Our Journey

April 20th, 2012 by Kennedy

Last week was insane! Grade Spotter is the first iOS app I have launched for a profit. In this post I am going to take you along my personal journey of building this app. This will began with the idea and will end on the day we decided to launch. The idea originated from wondering why our favorite lunch spot, Grand Sichuan, had a "Grade Pending" in the window. A few weeks after initially asking ourselves, we decided to see if we could look it up somehow. What we found out was shocking. Quickly we discovered notes such as, "Live roaches present in facility's food" & "No facilities available to wash, rinse and sanitize utensils and/or equipment."

Week 1

12/08/11: I really learned about how important restaurant inspection grades are.

12/09/11: Rich and I had a brief talk about how great of an app this would be. We decided to build an iPhone app. We also decided to sell it for $0.99 and split profits 50/50.

Week 4

12/30/11: Start setting up the framework and trying to figure out how the imports will work. We started thinking of a name and decided that most of the good .com names available were no good, we went with a .co instead. NYC Grades was born with a domain from namecheap.com, hosting from mediatemple.net, gmail address and twitter handle. Started playing around with logos and colors. We wanted to keep it very simple and clean. We went with #ea512d as the primary color and Helvetica Neue for our typography.

12/31/11: Designed and built the coming soon landing page. Uploaded a shot to Dribbble. Figured that the next few weeks will be pretty busy, so we wrote up two pages of tweets for backups.

Week 5

01/01/12: Launched the coming soon landing page. We chose to use Campaign Monitor to collect email. Found out that our primary color is very close to the recently launched Pantone 2012 Color of The Year (Tangerine Tango #e24e3f). Worked on location search. 0 follows and 0 emails collected at the end of the day.

01/02/12: Before I even hit the 24 hour mark, I wanted to change the landing page. I started a few sketches of another site with the mix of a coming soon page and the final site. I really want to show off how beautiful our app will be. I also want to focus on the headline and copy. 3 follows and 1 emails collected.

01/03/12: Decided to hold off on redesigning another landing page and focus on building some wireframes. After spending a few minutes in Balsamic and talking to Rich, we decided we should just take our rough idea into Photoshop. We completed a pretty detailed layout of the home screen. We are both happy with it. 6 follows and 3 emails collected.

01/04/12: After sleeping on what we did yesterday, we are still happy with the design. We start to build the internal pages for each restaurant. 6 follows and 3 emails collected.

01/05/12: After building the restaurant pages, we decided to redesign the home page. Our current debate is whether to have a map on the restaurant page; we have agreed to have it on there for now. After redesigning the home page, we now have the urge to improve on the restaurant pages. 7 follows and 3 emails collected.

01/06/12: Worked on the home page and brought it up to speed with the restaurant pages. 7 follows and 4 emails collected.

01/07/12: Pitched the idea to my good friend Justin, then showed him the current UI. He didn’t really understand it at first. After about an hour of talking about ideas and possibilities, he really helped with the feedback. He also thought of a little marketing copy that I plan on using for the app store and future pitches. I changed the color of the Nav Bar from a light blue fabric, to the original orange. I also decided to reduce the size of the map on the restaurant page to a small thumbnail. The biggest issue of the UX so far is trying to properly display the graded and ungraded sections. I think I have found a solution that works for now. The main problem I have with it though is too much white space. Overall I feel like we are headed in the right direction. I also wanted to add some kind of information button to help the users better understand the rhymes and reasons of the NYC laws. 7 follows and 4 emails collected.

Week 6

01/08/12: Spent most of the day working on the restaurant page. Made a lot of little changes to pretty much everything. Carried over those details to the home screen. Changed the icon to reflect the Nav Bar’s new details. This is the best I have felt about this design since I started. I posted the screenshot of the restaurant page to both Forrst & Dribbble and received some pretty positive feedback. 6 follows and 5 emails collected.

