How to Build an App: Ideation to Installation

Below are steps I and many others have taken in developing mobile/web apps. From Ideation to installation. The process I talk about is from the app Giggin I created, a music gaming app that allowed users to share music in the form of a quiz. Think Snapchat for music and gaming lovers. Giggin would gain thousands of downloads in over 25 countries in a 2 year time frame.

Often people say they are waiting for the right idea to build something, but in fact people already have the ideas they need and simply need to act upon them. Execution is key. Act on the ideas you already have instead of waiting for the perfect ideas and the perfect time. Once you have thought out your idea, the nuts and bolts of it will form as you begin to build. From ideation, you then form a team to work on the areas you cannot. For instance for my app Giggin, I needed developers and designers. While I would undertake some of the development and design, its best to have people focus on specific areas of the app while you can oversee and orchestrate.

Richard Branson says entrepreneurship is simply having ideas and having the resources to make them happen. It can be hard to utilize one’s resources because we often don’t know where to look. I started with my university and friends, talking with professors in the Computer Science department asking them to refer me to top-notch developers. While they gave me a few names, most were uninterested or unable to build what I was asking. So from there I sent out an email to the department of Computer Science, which would reach everyone at the university studying CS. No luck from that experiment either. I then posted a portion of my idea to blogs, outsourcing sites, craigslist etc., to see who was interested and could do the work. After interviewing with a number of companies and individual developers both inside and outside the US, I found a company called Infobeans out of India. The price of outsourcing work overseas versus companies inside the US is cut by more than half the price of what it would be in the US. While communication would be tougher, due to India being ahead by 12 and half hours as well as a language barrier, I figured I could work with it. I was still studying in Colorado and had an internship in PE in NYC that summer, though the time difference allowed me to wake up early before work and school for 1-2 hour video conferences every day going over the development and implementing my design. The 5-6 month process would pay off in the end.

While I sketched out and built most of the front-end design for Giggin, I also used 99designs to digitize some of my sketches for the interface and logos. 99designs is a design website that takes your ideas and shoots them out to hundreds of designers around the world. Designers then submit their work, then giving you access to the designers to talk with designers to tweek them. At the end of a 30 day period, you pick the designs you like most from work submitted by dozens of designers. In addition to the development and design work, I had to partner with Apple to utilize their music service within my app, a strenuous dialogue that took months for them to finally approve.

Throughout the dialogues between designers and my developers, I was as well building a marketing plan. I worked with friends, my university, as well as other university newspaper to advertise my app, share the app with their friends and groups on social media. In addition I printed off numerous sheets at my university library and cut the sheets into small business cards with the logo and idea of the app on them. I placed these small like business cards all over my university. This was pre-launch though. The app would go live while I was traveling abroad and I continued to share these business cards in public areas. I would not use any paid advertisements or marketing plans.

The development and designs were all finished, and all that was left was beta-testing and Apple’s approval period. I would beta-test the app with a number of close friends, tweeking a few things, and then after 5 days of Apple reviewing the code and product, the app went live. Though this is when the real work began, as getting users to actually use and like the app is incredibly difficult and often very much out of your control. While the app was a success to me in that I created a product purely from imagination and made it tangible, it certainly did not blow up as app developers often hope. While I would market the app and work on updates over the next 2 years, it slowly died off. The process of building Giggin taught me numerous lessons and gave me insights into the process of creating apps and a business.

Please comment below if you are interested in creating mobile or web apps and have any questions.

How AI Will Shape Our World

While Artificial Intelligence will clearly have a bigger impact than most of us know, I would like to highlight a few areas that I find most interesting. We often hear how AI sounds more like science fiction, though it is very much already here. AI has already replaced  a number of jobs that were once human jobs and will continue to replace more. Soon automation will allow for self driving cars and algorithms will watch the media and write news articles. Taking a look at Tesla’s car factory shows how machines build cars from start to finish from the inside out.

There are already machines inside human brains. Brain implants, for example, have been able to detect and stop seizures, treat Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, as well as others. Soon these brain implants will allow for direct brain interfaces, something Facebook is working hard on, as well as Elon Musk’s new company Neuralink. Imagine a world with no more screens and no typing. You’ll be able to see an interface and type directly from your brain by just thinking. Maybe you’ll receive Facebook and Google Ads on your brain interface, which would be very unpleasing, though possible.

