Making your own thing…

…is hard.

But it turns out, techniques from our real jobs work on personal projects too!

His n Hers workstations

I have a confession — Carl (my boyfriend) and I are making an app. This sounds good, so why is it a confession? Well…because we also work in “digital” where making your own thing seems like a shameful cliche, like a public claim that you have a “fantastic idea that’s going to make millions”. It feels like something to keep quiet forever unless you actually by some fluke do make millions.

What people imagine when you’re saying you’re making your own thing…

However, embracing that very “digital industry” has provided us with focus and techniques to help us move towards our goal of finishing the bloody thing.

So what are those techniques? Read on dear reader…at the very least this will be a mildly interesting story. At the very best, it will provide some inspiration.

Things we found out…

It might seem obvious but making an app in your spare time isn’t ideal. There is never enough time, you forget what you’re doing from one session to the next and every way that you normally work seems to fall by the wayside.

However, what does help is (the possible overkill of) applying industry techniques and skills.

Naturally we made a task board to set up development stories as well as those for content, design and biz. This worked sort of okay, although it was difficult to remember to update it and it often became outdated. As time went on, we became better at using it and it forced us to remain accountable to ourseleves and what we wanted to achieve.

We also loftily made a product roadmap..when were we actually going to launch? When should we have x, y and z ready by? This felt silly to start with, we’re not trying to make a blockbuster app, simply finish a personal project. But thinking ahead really focused us around what we wanted to achieve and dare I say it…helped us define a MVP (minimum viable product).

Then we had to come up with a name! This was probably the hardest part of the process so we had a “naming workshop” with the two of us. Exploring the message we wanted the app to convey, the utility and something that would sound fun/be easy to icon. Then of course following this with finding out if the domain was available…

The current WIP app icon for Foodsaurus

It’s all very well having a name, but how do you design the app? What do you do for an icon? Both of us are design dabblers but definitely nothing approaching professionals. So out comes Sketch and then comes the task of trying to make a simple, easy to use app. It’s amazing how much we’d both picked up from working and it was almost surreal to echo the conversations we’d had on projects but between ourseleves on the sofa!

So what other techniques from the “real world” should you use on your personal project? User testing of course! We are building an app effectively for us, but we need to understand if it’s easy to use for others. Luckily, there is a wide, generally keen vegan community that is happy to help out (for a small bribe of chocolate) and we’re currently working towards releasing a first version to them and following up with surveys and video call interviews.

And then finally there is community building…we might say we’re happy just having the experience of building something, but of course we wouldn’t mind if a few people wanted to use it… So out comes the Twitter account, Instagram, Facebook page, Medium and then later a website (it’s on the backlog!). This is proving a great learning experience as I work out how to get followers, should I buy Facebook ads (no) and just what to write about!

What is it?

So what are we making? Well in tech terms we’re (I say we, it’s mostly Carl for this part!) making a react native app to work on Android and iOS. In idea terms, it’s an app to help vegans (intitally) work out if ingredients are vegan at home and when travelling. It’s pretty simple, containing a few screens to find the ingredient you want to find out about/translate. It also contains some smartness in the back to rank ingredients based on how likely they are to appear in the product you’re looking at. We also have an admin system which allows us to wrangle the ingredients, mark if they’re vegan and provide descriptions.

And it’s called… FOODSAURUS

Why?

Because if nothing else, this is an app that will help us. We often travel and find ourseleves stood in supermarkets peering at food packets trying to work out if a cereal is vegan or if there are any biscuits without milk in. We love travelling and have no problems finding food to eat in all the countries we’ve been to but why spend time in supermarkets when we could be spending more time exploring.

Less time working out whats in your breakfast and more time eating it (in the mountains)

We’ve used Google translate in the past to translate ingredients but this takes a lot of time, often requires data and translates everything on the packet, much of which is not related to ingredients.

Packets often have underlined words for allergens or a special space to mark them. This provides a great starting point to find out quickly if there’s anything non vegan in the product.

Although, the idea inititally came from travelling, we also realised it would be useful in our native language as well. Many ingredients are marked as their chemical name, or something completely unclear. Products are also rarely marked as suitable for vegans. The app would help people find out just what ingredients such as lactic acid are, and more importantly if they were vegan or not (it is).

Building an app also allows us to explore new skills and try things we might not get to try at work.

What next?

We’re very very close to having our first version out. If you’d be interesting in helping us test it, then please let us know here, you can also follow Foodsaurus on all the social networks so please do if you want updates!