Mu-An Chiou

A Story 1/2

14 Apr 2013 - by @muanchiou

# This post is not yet finished.

About a year ago, a bunch of friends and I launched zeczec.com, a crowdfunding website. We are Kickstarter for Taiwan.

It was pretty simple, Kickstarter does not exist in Taiwan, but we want a crowdfunding site. What do we do? We build it.

We are a group of designers plus a fresh entrepreneur. I am a web designer with a product design degree. My co-founders are an architect, a fashion blogger/book author, and a graphic designer. We all have numerous designer friends working in various professions, we all know talents that we believe should not be left unknown. There was simply no reason for us not to do this.

It was 6 months before we launched the website when we first got together for our collective debut startup experience. It was just ridiculous how much time we spent on coming up with a name, doing case studies on crowdfunding in other countries, and wireframing without actually building anything. I had to become so discouraged by the endless meetings to a certain point when I finally decided to build a prototype.

A prototype? not really. It was static HTML. I was a web designer and a front-end girl, I had too little back end knowledge. Sure I could build something easily on WordPress, but there are hoops I couldn’t imagine jumping through without external help, paypal pre-approval for one. Wait, what? I didn’t even know what an API was.

So it was only sensible that we find a back end developer. We were looking for Drupal or Rails dev specifically; Drupal because there were lots of Drupal devs allegedly, and Rails because it’s hot, that simple. However, in the end we found a Django dev.

We were all working at after work hours and on weekends. I would be busy designing and doing front end of the site, others trying to set up an actual company and doing countless paperwork. There were too much to do and too little time to do them, so we decided to ship out a MVP and try to be “lean.” We didn’t even really know how M a MVP should be, but our Python dev had a startup background so he stopped us from wanting too much by simply not building them, which was great.

We launched the MVP, and it was really well-received. Zeczec was the first creative crowdfunding site in Taiwan, it was an entirely new idea to put in people’s heads. But much to our surprise, the first project reached its goal on the 3rd day, and the following projects all reached their goals within the first few days. On top of that, the media jumped at us. We told ourselves, this was awesome, now that the idea had been proven to work in Taiwan, let’s build a full product in a few months.

That proper version of the site never happened for the next 12 months.

I was going through lots of changes at the time. I got a job in a London based startup when I didn’t really know what a startup was, and soon after we launched zeczec, my company decided to move us to the US for 500 Startups. Just like that, we moved from London to Mountain View, nothing was for certain. 48 hours after we were sure it was a go, we were already on a plane, then 3 months in 500 Startups flew past in a blink. I learned a bajillion things.

A Bajillion.

Apart from all the startup related things (there were tons), I also learned Rails.

In 500, my company was working on a re-build, we switched from Drupal to Rails, and it was quite crucial for me to know how the front end works in Rails. Why does this view need to be called new.erb, why is there an underscore prepending the file name, and where do those instance variables(if only I knew that’s their name) come from?

I couldn’t really do anything on zeczec. Our founding team were split across the globe literally, there is +0800 in Taiwan, +0000 in London and -0800 in Mountain View. Not only was it impossible to set up a proper meeting, I was just too busy and overwhelmed with all the stuff happening in the accelerator.

However as I was absorbing all the knowledge and funsies around me, I realised I was suddenly so much closer to building a website completely solo. @robert, my colleague at the time and our Rails dev, suggested that we exchange front/back end knowledge, that was perfect! It didn’t take long before I realised: Oh wow, Rails is so easy to learn!

I needed something to practice on, so I decided I was going to build my first app as a crowdfunding site. I was nuts. It was a so unimaginably huge project, but I really didn’t know, I really didn’t notice. In the process my company also started using Backbone.js, so I thought why not practice it even more? I built a real-time messaging system in my crowdfunding rails app, before I even began to sort out any of the payment practicalities…

To be continue.