Concluding the 14 Day App Challenge and 3 of My Biggest Mistakes

My 14 day app challenge ended almost 14 days ago, and I’m just getting around to blogging about the journey, sorry :(. I promise, I haven’t made any structural changes in over 14 days, but I have done some user testing which led to some copy and minor design changes on the splash page. In this post I will try to summarize some of the web apps features, but even more importantly I will try outline the biggest mistakes I made during this challenge.

Here’s what I got:

The name of the app is Cheerful. Cheerful, simply put, is a responsive web application that allows non-profit organizations to accept and track donations both online and offline.

The Problem I’m Attempting to Solve:

Something as simple as e-giving for non-profits, in 2013 is still relegated to a few very expensive applications and PayPal. The expensive applications are bloated, have a terrible end user experience and are in most cases very difficult to setup (some even requiring setup fees). PayPal, which by far still seems to be the market leader in this industry, requires you to maintain a separate bank account, has limited reporting features, doesn’t allow categorized donations, and has a very disjointed user experience.

The Solution

Non-profit organizations come to cheerfulapp.com,  create an account and instantly start collecting donations by linking to or embedding code into their website. Simple right? Donors can opt into reoccurring donations and will be sent an email receipt after every successful and non-successful transaction.
Donations are reported using cool graphs showing overall total giving for a seven day period. Organizations can see a specific donor’s giving report, and donors can be grouped together and tracked as well. Cheerful also tracks offline giving. This allows organizations to manually record and track the who, when, and how much for all donations made. There’s other features like SSL encryption, emailed reports, and a bunch of stuff that I don’t want to waste this blog discussing, instead I want to walk you through three of the biggest mistakes I made when building Cheerful.

1. Too Many Features
One of the biggest hopes when building this application under the constraints of the 14 day app challenge was that it would limit feature creep. Boy was I wrong! Instead the 14 day app challenge quickly became more about my coding prowess and less about filling a need and creating a great product.

I started building with 10 prioritized features in mind. My though was that I would start with a prioritized wish list of features, push as hard as I can to build each one, and see where I landed. The problem with that was that: 1) it makes the assumption that I know which features are the most important and 2) it  increases the amount of features I would have to support out of the gate, 3) I doesn’t allow me time to really  polish the most important feature. Instead, I should have started with one main feature, allowing users to donate online, and a splash page outlining that one feature (no pricing).

2. Wasted Time on Pricing and Signup Page
I spent way too much time trying outline my core features and even more time trying to figure out how to charge for them. This was a complete waste of time. First off, I’m not sure which features are the most important, so there’s really no way for me to associate a value for each. Instead, my focus should have been on building out that one feature, and giving it away to a few organizations (no more than you can truly support). I should have leverage these users to  answer those most critical questions about features, design, and usage via emails and user testing.

3. Should Have Blogged While Building
Looking back I should have been blogging while I built this application. My biggest mistakes became the most evident when I started putting this post together. Writing as you build your application would have done three very important things: 1)allowed me to verbalize each feature, hopefully allowing me to draw the conclusion that I was biting off too much. 2) it would have allowed me to post this as soon as I completed the challenge instead of letting life get in the way  3) I could have leveraged the small but intelligent and engaged community I’ve built here to help me find the right organization to help me flesh out this application, and hopefully answer some of these questions.

Next Steps
Taking what I’ve learned during the past few weeks, I will be spending the next few days honing in on what I believe is the sites most important features, and creating a simple landing page that outlines them (no pricing). I will then to find a few (I’m thinking 2) organizations to beta test the application for me. And I promise to blog through my progress.

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