Why I Decided to Build My Own Casual Event Planner

 

I’m a gamer and I had a problem. Some might posit that’s a problem in itself, but I guess that’d be a different essay. Regardless, my games were hard to coordinate among my friends. I wanted to fix this problem rather than live with it, so, I had to either find a solution, or I had to create one. This brief post explains why I ultimately decided to solve this problem myself.

Of course I wanted to solve my own gaming coordination problem, but, if done right, I might also produce value to others for planning of their own casual events.

The problem as I experienced it, was that, having set a date/time/place, and after sending out invitations by email, some annoying followup work was required. First I had to field and collate the responses, and then, either manually or mentally, I had to keep track of the status as the responses from my friends came in. Inevitably, one or more friends would reply to me only, while others would reply-all. Similarly some would phone me their response. Making matters worse, some would phone another person in the group, and not me. Either way, there was no communal knowledge of the status of a session. Furthermore, if a critical mass was attained, or not, it’d up to me to follow-up with another message – this time a ‘confirmed’ or ‘cancelled’ email. This process was clearly neither effective nor simple.

The spec then for the solution I needed was – “…provide a system that simplified planning, automatically tracked and maintained event status, and reduced ineffective communication between organizer and invitees.”

At this point I had reached a make or build decision. If something already existed, then great, I’d use it – if not, well, time to start building!

Calendar apps and planners are ubiquitous, surely there’s one that would meet my spec, right? Google Calendar, Facebook Event, Evite, Outlook and many apps let you easily set date/time/place and send notifications, and most have slick well-tested UI’s Many collect responses, and keep a tally of yes/no/maybe’s, and some even enable a de-confliction phase of planning characterized by back and forth proposals and counters. Remember though, my spec said nothing about deconfliction; I just wanted to float an event and see who bit. My feelings weren’t going to be hurt if an event fell through – in fact, the earlier it crashed, the better for me to move on and plan something else for my time. At best the above offerings solved only half my problem, but often at the expense of fancy UI’s and unneeded features.

Also, my research at the time, and since, for other similarly themed projects revealed a common property. They often seemed to be spec’d to solve the appearance of a problem without actually getting to the heart of the matter. For example, and this is often the case with design class projects, the spec was loosely written in the form “…simplify the decision process for the organizer and attendees of casually planned social activities.”

Solutions* emerging from the above type of spec often looked nice, and seemingly would provide nominally useable features. Still though, they did not address the fundamental problem I had which was, “what is the status of my event, how can I convey that as easily as possible.” Simply put, these solutions produced systems that had been cobbled together from what available technologies and frameworks could provide, rather than what they needed to provide. Some solutions actually complicated the process rather than simplify it with the proposal/counter-proposal feature.

To help visualize things here are a few models:

  • Based on my spec, these are the functions I needed in my planning system, presented in the form of a Data Flow Diagram (DFD):

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  • This highly simplified DFD captures the functionality in many of the mainstream offerings:

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  • Finally, the Use Case diagram on the left is representative of “the offerings” and on the right, my user interactions of “my system:”

20151025_102356

Without having been explicit before now, the focus of this post is to draw attention to the functional analysis and resulting models done to respond to an informal spec. What I think has happened, especially in the offerings alluded to here with the purpose to simplify things, is that focus has been placed on the life-cycle of the planning process, rather than emphasizing the life-cycle of the event itself. This is true at least so far with respect to addressing the problem I had first identified and specified.

I haven’t attempted to describe “how” I have solved my problem; that will be better addressed in a followup post.

Instead, I hope the post adequately describes “why” I felt I had to take the initiative to solve the problem for myself, which, as it turns out, is the very definition of a “home-grown solution.”

With that said, you are welcome to try out my solution for yourself – it is available as a fully functional Beta at Zejoop.com

* Note: DCDR, Google Fiesta, Tossup, Planito (among others) are examples of well-intentioned projects or offerings that may be viable for others, but do not meet my spec for simplicity.

Visit Zejoop Now, and Start Planning!

Exhausted

The previous post mentioned another submission to Y Combinator; this time for Winter session 2016.

Even though I started early enough that Tuesday should have been a breeze – only should require enough effort to apply finishing touches – it turned out to be anything but. All of Monday was consumed making a Zejoop demo video, required because there’s been none previously and that probably reduced chances of success. Then Tuesday morning in its entirety was creation of the founder intro video. Both required many takes, but all told, they turned out great!

Then at maybe 2 PM Tuesday afternoon, a mere 6 hours before the deadline, I attempted to open my draft application on the YC ‘apply’ site. But then, BAM, it was empty – I had to redo all the previously invested work. Frustrating.

