Your app’s initial version is like your first love: it doesn’t work but you can’t let go

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I hired a designer and a developper to start working on my app Live2Leave (in case you need to catch up on what I’m talking about read this, this, this and this). 

Blogposts apart (thanks for reading them!) Daphnée (if you don’t know who she is, read this) and I have posted 114 beautiful Instragram trip recommendations, overused hashtags and emojis and made quite a few videos. As Vincent van Gogh once said (as used in one of Live2Leave’s Instagram pictures): “I now consider myself to be at the beginning of the beginning of making something serious.”(though we can all agree that as beautiful as Live2Leave is going to look, it will not be anything close to Van Gogh’s serious somethings).

From my 103 Balsamiq wirerames (the basic screens of the app that I designed with an online computer software, which you can read about here) the designer Evgeny and I worked on simplifying what is called the UX – yet another confusing techxpression that I had to Google as soon as I heard it. It means User Experience, and refers to the way a person interacts with the app. 

“It’s like Love”

The User Experience is what we spent most of our time on so far. It actually takes some serious skills to make an app instinctive, skills only a good designer can provide. When I started working with Evgeny, I had designed the screens on Balsamiq and they worked well with each other, but the app was far too complicated at first: too many buttons and too many steps were required for one single action. So the designer and I had to discuss carefully the concepts behind each function, and we had to get rid of some aspects that I first had thought were essential. Getting rid of something is actually very hard to accept when you care a lot about a product and spent a lot of time thinking about it: it feels like you are cheating on your initial idea, and the initial idea is always the one you love the most.

It’s like Love (when I don’t make culinary comparisons, I usually turn to love. In the end it’s probably because food and love are the same thing to me): your first love is always the one that you never completely get over, even though the ones that come after are usually better suited to you because you know better what you want/don’t want. There’s something irrational about having a first love, and that’s why we are so attached to it but also why it usually doesn’t work. For my app it was the same: the first version I came up with is the one I loved the most but it didn’t make complete sense. It was hard to let go, but once I did I became more rational about the newer versions. It’s now easier to accept when we need to change something. And with this newly acquired wisdom, Live2Leave will eventually become very good – not perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist and would be very boring if it did, but good enough to convince many users that it’s THE travel app they are waiting for. Not sure I can say the same thing about love, just because sometimes your newer versions of love are a**holes and a**holes, by definition, can’t be fixed. If that’s your case, make an app, it’s a lot more fulfilling.

“This app should enhance the users’ photos, not bury them with text.” 

Once we were done with the UX (if you’ve already forgotten what it means, I can’t help you, you are and will remain a non-techy Homo Sapiens for eternity), we started working on the visual design, in other words the way the app will look like (the colors, the font, the use of space, etc etc) For me, visual design = better than love and cheese (well, maybe not cheese, but you see what I mean). Finally, it wasn’t something I needed to Google, something I needed particular skills to get right. It was just about my gut feeling and my sense of aesthetics, two things I’m used to rely on as a video journalist. I gave general concept ideas to the designer, the main colors that I wanted, my idea for the logo, and a list of apps detailing which aspects I liked / didn’t like and what could be used for Live2Leave. Evgeny first came back to me with a version that I found too complicated: too many colors, too much going on for the eye, the photos were not highlighted enough. But visuals were the part I really wanted to bring out: trips are a compilation of images, first in your mind and then from the pictures you take, therefore this app should enhance the users’ photos, not bury them with text.  

“Extreme simplicity”

Here again my video journalism background helped me: I learned that you should never say what the image already shows – the text should just add information, not repeat what you see. And we needed to get straight to the point. For my app’s design, that was translated by “extreme simplicity.” So I asked the designer to cut down the colors and the text in various places. The result doesn’t disappoint: the app now looks sleeker and much more personal, not so commercial, which I believe is essential for Live2Leave, since it is based on friendship, and personal travel tales. It’s about what your friends like, not what a big commercial company wants you to buy. So here we are, one month closer to making Live2Leave real and here’s a sneak peek of one of the most simple screens:

Trips@2x

I have to admit that I’m in love with the current version, but I can’t say I won’t dump it for a prettier one.

