Part of the Series: “Creating Sam the Guide”. A series of stories to chronicle the experience of going from idea to app.

As took a sip I noticed that my coffee was now cold, I don’t know how long it had passed since I started updating these slides for my class tomorrow, but I was certainly enjoying it that I forgot to drink my coffee at all.

I have this tick of checking my phone to see the time, even though as I was reaching for the phone, I remembered that there is a clock on my computer. I had a bunch of notification waiting for me on the screen: breaking news: someone I don’t know just did something I don’t care. So annoying, I activated those notifications to get important news, not this stuff. And a bunch of Whatsapp and telegram messages, most of them were memes or jokes from friends in chat groups, my family trying to organize the plans for the weekend, and a message from my friend Sam: “Hey dude, do you know how to create apps?”.

Sam was a friend of mine from high school. Maybe calling her friend was an exaggeration, but I consider most of my former high-school classmates as friends. Even though it had been more than 15 years since we graduated.

Like with most of my high school friends, we had stayed in touch here and there while I was off pursuing my PhD, usually via Facebook and other group chats. The life updates were eventually replaced by jokes, memes, shared the news with some funny comments. Nothing deep, besides the rigorous happy birthday, merry Xmas and happy new year. She is a member of one of the most active chats I have in Telegram, but I don’t think we ever had a chat between us.

Yes, it was a surprise to hear from her out of the blue.

“I teach how to program them, and I research how to improve the development process. So yes, I think I know how to create them.” I replied, thinking that maybe a yes would have sufficed instead of this showy off message.

“Cool, I need to talk to you then. Do you have time later today? Or tomorrow? I’ll invite you to a coffee or a whisky for your time. Would that work?”

“I have a lecture and then a workshop all evening today, I am usually dead at the end of the day. Tomorrow afternoon I am flying to attend a meeting and I will be back in 2 days. What about tomorrow morning? For breakfast? 7:30 am?”

“Yes, that would work, please a bring a copy of your syllabus and your most cited paper on the topic of app creation please” — Responded Sam.

“😳, why?”

“hahaha, well, you were showing off, I just wanted to check your credentials! Don’t worry, I just want to pick your brain. No need for papers!!!. I need to leave at 8:30 at the latest, preferably a bit early. So please do not be late. Let’s meet at the cafeteria next to your University, the one with the big Chicken outside.

“It is called “Eggs in the Morning”, see you then and there”.

Sam had been always kind of an entrepreneur since I knew her, she organized the yearbook at the end of high school, plus she always had different deals going on. Her family was well off and she never had the economic drive to do something, it was more that she always needed to be doing deals. She was creative, not the most brilliant student at school, but she had managed to graduate from college on a business degree. After that, I followed her career on our chats, while finishing University she created her own company and I knew that the company was doing great and she was doing quite well. She was resourceful, clever, gritty and successful on what she did.

“Alexa, add an event to my calendar….” As I was trying to find my bearings again, I realized that I have no idea what time is it. I go again for a sip of coffee and I remember that it is still cold. I have about 10 minutes to go to class, I just needed to go quickly over again the slides one more time. I quickly informed my wife about the appointment tomorrow. She did not go to high school and she is from a different country, so she always found strange that I and my friends from high school would reconnect so easily. I prefer to tell her right away, as I might forget when I get home at night and she would not be happy tomorrow morning if I just take off like that, she does not like surprises that spoil our mealtimes.

As I was walking towards my lecture hall, I was thinking that maybe Sam wanted me as a consultant for one of her companies. She is my high school friend, so I would not be able to charge my usual fees, even though I know she has the money to pay for them. I also need to figure out if I can do that, usually, the University takes a cut out of my consulting fees unless I work for non-profit organizations.

I arrive the next day early to our appointment, I was there about 720, but I saw that she was already there drinking a coffee and making notes on her notebook.

“You are here early!” I tell her as I approach to greet her.

“Very early! I have a bunch of things to do today, and I usually plan my days in the morning. You scheduled this meeting right in the middle of my morning routine, but I did not want to wait until you are back from your trip, so I had to accommodate Mr Professor.” — She snapped back at me.

