Garrett Bland
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Eat Hays

Published May 16, 2020 - Updated May 31, 2020

Whats Eat Hays?

Eat Hays was a mobile app for iOS and Android, that showed the daily specials for restaurants in Hays, KS. It also featured a random restaurant selector, a full directory of restaurants and details, and full menus.

Why did you build Eat Hays?

September 16, 2016, I committed my first code to GitHub, starting the project. I was less than a month away from getting married and my wife and I were still living in our apartment.

I can’t remember the exact reasoning or motivation behind the project if I’m being honest. I really enjoy going out to a restaurant and having a meal and enjoying a beer with family and friends. I do remember being extremely passionate about it though.

How did you build it?

There were pretty much two big technologies I used to build it.

React Native is a javascript framework that when ran through a process, generates native code for the build device. So in this case, I could write one code base in javascript using React, and it would compile to a native app for both iOS and Android devices.

As for storing data, user events, logs, menus, specials, ect, I used Google’s Firebase. At the time, Firestore wasn’t a thing yet, so I used Firebase. Firebase is a NoSQL database and the overlaying API is extremely easy to use. Being a cloud hosted database meant that I didn’t need to manage any servers either. I had built a simple landing landing page for the site to point users to download the app, that was hosted on firebase as well.

The real hustle started

After building the app, I setup all of the normal social media accounts gearing up to push this thing as far as I could. The plan was to eventually sell ads once I got people to using it on a regular basis.

Before I had begun building the app, I missed an extremely crucial step, and that was validating the idea. I had zero clue if people would like this or would even use it. That didn’t stop my developer fist mind though, I dove right on in and spent 100’s of hours developing before even touching marketing. (Don't do this by the way)

My very close friend created the logo and provided tons of feedback and ideas. I purchased business cards, flyers, stickers, and other promotional gear. I started running paid Facebook and Twitter advertising, met face to face with every single local restaurant in town (around 30-some) asking them to send me their specials and for permission to put stickers on their front doors. 4 years later, I still see those stickers all over. 😄

I even got permission from some owners to setup lighting and purchased a DSLR camera to take professional pictures of food for marketing material as it went out to customers. (They were pretty awful. I was a total newbie but had the confidence of a professional)

I spent hours and hours creating social media posts, creating videos, talking to businesses, ect. The time spent creating all of this marketing material easily dwarfed my time building the application. It was a grind, and no paying users yet.

So, what happened to the app?

Around a year later, I had over 2500 users download the app on iPhone, and around 900 on Android. Daily active users was around 200/day, surging when I would put out decent marketing material that other restaurants would share. At the time I was working full time in I.T. at a local Hospital, and was applying for a web developer position with a local media and ISP company.

During the interview, I brought up Eat Hays as being one of my current projects, and one of the interviewees actually had it downloaded on her phone, and pulled it up for the other interviewees.

Having a total stranger downloading and using your app is a great feeling. This gave me immense satisfaction and a wave of pride that I will never forget in that moment.

A few days later I was offered the job. After being hired, I had to separate myself from my web development LLC with my business partner, and things got a little dicey with a non-compete. I didn't want to do anything that would risk this new job, so I eventually let Eat Hays ride into the sunset.

Was it worth it?

100%. I still think that by building this app, lead me to my first web development job. It was tough seeing that project go away, after spending hundreds, possibly thousands of hours on it and thousands of dollars, but I learned an absolute ton about development, marketing, and business relationships.

Think you will ever start it up again?

Fun fact, after a year of trying to push something like daily specials and menu’s, the most popular feature BY FAR, was the random feature. It was just a button that showed you a random restaurant.

People would smash that thing thousands and thousands of times looking for ideas where to eat. I created a video saying it settled the age old argument of not caring where your significant other wanted to eat. It was shared and viewed 5 times more than my previous most popular post (which I had spent money on to promote).

Eventually, I would like to. This time I would do some sort of validation though to make sure there was still interest, and then start running some marketing campaigns the day I start coding. Will probably spend more time on the random feature than just simple contact info anyone can get from google.