Along with replacing a large portion of the world’s workforce, AI will solve more issues than imaginable, cure diseases, and perhaps answer some of the most pressing questions of our time. With fewer jobs, taken over by AI and robotics, how will the world look? What will humans be doing? Maybe everyone will become an artist of some form, though AI has as well created more beautiful art than most people I know. There are art exhibitions in SF and others cities showing art that has been created by AI. Self driving cars, brain interfaces, robotic surgeries, and art creation. AI is changing the way the world looks and will look. What are some other ways you see artificial intelligence impacting our world?

 

 

 

 

4 Travel Stories That Taught Me Something

Japan

IMG_2121

We arrived in Yokohama, Japan midday and decided to find a hostel somewhere deep in the city. Knowing no Japanese other than a few greetings we maneuvered our way through dense streets and located a hostel that would suffice for a few nights. Our hostel was no larger than a closet, no furniture, no beds, simply two large blankets, one for me, and one for my friend, Henry. We left the hostel and walked the streets of Yokohama in search of a restaurant that someone recommended. With no cell service, meaning no Google maps, we resorted to the old fashioned physical map. While that seemed like a great idea, our understanding of the map and language on the map left us confused. We were forced to resort to the oldest and simplest form of acquiring knowledge, communication. Choosing who to ask for help/directions was not difficult, though communicating our struggles would be. We engaged with a couple and their children who were walking through a street market. As we approached and began conversing they quickly realized the obvious language barrier before them.  Assuming the language barrier would end the conversation, they seemed to understand the name of the restaurant, and by simple body language they signaled to follow them. We exchanged names and smiles and soon were on our way, somewhere. While following, we assumed maybe they were leading us astray, playing some joke. The path they took us in certainly seemed completely irrelevant from where we thought the restaurant was. Regardless we followed, twisting and turning through markets and streets, while they pointed out fascinating architecture as well as street vendors selling an array of foods that were open for sampling. After 15-20 minutes of walking, the couple’s children pointed to a restaurant, the one we happened to be looking for. The family, likely going somewhere completely different, took us miles out of their way to help. Somewhat bewildered by their act of kindness, all we could do was show our gratitude and say “arigato”, thank you in Japanese. That type compassion and assistance seemed almost routine for them. We clearly would never have found the restaurant on our own. And therefore learned a valuable lesson from them. People want to help, and so should you.

DSCF0370 2.jpg

While at the restaurant, we decided to experiment and taste everything. From sakes to Japanese beers, from ramen to raw horse. Yes, raw horse, with a cracked raw egg on top with spices. We drank a lot, and ate even more. We watched while the itamae, or Japanese chefs rolled sushi right in front of us, all while drinking more sake. From the restaurant we continued on exploring Yokohama, its temples, bars, and working to make some Japanese friends along the way.

IMG_1169

Our ambitious minds would lead us from Yokohama by train to Tokyo, exploring more temples, parks, sushi restaurants, and bizarre night clubs. From Tokyo we made our way east by trains and buses to Nagano, a ski town. We spent a day skiing/snowboarding at the Hakuba resort while in the evening we relaxed at natural hot springs, a completely new and different sensation for the body. From Nagano we caught another train south to Kyoto. Upon awaking in Kyoto, we found ourselves in a surreal city. Ancient architecture, traditions, temples, and cuisine. After sampling numerous types of sushi as well as mint green tea ice-cream, we hiked a top of a mountain through beautiful bamboo forests. A top the mountain were views overlooking Kyoto, surrounded by hundreds of Japanese macaque snow monkeys who were fierce and tricky.

