How to Make a DApp Without Knowing how to Code

J.G. Whitley
February 1, 2021

Below is a transcript of a conversation I had with a Zilliqa Community member recently; summarizing my journey as a "no-code dapp dev".

This is from a conversation we had on Telegram, that has been slightly modified for formatting, with a few added details, and most grammatical errors (mine) left in tact.

Friend, [Jan 31, 2021 at 11:43:29 AM]:

Hi mate, thanks for reaching out - I’d be really interested in learning more about the process you went through with PackagePortal and ZilHive if you’re happy to share your journey? I’ve got most of the details of my dApp worked out but I’ll be heavily dependent on developers to get it implemented which feels very unnerving!

J.G. 🏁, [Jan 31, 2021 at 12:17:20 PM]:

No doubt! Unnerving is a great descriptor! LOL, happy to share my journey. I actually would like to maybe do a video that breaks it down so more people have access to a rough template.

But essentially, I was like you, found an idea that fit into my world of logistics, but it needed smart contracts, a mobile app, backend development, corporate structuring, and loads of brand and content creation.

But before I worried about that too much, my first step was to write out a very detailed executive summary of the idea. How it could work, what it would do, potential markets to penetrate, was very rudimentary and like 8 pages of just words, but I know the field of delivery space, and this disrupts…

So I threw up a prayer and submitted it in like April of 2019, and was surprised and fully gassed when Han Wen replied with approval conditions. Those looked something like milestones over a 8 week period that needed to be hit, and the grant was disbursed as we made progress. Which we probably actually screwed up because we were originally going with NFT instead of FT. (But we’ve still got plans for NFT)

Not having any sort of coding background, once I was awarded, I immediately reached out to my close friends and fam, asking for software engineer referrals. A friend gave the name of a guy that was already deep in my circle of local friends, that I had just never met. So I reached out, scheduled a lunch with him at his office, and talked his head off for a couple hours. He didn't know the first thing about blockchain, and had barely heard of bitcoin, but he was intrigued, and the grant was a confidence booster for the both of us.

From there, he was on board, so I incorporated the biz, and we began mapping out steps to get the mobile app created, since it was the first key... and zil was still working on ZRC-2 standards and stuff at the time. After about 2 months, we brought in another engineer who worked under my cofounder at their day job...then a month later, we brought on another. Gabe led the charge, while Ben focused on the backend database, and Henry dove into trying to learn Scilla. Mind you, even though all of these guys are very equipped software engineers, NONE of them knew a thing about coding on a blockchain before we met.

It was loads of trial and error, with all of us just poking and prodding around trying to make the app work, while Zilliqa furthered token development on their end as the market sobbed through the bull market. And I think we would have been much quicker in progress, if any of them had mobile experience, but they all came from traditional software backgrounds in the medical space. So we had learning curves in creating a native app with ReactNative, and learning curves for smart contracts & Scilla, & learning curves for navigating regulatory compliance in the US and EU...all of which were hard. We’d crush some deadlines and blow others...we’d be on cloud 9 from adrenaline one week, and questioning goals on others. But by God's grace we all just kept at it and eventually continued making headway, little by little.  

Team Contributions lighten the load, and open the road.

The timing was helpful too because again, Zilliqa was still busy working to bring developers tooling and tutorials and such, so it was kind of in parallel throughout 2020. It's now been 20 months since the grant approval...and we still have about 30% left. The $20k grant was really $10k USD or ETH, with the other half being AWS credits, and it was split into 4 payments as we met goals. We contracted a pro to do the branding and UI design for like $3k, bought Ben a laptop, & we pay for hosting fees and $2k going into the two liquidity pools on ZilSwap and UniSwap, so the grant has fueled the fees til now....beyond that, Gabe & I bootstrap all other costs. No salary and we eat the fees on internet tools like GitHub, Slack, admin tools, merch and a slew of random stuff...whatever helps us improve usability and profitability.

There's much more detail in there I'm sure I'm glossing over, but the two big take-ways for you should be:

1-Find someone who can code.

Ideally familiar with blockchain to some degree. (Which is probably easier now since it's gaining more awareness.)

2-Figure out the rest as you go.

Improvise, iterate, improve.

For me, as CEO, just about anything that is not coding rests squarely on my shoulders. All corporate admin, bizdev, media, sales, marketing, socials, content, networking, etc, all falls on me. This way my 3 engineers can focus on coding ...they all still have day jobs so their time is limited. I run a delivery business, and I brought in my brother-in-law last year to take over daily operations so I could focus on PackagePortal. But since I can't code, our timeline was much slower than it could've been because again, my engineers work full time at a startup that was acquired last year, so their plates are super stacked.

J.G. 🏁, [Jan 31, 2021 at 12:55:38 PM]:

I should note: I filed a provisional patent before the ZilHive application...that’s like an idea-reservation for 12 months until you can file a full utility patent, which is expensive. But I learned that in software, its VERY hard to patent code, and most people opt for copyrighting excerpts or key pieces of code...even then, protection is limited, so we felt an urgency to move fast, but it was never fast enough for my liking...and even now, with all the pieces beginning to fall into place, we still don't have working capital in the bank, and cash is key to get to market dominance. So my focus now is to get capital in the corporate bank account so my guys can quit their day jobs & take us to Andromeda...if I can get them dudes in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, and outsource some other tasks, we can bring the deeper vision to life even quicker. Speed will help to act as a moat of protection against deep pocketed predators who may try to pounce on the idea and throw cash at it until they beat us out.

