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?





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.