The story of Blips and the app making process
Can anyone create a mobile app? Yep.
As much of a daunting task as it may seem, it is also mistakenly thought of as easy.
The screenshot seen here is the final product, but the iterations were time consuming, and in order to get to this point, we have 120+ beta updates through TestFlight.
It has taken almost 2 years to get from concept to an available app on iTunes. Let’s start from Day One to see exactly what it takes.
What do you need to create an app?
You definitely need a team. Oh yeah, you need an idea too. What else do you really need though? First and foremost, dedication. Get saddled up because it is going to be a ride. A very long ride. Kinda like the ride you would have taken from New York to California before vehicles were invented. And then, you take that ride again.
Before The Idea
In order to get to the idea, I have to start in 2011 when I was living in the Philippines. Naga City to be precise. The main form of transportation there is the tricycle. A motorized three wheeler that can barely fit one American, but effortlessly fits ten Filipinos. Since I am about the size of most Filipinos, I can easily sit in the miniaturized side car. It was while riding inside a tricycle, sitting in the side car, when the big idea hit me.
How many flippin’ people are around me!
As we drove by an outdoor graduation for University of Santo Thomas, I grew curious about how many people were out there. How many people I had been near that day, and how many people were just within my vicinity. I kept thinking about this the entire day. While sitting at a vocal rehearsal with my future wife and her wedding reception band, the idea hit again.
What if I had a device, a dongle of sorts, that I could bring everywhere? This dongle could connect to other dongles to make new connections with people and inform me of how many people had been near me throughout the whole day. What if it could even track cell phone signals to make an educated guess of how many people are at a concert or in a mall? What if it could also tell me I had been just mere feet away from some celebrity I had looked up to my whole life? Man, how cool! After that day, the idea goes dormant.
Flash forward several months into 2012. Life is great, I am now living in Las Vegas with Joan, and I decide to bring this idea back to the table. I figured about the only person smart enough to hash out some crazy concoction like this would be my good high school friend Damien. I told him about the idea and he said draft it up. Out walked 50 Feet.
Here is the first paragraph from that document:
The idea of 50 Feet is to bring social networking into a more active environment. To bring people out of their homes and into cities, parks, and events, and allow them to collect valuable information on the types of people that are within 50 feet of them.
Ok, neat. Now we have something to run with. The first and possibly easiest decision to make was converting this into an app. Carrying a stupid dongle around would be ridiculous. You would need a ton of dongles too.
Let the Brainstorming Begin
The next step involves Damien pushing his Google politics and converting me into a Gmail user. Google Docs are what really sold me, and maybe the fact that he owned one Google share sealed the deal. How can you argue against someone that owns one Google share?
Our first brainstorm resulted in this fantastical wire frame. Creation date is 10/24/12 — Google Docs:
Besides for some great ideas on functionality, Damien brought the most important aspect to the project with this brainstorm. The name Shout. Around one month later we hashed out a more focused Google Doc wire-frame. On 11/26/12 — this was the result:
Ultimately those two wire frames provided the complete basic concept for Blips. All of the core functions are there mocked up in beautiful Google Docs glory.
After those two brainstorm sessions, the project flat-lines. There is a gap of around 6 months before we pick the project back up again. I am doing the usual clowning around and half-assed juggling in Las Vegas, and Damien decides to start learning Ruby on Rails.
In order to put some steam back into the engine of this train, I hire a User Interface designer to create a mock-up for Shout. The end result got us pumped, and only cost $175:
Wow! If we just had some front end developer to put this together, we could actually have something here. Whelp, let’s start looking for one. First stop — cofounderslab.
With Damien’s new found programming talent, and my attack towards finding an iOS developer, things are looking great.
How hard is it to find a developer?
It required hundreds of e-mails, numerous phone calls, and scouring various networks. We eventually find this ultra-hip, bass playing, iOS dude named Jason on cofounderslab. What made it even more awesome? He writes hilarious songs — “Not Everyone Is Special (Children’s Song)”- being my favorite.
After doing some research, we quickly find out that using the name Shout was going to be an uphill battle. Our first change in name was to the half-baked ‘Shhout.’ We figured it would be cool to double up the action of Shouting with Shh. It was brilliant at the time.
I figured it would be easier to start doing the designs myself instead of hiring people for every minor change. We were tweaking things so much that the app changed all the time.
Luckily I knew my way around Photoshop because of photography.
Illustrator on the other hand, I had to learn from scratch. You really can’t design an app without knowing both. My experience with Flash in the early 2000s did help a lot.
The first Prototype
While I am refining my design skills, Damien and Jason are hard at work making the back-end communicate with the front-end. For anyone that doesn't know what that means, I don’t feel like explaining…kidding, kidding! It is basically getting the server to talk with the app in order to store and display data.
This is an actual screenshot of how the app first looked when it was pulling fake ‘Shhouts’ from the server. We still kept that odd logo that implied the h was squared as well.
In essence, we wanted a user to be able to see something happening, document it with words/attach a photo, and then post it to a map.
