This week we – along with members of The Anywhereist Group – officially launched our free online tool, Find A Nomad. It helps digital nomads discover where friends and potential new friends are right now – and where they’ll be throughout the year. Here’s the full story from conception (back in May) to launch.
“You know what would be AMAZING?” says every digital nomad, all the time. “An online map that shows where other digital nomads are hanging out both right now and in the future. We’d have an instant bunch of buddies whenever we land somewhere new, and we could see who else would be in a city before we book our flights.”
So we decided to create it.
Here’s how it all happened…
A couple of years ago we found out about an online map for digital nomads called Nomad Project (very similar in concept to what we aimed to achieve with Find A Nomad). It still exists, but it isn’t in active development and hasn’t been given the TLC it needs. As such, there aren’t enough useful features, it’s not used as much as it was, and many members’ locations are out of date.
We were in talks with the Nomad Project creator about buying the site off him and injecting some much-needed oomph into it, but for various, boring, code-related reasons, we decided it’d be easier to start from scratch and create our own.
Rather than hire a designer and developer though, we had the idea to turn it into a group project with members of our community, The Anywhereist Group. We have a huge variety of skills and talents between us, so we thought it’d be fun to work together to solve a problem we’ve all experienced: how to meet interesting people (and catch up with our digital nomad friends) when we travel.
Pitching the idea to our community
The next step was to see if our community members would actually like to be involved. So we wrote a forum post entitled “Who wants to work on a group project with us?” in which we outlined why we thought it would be a good idea, and what we thought the immediate next steps were.
Here’s a small selection of the responses we received from members:
We had designers, developers and writers, marketing and PR experts, offers to help test the product, and free hosting – everything we could possibly need!
Andrew Skattebo from BrickOps offered us free hosting, which was incredibly generous. (Also, his hosting is awesome. We also have The Property Hub hosted with him, and we’re massively impressed. We’re moving Making It Anywhere his way too.)
Testing, writing, PR and marketing was provided by lots of members: Viv Egan, Jon Gracey, Mark Gosselin, Jewels Velky, Crystal Bryant, Christopher Sutton, Shayna Oliveira, Mark Gibson, Holly Kennedy, Kelly O’Laughlin, Jenny Smith, Nate Finch, Pete Domican, Jennifer Harris, Ben Friedman, Tim Glaser, Andres Zuleta, Anne Merlin and Daniel Espinoza.
Using Trello to get started and stay organised
Lewis suggested that we use Trello as our main project management tool. On Trello, a project (e.g. the project of creating a map for digital nomads) is represented by a board:
The board contains lists (corresponding to task lists), and lists contain cards (corresponding to tasks). Cards are supposed to progress from one list to the next – via drag-and-drop – to show other team members the progress of each task in its progress from idea to implementation.
In our case, we decided that each task/card should be written as a user “story” – i.e. from the perspective of the person who would benefit from that particular feature: “As a nomad, I can…”; “As an administrator, I can…”.
By writing up the tasks in this way, it makes it clear to everyone what the feature hopes to achieve. It also helped us to prioritise which features were the most important.
For example, compare:
- “Add a favicon to the tab.”
- “Add a date picker to the map.”
- “Click on pin to reveal profile info.”
- “Order the members in the directory by date of last login.”
- “As a nomad I can see a favicon on my browser tab.”
- “As a nomad I can use a date picker to choose a date up to 1 year in the future. (When I choose a date, the pins on the map move to reflect where everyone will be on that date.)”
- “As a nomad I can click on a pin on the map to reveal the bubble, then click on the user’s name within the bubble to go to their profile page.”
- “As a nomad, the members I see in the member directory are ordered by date of last login.”
It becomes clearer which features are essential to create a minimum viable product (MVP) that people will actually use, and which are “nice-to-haves” that can come at some point in the future.
We all contributed to writing these user stories, then Lewis suggested the stories that he thought would be the most important to get done for our MVP. We agreed, and Lewis got started!
Making use of “Unless I hear differently”
From the very start, we operated on the principle of “Unless I hear differently…” in an attempt to keep things moving forward at a decent pace.
The person in charge/most knowledgeable about a particular aspect of the project would prepend their suggestions/ideas with “Unless I hear differently”: Unless I hear differently, I’ll use x framework / the main theme colour will be blue / users will be able to log in with a username or email address / etc. etc.
Creating and testing
Using the “Unless I hear differently” principle, Lewis was able to quickly decide on the frameworks, plugins and APIs he and his mini-team of developers (other members of The Anywhereist Group) should use to build the site.
