People Using Their Skills for Good: Forge 54 Pairs Up With "Wells of Life"

People Using Their Skills for Good: Forge 54 Pairs Up With "Wells of Life"

Last month over the weekend of October 2-4, 2015 a non-profit organization called Forge 54, gathered 91 volunteers from Southern California for an accelerated 54-hour collaboration. This event took place at Amusement Park, Inc. in downtown Santa Ana, CA.

How to build an app…. in just 54 hours

By Michael Gilmore

Can you really build an app in 54 hours? Yes. Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with the Forge 54 Digital Team. We had the same goal in mind: build a mobile application for our client for both iOS and Android in just 54 hours. Here are some of my pointers and a little insight into how we accomplished this seemingly lofty goal.

Let me start by saying that prior experience is required if you want to successfully build an app in just 54 hours. Remember, that’s less than two and a half days... Prepare for a challenge. Not only do you need to have a fundamental understanding of coding, but you must have a reasonable expectation of how quickly you can move. If you focus on what you know and on what you are actually capable of building, you can be successful.

Let’s do this. 


To scope an app, go with what you know. Leverage the skills you have on your team. It’s important to focus on a creating a single experience for a user that gives the app a purpose. For a 54 hour project, come up with a single mechanic that would benefit the owner of the app and provide something meaningful to the end user. In our case, our client needed to educate their users about their non-profit’s mission - building sustainable drinking water for those most in need in Uganda.  The user would be able to utilize the app to learn about their work through a series of stories that could inspire the user to eventually contribute to their cause. 

It doesn’t make sense to have an app simply for soliciting donations; it needs a higher purpose. Because our client provides services in Uganda, we needed a way to connect their stakeholders to their work overseas. We then decided that building a “podcasting-like” app was the way to go.  The app was the key to providing the user a meaningful experience through audio clips telling our client’s story. The tales are motivational and educational, and, if a new user of the app felt inspired, the ability to donate to our client was right at their fingertips. You have to leverage what you’re capable of building versus what sort of user interactions are valuable for your client. Don’t build an app for apps-sake. Build something with meaning that people want to download. 

    So why, “podcast-like”? Why not just make a podcast? We thought about it. Podcasts are more complicated due the extra step of adding them to podcasting networks. Not to mention, our client does not have the resources to maintain a technically complex app. We wanted to give them a focused, simple mechanism so that they could stay dedicated to providing sustainable drinking water to rural Uganda.  You have to balance your client’s capacity with the quality of the app. Don’t give them a product that will eventually die in oblivion. 



Our 54 hour team was populated with well-rounded and talented individuals, but we were clearly missing a database engineer who would create the mechanism for our client to update the stories over time.  After researching various useful tools such as Heroku, Contentful, and Parse, we decided that Parse fit our needs. The team had prior experience working with it, and that makes a huge difference. When you have a deadline, it’s going to be nearly impossible to meet it and learn something new in the process. The earlier you make an assessment of your team (both their skills and their experiences), the better. Your app will be all the more successful when you have the right minds and programs behind it. 

Parse Database of Wells Of Life Stories

Parse Database of Wells Of Life Stories

A highlight of Parse is that it already comes with push notifications. It also features many frameworks that could be utilized in the future. For example, it could allow us to create multiple user accounts. We opted away from that because of the specific needs of our client. You have to remember that certain clients will not have the capacity that you do. Sometimes, they won’t even have the resources to hire that capacity. We needed a simple but effective app, and that was all. 


Architecture and Planning

Wells Of Life App Concept Architecture

Wells Of Life App Concept Architecture

Before you can start coding, you need to have a grasp of the flow of the app itself. It allows you to put your heads together and strategize your approach. When we had reached this point in our project, we were already into the seventh hour out of our 54. 

Mobile applications are very conducive to programming a “list of things”. Since we were talking about a list of stories, it worked to our advantage. For a good user experience, we designed an initial screen that would introduce the app to the user and provide a basic explanation of the app’s functions - in this case: the story telling.  We all had experience building tables, so we simply had pull our audio stories from the Parse database and load them onto a screen where the user could simply scroll through and select the one they’d like to hear.  Other than the primary story function, we knew how important it was to identify the organization more: who they are, what they do, how to contact them.. oh, and how to donate! 

After all that, we realized that we had one missing piece: the donation itself. One of our client’s fundraising efforts is a program where donors give $6 a month. We wanted to find a way to integrate that piece of their strategy into our app. How do we get there? Building an e-commerce gateway is doable, and my team has worked with it before. However, our client’s website already had a page for collecting payments that was mobile responsive. We felt that it would be an unnecessary complication to integrate an e-commerce feature into the app when we already have a method for receiving donations. It made perfect sense to direct the user to a webview that already looks like it could be part of the app. Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Use tools you have to avoid duplication or needless work. 

