Student Spotlight: Justin Munn on His Successful App, Donald DonatesBy: The SwitchUp Team
While attending the Firehose Project bootcamp, Justin Munn was looking to channel his newfound skills to a project he was passionate about. Justin teamed up with two friends to build a product that would put a clever spin on political awareness, and raise money for charity in the process.
The final product is "Donald Donates," an app that lets subscribers donate a small amount of money to charity every time President Trump takes to twitter (which, as we all know, is pretty often!). Since launch, the app has enjoyed a lot of press coverage for Justin and his team, with outlets such as Newsweek and The Daily Beast profiling the project. Even more importantly, Justin predicts that the app will raise over $450,000 for partner organizations by 2020.
We sat down with Justin to learn more about his background, the app's success, and his tips for bootcamp students looking to start a project of their own:
1.) How did you and your teammates come up with the idea for the "Donald Donates" app?
David Hyatt, Adam Gibbs and I have been friends since we met freshman year of college in 2006. David is a software developer. He joined twitter and wrote a quick web app to troll @realDonaldTrump every time he tweeted. Adam has a 10 year history in working for politics. After working the Clinton campaign he helped pivot David's app into actionable fundraising. The 3 of us had already been working together to build a hiking app. They pulled me into the mix for the front-end and UI. Since we had already been working together we were able to put together a working web app in about a month sprint.
The result: DonaldDonates.com lets you sign up and donate a small amount to progressive organizations every time President Trump tweets. The top 4 people have supported so far are the 2020 Democratic Nominee, Planned Parenthood, Indivisible Project and the ACLU. But people have been supporting organizations in a wide range of causes including Environmental Protection, Empowering Women, Ending Sexual & Domestic Violence, Gun Violence Prevention, Immigration & Refugee Assistance, LGBTQ Issues, and more. We tried to keep it simple with a monthly cap, donation calculator and ability to change your settings at anytime. Donations withdraw once at the end of every month so there are no surprises. It's a sustainable way to support organizations doing the work you care about.
2.) What was the initial response to the project?
We've gotten some nice press since we launched the project from Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Elite Daily. We had a surge of signups at launch and have been growing steadily since. We've been live for less than 3 weeks. Our current user base is already projected to raise over $425,000 for these orgs by 2020. With our user numbers growing daily, we're hoping to raise millions of dollars for these organizations by the next primary election. Other responses have been what you'd expect from a comment section on anything political. Overall the response has been pretty positive.
3.) How did the skills you learned at the Firehose Projects help you build the app?
The Firehose Project has a large focus using Ruby on Rails. Learning more about the MVC structure of Rails allowed me to collaborate with David better than before joining the bootcamp. Donald Donates is currently built on Angular which also has a MVC structure. Before joining the program I would build dummy prototypes in plain HTML and CSS for David to wire up. Since starting the bootcamp, I've been able to navigate and contribute to the codebase more confidently. This has freed David to focus more on the back-end allowing us to ship quicker.
4.) What is your background? What made you decide to attend the Firehose Project?
I have a background in Graphic Design where I've been working full-time over the last 7 years. As I began to teach myself HTML, CSS and building websites in 2011 I became more fascinated with web development. I wanted to make the transition into that side of the industry. I've done plenty of self-paced teaching through Treehouse, and Codecademy. While I learned much, the skills felt disjointed without much to add to a portfolio. Becoming less motivated by those self-paced sources I began looking at bootcamp options. I've been working remotely since 2014. I also move every 4 months following my wife's nursing contracts. Quitting my job and doing an in-person bootcamp wasn't an option.
After lots of research I settled on The Firehose Project because of their mentorship model and final group project. The personal touch I saw in all the videos and blog posts from the founders and former students also helped. After being in the program I can say that has been my favorite part. It's been great seeing the community Ken and Marco have built first-hand. The mentors and other students are truly invested in one another. Plus the price point and fact that it was 100% remote fit what I was looking for so I took the dive.
5.) What challenges did you overcome to get to where you are?
My challenges have been the ones most making this decision face: time management (attending a bootcamp while working) and balancing finances. When it comes to Donald Donates we've been introduced to the startup challenges of wearing many hats. We're shipping constantly based on feedback, UX improvements and feature requests. We're learning more about customer support, building partnerships, and marketing everyday.
6.) Why was a bootcamp the right for you?
I decided 2+ years and the tuition cost of another Bachelors or Masters Degree in Computer Science wasn't for me. A bootcamp seemed like the best ROI for the time and money to switch to a new career path in an industry I enjoy. I chose the Firehose Project because the price point, 22 week timeline, and job placement rate seemed like a worthy investment. They care for the people in this program and want you to succeed.
7.) What plans/dreams do you have for the next 5 years?
My biggest dream involves helping my wife pay off her student loans, my credit cards, being debt-free and saving up for a house. I also want to build digital products that people love using. Continue to learn and improve my skills to solve problems and make people's lives a bit easier.
8.) Any advice for students looking to join a learning program like a bootcamp?
Dip your toe in with some of the free resources available online. If you like it, find a bootcamp with curriculum that fits your goals with positive student reviews and go for it. The more you put in before and during your bootcamp the more you'll get out of it.
9.) What's next for the "Donald Donates" app?
We plan to continue growing our user base. We'll build deeper partnerships with organizations doing good work to help them raise money. Continuing to improve and automate our platform is the first step. Then we'll begin to focus more on scaling our team and services as we grow.
10.) Any advice for recent bootcamp graduates looking to scale an app or project?
Build out your ideas, ship early and ship often. Better for it to exist and need fixes than perfect and never launch.