Anyway – finished it – was happy with the result. This feels like my strongest attempt so far. I’m very proud of how far I’ve come – Zejoop presents well, and I’m happy about that. The YC outcome is out of my hands now. May the hard work pay its reward.

Zejoop Casual Event Planning is for You!

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Just when you thought there was no answer to your frustrations planning casual events with your friends, along comes Zejoop!

You already know it – planning by email or text alone doesn’t work! Use Zejoop, and start having fun with your friends. Avoid the mis-communication and headaches using built-in features that track event status and automatically confirm or cancel your meeting! It’s easy, and for most users, it’s FREE! Check it out!

Visit Zejoop Now, and Start Planning!

(please share on social media using the buttons below, thanks!)

Ready, Set, Go – Let’s Use Zejoop!

Visit Zejoop Now, and Start Planning!

Today marks the beginning of Phase I of a campaign to actively acquire new users for Zejoop. If you haven’t done so already would you take this opportunity to create an account and start using Zejoop. To get to this level of readiness feels like a great achievement, but all the same, Zejoop will only fulfill it purpose and mission in the hands of users; users who will not only benefit from the unique offering of its ‘criteria-based confirmation or cancellation’ feature, but who also themselves have the chance to actually shape the future on Zejoop in the form of feedback, bug reports and feature suggestions.

Are you an early adopter? Do you have an adventurous spirit? Might you be willing to help a friend realize his dream of building a successful business from scratch? This is a foray in the modern frontier of tech-based entrepreneurship – early adopters can take this trip alongside a developer like myself – does this prospect interest you? If so please setup an account, and start planning by clicking one of the orange buttons! Start now, and enjoy the benefits of a simpler and hassle-free way of planning your fun – your Fun with Friends, facilitated by Zejoop!

Thank you very much! Please direct feedback, bug reports and feature suggestions to the address available under the ‘contact’ tab above.

Michael LaRue, Founder & CEO, Zejoop (Patent Applied For)

Visit Zejoop Now, and Start Planning!

PS… please help get the word out, and share on social media using the widgets below; every little bit helps! Thank you!

Zejoop Rocked Grand Prix San Jose – a WHOLE trip RECAP!

Visit Zejoop Now, and Start Planning!

Zejoop traveled, first to Grand Prix San Jose, and then to Las Vegas, and what a trip it was! It’s taken a while to post this recap, because that’s how fun and productive it was, and also an indicator of how busy I’ve been, both during, and since.

The trip itself was broken into three legs:

  1. the Grand Prix itself, from Friday to late Sunday (for the purpose of market research, promoting Zejoop, and meeting/interacting with Magic players insofar as they are a potential target audience for the Zejoop service)

    Talkin' about solving problems related to organizing gaming sessions for Magic players!

    Zejoop had lots of opportunity to meet with Magic players, and make new friends!

  2. …a stay with a longtime friend, Tom, at his house in San Jose proper (a chance to visit with a friend and his family, and to possibly network in the Silicon Valley tech startup community, because, after all, that’s what Zejoop is, a tech startup! Yay!)
  3.  …and finally a side-trip to Las Vegas, primarily to see Jack White live at the Brooklyn Bowl
this image courtesy of his website, and I'm using it here because they made it available, having discouraged from using phones and/or cameras to "as filters to interfere with our enjoyment of the live music" - that's what they said!

Zejoop.com had a blast at Jack White, LIVE at the Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas!

As for a post-game analysis of the trip, here are some COMMENTS and TAKEAWAYS, broken down by ‘leg’ as described above:

