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109: Building a “Simple” App with Megan Hanson of Little Free Library

Published March 22, 2022
Run time: 00:45:06
Listen to this episode with one of these apps:

You know those adorable book-sharing boxes you see around neighborhoods? The organization behind them is Little Free Library, and they just made it easier, and even more fun, to find and share books with the launch of their mobile app.

Megan Hanson, Senior Digital Producer at Little Free Library, joins the show to share how the journey of building a “simple” app took a lot of hard work for this non-profit team.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How to become a Little Free Library steward
  • Why it’s hard work to build a simple app
  • How to draw the line between nice-to-have and must-have features
  • Tips for hiring a technical team

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.

Recorded March 10, 2022 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski

Show Links

Download the Little Free Library app | https://littlefreelibrary.org/app/

Little Free Library’s website | https://littlefreelibrary.org/

Connect with Megan Hanson on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-hanson-34583638/

Chat with The Jed Mahonis Group | https://jmg.mn

Rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts | https://constantvariables.co/review

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at building and growing digital products. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.

Jenny Karkowski 0:22
This episode is sponsored by The Jed Mahonis Group, the go-to tech team of the Upper Midwest. Whether you have a project that needs a development team, or existing technology that needs support, we work with you as part of your team, not just your vendor, to build innovative solutions that provide real business value and are enjoyable to use. Learn more at jmg.mn.

Tim Bornholdt 0:47
Hey, Megan, welcome to the show.

Megan Hanson 0:49
Hey, thanks, Tim. Happy to be here.

Tim Bornholdt 0:51
I think this has been a couple years in the making, that we've wanted to get you guys on the show. And I'm so excited to finally be able to talk all about what we've been doing with you and with Little Free Library. So first of all, maybe tell the audience here a little bit about yourself and Little Free Library and how all of this, you know, whole shebang got started here.

Megan Hanson 1:12
Yeah, absolutely. So Little Free Library, if you don't know, we're actually a nonprofit organization. You know, our mission is about building community, inspiring readers and expanding book access. You know, luckily, we've been around long enough now we were founded really as a nonprofit back in 2012. So we've been around officially as a nonprofit for about 10 years, long enough that people at least know what Little Free Libraries are now.

For most of my career, I started here about 10 years ago, I've been in a variety of roles over the years. And so much of my time here has just been like, Yes, we're an organization. You know those little boxes on sticks in people's yards? Those are Little Free Libraries. That's what I do. I feel like I've probably single handedly told like 10,000 people that little elevator pitch there. But so yeah, so if you don't know what they are, you probably have seen a little wooden house on a stick in someone's front yard. And it's full of books, right. And it's a free book exchange. And it's a Little Free Library. So we are the nonprofit organization that helps people start them and maintain them, and most importantly, find them.

And that is sort of how the mobile app came to life. It's really the next natural step of the Little Free Library map that has existed on our website for many years and been super popular because as soon as you know what Little Free Libraries are, you're like, Oh, my God, this is amazing. I want to find these things. Where are they near me? So we've always had this web map. But it's never been great for mobile. So for years, we've been like, We need a mobile app. We need a mobile app. How cool would it be if you could just pull out your phone and find the nearest one? And you know, Tim, what did it take us? Maybe a year and a half we've been working on this thing with you guys? And finally, it exists in the world.

Tim Bornholdt 3:01
Oh, I love it. It's yeah, I think that's it. I'm glad that you brought up that we've been at this for a while now. Because a lot of times I think people have an idea that, you know, apps and websites, you know, a lot of people have website experience, at least more people have website experience that app experience. And it's pretty easy to go to Squarespace and spin up a website in a day or a week. But 18 months, you know, to get an app out the door, it's quite a long haul. And I'm glad you stuck through it all the way to the end here.

Megan Hanson 3:30
There were some rough moments, you know, six months in you're like, Should we just scrap this? I don't know what we're doing anymore. But no, we weren't, we were never seriously going to drop it. And honestly, it was, I think we were pretty realistic from the start knowing that we were kind of in uncharted waters for us. Like we had a high level vision of what we wanted. But I think we knew it wasn't going to be super easy or straightforward to bring it to life. So we knew it was going to be a long haul. But I have to say now that we're at the end of the road, I could not be happier with what we built together.

Tim Bornholdt 4:04
Oh, I love that. Well, let's start all the way back at the beginning. I mean, we kind of at least have a high level understanding of why the app wanted to exist. But I'm curious about how you went about selecting a developer and how you were going to get the process kicked off. So how did you go about deciding to build the app and working with an external team rather than, you know, hiring on a full time staff or doing any of the other ways that you could go about building a mobile app?

