Creating A Web Application, Pt. 1

It’s long been a goal of mine to create a successful web application of my own. There’s a lot to be said for using your own skills to create something you can use to sustain yourself with. Even better if that something is also bettering others, either through improving their businesses or making their jobs more pleasant. And while I’ve worked on successful client projects before, and have started on the road to creating my own web application as well, I’ve never released a finished app of my own. That’s something I wish to remedy, and while I do I’m going to document the process here for all to see.

Building a successful application is a large and undertaking; definitely not something that will be easy to pull off. I’m confident that I can do it, but there are some pitfalls that I know I’m going to face from the start. Mainly, at this moment, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to build. I don’t have a marketable idea, the big problem to set out and fix, not yet. This is a challenge to overcome, since coming up with a good idea is both really tough and central to the working and mission of the application itself. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t get started.

Even without a central idea, with this project there are a few things I know that I want. I want it to provide a service for users that is useful over a long time frame. Something like Trello, or the services provided by Atlassian. Something that provides everyday usefulness, should have more staying power and have a better chance of improving the quality of user’s lives. Additionally, I plan to monetize my application through a subscription-based pricing scheme. The main reason being, that I suspect such a scheme will be the most sustainable, allowing for customers to pay for as much, or as little, as they need from the service, and providing consistent income as long as there are actual users. So, if it’s a good service, it should sustain itself. Additionally, this makes providing a “freemium” tier scheme more sensible, so everyone can get use out of whatever the final application provides.

Normally, I wouldn’t make assumptions like the above when starting a project, especially when I don’t even know the core idea. However, I’m choosing to do that now so that I can get a head-start on development while I pin down an actual idea of what to build. This might lead me to cut out certain app ideas that I generate, but overall I’m hoping to save time by getting the development of some of the more complicated systems out of the way. Then, once the actual idea is decided on, all of my resources can go to solving the set of challenges to come with it instead of focusing on user-management, payment schemes, subscriptions, and other logic.

What I’ll need to do

Speaking of assumptions, going off of the ones that I’ve made above, there are a few things that I can plan on having to develop. If (hopefully) I’m right, I know that I’ll have to develop the following:

  • A system for users to register. (along with all the other typical user-management stuff, password recovery, login, logout, etc.; this is pretty par for the course.)
  • A system for users to choose and purchase a subscription. (Along with handling for when subscriptions expire, handling the changing of subscriptions, and managing what features are accessible based on subscription.)

Along with that, I’ll also need to put in place the base architecture for serving pages and handling requests. Since whatever service I finally provide will be presented through a regular ol’ web application, I’m looking at creating a REST API for providing the actual functionality and data access, then accessing that through basic client-side means. A REST API allows us to be flexible with how I build our front-end, and also lets us expand and provide functionality for other clients — native apps anyone? — in the future.

So, how am I going to accomplish the above tasks? There are a couple ways I can go about it. I’ve built much of this functionality before. I could re-use what I’ve made on other projects to get to this starting point in no time. However, I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to start from scratch, using new technologies that I’m currently unfamiliar with to make this a learning experience. Generally, I don’t like to re-invent the wheel for projects like this, but there are three reasons for doing it here:

  1. So I can learn some new stuff and improve myself as a developer.
  2. To give myself more time for idea generation.
  3. To improve on the solutions that I’ve made before in a way that I can be sure that I’m not migrating over any bad architectural decisions from past projects.
  4. FREE BONUS REASON: So that I can document the process of building a (hopefully) well-constructed application from scratch for anyone who wants to see how to build a large project themselves.

What I’ll be using

So, what will I be using for this project? Glad you asked (and if you didn’t ask, too bad). There are a few new technologies that I plan to try out to accomplish this project, and overall it feels like a pretty big change from my usual way of doing things.

First off, instead of vanilla JavaScript, for this project I’m going to hop on the TypeScript bandwagon. TypeScript as a language has a lot going for it, and is becoming increasingly popular. While I love my good ol’ JavaScript, TypeScript is definitely a tool I want to have on my belt. With its comprehensive compiler, strict-typing, and real-time IDE feedback, I think it’ll lend a lot to the development of a big project like this. At the very least, I hope to see a decrease in small, easily preventable bugs from the strict-typing alone.

Secondly, I plan to use Koa in lieu of Express. Express is well-supported and used in a lot of applications (including any node.js app with an http-side I’ve done before) but Koa looks like it has a lot of goodies that I hope will relieve past gripes I’ve had with Express.

Last on the list, I’m going to use TypeORM instead of my usual Mongoose. Mainly, because it looks awesome and like it’ll be a joy to use, but also because it provides a consistent interface for various DB types. Unless I’m outdated on my knowledge, Mongoose really only does MongoDB well. I’d like to be able to painlessly manage separate types of DBs without problem, not just for this, but for future projects as well.

That’s about it for the big, new stuff I’m trying, so what other type of stuff do I plan to use? If you know me, you might have guessed some of it already, here’s a list of some of the different subjects I’ll be covering as I build this:

  • Node.js
  • MongoDB
  • Stripe (for payments and subscription services)
  • Vue.js (for the front-end, <3 U Vue)
  • Docker (for ease of development, testing, and deployment)
  • Mocha (did somebody say testing?)
  • Gulp.js (my go-to task runner)
  • Various libraries that I have no clue about yet…

For the tech overview, that’s about it. I’ll go into more detail on how I’m using each of the above as I document the development process in upcoming blog posts. I’ll be aiming to both document the creation of this web application, and to lay the groundwork in explaining the methods that I use for development. My hope is that any of you reading will also be able to pick these things up and make something of your own too.

My Goals

So, I’ve said that I want to create a successful web application. As a goal, that’s a pretty abstract one. To better be able to judge the success of this venture, we’ll need a more concrete finish line to reach for. I’m also a believer of aiming your sights high.

For this project, I’m going to take the shrewd approach of judging success based on the earnings that the app generates, as well as the satisfaction of the app’s users, based on how many of them stay and continue to use the application after their initial subscription.

With that in mind, I plan to make this a six-month venture. The first three months shall be spent on research, development, design, initial marketing, and hopefully in curating a successful launch. After launching, I plan to spend the next three months in fine-tuning, drawing-in more users, and reducing churn.

At the end of this six-month experiment my goal is to have a well-polished application that is generating $6,000 per month, with a low churn rate through the app’s bettering of users’ lives (consequently, causing them to stick around).

The entire process, or at least as much as I manage to write about, will be documented here. I’ll try to cover the project’s development, as well as the marketing steps that I take in getting this project up and running with customers. And, while it might be a bit optimistic for me, I’m going to be shooting for an update a week on this, so keep a lookout.

Wish me luck! :)

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