7 Lessons Learnt While Building Zuqka.com

On Thursday, the 5th of April, a tweet announced the launch of the biggest project we have ever worked on yet.

I was glad to see that tweet; we’d been at it since November 2011. Four months of sweat and blood, with an occasional Eureka dance in the wee hours as the project progressed. So now that we’ve built what has the potential to be the leading entertainment site in the country, I’d like to share some of the things I have come to learn as I look back in retrospect.

1. Be brave, leave your comfort zone

I’ll be honest. I was (very, very) terrified when we were asked to take on the work. I took one look at the mindmap of the project and decided “No! I can’t handle this! We can’t handle this!”

Zuqka MindMap

The monster octopus we were to create

Yes I have several years of experience designing and developing web sites, but I hadn’t done anything that came close to the scale of Zuqka’s specifications. However, we ended up taking the job. Four months down the line, am glad we did. Can someone pop the champagne?!

2. Work with a great team

You know, I was among the first group of iHub green members. But I didn’t renew my membership this year. Why? Well, this is a personal sentiment, but I increasingly felt that

  1. Many people in the design and development field talk a big deal but can’t deliver what they claim
  2. In the rare cases where they are actually good, pride is almost always present. It’s as though working with/for someone is beneath them

I can assure you of one thing: if I had been asked to do this project alone… I would have recanted all my chest-thumping, fled to Rwanda, and started life all over again building sites for SME’s! Truth is, Zuqka.com is what it is today because I worked alongside two awesome guys: David Kuria and Brian Wangila.

David (Skyline’s Co-founder & Creative Director) did an absolutely stunning job with the layout, colors, and all graphic elements of the site. The mockup was captivating before I even started coding! Since he was handling graphics, I didn’t have to worry about the initial creativity. I just had to be creative with how I coded it.

Brian was the all important piece of the puzzle. We needed someone to work on the uploads section since I felt that the other parts of the site already had my plate full. If he wasn’t willing to roll, we weren’t going to take up the job. Thankfully, he agreed to reshuffle his already busy schedule and collabo with us.

3. Expect the Unexpected

If you’re ever going to work on any massive project, be ready for disaster to strike. It’s in times of crisis that your capabilities are really put to the test.

In our case, Brian had been working on his part of the project from Addis over the December holidays and early January. Then the worst thing happened. There was absolutely zero connectivity, and he couldn’t come back to Nairobi until February! This was way behind schedule, and of course we couldn’t just tell the folks at Nation that the guy handling the most important part of the site was stuck in Addis. Let’ just say we had to find a plan B, and we did (thank God).

4. Mobile First

Again, to be honest, our designs didn’t start with mobile versions. What David the wizard came up with was a desktop version. However, a couple of months into the project, we learnt that Nation’s policy is that they were not even going to launch the site if it didn’t have a mobile version. That’s serious stuff.

Luckily enough, our Martian skills include responsive web design. So we ended up giving Nation not just a mobile version, but a site that would automatically adapt to simple phones with browsers, smart phones, tablets, and desktops. Try resizing your browser when you visit the site and watch what happens.

5. Documentation, a necessary evil

I was required to write documentation. I had no problem with commenting the code. In fact, I felt like a teacher who was able to explain what each chunk of code was doing.

The problem is when you have to write a separate document documenting the site’s functionality. That sucks! Especially when your creative juices for another project have begun to flow. However, I force myself to think of the person who has to manage the site long term. If I were in his/her shoes, I’d definitely appreciate some documentation. And thus documentation lives on…

6. Business is business, nothing personal

As we worked on the project, we handled it like our own baby. Every pixel, every margin, every gradient, every drop shadow, every image, every color was handpicked and made to fit in the whole like an artistic composition.

However, the fateful moment came when we had to hand over the site to the technical guy who was to take care of it. When I visited the site a day later, I almost cried. The top area had been squashed, the search field misaligned, the logo replaced, and worst of all, the slideshow area that was to use high quality images had shoddy “blankets and wine” posters! Ugh!

I even contemplated not having the site in our portfolio, but we’ve decided we’ll put up the original designs we had and let Nation enjoy their site however they want to. After all, it’s business. You win some, you lose some.

7. Perfect your skills, success will hunt you down

Have you seen the movie, “Three Idiots”? I absolutely loved it. It ends perfectly: the guy who crammed for exams in college ended up chasing after the one who actually took interest to understand how things really worked (with 400 patents to his name).

Chatur chasing after Rancho

That’s a life lesson. Our top priority at Skyline is to acquire and perfect skills. The rest, we leave to God. Indeed He’s been very gracious. Soli Deo gloria.

Signed. Martians.