Megan Hanson 4:30
Yeah, you know, we talked about this, about building the app for years really, before we were in a place, you know, financially and with staff capacity to do it. We did have conversations about, Could we bring on a staff member? Could we bring on like a really talented like high school kid? Which I admit, admittedly, I immediately shot down because I knew we were, no matter how talented some poor high school kid is, this probably needed a team. I think we really quickly knew we wanted to work with an agency or development team rather than bringing on a staff member. And exactly why we felt that way, I have to be honest, I don't know. I think nobody on the organization just ever thought it was the route we wanted to go to have a full time staff member build and manage it. And maybe some of that was we knew there were a lot of moving parts to this, you know. It needed to integrate with Salesforce. It needed to have a lot of robust interactive features. We needed Android as well as iOS. And it just seemed very unlikely that we could find one human being who could make this the way we wanted. So a team I think just seemed like the natural solution.

Tim Bornholdt 5:53
Yeah, I think that makes sense. Like, I think, a lot of times, especially if you already have tech people in your organization, the go to is to just say, Oh, it's a tech thing. We'll just throw it to that team and have them do it. But I mean, as it relates specifically to mobile apps, like you just said, there's so many moving parts that it's really hard to keep it all in one person's head. And that's, I mean, that's why we have a team here is because we can't keep it all in our own head. I wonder, one thing within this whole project is you kind of have to decide upfront, you know, what the key features of the app are going to be? So how did you go about deciding what the app needed to have on day one? And what people were going to get value out of this? How did you go about deciding that?

Megan Hanson 6:36
Yeah, well, for us, it was always very clear to us from the start that the key thing this app had to do was be a mobile friendly map that made it really easy for people to find Little Free Library locations. We knew that from the start, because you know, the website map that we've had for years was always super popular. You know, we would see more than a million people coming to use that map every year. And we just weren't happy with how that map looked and its features performed. It was just kind of old, you know. I kind of joke it looked like a map from like the late 90s, which were a wonderful time, but maybe not for mapping applications. So I think that was really, at least as far as what features does this app have to have for us, it was always like, it's got to be a mobile friendly map. And it's got to be really easy to search so people can find a Little Free Library near them. Or they can find a Little Free Library based on the search criteria they want. You know, maybe they're on vacation, and they want to know which ones are within five miles of Seattle. Or maybe you're, you know, over at your mom's house, right? You're babysitting or whatever. That really doesn't make sense. Why would you go to your mom's house to babysit? I actually do that because my mom has my nieces. But anyway.

Tim Bornholdt 7:56
I was just gonna say my sister comes over to my parents'. I'm recording this at my parents' house right now. And my sister comes over all the time to watch my kids over here. So I mean, while the idea sounds weird, I totally, I was like, Yep, that makes sense.

Unknown Speaker 8:10
I do that too. So anyway, you know, you've got the grandkids, and you're like, Let's walk. Let's find five Little Free Libraries near me. Like, let's walk and share books. And so that mapping feature was always at the core of it. And then from there, we did a fair amount of user testing. Like the first several months before you guys were even developing the app, we were doing focus groups and surveys, just kind of talking to the Little Free Library community and being like, What features do you want? You know, what's super helpful to you? We know what we think. But some really cool ideas came out of that, like, the idea of a guest book was something we did not originally think would be in the app. But it became clear after talking to users that it would be really fun if there was a way when someone visited a Little Free Library to actually be able to post a little note in like a digital guestbook, saying hi to the steward, or saying, Hey, we stopped by and this was great. Like, just a little extra level of interaction between the steward, which is the person who maintains the Little Free Library, and the visitors. So like that came out of our focus groups. And I think some of the ideas around like favoriting and checking in to libraries also came out of those focus groups. So it was a combination of us having ideas, and then really letting the Little Free Library community speak for themselves and what they wanted.

Tim Bornholdt 9:32
I love that. I think one thing with your specific app too, is there's not just one type of user that's using this app, because a lot of the experience you've been talking about has been from the patron side, as you call it, as somebody who goes to the library and just checks out the books. But there's a whole other part of the app too for the stewards, for the people that are actually maintaining these libraries in their yards and businesses and wherever, and I'm assuming that you had a similar process where you were interviewing both of those different people and kind of figuring out what is important to them and what has to be in the app on day one to help them be able to have a good experience within the app.

