How to build an app in 48 hours
Last weekend, I rounded up 35 people from my coworking space with the mission to build an app in just one weekend. And we absolutely nailed it.
One of the things I love about coworking spaces is that you have this incredibly rich mix of talent, all huddled together in one place. Architects working next to programmers, sat next to graphic designers, going for coffee breaks with copywriters. And we’re all there doing our own thing, trying to make enough money to survive, because we decided to ditch our regular jobs and try and make it on our own.
That said, the term “coworking” always makes me laugh. The thought of us all actually working together is terrifying. Yeah, forming professional connections with one or two people is great, but imagine if we all sat down and actually tried working together! 😱 All those egos and disparate work ethics and differences of opinions and a fundamental lack of managerial authority. It sounds like hell.
Or does it?
At the start of January, fresh from 2 weeks holiday and ready to start a new year of hard work, I made a proposal to my fellow coworkers at Betahaus Barcelona. “Who wants to build an app in 48 hours?”. The idea is to pool together all our creativity and talent (regardless of which field you come from) to build an app from scratch, and have it ready for launch before bed on Sunday night.
I made a few rules clear:
We would be building an app FROM SCRATCH in one weekend. That means no getting a head-start by starting before the weekend. And that means we launch with whatever we have at the end of Sunday. No exceptions.
We would be touching on every point of the app-building process. That means coming up with a concept, fleshing it out into a fully-defined proposal, defining wireframes and data models, creating all the necessary content and copy, coding the app (with a backend too), setting up a website, and creating a wealth of marketing materials.
The event was open to anyone — regardless of your professional background. I don’t care if you’re a freelance toilet cleaner, everyone is welcome.
The response was mind-blowing. More than 50 people signed up, and the whole space was buzzing with excitement about a chance to see how we could possibly make this happen.
So, logistically, pulling something like this off was always going to be a complete nightmare. I run Gorilla Arm, a small app development agency in Barcelona, churning out apps for our clients with our team of 8 incredibly talented developers and designers (love you guys 😉). App development is suited to small teams, so anything more than 4 or 5 on the project can be a bunch of hard-work and it becomes exponentially more difficult as you add more people.
But I had faith in my coworkers. Firstly they’re a talented and passionate bunch of people. And I know they all work super hard. On top of that they tend to do pretty much anything I ask them to (including hiking up one of Catalunya’s highest mountains which nearly killed a couple of them).
Saturday morning. 10am. First things first, EVERYONE was on time (apart from you Attiya). I’m not even kidding. These guys were keen. About 35 people showed up, and we started with a quick briefing.
I had 3 rules to lay out which were super important:
Keep it simple. We only have 2 days, so don’t expect this app to change the world. Every feature we try to add will make it harder for us to achieve our goal.
Learn something new. You want to know how to wireframe an app? Sit with the designers. Never coded a backend before? Hang with the developers. Ever wondered how to write a press release? Get involved with the marketing team. This event is as much about learning new skills as it is about working hard in what you know.
Be creative. Let’s see if we can build something unique and interesting and fun and useful and awesome. So don’t hold back.
We started by working on an idea for the concept (a process that I capped to one hour maximum) during which time we brainstormed some ideas. We decided to make a game (based somewhat on the awesome game Reigns) where the player is asked to make decisions about their life with the goal of dying happy and fulfilled. Please note: this was not how the final app turned out, but I guess that’s all part of the magic of this kind of event.
I split the squad into 3 teams: Programmers (we had 9), Designers (6) and Content Creators (all the rest). Without deadlines this whole weekend would fail miserably, so I tasked them all with some initial targets to achieve before lunch and we got to work.
Before long we had the whole concept fully defined, post-it note wireframes on the walls, a server up-and-running, and illustrations flooding out of the designer’s iMacs. There was a buzz of excitement as each team presented what they had achieved and we carried on working until late in the night.
I left most teams to work on their own, mostly just hopping between them to make sure they weren’t going crazy. Creatives have a tendency to overcomplicate things (especially when they’ve never worked with developers or designers before) but with a some gentle persuasion (i.e. repeatedly shouting “KEEP IT SIMPLE” to them) we managed to keep everything moving nicely along.
Favourite moment: I particularly liked when the content team gathered us all around to excitedly announce the name of the app. As Eduardo Forte declared “The app will be called Toilet Joy I shook my head in disbelief and sent them back to the drawing board.
Least favourite moment: Having to ask Rouli Diamantopoulou to design a 5th brand identity for the app because the name kept changing. Guys, make your minds up!
The energy in the room was incredible. I’ve never seen so many people working so hard. And having so much fun. By 8pm most of the content creators were drunk (which definitely helped add some humour to the game) and by 9pm we hit our Day 1 Target to have a working prototype of the app! 💪🏼 At this point we closed our laptops, ordered pizza, got even more drunk (so much so I fell asleep in the middle of the party) and called it a night.
Day 2 was completely different. The entire team all arrived by 11am (despite the hangovers), but instead of the frantic energy of Day 1, everyone was focussed 100% on getting the app finished. By this point we had all realised two things: that this was going to be an amazing project, and that we had a tonne of work left to do. At one point during the day the entire room was in total silence as people eagerly tapped away at their laptops writing code, designing screens, creating content or writing press materials.
As different teams started to wrap up their work, people began to leave, and as always it is the programmers who are left at the end, perfecting their code and pulling together everything that had been created that weekend into one fully-functioning piece of art. I demanded that we are all out of the building by midnight, and at 11:45pm we finished everything we could, and uploaded the apps to the App Store and Play Store.
I never, not even for one second, expected us to achieve so much in 2 days. The creativity of the concept; the hilarious situations written by the content creators; the jaw-dropping graphic design and illustrations; the seamless and bug-free code; a beautiful website; press material like I’ve never seen before; slick animations; and that promo video! I’m still in shock right now thinking about just how far we managed to take this in what was really just 25 hours in the office working.
Without any shadow of a doubt, working with these guys is one of my greatest pleasures. I love managing teams of passionate, hard-working and talented people. And this lot never once complained, never once made it difficult and delivered an outstanding product which they should all be incredibly proud of.
For me, this is the definition of “coworking”. Not sharing a space with other freelancers and occasionally working on a project with one other person. No. It’s about bringing people together, all kinds of people, and seeing what we can achieve when we pool our talents. Add a little time-pressure into the mix and the whole things becomes a lot more interesting.
CEO of Gorilla Arm - Mobile App Hotshots.