How Two Shoe Enthusiasts With Zero Programming Experience Built An iPhone App

by Tim Jahn on January 14, 2011

When shoe enthusiasts Brandon Williamson and D.J. Grant decided they wanted to create an iPhone app to locate boutique sneaker shops, they called around to see how much it would cost.  Turns out it would cost a bit more than they could afford.

So Brandon and D.J. built the Sole Search app themselves.  They learned how to program for the iPhone from scratch and the app has been downloaded over 20,000 times.  I interviewed these guys to learn how they did it and why.

Transcript:

Tim Jahn: So as I was reading, you created the Sole Search app a year ago and it’s been downloaded over 10,000 times since. But you guys didn’t have any programming experience. So how did you even build the app?

Brandon Williamson: Man, we studied. We got into a situation where initially we had the idea; we researched to see if anyone had done the idea before us. From there, anyone that we wanted to have create the app, there was such a high amount of money, now the prices have come down for developing.

But at that time, it was such a high amount of money that we had tied up into our initial business which was in fashion, so we didn’t have it. But the idea was something that we really wanted to do, so we began to study just how to make the app. We took a couple of classes, bought some books online, sat in and watched some other people do some things, made a bunch of mistakes and eventually we came on with the app.

Tim Jahn: So this is awesome. So you didn’t even hire a third part firm —

Brandon Williamson: We tried.

Tim Jahn: You tried. You went out and actually learned how to build an iphone app from scratch?

Brandon Williamson: Yeah, yes sir. Yeah.

Tim Jahn: Was the motivation behind that entire financial that you couldn’t afford a third party developer? I mean, because that’s a — if you’ve never programmed before, learning iphone programming from scratch is no easy task.

Brandon Williamson: Not at all. A lot of it was financial. That was probably about the half of it. the other half was just if we were to say okay, we’ll go get the money, it may have taken us two minutes too long, somebody would have come up the idea and then we wouldn’t have been able to say we were the first ones to do it.

Since we’ve come out, there have been at least three other apps that have actually successfully copied us. And there’s probably like three other companies working on something very similar to our app right now. We would have missed the boat completely.

Tim Jahn: Okay. So if you would have waited to find a developer and you know what forget this, I’m just going to do it myself and get it done as quickly as possible?

Brandon Williamson: Yes we’re very time sensitive.

Tim Jahn: Oh man the amount of determination you got to have to learn. I mean, that just blows my mind. If you’re not a programmer to learn programming, that’s just, that’s beyond what most people are capable of.

Brandon Williamson: Right. We made some mistakes. And it wasn’t perfect. We got done what were able to get done and did the jest of what we wanted to do. And then from there once we got some downloads, we got some money, we had an update done, which was done by some professionals. So yeah.

Tim Jahn: Okay, that’s awesome. So where did the idea for the solesearch app come from?

Brandon Williamson: Man, I’m forever a Blackberry user. Somehow or another I went from Blackberry to iphone. So I had an iphone for about a year and we’d been around the world. We’d been to London, we’d been to Paris, we’d been to Shanghai, Tokyo, Toronto; we’ve been all over the world twice you know going to sneaker stores. So basically shop our products and say hey, we’d meet people, make sure we bought something a build the relationship.

So people would in turn say, “Hey Brandon, hey DJ, we’re going over to Miami today. Can you tell us where the stores are? Brandon, we’re going to Atlanta, can you tell us where the stores are?” Eventually we just got tired of it having to go to our data base, type out all the stores, say, “Hey if you’re going to Atlanta, these are the spots that you want to go to.” Having to call them to make sure that they’re still open because with independent boutiques a lot of times they close. So we had to go through those type of situations and every time having to do that so we’re not sending people to a place that doesn’t exist.

I had the idea, I had the iphone, I would the Urban Spoon applications, I would see the movies application which would tell you the theatres that you could go to. And I was like, man, it would be pretty cool if there was an iphone app that would tell you where the hard to find sneaker boutiques are. I was like, dang, I had too many eureka ideas so I’m sure somebody’s already done this before. So I looked it up, nothing. I looked it up again, nothing. I Googled it, nothing.

So I made the call to DJ and I was like, “Man, we have to stop everything we’re doing and we have to do this.” DJ’s the type of individual that if we’re doing something, we have to do it until we’re finished. Somehow I convinced him that hey, whatever with that, we have to go and do this. We have to figure out a way to go and make this happen. And successfully we did.

