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Three surprising lessons I learnt on the journey from idea to app

Rivers Rainey is a Vend alumni who worked in recruitment. He has since branched out on his own and create a start-up called Chatif.ai, which builds chatbots for companies' career pages. Here, he details what the journey was like making an idea a reality in the form of an app, as well as the experience he had teaching himself to code. 

After seven years in recruitment, you see where automation can help you focus on the most human parts of the process, so I experimented with some different approaches and found the most success with a fun culture quiz and a chatbot for our careers page. After it caught the attention of others in the industry, I learned to code and set to work on building a platform where recruiters could easily create chatbots of their own to engage and qualify candidates.

The result was Chatif.ai (pronounced Chatify), which last week opened to the first fifty companies on our waitlist. So as we move into the next exciting phase of the journey, here are my takeaways from making a business idea into an actual application.

1. The worst decision is no decision

It's hard to nail down a choices like the look, feel and technical architecture of your app, what features to focus on immediately and what goes on the roadmap etc. What's even harder is committing to those choices.

This alone pushed the release date back months after I had let everyone know to expect access. You want it to be perfect, but when in perfectionist mode, it never will be.

"It's like fashion... it's never complete" - great line from the movie The Social Network

What worked for me

  1. Creating a list of absolutely necessary features for the 'minimum viable product', plus a few extras that give your platform a sprinkle of that pixie dust to stand out from the rest. All other cool ideas (and you'll have hundreds!) – go to the post-release roadmap.
  2. Creating a deadline for decisions: "By Thursday 2PM I will have settled on a page layout". This is actually very liberating, as it frees you to move on from something after the deadline.

2. It's just you up there.

Hollywood montages paint a glamorous, quick reward path – they start doing the thing, and they reach the goal of the thing. Though it's the part in between where the story is made. The support of your partner, friends, family and fellow enthusiasts in your craft is immeasurably motivating and infinitely appreciated, though through the longest stretches... it's you and a dream.

Hardly unexpected though... So why is it on the list? For myself and everyone I've spoken to who has created something on their own, it can surprise you with just how isolating it can be at times.

No more yarning with colleagues, working in an office, or just being around work in general. Staying motivated and on track becomes it's own very real challenge.

Different things work for different people, but personally I found any type of forced motivation (talks, music, stories) to be a false reward system. I would find myself envisioning the end product, feeling hyped and happy about all that work I was going to smash through tomorrow.

What worked for me

  1. Setting daily goals. I decided to forget feeling motivated and upbeat about doing it, just that I had to complete certain things each day. This way even when the product was months away from completion – I would feel that I had done all I could each day to reach it.
  2. Getting input and help from others where possible. Chatting about what you are up to is helpful on it's own, even explaining it to a rubber duck is a real programming method.

3) Learning to code is both easier and harder than you think

10 percent of the time in the first few months feels like being a wizard, and it's that 10 percent that keeps you plowing through the other 90 percent of the time, which involves wondering if you are an ape that was taught to think it was a person.

This eventually swings the other way, but make no mistake – it can be very, very tough in the beginning when a simple explanation feels like it may as well be written in French.

Due to the above, a lot of people shy away from dabbling in the field as it can be intimidating to approach... Though anyone truly can pick it up. The main skill is not maths but patience and perseverance, and it is one of the most powerful skills to learn in this age.

What worked for me

  1. Online resources. I started with codecademy, which goes through the basics step-by-step, before moving onto YouTube videos and books. You'll also find that any problem you run into has happened before on Stack Overflow
  2. Ask developers in your network for help. This was hugely helpful when I felt well and truly stumped, or needed an explanation for something. If you don't know any, I'd be happy to pay it forward and help.

This was originally published on LinkedIn

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