Have you ever dreamed of successfully launching your own web app, the next Facebook, Uber, or AirBnB? After hearing that WhatsApp was initially purchased for almost $16 billion, then $19 billion, and now worth over $20 billion, I knew that I was in the wrong business. Sure, I produced, directed, and starred in adocumentary film that received Oscar consideration in 2014, and I had spent 20 years in digital media doing front-end for websites, Apple service and sales, 3D, and more, but I would never have a chance to “make it big” in any of those arenas no matter how successful my projects. Even with that knowledge, and knowing the average developer doesn’t “make it” either, I was never able to get into app development because programming was just too complicated. Still, there were 16 billion things that tortured me every night before I fell asleep.
I was impelled to act.
I was already overbooked though. I had a full time job demanding between 50 – 80 hours of my time a week, sometimes getting 11pm projects for 3am deliverables or working for 4 – 5 weeks straight at a time. I worked with my wife on the non-profit for autism we co-founded, which demanded another 5 – 15 hours a week of my time depending on the month. I was also taking side-work to try and save for the future. Plus, my special needs son and a family to handle. So, in essence, I was already working 2 – 3 jobs, and maxed mentally.
The other problem is that the entire tech training industry (Y-Combinator, Bootcamps, etc) basically discriminates against middle-class married dads whose income provides for more then just themselves, which is a shame. It is built for single 18 – 30 year olds, or people who can afford to quit their job in lieu of 8 – 12 weeks (sometimes more) of training and then live on that savings for a year or two while their startup grows, or simply have a large amount of funding from some angel investor/co-founder to live on for a year or two.
Yes, there is a ton of on-demand training, but some people like myself learn best when I can grab a mentor, ask them a question, and flow through the content with a guide. How the heck was I going to learn this stuff fast enough and stay motivated?
Freeing up Time
First, I got another job.
That freed up a ton of my time, and a lot of stress. I put out a huge amount of resumes, treating the search like I was unemployed, and finally one company got back to me. While it was more of a lateral move, and even a step backwards in many ways, I now enjoy my day job, I never take work home in my position, the people are great, and the company is growing, stable and secure. It took me 6 months, but it was worth hitting the pavement over, and I feel no qualms giving them my time and effort every day.
I also cut back on the freelance work. While it would have been nice to have the extra cash, my mental focus could only be on so many things at once, and learning a new skill requires a lot of mental energy. It hurt on the bottom line, but I considered that part an investment and was thinking ROI.
An extra 10 – 20 hours a week, 1 – 3 hours a day every, would be enough to start.
The Setup for Experience
So with that now taken care of, the first thing that needed to be done for an app was to have an idea. So, I took a look at the problems out there, and decided to try and solve a problem I had, which was event management for the autism non-profit. What would I want a personal app just for me to look like with my 10 years experience of creating events? What would make it interesting for other people? How would this app be useful to 100 million people out there and not just non-profits?
Then, I spoke with about 10 different potential users with questions on what they would want. I brought all of that together and designed some wireframes (how it would function) using Balsamiq, showed it to them, and got their feedback. I tweaked a few things, and moved on to the next step, which was creating the Minimum Viable Product, or MVP. This is the minimum workable product you can get out on the web to test in front or real users, and the sooner, the uglier, the better.
Consistency with a purpose.
I simply worked 1 – 3 hours everyday, sometimes splurging on a weekend on a 5 – 10 day sprint. When I was stuck on Stack Overflow with a programming problem, I shifted gears mentally and looked at a UX problem, or a CSS problem for a little bit. Then, an answer from some random post out there would spark an idea and more experimenting, and some code would finally work. Over time, the programming problems grew more intricate, and I started thinking about bigger problems. The first time I sat down and started automating some tasks, that’s when I knew I had finally crossed that first threshold into programming land.
I learned coding is a skill, it’s not a talent. It can be learned, unlike having a 50″ vertical which is something you’re born with really. Consistently sitting down, coding a little bit every day, messing up, breaking things, starting over, all the while constantly visualizing my end product, that’s what made the process work. It became the glue as different parts of my app’s body started working together. It was and still is a Frankenstein of an app no doubt, but it had a pulse. It was alive.
You can see it in my Github above, which was basically an 86 day code-sprint of thinking about my business. Sure, it took me over a year of screwing up to even get into the position of knowing what I needed to code, but after 86 days, I was finally able to upload something for the world to use. I went from no real back-end coding experience or time to an MVP in less then 18 months. Longer then I wanted, but sooner then if I had let those 16 billion things continue to intimidate me.
Where to Next
I don’t know if HapnApp is going to hit a million users the next year or two (chances are against me), but all I know is that I’m going to be coding, growth hacking, and talking it up every day, consistently. I even started picking up SnapChat to reach new people (shameless plug: richeverts) with my daily journey.
I don’t want to be a professional coder, so I started working with AirPair andSlack to get coding help, and think daily about what is the next most important step. That includes getting good mentors, coders, designers, attorneys and accountants, funders, and focusing like a hawk every day on what I can do next to grow my business 5-7% this week.
Maybe that, and a little bit of luck with timing, is all that I’ll need.