Morocco

IMG_2148

A group of my friends and I took to the streets of Casablanca indulging in its mystique. We spent time at the Grande Mosquée Hassan II or Hassan II Mosque (pictured above). From Casablanca we caught a train to Marrakech, sitting in the door way, with no door in sight. The train at full speed, we peered out the door opening to what would change from green pastures to red sand with dozens villages along the way. Often times we saw women carrying water, though mostly both the men and women were sitting, enjoying the sun seeming as if they had not a care in the world. When we arrived a few hours later in Marrakech, the cities energy was completely different than Casablanca’s. Hundreds and thousands of people on the move and working. There was an abundance of street food, shops, and riads. So many different types of sales going on, from people holding chained monkeys for tourists to take pictures with to vendors selling baby turtles apparently for their medicinal use to snake charmers. We endeavored into the city market, more of a maze than anything else. Miles and miles of walk ways, almost like tunnels throughout the market. We never knew what shop’s products we were looking at because they were all so bunched together. We spent hours in there, and finally needed a meal. As we continued to the outer rim of the market, hundreds of street vendors were selling themselves and their restaurants. All claiming to have the best this or that in all of Marrakech, though they wouldn’t just sell you, they harassed you. They would follow you throughout the market, claiming I must try their chef’s chicken kabobs. Turns out they were right, or at least one lucky vendor was. The chicken combined so many ingredients, orange juice, cinnamon, cumin, as well as a traditional yogurt sauce, all on top of a Moroccan salad with Harissa, carrots, cucumbers, parsley, raisins. More color on a plate than I could have imagined. The meal would cost somewhere between 2-3 dollars. We would order numerous plates.

IMG_2172

The next day we wandered back into the bustling market and this time I was looking for a large blanket to buy. Spending hours in the market, I found a shop that seemed ideal. The vendor himself was not. The blankets were hand knitted with beautiful Moroccan designs. I began slowly sifting through a number of options, putting a few aside that I believed I may purchase. The vendor kept assuring me that each of my choices was perfect and fit me well, clearly looking for a few sales. A few of friends were doing the same, and he became even more enticed with the amount of cash he was about to make. As I continued, I realized there was no way I could be able to transport such a large blanket back, and therefore worked on an exit strategy. I put the blankets back, discretely, and noticed a number of my friends had done the same. The vendor was becoming irritated and was stunned when he saw me place mine back. It was as if the few minutes I spent talking with him and exploring his shop had created a relationship in which I must purchase a blanket, and if not, he and his family may not eat for the next few days, and that may have been true, but the next few minutes involved actual harassment. As I put the last blanket back and began to exit, he threw a fit. He also had a white patch over his face, with a small blood stain poking through, which gave him a savagely aggressive aura. He walked over to me, getting completely in my direction and facing his chest toward the sky as if he had the power of Citizen Kane. I quickly maneuvered around him, though I quickly felt a jerk on my arm. He grabbed me and whipped me around so we were face to face. He went back and forth from standing in my way to grabbing me and holding me from exiting. My friends, realizing the situation made their way to the exit, as other vendors began to approach. The vendor claimed that I must buy them, that even though I simply touched them, meant that I had to purchase them. No such agreement exists anywhere, maybe except restaurants, this was a wool blanket shop. As more men approached, clearly trying to force me into a purchase, I made a final decisive move and barreled through the pack. Inches away from the smell of food market, the same vendor lunged and grabbed my body. He came in close, very close, with his head leaning in to mine and said, “If you don’t buy this rug I am going to cut off my own penis”.

11205568_10206295781611490_8096996769515742860_n

The lesson I learned, sales of any type is a difficult profession, but threatening to cut off one’s own penis will not lead to a sale. From Marrakech we made our way east, aimlessly riding camels miles into the desert to a campsite.

11150894_10204321844514231_2119752040606996412_n

Myanmar

IMG_1642

After spending a few days in Myanmar’s (formerly Burma), largest city Yangon, I travelled with a group of friends to Bagan. Myanmar is a country with more civil war than any other country. While we were there, civil war had broken out again. Myanmar certainly has a list of its own political and societal issues, largely due to past colonization and religious clashes. The majority of people I came into contact with, or what at least seemed to be the majority were practicing Buddhists. Dating back to the 10th century, thousands of pagodas were constructed in support of the Buddhist religion. Throughout Myanmar’s history, over 10,000 pagodas were built, though due to earthquakes and wars, only 2,500 still stand. Pagodas are certainly a symbol of Myanmar and Buddhism, representing a place of worship and sacrifice for one’s family. Learning this all prior to arriving in Myanmar meant that I would likely be spending most of my time with Buddhists as well as going from pagoda to pagoda.