Megan Hanson 10:10
Yeah, absolutely. That's a really good point that, yeah, a lot of people probably think about just the patron side of things. Like, Oh, it's great to pull this up and find them. And I can track the ones I visited and favorite. But yeah, the whole flip side of that is the steward experience. And yeah, we definitely did a lot of specific research with stewards. Because if you have a Little Free Library in our sort of old 1999 tech world, you had to like constantly resubmit this online form anytime you might want to change information on our web map. So like, if you have a Little Free Library, and like, let's say it changes locations because you moved, or let's say it looks a little different because you had to repair it. So now you want to submit new photos. There were just a lot of really small changes that we wanted it to be really easy for stewards to do on their own. But they couldn't. They kept having to resubmit this form. And then we as staff had to keep reprocessing it. So it's taking up a ton of everybody's time. So this app is really so wonderful because we set up a whole, a simple, well, it's simple for the user, not simple for you guys to build, simple for the user, for the steward to create an account, and then they can go right in there. And then they see their Little Free Library, and they can change anything they want in real time. So if they want new photos, they can change them. They can write a story. They can link to social media accounts. They can add, like an announcement being like, Hey, I put in Berenstein Bears books today. They can set an indicator being like, Hey, we need books, or my library's easily accessible. Like, it's so much more interactive and fun, I think, to be a steward, because you can really personalize your library and see how people are interacting with it. So that's just a super fun and exciting part of this app.

Tim Bornholdt 12:00
Yeah, I think maybe that's a good teaser for anyone listening to this that is like, I want to get in on that steward experience. It's like, Yeah, you do. You should go get a charter number, build your Little Free Library in your yard and started joining in on the fun. Because, yeah, I think it's so easy to get wrapped up in, you know, providing a good experience for yourself. I think in a lot of times, when you know, as a developer, we often think about people that are using our apps as like, they're just, you know, they don't know what they're doing, or you get really mad at the user for not thinking through things the right way, you know, like, with our, in our, you know, egocentric developer brains, right. But I think that's one thing that's really cool about this app is I know that there was a lot of time and attention put into, We need to make this simple and straightforward. And that means it's hard work for us, not just, you know, on the JMG side, but on your side as well as, How do we think through what this process can be? And how can we make it as streamlined as possible so that people can get in and out of the app, and most importantly, have a fun positive, like, memory associated with the brand and with the app and with all of it together? So it is a lot of hard work. And that's why it sometimes takes 18 months is because, you know, we probably did have an app ready to go at 12 months, but you need to keep putting it out there and testing and making sure that this actually is going to hit the mark so that when everybody sees it, everybody doesn't have to sit through the pain that can comes with the first version of an app that gets put out the door.

meg 13:33
Yes, absolutely. We were just talking about that at work the other day about like sometimes when you like you see a cool new app in the App Store and you download it, and then you're like, There's a really good idea here. But this is janky and weird, and it's not doing what you want. And that was just exactly the opposite. Like we were at a point of, we would rather take an extra however many months to get it right and launch this thing knowing that it's going to be really easy and fun to use than launch too early and have people getting really frustrated and not having a good experience. Because yeah, it's really easy to be like, Oh it's the user's fault, it's the user's fault. And sometimes it is the user's fault as someone who's had some very interesting customer service conversations. But also good design is about anticipating all the ways a user could misunderstand what you want them to do and making it really easy for them to get it right. And I think we did that really well on this one.

Tim Bornholdt 14:30
I'd like to pull on that thread just a little bit more about the waiting on releasing the app because in my experience, I've shipped so much software to the world and I mean even this week, I've had to talk with people that are trying to get something pushed out as quickly as possible because they just want it out the door. They just want the problem solved. But it's not ready, it's not right and so it's me having to kind of coach them down of like, It's going to take the time it takes. You just have to let the process play out. How did you kind of orchestrate that from your end? Like, I'm curious on the Little Free Library perspective, like, I'm sure there were plenty of times where you left meetings with us where you're just kind of like, Well, what, like, now we have to wait longer? Or I could see it just being really frustrating having to, you know, be constantly told, like, Nope, we're not quite there yet. It's still coming. You know, how did you deal with that on your end and not just want to rush things out into the world and push it out before it's ready?

Megan Hanson 15:27
Well, you know, I think there were definitely some post-meeting cocktails that happened. But no, not really.

Tim Bornholdt 15:35
At like 11 o'clock. I love it.

Megan Hanson 15:40
No, no, I wish. That's not how it went. I mean, yeah, there was definitely some frustration because we, I think we were trying for a 12 month timeline. And, you know, we hit more like 18 months. I think we were lucky in a couple of ways. A, I think sometimes people are trying to push apps out the door, because they're in a really competitive industry, or they're on the cutting edge of something, and they want to be the first one to get this type of product out there and kind of corner the market. We did not have that kind of pressure. Because Little Free Library is the only organization of its kind really, you know. We're in, we sort of exist in this, we created this thing. And certainly sharing books happened before we were around and will happen long after we're gone. But we didn't really have another Little Free Library app competitor that we were like super worried like, they're going to get it out first. Like we at least didn't have that external pressure.

