/ Building Ghost

Part V: Preparation for Trial by Fire

The follow on from Part IV: Let's Talk About JavaScript

As February slowly laid its head to rest and March awakened from a deep and lonely sleep, a new dawn and a new day arrived for the Ghost project. The only thing more terrifying than the prospect of the software actually succeeding was the nagging tick, tick, tick of a subconscious egg-timer promising that failure was always just around the corner.

There's a time-frame between a blog post becoming popular and everyone slowly forgetting about it. A window of opportunity which only opens once.

So I'd made a decision.

It's all very well to get a bunch of people on the internet to say "hey that's a pretty good idea, I guess I'd use that" - it's a lot harder to get a bunch of people on the internet to say "shut up and take my money." But - without money - the future of the project was going to be pretty nonexistent. So, I'd decided to take Ghost's "market fit validation" to the next level. Which is an obnoxious way of saying that I'd decided to "figure out if people really liked it enough to fund its existence".

For a Non-Profit, Open Source project, there was only ever one clear way to do this: Kickstarter. Nothing else made sense.

I learned a great deal about Kickstarter over the subsequent months, but at this point, all I knew was that the products which did well on Kickstarter had high-fidelity prototypes, and were presented very strongly.

I told Hannah that in 6 weeks, we'd need a v0.1 Node.js prototype to show the world (she lol'd) and I set about building the marketing campaign and presentation to pull it all together.

Get it On The Board

I'd started putting together a Kickstarter campaign page already, but I knew we needed more than that. Crowdfunding efforts generally benefit massively from having a strong web presence which adds to the overall legitimacy of the project at hand.

The Kickstarter campaign had to present the vision, and the website had to present the face of the product as if it already existed.

So I hopped on a plane back to the UK and went to visit James (this time at his home, rather than a small tropical island), along with his friend and business partner David. Two of the most fun-loving and mischief-charged hipsters you'll ever meet.

With their help, we worked late into the night pulling together the first concept for what would eventually become the Ghost.org website. Stealing liberally and unashamedly from others wherever possible. Pulling together multiple existing ideas before twisting and reshaping them into a new concept.

And that's what design is all about. It isn't about being pretty or glossy or flat or any other tiresome trend. It's about reshaping old ideas (consciously or subconsciously) and imagining how to turn them into something which doesn't yet exist. It's about progressive problem solving and organisation. What particular icon set you use is of comparatively little ultimate consequence.

We taped a functional specification to a giant (6ft tall) whiteboard and started sketching and drawing ideas - with reference material close to hand.

The whiteboard

Hours later, I don't even know what time, we'd drawn, erased, redrawn and tweaked our ideas into a final coherent shape. It was a gruelling process, but I was happy with the result. Everything from here on in was just execution details. This whiteboard contained the important stuff.

With that, I departed England once more with words of thanks to David and derision to James (such is our friendship).

At this point, the entire process was much like trying to organise various pieces of a large puzzle without ever having seen the box. But... at least the corners were done.

It's easy after that, right?


On Generosity

Several weeks later I was hard at work, day and night, turning the concept for the website into a reality - while Hannah was doing the same with the Ghost prototype. These are things which never would've been possible without the generous contributions of others repeatedly throughout the process. And that's something that can't be said enough.

Projects like this, projects like Ghost, exist because a small group of people believe in something and are willing to put time into it in return for nothing more than a glimmer of hope that one day it may be useful to someone else. I was repeatedly, and am repeatedly, overwhelmed by the incredible willingness of others to jump in and help make Ghost happen because they believe it's something which should exist. It's incredibly motivating, and it's also a big responsibility to live up to.

As I pulled together mine and David's wireframes into fully functioning markup and styles, James put together the first version of the animated Ghost logo which appears on every page of the site and expands when you hover over it using CSS transitions.

My good friend Rick Nunn went out and created beautiful images for us to use throughout the marketing campaign. Gilbert Pellegrom coded a custom implementation of his NivoSlider library for the features page.

Scott Riley came in at the last minute to help us get the mobile interactions working so that we could actually show off the Ghost prototype running on mobile devices in the video.

It's hard to say this without invoking one cliché or another, so I won't bother trying: It really wouldn't have been possible without them.

The End of The Beginning

So, as we reach this point in the story we are approaching mid April. Our protagonist (me) isn't sleeping any more, because that seems overrated, and Hannah doesn't even know what year it is.

That, roughly, is where the beginning of the story of Ghost comes to its initial conclusion. Two weeks later, sitting nervously in a small co-working space in Austria, I hit the launch button on the Kickstarter campaign, and everything which happened from that point on was public.

The part you didn't see, though, was the behind-the-scenes roller coaster of the Kickstarter funding period, as it happened.

It wasn't quite as straightforward as you might imagine.

Next: The Anatomy of a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

John O'Nolan

John O'Nolan

Founder at Ghost.org. Writes about open source, startup life, non-profits, and publishing platforms. Travels the world with a bag of kites.

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