#69 Blood, Sweat and Crazy = Lessons from the iPhone Bike App (A Finalist for the Net Impact’s Force For Change 2011 Award)

I didn’t know a dang thing about how to develop an iPhone app last winter in 2011, when I was in my second year of MBA school at the University of Oregon. But I had an idea for an app people might like to use, and thought it would be awesome for our MBA student group to go ahead and make it. We had a ton of projects going on for clients and professors already. Why not do one more for us?

The app would be a social gamification tool used by bicyclists (like the Oregon MBAs) to calculate commuters’ miles biked and equate them with positive impacts like CO2 saved, trees producing fresh air, and money saved by not driving. I made the rounds talking with students, dev guys and other folks, turned out they also liked the idea. So we built a team, applied for a grant, created a business model and did a bunch of other stuff. Hence the Bike App. It’s been a long road, and it ain’t over yet.

With the Bike App, scheduled for release [update:] in summer 2012, it turned out that the toughest part of the project for us wasn’t designing the UI/UX, finding a great tech to write the code, or developing our business model. It was maneuvering development under mounds of administrative red tape…because grants given by a public university must follow strict state rules – 8% of the school’s budget comes from the state of Oregon. Here are a few other things we learned that are useful to know when embarking on a startup or new project:

Lesson #1 You don’t have to listen to the experts, even if they’re smart and you like them. 
Last winter, my expert digital strategy instructor, Dave Allen, mentioned that developing iPhone apps start at $50,000 at North–the Portland agency where he works. Yikes. I had about $3,000 in my development budget from our University of Oregon grant. Dave pretty much said I was crazy when I told him what I was doing, which was a fair assessment based on his expertise. Maybe he even said it couldn’t be done. The interesting thing about Dave saying that is, even though he’s now embedded as a neo-hipster digital strategist to the stars in Portland, his roots are literally English punk rock – he’s a punk rock star. His band is the 1970s-80s band Gang of Four: they were friends with others like Joy Division and the Sex Pistols. These were/are makers who don’t ask for permission to make their music, they didn’t need fancy equipment, academic training or complicated stagelighting, they found a way to create and produce with what they had  – and it turned out great for millions of fans, despite Malcolm McLaren in the case of the Sex Pistols. (Sidebar, I was lucky enough to see Gang of Four play in 2004 with the Pixies in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Awesome show, and awesome to later have Dave as an instructor in MBA school. Life is cool.)

The interesting link between startups and the 1970s punk rock ethic is it’s about trusting yourself, working with available resources, and not [always] taking the “experts'” opinions at face value. Do your due diligence, build a reliable team and push through to find a way to build your vision. Whether you’re a punk band recording your album on a 4-track in a bathroom, or you’re a bunch of amateurs trying to develop an iPhone app with no skills and little money, if you’ve got the energy and capacity, and you see demand for your creation, you find your way around the inevitable barriers and go for it.

Lesson #2 You might be crazy. Big deal. Just don’t be an A-hole. 
Word on the street is if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s good to be crazy. That idea is somewhat comforting because then you know who the crazy one is. (It’s you. Or it’s the whole team.) So you don’t have to waste time trying to figure that out.

Being a little nuts is ok, even useful because you have to be to take the kind of risks and leaps that entrepreneurs take. Sometimes I like to think of it being a little Evel Knieval day in and day out. You prepare, you gather a support team, then you get on your motorcycle and gun it over the canyon hoping you land on the other side. The good thing with startups is if it flops, you dust yourself off, smile, appreciate and thank your teammates, and learn from your mistakes, figure out the solution and do it all over again the next day.

So my “expert” advice to my future self and to others is create a good team, be ok with being a bit nuts, ignore experts [unless they have a good point] and go forth to build stuff that matters. Cool?

The Point Is

The point of this particular tale is, because we took chances and persisted with tenacity through roadblocks, the Bike App is a finalist in the 2011 Net Impact Force For Change Awards. Yes! High five team! If you’re one of the 20,000 Net Impact members, please get on the call and vote for our team. We’re presenting to judges Friday September 16 at 9am PST.

“It’s an honor just to be nominated.” And THANK YOU for everyone’s support thus far! Mr. Ryan Maloney for being the best dude ever, Mr. Dana M. — our incredibly talented developer, Cassidy Williams — our chapter president and “Go Big or Go Home” fearless leader, Steve Mital — UO Director of Sustainability, Chuck Williams — Oregon Tech Transfer, Tom Osdoba — Director of MBA Sustainability, Josh Skov — Good Company, Beth Hjelm — UO Professor of Strategy, Dr. Deb K. Morrison — UO Professor & Creative Director, Dave Allen — Digital Strategist at North, AND my awesome motley crue of friends who are also part of the original teams: Jaren May, Jaxon Love, Ryan Fiorentino, Nate Kalaf, Erin Malone, Nic Pedersen, Tracy Sagal, Tashi Dondup, Brian Oehler, Anders Isaacson, Irina Nap, Tiffany Yep, Emily Byrd, Lauren Schwartz. You guys are the best.