So for us, it was about when we were, even when we were frustrated, like we really want to get this thing out the door. We wanted this three months ago. We know that we're a really small team, and we don't have a dedicated tech department. We have you guys. Congratulations, you're now our dedicated tech department.

Tim Bornholdt 17:00

Megan Hanson 17:00
Yay, I'm sure you're so excited. And we don't have a lot of customer service people either. So we knew that the much bigger error would be to push it out too soon. And then our poor, two coworkers of mine in customer service just get swamped. And we've got dozens or hundreds of calls and emails. And so I think we always just kind of kept that scenario in the back of our mind of like, whatever we do here, we cannot let that happen where our poor little team just gets totally swamped, because we released it too early. So I think that was always our, Hey, I know you're frustrated. I know, we want it to be better. But that is the worst case scenario. So we can't let that happen. We have to get it right.

Tim Bornholdt 17:43
I love that. It's a lesson I just wanted to reiterate, because I think a lot of times people do just want to push it out there but don't think about the consequences of putting something that's, you know, 90% baked out into the world. And especially when you have a small team, everything just kind of falls down. One question around this whole process, too. I think you've probably more than anyone would have experienced the, you know, getting it into your hands for the first time and having the joy of like, Oh, I can do this. Now it should do that. Ooh, now we should add this, Hey, I got an idea. What if we put this in there as well? Which in our in this space, we lovingly call scope creep. I'm wondering, there has to be this, it can't just be, This is it. We're done. Like dust the hands off and the Little Free Library app is done. At the same time, you know, you got to get features in there if you got to get features in there. So, I'm curious how on your side and how you guys thought through, you know, how you ruthlessly prioritize what features are going to go out as version one, and what features are going to be held on the roadmap for, you know, an inevitable version 1.1 or version two or what have you?

Megan Hanson 18:55
Yeah, so I should admit upfront, I don't know that we were as ruthless as we could have been. We fell victim to scope creep, like many people. I do think, for us, it was easy to prioritize features, because we would just think, Okay, like, whatever feature this is that we want or whatever, maybe kind of bug this is that we're looking at, is this going to result in calls and emails to our customer service team if we don't fix it? Because if that's true, then we need to address it now. But if this is a feature that's like, Oh, wouldn't that be really nice to have? It's fun, but you know if it's not there, do we really think we're going to get a bunch of people banging on our door to have it? No? Okay then it's a nice to have, not a must have. So for us, I think it really was about let's get something out there that is really easy to use. Like we had, kind of after going through all of our user interviews and getting all of the feedback from the community, we had a pretty, pretty clean list up front of these are the features we know we want here. So that is we're looking at them and thinking, what do we want to add? Or what don't we want to add? It always just came back to, is this going to hurt our customer service team? If it is, then we're going to fix it. And if it's not, then it's much more optional if we do that. Did that make sense?

Tim Bornholdt 20:22
It does. And it's nice to hear like the, I think when you evaluate features that go into an app, you need to have some sort of guiding principle as to whether it goes in or not. Otherwise, you know, I have apps that have been sitting dormant in code on my laptop for years, because I'm like, Oh, I should just add this one little feature, and then I can ship it. Oh, no, I gotta add this one. And it's so easy to just be stuck in that mindset. Where if you can put together a yes or a no, and make it very clear what the guiding principle is for whether something goes into the app or not, that really helps you take the emotion out of it. Because like the emotion you get with new features is not like it's not like emotional, like dramatic or sad or anything, the emotion is joy. You want to add more joy into your app, and you want this thing to be like 1% cooler, when you know, honestly, the other 99% that you've already built is already super cool. You're just kind of acclimated to how cool it is. And that's what I've been so excited to see. You just released the app, you know, just earlier this week, and seeing the amount of positive feedback on social media with the release and how much joy it's brought to people already, you know, job well done. I'm glad you had that scope in mind of like, Let's only do this if it's going to increase our operational costs from a support standpoint. Otherwise, we can push this down the road and get more feedback from the customers.

Megan Hanson 21:51
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it has had such a positive reception. Like not that new apps don't have bugs. All apps have bugs, but I feel like, really, when we've looked at the customer service, like rate, like how many people are contacting us, how many people are having problems, it's been super low. Like, I figured we might see, I don't know, 10% of the people trying to get the app contacting us with problems. And we've seen more like 1% or 2%. And that's just been really awesome, right? Like to be like, Oh, you know what, in the morning, I have like three or four emails I need to answer and 500 people downloaded it yesterday. Like, that's a really great place to be so. So that's been really exciting. And yeah, overall, it's been a super positive response. So you guys did an awesome job. And so did, so just a little pat on the back.

