At Scrunchup, we think it’s important to showcase young talent. This example is truly exceptional. A few weeks ago Nick and David, both aged 16, got in touch to tell us about an app they have developed called Upload Robots. We were initially apprehensive, but when we had a look, some jaws dropped and a few teacups fell out of hands, and we decided to interview them straight away for this issue.
Anna: What is Upload Robots? What does it do and when did you start it?
Nick: Upload Robots is a file sharing application. We feel that most of our competitors over run their site with advertisements, and have too many useless features. I started the initial plans for Upload Robots on the back of a math test in fifth grade. I had an initial prototype in 2006, which was visually horrible and without branding. David joined the team summer 2009.
Anna: What motivated you to set it up?
Nick: I created Upload Robots to transfer academic papers from my house to school, as I never seemed to have any printer ink. Upon checking analytics, I found that dozens of students as well as many teachers were also using the program. I guess the initial inspiration were the kids and teachers in my school who were relying on something I built to manage their important documents, but we wanted to build a file-management system more powerful than that.
David: When I joined Upload Robots and co-founded the site earlier this year, we were talking about a project to start for the summer and thought developing Nick’s earlier proof of concept for Upload Robots would be a great idea.
Anna: What’s your business model?
David: Our hosting and various other fixed costs are covered by the revenue generated by our premium membership and a sponsorship program. We insist on the lack of adverts on the file manager, and fortunately current free to premium conversion rates indicate that our business model is sustainable and scalable.
Anna: How did you find the whole business side of the project? Did you have anyone you could turn to for help?
Nick: We actually found the business aspects of the project to be pretty simple. The only management we had to provide was responding to contact forms. We sometimes receive a dozen per day, and we respond to every one. One benefit of being so small is that you never ran into any problems with bureaucracy. Our jobs were very clear: David designs, I develop. We rarely interfered with the other’s job. As Upload Robots grew, we have met some really cool people such as the wonderful Scrunchup team that have helped us by providing suggestions as well as assisting with marketing by featuring us on their site.
David: We’re not too good with P&Ls though.
Anna: What obstacles did you hit during development, and how did you overcome them?
David: The first obstacle was a simple one: finding enough time to complete the project. I currently work as an interactive designer at a non-profit and I know Nick works on various side projects almost constantly.
Nick: The hardest part of development was the uploading (big surprise). Instead of just using the solely the standard LAMP setup, I combined a few languages such as Perl and Python, using the best of each language to greatly increase performance.
Anna: Do you think your age has been a help or a hindrance to the development of the project?
David: Hush. Please don’t tell anyone, no one yet knows and we’d probably lose all of our customers if they did.
Nick: I think that it was both a hindrance and a benefit to the project. Being so young, VC backing was not an option as it’s too risky to invest in a couple highschoolers. We also have to constantly conceal our age because we are dealing with people’s important documents, and they might not trust us because people, including ourselves, are inherently ageist. One benefit is that by living in our parents house, we have virtually no living costs, so we could work full time on Upload Robots instead of having to get a side-job to sustain us.
Anna: What/Who are your inspirations?
David: I am really inspired by minimal, Swiss-styled design. Although classically minimalist site would not have been practical for Upload Robots, I still carried the philosophy of necessity & functionality over unnecessary adornment when creating the user-interface. This may sound trite, but the interactive designers at Apple have really been pioneers in user-interface design and I was certainly inspired by the revolutionary interface on the iPhone.
Nick: Although there aren’t too many famous programmers to look up to, I’m a fan of John Resig, the creator of jQuery.
Anna: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
David: I will be at a university in the UK, studying classical history. I will of course be running Upload Robots and doing web design in my free time.
Nick: I’ll be at college studying computer science, hopefully running Upload Robots on the side.
Anna: What resources would you recommend to others wanting to create a cool app?
David: For aspiring app designers, learn HTML/CSS before going anywhere near Photoshop. Knowing how the web actually works is significantly more important and will save you time in the long run. A great resource for learning HTML and CSS is the ubiquitous W3Schools and the HTML validator. Design resources are everywhere, open your eyes.
Nick: Know what your application does. If you cannot explain exactly what your software does in five words, it is too complex. When you have a working prototype, write down features you want to build before you call it finished. Otherwise, you will keep adding features till it unusable.
Anna: What are your favorite quotes?
Nick: The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time. – Tom Cargill
David: Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work. – Thomas Edison
Anna: How did you start learning web design?
Nick: My father used to be a programmer, he taught me a bit of Visual Basic when I was 8. Since that point in time, I have spent hours a day learning about technology.
David: A course in high school, no social life, and a love of logic, simplicity and beauty.
Anna: Do you have an idea of what your next big project is?
Nick: We are actually writing a book that is scheduled to be published this Summer. We still need to work on a title, but it will be something along the lines of ‘When Do I Start? The young entrepeneurs guide to staring a web business’. It will be roughly one hundred fifty pages in length.