You will have to wait a bit longer to see the rest, as the developer needs to give a heart to what is now just a beautiful face…

Céleste

Kardashians, kakti, and travel pic(k)s: how to kreate a social media brand for Live2Leave

 

For a better understanding of this post, I must explain who “Keke” is before you start reading.

Keke is one of my best friends who goes by the name of Daphnée Denis for everybody else. We both gave each other that nickname a few years ago, during a casual Kardashian conversation (we do have brains, I promise), after spending a rather long time thinking about the fact that all the women in that family have names that start with a K, which means their initials are KK, pronounced  \ké.ké\ by us French people (bear with us, this is going somewhere).  

According to a very reliable source — Wiktionary — a keke means, in French: “an individual who tries to impress with his behavior but is ridiculously lame and a complete drag,” (ex: Donald Trump)  or the “chief of the thieves” (ex: Donald Trump). And that sounds really funny to us, so that was that. Kekes for ever. Incidentally, we also realized that “K” is by far the most entertaining letter of the alphabet, and that it has the power of making common French words hilarious: for instance, cactus becomes kaktus, cool becomes kool, “c’est clair” (damn true) becomes “c’est klair” and that’s obviously (duh) a lot funnier.  

Now that you’re equipped with this piece of information, you will be able to understand the complexity of this blogpost. Here we go.

“Would you like to help me, if you find it fun, to build up a social media presence for Live2Leave?”

It all started with a conversation on WhatsApp (that’s a messaging app, dear Homo Sapiens):

…..

Me, 5/20/16, 6am CET

“Hi Keke

I have a project idea to share with you. 

Would you like to help me, if you find it fun, to build up a social media presence for Live2Leave? I would like to try something that I haven’t seen yet, which is to show people the process of creating an app, letting them give their opinion and participate, so when we launch there could be some buzz around a project that people will have seen coming to life. I am a journalist and not a developer and that’s a drawback but there are also some advantages, like the fact that I can tell a story. And I think there’s something to be said about me creating an app from scratch while knowing nothing about tech. And most people have no idea how you build an app.”

Keke, 5/20/16, 3:15pm CET

“Yes, I think it’s a super great idea. I find it fun 🙂 :-)”

Me,  5/20/16, 3:16pm CET

“Really? Trop kool (Smiley). You know 25,000 times more than I do about online storytelling. You know how to get views and followers. And your pictures are hipster without being absurd so it’s perfect.”

……

Here, I was referring to most pictures on Daphnée’s Instagram, where you can note a recurring still life theme, and the regular appearance of one or two cactus/kaktus/kakti. For instance: 

“Right now I wish I were a lesbian, but that has nothing to do with this post”

These pictures have our anti-hipster friend Adrien Gabeur really worried we may be losing Daphnée to some Uruguayan cult (she lives in Montevideo), or that she now uses candlelight instead of electricity, grows her own coffee and will soon move to a commune. To be fair, knowing Daphnée, these are all valid concerns. But those pictures are also beautiful, and Daphnée is an ace journalist who has a way with words. We share an absolute confidence in our sense of humor and humbly believe that if people don’t get our jokes it’s because they are idiots. So she is the person I needed for Live2Leave’s Instagram – and I was over the moon when she said yes. (probably the last time I’ll write this, unless I turn lesbian, and right now I wish I were a lesbian, but that has nothing to do with this post.)

Three weeks later, we have 85 objectively beautiful posts on Instagram and 281 followers, including many big travel “influencers” –  though that number regularly goes down to 279 because, apparently, some tasteless people fake follow you for a few hours only so you follow them back. That’s the harsh reality of trying to develop a social media presence: you do notice these meaningless and absurd details, and probably become a little more stupid each time you do.

“Our idea is to make people understand through pictures what they will get once the app is out.”

With Live2Leave’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, our idea is to make people understand through pictures what they will get once the app is out: friends’ recommendations, that is. We also make fun videos like “where are your friends this week” featuring our actual pals saying hello from all around the world. And there’s a personal favorite, #TravelFailThursday, which features stories of a trip gone wrong. I also write one blog a week, as you all know because you’ve read every single one of them, right? 