IMG_1634

While 2500 is certainly a lot less than 10,000, seeing even a fraction of the pagodas meant that I needed an easy and efficient way of transportation and therefore rented a moped. The moped would allow me to see hundreds of them, stopping off to explore the insides of larger ones, usually containing large Buddha’s representing different spiritual meanings. While I have certainly done my reading on Buddhism, becoming immersed in it in this manner drove me to seek other answers Buddhism and its practicers tried to answer. After days of pagodas, a group of friends and I went to volunteer at a school led by Buddhist monks. While engaging with the students, dressed in robes, who have devoted their lives to become monks or nuns, I couldn’t help but think of their teachers and older monks. I wanted to understand the direction they were leading the students in and how Buddhism was going to get them there.

IMG_1615

Again, like the other countries, there was a serious language barrier. I spoke no Burmese, and they spoke no English. Luckily they had a translator, and when I got the chance I asked the interpreter to help me converse with the schools head monk or abbot. While I introduced myself and went through a list of translated questions and answers, I couldn’t help but asking one of the most philosophical questions ever. What did he believe to be the meaning of life? Throughout the majority of our conversation leading up to this question, the monk had remained mostly monotoned and expressionless. As the translator translated this last question to him, the monks body language reversed. He broke out into an almost monstrous laugh and a smile that stretched from ear to ear. He put his arm around me, leaned in close and said ‘today’. It must have been one of the very few English words he spoke, though the lesson I learned was that I was currently living the meaning of life.

11067774_10205894753626041_5912780059215600623_n

India

IMG_1805

After spending the morning hours wandering the Taj Majal in Agra, India with a group of friends we made our way in a number of Tok Tok’s back across the city. Having spent hours and hours in the recent days walking through Agra fort, the Jama Masjid (one of India’s largest mosques), and playing cricket with twenty or so Indian school boys and girls, our legs were tired to say the least. We began looking for a place to kick back, eat and relax, though unexpectedly our Tok Tok ran into what looked like miles of traffic. We couldn’t see much as there was so much dust in the air. We kindly paid our driver and made our way by foot. Instantly through the dust in the air, we found ourselves walking in piles of trash alongside numerous cows. Cows are a sacred animal in the Hindu religion and are usually never consumed as food. They roam the streets of India just as humans. After passing a number of them, we could feel the ground beneath us vibrating. We heard chanting and instruments playing. Up ahead, the vibration was not coming from cows, but by an elephant festival. Hundreds of worshippers were walking alongside or riding twenty-thirty massive elephants embellished in beautiful vibrant colors, jewelry and saddle cloth. Worshippers chanted and walked the streets with the elephants leading the way creating a dust storm.

11750738_10207382382342775_7000814667193551738_n

From out the dust we found ourselves in a quieter space. Thin alley ways and high buildings now surrounded us. Bewildered at the architectural mystique we entered an antique shop with thousands of beautiful hand crafted relics in all different sizes, from pottery, to weapons, paintings, jewelry and more than I can remember. After getting lost through endless routes within the shop, we wandered ourselves into a room filled with hashish pipes and hookahs. The owner kindly offered to pack us a variety of shisha flavors, likely having chose grapefruit or mint in a number of different hookahs, I can’t remember the exact flavor. We spent the next hour or so watching the sun set from the top of the shop, enjoying the shisha, beer and company from the owner and his sons. Finally realizing how late it was getting we decided to head to a small restaurant nearby that a friend was recommended. We ordered 10-15 different plates, ranging from biryani, chapathi, masala, palek paneer and a number of meat dishes. The restaurant, as are many restaurants in India, gave no silverware, custom in traditional Indian restaurants as you are meant to eat with your right hand, while the left hand is used for wiping one’s own butt after using the toilet, since toilet paper is very rare. Dish after dish we were blown away by the flavors, spices, and creativity of the place. I knew I wanted to finish eating before I went to the bathroom, as I assumed there would not be any toilet paper.

