It is raining outside, the night is approaching and I’m sitting by the window and writing code. I started Mellis Berry to escape the computer and spend more time in the real world, making things, talking to people, learning new skills. Yet here I am, behind the screen touching buttons on my keyboard and producing sentences that the computer is able to interpret.
When you are in the food business you are required to keep track of who you are selling your products to. That is in case you have a major issue with the batch, you can inform everyone of the danger and hopefully avoid making people sick. Every startup is faced with two options here: either use Excel or a similar software and just place everything there, or buy a license to a service that provides such functionality. In my case I also have the option of installing free and open-source package.
Like any respected and typical small company I started with the spreadsheets. The entry level is extremely low, plus it is just convenient. While I don’t have massive turnovers, I quickly outgrew spreadsheets. I have one for company accounting, another one for all Mellis Berry friends who buy the delights, third one to keep track of ingredients, fourth one for… You understand the scale of the problem now. When you want to create some statistical report it will become nearly impossible to write formulas that references various files and sheets, compile these together. So I looked into alternatives.
Now imagine a typical geography lesson in school. You learn the map, rivers, oceans, and continents. You are given information about latitude and longitude, maybe some theory and history behind various map projections. But why would anyone need this information when all the pictures in your phone can be geotagged, and Google Maps can give you everything you need. Having developed multiple applications that made heavy use of geo data, I gave several presentations to high school students explaining where the knowledge they are learning now can be applied and how. Many teachers don’t know about these applications simply because there is no time, or lack of knowledge to search for it. They haven’t been developing games that use location. Working in the food business now I too do not know about the myriad of terms and concepts that this industry has.
Having outgrown spreadsheets I started searching for alternatives, both open-source and paid. And I found none that would perfectly work for me. Not that it doesn’t exist (I’m pretty sure many people have exactly the same problems as I do), but simply I do not know how to look for it. I went through various ERP systems that promise to improve my business results and spare me time to concentrate on my project instead of the number crunching in Excel. Many ask the price that I am not ready to pay for such a service. Finally most of the solutions believe that the client should adapt to the software, not the other way around.
And here I am again, spending my evenings behind the screen and developing software perfectly tailored for my needs. It tracks exactly the numbers I need, and can be extended to record even more. Instead of using faceless lines in the table to represent my partners from whom I buy the ingredients, I can also add pictures and birthdays, and get notifications so that I could call them, write, or send a postcard. I can quickly see how much water evaporated from berries during the dehydration process and the price of the resulting ingredient in every jar.
A good friend of mine who owns a small beer brewery once told me that you should work on one thing only. In his case it’s making beer and not automating the process. I agree with him, however I believe that in my case it is worth the effort and time. I can spare few evenings a week for development and the result will help me save more money in the future. Even though my business is mostly physical I am making the software play the key role in it since the beginning, and I believe this is an investment worth doing.