From Idea to Build to Sunset in 30 Days

Lessons learned from Preorder.pro

This is a brief summary of my short experiment with an app called Preorder.pro. It later grew into something more but I thought it would be helpful to someone out there to report on those first 30 days of trying out an idea and then killing it.

The Idea

The idea was first conceived in 2014 as I would regularly go into GameStop just to look around at games for fun. Most stores have a display of upcoming games but generally they don’t have dates. Usually an employee would ask if I needed help with anything and occasionally I would respond with a question about when a certain game was being released. Their answer was always either “I will look it up, hold on” or something like “uhm, I think this year soon.”

This wasn’t good enough for me.

Similarly, my colleagues and I would often exclaim “There are no good games coming out!”

To which someone would reply, “really? What about [game name]?”

Sign in and account creation screen.

Everyone had different information from different places that they had read in passing. We didn’t really have a specific game we wanted to find. Rather, we just wanted to see what was on the horizon. What was coming up in the next week or month? This was the itch that I intended to scratch by the end of 2013 (about a month timeframe). The result was Preorder.pro — something I would personally use all the time. That’s the best kind of app you can build since you won’t be disappointed if no one else uses it. That is, unless you upkeep costs more than its usefulness.

My initial goals were simple: it had to list upcoming games in an easy to scan format by Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, etc. in order of release date, it had to work beautifully (responsively) on my phone so I could easily check games during my walks and teach the uninformed GameStop employees something, and finally it had to allow me to easily preorder the games on my favorite service (mine being Amazon). That’s it.

Pretty simple to start with but you would be surprised how much goes into creating such a slim concept. Specifically, dealing with the Amazon API was a huge hurdle that had to be overcome and in fact it was never quite as functional as I would have liked.

The Build

Starting with a simple rails new this idea turned into an actual side project that was to be tested out in the real world.

Responsive off-canvas menu showing platforms.

I decided that the best place to find video game data was Amazon since they had everything immediately, they allowed you to make money using the API as long as it was through the Amazon affiliate program, and I knew with some confidence that the information would be correct. After all, this was Amazon we were talking about.

I created a responsive layout which worked pretty damn well. Since most of my advertising was going to be on Facebook, it was important that the mobile experience was polished.

For hosting, I went with Heroku as it was relatively cheap at this level of service and it wasn’t all that involved to maintain.

The Sunset

Today, Preorder.pro is no more. What I found was that the flight between advertising and ordering was too great. That extra step that was my entire site just wasn’t worth it.

Game screen showing the PlayStation 4 Thief title.

Perhaps if I worked harder at creating organic search traffic, eventually the site would have come around.

I think affiliate marketing plays like this can work but you have to drive the traffic on your own. If you’re buying traffic from Facebook or Twitter then your site is just an annoying middle step in the process of buying the thing you’re marketing. The only reason for the apps existence at that point is to get around the ban on affiliate marketing that a lot of ad platforms have.

Overall, it was a rewarding experience to develop a small app from start to finish on a specific self-induced deadline. In my opinion, by far the best way to learn something when it comes to technology is to have a well-defined goal and tackle it bit by bit. Special thanks to my wife Rachel for putting up with my MacBook keys clicking in bed all night.

This project also taught me a lot about the right way to build a community around video gaming that eventually turned into the Strats forum, which is over 1600 members at the time of this writing.

Also on Facebook: From Idea to Build to Sunset in 30 Days