“Ok Ms Businesswoman, what can I do for you?” — I said with a grin on my face.

“I have an idea for a business that is centred around an App. I can tell you a bit later more about the idea, and I have no clue how to turn my idea and business into an App. I hired a developer, or rather, I pulled him from the IT service I have in another company where he was part of the team that is making sure the computers were UpToDate and installing and configuring firewalls, our accounting software and so on. The guy is young, and I think he is one of your students, or was, not sure, his name is Richard Martin. Anyhow, I hired him to develop an App, but first, he took forever, then the app turned out to be a piece of shit, and lastly, I have no idea where is any of the stuff he did. He showed it to me, I told him everything was crap, he got upset and quit on the spot, closed the laptop and gave it to me. I asked someone else to check it, but she could not find anything useful in there. Of course, I can sue him and all that crap, but life is too short.” She said in what it sounds like one breath.

“So you want me to talk to Richard and ask him for the code back? I know him, he was not my student though, and he is not that young, I was a member of his thesis committee when I just came back from PhD like 7 years ago.” I said, trying to bring a bit of calmness to the discussion, speaking slower than she had done before.

“No no, let him be free. He quitted, better for me. I wanted to talk to you because I know how to create a business, I know how to get money to launch a business, I know how to sell sand to the desert. But I have no clue on how to create an App. In some of my other businesses, I need to sell things, which of course I do not know how to create, but I know a guy who can get them done to the quality I like. But in this case, I have no idea. My husband told me to use one of the fancy firms that can create apps and then run them for you, but I do not like to approach one if I do not understand the process myself. So, I want you to please explain to me how to create an App. To put you in perspective, when I learned about woodwork, my guy did not explain to me carpentry, he just gave me an overview of the whole process: sourcing of the wood, designing the table, creating the table, finishing the table. So please do not get lost in the middle. I have read some blogs and watched youtube videos, and they talk about Scrum, Design Sprints and so on. WTF dude!! Please tell me.” Again, talking in what seemed just one breath.

Her excitement was contagious. I ordered a coffee to bring a bit of calmness to the conversation. I don’t like it when things go faster and I feel like I don’t have time to think properly on a decision.

So, on my best lecturing voice I started:
“OK, to create an App you need:

  • An Idea
  • Validate the idea
  • Convert the idea into an actionable plan
  • Validate the actionable plan
  • Define the technology stack
  • Implement an actionable plan
  • Test
  • Release to market
  • Repeat and improve

We can start with the Lean Startup Methodology to frame…”

“OK, thanks, but that is not helpful at all” — She interrupted me. — “Those steps sound similar to many things I have done in the past, but I am assuming it is not same as opening a chain of convenience stores”.

“Well, let me finish” — I protested, trying to tell her that I was going to explain each step.

“What do you do when I company approaches you to do a business strategy?” — She asked — “Do you give them a boring lecture on the pros and cons or method A vs Method whogivesashit?”

“Well, that is not the type of consulting I give.” — I said a bit defensive. — “The first thing I would do is to understand your current situation. Is the app new? do you want to recover what you already have? What do you have?”

“OK, I like that better. Let’s meet when you are back from your trip. I want to build an App to coach upcoming businesswomen how to crush it into this world. Come to my office so you can also meet with part of my team. Don’t worry about your fees, I’ll talk to your University to make sure I get charge properly, we are friends but this is your job, OK?” — She stated, not really giving me space to say anything else.

“That is OK” — I replied feeling a bit out of it

“Cool, we sort out the meeting via email” — She said as she was standing up. — “I understand this is your job and you charge for it. And also understand that this is my job, I don’t like wasting time. I don’t want an academic lecture, I want your knowledge converted into action. See you next time so you can help me get Sam the Guide off the ground.”

Chapter 2: Step 1: Deciding what to do

Product Strategist, UX Researcher & Entrepreneur. Based in Berlin (DE). I work with UX Research Methods, Design Thinking, Agile, Gamification & Design Sprints.

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