01/09/12: Today we decided it would be a good idea to start actually writing down the cost of this app. We talked about which name it should go under for the developer in app store. We decided to put it under Kennedy’s Garage. I am not happy with the current landing page, but cannot come up with a better solution. Started looking for beta testers. 7 follows and 7 emails collected.

01/10/12: We figured we would take a break from the app for a day to clear our thoughts. 7 follows and 7 emails collected.

01/11/12: Today we found out about NYC Big Apps 3.0 from a discussion on Forrst. We decided to work this weekend and have something workable by Monday. We have 14 days left to submit our app to the Big Apps. Because of the rules we have to change the pricing model to free. We discussed putting ads in the app during this free period, we also talked about maybe just getting a sponsor. It is a tough decision as we don’t want to give away our hard work for free. We are planning on changing the restaurant layout a bit. We are going to show the latest grade first, then show a list of graded & ungraded sorted by date of inspection. I have sliced up the home page and restaurant page so Rich can start putting all the pieces together. 7 follows and 9 emails collected.

01/12/12: I finally found a vision for the website, a lot of it is inspired by the look & feel of the iPhone app and NYC Big Apps requirements. I built this new website browser first, skipped Photoshop as I had most of the colors and textures already made for the app. 8 follows and 12 emails collected.

01/13/12: Added more content to the new website and adjusting the copy. 8 follows and 12 emails collected.

Week 7

01/16/12: NYC Restaurant Week started today and we decided to write an test article that put all the restaurants in a list sorted by the grades they have received. We found this to be a fun and practical exercise to test the tools we have built. 8 follows and 12 emails collected.

01/17/12: We had a lot debate about if we should be involved in NYC Big Apps and if we would make the deadline. We decided to withdraw from the event. We are looking at this from a business standpoint and not just a hackathon opportunity. From day two of this idea we set a price on this app. We are in it for the money and we don’t believe in giving our app away for free for a year. We also don’t want to rush our work to the point of just being another shitty app. 9 follows and 12 emails collected.

01/18/12: We are about finished with the site, but need some copy editing. Rich’s wife pitches in and help out with that part. There is still a lot of room for improvement in the site, but it is better than the simple landing page we have now. We also decided to publicly announce that we are withdrawing from NYC Big Apps. 8 follows and 12 emails collected.

01/19/12: We launched our new landing page. 8 follows and 14 emails collected.

Week 9

01/30/12: We have been trying to come up with a new name for a few weeks now. We have decided on "Grade Spotter". I have been building a list of names, mostly crappy and asking everyone I know what they thought. I spoke with @SagarHatekar for 5 seconds and he suggested the name and it was perfect (and available). This is what we call karma, last week he just launched an Android app called OpenPaths. I volunteered to help this random stranger I met on Twitter with some debugging. Now in return I have an awesome name that I have been beating my head against the wall trying to think of. We moved the current site to the new name and put a redirect on the old domain. We also grabbed a new twitter and gmail address. Because of this we are back down to zero followers. I start working on a new logo for the name and it comes to me pretty quick, which is exciting. We have talked in the past about do a web app and we decided that we will start building one. We have decided that this web app would be free. 0 follows and 17 emails collected.

01/31/12: Now that we have a new name and a new identity we decided to reevaluate the overall look of the iPhone and website. I started to sketch out some rough sketches for the new landing page and took it into Photoshop. I am pretty happy with the new direction. 3 follows and 17 emails collected.

02/01/12: Started to rebuild the website with the new design. For the foundation we used HTML5 Boiler Plate & Twitter's Bootstrap. 3 follows and 17 emails collected.

02/02/12: We recreated the new logo so it was more symmetric, then applied it across all the accounts. Also finished up the new assets for the iPhone, including the new icon. I feel like we are getting so good traction from the feedback over twitter and in person. Right now the plan is to launch the new website and iPhone app as soon as they are ready. 4 follows and 20 emails collected.