  • …regarding the event itself, I will call it a rousing success! My thanks to Channel Fireball and Cascade Games LLC for being outstanding hosts to me. All my objectives, and more, were met. I got to talk to a lot of players and hear them describe the problems they have, if any, in organizing gaming sessions among their friends. I made meaningful contact with many people who shared their thoughts and impressions. Was able to give out a lot of business cards to enable future conversation if that’s in the cards (ha ha – do you see what I did there?). Most importantly I met a number of people who gave directly relevant feedback as to their potential use of Zejoop, and offered their email addresses for future contact along those lines. Throughout the two days, I got a number of great suggestions for additional features; some of these were really great – almost good enough, to justify the expense of the trip on the merit of these ideas. PS… that’s what trips like this are for; to glean just such type of feedback! SUCCESS! Finally, among the many people I met, a small subset were actually fully engaged participants in the startup scene in Silicon Valley who were willing to stay in touch. Their sentiment in seems was in the form of a like-mindedness, able to relate to what Zejoop was up to. Making contacts like this, again, was almost worth the price of admission alone. The life of a startup entrepreneur, and certainly as a single-founder entity, can be solitary at times and anything that can serve to expand the network, especially with coverage into Silicon Valley can be particularly valuable.
  • My visit with Tom, what can I saw. Being true and current friends with someone you met in the third is a precious life gift, and we had a great time. Got to watch the second half of the Super Bowl with him. I will say he has a odd way with the DVR, and the prevailing concept that “for this show alone, that the commercials are intended to be PART and PARCEL of the show” seemed moot to him – we FF’d through them, but that is OK. Also as a consequence. at some point we heard in the neighborhood, the inevitable sounds of a victory celebration on front porches. The outcome was already known to most, yet somehow, our revelation as to the winner was to be probably at least 20 minutes in the future. I had another objective before leaving town – I wanted to find one or more meetups to go to in or around Silicon Valley. I will give myself a score of ‘D minus’ on that one; even though I did find one great happy-hour/mixer to attend, I misread the invitation, and I got there a full 24 hours early. Too bad – that was my one shot, and I was to leave Tuesday afternoon – the hobnobbing would have to be postponed until my next trip northwards. Oh well; my bad.
  • …FINALLY – Jack White in Las Vegas! Wow! What a show – he is quite a musician, and an outstanding showman to boot. The Brooklyn Bowl was a great venue, and I got a great meal there beforehand – blackened catfish, mashed potatoes and and a vegetable plate. Below the food, is a selfie of me with some nice people I met, who were cool and shared their table with me.IMG_20150204_203616_880IMG_20150204_203659_349

 

Well, there you have it; a slightly long-winded summary of a very eventful trip. A trip that included business, old friends, new friends, great food, and great music – thanks for the great music Jack!

Much work lies ahead for Zejoop; there are no guarantees – the business of staring a startup is rarely better than a long-shot at best – but, at the heart of the matter, it sure beats moving data around in an Excel Spreadsheet, or copy-pasting within Word as a thin excuse for what passes as “work” in modern defense contracting. There’s never been a better time for me to be at the helm of my own ship – a ship I’ve built, and one I’m ready to sail as far as she’ll take me!

Because I appreciate your time as an audience, reading this, I will end with a paraphrase of Jack White’s own show-ending salutation (inserting my own name, as you’ll see, where appropriate):

“…thank you, you’ve been incredible, and I’ve been Michael LaRue”

Zejoop is Going to GP San Jose – T minus 2 days

Check it out! How cool is this? Zejoop is on the MAP! Here is a snippet of the Grand Prix San Jose venue floor-plan for the event:

Zejoop on the GP San Jose Floorplan 2015-01-28 12:16:11Props to Jon of ChannelFireball! From what I can tell this location is the perfect spot Zejoop; I’m very happy. I mean, seriously – this is basically right on the 50 yard line (prime seating for football, amIright?). Also between the main stage and the concession stand. Should be perfect. I don’t know exactly what the ‘mystery box, 20×20 ft² area’ is, but hey – mysterious green boxes can be cool, right?

This snippet is only about one fifth of the entire map, and clearly Zejoop is the smallest booth of all vendors – a solitary 8 foot table. Surrounded by giants as it were, with many other vendors taking up 6 to 8 of those same 8 foot tables. Gotta start somewhere!

It’s going to be a great event; see you there!

Zejoop is Going to GP San Jose – T minus 3 days

Three more days and I couldn’t be more excited!

Three more days to Grand Prix San Jose, and with it the chance to interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of Magic enthusiasts! How cool is that?

Three more days, and I’m so busy getting ready that I feel like this:

Busy like a Gecko!

Living life on the Edge (or the screen, rather) getting ready for #gpsj

Been so busy, I’ve missed a few days of blog updates; not to worry – I’m back with a blog post – and I have great progress to report.

A few highlights, then back to work:

  • “https:// protection” – after a three grueling sessions of phone contact with Amazon AWS tech support I have finally protected the main domain with an SSL certificate. Not out of the woods yet, but the end is in sight. Two hours talking on Friday night, then a three hour followed by a final one hour session with Amazon. They were great, and I take a lot of responsibility for the slowness – I have some OS issues, some ‘peculiarities-of-hosting’ problems and the inability, initially to allow screen-sharing with the tech. Clearly I am not cut out to be an IT/sysadmin guy. I still have an issue with my jquery-mobile not rendering properly because it has been stored on CDN – gotta host it locally and the ‘https://’ task will be complete! Yay!
  • Graphics (the design) – can’t have a ‘naked’ booth at #gpsj, right? Spent some quality time with my friend and go-to graphic designer, Jeremiah, who helped with some posters, a banner and some logo updates – high quality work from him; the stuff will look great!
  • Graphics (the printing thereof) – dropped the several jobs off at Feathers Photo, a great print shop right here in Santa Clarita

Well, that’s enough for now – gotta get back to work!

