How I Created My Own Ecommerce App Without Leaving Zalando

Want to work at Zalando, but also start your own company? It can be done!

Posted on Nov 23, 2015

KOKOWINKA* is a Mobile First web app I’ve created that sells fashion items at a discount (starting at 30 percent) to Spanish consumers. It works like this: A customer purchases an item featured by an online retailer like Zalando, then the retailer pays me a reward (up to 15 percent of the selling price). As the affiliate marketer, I don’t have to worry about purchase payments, refunds or shipping.

KOKOWINKA isn’t my primary job (yet): I spend my days as a Zalando QA Engineer. What’s been amazing is that Zalando has supported and helped me throughout the development of my new business, for which I feel incredibly lucky. For you employers out there, this post will hopefully inspire you to encourage and assist your most entrepreneurial technologists in achieving great things. And for my fellow entrepreneurs: I conclude below with some advice based on my own experiences.

In the Beginning ...

Let me start with a story: Once upon a time, there was a guy who had lots of business ideas, but who kept dismissing them. One day, after browsing a technology blog, he stumbled across a post about a company that was starting to achieve success for developing an app based on one of his previously discarded ideas. The man realized that this scenario plays out for many people every day, then decided to pursue his next great idea. He would not avoid missing another opportunity, he told himself.

Of course, that guy was me. Now comes the more exciting part of the story, in which I get down to work — at work!

Zalando’s Support

This came in two primary forms: On-the-job learning, and encouragement from the company to pursue my dream.

— Learning: Many of the skills I’ve learned at Zalando — working with RESTful APIs, testing, and creating continuous integration environment — helped me to create KOKOWINKA.

— Encouragement: My first step was to ask the head of my department for some time off to build KOKOWINKA, and he was enthusiastic — telling me that it would be great for my professional development. Then I asked some of my colleagues, who also endorsed the idea. Finally, I checked in with our People Services department to let them know of my plans. In just six weeks, everything (including my financials and health insurance) was in place for me to get started. During my time away, many Zalandos checked in to ask for status reports and the URL so they could see my progress and offer feedback; this support is crucial, I think, when you want to start your own business endeavor.

I also talked to Zalando's affiliation department to clarify some aspects of our company's business terms and conditions.

Business Advice

As part of developing KOKOWINKA, I wanted to learn some brand-new technical skills. I started prototyping using the MEAN stack, which I’d never used before; it was easy to write the JavaScript code, but I found that I needed to do a lot of SysOp tasks. After a few days, I gave up on MEAN and decided to go with Meteor, which made prototyping go so much faster.

After a few days of using Meteor, I had something to show to others. I got my first opportunity at the Meteor meetup in Berlin, where I refactored some parts of my application and received lots of valuable feedback from the participants. Days later, I deployed the first version of KOKOWINKA. The first fuckup — “out of memory” — appeared just two hours after deployment. I read some blog posts about Meteor memory requirements and decided to increase the RAM of the server from 512MB to 1GB. Problem solved!


Presenting the first prototype on the “Meteor Meetup Berlin”

Developing KOKOWINKA was the easy part. Once it was deployed, I turned my focus to SEO, SEA and other marketing-oriented things I didn’t really know too much about (yet). I read hundreds of blog articles about Google Keyword positioning and took my best shot. This field is something I am still learning about; it is fascinating how the Google algorithm works.

How’s It Going?

KOKOWINKA’s success has been better than I’d expected. I haven’t spent any money on advertisement, yet the app is attracting about 50 users/day; most traffic comes directly from Google searches. I'm working on a Christmas campaign that will include Facebook advertising. As for product development: In 2016 I want to add more functionality, more shops to the catalog, email subscriptions and mobile apps (iOS, Android) using ionic.

Lessons Learned

Here’s some valuable insight I’ve gained while working on KOKOWINKA:

  • If you don’t have much time to invest on the project, make sure you plan and prototype it thoroughly before starting.
  • Plan to spend at least 15 percent of your time addressing unforeseen issues. They always appear!
  • Spread the word. Share your idea with as many people as possible. You will receive very valuable feedback this way.
  • Don’t work alone. There will be days when you doubt the viability of your project. You will need someone who encourages you to go forward and not to give up.
  • You should love your idea. If not, you will easily procrastinate and lose focus.
  • I cannot explain how amazing it is to see transform an idea that once resided solely in your brain into something touchable/browsable. Keep working so you can experience this magic.

Now that you know how I followed my dreams, hopefully you will follow yours too!

* I created the name “KOKOWINKA” with an online name generator.