What Was Day 1 Like?

To start off the Learning to Program series with Nate Abbott and Natty Zola from Everlater, I asked them the simple question “What Was Day 1 Like?”  Nate responded first:

Day one was totally overwhelming.  Overwhelming because we didn’t know what we didn’t know.  It’s one thing when you don’t know how to do something (e.g., validate email addresses or change a button’s hover state).   But we didn’t know what we needed to learn, and that made it difficult to even start down a path.  The first week was spent just googling "web site design", "web site architecture" and "web server" to try to get a handle on all of the acronyms we were coming across (such as CSS, HTML PHP MYSQL, ROR, JS, AJAX).  Our goal was to piece together the list of skills that we were going to collectively learn in order to create a web service like Everlater.

Day one was also thrilling and exciting.  It’s the same feeling I get when I’m starting a long bike ride in the mountains, the same feeling I got when I first got to college, or when I got my first offer letter for ibanking in New York.  To me, there’s nothing more exciting than beginning a large task, and nothing I had done was quite like the task at hand.

Natty responded shortly there after with a few things to add:

We also researched sites we liked and benchmarked what they were doing/using to get a feel for what the popular/hot sites were using.  Most notably I remember looking at Facebook and seeing .php at the end of the url string.  This gave us ideas of where we should start our research.

I was excited like Nate, but also somewhat afraid.  We quickly realized we were going to be learning another language, but much harder than a foreign language because we couldn’t rely on familiarities like verbs, nouns, and sentence structure. Worse, we would have to learn the basics of speech in becoming functional at the command line, databases, and editing programs. 

The other interesting thing was that before we put any code down or started day 1 of our idea, we had spent a month brainstorming what we wanted to build.  While this was pre-day 1 it enabled us to focus on making code/tech decisions and learning the code rather than also having to think about what we were doing with it.  I think this sped our research because we had a framework within which to think about the decisions we were making.

Lastly, it really helped to research with Nate because we could bounce ideas around, problem solve, and challenge each other.  Plus, it made it significantly more fun knowing we were diving into the unknown together.

To summarize.  They were simultaneously overwhelmed and excited.  But fearless – they just jumped into the swimming pool off of the high dive and hoped there was water in the pool.

  • They should write a book about the experience — my bet is that there are a lot of people who have considered the same thing, and it's inspiring to see that it's doable. To go from previous career to successful launch is amazing.

    • Thanks! Hopefully this blog series will be helpful. If there is anything in particular you would like us to cover let us know.

  • I'm really looking forward to the rest of this series! I'm currently going down this path alone, and it is lonely. I'm most curious about what books you used (if any). It has been difficult to know which books to choose, let alone languages.

    • Hi Ryan,

      We'll cover the exact resources we used in future posts, but we primarily used two books at the beginning (and a ton of Google). For the front-end we used a book called "HTML, XHTML, and CSS" published by Visual Blueprint. The book was nothing amazing, but comprehensive enough to get us started. On the back-end we used a book called "RailsSpace" (http://railsspace.com/) which has the reader build a basic social network. More on these in later posts.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Richard

    I'm looking forward to the rest of this series to see if it mirrors my own. Having a business education and been the finance guy for a couple of VC backed start ups I wanted to do my own start up but I only knew a little html, I had to learn to program to get it off the ground because I couldn't find a technical partner. Best thing I ever did.

    It taught me to just get on and do it and when you do it's not as hard as you think it's going to be.

  • When was day 1 approximately?

    What did you think of your idea on day 1? Big idea, fun project, new hobby?

    • Great comment. We followed a very similar path.

      Day 1 was: 9/20/08. However …

      … there were many Day 1s. In May 2008, on a boat sailing between Colombia and Panama, we decided to build some sort of travel website. We arrived back in the US in July '08 and drove all our stuff back from New York to Boulder, Colorado. On 8/18/08 we officially started brainstorming the specifics of what we wanted Everlater to be. On 9/20/08 we switched from doing brainstorming, wire-framing, business planning, etc. to researching coding. On 10/20/08 we installed rails and made our first official commit to the project.

      In terms of what we thought about the project. We were business guys who loved to travel. We found a problem that we, and many fellow travelers, suffered from (recording and sharing travel stories) and wanted to build a solution. It appears to be an under served market, a place we think we can build a business, an opportunity to scratch our own itch and hopefully a way to make traveling better and more accessible. So I think it was a mix between business opportunity, something we loved and were passionate about, and our desire to make people's lives better. A perfect storm?

  • Nate, Natty, and Brad – thanks for writing this series. I'd be interested in how and when (if ever) you knew enough about the tools (HTML, CSS, AJAX, etc.) to have confidence that you were applying the right ones in the right situations. I'm going through this myself – I don't want to learn PHP just to find out that my site should have been built with something else. Thanks again.

    • There's _always_ some new or alternative tech you can use, if you get caught up on that you'll just spin in circles forever. Focus on the idea, and get something (anything) done and in front of people. 90% of what you learn when programming isn't language syntax, it's process: how to take ideas and transform them into something understandable (most importantly by your end users, but also by the computer that turns your code into web pages). So even if you never touch PHP again, you've only 'wasted' 10% of your time, but have an actual product to show for it.

  • doug

    This is fascinating. On the one hand, I admire these guys (unlike a lot of "managers" who have no clue about what the people they manage actually do and are happy to keep it that way), but it's also a little scary (such as starting their research with php). I'm wondering how this ends up. It's hard to believe it has a happy ending, but I'm rooting for them.

  • Taliesen

    I'm fascinated by this story and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I am in a similar position to where Nate and Natty were before they started and it's inspiring to read how they have managed to do it.

  • What was Day One like? I'll never forget "Day One" at this company, one of the 10 interim CEO assignments I've completed in the last ten years: http://bit.ly/8P9NAa

  • This post is awesome and I can't wait for more. I previously wrote to Natty and Nate and received excellent advice on this topic. I think this series will help and motivate many (non-tech) people trying to pursue their startup dreams. Thanks again!

  • Hey Nate and Natty, I'm extremely interested in these posts. Re: resources, I'm curious if you found any how-to online videos re: coding? As another commenter mentioned, it would help me if I see/watch over someone's shoulder as they actually write code – and can make the connection between what they wrote and the result.

    I've looked at several PHP, CSS, Ajax books and my head starts spinning.

  • Brad

    I hope you will continue to follow the development and processes used by the Everlater team. It's interesting for those of us beginning to develop on our own and to understand some of the thought processes behind decisions. Thank you for starting this series!

  • Brad

    Would love to know more how Abbott and Zola with Everlater are doing now and any program/design changes they are making including how the programming part is going for them.
    Also, would love to see more in this series on Learning to Program. It's been educational and informative so far, especially seeing two non-programmers learn the ropes towards a real product.

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