Before we set out to build Efiko Freelance, we had — all three of us — already worked as freelancers, on independent projects and even in corporate environments. We had gathered experience in both the freelance market and project development. However, much of what we put into building efiko.co was learned in the process of development, as no two projects are the same.
With efiko.co we wanted to build something dear to us. A platform to solve all the problems we faced while freelancing. I personally freelanced for three years and they were not pretty (freelancers, you know this feeling). Firstly, we did our due diligence. We looked into the freelance market to see how many people were willing to source jobs online; how many sites were out there to cater to these people; how well these sites where doing to aid and grow the industry and how we could contribute or help fix it. As it happened, most of our local competition weren’t doing much. Either they had built a clunky interface or they promised outlandish deliverables and rewards.
We also looked into how much a platform like ours would cost both in the international market and on the local level. On average we found out $25,000 – $40,000 was the base cost (Roughly N10m). As we neither had the money nor the inclination to spend such amount (given that the country was going through a recession — 2016 we’re talking to you), we opted to build it from the ground up. We found we (3) essentially were competent and had almost all the tools we needed if we combined our experience, knowledge and skills. But still we needed a complete and robust team.
Before this team was complete, the proper scale and scope of the project had to first be defined and understood. The first thing we did, after deciding on building the project in-house, was to outline the system, working up a DFD (Data Flow Diagrams) mapping out every single function and feature — including action performed by a user and those performed by the admin — on the site. With this in mind we knew exactly how to grow the team and roles each individual would perform. Thus we needed: a Systems Architect, a Design Master, a Front End Guru and finally a Back End Ninja to help battle all programmatic adversaries. But this being Nigeria, it was hard getting an adequate and versatile dev guy. I’d say it took longer finding the right person than it took deving the system, but when we did, it was well worth it.
Having a full idea of the system architecture, we proceeded to Wireframe it. First we sketched up the website layout and templates on whiteboards until we were fully satisfied with the placement of items, menus and buttons throughout the platform. Then we took these whiteboard sketches and digitized them using Balsamiq to create templated mock-ups. At this stage we could play around with the site, clicking through, ensuring that every feature and function served a purpose.
Next we vectorised and illustrated the site using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop so we could get the site looking exactly as we envisioned tweaking the tone and feel. That done, it was then time for the frontend prototype to be built which didn’t take too long as we already knew what to do. With over a hundred (100) frontend pages and over sixty (60) email templates, at this stage we could browse through the site like we would a functional one, albeit in its static mode. Satisfied with our efforts thus far, we started to plug in the database and write out the entire API’s we imagined we would need for our beta launch.
All of the above mentioned processes were done while we still worked of off our first office space, a room in a tiny boy’s quarters. Our own equivalent of the “garage” made famous by most silicon valley startups. We pushed to stay here far longer than we needed to, just so we could brag about building the system in a “garage”. And true to form, it wasn’t glamorous: it was workdays and worknights fueling on coffee, noodles and peanut butter sandwiches (not all at once though). And after a few months of rigorous testing and catching and killing of bugs (physical bugs included), Efiko.co beta was launched.
Taking all the planning, strategizing and meticulous development and testing, a near perfect version of the platform, one we could only visualize prior, was complete. You know that tech old saying that if you launched your startup without bugs then you launched too late? Let’s just say, nobody told it to us then. But like Jesse Eisenberg’s character said in ‘The Social Network’, “a website is never complete. As long as there are people using it, then it’s never finished.”
Could we have done all these in a shorter time? Yes! Should we have? Maybe, but the entire planning and research phases were important as we wanted to mitigate our risks as much as possible, by building something that’s thoroughly thought through with little or no points of failure. Something perfectly tailored to the market we’re building it for. A freelance platform built for freelancers by freelancers. Something, hopefully, like efiko.co.
This is the first part of a 3-part series. Look out for the next part next week.