for a fitness gaming app.
Some Information has been obscured to protect intellectual Property.
ACT I: The Pivot
Creating and launching your own app has never been easier than today.
We have freelance developers on Toptal, Fivverr or Upwork and we also have recognized development firms who are willing to work with solo entreprenuers with just a great idea or early stage startups who don't want to take on the risk of vetting and hiring developers.
I have always fallen in the camp of scrappy startups where every task and project should be DIY with two to three guys of complementary skillsets: design, programming, business respectively. This time I had consulted a product design firm and pretty soon I realized that I neeed more money to build a prototype with functional features. If I didn't have enough money it meant the prototype that would missing key features and be only a demonstration magic show for investors. This was not what I wanted.
I decided that maybe I should cancel my flight out to the firm in Idaho and rethink competing against established players in the wearables space.
However, after the Eureka moment to pivot from building hardware into.. It finally dawned on me. Hardware is expensive. Software is expensive.
Why not build something that cannot be snatched or replicated by competitors.
I was about to spend hundreds of hours and dollars in building a prototype that has no guarantee of ever having a successful demo session in front of investors.
There was too much uncertainty clouding my vision as I bit in the McChicken sitting across from Eric, the industrial designer, who built all of the Titan Link 3D renders.
We were having our bi-monthly meeting to catch up and talk design. I had just proposed an alternative route.
"Eric, I have been thinking. I lack all of these limited resources and most of all the expertise to oversee development of the Titan Link. Do you think, it's a good idea to forget about hardware and just focus on building software?"
He answered with a quick "yeah, you should just build software first"
I walked out with such peace and gratitude for Eric.
Although all of those hours poured into getting Kickstarter backers riled up for a fitness wearable would be flushed down to oblivion, I felt a sense of renewed clarity and vigor. Software was more so my domain where I could control the cards that are played and design the app to a certain feature set and aesthetic that fit my vision.
ACT II: Enter the Developers
It didn't take long to find a team I meshed well with. At one point I had over 30 tabs of prospective development firms opened in my web browser. I decided to hunker down and use ratings on Clutch to drive my decision. I was also seeking for a comfortable budget. Any firm that charged over $80/hour would be eliminated.
After speaking to multiple reps over the phone, it was clear that some firms were out for a big buck, some firms were skeptical of the feasibilty of Exantra, others questioned if I had a business plan and a team to secure funding since they predicted Exantra would be projected that would inevitably exceed my budget by 4 fold. They were talking hundreds of thousands if not 100k at least. Why? They reasoned it was the fact that the app had elements of a "game" in it.
What I needed was not the dissuasion due to cost. Money is a commodity, it can be moved around and acquired. I needed the signals of empathy, support and a willingness to work with a passionate entrepreneur who was not going to take "yes, of course" or "maybe but its' going to cost more than you can take" for an answer.
I needed to know they would help me launch and get traction, not take my money and leave me in the dust with something half built.
After searching a week, I found myself speaking with a Russian woman over the phone. She said their estimates were 99% accurate and their rates were competitive.
"How competitive?" I asked.
"65 per hour." She replied.
Browsing through their portfolio with a good feeling, one of their clients rang a bell. I had just watched Google's 2016 demo before and lo and behold the winner of the tournament was their very own client.
Fast foward a couple months I had locked in and had grown into the mold of their team. They are based overseas in Russia but their lack of language is compensated by a keen sense of startup strategy and a strong affinity towards Exantra's vision. They themselves could be potential users they said.
ACT III: The Build
Being the sole owner of Exantra for few years, I have been designing assets and feature sets and have witnessed how quickly they can change due to feedback climate.
Even just working with this development firm, Exantra has been through a couple of iterations.
2017 June v1
This first iteration had its features fixed around the Exercise Loop: Cue, Exercise, Reward, Growth. The User Journey was intended to be short and to the point.
The Exercise system was a comprehensive tracker that allowed you to not only keep tabs on your Heart Rate but also perform meticulous exercise documentation with audio notes and reps/sets tracking.
During our testing at the gym, we realized that landscape mode would hinder our gymers from drinking water, wicking sweat, holding weights with a free hand.
Portrait mode would allow for multi-tasking. We had to return to the drawing board and reorient the UI.
2017 September v3
In this Iteration, we began designing for production. All of the assets would be final and prepped for development. Everything from Sign Up/Registration to Player Customization to Workout UI had to be designed on the learnings we've made in the past 3 months.
Once the final sketch files were sent over, the development team began their magic.
During development, a constant line of communication between the Project Manager, Oleg, and me was crucial for clarification of designs. Userflow diagrams were the golden standard of design/dev communication.
With this tool, can see button links, behaviors and screen mapping when Invision prototypes fall short.
By Feburary, the final build for Alpha was completed and we were ready to target customers with a Kickstarter Campaign and Marketing Tactics. During this transition, I met my co-founder, DS at a Starbucks, who quickly fell in love with the project and decided to collaborate on making this Kickstarter campaign a success.
After a month of Pre-lead generation with Nuuk Digital, a marketing firm, we were able to launch and raise over $18,000 of runway from 820+ early adopters. Some of which would volunteer as our Alpha testers.
Determined to upgrade the look of our game to compensate for the lack of animations and gameplay depth, we ended up derailing into a detour for a couple of months on auxiliary features and redesigns.
As a result, my redesigns never saw the light of day for the hope of launching sooner and lowering our development costs.
"Fancy visuals will come at a price: higher dev costs. A product manager needs to weigh the net benefit of redesigns against iterating sooner and learning faster."
Closed Beta Build
As of Late
Exantra World has just wrapped its Alpha Test with 20 Alpha testers who have discovered numerous bugs and flaws of our tracking system, namely, the compatibility feature with wearables.
With this learning, Exantra Team is fundamentally changing the way the game communicates with popular wearables and circumnavigating Apple Health in order to allow a wider selection of wearables to work with the game. This was a highly requested feature by our early adopters.
Now the team is building Exantra World's Closed Beta aiming for a Fall release. Whether or not the game is considered successful and desirable in the hands of its beta users, will be up to the learnings and lean practices employed by Exantra Team.