Something caught my eye the other day that I thought had a very important message to all entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere; true team cohesion and an ability to build things at a quick pace that a team is enthusiastic about. This is a feat that is not a simple task. Too many companies these days have difficulty allowing their teams to work together in creative and empowering ways, and often default to a lower level of efficiency because their teams are not enthusiastic about their jobs. In fact, since so many people are not enthusiastic about their jobs, they often fall off the ‘common message’ or ‘signal’ that the rest of the people in the company or product team are on.
But, these folks got it right!
A small company in the UK called Carsonified recently set out to build a fully functional and fully marketed web application in 4 days for $10,000. They stopped all of their normal activities for nearly a week to get together and build something fun, productive, cohesive, and useful for what is a considerably small investment for most businesses these days. [For those of you who are still confused with what the UK is: the United Kingdom is that really big island off the coast of the mainland of Europe! And yes, it’s part of Europe!] The end result of their effort is a free web application called ‘Matt‘ that allows you to send Twitter messages from multiple accounts without having to login to each one and post the message by hand each time. It’s fun, funky, fresh, and useful if you’re a twitterer.
I had the opportunity to talk to Elliott Kember, the lead developer for Carsonified, and ask him a few questions about their experience. Since I recently talked about dealing with discouragement in “Be Who You Are, You Silly Entrepreneur You!” and financial models in the last post, entitled “You won’t be bought by Google, so Quit Fooling Yourself; you need a sound financial model!“, I thought a few of the questions that I asked Elliott should address these areas. The following is an informal transcript of our conversation:
Kevin Elliott: So you put together a web application in 4 days. Why? What are your plans with this experiment? What did you hope to gain?
Elliott Kember: We put the site together to see if we could! Every now and then we have an “ideas week”, where we turn off all our phones and email, and everyone gets together and works on a common project. This time, we decided to use a framework and language that we hadn’t tried before, and use the Twitter API to make a useful, fun little app. Not only that, it was also an app that we had a use for, and we figured that there must be others out there who wanted to be able to post to several twitter accounts at the same time.
Kevin Elliott: How many people got together to do this in such a short period of time? How were you able to rope in a group of enthusiastic people to gel together on a common theme and goal for this project? Getting people excited about things, especially small projects, seems to be a difficult challenge. How did you overcome this?
Elliott Kember: All 9 of our staff were involved in building Matt – blogging, copywriting, designing and developing. There was a bit of confusion over why we had so many people working on the one application – we could have built the same app with just two developers and our designer, but without all the marketing, blogging, and PR we’d never have got nearly as much interest. Not only that, but everyone in the team was also able to contribute great ideas and feedback to the process. We managed to get everybody involved because we’re lucky enough to have a creative and innovative team, and a fantastic environment here at the Carsonified offices. We have a four-day week, great equipment and a beautiful office, and we all thoroughly enjoy working here – so any excuse to get involved in something exciting is always welcome.
Kevin Elliott: Did you have any major hurdles during this time? If so, how did you overcome them?
Elliott Kember: We didn’t have too many major hurdles – in fact, learning Python and Django was probably the only real hurdle! Any problems we had stemmed from the fact that we were still beginners with both. It can be quite frustrating when you know exactly what you’re trying to do, but not exactly how to do it. Twitter’s API went down a few times, which didn’t help – but it’s pretty famous for that and we managed to patiently work around it. I guess we expected it to be pretty hectic and tricky, so we were pleasantly surprised when things started falling together. A late night or two certainly helped 😉
Kevin Elliott: At any point in this project, from conception to completion, did anyone doubt or discourage you and your attempts to engage and deliver? How did you deal with it?
Elliott Kember: Lots of people doubted us! Some doubted that we’d be able to produce a web application in four days, others said that it was just a bit of a publicity stunt. Many people missed the point and wondered why it took us so long to build. Quite a few people tried to copy what we’d done in less time and for less money, and others said that they didn’t understand the app, and thought it was all a big waste of time. Really, the only way to deal with this much negativity is to stay realistic about what you’re doing, and enjoy yourself. If people don’t like what you produce, then they’re welcome to their opinion – but at the end of the day, you’re not building it for them. The positive feedback makes it all worth it, and there were lots of positive message and compliments. Thanks to everyone who sent them!
Kevin Elliott: Your site mentions that your goal was to build a fully functional web application in 4 days in under $10,000. Considering that you included marketing, PR, copywriting, and other activities this sounds like an excellent accomplishment. What considerations did you take for planning a financial model around it? When you sat down at the beginning of this effort, did you determine how this would “break even” and eventually post some kind of profit? (NEW)
Elliott Kember: We didn’t actually plan against a budget – this figure just happens to be the amount we spent in salary during the time taken to build the app. Many readers took this to be the budget of the application, and it became one of the more talked-about parts of Matt week. So having said that, I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t have a financial model, and we didn’t expect it to “break even” at all. There’s no advertising on Matt, and it’s free to use.
Kevin Elliott: How did you measure and enforce the budget as you moved forward? (NEW)
Elliott Kember: Managing the budget was very easy. There wasn’t one! The only budget we did have was a time budget, and we basically just had to make sure we got everything done as efficiently as possible, even if that meant a couple of late nights.
Kevin Elliott: What were your intentions for building this application in the first place? In other words, what were you hoping to gain by taking on this challenge? (NEW)
Elliott Kember: We hoped to gain a better understanding of Python, and Django. As developers, we’d never used them before and were interested in the challenges of learning a new language and framework, as well as working with the Twitter API.
Kevin Elliott: What are your future plans?
Elliott Kember: As for future plans, we’ve got some fantastic events and workshops coming up, and we’d love to see you and your readers there. We’re not sure when the next Ideas Week will be, but we’ll be sure to let you know – It was so much fun that we hope to do it again soon!
Kevin Elliott: Lastly, what were the three most important things that you learned about the team, the project, or the technologies after everything was complete? (NEW)
Elliott Kember: Mostly what we learned was the structure and workings of Python and Django. It’s a very foreign thing, learning a new framework, and learning the syntax and structure took most of our time as developers. I could say we learned that Mike, our fantastic designer, can produce a fantastic design and template in about three days! We also learned that TechCrunch readers can be a very tough audience.
To read more about the Matt project, Carsonified co-founder Ryan Carson wrote a guest article for TechCrunch that details more about how everything went down.