The One-Man Show Startup
The aspects of what qualifies as “tech” these days ranges from running a Twitter account for rampant over-sharing to writing algorithms for a suggestion engine. The project I created, reelBucket, falls somewhere in the middle. Before I get all crazy on how exciting it is to have created something from nothing and have it actually used by people you’ve never met is, I’m going to digress on the crazy that is designing a Startup, and what it took to get it to launch.
It took people
When I started on reelBucket, it was actually just an app on my server at home that helped me rifle through my movie library, and pick something to watch. I found that it was better to have movie posters and plots than simply movie titles on a spreadsheet.
It took the nudging of a good friend and photography colleague, Jason Goldman, to get me off my ass and actually make it into something for everyone, and even then, it took two weeks of additional nagging. Once the decision was made though, I went all in. The name of the site was up for debate for a few minutes, and finally AV Flox rested on the word “reel”, while I went with the word “bucket”. One of the toughest things for the web these days is coming up with a name, and then actually hitting the mark when you do a URL search to find out if it’s available… reelbucket.com was.
The Lone Ranger
Getting the particulars and the business logic down for how each screen of the app would work was simple, in general. I already knew what the app needed to do from using it at home for a bit. For particulars and details I knew I didn’t have all the answers for, I crowd-sourced from my immediate surroundings, asking friends and pretty much never shutting up about it.Ultimately, I think this piece of the application road-mapping process is critical to making decisions: it not only kept me from spinning my wheels dreaming up things I was unsure of, it also kept my sanity in check by grounding my desires for the application, separating what could be done with what actually made sense to be done.
When it came time to code and design, mouse hit the pad, and I was off and running. The biggest hurdles were handling the elements of the development process I knew nothing about; Twitter/Facebook/Google authentication, and more advanced jQuery work with Ajax were the biggest speed bumps. All in all, the entire code base, and design of the site was a one-man show; with some help from Stack Overflow, and the PHP oAuth Libraries to get me through the learning process of what the hell I was doing. Granted, what’s on reelBucket right now isn’t the most efficient, but that means the fast-acting site I made today will only become faster in the future.
ProTip: No matter what you launch today, there is always tomorrow. Code for tomorrow, plan for the day after.
A majority of the interface elements were already on the website’s current framework from the pre-alpha version of the app created for my library at home. The logo and other elements just kind of came out from what I had already mocked up for that, but with a little Photoshop work and some polish, coming to a design decision, being a committee of one, was kinda easy. The entire UI designed and finalized in a Sunday afternoon.
I’m not saying that everyone should try to pump out a site design in an afternoon; but if you have wireframes, a good road map laid out, some UI skills, and no one’s opinion but your own crazy to drive you, you can swing a rough draft in a weekend, give or take.
I’m not classically trained in design at all. When making reelBucket it just came down to making things that were intuitive to me at first. The finalized version came after presenting the mocks to my “inner circle” for some initial feedback. Normally when it comes to designing something, I have a client’s wishes to go off of – I guess one of the most important things to realize when doing stuff like this is, “I don’t know anything about everything, ask for feedback.” Since I had never launched anything for consumer-level use prior to reelBucket, releasing the site under the practice of “Make now, iterate with outside input later” was critical to making sure it was not only useful, but user friendly.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from all of this is to take every bit of criticism and input in, write it down, and consider it, no matter how crazy it seems. When feedback is volunteered, there’s a reason for that; listening to it, figuring out what to do with it, if anything, and then executing it into revisions. Taking note of input from people who offer up their thoughts on your project for the cost of their time is paramount to how your product will evolve.
When it came time to make the buttons click, I had a few thousand options. I could have used Code Ignitor, Django, some blend of .NET, Zend or whatever the hottest ticket item is in the eyes of the dev-world, but when push came to shove I went with a homegrown MVC solution to crank things into gear.
The pre-alpha release for the project was developed in a spaghetti slop of PHP/MySQL functions and half-assed jQuery. So organizing the code-base into a more manageable fashion was a must, especially when it came to developing with site security in mind. The biggest hurdle was going to be form validation, user authentication, and how to handle writing to the database in a way that was secure to the point of comfort on the open market.
In doing this, I opted to leverage a few existing systems, a truck load of standard security practices, and did my best to build a system that was easy to manage and update if a problem was found down the road.
The biggest lesson I took away from reelBucket was that I didn’t need to have a perfect product on launch. I just needed to be ready to make it better immediately. I launched on December 1st and by the end of the day I had feedback from half-a-dozen users that had tried it out, and by December 6th, I had rolled out the next series of changes – which ended up being more extensive than I initially planned for.
Be flexible with your time. Plan for the worst.
I receive user feedback nearly daily, and thanks to close friends, and power-users on the site, I’m able to take some great feature requests into account, and start to road map how to make them happen in the product. Overall, I think that reelBucket as it is, is a powerful utility that does exactly as it was set out to do, and actually does it better than I initially planned.
It might have been a one-man show startup in terms of actually putting the keystrokes to the screen, but it really came down to not being afraid to reach out to people, listen to their input, and take it into consideration with an open hand. That’s not to say that everything I heard was created, but in one-way or another, nearly everything I heard was taken into consideration. By continuing to seek insight from others and by following my crazy vision for reelBucket, this product will grow in to something I know I can no longer accurately predict at this moment, but I have an idea.
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Invite code is: nrekReelbucket
I hope this post finds someone who has an idea and inspires them to make great Internet. I’m not going to say it was easy, but it is really damn cool to log in and see your friends support what you’ve made, and have complete strangers use it.
12.13.11 • posted in: Technology