11750614_10207382402623282_8206596782819516709_n

I happened to be right about the toilet paper, but what I was taken aback by even more was the set up of the bathroom. Usually you find a toilet and sink, either above ground or a hole in the floor. But this particular restaurant’s bathroom was more like a small hall way or walk in closet, with no toilet, or hole in the ground for releasing one’s toxins, instead you simply squatted on the ground, placing your feet, hopefully with shoes on, in the tracks of others, and pooped straight on the ground. The floor was filled with remnants of poo and diarrhea; how the food tasted so good, how the restaurant didn’t stink, I will never know, but it none the less made for an ever more fascinating experience. The lesson I took away was that beautiful things are not beautiful in every way. Not everyone or every establishment can have what we often believe to be necessary. Not everyone can afford a drainage system. We assumed they likely cleaned out the bathroom themselves, not a fun job. Hopefully the person cleaning was not as well cooking, though we’ll never know. While they may not have access to the things we often take for granted they still had the ability to be personal, creative, hardworking and passionate.

IMG_1773

My Favorite Kickstarter Projects

I recently wrote about crowdfunding and the exponential growth it has experienced and decided to share my favorite Kickstarter Projects, some of which I have backed myself. For those unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it is a crowdfunding platform allowing project creators post their project campaign, along with a video, pledges to raise a specific amount of money, and other important information and then backers can fund your project making it a reality.

The projects below range from virtual reality to vertical farming, from smart glasses to art books. Having personally funded over 15 projects, it is safe to say I have an obsession with the Kickstarter platform, along with millions of others. Kickstarter by the numbers: Over $3B pledged to projects; Over 120k successfully funded projects; Over 12M backers, 4M who are repeat backers.

My top 10 list:

1.Vue Smart Glasses– “Vue is the world’s first pair of smart glasses that are designed for everyday use. Offered in prescription, plano, and sunglasses.”

2. The Bolted Book Facsimile: An Exact Copy of Depero Futurista– “The first exact copy of Fortunato Depero’s 1927 iconic work of avant-garde graphic design and book-making.”

3. NIFTYX– “A Wearable Charging Cable Bracelet That Is Disrupting the World. Hand Braided with Italian Leather By Our Artisan. A Charging Cable disguised as a bracelet. You will never be out of cable with NIFTYX.”

4. Oculus Rift– “Developer kit for the Oculus Rift – the first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games. OR was acquired by Facebook for $2B and is currently working on a new headset as well as VR applications.”

5. LuminAID– “Charge your gear anywhere! A 2-in-1 solar lantern and phone charger that packs down to 1″ thick. Portable power and light on the go!”

6. Darwin’s: On the Origin of Species Picture Book– “A picture book adaptation of the classical On The Origin Of Species. Great for children and grownups!”

7. UrbanX– “Convert Any Bike to an Electric Bike in 60 Seconds. Simply replace your front bike wheel with the UrbanX Electric E-Bike Wheel to instantly receive a 30 mile range with a 20mph top speed.”

8. Chip: The World’s First Nine Dollar Computer– “C.H.I.P. does computer things. Work in LibreOffice and save your documents to C.H.I.P.’s onboard storage. Surf the web and check your email over wifi. Play games with a bluetooth controller. With dozens of applications and tools preinstalled, C.H.I.P. is ready to do computer things the moment you power it on.”

9. Voyager Golden Record– “Experience the historic interstellar message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played.”

10. Green Stalk– “A Vertical Garden Designed to Save Space, Conserve Water & Grow Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.”

The Sharing Economy is Ruling the World

Today alone, there have been over 500k Airbnb stays, well over 1 million Uber rides, and around $500 million in sales on Amazon, all due to peer to peer sharing. The sharing economy has become one of the driving factors to the US and world economy, it is not slowing, and it is redefining employment.

The obvious businesses of the sharing economy are Uber- ride sharing, Airbnb- hospitality sharing, Instacart- grocery delivery, Thrive Market- meal plan sharing, and TaskRabbit- free lance labor. These businesses have completely transformed the way we look at work and is taking away thousands of employees from full time jobs allowing them to become their own type of entrepreneur by utilizing the products and services they have right in front of them, i.e. cars, homes, and labor skills.