In order to get all the content you see on Instagram, we asked our awesome, curious and picture-savvy friends to share their photos with us and write something personal about why they liked that place or that particular experience (just as you would ask them to recommend a few places if you know they went to a city you’re about to visit). We then repost the images on our Instagram, adding a nice caption. We make it “nice,” because we actually do care about what we write, and in fact, must have had 85 reasonably absurd conversations about how to edit our captions. If, unlike the Instagram community who tends to like abusive filtering over content, you do read them, you might actually learn a thing or two/ enjoy the puns and references. If you don’t, as mentioned before it’s because you’re probably an idiot. 

Here’s an example of a relatively (or completely, depending how judgmental you are) ridiculous conversation we had while editing the caption of a turtle picture that was supposed to explain the idea behind our logo (a turtle). The picture obviously got less “likes” than the number of minutes we spent thinking about this, but we still thought we did pretty well (you’ll notice that we like to congratulate ourselves) and hopefully one day the Instagram community will finally bow down to our genius. 

celesteoj 7:29PM: The turtle is the ultimate traveler: with her home on her back everywhere she goes, she embodies Living and Leaving coming into one. The world is not a scary place for a turtle, because she always feels at home wherever she goes. Don’t we all want to be a turtle? Live2Leave might be able to help you do just that, by making the unknown a little bit less scary and a little more friendly.
daphneedenis 7:36PM: Why is our logo a turtle? Because these clever animals represent the ultimate traveler. With their homes on their backs, they embody our motto “live to leave” everywhere they go. The world isn’t a scary place for turtles because they’re home everywhere they go. Don’t you wish you were one of them right about now? #Live2Leave might be able to help you do just that by making the unknown just a little more friendly
daphneedenis 7:37PM: I just took out “scary” because you say it before. And made it plural because singular it’s “it” and I think that you want to generalize, don’t you? 
celesteoj 7:38PM: yes, perfect
celesteoj 7:38PM: except that now there’s twice “everywhere they go”
daphneedenis 7:39PM: The world isn’t a scary place for turtles because they’re always home
celesteoj 7:39PM: perfect
daphneedenis 7:39PM: Great minds
celesteoj 7:39PM: Don’t you wish you were a turtle too?
celesteoj 7:40PM: cuter don’t you think?
celesteoj 7:40PM: Why is our logo a turtle? Because these clever animals represent the ultimate traveler. With their homes on their backs, they embody our motto “live to leave” everywhere they go. The world isn’t a scary place for turtles because they’re always home. Don’t you wish you were a turtle too? #Live2Leave might be able to help you do just that by making the unknown a little more friendly.
daphneedenis 7.41PM: Yep. Kool.

BOOM. Art. Right there. And the best is that you can go check out the result on @live2leave.

 

Céleste

MVP does NOT mean Mild Verbal Problem

 

Last week you found out about how I eat my salad (lots of balsamic) and a little bit about how I started working on my app (lots of balsamiq). 

This week, you’ll have the privilege to read about *ja^$>>!!!{}*&, which is how “tech world lingo” sounds to the average homo sapiens, someone like me. 

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 5.49.44 PM.png

I left you as I was asking my loyal Google how to hire a developer and a designer. That happened after I had taken to Facebook and inquired whether any of my brilliant friends had an “outstanding iOS developer and designer to recommend” – a badly-disguised and desperate attempt for someone to answer: “hire this developer, he is great, here is his email and phone number, he’ll do your app within two months and it will look fantastic.” 

Because here was my problem: how would I be able to assess whether a developer was any good, given that I didn’t know anything about coding myself? I couldn’t, point blank. So I needed help.

Obviously, my friends either missed the desperate tone of my Facebook plea or overestimated my tech knowledge – totally wrong since at that point I only knew there were iOS apps for iPhones, and Android apps for other i-lessPhones, and that was about it. 

So instead of a name and a phone number, I got a short answer from Balthazar, my friend who works for The Family, a really cool French startup accelerator (did I mention I have very cool friends?): “look for someone in react native for the development of an app.”

