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

As the post title suggests, I’m falling behind on my ambitious goal of launching four apps in twelve months. To stay on track I should have shipped my first project at the end of December. Luckily, Savor & West will be launching this week and I have a plan to catch up.

Savor & West

Curated and based on your mood, Savor & West is an iOS app that’s your “personal bar expert.” My last post shared my ideation and design process for Savor & West. As a refresher, unlike crowd sourced bar review apps (such as Yelp), every bar in Savor & West is reviewed and curated to ensure it meets a high quality standard. Then, to pick something from this list, the user will input their mood with different tags and Savor & West will suggest the best fit. The idea is that a user shouldn’t spend their time searching through a few different apps with hundreds of bars, many mediocre, to find something they might like. Instead, they should use Savor & West to find a high quality bar that actually fits their mood.

Building and the Holidays

I started off October and November with a good pace, coding the app. However, in December things slowed way down. I started a new job in December, a job that I love. But starting something new takes up a lot more mental energy and I felt drained when I got home after work. It was much harder to motivate to work on my side projects in the evening and on the weekends. I kept telling myself that I’d make up the lost time over the holidays when the office was closed for a week. That didn’t happen. I’ve heard mixed things from people who work on side projects, some find the holidays a great time to block off huge chunks of time and make progress. I found it incredibly difficult to prioritize coding over spending time with family and friends. I don’t think I touched my computer for a week, but it felt great to recharge and I had a wonderful week relaxing.

This is my third iOS app and I’ve come a long way in my skills. I still pinch myself when I realize that I’ve been writing lines of code for a solid session without pausing to Google  the correct syntax. I’ve also moved away from using XCode drag and drop storyboards and instead code the entire design programmatically. On the left is a screen I designed in Sketch. On the right are some of the lines of code required to generate that screen.

Screenshot of Xcode and the Swift code required to build a design


The Database of Bars

One thing that’s taken up a big chunk of my time is building out a database of quality bars. I don’t want to rely on Yelp, Google or Foursquare’s APIs for the data. I want to control the quality and to have more control over my app. When I made Bar Roulette I was forced by Foursquare to change some things in my app, and I had to comply with the fear of having my API access shutdown. Now I don’t need to worry about that.

The flipside of having more control is that it takes time to build up a database. The initial project is only launching in four cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City. To build the database and curate the list I started by just trying to find bars in these cities by talking to friends and family and looking on Google, Yelp, Eater, etc. Then I read the bar websites and reviews to get a sense of the quality of the bar. San Francisco was a bit easier because I’m familiar with many of the bars. However, I did find some new bars that I haven’t tried yet. Thankfully, my wife has been helping me with this portion by researching and writing about the bars. Airtable makes it super easy to collaborate with a “database” as if it’s a Google Sheet. 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.

Here’s a screenshot of what the Airtable database is starting to look like as we fill it out.

A screenshot of my Airtable database


Getting ready for launch

I submitted Savor & West to the App Store last week and it was approved a day later. Surprisingly it was approved on the first submission. I’ve never had that happened before. There has always been a back and forth with the reviewers finding issues. I’m pretty proud with myself. That means that I’m getting better at knowing what makes a bug-free and good app.

Last week I also built out the landing page using the Carrd platform. I can’t give enough praise to AJ and the product he’s built. I used to build my own landing pages from scratch, but it was a pain to ensure they worked on all browsers and devices. Carrd has easy to use templates to make a slick landing page. It took me about 45 minutes to make the landing page.

My wife and I also created an Instagram account for Savor & West. Food and drink is popular on Instagram so I think this will be an interesting acquisition channel. I’ll put a unique App Store url in the Instagram profile so I’ll be able to see how many downloads came from Instagram. Also, because I added Facebook analytics to Savor & West they gave me a $100 advertising credit which I’m going to use for Instagram ads.

I’m planning to launch Savor & West later this week on Product Hunt. I’ll hopefully track someone down who can help me get it featured on the frontpage.

What’s Next

To get back on track with four projects in twelve months I need to launch my next project by the end of March. If Savor & West took me four months, how am I going to do it in two months? I’m pivoting slightly - my next project is not going to be an app. I’m still working on the details of exactly how it’s going to work, but at a high-level, it’s going to be a service that connects people who want to become product managers with experienced product managers. To launch this business I don’t need a bunch of software, a lot of it can be done manually. All I’ll really need is a landing page (Carrd anyone? ? ) and an integration with Stripe for payments.

Intercom has a great book, On Starting Up, where they have three questions to ask yourself when deciding to start a business:

  1. Is this a real problem people want solved?
  2. Do I have the experience with this problem that will help solve it?
  3. Can I build something that is magical, and is substantially better than existing products?

I think my next project checks all three of these boxes. And it’s also a niche business so I can focus on solving a problem for a small group of people, but solving it really well. I’m excited about this business because I’m a product manager and have experience in this area.

Hopefully I’m back here in a month updating you on the launch of Savor & West and the imminent launch of my next project. ?