I’m now about one month into my challenge to build four apps in twelve months. I’m writing about the experience. You can subscribe for updates here.

Last month I kicked off the first project in my four app, twelve month challenge: I’m building a bar discovery app, Savor & West. Curated and based on your mood, Savor & West will help you discover new bars. Think of it as that friend that can always recommend a great bar to try for any given situation. After I launched Bar Roulette, many people said they wanted to use an app to go bar hopping, but they didn’t want to use Uber and they wanted to know where they were going before they left. Savor & West is inspired by that feedback.

In my first two weeks working on Savor & West, I’ve focused on design, database architecture planning, and a little bit on monetization and launch strategy. Here’s where I’m at so far:

Design

To start my design process, I first made a list of what the app is going to do for the user. In this case, show a user the best bar in a given area that meets some basic inputs or criteria from the user. Next I listed out all of the bits of information I’ll need from the user to give them the best recommendation. In this case, some of the things I need are the user’s location and bar preferences.

Afterward I used a shorthand from Basecamp with pen and paper to design the user interface flow. This framework helped me think through everything the user will see and the actions they will take to get to the next part. It also helped me understand how I will collect all the information outlined above. As I did this exercise I started to get a sense for the screens that I’ll need. In some cases I modified the inputs or combined steps as I figured out the details.

Notebook UI Sketch

Next I started sketching out the various screens in my notebook. These designs were partially based off what I’ve built in the past or things I’ve seen before. They followed the user interface flow from above. I went through this pen and paper flow a few times, redrawing and trying to simplify the steps. I found that drawing the different screens really helped me spot things that were redundant or could be simplified. If it was taking me tons of time to draw, then it was probably too complex.

Notebook sketches

Once I had the drawings in a nice spot I stopped. Seriously. I stopped working on the project for a couple of hours, even days...and thought about other things. This let me mull it over in the back of my head and come back later if I’d thought of changes or improvements.

Then I broke out my Sketch skills. I love using Sketch to make my prototypes. I started with recreating the hand drawn wireframes in a gray scale. Then I added colors and icons. My wife was super helpful during this phase. I constantly asked her to come over and take a look at my computer screen and tell me what confused her or made sense to her. She’s also much better at picking the colors than I am. We used Tobias Van Schneider's Color Claim which has a lot of great combos.

Here are some screenshots of the design phases…

Savor & West Wireframe

Savor & West Final Design

Throughout the design process I also started thinking about a name for the project. Because this app is about bar discovery and bars, I want people to think of a distillery or a bar. A couple of names that inspired me were High West Distillery and Bourbon & Branch. I had a big list of app names going…

List of Possible App Names

My favorite and what I ended up deciding to call the app was Savor & West. I love this name because I want people to find bars where they can savor the experience and the drinks. West is a bit nostalgic thinking back to the old west and the sense of adventure when people go west.

Once I finished the designs, I exported the screens and put them on my phone to see how they look at scale. Swiping through them to make it feel *almost* app like. Based on feedback I went back and did some tweaking. I ended up doing most of the tweaking on the final screen that displays the bar information to simplify the layout.

Architecture and Database of Bars

In addition to my designs, one of the first decisions I had to make last month was what will be the source of information for the bars search. Most of my past projects have involved me hacking together a few APIs from different data sources and companies. I initially thought I’d do the same and use Yelp’s API. However, the more I thought about it, I decided that to show the best bars to users, I needed to ensure that my data quality was high --even if this meant I had to hand curate the list and only launch in a limited number of cities. It still haunts me that someone who used Bar Roulette ended up at a Chili’s ?. Technically, Yelp classifies Chili’s as a bar, and in a smaller town it was highly rated. I don’t want this to happen for Savor & West.

Because I need to create my own database of bars, I decided to go with Airtable which makes entering data and managing a database as easy as Google Sheets. I’ve hooked up Airtable to an Algolia instance that allows me to use more complex Elastic searches, such as latitude and longitude searches and tag searches. Both Airtable and Algolia have free tiers for small apps, which is a perfect pricing model to validate an idea.

So far, I’ve entered about ten bars into my database for testing purposes. This month I’ll need to do a lot of Google searching, data entry, and writing to fill out the database. For the initial launch my goal is to have four cities and about 100 to 200 bars per city. I’m going to base the four launch cities based off of usage data from Bar Roulette. We’ll see how the data entry goes, maybe my post next month will be titled, “F*ck It, I Only Launched in One City.” ?

Monetization

A brief note on the monetization strategy for Savor & West. I plan to make the app free and to include a banner ad at the bottom of the screen. These banner ads will bring in a small amount of revenue, which will hopefully offset any server or database costs. Eventually, if usage grows then I’d want to sell sponsored bar listings or larger ad placements to liquor companies. With Bar Roulette, I had some good conversations with liquor companies wanting to advertise, but they wanted to wait until I was large enough to give them the minimum $$ buys they are used to.

Build Build Ship

I started building Savor & West a couple of weeks ago. I have the basic search and tag selection functionality working. I will hopefully make a lot of progress in the next two weeks and be close to beta testing. I’ll then need to set up a landing page - I think I’m going to use Carrd. Their pages are inexpensive and have an excellent responsive design. I want the page to be a little nicer than landing pages I’ve built in the past, that were very simple.

To prepare for launch and to build a beta list, I also created a Product Hunt’s Ship landing page. I’m on the free tier so it’s unlikely that they will promote it on their homepage. So far it’s been super easy to create the beta landing page with Ship. Feel free to sign up or share to get early access to Savor & West.

Until Next Time

The next four weeks I’ll be heads down on finishing Savor & West, adding lots of bars to the database, and preparing the landing page. I’ll share more feedback about Product Hunt’s Ship next month after I’ve used it to launch the app.

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