Editor’s note: This story is a little outside our regular content, but we’re sharing it anyway. Why? Because we think the project at the heart of it is something that could really benefit from some Yobeat influence. After all, Ullr is a community sourced terrain park app. And what is are we good at if it isn’t talking about stuff we’re too chicken to ride? So we asked David Stanley, the man behind Ullr, to to tell us a bit about what motivated him to make the app, and what his eventual goals are with the project.
I began the app making process last October. Having recently moved to Chicago, I was in the market for a season pass and was searching for the best nearby hill. Who had the terrain I wanted was even more important than who had the best price. But I felt like it was harder than it should have been to figure out which mountains had good parks. This experience reminded me of a similar problem back home in North Carolina. I always wished that I could know what the park set-ups at the mountains around me were like before I decided which one to go to. Even when I knew where I was going, I always wanted to be up to date on what terrain park features were up and know when the park had been reset. It was with these things in mind that I decided to make Ullr.
It turns out that making the app was the easy part. Even though it took me over a year to program Ullr, and often resulted in a sleep schedule resembling that of a new parent, it is in one sense easy as a developer to put my head down and write code. I started out with a few goals:
- Minimize reliance on resorts to provided data. In an ideal world, resorts and park crews would keep the app updated, but we’ve all seen a lot of resort websites where the Terrain Parks page is neglected and I didn’t want my app to suffer that fate. Hence crowd-sourcing – anyone can post terrain Park features, correct their details, or mark them as down.
- I wanted it to be useful and interesting to people regardless of whether they ride almost every day or are infrequent riders. That’s where the concept of being “King of a Feature” and having a photo feed came from.
- Support on both iOS and Android.
- Automate as much as I could about maintaining and running the app. I’d much rather spend my free time out on the hill than at my desk coding.
We can fast forward through the next fourteen months. I spent many weekends and late nights after work in front of my computer in a state that vacillated between flow, pulling my hair out, and nerding out. I launched to several beta testers in December, but there was still a ton of work to do before a public launch. The perfectionist temptation to delay releasing the app until it was flawless was strong. So was my apprehension about what I consider to be the real “hard part” of making an app- marketing, acquiring users, and trying to talk with resorts. I know very little about marketing. I’ve had mixed luck even getting in contact with people from resorts. And I always worry that feedback I get will be skewed by non-response bias. It’s admittedly much easier for me to just keep developing more features than it is to step out of my comfort zone and do those things. Honestly I wasn’t even sure if I’d make a full release this season.
Some time off and a trip up to Mt. Bohemia in Northern Michigan gave me time to think about strategy. In software and in start-ups, you hear all kinds of mantras like “fail early” and “fail fast” with the implication that it’s better to release, fail, and learn from the failure than it is to spend a ton of time perfecting something that users don’t want. To put it another way, “if you’re not embarrassed of your first release, then you’ve released too late”. With the end of this season looming, I decided to go for it. I made a big push in February and set a release date of March 1st.
The weeks leading up to release were hectic. I was up until 2 or 3 every night tying up loose ends, creating listings in both the app stores, populating the app stores with screenshots, arranging ads, and the like. The night before the release, there was an issue at my “real” job that kept me there past midnight. Once the issue was finally resolved I rushed home, opened my computer, clicked the respective “release” buttons on the App Store and Google Play Store. And then I passed out. Later we celebrated the release with tacos, margs and a full weekend of riding. I got two awesome spring days in with my girlfriend and a buddy that drove up to visit. It felt great to be exhausted from shredding instead of coding.
So how did the release go? There’s been a steady stream of downloads and a couple great days where new users spiked. My goal with Ullr is not to be the next big startup. Snowsports is a pretty niche market. My dream is set resorts up with premium accounts that let them better keep the park updated and see what parts of the terrain park riders are most interested. In an ideal world it would make enough money to support my girlfriend and myself and allow us to ride whenever we want. In the short term we’re trying to get some traction and gain some users in what’s left of this season. Then ride that momentum to approach resorts and tweak the app this summer. Then come into next season really strong.
There is still a lot of work to do in talking with resorts and making sure that I learn the right lessons from the early-adopting users. Next season we will be making a much bigger marketing effort, which should help keep park reports updated and features logged. I’m also considering rewarding users in some way for submitting terrain park updates, and would welcome any feedback or ideas on that from the Yobeat Community.