The Slow Hustle Product MBA
I started building a flutter app with a young developer, and it is like getting an MBA in Product Management. I have slow-walked the project over the last year, and I have learned a ton. There is no better way to learn about Product Management than building a product from scratch.
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I started building a flutter app with a young developer, and it is like getting an MBA in Product Management. I have slow-walked the project over the last year, and I have learned a ton. There is no better way to learn about Product Management than building a product from scratch. The challenge is translating your envisioned idea into something a developer can create. While you see the big picture, the developer will see the fine details of the components, actions, and databases. Unfortunately, the obvious items are not that obvious.
Building an App or product from scratch provides an invaluable and frustrating education. Below is my tinkering journey as I have attempted to build a “weight tracking” app.
I thought my App idea was straightforward. The general concept is NOT tracking weight with precision and getting people to hop on the scale daily. Specifically, I wanted to track the highs and lows over weeks and months. I would do this with a simple bar chart and have a screen to enter weight. Step one was complete. It was time to move on to executing my grand plan.
Choosing Your Slow Hustle College
Step one was deciding on the framework for the application. For me, there were three options. Build for Android, build for iPhone or choose a framework that will work for both. Naturally, I chose to build for both, which meant choosing between Flutter or React. In the end, I chose Flutter because I am a bit of an early adopter, and I like that Google is backing it.
The next step was finding a developer, which is simple and a little intimidating through sites like Upwork, Guru.com, or Freelancer. They make it simple to post a project and get bids for the work. You will find prices from “dirt cheap” to “I picked the wrong career.”
Wait, my Idea is Half Baked
Posting the job on one of these sites is your first course in your Slow Hustle Product MBA. It seems easy until you confront the reality that your genius idea is a fictional story living in your head. If you are like me, your idea is a high level and not so that a developer can translate your idea into something a developer will understand. And you thought writing a paper for a professor was hard. Therefore posting your job on a job board is where the rubber hits the road.
During this process, I learned two things during my App creation adventure. I first learned that I needed a semi-working model of my concept. So I used Google Sheets to mock up my graphs. Using a spreadsheet was one of the clever things I did, yet the translation was not as precise as I wanted. The next thing I learned was that the developer needs a wireframe or a mockup. If you don’t want to create these, you can hire someone, but unfortunately, they can’t read your mind, so you will still need to translate your vision into a mockup.
If you have done a good job on your posting, you will get people interested in your idea. Additionally, you can reach out to the developers or designers if you find any you like. Once you have your App and developers lined up, you can move on to creating your vision and start paying for your education… I mean App.
Footing the Bill without a Scholarship
There is a trade-off when hiring a developer, experience costs more money and might be faster, but you can find many talented people on a tight budget. Regardless of your budget, you should find someone to do the work. If you have time and are focused on learning, I recommend not spending a bunch of money on experience unless you have built an app before. If your idea is completely fleshed out, you might be able to go fast and more power to you if you can.
As you move forward, you will notice that it gets personal when you pay for the development, and you will feel it. When there is no momentum, and you are not standing on the shoulders of giants, it becomes clear that this is your money on the line. The missed communication, the wasted time, the rework, and mistakes all hurt a little more. However, the experience is a great teacher, and you will find that you are more focused on getting value for your dollars. It is best to know all this upfront while evaluating developers.
Picking a Lab Partner
Your bids on your jobs will be all over the board, and that is okay. First, spend time finding someone compatible. Next, it is time to choose your partner on this journey. If you approach this as education and understand that your partner isn’t perfect and neither are you, the process will go smoother. However, you are not out of the woods once you’ve picked your developer. Now it is time to get to work.
Translating a concept into an application is very difficult and requires patience. This part of the journey will stretch you, and if you are like me, you will get frustrated along the way. The joy of realizing someone is building your App will most likely be replaced with the realization of the challenge. Your developer will not follow your instructions, do something wrong, and might be unresponsive. Unfortunately, this s part of the process. So, stay focused on your education to get through. If you can get more precise in translating your ideas, your Product Management career will thank you.
Three Mistakes — I am my Scope Creep
Introducing Unneeded Complexity
When building my Weight App, I made three critical strategic mistakes. I made the first mistake by adding a Google/Facebook login that adds no value unless I connected the App to an online database. Since that wasn’t the plan, I added functionality that cost me money, which added no value. So, I got caught up in what could be instead of the task at hand. Adding complexity can always come later if it provides value that exceeds the additional overhead. In my case, I added overhead and dead weight that I might scrap before my App goes on the App Store.
Functionality over Pretty
The second mistake I made was adding design before it was functional. Once I had the “weight in” page designed, I switched to designing the login page. Why did I do this? I don’t know because my goal was to get something to the Playstore. What was I doing making my login screen pretty? The problem wasn’t that I was thinking about the design of the App. The problem was that I didn’t have a unified design plan. If I were doing this again, I would spend time designing the framework and layout, not fine-tuning it but providing a basic standard layout look. Beautifying can come later. It is easy to get lost in perfecting something that isn’t even shipped [Face Palm]
Am I in the Wrong Class
Lastly, my developer worked on localization to quickly translate this into other languages. My developer had some experience in localizing Apps. So I approved the work. Localization seems like something that shouldn’t be a big deal, but I became distracted. Have I mentioned how many downloads my App has? Zero, it hasn’t shipped.
Ship it before you perfect it. I am a year in, and I am still working dashboard screen. Who cares if you can translate the languages if no one has seen it. [Embarrassing].
Looking back, I should have had clear goals to get a functional product to market. Instead, I am reflecting on the sunk cost as I write this.
Two things jump out as I reflect on this process, grace, and growth. First, accepting the process might be the most challenging part of building an application by yourself. It forces you to see that your idea isn’t good. Your ideas will change, and this will drive your developer crazy and cost you money. If you choose a “Slow Hustle Product MBA,” you will confront your day job’s weaknesses and be fully exposed. Even so, give yourself the grace to learn and improve. You can’t learn these things when the Accounting department cuts the check.
My App hasn’t shipped, but I have lost a few pounds this year and learned a ton, so maybe it has been worth it.