I am currently in Russia visiting my wife’s family in small village of Roshchino, Russia. It’s great to see family, but the days can get really really long here in the rural part of Russia, when you don’t speak the same language or enjoy the same food, and don’t have the same basic amenities you are accustom to such as internet. Even with these shortcomings, I tried to stay positive and be somewhat productive during my stay. I spent sometime on iPhone App Design with the help of my young nieces and nephews. During this time, I was able to teach them the basics of mobile and web design and development concepts and encourage them to create and explore their own app ideas.
Roshchino is a small farming village of 400, located in the southern tip of Russia, sitting between Ukraine and Kazakstan and close to the Georgia border. Not a lot of money around here but people make it work. Most who grow up here end up becoming farmers but a lot aspire to make it out the town onto the bigger cities. My wife grew up here with those same dreams along with her older sister and older brother. Now, they all live in different cities/countries but they get together in their hometown at least once every two years. Their family bond is strong, army strong. I mean that literally because her brother is a military man, and still works for the government.
Rich American Uncle & Aunt?
Obviously, we are far from rich but somehow I feel like that’s the vibe we give for being the Americans in a small town. Don’t get me wrong, the cities in Russia are just as nice, vibrant, and if not better than the cities in America. They have culture and rich history that is hard to match. This also means, small town are small towns just like anywhere else. BTW, I recommend you to add Saint Petersburg and Moscow to your bucket list, they are both beautiful and wonderful places to visit.
Anyhow, our visits is a big family event since most of her family and close relatives are here including nieces and nephews, so each time we come, we bare gifts and bring summer Christmas with us. It can get pretty costly, since my wife loves spoiling them. And kids seem to multiply, each time I come here. Can’t beat this one. I guess I just need to make more money. Kids love seeing us but I’m sure they love seeing the presents even more. Can you blame them? I was the same way when I was kid. I need to start adding this to my regular income statement since its a recurring event, not a one off.
No Internet Connection
Seriously man, this is painful. You try spending a week without internet in the Russian farms. I had little bit of luck last visit here (as in, able to barely check my email couple of times a day). But this time, absolutely no connection. Borderline torture and it’s driving me insane, feeling very frustrated and helpless. I did however bring bunch of inspirational reading materials to keep me occupied. Also, during my flight/layover of 38hours or so to get here, i written down bunch of startup/app ideas on my signature yellow book to possibly ideate on.
iPhone App Design
During offline, I decided to flow/map/design out at least one of my million dollar idea and also, use it as a teaching guide for my my nieces and nephews on their way to becoming tech entrepreneurs. Besides, the kids were around me at all times, so there was just no way for me to get extended quite time on my own, so it was just easier to make this a family affair and try to get their attention. Also, I think and design better when I am collaborating with others even with the language barrier.
The language reason alone, I picked the simplest app concept everyone could understand. Language was an issue in the beginning but it did get better as the week progressed, because the kids were picking up English faster than I was picking up Russian.
Eat Together App (I don’t have a name for it yet)
The App idea is to connect neighbors together over a meal. Ok, it’s a Uber for Home Cooked Meals. Sounds familiar? Maybe.
It’s for people:
- Who are tired of eating out, eating alone, or just want some good homecooking, and like to enjoy a good conversation with the neighbors or strangers
- Aspiring cooks or moms who loves to cook for others and possibly make little extra money from doing things he/she loves
- For volunteers who want to serve others, Example, cooks prepare extra dish and volunteers at the end of the night pickup the dishes and deliver to the homeless shelter or children’s hospitals, etc.
Rapid Prototype and Kicking Some of that Cincy Wisdom
We started with pen and paper. I wanted to show my nieces/nephews and the neighbor’s kids (who just joined) the process and thinking behind designing a mobile app. How easy (or hard) it was to develop concept, we switched between paper/pen and Illustrator, in low fidelity drawings, and we quickly iterate through different areas of the app. We talked, discussed options, drew things out quickly then moved on. I had to be more animated with my explanation since language barrier was still a factor. Luckily they were all amused and responded very well.
There was sense of excitement and curiosity in the air which fueled my fire as well. To avoid burning out, it helped to break up into multiple sessions and add playtimes in between.
