I created a coronavirus app for all the wrong reasons, so now i’m giving the entire business away

Am I going to die from COVID-19?

As soon as the COVID-19 outbreak hit, my mind started thinking of ways I could help (after the initial onset of panic and anxiety of course).

I am an app developer by trade, so naturally my ideas all centred around what apps could be most useful for people in this difficult time. I came up with a few different ideas that I thought would be useful. The main issue was that all of them were time sensitive (at that stage I thought COVID-19 was going to be over within a few weeks… Boy, I miss that optimism), so I had to get moving fast.

My first idea was to create a ‘Coronavirus Risk Checker’ app where you would enter all your personal details (age, location, gender etc) and get an instant percentage risk of dying from COVID-19. I was quite fond of this idea at the time because very little was being done to help people gain perspective on the tiny risk that the majority of us actually had.

After spinning up some designs I quickly realised that the quality and availability of the data we had at that time was so poor, that there was no way I could give anybody a meaningful percentage score that I felt confident to deliver.

Lesson 1: Even when riding a trend, think your concept through in great detail.

If at first you don’t succeed..

So there I was looking at my (now) useless risk checker design, wondering where to go next. A few days later Boris told the nation to stay inside unless you need to get food or if you have suddenly developed a passion for fitness. Seemingly instantaneously the whole nation adapted and turned to live streaming as a way to get their — now impossible to fulfil — need for human connection. People were streaming just about everything: cooking, workouts, music performances and, of course, most importantly, pub quizzes. You name it, people were streaming it. And I found the whole thing incredibly overwhelming.

I had no idea how people knew about all the streams going on. Every time I went online it seemed like I had missed another live stream that I would have been interested in. Some of these streams were being watched by hundreds of thousands of people, yet I had no idea how to find out in advance what was coming up. It felt a bit like being back at school, trying to find out where the cool kids hang out. Only this time it turned out that the cool kids were hanging out all over the place; some of them were on Facebook, some on Instagram, some on YouTube, some on Twitch. These kids were all over the place and I needed a way to herd them because I didn’t have time to search all these places to find my streams.

I decided there was only one thing for it: I must create the ‘One Site To Rule Them All’. The live streaming hub. The epicentre of live streaming. Now, obviously I didn’t want to compete with Facebook and the like, so I decided the best thing to do was to simply collate all of these live streams into a central database that was easy to search, find, save and watch live streams.

The concept was simple. Instead of going through all the social channels to keep updated with what live streams are coming up, we will do that for you. You just need to come to the app, browse for what you wanted to watch, add it to your calendar, then come back when it’s on and we’ll patch you through to the content. Simple, right?

I thought it was a great idea and had a genuine use in the world. Everyone I told about it seemed to agree, so there was nothing left to do. I went all in.

kenny.infectWithCoronaVirus({duration: ‘3 weeks’});

I had lost a lot of time at this point, and I knew somewhere else in the world there would be another developer with the same idea ready to do battle with me, so I really had to get a move on. I created a fairly simple design that nailed the fundamentals of a streaming app. I then started to think about how I could use animation to make it really stand out, without eating up too much time. Developing an app for a trend is a constant balancing act of time vs features and in this case, I decided a little extra time to add the ‘delight’ aspect, was worth it. I just couldn’t put something out into the world that I wasn’t proud of.

So I had my designs; now it was time to build. I set off right away. About a week into the build I actually contracted coronavirus myself which, suffice it to say, got in the way of progress quite a bit. A few weeks later (and a few short-of-breath evenings where I really could have done with my Coronavirus Risk Checker app), I was out the other side of it, with a new appreciation for life and my lungs. Time to crack back on with the build.

Two more weeks of hustle (I should add that I was building this entire thing in my ‘spare’ time. I run a web design business and also have two young kids at home. I’ll leave it to your imagination how much sleep I was getting while this build was going on) and I was almost there. A week of tidying, testing, feedback and changes later, and ‘CoronaLive’ was finally ready for launch. Only thing left to do was to create the social channel profiles and roll it out to the world.

Thanks a bunch, Simon Sinek

It was at this point I had to consider my marketing message. As a TED enthusiast, I had seen Simon Sinek eloquently explain that people buy ‘why’ you do something, not ‘what’ you do enough times that it was burned deep into my sub-conscious. I had to get the message across ‘I made this app to help people connect with each other all over the world. I don’t want anyone to be lonely at this time’. I thought this was a stroke of genius from me, because I could then ask people to share it far and wide to help as many people find connection as possible. I figured if i could convince people that they were doing a good thing by sharing it, it would tap into the altruistic desire that exists in us all. Genius, right? Not quite… The launch went as well as I could have ever hoped for: 500 people checked out the site on the first day, it got shared by people all over my social channels, it made the top 20 apps of the day on ProductHunt, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and the buzz was real. I had created something people found useful, and I was genuinely proud.

