Barn raising for products!

FwdMarket prelaunch preview

Here’s a few things I’ve learned since we released ArkAdmin six months ago.

For most of the authors it took a long time to deliver a product that everyone loved and was full of great features. This means that like in anything you do in life, building digital products takes practice and persistence until you can truly bring value to your potential customers.

You also need to be a good designer with a lot of ideas in order to make it. Having mostly hacked my way through a lot of code did not vote well for me unless I was able to attract a few designers that could create the layouts and then turn them into a fully functional theme or web application, depending on the case.

Another thing I noticed is that it’s far better to have a team of people behind your product. It can get very time consuming to keep maintaining and improving your current products while also creating new ones on the side. Especially if you have to do both the design and the implementation.

Once you have your end product designed and implemented you need to be able to show that you’re in this for the long hall and you have to have a great way to present your product. Most authors have their own presentation websites, aside from their theme pages on the marketplace.

Documentation is also important, as well as being able to show your potential customers what features you will be releasing next for the item they buy and to show that any bugs they report are scheduled to be fixed in future releases.

Unfortunately the current marketplaces don’t offer you many options to help you succeed on your own.

For me implementing a cool new feature or a complex application is something that I am good at. Design on the other hand is something that I didn’t think I would ever do. That’s why a few months ago we started to look for designers with who we could collaborate and share everything in half.

This is where the idea for FwdMarket came from. It’s a platform for managing products and interacting with the community in order to build and sell your design, theme, app, library or anything else you can zip and upload online.

We’re planing to introduce new ways of building products online and connect with the community around you.

Its focus is on nurturing lasting relations and getting things done without the stress of paying anything upfront. You just give a percentage of your revenue to your partner(s) every time you make a sale.

We’re currently working hard on building the platform  and getting feedback from the community so to that regard we set up a prelaunch page where you can sign up for early access.

Join us on our journey and let’s make things better.

The beginning of a JavaScript framework

The abundance of javascript libraries and frameworks that has sprung out lately has really made everyone develop their applications quicker than ever, but it also has made picking the perfect framework for your new project that much harder.

Before any new project I like to take a moment to think about which frameworks will work best with what I am trying to build, despite my subjective opinions about each option. Lately I fell in love with AngularJs and NodeJs, but unfortunately I can’t use them in every project.

For the past month I’ve been developing a new web application for a startup idea I had for quite some time. I will write another post about it once it’s launched but for now I want to focus on the JavaScript part of it.

Even though there are many great JavaScript frameworks out there I wanted one that could allow me to develop my platform in the fastest way possible, considering the following restrictions and architectural challenges:

  1. The platform can contain simple pages like any PHP application.
  2. There should also be sections with small javascript widgets that provide various functionality
  3. It should load some pages or process forms through Ajax, but not necessarily all of them. It should be the developers choice which is loaded through ajax and which is not.
  4. Should have a simple way to switch between loading a page via Ajax or through a full page request.
  5. Should allow the developer to specify where should the loaded section render in the page.

Basically the framework should be something that can help turn a normal web application into a single page one in a manner of minutes.

I started developing something that fits into this description using Backbone, jQuery and RequireJs.

I’ve used Backbone Views to define specific, self contained functionality for a section and to organise your code better into blocks of functionality.

Everything that you want to load without a page refresh is just prepended with a #! in front of the url. The forms are processed in a similar way as well. There is also a way to make the content load in a specific element when you click a link or submit a form. I am still working on what the simplest approach to this is, so if you have any suggestions let me know.

To spare the user the trouble of setting up each view object, these are created automatically for you if you specify something like data-handler=”app/path/to/view” on the DOM element. This automatically loads the view using RequireJs, creates an instance of it and initiates each section that needs that handler. This way you deal more with the functionality instead of configurations and setting up your architecture.

In order to convert an application to a single page application with this tool you would have to simply follow these steps:

  • Define where the main content should load and configure that in the framework
  • Add #! in front of all links that you want to convert
  • Define custom views for areas with special behaviour and add the path to the view in the data-handler attribute for these areas
  • Modify your application to return the pages with only the main content without any layout, menus or other sections.

The code is in a private repository for now, but will be moved to GitHub once I launch my platform. If you want a preview of it send me a message bellow or contact me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

First time at Startup Weekend Cluj

This past weekend I went to the Startup Weekend event with my best friend and business partner Paul.

It was the first time we participated to something even remotely similar to this so we got a bit stressed because we did not know what to expect, but I’m getting a head of my self.

Two weeks before #SWCLUJ

At the beginning of the January we decided that this year is going to be different. We have to get out of out comfort zone and get started on the ideas we’ve been holding back on to try and bring more value to our day  to day lives.

We had just bought our tickets and and we were thinking what idea are we going to pitch or are we just going to go there with just our tech wiz skills. We spent the next week coming up with an idea that can help release a pain I’ve been having for a long time now. Finding relevant content without going through all the social spam or searching the web trying to find anything close to what I want to read.

It was hard because we were navigating between a couple of possible pitches, but we had finally found something worth implementing, however there was a catch, how do we make money out of it? If you can’t make money out of it from the get go at least make sure that you don’t need a significant infrastructure to support it if it get’s popular fast.

Over the weekend we thought more about this and realised that we can limit some of the functionality and create a PRO subscription plan in order to get access to it.

The week before the event

On Monday morning Paul comes to the office and says that he’s found an ever better way to do it. We spent the next few hours talking about it and had something we thought was impressive if it were to be built.

Paul ordered some business cards to try and leave a nice impression at the event and started perfecting the pitch and look over the information that the organisers sent us in the last few days before the weekend.

Startup Weekend

The weekend finally came and we rushed to the event with out laptops, our one crazy idea and a little bit of hope.

One thing that you really need to understand when you go to this event is that it’s all about the people. It’s mainly an event to meet interesting people, have a bit of fun and work as much as you can to make your idea stand out.

From the very start we talked with other attendees that participated in the previous years and were able to give us a bit of insight into what to expect.

After some presentations and good fun organised by Vidar Andersen we started pitching, formed themes and brainstormed for the rest of the evening.

The next morning we started with the advice of two coaches. The first one said that it is very hard to convince users to write about anything, or even share articles that are relevant to what they are looking for. We should instead try to move to a different direction and convince the users that you can deliver them great content from the start. We discussed a bit about these before the appointment with the next one.

The second coach said that he would not pay for this when there are other applications that he uses to get his news and that we should focus on some other sectors and work our way from those.

Coaches are there to force you to think differently and make sure you analysed every possible angle before you continue on a path. The opinion of one person with an impressive background does hold some weight, but they can also contradict each other in their statements. In the end no matter if you change your initial idea or not make sure that you focus on the value you bring and the core of the idea.

In our case we decided to go with a completely different approach to making the impact in our readers lives. We started implementing and connected a lot with another team and had a blast on Saturday evening.

Sunday was crazy. We needed to have an MVP ready by 5 PM, get another opinion from a coach for the new idea and contact a few potential clients to validate it. We worked a lot to have the application ready for a show and tell, while Horea, Cristi and Nicoleta worked in the design and presentation for the pitch.

Sadly we didn’t win anything except for a lot of experience, good friends and some interesting connections, but that’s what matters in the end.

I am looking forward to participating next year with an even better business idea and continue to working on what we started these past 2 weeks.

Thank you #SWCLUJ for all the valuable lessons and the great time I’ve had while working on my idea.