Make sure to stop by the Zejoop booth at the Event; looking forward to seeing you!

Zejoop is Going to GP San Jose – T minus 7 days

It must be said that today is a monumental day for Zejoop – one week away from Grand Prix San Jose, and I’ve posted essentially complete, fully functioning prototype of the Zejoop software. In a quirky turn of numerario-logical fate the version just posted is ‘zejoop.200’ – I couldn’t have planned it better had a tried!

(teaser – at the end of this post I’m going to ask a favor of you; are you up to it?)

Minor things do remain though. In my last post I ambitiously asserted that the SSL problem would have been solved by now. Still waiting on that – I have the certificate and keys ready to go. Unfortunately, I’ve had a setback with the complexity of installing

Zejoop is Becoming a Brand

Zejoop is on its way to “Becoming a Brand!”

Amazons command line interface, which is required for me to interact with my deployed instance and upload/install the certificate. Looks like I’ll be calling Amazon tech support tonight. Also, I plan to plant some Google analytics magic beans into the mix: does that make sense to you? No, sorry – I am kind of going all ‘stream-of-conscience’ on you – sorry.

Tomorrow will be kind of busy too. Print shop, Staples… if I’m lucky I’ll afford myself a break to swim. Maybe I’ll have some coffee? Sure why not – coffee.

I suppose that’s enough of an update for now. I will reiterate though – very exciting times for Zejoop!

Oh, that favor I mentioned… one last thing; would you please? From your Facebook account, search for the Zejoop page, as categorized under ‘software,’ and ‘LIKE’ the page? That’d be cool! Thanks!

Zejoop is Going to GP San Jose! – T minus 11 days

One would think that making the commitment to attend Grand Prix San Jose as a gaming lifestyle vendor would be the end of a long process of preparation, and cause to kick back and relax – let the good times roll! Well, let me tell you, such is NOT the case. Deciding as much marks the beginning of just another phase of getting ready. Not to worry though; the chance to interact with the gaming community is unquestionably AWESOME!

As for the checklist of things to do. There are several categories: Software readiness, marketing readiness, art readiness and “people” readiness. For the moment I’ll focus on software readiness.

Not to reveal too much under-the-hood, but as far along as Zejoop.com is, considering it is still Beta, there remains a lot to be done.

For example, while in development to this point, the workflow of planning an event has assumed a single, straight-ahead path. That’s all well and good, unless the organizer wants to save a draft of the event, and come back and edit it later. Things such as changing the event details, or updating the list of invitees prior to sending out the invitations, are just being added now. That takes time – but, progress is happening!

Also the code still has some diagnostic alerts and whatnot; those have to be identified and removed.

Perhaps most importantly though, and I hope we can still be friends after I make this admission, but the site itself needs to be protected by encryption and an SSL certificate. Never had to do that before – now I do! Have to learn that real quick. Fortunately securing the certificate from, BlueHost, my domain registrar, was pretty straightforward, and come tomorrow, the imprimatur of SSL protection will be a done deal (assuming that is, that the tutorials I will rely on are easy to follow). It will be done – I am success oriented!

So there you have it; a blog post with a little bit of info, some behind the scenes stuff, and a little bit of soul-searching and the humble confession of a learning-as-I-go software developer.

All of this to keep you up-to-date, and ultimately, to extend the invitation – Come visit the Zejoop booth at the event. Learn what Zejoop has to offer to help you get together with your friends, have fun, and game!

Zejoop is Going to GP San Jose! – T minus 13 days

Zejoop is excited to be going to Grand Prix San Jose! The chance to interact with as many as 2,500 gamers, and to introduce a product like Zejoop to help solve the problems encountered in planning gaming sessions is AWESOME!

It is especially exciting because most recently several technical and re-hosting “opportunities” emerged and required immediate attention and resolution. I am happy to report those items have been successfully dealt with. Specifically, and firstly, this blog itself needed to be re-hosted; thanks to BlueHost and their excellent tech support, this Zejoop blog is up and running again, now better than ever! Secondly, the company providing Zejoop’s platform-as-a-service (PaaS) cloud hosting discontinued its service. This drove me to seek a different solution on short notice and forced me to become much more of an IT/admin type of guy than I ever thought possible. After some research it turns out the Elastic Beanstalk service as offered by Amazon Web Services was the perfect solution! Although more powerful, and while still presenting a “PaaS-y” approach, its power also requires more low level control. Hence, yet another hat to wear – that of the IT/admin guy. Regardless, the transition is complete, and between the BlueHost/Amazon complement of services, Zejoop is well supported for growth!

The future is bright, and it all starts at Grand Prix San Jose!

Come visit the booth at the event, and learn what Zejoop has to offer to help you get together with your friends, have fun, and game!