Selling Rails

April 21, 2006

No doubt about it, I am up to my eyeballs in Ruby on Rails projects. It’s exciting to see what people want us to build—everything from niche content management tools, to workflow management apps, to massive social networking projects. Proposals come in from companies ranging from basement startups to tier one financial institutions. Rails is certainly not a secret anymore; it’s a genuine phenomenon, and it’s attracting a lot of attention.

That said, there’s a big difference between attracting clients and signing contracts. Somewhere along the line, a decision is made to start writing checks, and if you’re in the business of writing software, it’s extremely important to understand why that decision is made.

So, here’s the stunner for a lot of us geeks: that decision has little to do with Rails.

“OMG,” you gasp. “WTF. Heretic!”

I know, I know. I’ll go back to drinking the Kool-Aid in a bit … But hear me out!

Rails won’t make your product a better product. Rails won’t give you the features that your customers want. Rails won’t manage your project and make everything run smoother. Rails won’t cook you breakfast, mend your pants, walk your dog, or print bumper stickers1.

The trick to selling web applications is Delicatessen’s secret ingredient: it’s all about the people2.

People write code. People design and manage infrastructure. People answer the phone and fix problems. People create attractive designs and optimize interactions. And, thankfully, people also cook breakfast, mend pants, and walk dogs.

Those who are willing to invest a significant amount of money in a web application want confidence in the people who build it for them. They know technologies don’t guarantee anything, and they know buzzwords don’t make the product. They want developers who produce efficient and high quality code, designers with good taste and excellent CSS skills, and managers who return their calls and take a personal interest in their projects.

Quality people can produce excellent products with whatever platforms or languages they’ve honed their skills on. Java? Sure. PHP? Why not? C#? Yup!

So, why do we exclusively develop with Ruby on Rails? Because we’ve used Java, PHP, C#, Python, Perl, and a shocking array of slightly obscure languages. We’ve seen how language affects architecture, run the gauntlet of application servers, and rescued projects from spaghetti code hell. We’ve started our own companies, created our own products, and in the end, we recognize that Ruby on Rails works well for us, and how we build web applications.

In short, the magic happens when the right people people get their hands on the right tools for the job.

Sell the whole package: your people, your resources, your experience .. not just the technology.

1 Actually, this is a lie—Rails does print bumper stickers. One of our clients uses Rails to manage the printing of custom calendars, photo mugs, and all sorts of other photo paraphernalia.

2 Taking the Delicatessen analogy a bit further: Technology may be the buttery creamy icing, but people are the delicious fudgy cake; technology might catch a client’s attention, but nothing satisfies the appetite like good people.

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