….

giphy.gif

Though his answer would eventually turn out to be helpful, it first threw me in deep deep darkness –  a feeling similar to my first ever Spanish class, when my teacher asked me a question at the same pace as Shakira sings in Loca….. (Something like: Elestápormiyportiborroyesoquetútienesto)

WHAT???? (QUE????) 

In this case, the following ensued: 

    1. Questions to myself: What is it with tech people and short answers? First Laura-my-friend-who-did-a-startup and her “Balsamiq”, and now this. Are they really that busy that they can’t write a full sentence that makes sense to the average homo sapiens? 
    2. Thought to myself: React Native doesn’t even make me think of food like Balsamiq did, how disappointing. That being said, I haven’t thought about what I am going to have for dinner.. Steak? No, I had steak for lunch already (I’ll stop here to avoid further digression but those who know me can guess how it ended— with a steak)
    3. Second thought to myself: React Native sounds like one of those Brooklyn warehouse parties Balthazar used to love during our NYC years. How on earth am I supposed to find a developer there? 
    4. Question to Balthazar: “You’re talking Chinese to me. What’s React Native?”
    5. Balthazar’s answer: “A programming language that lets you do iOS and Android in one go.”

That’s when I saw the light: there was hope. I already knew that developing an iOS app was a different process than Android, and that you basically have to pay twice to get both (that’s why you’re usually advised to start with one and then do the other only when you’ve worked enough on the first version.) So Balthazar’s second answer made it sound like this would be cheaper — no small feat in the tech world, where I’m told money disappears as quickly as a profiterole au chocolat in my plate. 

After this, I spent hours reading up information on good old Google, and ended up understanding a lot more. I encourage other tech-illiterate homo sapiens to do the same if like me they don’t know where to start: in the end, the Internet is quite an obvious place to hang out to learn about the digital world. 

For instance, I learned that Java wasn’t a shortcut for Serge Gainsbourg’s Javanaise, that Xamarin wasn’t another Pokemon name, and that against all odds, Python wasn’t a python. Also new to me: C+ isn’t a bad mark that you get when you’re expelled from class; “your MVP” isn’t the developer telling me I have a “Mild Verbal Problem” (I probably do, though) but rather a Minimum Viable Product. Last but not least, React Native is not a warehouse party but the new hot cross-platform programming language developed by Facebook (look at me subtly throwing “cross-platform” in here.) 

This is also how I found out about the company from which I ended up hiring my developer and designer: Toptal. They only feature on their platform the top 3% of people they interview, so it means the quality is supposed to be very high. This solved my issue of not knowing how to assess whether a developer was any good (it’s easier for designers as it’s more a matter of taste than tech knowledge. You can get an idea of their skills by looking at their online portfolio.) Once you get in touch with Toptal and explain your project, they come back to you with a few potential candidates who you then interview. Once you’ve picked one, you have a one-week trial –  if you’re not satisfied, you just try with a new one at no cost. Both of the people I picked ended up being great and I’ve been working with them since, watching my little app coming into life. 

Obviously, our communication doesn’t come without challenges. 

For instance: 

Rogerio, the developer: “Hi Celeste, so I think we should use github for source code and heroku for backend. Trello might be a useful tool to use as well and I’ll Slack you any quick questions I might have.”

……

giphy (1).gif

Me: “Yeah, sure, was about to say the same thing!” – followed by some frantic Google searches. 

But little by little, we are getting there and our communication is getting smoother. I understand some of what they say, they understand some of what I say and when they don’t, my 103 wireframes are there to explain what I want. Somehow, Live2Leave is becoming more and more real every day.

And you can see that for yourself if you follow us on @live2leave on Instagram! 

Céleste

Up next: our Social Media “strategy”….

BalsamiQ became to my app what BalsamiC is to my salad

In my last post, I formally announced to whoever stumbled upon this blog by mistake that I was finally going to start working on my Live2Leave app idea and make it happen, after four years of finding reasons not to do it.

It was all very exciting, I shared with you my big project and dream. Fantastic. 

But then comes the next question, a little less glamorous and a little more pragmatic: how does one build an app? Or in other words for your average homo sapiens — someone like me: how does your idea one day magically appear on an iPhone screen?

