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We learned about Brian Watson from the inspiring story he posted on Medium called "How BuyMePizza.net Launched in a Week". It's a great story about how he turned a terrible personal experience into a way to help others.
We loved how he used Balsamiq to whip up a quick design and uncover any "blind spots" in it (in this case a moderator login, about page and contact page).
I chatted with Brian and immediately picked up his contagious, positive energy. I'm not surprised that he was able to launch his clever do-gooder project in only a week. He credits his move to Hawaii for it, but it's hard for me to imagine that it wasn't there, dormant perhaps, all along.
He's got some great lessons to share. Read on!
I work in the industry of injecting happiness in people’s lives one pizza slice at a time. I’m the founder of BuyMePizza Inc, a place (buymepizza.net) where strangers can vent their crummy day or just beg for pizza by posting their story and choosing a store that would put a smile on their face if they were to receive a gift card from, and then other strangers can come in and buy the post author a gift card and then win prizes like cash or BuyMePizza gear! It’s all about that pay it forward and aloha mentality, connecting the do-gooders with the down and out. We want people to feel good and do good.
I’m really just excited to have people help people. We had this story about this girl who couldn’t get the kids she was babysitting to agree on anything. She was strapped for cash (hence the babysitting job), so she posted on buymepizza.net, 20 minutes later had a Domino’s Pizza gift card in her inbox from some kind hearted stranger. She posted some pics on Instagram of the kids chomping on pizza with smiles on their faces. Who doesn’t love that?!
With all the craziness we see in the news everyday, it’s nice to send a little aloha to each other and just remember that there is good out there in the world - lots of it! We’re just getting started and we’re getting lots of great stories and posts - kids who want to gain weight for football season asking for pizza gift cards, kids who need new shoes for running asking for Nike gift cards, a guy who got sold an empty propane tank and couldn’t grill out for his date asking for a Chili’s gift card, an exhausted mom with six kids who finally had a night off without the kids and she didn’t want to cook so she was asking the world for a Papa John’s gift card. Personally, I’ve been there. Life is tough!
Let’s lift each other up. These are real people with real issues who could use a helping hand from someone, anyone!
Plan. So many times I’ve been involved in projects where people have an idea and they want to approach it bull-in-the-china-shop style where they skip planning and jump straight into execution. It’s even easier to fall into this pitfall if you’re working on a project alone! The plan is in your head, right? Wrong. Plan!
Put your design on paper and see how it looks. Are you missing anything? Where are your blind spots? Make a project plan! Write down the steps it will take to get you from point A to point B. I bet you’ll find out that the one little feature you thought was going to be a cool simple add-on is actually a pretty involved process. Plan for downstream iterations of the product!
Planning is something I overlooked for a long time. You wouldn’t jump in your car and start driving down the road with no idea of where you’re going with hopes of arriving at your tropical beach hotel destination. Nope, you’d make a lot of wrong turns. But with a plan in your hand and a roadmap of how to get there life becomes very, very easy. Same goes for work, projects, startups and everything in between.
Get close to your screen. Cover one eye. Fixate the uncovered eye on this plus sign. No, really focus on it. Now slowly move away from the screen until the black dot disappears. Congrats, we just discovered your blind spot! This is exactly what Balsamiq does for me. In the process of taking on a new project, iteration, or update, I go straight to Balsamiq to start getting my ideas mapped out. Nine times out of nine, I’ll construct a mock up and say to myself, “something’s missing”. And just like that, I’ve uncovered my blind spot.
BuyMePizza was thought up and the first iteration went from zero to launch in one week. I spent a solid day planning, some of which included designing. I had my goal set at one week from the get-go for BuyMePizza.net to launch, so I had to keep my initial wireframe pretty simple:
It was great! I had something short and sweet I could export to a pdf and shoot over to my dev friends in Slack and get a quick thumbs up / thumbs down and get some feedback, some of which I took to heart, some I planned for next iterations. My favorite piece of feedback was, “it would look cool if it had a dorky background”. And check it out, it turned out looking a lot like the mock-up, dorky background and all!
