In this article, guest author Ryan Carson reviews some of the lessons learned from building a web application in four days. Carson is the co-founder of Carsonified, an online store in Bath, UK. They’ve created four web apps, created ThinkVitamin.com, and hosted events like Future of Web Apps. If you are bored, you can follow Ryan on Twitter.
The time required to design, build and deploy web applications has steadily decreased, especially with frameworks such as Django, Rails and Symfony. With that in mind, we decided to push ourselves and try to launch a web application in 32 hours. Four crazy days later, Matt was born.
The app we created is a simple tool that lets you post to multiple Twitter accounts. We learned a lot during the experience, so I would like to share some of those lessons with you.
how we did it
We have a team of nine people distributed as follows:
- Two developers
- A front-end designer/developer
- Two bloggers
- A writer
- Three people in charge of public relations
I’d say you only need three people if you want to keep it to a bare minimum, which would look like this:
- A developer
- A front-end designer/developer
- A blogger / PR person
Our application was created in Python with Django and is hosted at WebFaction. He uses the Twitter APIGit and Codebase for version control.
How much did it cost?
Basically, it cost us a week’s salary (about $10,000). There are other small costs that I do not include such as rent, electricity, coffee and taxes. We got the hosting for free due to a connection we have with the company, but if you paid for it, you can expect to pay no more than $400 for the first month (for a simple app ).
Building a web app quickly is not only a great idea if you need to get your idea to market fast, but it’s also a great way to boost team morale.
You don’t need to create a whole new app to benefit from this idea. You may actually take some time off to work on a new feature or a new direction for your current app.
There are some serious benefits to stepping away from your normal work and producing something totally new and creative:
- The best boost you can give yourself or your team is to give yourself time to be creative. Turning off your phones and emails and just focusing on something new and exciting will do wonders for your energy levels.
- It could generate incredible buzz around you and your business or products.
- You will come back to your current projects with a new perspective and renewed energy.
- This will push your team to learn new skills. For example, Will, our sponsor relations manager, spent the whole week doing PR – something new to him.
Tips for working well
Here are some tips you should keep in mind if you’re focused on building apps quickly:
- Limit meetings to a 10-minute conversation in the morning and a 10-minute wrap-up at the end of each day. Meetings are the best way to kill productivity and crush creativity, so keep it brief.
- Keep people away from their machines at lunch. Go to lunch together and maybe throw the Frisbee or play the Wii. Excitement and creativity will deteriorate quickly if you don’t take a break from the day.
- Simplify the site and the application as much as possible. Try launching with only “Home”, “Help” and “About”.
- Make sure you’re relying on a great framework like Rails, Symfony, Django, or Objective-J. Part of our experience was playing around with Django and comparing it to Rails and Symfony (a PHP framework). We found that Django lacks the rigor of Rails or Symfony, so it might not be an ideal choice for future projects.
- Go for your designer’s first logo idea and color scheme. You shouldn’t over-analyze the appearance of everything, as this process can go on forever. Design the logo and move on. This is why you need to hire good designers and trust them to be good at what they do.
- Be technology agnostic. If your developers say it should be built in a certain language and framework and they have solid reasons, trust them and move on. Again, it’s about hiring smart people and getting out of their way.
- Coordinate how your designers and developers will work together. Our designer creates static HTML code and then passes it to developers who use the HTML code as the basis for creating templates. These models are then committed to a Git repository and from there the whole team works from this repository.
- It is not enough to have a designer and a developer. You need a dedicated individual who is solely focused on spreading your candidacy and working to gain media coverage. There’s no way to get the kind of coverage for Matt that we’re hoping to get without several of us working on it full-time. However, do do not hire a PR agency for it – there needs to be genuine passion for the app that can only come from your team. (For example, I asked TechCrunch to cover it, and Erick came back with the suggestion to write this post).
- Properly get your “authoring environment” setup.
Build your authoring environment
If you want to build quickly and creatively, you need to create an environment that encourages and facilitates this process. If you don’t master the following basics, your team will constantly run into annoying problems instead of continuing to build. You will need:
- Good version control. I suggest Git.
- An easy-to-use source and changeset browser. We use Codebase.
- Solid server infrastructure. Why not rely on Flexiscale, Grid-Service, Mosso or EC2 and let the big boys worry about server uptime and load?
- A “one-click” deployment system. This means that deploying code from your repository should only take one click. If it’s more complex than that, there’s a risk of complications and downtime. Capistrano is awesome if you’re using Rails.
- Printers, blackboards and meeting space. People need physical space to brainstorm. We painted an entire wall with chalkboard paint so the team had room to sketch ideas.
- Coffee, water, music and healthy snacks.
If you’re really successful, it makes building and creating much more enjoyable and faster.
So that’s it …
Thanks for listening to Matt’s story. Please share your tips and experience by commenting below. If you want to see an entire day of development reduced to four minutes, watch the video below. Enjoy.
Matt Week – Day Two Time Lapse – Music by MGMT
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