Tim Bornholdt 22:38
Yeah. This is a collective pat on the back for all of us. Because it really does take a team and I'm wondering like, have there been other like, you know, success stories or things that you've seen, like have you heard from patrons and stewards about the app? Like, you know, app reviews? Is all that going well? Has the board been excited about this? Like, I'm curious to hear from your standpoint, like, how has the reception been all around?

Megan Hanson 23:07
I would say overwhelmingly positive. There's always a few negative nancies, right. There's always somebody who has a grumble. And that's very expected. But no, overall, the board has been super excited, and you know, telling people about it. Like I was just, you know, I've been looking on social media and just talking to stewards. And I'm hearing all these stories about like, I've been wanting an app for so long. This is amazing. You know, I always keep a few books in my car and when I go to the grocery store, and now when I leave, I just pull up the app, I find the nearest Little Free Library, and I share the books. Like it's just been really refreshing. And it's been really nice for stewards, when they contact us being like, Oh, I need to change this, I need to like, edit this about my library, I'm moving or there's just so many, so many things that can change and need to be handled when you're a steward. It is so refreshing from a customer service standpoint to just be like, Yeah, I totally get it. Log into your account and you can take care of that. You can take care of all of that. It's just so satisfying. So I think we've been really, staff have loved it, board have loved it. So far, the community has loved it. So we've been very happy with that so far. I don't think we have a ton of, I don't think we have a ton of reviews yet in either the App or Play Store. But we'll get to that. We also haven't been super encouraging it and it's only been around for so long. So I'm sure we'll build them up.

Tim Bornholdt 24:29
Yeah, I think one of the most rewarding parts of my job is, you know, you get sucked into the day to day of just, you know, one little tiny area of the code that's causing a bug and you just stress out so much over something. These apps are so like, it sounds kind of, again, pompous, I guess to say this, but they're really like artisanally crafted, like we care a lot about what the code looks like and how the code works and what these problems are solving. And you kind of sometimes forget that at the end of the day, there are people on the other end that are using these and actually getting a lot of value and joy out of using them. And just hearing that story of like, you know how that person was taking their books in their car, and they'll just pull up the app to find the closest one to restock up like, I wouldn't have thought of that use case like that. Because I'm not a, I'm not the key user of the app, right. But for people that are the key users of the app, it's like, just hearing the stories of how they use it. And we've built, we've been really fortunate to build apps for some really cool brands, like my go to before, I used to tell people that we built a Great Clips app, because everyone would have a story of like, Yeah, I get my hair cut there all the time. And I use the app. That's so cool. And like now that I've been telling people about Little Free Library, it's amazing to me just how many people actually use a Little Free Libraries and how they take to that brand and that concept. And again, like it's just kind of we're patting each other on the back here. But it is, like it just feels so good to get this out into the world and to see how much joy it's bringing people. Like it's got to feel good from your side as well.

Megan Hanson 26:06
Oh, absolutely. I mean, you're totally right, that you can get down into the nitty gritty details where we were for a very long time. And I actually remember, that was one of the things that really surprised me, even though I've really worked at the intersection of marketing and technology for a lot of my career, so like I'm not unfamiliar with the complicated process when it comes to building anything web or app related is, I kind of thought I knew what I was getting into when we went into building this app. But I did not totally understand really the level of detail and really just kind of comprehensive thinking that goes into, what is, any given feature, you have to look at it and be like, What is every way a person could possibly attempt to use this feature? And account for all of them, and then do that like two dozen times. Like it's really kind of grueling and mentally challenging. So I have a lot of respect for the work you guys do. I mean, and all the positive reviews that we're seeing is the end result of like all that work and all that hard thinking. So obviously, it feels really great like when a user says, Oh, it was super easy to use. It took them one second to say that sentence and it took us 18 months to build the experience that made it really easy to use, you know? They don't know how high of a compliment they're giving us.