02/03/12: Rich started to add a lot of the new images into the app. we are still playing around with the new icon, but I think we have it at a solid place. Worked more on the website and I have made a decision that I am going redo the HTML/CSS, hand coded this time. I now feel Twitter Boostrap should be left for rapid prototyping only. Don't get me wrong I think it is a very valuable project for the development community, just not for me. 5 follows and 21 emails collected.

Week 10

02/06/12: Worked some more on the new website. I feel that we should launch it because it is better then what we have, but yet it still far from being where it should be. 5 follows

02/07/12: The app is pretty much finished at this point. The more I look at it, the more I want to make improvements to the UI, such as tonight I recreated the navbar and buttons to make them a little more realistic and give them a little life. 5 follows

02/08/12: I hate the current site that I have designed. I always do this when starting a project with no content or real copy. I find after I create a few I have a better understand each time on the direction. This method is probably not the best use of my time, but sometimes it is a necessity.

Week 11

02/12/12: Started to build a new site for when we launch. I am much happier with this design...for now. 6 follows and 25 emails collected.

02/13/12: So this time I was not happy with the current landing page. I redesigned it to reflect the concept I came up with yesterday. I felt that the page was trying too hard and it had too much information on the page. I want to keep the page simple, like the app. We decided to create a Facebook page today, no direction yet, but reserved the name. And the most exciting news of the day is we now might be adding Kristina St. Peter to our team to help out with PR. We also had our first real interaction on Twitter with a stranger, nice to meet you @nevertoomuch. It is funny how stupid this sounds, but I feel that it is still very important. 6 follows, 1 like, and 25 emails collected.

02/14/12: Everyone please give a big hello to Kristina St. Peter, our newest team member! We are super excited to have her aboard. We also figured we would start a google plus page. 7 follows, 5 likes, 1 circle and 26 emails collected.

Week 12 - 17

Some personal things the both of us needed to take care of. We worked on and off during these weeks.

Week 18

03/29/12: Submitted the app to apple. 12 follows, 10 likes, and 35 emails collected.

Week 19

04/05/12: Apple approved. We have decided to launch Sunday night. 13 follows, 13 likes, and 36 emails collected.

04/06/12: Decided that I better have a website. I crank out the current design in a half a day.

Week 20

04-09-12: The day we launch. Because today was so crazy I figured I would put a little more details into it.

12:30am - We have launched! We whipped up a quick newsletter to send out to the beta sign up emails, then we sent it. Thinking about it now, we should have waited until later this morning. This way it doesn’t look like we are trying to undercut the press. On that note we won’t send out anything on Twitter or Facebook until later in the morning. Krisitna has made an awesome press release and she is writing up the email to send out for reviews. I also just launched the new site, which I also should have done before sending out that newsletter. Kristina just sent out some email to a list of contacts for people to review the app. I forgot after sending out all of these email, I didn’t have the press kit available to download online. Quickly got that up.

08:00am - First thing I do is check my email...nothing but the typical shit. I thought I would check Twitter to see if anything was mentioned via the search term “Grade Spotter” and I am surprised that there 15 tweets sent out about it, but they all look like auto generated rss feed tweets for new apps.

09:45am - I have submitted links on Reddit and Hacker News.

12:00pm - Posted a link on Forrst, used some acorns to buy 5,100 impressions.

12:30pm - Watching my Google Anaytics Real-Time and it is pretty exciting to see the flow come in. Overall really excited for how everything is going

1:00pm - “Facebook to Acquire Instagram for $1 Billion” is the headline everywhere. Right now I feel completely fucked. I probably choose the worse day to launch a new app.

1:15pm - Fuck, fuck fuck!

2:00pm - Number 90 in top paid apps for reference.

3:00pm - Feeling really lucky to have such an awesome community such as Hacker News, Reddit, and Forrst to provide honest and extremely helpful feedback. I just hit 500 followers on my personal twitter account.

6:00pm - The day seems to be dying down a little. Can’t wait to see all the data for today.

19 follows, 15 likes

I just wanted to give a special thanks to Rich, Kristina, and my wife for helping me build an awesome product.

Please join the conversation on Hacker News.