But we've come a LONG way, and having a working app in both app-stores, along with a functioning platform with live smart contracts, and circulating tokens, gives me peace that we could now go toe to toe with any clones that may try to pop up. But it was a grind to get to this point...We also have the added factor of broad ignorance in logistics...a lot of people outside that space just don't know the insane value of consumer generated delivery confirmations. Carrier agnostic, blockchain backed...what we've built is pretty crazy.

So all in all, I just thought Zilliqa was dope and initially just wanted to add transactions to its Mainnet (which was brand new), so I started with a crazy idea on New Year's eve 2019, mulled it over for 4 months, then just went for it...and now here we are, a year and a half later. And with the development from zilliqa last year, alongside the advancement of DeFi opening up loads of options for how we implement and iterate, I feel like every transaction sharpens the tip of the spear.

Bottom line, map it out and find a tech partner(s), or outsource some from India, they’ve got some of the smartest folks and lowest rates. But in my experience, having a co-founder has been way more than just a “tech guy” computer brain, but he's helped organize and structure things I didn't even know would be needed to operate a software platform. He’s had input in a range of things outside of tech too. We’ve become good friends through it all, contrary to most of the cofounder horror stories I read about. Same for our two engineers...we all get along great and can work together harmoniously for a looong time to see this through, as well as some other ideas we have.

Not sure what your idea is, or whether its mobile/desktop, or how many smart contracts are needed to make it work, but I'm here as a resource if you've got questions or get stuck...just hit me up bro! There's still time to get ahead of this curve.

Friend, [Jan 31, 2021 at 2:02:51 PM]:

This is honestly so helpful, really appreciate the time you’ve put into writing this! Made me feel a bit more confident about the whole process and what I can expect/how I should structure my activities, so thanks!

There’s some parallels here as my dApp will be heavily dependent on the ETH bridge, as you were with the zrc2 standard, but should be a great use case for it if I can get the project off the ground. I’m at a slight advantage as there’s actually already a dApp on ethereum doing something similar to what I’m planning, so there’s a loose framework I can iterate on and improve, but it would be a different beast on Zilliqa and hopefully complement ZilSwap, the ETH bridge and Pillar.

Also reassuring to hear that your devs weren’t already in blockchain and still managed to pick it up because that immediately opens up some potential options for me. Did ZilHive provide any support when you came across issues with Scilla or did you and your team pretty much work things out on your own?

Honestly man, if you can find the time at some point, I’d strongly encourage you to publish this info, whether in an article or a video, because hearing about your experience is so invaluable to people like me, thanks again for putting all of this together. Already re-read some parts several times and I’m sure I’ll continue referring back to it! Advisory position is open for you if I ever have the good fortune to get to that stage 😂

J.G. 🏁, [Jan 31, 2021 at 3:09:33 PM]:

No sweat bro! Happy to help. The ETH bridge will do a lot for us all. There's not much liquidity on ZilSwap at the moment since its so new and lots of ZIL is locked up...but the ETH bridge will open doors there. If you've got some code already existing on an ETH project, you can fork it from GitHub and save your dev a lot of time on frameworks. Still some compiling to be done between solidity and Scilla though.

My guys have blown me away with their adaptability. My main blockchain dev, Henry, still struggles sometimes since Scilla and sharding is all very new stuff...even for experienced engineers. My cofounder is full stack with a decade plus experience, and he's just now beginning to grasp the smart contract aspect since we had him focused on the mobile platform til now. Ben hasn't really touched the blockchain bits since he's been handling database and mobile backend and loads of other mission critical ops. But these guys will be more public in their roles and in the community once I can secure funding for them to leave their day jobs...but right now it's kind of a balancing act between transparency in the community, and privacy in their professional networks. I'm trying to guard them and honor their privacy as best I can til that point. But when those hinges blow, the stories they share will be just as compelling.

ZIL was on video calls with us maybe once every 6-8 weeks for the first few months, then we were kind of on our own after that..but we did (then and still do), get plenty of discord and chat help along the way. Having an issue right now as we speak as a matter of fact, lol..could be on their end with an api issue, or could be something basic we just missed; we'll hear back soon and get it squared up.

I really appreciate that feedback bro, I think I'll try to get this edited and formatted and make a blog post as I work to schedule a video along with some podcast interviews & AMA's and what not. I am always on tap whenever you need advice or guidance as you come to whatever potholes...that probably contain IEDs and landmines in them 🤣 Just hit me up! Hope to be in the conversation of strong ZIL projects alongside you for the foreseeable future! Let's Win!

ZIL community strongest.

J.G. Whitley
Hi, I'm J.G. one of the founders of PackagePortal. When I'm not building or creating, I like to descend mountains on two wheels.

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