This is the story of my motivation to create Luper, a simple contact reminder app turned personal relationship manager, and the sense of purpose obtained from creating the app.
There are two parts to this post: the how and the why? In the how, I describe how I created the app from idea to launch even though I’m not a developer. In the why, I discuss the reasons and the driving forces that made me want to get Luper out there in the first place and the internal driving forces behind creating the app.
There I was driving home from work, stuck in traffic, and had just hung up the phone after talking with a longtime friend. We have a wide range of topics that we talk about but this time one specific topic stuck with me. We talked about how our circle of close friends got smaller and smaller. It’s a natural occurrence to talk to people less or see people less as you get older because you become busy with your own career or family. We know that as we get older our number of friends gets smaller but knowing it and understanding it does not make it easier to accept.
I have 700 Facebook friends but how many of those friends are actual meaningful relationships? Maybe 100 if I’m being generous? Some are acquaintances, others are people I went to high school or college with, some are business colleagues, and of course family is a big portion of that number. It’s obvious that the number of friends online is no where near the actual circle of friends you have offline.
I also have a bad habit of forgetting to call people back or reply to their texts. I see the call or message but I’d be busy at work or frankly don’t feel like replying or calling back at that very moment. As time passes, that call or text becomes a distant memory and the person that made that call or sent that text will rarely send another text or call again. Unfortunately, that person sometimes also turns into a distant memory.
As I was driving that February of 2013, I thought how great it would be if there was an app to remind you to contact someone. Just like in the movie Inception where an idea implanted grows until it becomes an action, so was this idea that would become Luper. That long commute immediately became more interesting.
When you have a good idea, you immediately want to start working on it and not rest till you see it become a reality. I sat down and started drawing out the app and what it would look like and jotted down general ideas. I started thinking about how the app would work and the functionalites it would include. I started asking myself questions that would become the core of the app. What were the main contact methods a person uses to reach out to someone? What information would be required to setup a contact reminder? What are the different categories of elapsed time a person would need to remember to contact someone?
I thought about a calendar or a to-do list app. People can set reminders on these apps but what would the minimum extra step be for a user to prefer to use Luper to remind them to contact someone? What would set Luper apart from these apps? I thought about my own experience in using a calendar to remind me to contact someone. I would receive the reminder, but more times than not I would not follow through. I would still need to find the contact, input the contact information, and make the call, or write the text or email. Luper would eliminate that extra step by having the contact information ready and at the press of a button the call is made, and the text or email would be ready for the user to input. I thought this was the step that would make a user want to use Luper over a calendar or to-do list app.
I started thinking about names. People like to feel like they are a part of something, or feel like they are a part of a group of people. People want to feel like they are in the loop with their friends. I kept playing with “staying in the loop” and came up with looper. That was too close to the Bruce Willis movie that had recently come out, so I changed the oo to a u and it became Luper where the U is emphasisizing U the user and keeping you in the loop.
I outlined some initial wireframes in Keynote. I wanted an app that is mobile first and would be very simple to use with an intuitive approach. I didn’t want to add anything that wasn’t needed so the app would not become unnecessarily bloated. I knew this was my first iteration and my MVP (minimum viable product) so the bare minimums were important so I can first understand if I actually had something. I decided the minimum methods to contact someone, at least people a user would want to keep in touch with, would be by phone call, text, or email. I thought a person would need to contact someone either weekly, monthly, quarterly, every 6 months, or yearly depending on the type of relationship that person has with the user. To create a recurring contact reminder segment (which I would later call lup, pronounced like loop) a user would need the last time they contacted that person.
I’m not a developer and the few developers I knew were working on other projects but again, when you have an idea that you want to succeed you will find a way to make it work, so I posted a job on odesk.com for an iPhone developer. I got numerous replies and I went back and forth with many of them. I finally agreed on a developer from China to design (based on my wireframes) and develop the first version of Luper. This was within a week of first getting the idea for Luper.
He and I went back and forth on designs, functionality, the UI, and UX and it turned into a longer process than expected because of the time difference and the language barrier. During the process I got the idea to go ahead and develop the first version for Android as well. The same developer agreed to develop the Android version for an added cost. Developing for Android became a much more grueling process than for iOS but we worked through it. Four thousand dollars and two months later, I had the first version of Luper out for iOS and Android.
April 2013 was the official launch of Luper in the App Store and Google Play Store. I did very little marketing and outreach. I posted the app on my own social networks and emailed a few friends. I also started emailing bloggers and tech writers. I probably sent out over 30 emails to no avail.
I was sitting in class one day (I was completing my MBA) and I pulled up Google Analytics and what I saw made me practically jump out of my seat. There was a huge spike in traffic. My app had been featured on Lifehacker and on AbduZeedo. For someone that had just launched an app with little marketing, this little taste of success meant the world. I was ecstatic. Those articles helped Luper get downloaded over one thousand times for iOS and Android.
Those two articles generate traffic and downloads to this day. I knew I had something with Luper.
In July and after iOS7 was released, I decided to start working on the second version of Luper for iOS. I knew version 1 was barebones in both design and functionality. I decided to focus on iOS first for two reasons: one — it’s easier to develop for iOS than Android and two — I didn’t have the resources to develop for Android at the time.
I followed the same process I did for version 1. I worked on some new wireframes and made a list of new features that should be included in version 2. I wanted to include the ability to add custom lups, ability to add notes to lups, syncing with Google Calendar, and a new design for iOS7.
Instead of odesk, I chose to go with ooomf.com after reading about it online and seeing the rave reviews it had received. It turned out to be the better choice. The developers were in North America so time and language were not an issue. The site infrastructure was great and Mikael Cho, the CEO of OOOMF, was outstanding in his service and alleviated all of my concerns.
I worked with a developer out of Canada, named Cam Roth. He was great and the development proved to be a partnership not just a freelance hire who wanted to finish the job. Version 2 took a long time to finish because of the many intricacies of the design and the new functionalities being added. Two thousand dollars and February of 2014 later, Luper 2.0 was in the App Store.
I made an interesting decision on the first day I had the idea for Luper. When I tell the decision to others, some understand it, some act like they understand it, but most don’t understand it at all. I made the decision to not worry about whether Luper gets one download or a million downloads or whether I make a dime from Luper. I created Luper because I wanted to take a product from idea to launching an actual product.
There are many people with ideas for apps, or products, or other types of businesses and most of these ideas stay just that, ideas. For me, Luper was too good of an idea for it not to turn into a reality. There are many “wantreprenuers” out there. They are a part of, or think they are a part of, the startup scene but in reality they are on the outer fringes where all they have is an outside view of what it takes to actually build a startup. I was not going to be that person. I wanted to work on my idea and create something real. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and have my own tech startup. I wanted to experience the entire arduous process and understand what it takes to build something.
Luper was a personal accomplishment before anything else. I wanted the success of having an app published even if it received zero downloads. This is the reason I kept Luper private until it launched. Only a few people knew that I was working on it. I wanted Luper to be my project and not have it influenced by people around me whether they provided excellent feedback or doubts. These reasons were enough of a driving force for me to see Luper to the end.
I wanted to create something that filled a specific need. I wanted to create an app that helps me sustain my personal relationships and helps others sustain theirs.
It was never about the money, or getting millions of downloads, or getting funded. For me, Luper is the personal satisfaction gained from seeing something that started in your mind and seeing it turn into something much more.
Luper currently has over two thousand downloads but is no where near finished. I have a team of developers and designers working on future iterations to fully turn Luper into a personal relationship manager with an even better user experience and greater cross-platform integration. Where ever Luper ends up, I’ll always know that I acted upon an idea that I had.