Along with peer to peer sharing, peer to peer lending (crowdfunding), has grown significantly; think Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  In 2015, over $34B were raised, growing over 100% from 2014, funding projects, sending students to university, and numerous other reasons.

But how did we get here? And how and in what other industries will the sharing economy expand into?

Firstly, we got here because of internet and from the internet to social media. The internet globalized so much, similar to air travel. While we are accustomed to Facebook and Snapchat, there were other social media websites before them, MySpace as well as AOL Instant Messenger. These are very foreign now, but they played an important role for social media. They started to create a sense of community and trust on the web between users.

The internet gained so much momentum in its early stages that it led to the dot-com bubble. Though it quickly gained momentum again and created the likes of Youtube, which would democratize broadcasting, allowing users to share personal media, just as Twitter democratized publishing.

From here the sharing economy had a platform to start and grow, and grow it did. It has transformed numerous industries. But what other industries will it impact? Will there be an Uber for energy, agriculture, manufacturing, or other industries? What would that look like? While the sharing economy may seem like a new phenomenon, it is rooted in one of societies greatest tools: bartering. Bartering has been around longer than anyone really knows, but the internet, air travel and shipping globalized it.

Share your thoughts below as I am curious about how you think the sharing economy will progress.

Innovation: Giants vs. Startups

When one thinks of innovation in the US they often associate it to Silicon Valley. A place where hundreds and thousands of startups in the past 20-30 years have started or relocated to due to an influx of venture capital and a hub of creativity. While the startup scene has not seemed to change, the type of innovation has. Every day we can read about self-driving cars, artificial intelligence,  and automation. There are numerous startups working on every part of these industries, though so are the tech giants, and an important question going forward is whether or not the tech giants are hindering innovation in these areas.

It is no secret that tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Oracle have had an incredible impact on the world. Together they employ well over half a million people and combined have acquired 500+ companies. Google acquires a company a week. While these statistics clearly show power, what it really shows is how the tech giants have become 21st-century monopolies that can be compared to monopolies such as Standard Oil and US Steel. The tech giants control so much of their market; Google owns roughly 80% of the search engine market, and while they are known for being a search engine, they have their hand in almost every industry. What does this mean for startups and innovation?

When a new product or service enters the market, startups are often competing directly with the tech giants. This can make it incredibly difficult for startups to create a product at scale like the tech giants can, considering they are a new company and will need to build a brand. Tech giants can create competing products and implement them in a very short time span, compared to startups. When a startup is capable of breaking its product into a market and the tech giants product is not as competitive, the tech giants often times end of acquiring the startup. This process can be viewed in a number of ways.

When the tech giants acquire the company they can keep the startup’s product going and simply add the profits and product to their portfolio. Or, they absorb the startup’s team members but shut down the startup’s product in hopes of their own product being able to obtain more market share. The tech giants regardless will continue to grow and become an even greater monopoly. Though what kind of a monopoly are they becoming? It may appear to be something negative since monopolies are generally associated as being something bad for the economy and innovation. Though I believe they are doing something that is very positive for the economy, and it has created a boom in innovation, both for startups and the tech giants themselves.

There will never a shortage of ideas and therefore startups will continue to prosper. Whether or not they become tech giants is another story, though it really is not that important. The tech giants that do acquire startups often leave the startups with lots of stock and cash, giving them even greater potential in the future for new innovation. The startup founders after being acquired, generally join the tech giant, leave to work on another startup or enter the venture capital space. All of these directions point one way, more innovation. Take for example Sam Altman, currently President of Y-Combinator, arguably the world’s most influential startup incubator, investing in 1000+ startups including Dropbox, Airbnb, and Instacart. Altman created Loopt, a location-based social networking mobile app, whose original funding came from Y-Combinator. After Altman sold Loopt, he went on to join Y-Combinator, eventually becoming its President. This trend is going on all over Silicon Valley and the startup world and is only going to continue to push innovation forward.

What I am interested in now is where people see innovation going? Yes, there is talk around machine learning, self-driving cars, and Elon Musk’s brain interface, but these technologies are 10-15 years away. I am more interested in the next 5 to 10 years. Please share your thoughts below and expect a follow-up article on this subject.