(NB: from now onwards, all words that need to be explained to other homo sapiens reading this blogpost will have a “*” and a footnote)

“What does vinegar have to do with my travel app?”

Laura, my friend who did a startup (don’t we all have a friend like that nowadays?) sent me what felt like a disappointing one-word answer to my over-enthusiastic email about finally building Live2Leave: “Balsamiq.”
As an avid eater, and a French person, my first reaction was to think about how good fresh lettuce tastes with that vinaigrette I love to make: olive oil, half a spoon of Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and some Balsamic vinegar. Five minutes later, as I was done thinking about that salad and what I would eat with it (cheese), my next thought was about how bad Laura’s spelling had gotten. It’s BalsamiC Laura, not BalsamiQ! And anyway, what does vinegar have to do with my travel app?

I didn’t actually ask Laura that because 1) I’m way funnier in real life 2) Laura is usually quite good at spelling 3) we also all have a friend called Google who can answer those questions without having to embarrass ourselves in front of that “friend who did a startup.”

“Balsamiq is NOT vinegar but a wireframing software”

Turns out, as you little geniuses might have guessed by now, that Balsamiq is NOT vinegar but a wireframing* software that enables people with very poor drawing skills like me to create something that looks like an app rather than a two-year-old’s painting. Obviously, you still need a developer** to turn those wireframes into the apps you use every day. But that comes at a later stage. Indeed, Google and Laura-my-friend-who-did-a-startup also told me that I first needed to create a better version of those illegible drawings that I’d made when hit by the occasional anxiety attack of “I really should try to do this app,” so that when I would eventually hire a developer and a designer***, they would have a clear idea of what I wanted to do and I would save time and money.

So off I went with my newly acquired tech knowledge. I downloaded Balsamiq, feeling pretty happy about the free 30-day trial as I was initially convinced I’d fail at using it. But 30 days later, I ended up buying the licence that would let me use Balsamiq indefinitely because I had already made dozens of wireframes and found the whole thing surprisingly easy to use. Believe it or not, I even had fun with it. Even more surprisingly, I realized that those four years thinking about the app meant I had actually created it entirely in my mind and knew exactly how I wanted it to look like, which functions it would have and how it would work.

“It made me feel a little bit less like an average homo sapiens and a little more confident about myself and my idea”

All of this happened four months ago. After that, every time I found myself waiting for hours at a South American airport because of a delayed Aerolineas Argentinas flight (I told you I would one day get my public revenge Aerolineas!), I created some wireframes. The whole process wasn’t going particularly fast as I was still married to my journalism job 14 hours a day and generally didn’t feel ready to fully commit to the idea that I was indeed building an app. But I still somehow found it fulfilling to have tangible proof — and something less embarrassing than my ugly drawings — that Live2Leave wasn’t only made of words and could maybe exist one day if I got my sh** (no footnote here) together.

I ended up with 103 wireframes that were logically linked to one another, and I knew that because Balsamiq lets you create a PDF version of your wireframes with interactive icons, which means that you can actually click on the different icons like you would do with a real app on your phone. So it basically looks like an app, without having any of the actual content in it. That made me feel a little bit less like an average homo sapiens and a little more confident about myself and my idea. And one day, about a month ago, I finally felt ready and asked Google with that minimal language that we tend to use when interacting with it: “hire developers and designers.”

How on earth I actually managed to do that will be explained in my next post.

Until then, follow us on Facebook Live2Leave and Instagram @live2leave !

Céleste

 

Footnotes for the homo sapiens:

*”wireframes” are the different screens you have in an app, such as Profile, Feed etc…
** a person who speaks the language of computers, also known as programming language (and there are many of those, like Java, Python, Ruby and many more with alien-like names)
*** a person who designs what you see when you look at an app (the font, the colors, but also the various ‘movements’ of an app, like what happens when you click on a certain button)

This is the story of a very tenacious idea

“I’m going to Rio for the first time next weekend. Would you have some places to recommend: restaurants, hotels, bars, museums etc?”