Tim Jahn: What was the first step when you decided that you were actually going to make the app? What was the first thing — after the research, what was the first step?

Brandon Williamson: Figuring out how that process goes. Like we didn’t know there was like an approval process or how Apple is very meticulous with what they let in. We just thought it was a free for all, you come through and — initially we thought Apple did it for you, you just came with an idea and you paid Apple some money and Apple said, “Okay, I like your idea, lets go.”

That’s what we thought initially. So initially we just had to figure out what it meant to make an app. You know what I mean. So once we figured that out, it was — that’s when we had to go through and try to find someone who actually knew what they were doing unsuccessfully though. So there.

Tim Jahn: Gotcha. And you mentioned that you — this all came from you guys shopping around your sneaker products. So you guys formed a fashion company or a shoe company in college. I mean, most kids in college usually are worrying about getting a real job after college and getting their first real world job. You guys not so much.

Brandon Williamson: That was the thing, we worked in college. Like I worked for 53rd bank. I worked in banking, I worked with AAA, like we worked, we had real jobs while in college. And I knew very early on I wasn’t trying to continue doing that. So we formed a company that was based around footwear and luggage and basically things that we liked to use that were functional but also looked pretty cool. So we formed the company called, Perseverer which is persevere but in French.

And persevere meaning no matter what happens I’m going to continue to doing what I want to do in order to get to my final destination. Which somehow, someway that’s actually what we do within everything we do. We continue to make a way out of a closed door.

Tim Jahn: So, forming that company was your way of saying, I’m going to get out of this working in the banking industry or whatever and do something cool and fun, and live off of it.

Brandon Williamson: Exactly, yep.

Tim Jahn: How long did that take? How long did it take you guys to get to a point where you guys could actually devote more time to the fashion business?

Brandon Williamson: We’re still working on that.

Tim Jahn: You’re still working on it?

Brandon Williamson: Yeah, we’re still working on getting to that point. We — to this day we still work. We’re still continuing to fund our dreams and continue to be able to support everything that we’re doing without having to appear as if we’re not already at that point.

Tim Jahn: What’s the hardest part in terms of getting to that?

Brandon Williamson: Going to work.

Tim Jahn: Going to work.

Brandon Williamson: Going to work knowing that you have something under your couch that’s going to blow the world away once they actually get to see it.

Tim Jahn: That’s an awesome way to put it. You — in the pre interview information you sent over you said you guys could have quit a bunch of times over all sorts of problems and excuses. What were some of those problems?

D.J. Grant: Everything man.

Brandon Williamson: Financial, trying to — once you actually get to a point — you can go I’m sorry.

D.J. Grant: No it’s cool. No I mean financial. I mean you have situations to where you try to bring other individuals on in a certain capacity to help you out. For some reason those relationships don’t work out. And you know a lot of times we can only count — there’s three of us, so we count on each other because we know at the end of the day, we’ll get it done.

But you still have to have a team of other individuals especially when you’re doing something as big as this. So things of that nature and then just balance and everything though. Like you said, we still work fulltime, part-time. Just making sure you still do that because you know, that’s the way we finance our business at this point. And until like Yahoo or whoever comes through and say, “Here’s one billion, just take it.” Then that will be a little easier. So — but there’s a lot of — all those things are really just excuses because there’s always a work around to get something accomplished. So —

Brandon Williamson: Yeah, like one big thing is you create certain things to infiltrate a certain industry and you think, you, this is such a great idea, I know everyone will be behind me with this idea because it changes the game; it revolutionizes how things are done. And then when nobody agrees with you or nobody pays you any attention that’s when it gets a little more difficult.

Like we entered into the industry within technology and this was first actual international introduction into the sneaker culture where it was like anybody in the world can get, touch us, we can be anywhere. We’ve sold apps in Australia, we’ve sold apps in South Africa, London, Copenhagen, all over. But industry wise, magazines, publications, blogs, we never got a response. So it’s like we created the app with this intuition like they’re going to love this, they’re going to hear about us and they’re just going to love it, its going to be great; they never responded to this day.

Tim Jahn: I imagine that got to be kind of a morale hit at first.

Brandon Williamson: Oh yeah, that’s when I was just like, I made a horrible decision. I made a horrible decision by going with this as apposed to staying with what we were already at, where we were already on track for.

