When we last left our story, All New Comics was celebrating its first year in business, and Brian was celebrating a brand new human being in his life.
After a whirlwind year, things were finally calming down a little bit. My wife and I had moved out of our apartment in Toronto’s Beach to a brand new home in Ajax. No sooner did we move in than we found out she was pregnant.
I didn’t find any stores in the area that felt like a “Local Comic Shop”, so I contacted Peter and we started planning our store. I built a website, Peter figured out what we’d need to sell, and we got started.
In our first year we’d figured out how to order, we’d upgraded the site a couple of times, and we were growing fairly fast. It had become too much for me to have the comics delivered to my house every week, unbox them, pick them, and pack them, so Peter volunteered to take that part on so I could focus on the running of the website.
Billing was still a manual process. Every week I would enter a ton of information into an of Excel spreadsheet, and then put those numbers into Paypal. It was time consuming and exhausting, so my friend Ryan and I figured out how to do automated billing that would be incorporated into the actual website. This would mean that I could actually send out bills monthly for the comics people were about to get.
That freed up a lot of time, but I still had to manually bill people for special orders through PayPal, it was a little nasty, but Ryan figured out a way to hack the shopping cart so I could add on to an order.
So on August 1st 2007, All New Comics subscription billing launched. We were off to the races!
Things went well for about a year, then on March 29th 2008 we were hacked. Somehow someone had gotten into our shopping cart and changed the “Pay to” address to their own. I spent a half a day fixing the problem, and working with the shopping cart vendor to update to the latest version of their system. The problem was compounded by several facts.
- We hadn’t updated the version of the software in about two years
- I didn’t have any sort of version control, so I had no idea what files were modified.
- The site was so heavily modified that merely uploading the existing files would break everything.
- I hadn’t written a line of ASP VBScript in about 5 years at that point, and it had all left my brain
Eventually I figured out how to solve the biggest problems, and had it sorted out in 24 hours. I immediately told our customers we had been hacked, that their information was safe (this is why I have always used 3rd party payment processors), and that the site was back under control.
One week later we got notice that our web host was filing for bankruptcy, and that their servers would be shut down in two weeks. The site was on a Microsoft IIS server, so I looked into alternatives – there weren’t a lot of them. I found a place in Canada that looked promising, but when I investigated them further, they turned out to be doing a very hacky job of running their servers.
I went with another company, and instantly our page speeds went from sub 1 second, to 3-4 seconds each page, everything was slow, pages timed out, and the scripts that ran our pull system almost always timed out with each week. This new host just wasn’t going to do. We had escaped the immediate problem of losing all of our data, but we were not in better shape.
I reached out to the company that had purchased our shopping cart software from the original owner, and they had their own hosting that they offered to me for a fair price (even with the US Dollar conversion). With that solved, it was time to move hosts.
That meant backing up our database, moving the files, taking the site down, and revamping it on the new server. It also meant that I would have an opportunity to upgrade to a new version of the shopping cart, add version control and make some tweaks to the template. It was increasingly obvious though that after five years, we were due for a significant refresh.
This began the biggest site improvements in the history of the site. In 2005 when the site started, nobody used mobile phones to access websites, now a full 20% of our traffic was coming from mobiles. The site wasn’t optimized for mobile phones, search sucked, and everything needed a grand overhaul.
Not only that, but we had learned new ways of doing things, we could batch stuff up, take some load off the server, and streamline a ton of stuff. In December 2009 I started working on a complete overhaul that would take a year to build, and would see us upgrade to the latest and greatest version of the shopping cart software.
Next time, the big revamp, getting comfortable, and leaving it all behind.