All the signs were good. The promise was there for this app. The interest was there, the user-base was growing and I was very proud of what I had created. Yet at the same time, i had a feeling deep down that i just couldn’t ignore. I had made a big mistake, and i had to make a very tough decision.

See, i knew all along that the app is only as useful as its content is relevant. I knew the app would need to be updated regularly with new content to make sure people would come back. I even added the option to submit your streams on the app to get them featured. I knew it was all about the content and did everything i could to make that as seamless as possible. Regardless of how hard i tried to make it easy to add content. It was still taking me hours every day to find and import the data of the streams into the app. I had to trawl the web looking for high-quality live streams, then extract all the details from the stream, then convert it into the right format for importing to the platform. It was a huge time sync.

Well, this was unexpected

Now, i’ve been running a web development business for over 7 years. I know how hard you have to work to grow a business and how long it can take to start getting real traction. I knew i’d need to work hard to grow the app, i was fully prepared for that. What i wasn’t prepared for, was the fact that my passion and drive would fall off a cliff after the initial buzz had worn off. After all, what was i really doing this for? I had told everyone that i didn’t expect to make a penny from it, and that i didn’t expect there to be interest in it after lockdown ends “in a few weeks” (still shaking my head at past-tense Kenny). So why did i bother in the first place? I had sold the app on the premise that i had created it ‘to help people find connection’ and that i had wanted to ‘make something to help people’, but i had to be honest with myself. This wasn’t the real reason i created this app. I made it because i could. I made it because that’s what i do. I’m a maker. I build things, and this was just another thing to build that i thought would also be helpful for other people around the world.

The irony of it all is the fact that I actually don’t even much care for live streams. I don’t see the purpose of a workout being live streamed vs filmed and distributed. I understand the community aspect of feeling like you’re part of something, but I’m in lockdown with 2 kids and my partner. I don’t long for connection, i long for peace and quiet.

I didn’t understand the market I had created the app for. In order to create something special that people want to use, you need to understand their pain points, in order to fix them. Now i could have created a survey, annoyed all my friends and got feedback and the like to understand the market more, but I couldn’t escape this feeling that i just didn’t have the passion required to make something of this. I created this app for all the wrong reasons and i had to make a big decision. I was getting emails daily from people asking me to feature their streams. I was getting messages from friends saying how good the app is and how far it could go, and all i could think about was how i was going to have to break the news to everyone that the journey might be over before it ever really began.

Yours to keep

It took me a few days to decide what to do with the app. On the one hand i didn’t want to let the people down who believed in the app and were visiting the site every day, but on the other hand i have another business to run and it was also becoming abundantly clear that i wasn’t the right person to be running this app.

This was the first time i went all in on a side project of this scale. And i backed the wrong horse. I backed an idea that i didn’t have the time or passion to support. I had spent countless hours building an app that i was truly proud of, i created the brand identity and even started to grow a social following. The app had huge potential, and yet here i was deciding how to end it in the most tactful way.

My eventual decision was a tough one, but i had finally made my mind up. I’d leave the app to collect dust in a remote corner of the internet, while I write an article detailing all the mistakes i made in creating the app, and how to avoid those same mistakes yourselves. I decided i’d end the article with an announcement that i’m giving the entire business away (servers, code, social channels and all) to anyone with enough passion to make something of the app. All they have to do is leave a comment below if they are interested in breathing new life into the app and it’s theirs to keep. Generous, right?

You just can’t fake your ‘why’

So here we are at the end of that article and i guess all that’s left now is to tell you exactly what i did learn in all of this. So here it is, the nice proverbial bow that i wrap this all up in.

You can’t fake passion. You can’t fake your ‘why’. Your actions are far too connected to your beliefs to try to create something special on promise alone. We’ve all had that ‘million dollar idea’ moment after imagining a product / business idea. When you next have that idea, make sure you ask yourself if you’re the right person for the job. Interview yourself for the position. In this case, i interviewed for the position of CEO, when i only really had the passion required for the position of the developer. I should have fired myself long before today.

From the outside you could say that this was a failure… A waste of time… A pointless occurrence… A non-event… But this app wasn’t a failure to me. This was my playground. I learned more that you can possibly image in this build, I learned about myself, about other people, programming, marketing, and now, writing. I take all of that onto the next build. These failures are how we grow. Every mini failure creates a mini success in a future project, so i hope to keep on making mistakes until the day i die.

And what will my next project be? Who knows, maybe i’ll make something ready for when we all come out of lockdown (in a few weeks).

All i do know is, when I next decide to put something big out into the world, you can be damn sure it’s something i’m passionate about.

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