How a self-taught developer used Kickstarter to launch her first book
Hello Web App is a 150 page book that teaches readers to program web applications using Python and Django basics.
Behind the project is west coast-based startup founder Tracy Osborn, who taught herself to code five years ago when she had an idea for a new web application. That idea is now her successful startup WeddingLovely.
Hello Web App is her effort to make web application development accessible to everyone – including people without prior programming experience. It's an awesome new way to get into web development without spending four years in school for it.
I managed to catch up with the busy designer, developer and business owner and get answers to my questions about funding a product via Kickstarter.
What did your timeline look like after you reached your funding goal?
According to Osborn, there were essentially three phases to the project: writing, editing and designing the book.
“Generally it took me about six months to write the content,” Osborn said, though she admits that she had intended for it to take far less time. “In an ideal world, writing would take about two months for the length of content I was aiming for.”
The editing and review process took another three months. Osborn sent the content out to a pretty big community of reviewers and spent a lot of time implementing the changes and recommendations she thought were best.
The design of the book, which Osborn did entirely on her own (she was a graphic designer before she took up programming and launched her startup five years ago), took about another month.
“I didn’t want to release anything less than superb,” she said of the nine months it took to perfect the content and design.
What did your work environment – your team and office space – look like?
Hello Web App was and is at its core a solo project, with Osborn taking on the content, design and marketing efforts herself. But she found in her Kickstarter backers a dedicated team of reviewers and testers.
“I felt terrible about being delayed, so I released sections of the book on Google Docs and encouraged my backers to review the content,” Osborn explained. “A few stayed on as official editors for the entire text. Other experts in the Django ecosystem popped in too to help edit and review.”
As for the Hello Web App “office,” Osborn said she wrote wherever she was most productive. Sometimes that meant the recliner in her living room; sometimes it meant a coffee shop.
A big section of the book was written at Osborn’s cabin in the mountains, where the lack of reliable Internet access made it a distraction-free zone for writing.
Why was your launch delayed?
Hello Web App was initially set to be released only a few months after the funding period ended in May 2014. The actual launch ended up happening almost a year later.
Osborn’s startup – her full-time job, in other words – wound up needing most of her attention last summer. This meant that the time she’d initially planned to dedicate to writing was consumed by different priorities.
But on top of the external work-related interruptions, Osborn admits that the delay was the result of her own under-estimation of the time it would take to write and publish a book.
“At this point, if I Kickstart-ed another book,” Osborn said, “I would set the release date for three to six months after funding completes – long enough that I could actually release a book in that time, but short enough that it still motivates me to work fast and is still interesting to backers.”
Osborn explained that now that she’s completed Hello Web App, she feels she has a process in place (and design files ready to go!) that would make writing a second book a much easier and quicker project.
What’s your best advice for other writers and entrepreneurs getting started?
Osborn has plenty of experience with “getting started” beyond Hello Web App, having learned to code on her own and starting her now successful online business.
She encourages entrepreneurs to do what she did: to become an expert in multiple fields.
“I’d advise others to always keep an eye out for something new to learn – like building web apps if you’re already a web designer,” Osborn said. “It can lead to some awesome business and startup opportunities.”
Osborn is definitely proof that becoming multi-disciplinary can only lead to more open doors. She’s now a business-owner, designer, developer, marketer and author.
That’s pretty amazing.
What’s next for Hello Web App?
The next step in Osborn’s process of marketing Hello Web App is to take the book on the road.
“My goal is to go to as many cities as possible and run workshops on the Hello Web App content,” Osborn said. “I love teaching and it’s been so fun helping new programmers learn how to code and launch web apps.”
But Osborn’s ambitions go further than that, too. She’d love to keep writing books about web design and development, startups and more.
We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Osborn’s next big project!
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