That’s the type of email I get at least once a week. After three years spent crisscrossing South America as a journalist, I’ve become the go-to person for my friends who are planning a trip to Che Guevara’s continent.
But the problem is always the same: I rarely have the time to write the long and detailed email that cities like Rio or Buenos Aires deserve, and even when I do I never remember the names of all the places that I’ve liked. So I end up recommending a few restaurants and hotels that have survived my failing memory, wishing I could also remember the name of “that little coffee shop with the fig tree, with wicker chairs and wrought iron tables and the most delicious acaí.”
And then, invariably, I think: if only I had Live2Leave.

“That idea you have but never do”

Live2Leave is an idea I had four years ago: an app where I could record my trips and places that I liked, share them easily with my friends and also search for their recommendations when I arrive in a city I don’t know or want to plan a trip in a country I’ve never been to. Because in the end, if my friends still ask me for recommendations even though they have access to Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet, it’s because they know that if I liked a place they are far more likely to like it too than if it’s a place recommended by someone they don’t know.

But Live2Leave is also that idea you have but never do. Because you don’t know how to do it, because you don’t have time to do it, because someone else will do it before you, because you don’t have the money, because you’re relying on someone who ends up not helping you, because you feel you don’t have what it takes… If a reason for why you can’t do it is no longer valid, you’ll find another one straight away, thereby ensuring that you never do it.

In my case I’ve been finding reasons for not doing Live2Leave for four years. I remember when I came up with it, I was 23 and at journalism school. I got so excited about what I saw as my first real “idea” and spent an entire night thinking about a name, checking if the domain was available. That’s when the “Live2Leave” name was born, quite naturally in fact because it sums up one of the main driving forces in my life: an uncontrollable desire to constantly leave the known for the unknown and discover something new every day if I can, a desire that I satisfy with a trip to a faraway land if I’m lucky, but often just by wandering the streets of my own city.

“I spent more time worrying that someone would steal the idea than actually doing it”

But back then, finding the Live2Leave name and drawing a few ugly sketches is as far as I got. I spent more time worrying that someone would steal the idea than actually doing it. And I was also busy trying to get a “real” job, and busy with whatever 23 year-olds are busy with, which in my case was trying to become a responsible adult while still being a completely irresponsible and confused human.

Fast forward four years later: I’m still trying to become a responsible adult while still being a completely irresponsible and confused human. But I also lived what feels like three lives: I became some sort of a journalist, quit my job, found a new cooler job where I actually was a journalist, changed continent, re-quit my job, re-changed continent and now here I am writing these lines. The only constants in all of this are my friends, my family, my dog Madame and that profoundly irritating thought of “what if you had done Live2Leave.”

“Make the unknown just a little more friendly”

And so I had enough. As I was going through some sort of the late-twenties life crisis that my generation seems to invariably experience at some point (or at least the weird people I surround myself with), I decided that Live2Leave was no longer going to be “that idea you have but never do,” but instead “that idea you had, didn’t do for a while and then tried doing it.”

Obviously, I’m a journalist, not an entrepreneur. I can’t code, I didn’t study business or engineering and when I hear about the “tech bubble” I imagine many little people with laptops working inside a big transparent globe rolling around London. So in some ways I don’t really know what I am doing. But then it might also be what makes me different from the little people with laptops in the big transparent globe rolling around London, and my maman says it’s good to be different.

So with writing (on this blog) and pictures (on Instagram), I want to tell you the story of the friendliest travel app being built by a clueless but very passionate journalist. I don’t want to show you only the final result, when the app will look all pretty and perfect (because it will, of course). I want to show you the behind the scenes, the figuring out, the thought process, the mistakes and the struggle, but also the small victories and the progress. I will try writing on this blog once a week, but post on Instagram a lot more often, with the help of my dear fellow journalist friend and social media extraordinaire Daphnee. We will get it wrong I am sure, but then we will tell you about it, laugh it off, and do better next time.

And ultimately, I hope that Live2Leave will make the unknown just a little more friendly and encourage some, maybe many if we succeed, to discover the beautiful world that we live in.

C.

Up next: when I discovered that Balsamiq was a wireframing software and not vinegar…