Themes? And what did you learn from launching it?

From first word written to launch was around 4 months I think, but it was very inconsistent effort. I have a graph of my wordcount progression somewhere - it's the bad sort of hockeystick graph :simple_smile:.

Re: launching, I learnt that I should have spent more time building my email list before launch. Everyone says that but for some reason I didn't really get stuck into it until it was too late.

gavin [12:35 PM] @bears: First Shopify application we did was picking up an existing client project that was Django-based, so it kind of grew from there. While we're developing our in-house apps with Django and have most of our infrastructure based around that, we're pretty handy with Rails apps to as a lot of clients come to us wanting that. "Shopify App in 15 minutes with Rails" is on my "todo" list for screencasts :simple_smile:.

bears [12:35 PM] :simple_smile:

felix_shopifymasters [12:35 PM] @gavin how would you build your email list going forward?

bears [12:36 PM] there is a youtube screencast by that title, but its from like 4 years ago, all outdated

gavin [12:36 PM] @bears: I really like both Python and Ruby and am still required to do some PHP. Some days I'm switching between all 3 so...

richardsdavies [12:36 PM] Hi Gavin, just wondering if you think we're going to see more collaborations amongst designers and developers in terms of themes? I've seen it a lot with other platforms, especially the likes of Wordpress, and I've been approached for the more popular open source eCommerce packages. With the 'challenges' of getting a theme into the official Shopify theme store, do you think there will be more collabs with designers/developers?

gavin [12:36 PM] @bears: I will bump it from its rankings!

bears [12:37 PM] @gavin haha, well i suppose there is no hope on consolidating my expertise in one language in the future then ?

gavin [12:37 PM] @bears: Do it if you can!

bears [12:38 PM] I'm gonna put up a poll, and focus on developing with the winner

rickydazla [12:39 PM] ?

gavin [12:40 PM] @rickydazla:

What is your workflow when working on Shopify themes? What tools do you use? You mentioned your possible offline app, what else do you think is missing?

"All of this, and more, is covered in my excellent course, Mastering Shopify Themes..." ?

My workflow is local theme gem to watch and upload changes to a development theme/store, then commit to Git and push + auto deploy with Beanstalk. I use PyCharm as my editor.

The offline app is really the big thing that makes Shopify theme development much more painful than regular web development. So many more possibilities for advanced workflows open up when you don't have to use a remote service to render your work.

npope [12:41 PM] @gavin have you ever had to deal with an app being rejected by Shopify?

gavin [12:44 PM] @richardsdavies:

Hi Gavin, just wondering if you think we're going to see more collaborations amongst designers and developers in terms of themes? I've seen it a lot with other platforms, especially the likes of Wordpress, and I've been approached for the more popular open source eCommerce packages. With the 'challenges' of getting a theme into the official Shopify theme store, do you think there will be more collabs with designers/developers?

I think the Shopify community is definitely growing and getting better at finding each other and sharing ideas + work, so yes I think that may happen more. I'm not sure if the Theme Store is always going to be a great objective, as there is just going to come a point where they can't accept new submissions, so I think the focus may be more on application development, or on simply sharing client work.

gavin [12:45 PM] @npope: No, fortunately. Most of our apps have been custom one-offs for clients, so that's not really an issue, and for the apps we've built for clients going in to the app store we've been careful to liase with the App Store team in advance to head off any potential problems.

gavin [12:46 PM] Have I caught up with everyone's questions? Any I missed?

npope [12:47 PM] thanks

bears [12:47 PM] @gavin: what does ama stand for?

bears [12:47 PM] :simple_smile:

npope [12:47 PM] ask me anything

rickydazla [12:47 PM] What's a drop bear?

gavin [12:48 PM] @rickydazla: Just one of the many terrifying animals that will kill you in Australia. Main reason I moved to Sweden.

bears [12:49 PM] hahaha

bears [12:49 PM] Australia is scary

joshhighland [12:54 PM] @gavin how do you find most clients? or How do most of your clients find you?

gavin [12:57 PM] @joshhighland: Mostly word of mouth these days. What with a couple of regular clients and our own projects it doesn't take too much to fill up our pipeline. We get a fair few inbound emails that are coming from our site as well. The Shopify Experts directory used to be a really steady stream of inbounds, but since we swapped over to application development / Plus clients only and raised our prices that's slowed down a lot.

gavin [12:57 PM] @joshhighland: Believe it or not, one of our current clients came in through Reddit. (!)

npope [12:57 PM] @gavin I love the idea of sending the theme & app to shopify for feedback, thanks for that

ben [12:58 PM] @gavin - how many staff do you have at http://discolabs.com/ - are they office based, or do you have a remote crew?

gavin [12:58 PM] @npope: No worries.

tjmapes [12:58 PM] Just wanted to thank you all for your participation and also a huge thanks for Gavin for joining us today. I'm always looking for feedback and new people to be part of future #amas.

gavin [1:00 PM] @ben: Zero full timers apart from myself, although I really want to change that once I can work out how to get over the fear of hiring people. I have 2-3 people (mostly designers + front end developers) who I regularly bring on for contract work when things get busy.

gavin [1:02 PM] @ben: And yes, I also find it pretentious to be saying "we" when referring to Disco when it's pretty much just me ?.

joshhighland [1:03 PM] @gavin this has been a fun AMA. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions

felix_shopifymasters [1:04 PM] thanks, @gavin!

gavin [1:04 PM] No worries, thanks everyone!

gavin [1:04 PM] If you ever have any other questions or just want to shoot the breeze, hit me up. I'm spending way too much of my time in #development these days.

gavin [1:05 PM] If you're ever over in southern Sweden, hit me up for coffee / cinnamon rolls / beer.

gavin [1:05 PM] And thanks to @tjmapes for getting TalkShopify together!

ephrem [1:06 PM] Thanks @gavin and @tjmapes for making it happen!