Tim Bornholdt 27:29
Oh, yeah. That kind of leads into another question that I had for you was just parts of the development process that surprised you. And that one is always one that I hear for people that are not used to building out software specifically is, we use the analogy of building a house all the time for what it takes to build an app because that's the closest I think people have in the real world of what it takes. Because if you've ever had to build a house before, been part of that process, you know, there are some cookie cutter things out there that make it easier, but even within that, it's like, how big do you want your walls to be? How wide do you want your doors to be? Like all of the little things of like where pipes should go and where cords and cables should be tucked in behind walls. And what color carpet do you want? And even down to like, I remember one time my sister in law was talking about building their house and she was like nearly in tears because she was so overwhelmed with the prospect of picking out doorknobs. Even like the process of like, what kind of doorknob do you want? Do you want it to be pewter? Do you want it to be gold? Do you want it to be a rounded one? Do you want to be a handle? Do you want it to, like just there's so much like choice and so many things you have to think through that the details, they get lost when it just comes down to, It took me one second to do this. And I'm done. Like you know us on our side we smile and say, Yes! Because that's exactly the rewarding part of the job is to make it so that you don't have to think about that. The computer should be thinking about it. But you have to tell the computer how to think about it. And oh, man, I could go on and on. Like are there other parts of this process that just kind of came out of left field for you?

Megan Hanson 29:08
I don't know if anything really came came out of left field. I mean a lot of it and a lot of that was attributed to you guys, you know. It was pretty, you were pretty patient with us and kind of guiding us through like, This is what we're doing now. This is, you know, this is what's going to happen next. I think it was we knew we were going into uncharted territory. I think we're, you know, we've now through the process of really building it. So I think the unknown part for us now is now we're in maintaining it. What kind of resources is that going to cost? So I feel like that's really the next unknown for us and there's really no way to figure that out except to go through it, you know, in terms of time and money. We don't, we have an idea of what it's gonna take but we can't know for sure. But in terms of building it, I think I was a bit surprised by the actual complexity and your comparison of building a house is absolutely perfect. I actually have flipped a few houses on a very amateur level. And I completely empathize with like, Wow, there's 5000 choices here, so many of which I never even thought about. But yeah, no, I think just the complexity of the building part was the biggest surprise for me.

Tim Bornholdt 30:25
Yeah, I think that's usually what trips up the most people is, we live in such a great time, where things are so simple, and people, you know, have ideas for apps where it's like, you know, I want it to be the Uber for X. Or I want it to be like Facebook but for dogs. And you just even saying those terms, it's like, that's really simple. Like, you know, an on demand, like, you know, we built an app that's like on demand dental staffing, and it's like, even at a high level, like, that's a really easy thing to grasp. It's an easy concept to understand, but to actually implement it and to think of all the different edge cases that are required to do something like that, it's a never ending saga. So you know, from my standpoint of like, what it looks like from here on your end is, you know, we got the app out in the world. Now, you're going to be collecting a lot of feedback, like as much as you were collecting early, which is, I'm very excited that you did that. I didn't know that you had all those focus groups done beforehand, because that saves so much time up front of like, Here's what people are saying they want the app to do. And we've sorted our priorities. And this is what we want to get done. Now that it's out in the world, and you've got people using it, it's just like the the guest book idea that you mentioned, like, there's going to be things that come out of left field where it's like, Oh, we didn't even think of that. That would be really cool. And you go through the process again, and instead this time, it's not, how do we do this from the ground up. It's more like adding a you know, either a story or a room onto your house or rearranging the furniture, you know. It's just the different complexities now that you have the structure. It's like, all of those things of how do you expand it and grow it to make it so that it continues to fulfill the need that it was intended to fulfill.

Megan Hanson 32:06
Yep, absolutely. And it's always a challenge too to not just build what you think the app should have, because like, I have all these ideas. Like, I would love to gamify the app. Like I'm inspired by PokemonGo, like, wouldn't it be super cool if you open the Little Free Library app, and like, you get badges for how many libraries you visit, or like how many books you share? I love that angle. I think that's super fun. But just because I love that angle, it doesn't mean it's what the Little Free Library community wants. So I think we're going to need to try to check ourselves and be like, Okay, let's, now that it's been out there for a couple of months, what does the community think? Like, let them tell you what could be more useful, as opposed to just thinking, Here's what I want. And building it. Not that you don't get a little bit of that license, you get a little bit of that. But mostly, it should be a reflection of what, how the community wants to use it, not how I think they should use it. And that's an ongoing challenge to build that way.

Tim Bornholdt 33:00
I love that. I think you do get a little bit of, you know, you get to have it the way you want it, which is like in certain ways. I think there's a lot of room for personality in that regard in apps, especially on like the about screens around those kind of hidden things. Or if you say, you know, I want the buttons to be kind of shaped like this, like you get some of those, the privilege of getting to set that. But yeah, the overall structure of how the app flows out, it does, again, just like I said before of like how difficult it is to have patience when you're going through the development process. It's also difficult to have patience with like actually listening to your users. Because we say that all the time in this industry. And we say that as part of a user experience, you know, ethos is we actually need to put ourselves in the mindset of the users. But sometimes you're like, but the users are wrong. Like we do it this way. And even if they say no, you gotta go the way they want it to go.