Tim Jahn: DJ mentioned that you — one of the problems that you guys ran into was with team members and having the wrong people. Do you want to give an example of where something happened there? I mean, I don’t want to do any gossip. I just mean —

Brandon Williamson: And that’s really cool to work here. To be around us, we do everything from media to events, to going out and partying with celebrities, and interviewing celebrities, and going to all these cool sneaker places, and having all the cool clothes, and all the attention. We have all of that.

It looks really, really, really, really cool to be us. It looks like it, but we work really, really hard. Even when we’re out doing these “fun things” we’re working at that point too. Like if I’m lucky, I sleep four hours a day; if I’m lucky. And I usually do that at work. So don’t tell anybody else that though. But it turns into a situation where we may be expecting something of someone that doesn’t own the company and they’re out doing something else. They’re out doing things that aren’t relevant to what we need and then in turn we’re not able to pay them a whole lot.

So it turns into a situation we can’t depend on them or expect them to do anything because we’re not paying them. So what do you fire an intern? It kind of becomes a pony situation just in you know, trying to maintain at their discipline so if they’re not their job when technically it’s not a job.

Tim Jahn: Gotcha. So what are your plans for the iphone app for the solesearch app going forward? What are you guys hoping to do?

D.J. Grant: To right now we’re actually about, maybe about halfway done with the developing the android app. So android should be available in December, about the middle to the end of December. So —

Tim Jahn: Did you guys hire someone to build that or did you learn that?

D.J. Grant: Yeah, that one yeah.

Tim Jahn: I thought maybe you guys dipped into android development too.

Brandon Williamson: So we’re right there with that one. And we have, I mean, we have a huge, huge, huge push. Now we’re really getting all our ducks in a row. We’re close to establishing a relationship with a big PR firm in Chicago soon. So everything is kind of being packaged right now for the — to push the android, to do a couple of different changes to our website and just our whole presence overall.

And really start out 2011 just like from the top and just like nonstop. So everything is — everything has been for the last probably what two months now? Two months is just now everyday. Like today, like after we talk with you, we have to go up north to Gurnee and go interview a boutique up there. So, we’ve been blessed. Its been going real good. So but 2011 is going to be ridiculous.

Tim Jahn: That’s awesome. I love how your company’s called Persevere and this is just you guys. You guys are nonstop just go at it. I mean who actually develops their own iphone app? That is awesome. What’s one piece of advice you’d give a fellow entrepreneur who has an idea and wants to have it executed like you guys did? What’s your one piece of advice for them?

D.J. Grant: Man, I just say on my end just to do it. I mean, me and Brandon before we even started talking to you were just talking about just some people we know that are doing some things and we’re just like man, you know, you can make a million excuses of why you don’t want to do anything.

But at that time, those million excuses could have been 200 minutes you could have been working on it physically. So we just — we don’t make excuses. I mean, we have these crazy challenges. I mean, there was a time where we went to Paris and we didn’t almost make it home. We were stuck in Paris with pretty much no money and we made it home. So to me in my life, that was probably like the biggest obstacle we had to solve ever. Because we would have been working in a Paris Burger King. And I probably would have —

Brandon Williamson: It’s called Quick.

D.J. Grant: Yeah, it’s called Quick over there. So I mean, with that being said, you know we don’t, we always try to think of a way to solve our problems man instead of really just dwelling on them and just seeing why they’re holding us back. Because only at the end of the day we hold ourselves back. So we would say just if you have something you want to do just do it really. I mean, it’s as simple as that.

Brandon Williamson: I would say that the best way to keep something from happening is by not doing it. If you don’t want to be successful then just don’t do anything. We’ve tried a lot — we stay pretty consistent in the things that we want to do.

If it’s something that we put our efforts towards doing, we’ve stuck with it and stuck with it, and stuck with it because we know eventually it will work. There’s something that Will Smith says, “If you’re doing something that you love, then eventually the money will come.” We’re not really driven by the money. Like it’s more so for lack of sounding corny, it’s a legacy behind it.

It’s something that we’ll be able to say, “We were the very first people ever to create an iphone app that found sneaker boutiques all around the world.” In sneaker culture, finding a sneaker boutique is very difficult. To find where it is that you’re going to go camp out and wait 16 hours for the new shoe to come out, it’s a difficult task if you’re in a new city that you don’t know of. So we have the ability to say we were the first ones to do it and from there we were — someone came in and copied it.

It’s just the ability to stake what it is that you want done with your life. You know what I mean. So if I could tell anybody anything, follow your first instinct. If it’s something you really want to do, just because you failed once, doesn’t mean that you have to stop it.

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