November 13, 2023

Web Forms to the Rescue: When My Coding Skills Failed Me

I often find myself in tough spots, whether it's because I lack certain skills or things just don't line up well. When I took on the challenge of my first startup, Shoot, I hit a major roadblock. With time ticking away and everyone counting on me, I had to get really creative to figure things out.

So... what's Shoot?

Shoot was a marketplace website for connecting photographers with customers that want to book high quality photoshoot experiences. Our research into the Houston-area photography market showed us that customers had difficulty booking photographers and we hypothesized that our platform could solve that. Shoot consisted of a team of passionate individuals dedicated to turning this vision into reality.

I was the Product Designer, and Web Developer.

My coding skills were..... not that great

I wasn’t that great of a developer. I knew I couldn’t code the platform but I knew I would be able to design it. We needed to launch an MVP. I had built out Home and Photographer Profile pages in HTML, CSS, JavaScript. Each photographer’s profile was a separate HTML page. It was very very barebones. Most folks will laugh at this, and I can see why. But, as long as our customers got what they wanted, then we were good. That is all that mattered.

It was 2018, and finding a cost-effective, plug-and-play solution for taking booking requests and managing payment processing seemed like searching for a needle in a haystack. Maybe there was something out there and I just didn’t know.

I decided to take a step back and break down the booking process. What was the ideal scenario? Customer comes to our website and is able to look at our collection of photographers. They look at their portfolio and the prices, and decide to book them. The customer chooses the package, picks the date of the photoshoot, makes the payment, and the photographer is booked.

I couldn’t do all of that. I had no full-stack development skills. Maybe I can break it down and restructure it in a way that gets the job done.

My Solution: Forms. Yeah. Just Forms. Who Knew.

Desperate times call for creative measures. I decided to take booking requests through a simple web form. I set up the form that will take the user's information, allowing them to select which package and the date of the photoshoot. Every single photographer had their own booking form. All the requests would come to a company email and be forwarded to Simbai. We tested all the forms individually to make sure that when a customer was booking Photographer A, it wasn’t sending us the request for Photographer Q.

Our photographer booking process

The process involved Simbai, the CEO and our dedicated coordinator, following up with both the customer and the photographer. He ensured that the scheduling aligned with everyone's preferences and used MailChimp to create every booking confirmation manually. He would then send the payment request through PayPal or Venmo and take the money upfront. Photographers got paid the moment the photoshoot ended. This is the true meaning of bootstrap.

Our Booking Process behind the scenes

Did it work? Yeah, it did. Customers assumed it was all automatic while we were working day and night, making sure our customers got the confirmation within minutes. We didn't want anyone to wait.

Results: Massive Success. It didn't crash. Customers were happy.

Against all odds, Shoot's unconventional approach turned out to be a massive success. Over 40 booking requests were made through our platform, and our photographers made $3500 collectively. The figures spoke for themselves, showcasing the effectiveness of the barebones system. I was over the moon every time a new booking request came in and nothing was going wrong. It was the highlight of my career and is the reason I am still the person I am today.

That’s why I tell most people to experiment with startups. It doesn’t matter what your idea is. Regardless of whether your business succeeds or fails, what you learn is invaluable.

Hi, I'm Nabil

I'm a Houston-based Product Designer. I enjoy working on new problems, doing my research, and trying my best to understand the concerns of the business so I can help them grow their business through design.

Photo of Nabil holding a Zoro doll