To start, we would kick off each sections/pages together, as a team. For example, working on the Consumer Homepage and Food Search pages, then talk about what would come next. Then, we would take a break, the kids go off to their playtime, I would go off on my own and finish the rest of the flow for that section.
We would regroup, I walked them through the progress I’ve made and explain the thinking behind it. They are just fascinated by how the app is coming to life at a lighting speed. I can tell they are appreciating the work we are putting in even at the young age. After the review, we would continue onto the new section.
Another things that worked well on continuing to capture their attention was refactoring designs. As we advanced onto new screen designs, we had chance to go back to some of the earlier designs and flows and make changes to reflect on the latest design model. We would discuss the change and rationale behind the change. This got the kids amused and highly engaged because it’s like a puzzle we created and we are now solving.
There are some takeaways I can carry onto my own work.
- Rapid Prototype and Design Process – App like this could take upto 6 months to design/develop. Just the design process could take two/three months easy. I was able to complete the low fidelity design portion in few days, while on vacation. It will take another week or so to flush it out and make it clickable prototype. 2/3 weeks is better than 2/3 months. Obviously, this is possible because this project has no boundaries and constraints.
- No internet inspirations or interference – Remember the term ‘Grass is Greener on the other side?’ Sometime, having too much internet can distract you on your design process. Too much Pinterest or looking at competitive sites can lead you down the path of chasing the competition. Why is that bad? Your design can be lack of original thinking and you could be one step behind the competition. Honestly, I am impressed at myself because most of the flows that include sketches and low fidelity designs are all done without looking at other apps. I couldn’t really search/reapply. i did cheat a little, which I reference some of my earlier apps designs patterns and such but not much.
- I learned more from teaching others – It really was a joy being able to spend time with my nieces/nephews in a positive and productive way.I believe i got more out of them then the teachings I passed on to them. They were able to motivate me to work harder and faster. Because I knew their attention span was shorter, being kids, so I had to make things more interesting, which meant, more collaboration, team exercises, discussions, making it fun, etc.
On top of it all, the end product can be become a real business that can help people.
Then I turned on the TV
So we went to visit Grandma who lives in the next town. Road to get there is ridiculous. Offload like you never seen before. Hanging out with my wife’s cousin Oscar 20, and Nephew 14, we turned on the TV. Grandma had cable. I turned to CNN International because it was one of only channel that spoke English. CNN was running a technology segment on the latest Hot Consumer Apps which featured Uber, AirBnB, and bunch of others including EatWith App. EatWith, as you may guessed it, allows people to get together over a meal. What a brilliant idea. Why didn’t i think of that? Oh i did, 1year later. Hey, at least I know my idea works. EatWith similar, but slightly different formula and possibly different audience. I’m going to check it out soon as I get on the internet. My first known competition, i’m sure there are plenty more.
The tech startup fever has never been hotter in the village of Roshchino. The next great invention and/or app idea maybe coming straight from the young minds of Roshchino. The kids were finished with helping me on the initial design of Eat Together App and it was time for them to move onto next stage of their learning, which was to create their own help people idea. So we held the first annual Roshnino Startup Weekend, held at Grandma’s house. The assignment was, they think about a everyday problem people are facing and ways to solve that problem, by any means necessary.
- Winner 1a – Samira 10 – Startup: Allow people to purchase high end accessories while vacationing
- Winner 1b – Diana 11 – Startup: Book Sharing App – allow people to share books near you.
- Winner 1c – Bebe 6 – Startup: Solve math problems (she’s only 6, so she thought she had to do her homework).
What’s Next for Eat App?
I am going to finish the design in high fidelity, probably make it a clickable prototype and start getting feedback from people. Make adjustments. If the buzz is there, I am going to:
- Build this out on my own – I’m a UX and front-end developer and I have not done full stack iPhone Development before, so it will be an awesome challenge and learning experience. But this will take a while.
- Find Developer Partners – Find a reliable partner who can help me build this app. Ping me if you know any.
What’s Next for Me?
Got to see some cool places while I was here, including Saint Peterburg below. But I’m trying to get home man.. I am counting the hours! I miss my house, my cats, i miss my playstation 4, and my daughter. In no particular order.