Megan Hanson 33:57
Right. Absolutely. Because they're the ones who are using the thing. So they should determine how they get to use it. So I think that's gonna be the fun next step. Like we're in a nice little like cruising phase, I feel like, for the next couple of months, where we get to just put it out there and see what happens. And then we get to go back and be like, Okay, did you like it? Did you not like it? Like, what fun new features do we get to add this year? So I think we're moving into a really fun phase of this thing.

Tim Bornholdt 34:24
Not a whole lot of people, like on our website, I say that we throw a mean pizza party when we launch, and I think not enough people take that seriously. Like I think like when you when you put this out into the world, you need to have that celebration, like we've been talking about. And so I think taking a couple of months to just soak in the accolades, like you've earned them. We've earned them collectively. It's a lot of hard work to do this and to see how successful it is, it's like you want to soak up those positive vibes for a little bit and then get back to work and start improving on the app and making it better. So I think that's a really great perspective to have.

But one other question that I had for you since we've got you here is, what if somebody else is listening to this and they they're thinking about getting started with building an app for their business and for their organization, you know, are there any, like, tips or tricks or things that you found had made the process easier to understand? Like, I wonder too like, you know, I can plug my ears. I don't have to listen to your answer to this. But like, you know, working with a team like us where, you know, nerds are nerds. And sometimes they're not the easiest to communicate with. Are there any like, is there anything you can think of of like, you know, how it would've made your job easier to work with a team like ours?

Megan Hanson 35:40
I mean, clearly, you guys, we were not your first app, obviously. Working with you guys, it was really, it was really helpful, because not all of you, but most of you were good at it. How do I say this, right? It's a very particular skill set to not only have the technical expertise to do your job, but then to be able to explain it in layman's terms to somebody who doesn't do your job. Like that's a really difficult skill set to have. And I thought your team actually had it much better, much more. And you guys were much better at explaining what you were doing to us non-technical lay people than a lot of people I've worked with. I think that really was key, because you know, you could tell me, I don't know you're messing with the particle accelerator. And I'd be like, Okay, fine, like, How much is that gonna cost me? But, you know, I thought that I really appreciated working with you guys and having kind of a dedicated project manager and talking to the same, you know, couple of developers every week, just being like, Okay, this is what we're doing. And here's how I can explain it. That was really helpful to guide us through the process and help us just stay on track and understand what you were doing. I'm not sure if I really answered your question there. Did I veer off?

Tim Bornholdt 37:02
No, I think that's like the takeaway that I would have for it then is if you're looking to have an app built for your own organization, is the team fit is a really big part of it. And some, I've been a part of a lot of different projects with a lot of different organizations, and some organizations don't mesh with us. But that's why there's a lot of different development shops out there. Because I think the way that we approach things is we want to make sure that we explain what we're doing and show our work. And it's not that, you don't do it, you know, either to flex on how great we are at developing and it's not to, you know, make us seem like we're smarter than we are. It's really because at its core, I find it's super important for you to understand what's going on in terms that you understand so that, you know, a, like, you can justify timelines and costs. Like it's an organization that makes money, like you have to, you have to pay attention to that at some point. But second, I think it also helps you understand and how to think through when you are talking with users and collecting that feedback of what the app should do and how it could work. You kind of have some of that, the arsenal behind you of how you can actually implement those ideas. And you can kind of think through ahead of time, when you're kind of thinking through, like, what would be the best ideas to put into the app. It's like, well, you know, just like if you're gonna go flip a house like, well, adding a story onto a house is going to be a much bigger lift than redoing the back patio, or things like that. Having that context is super helpful, just all around. So I don't know, I think that's the takeaway that I had from what you said of like, you know, if somebody else is looking to hire a development team, it's really, look at a team that's gonna mesh with, you know, what your specific needs are.

On the converse side, I know some organizations that would rather just like, it's kind of like, take the, I don't know of a better metaphor for this, but like, take the dead animal and throw it over the fence and have it be someone else's problem. Like, there's plenty of organizations like that, that would rather just say, I don't know how this tech stuff works. You take it and you go do it and don't talk to us. You know, like that, there are plenty of organizations that operate that way. And they work to great success. And that's fine. That works for them. But I don't think it works for us. And it doesn't seem like that works for you either.