Then once they got down to building the site, they’d each choose a Trello card from the “MVP” list and move it into “Current sprint” as soon as they started working on it. As soon as the feature was ready, the Trello card would move to the “Testing” list and I’d assign a few of our members to that particular card (in Trello, you can “add” members to a card) to test it. Testers could then leave comments on the card – and If three testers said “Yep – this works!”, the card would move to the “Done” list.
Here’s a section of correspondence on of one of our Trello cards – the “user story” is “As a nomad, I can log in with a username and password”:
Naming the thing
We started a new thread in the forum asking for name suggestions:
After our deadline for suggestions had passed, all members voted via a Google Doc Form. They could choose “Love”, “Like” or “Hate” for each name – or alternatively, they could choose not to vote if they had no particular feelings about a particular name.
Once everyone had voted, Rob and I tallied up the scores:
“Love”: +3 points
“Like”: +1 point
“Hate”: -1 point
No vote: 0 points
We wanted a name that lots of people LOVED (even if a few people hated it) rather than a name that everyone simply liked or was “meh” about – and we thought this scoring mechanism might help us discover that name.
Find A Nomad was the outright winner. The most hated name? nomad-pages.com.
Designs and logos
Our chief designer Alexander Joo was hugely involved from the start – coming up with fantastic concepts for both the website and logo. His designs couldn’t just be classy and pretty – they had to be intuitive and user-friendly, and they had to work on mobile as well as desktop.
Alex posted constantly updated design ideas in our forum for us all to look at and give thoughts on.
His designs for the site were loved by all. When it came to the logos, there were LOTS of opinions – as is always the case when it comes to logos.
Testing the site
On 24 August 2014, the topic for our weekly newsletter was Find A Nomad. We shared how it would work, showed a screenshot, and invited our subscribers to sign up to be our very first users when it launched.
250 readers signed up over the course of a week, and we invited about 20 of them – along with some friends of our Anywhereist Group members – to be our “beta testers”. These beta testers were responsible for trying out the site and reporting back on any bugs they’d noticed or features they wanted to exist. We installed feedback software called Uservoice on our site so that they could easily send us message every time they noticed something.
The testing/fixing process was supposed to be at least two weeks long, but news of competition shortened our timeline considerably – and we ended up working at record speed to fix small bugs and add some extra features that our testers suggested.
The official launch date was 28 September: we announced it in our newsletter, and many members of The Anywhereist Group came up with fantastic ideas for promoting the site and getting as many new users as possible. Their efforts have paid off: our signup rate is far higher than we expected, we’ve had lots of emails from happy new users, and we’re starting to get good press, too. Most importantly, digital nomads have already started meeting up with others who live close by!
The site is still pretty much at “MVP” stage: it looks wonderful and works beautifully, but our Trello board is full-to-bursting with heaps of features that we can’t wait to add in the near future!
What we learnt from this project
Mini-project managers are essential
While Rob and I were the general project managers of the whole Find A Nomad process, it was invaluable having Lewis and Alex make the key decisions in their respective areas of expertise. Those guys really know what they’re doing when it comes to development and design, so we were happy to trust in their decisions. Giving them this freedom moved everything along more quickly and gave them the freedom to go wild with their ideas.
You won’t know until you test with real-life users
As mentioned earlier, we invited a few readers in early to test out the map and report back on features they wanted, bugs they’d come across, etc. And I can’t emphasise enough how useful this was.
Any time three separate readers commented on their desire for the same feature, it went straight to the top of our to-do list – and we didn’t launch “officially” until all these features had been added.
When it came to bugs, we were shocked: there were just so many that we hadn’t picked up on! The vast majority of those bugs have now been fixed, but we still have a few pesky ones that just won’t go away – despite endless swear words being thrown in their direction.
Trello is the unsung hero in all this
Rob and I use Trello for day-to-day task management, but we’ve never actually used it for the team development work it was originally intended. And it worked fantastically well: at a glance, we could all see what stage we were at with various aspects of the project, and we could also provide feedback/ideas too. There are many project management apps out there, but this one’s definitely our favourite.
Our community is amazing
There were no arguments, no counting to ten, no petty quarrels… nothing. We all loved the entire process, and want to work on another project together again soon. Working with exceptionally talented people definitely helps, but the other aspect is the type of people we have in our group.
Rob and I are very, very picky about who we let in to The Anywhereist Group, and I think our own biggest contribution to Find A Nomad has been in doing a bloody good job of choosing our members.
What else do you want to know?
I didn’t want to create the world’s longest ever blog post, so I’ve summarised and glossed over quite a lot. If there’s anything else you want to know, let me know in the comments!