At 3 p.m., Geoff Grandberg and Rendall Koski got their approval for Ministore, a social shopping app for iPhone that they'd been developing for close to six months. At 7 p.m. the lights went out.
"I was using my laptop, I was using the phones, and we had... that's it," says Grandberg. "By the morning, nothing was on."
Ministore was approved on Monday, October 29, the day Hurricane Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey, plunging much of the area—including downtown Manhattan, where Grandberg and Koski both live and work—into darkness for close to five days. Those five days also happened to be the biggest in the history of their fledgling company. Talk about a design flaw.
For one thing, Grandberg had expected to get the approval well before then. "I'd been reading on Quora [that the approval process was] three to five days," says Grandberg. "It took them ten." For another thing, no one expected a major hurricane to bear down on New York City—ever, but especially in late October. And although they knew it was a possibility, Grandberg was never expecting the power to go out.
First thing in the morning, Grandberg charged uptown to the nearest Starbucks with power so that he could plug a hole in the code. Finding no open outlets, he was forced to borrow a laptop from a stranger. "I actually said, 'Can I install Filezilla," a web upload protocol, "on your machine?' And they were like, 'Okay. No viruses.'" Beyond that, though, there was little he or Koski could do. Even under the best of circumstances, app updates face an extended approval process, and although they work with a few programmers outside the city, without functioning laptops their hands were all but tied. To keep busy and productive, Grandberg passed time volunteering with the Red Hook Initiative's hurricane relief.
Ministore itself is recognizably the child of Instagram and Etsy: take a photo with Ministore, apply filters for things like price, style, color, and discount, and then send it to Facebook; linked back to PayPal, the photo becomes, effectively, its own mini store. Ministore was a pivot from an earlier project, along the lines of Storify, that created content from photo streams, but the two developers couldn't find a revenue model to fit. With Ministore, everything happened seamlessly. In addition to the sell-your-own-wares function, Ministore also allows users to share third party items and receive a 5% commission when it sells.
As of last Friday, despite the wet blanket Sandy threw over its first week, Ministore was up to around 1,000 downloads, and Grandberg and Koski have already submitted their first update, an improvement to the image quality and resolution in the app. "I've built peer-to-peer education, social, gaming, even banking technologies, from the ground up, but never social at this speed," says Grandberg. "I'm not a photographer. I was a guy who sold stuff on Etsy and sold stuff on eBay and just had lots of issues.
"The storm directly affected me, but we were able to move forward and still get this out there, to launch, still deal with users. As long as we had power in the phone, my partner and I, we could still get this out, still talk to people, still assess. We were the lucky ones."
[Image: Flickr user Mike]