John D. Britton was taking apart remote control cars until he got his first computer in the 2nd grade. The 25-year old made his first web page in the 6th grade when MP3s first came out; he simply signed up for Angelfire and started using HTML. Britton spent his first year of college at RPI studying nuclear engineering, then switched to computer science and began programming in PHP.
He quickly realized he didn’t like school, but not wanting to drop out, he had to game the system. He spent the next year in Spain learning the local language and customs. Upon returning, he set up an internship for himself at a company he launched, “faking the school out” as he says. Finally, when beckoned back to the books, he spent another year abroad in China; 3 months in Beijing and 9 months in Hong Kong. At the end of it all, with one semester left, he dropped out. He now has $60,000 in loans.
He landed a job for a startup, after reading a book on how to program PHP cover to cover the day before the interview. “That’s the way I’ve gotten almost all my projects. I BS enough and then they pay me to learn it,” he says. Fake it til you make it, as the saying goes. From there he worked at a video game company, an online publishing company, an e-commerce store and now works as a Developer Evangelist for Twilio, the company powering almost every group messaging app you’ve ever heard of.
At New York City’s recent Startup Weekend at General Assembly, Britton launched “48-Hour Apps,” a 4-person company that develops mobile and web apps in 48 hours or bust. The four developers have day jobs but love to hack on projects in their spare time. For $10,000, if they deem it feasible, they’ll forfeit sleep and partying and make your app for you over a weekend. “We can’t change the world within a weekend and we have to make sure the projets are in scope. An app with 1-3 core features is reasonable,” he says.
Britton’s first 48-hour app was Pocketvore, a restaurant recommendation engine, which he built for his friend and Dinevore founder Jeremy Fisher. He spent 48-hours on Pocketvore and open sourced it. It’s like the Rotten Tomatoes for foodies and is one of my favorite apps for finding terrific places to eat. You can download it in the app store here. [See our interview with Jeremy Fisher about Dinevore here.]
“Programmers often spend months or years working on the same project. There’s something really refreshing about spending 2 days on a project and delivering it done,” says Britton.
48-Hour Apps now receives multiple requests from hackers wanting to work for them and 10-15 client inquiries a day, including several VCs inquiring for their portfolio companies. Britton says he’s not in the business of contracting although he doesn’t want to say no to everybody. “If someone is willing to pay $10,000 for a weekend of my work then I’ll suck it up,” he says.
In theory, if Britton chose not to sleep on the weekend for an entire year, he could be making an extra half million in earnings. And even if all 4 people on the team are working on the app, they’re still getting $2,500 each for the weekend. After it’s done, they hand over all the IP and code. With all of the inbound requests, Britton is considering selling leads to other developers.
For next week’s TechCrunch hackathon, Britton is working on a website that will be a social network for developers going to these events so they can keep track of people there and who’s on their team. A GitHub account will be required for access, so the network is strictly for hackers.
While Britton’s permanent address is in New York City, he spends most of his time on the road attending hacker events. He says his first 48-hour app payday will be when he has time, which he hopes will happen over the summer.