Also, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I was a research program manager for a large agriculture company (GMOs anyone?). It was always a nightmare to build a new system where we were connecting scientists who wanted software to see and manage their data with dashboards and panels. Developer teams would collect requirements and get to work. When developers came back and showed what they made, scientists would say, "well, that’s not what I thought it would look like".
This happened so much so that we actually implemented a month's worth of “reiteration time” into all of our projects. The solution, Balsamiq Mockups. We injected a week's worth of up front vision sharing workshops where team members would gather and hash out their vision for the new tools. Everyone ends up with a shared vision and purpose for the project, and we save 3 weeks of that “reiteration time”. Win-win.
Just keep doing what you’re doing. I’m constantly impressed by the things Balsamiq can do. I do wish I could change the color of some text in an element like a table but not all of it, but I’ve got a work around for that. I’m going to keep pushing it to my friends and my teams. It’s a fantastic product.
I think people should take the time to do a tiny bit of research on the products they’re using. The fact that Balsamiq is a bootstrapped company from one guy's dream of pushing plugin desktop software that has flourished in to an amazing little SaaS with 25 or so employees is amazing. Using Balsamiq is the equivalent of ‘buying local’ these days. It’s not big box or one size fits all, it’s mom-and-pop-esque, and what’s great about mom-and-pops? Individualized attention to customers needs and expectations.
Have you ever had a trip that just completely changes your outlook on life? Back in 2012, I was a fresh grad from a Master's program in Molecular Biology and I was interviewing all over the place. Iowa, Delaware, North Carolina, Northern California, Southern California, and everywhere in between. I had two set up for Hawaii. It was my first time flying over an ocean for an extended period of time and I can't tell you how nervous I was.
But, when I stepped off the plane and smelled the plumeria on the breeze - That was it. I knew I was going to call Hawaii home after that. It gets in your skin. I ended up taking a job on Kaua'i and never looked back! They say "If you come here, don't ask how you can change the island, but be open and let the island change you". The island kindled my inner adventurist for sure - jogging trails in a canyon with my dog 3000 feet up, jumping off cliffs and waterfalls, learning to surf and SUP surf, holding my breath for a few minutes while navigating through the colorful hidden world under the ocean.
But, the thing I love most is that 'aloha mentality'. The westside Kaua'i community that I settled down in was like taking a step through a time warp back to a simpler time. One where neighbors cared about one another, where aunties at church pinch and kiss your face every week and then cook an amazing Filipino fellowship meal, where the men in the neighborhood want to know about you and set the bar really high on what the standards of being a good man are. Everyone looks out for everyone else and I love that.
I can't tell you how many times I've stopped by a neighbor's house to drop off some lobster I've dived for only to find a fresh ahi steak on my steps (on ice) from the deep sea fisher up the road, or some fresh pork from the guy who hunts wild pig with his kids and dogs down the street. People helping other people out - not because they have to or feel obligated to do so - because they genuinely want to. Sometimes you wonder why people do nice things like that when you know they’ve got three generations of mouths to feed in their home.
That's what inspires me.
When it comes to the aloha mentality I think of people making positive impacts on people's lives, fostering dreams, preservation of the beautiful world we live in, and keeping it pono, yeah? I think a lot about startups in Hawaii and how wonderful of an environment it is for startups. Talk about a melting pot of people and a gateway to the Eastern world. I think Blue Startups invests in some cool things, but for me I like to think about the companies that are creating things to help people, not necessarily to make money.
Think about crowdfunding and Kickstarter (which we'll have a project launching on soon!) for instance. Yes, they're making money and getting by JUST FINE. But, at the core, it's a great place for people to give flight to other people's dreams and also get a little reward out of it. BuyMePizza is the same at its core! I mean, we're a crowdfunding space too! Instead of funding people's dreams and startups, we're funding their pizza craving.
I realize not everyone is like me and will go out and run 6 miles so I don't feel guilty smashing half a pizza later that night. That's why it's not all pizza - for instance, we had a kid need some new shoes for track and he was requesting that someone buy him a Nike gift card. BuyMePizza is just the first of many cool ‘aloha mentality’ projects I want to tackle. Onward and upward!
Brian! Thank you for being a model of "pono" and sharing your stories with us!
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