The first working Shhouts
We then eventually got to the point that you could post Shhouts in the app. It was working! This was before iOS7 came out, and we were digging the success. It still functioned clunky and had some weird designs, but once iOS7 came out, it threw us a big curve-ball. We needed to change our designs. But even more importantly:
The Hunt to Change the Name
While this app building is going on, a large dark cloud hovers over us. “Your name sucks,” proclaimed some 5th grader. “Two H’s are like shooting a shotgun sized hole in your foot!” proclaimed another. We decided to passively search for another name that would be SEO friendly, but at the same time be catchy and fit with what we were building. It took months. It took a spreadsheet in Google Docs with names like: Sizzlebuzz, HipFish, Hear-ye, and Ekko. Some were decent, but once we stumbled on the word Blips, we were hooked!
What Does it Even Do?
We want Blips to be a social network dedicated to uncovering interesting things that would otherwise go unnoticed. So what do we decide to build and how does it function?
A) Users need to be able to post Blips that are geo-tagged
B) Users need to be able to view the map to see what is happening nearby
C) Users need to be able to view Blips in List Views
D) Users need to be able to edit their profile and view some stats
E) Users should be able to collect things — Gamification
F) Users should be able to follow others and easily see what they are doing
G) Users need to be able to ‘Amplify’ Blips — Our version of the ‘Like’
Now that is a lot of demands! Sheesh! Luckily the last build of Shhout had most of this functionality, we just needed it to function better and make it look nice. In comes the new designs.
I managed to whip some ideas together and come up with something that was more interesting than the original. More importantly, it fits with iOS7 standards and is more ‘modern.’ These took several months to fine tune, and we went through many different design ideas in order to get there.
The actual design of the badges needed to be done by a real pro. I took to dribbble and started contacting designers. After another round of several e-mails, some phone calls, and ripping some hair out, I found a designer that was excited about the project and ready to crank some of these out. Excellent!
While our top secret designer was creating these badges, Jason and Damien were still hard at work optimizing Blips.
Forming a Company
In order to release an app on iTunes as a company, you need to form a freakin’ company. We opted for the standard C Corp in Delaware, which wasn't that hard at all. You send in your documents: how many shares you want issued with the name of your company, a check, and the documentation of the registered agent you are required to have. In a few short weeks you will have that rewarding document in hand.
“We are incorporated.”
Things are flowing smoothly now. We are all hard at work making changes with the app all the time, we have a company formed — we then decide to set up the Apple Developer account.
We figured it would be a quick process after the articles of incorporation are in hand, but wait, you need to have a DUNS Number in order to create a business account with Apple.
The DUNS Number is some tomfoolery that shows Apple that you are legitimately a company. Apple leads you to the company that issues these DUNS numbers, and if you are proactive enough (e-mailing and calling the crap out of them) you can get this in about 2 weeks. The entire process of incorporating and getting a business developer account with Apple takes one month if you are lucky. Two if you are not.
Submission to Apple and V 1.0
In the last few months of crunch time, we brought on another developer to incorporate Facebook log in and fix a few issues. Dustin did a great job, and even though things were not quite up to where we wanted them, we thought “For God’s sake just submit it already.”
We pulled it together, wiped the sweat and tears away, and submitted Blips to Apple. It took an agonizing 7 days to get accepted, but once we were in the store, we started testing with friends and family to see what they thought.
Hot diggity dog, the app was decent but there were a lot of annoying design problems, a few UX issues, and swarms of pesky bugs.
Jason took the notes to heart and started some form of anti-hibernation. Updates were flying in, bugs being squashed, assets flying by e-mail, server issues being fixed… We were on fire!
V 1.0.4 — Our Actual V 1.0
After realizing the designs needed some changes in order to ‘un-suck’ them, I created a new tab bar, changed the top nav bar color, and cleaned up some assets. The introduction of a tutorial also helped alleviate some of the confusion issues with the app. These changes took a few submissions to Apple, but the product we view as our real V 1.0 is V 1.0.4 — which is available right now in the app store. The approval date was 5/28/14. The time between our first Google Docs brainstorms and this final V 1.0.4 approval:
1 Year, 7 Months, and 4 Days
In our immediate future, we have to ensure we can scale well. It is also important to place the same amount of focus that we had in building our app into marketing our app. Without users, we wouldn't even need to worry about scaling! Then there is the app itself. We need to make a lot of performance improvements, UI changes, and feature enhancements. In other words, Blips isn't perfect.
The Future of Blips
We have a lot of ideas and neat things planned, and completely believe that many of them will enhance the current experience even greater. Besides for common features like posting to Facebook and Twitter, we also want to try some really interesting stuff like customizable map pins, expiring Blips, and visible radii on the map for each Blip. Here’s another idea:
Let’s build something huge together. Download Blips and let us know what you think. Damien will give you $20 — just ask him!
The Stuff I Didn't Talk About
Not everything was easy peasy. We did lose a month with a UI/UX designer that was working on the final UI designs but didn't have time to finish them. We also each had our moments of excessive boredom and frustration. But in the end, we managed to execute. With the big things that our Social Media Marketer Peter has in store, we hope to shape Blips into a quality network that is driven by the feedback of our users.
I would like to thank Joan for putting up with the obsessive dedication I had in making this app happen. Thanks to Jordan for helping with the Blips name search, and Millie with the marketing ideas too. If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to download Blips and share it with friends. Any and every form of feedback is welcome. I particularly like the honest kind that 5th graders provide.
Follow us on Twitter: @Blipsapp
Want to talk about anything?
Email Me: Jason@blips.co
Twitter Me: @JasonTezanos