How to Build a Web App in Four Days for $ 10,000 (Say Hello to Matt) – TechCrunch

In this article, guest author Ryan Carson reviews some of the lessons learned from building a web application in four days. Carson is the co-founder of Carsonified, an online store in Bath, UK. They’ve created four web apps, created ThinkVitamin.com, and hosted events like Future of Web Apps. If you are bored, you can follow Ryan on Twitter.


The time required to design, build, and deploy web applications is steadily decreasing, especially with frameworks like Django, Rails, and Symfony. With that in mind, we decided to go the extra mile and try to launch a web app in 32 hours. Four crazy days later, Matt was born.

The app we created is a simple tool that allows you to post to multiple Twitter accounts. We learned a lot during the experience, so I’d like to share some of those lessons with you.

How we did it

We have a team of nine people distributed as follows:

  • Two developers
  • A front-end designer / developer
  • Two bloggers
  • A writer
  • Three people in public relations

I would say you only need three people if you want to keep it to a minimum, which would look like this:

  • A developer
  • A front-end designer / developer
  • A blogger / public relations person

Our app was built in Python using Django and is hosted at WebFaction. He uses the Twitter API, Git and Codebase for version control.

How much did it cost?

At a basic level, it cost us a week’s wages (about $ 10,000). There are other small costs that I don’t include like rent, electricity, coffee and taxes. We got the hosting for free due to a connection we have with the company, but if you paid for it you can expect to pay no more than $ 400 for the first month (for a simple app ).

Team building

Building a web app quickly isn’t only a great idea if you need to get your idea to market quickly, but it’s also a great way to boost team morale.

You don’t need to create a whole new app to benefit from this idea. You may actually take some time to work on a new feature or a new direction for your current application.

There are some serious benefits to taking away from your normal work and producing something totally new and creative:

  1. The best boost you can give yourself or your team is to give yourself time to be creative. Turning off your phones and emails and just focusing on something new and exciting will do wonders for your energy level.
  2. It could generate incredible buzz around you and your business or products.
  3. You will come back to your current projects with a new outlook and renewed energy.
  4. This will push your team to learn new skills. For example, Will, our sponsor relations manager, spent the whole week doing public relations – something new to him.

Tips for working wisely

Here are some tips you should keep in mind if your focus is on building apps fast:

  1. Limit meetings to a 10-minute conversation in the morning and a 10-minute wrap-up at the end of each day. Meetings are the best way to kill productivity and crush creativity, so keep it short.
  2. Keep people away from their machines at lunch. Go to lunch together and maybe have a frisbee or some Wii. The excitement and creativity will quickly deteriorate if you don’t take a break during the day.
  3. Simplify the site and the application as much as possible. Try to launch with only “Home”, “Help” and “About”.
  4. Make sure you’re basing yourself on a great framework like Rails, Symfony, Django, or Objective-J. Part of our experience was playing around with Django and comparing it to Rails and Symfony (a PHP framework). We found that Django lacked the rigor of Rails or Symfony, and therefore might not be an ideal choice for future projects.
  5. Go with the first logo idea and your designer’s color scheme. You shouldn’t over-analyze how everything looks, as this process can go on indefinitely. Design the logo and move on. That’s why you need to hire good designers and trust them to be good at what they do.
  6. Be technologically agnostic. If your developers say it should be built in a certain language and framework and they have good reason, trust them and move on. Again, it’s about hiring smart people and getting out of their way.
  7. Coordinate how your designers and developers are going to work together. Our designer creates static HTML and then feeds it to developers who use HTML as the basis for creating templates. These models are then validated in a Git repository and from that moment on, the whole team works from this repository.
  8. It is not enough to have a designer and a developer. You need a dedicated person who focuses only on getting your application out there and working to gain media coverage. There’s no way to get the kind of coverage for Matt that we’re hoping to get without several of us working on it full time. However, do not Hire a PR agency for this – there has to be a real passion for the app that can only come from your team. (For example, I asked TechCrunch to cover it, and Erick came back with the suggestion to write this article).
  9. Get your “authoring environment” set up correctly.

Build your creative environment

If you want to build quickly and creatively, you need to set up an environment that encourages and facilitates this process. If you don’t master the following basics, your team will constantly be struggling with boring issues instead of just continuing to build. You will need:

  1. Good version control. I suggest Git.
  2. An easy-to-use source and change set browser. We use Codebase.
  3. Strong server infrastructure. Why not rely on Flexiscale, Grid-Service, Mosso or EC2 and let the big guys worry about server availability and load?
  4. A “one-click” deployment system. This means that deploying code from your repository should only take one click. If it’s more complex than that, there is the potential for complications and downtime. Capistrano is great if you use Rails.
  5. Printers, blackboards and meeting space. People need physical space to brainstorm ideas. We painted an entire wall with chalkboard paint so the team had room to sketch out ideas.
  6. Coffee, water, music and healthy snacks.

If you understand them really well, it makes building and creating much more enjoyable and faster.

So that’s it …

Thanks for listening to Matt’s story. Please share your tips and experience by commenting below. If you want to see a full day of development in four minutes, check out the video below. Enjoy.

Matt Week – Day Two Time Lapse – Music by MGMT

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