Megan Hanson 39:17
Yeah, it's a good point that there are so many different ways to do this, right? Maybe you already have a pretty robust in house tech team, and you just want to hire someone full time. And that makes a lot of sense, because you already have other people on staff who can work with that person. And that's a good fit for you. That didn't work for us. But we also didn't want to just throw the animal over the fence, as you say, and be like, Oh, you guys handle all of it. We never want to look at this thing again. We also didn't want to do that. We were kind of hybrid right in the middle where we're like, we're not super techy, so we need people with your experience. But we also are going to be very involved in the ongoing management of this app because it's so interactive. It's very customer service oriented, at least for us. So we needed to have a reasonably good understanding of how it works, even if not from a super technical angle. So bringing you guys on as kind of like an extension of our team and being able to talk to the same people every week, and really kind of get our hands held when we needed it to come to a place where it's like, Okay, this app exists, and we know how to day to day manage it on a front end side, and you guys know how to manage it on the backend side. So that was a really good solution for us.

Tim Bornholdt 40:24
Yeah, I think it's really, I guess, trite and cliche in like, my industry for people to say, like, We're your tech partners, and like, I swear, I think we have it on our website. So I'm not going to, you know, hold it, you know, any judgments are held, but I think that's it, the reason it would be on our website is because I truly believe that that's the only way you can make great meaningful, impactful software that's going to actually drive value and make people excited and provide joy to people is to be a partner. Because I don't know your industry. You know, like I said, like, I'm not the guy that's looking around for Little Free Library to drop off books. Like that's not my, that's not my shtick, but my shtick is being able to take that concept and explain it into technical terms to actually get it built out and to provide that experience. And it really does take that kind of a partnership. And you got to have somebody that also buys into the mission, because while I'm not a Little Free Library visitor very often, I 100% buy into the organization's purpose and drive and the joy of spreading literacy everywhere. It's like to be able to enable that with a digital app has just been such a real pleasure to be a part of. And I'm very excited that we got the opportunity to have you on the show here to talk through that. And I want to give you a chance too like, is there anything you want to plug or any last, any advice you want to leave anybody here that's looking to have a mobile app built? The floor is yours.

Megan Hanson 41:56
I appreciate that very obvious moment for me to plug something but no, I mean, my plug is straightforward. We've been talking about it all show like, go download the Little Free Library app. It's available for Android and iOS. And obviously, we think it's super awesome. Even if you've never visited a Little Free Library before, like, Tim, we're gonna get you to be a more frequent Little Free Library visitor now that the app exists. Just go give it a try. It's super easy to use. And I mean, everybody loves to read and share books. Even if you think you don't, you just haven't found the right book yet. So that'd be my main plug is go download the app. I mean, I'll just say I think the world of your team at JMG. You know, we've talked about that for the last 45 minutes here. But I think anybody who's looking to have an app develop should definitely give you guys some consideration, because you really were patient with us over these last 18 months. And you know, you've built us a fantastic product that we're super excited about.

Tim Bornholdt 42:50
Well, I appreciate that. And I think, you know, there's, I can't remember what the phenomenon is. But it's like, you know, when you buy a new car, and then you only see that car all over the road where like before, you would have never given it a second thought. I think ever since we've been doing the Little Free Library app, they are everywhere, like everywhere. And it's so cool. Like in our neighborhood even I've been noticing like more and more been popping up just as I've been going out for walks. It's almost like it's just everywhere. And it's so cool. And now there's a place that you can go to aggregate those yourselves and start doing tours and making a journey of this. So, Megan, I really appreciate you taking the time to come on board today and talk about the app. And we've really enjoyed our time working with you as well. And here's to many more hours in the trenches together, fighting through getting more features in going forward here.

Megan Hanson 43:47
Well, it was a pleasure to be here. I loved talking with you. So maybe in a couple of years, I'll be back and we can talk about whatever amazing things we're doing with the app then.

Tim Bornholdt 43:55
I love it. And there was, I mean, there was talk about afterwards drinks, right? Like, I mean, you had to have those when we were stressing you out before so maybe afterwards drinks now are in order after this podcast?

Megan Hanson 44:09
Right, just gonna take the day? We're just gonna go, you know, have a couple Manhattan's. Call it. You know, who knows? Maybe.

Tim Bornholdt 44:15
I'm down for it.

Jenny Karkowski 44:15
Thanks to Megan Hanson for joining Tim on the podcast today. You can find Little Free Library's new app on the App Store and Google Play Store.

Show notes for this episode can be found at Constantvariables.co. You get in touch with the show by emailing Hello@constant variables.co or you can find us on Twitter @CV_podcast. Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the noble Jordan Daoust.

If you can take two minutes to leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, we'll give you a mention in a future episode as a thank you. Visit constantvariables.co/review and we'll link you right there. This episode was brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group. Check us out at jmg.mn or give us a follow on LinkedIn.