We also noted that the user should be able to leverage social media to boost awareness of the organization and to promote the app. Our partners from the social media team had already created a campaign with strong content and graphics, so we built it in such a way that the user has access to a share hashtag, a campaign image, and links to the website. At the end of the day, the app predominantly serves as a way to promote the organization and lead users to their website. When you’re doing your planning, take a step back every-so-often and review your roadmap, your objectives, and your features. Does this make sense for the client? Does it make sense to the user? 

Now We Build

Say Hello to Pepe the Frog.  He honorably served as placeholder data for most of our 54 hours.

Say Hello to Pepe the Frog.  He honorably served as placeholder data for most of our 54 hours.

So what does it look like using Xcode to build the iOS version of our storybook app? 

So what does it look like using Xcode to build the iOS version of our storybook app? 


Traditionally, we would move the app to design and have the entire UX complete before we even wrote one line of code, but in 54 hours we didn’t have time for that. We had only enough time to build out the application with no design that follows the layout of the architecture as closely as possible until the artwork was ready. As a developer, the way the views of an application link together can get tricky. It’s important for iOS in particular because they have controllers that connect the views and provide a way back to the initial screen - or what they refer to as a root view. After further review, we realized the only area of an app that needed what iOS calls a navigation controller is the story list and the detailed story view that includes the audio player. The rest of an application can be linked to through a side menu, or a hamburger menu - yes, they really call it a hamburger menu.  It’s important to have these conversations before you start. Everyone needs to be on the same page. 

We dedicated some of the earlier hours to laying out the basic project. We also laid out all the frameworks and SDKs needed to link to the Parse database. Next, we built a function that would fetch the files from the database and load them onto a list - the primary story page. Although you may not usually program first and integrate design second, deadlines like these call for creative and non-linear approaches. Tricky, but not impossible. 

Once our audio list was working, the next step was to create a link between each cell in the list and a detailed view that included an audio player.  We agreed that there was no need for anything fancy other than the standard audio player in both Android and iOS. Maybe if we’d had months to build an app, we would have considered it, but maybe not. Remember, it’s best to have a clear, simple app that functions flawlessly. Don’t reinvent the wheel, especially with a fast-approaching deadline. We had the time to customize the UI of the audio player just a little bit. For example, we made the play button more blue and we used the graphics that our artist created. We were able to add those features by the time the user interface design was complete. 

The app came together quite smoothly once we had the design. There are so many types of devices with different screen sizes, and we didn’t have time to retrofit the user interface to perfectly maintain the same aspect ratio across devices. However, we made sure that all of the elements were clearly visible and didn’t look funky. With a deadline like this, you need to pick and choose your battles. Make it look good, but don’t waste time if you don’t need to. 

 At three hours left, we had one unresolved issue: we didn’t have stories, images, or audio which were a key to the app. We planned for the worst and put placeholder data so that when it was all ready, we could easily replace it. After all, we can’t expect everything to be done at the moment we start building.  Luckily, we had a very talented individual who was able to round up the right people and put something pretty decent together. Since the app didn't need additional code for adding stories, it was easy to simply delete what was already in the placeholder data and swap in the new data just in time for the app to be ready and uploaded to Apple. Like us, be prepared for these setbacks. You can’t always control every element, so find ways around it. 

I think it's safe to say that building an app in 54 hours is a bit crazy. But, with the right combination of talent and people (and a reasonable assessment of what you are capable of putting together), it can be done. And we just proved it.  


Bonus Levels

Tools we used for managing this crazy effort

Trello - Stupid Simple Project Management:

Slack - Team Communication:

Sketch - Professional Digital Design Tool for Mac:

Xcode and Android Studio - Obviously :)


Special Thanks


Want to know more about the crazy things I do?


Ten Things That Happened at Forge54

By Mina Zivkovic


1. We funded a well!

As if 97 people donating $574,725 in 3,831.5 hours wasn’t enough, we lowkey crowdfunded a well in Uganda. Forge 54 has now directly sponsored sustainable water for 1,000 people for up to 25 years. Forge on!

2. The Reggie Chant

The social media team was in desperate need of a second hashtag. Even with some of the most creative copywriters in the history of the world, they were stumped. In comes Reggie Ige, armed with his camera and his randomly awesome ideas. “Guys, how about H2hope?” The team turned around in shock and awe, and what started as simple cheering morphed into chanting Reggie’s name. Everyone at Forge 54 hopped on with the chant, even if many of us didn’t know why. The chant re-appeared during the Final Presentation, much to the confusion of many of our guests.

3. Wrestling Match

What do you get when you mix a bunch of awesome people and sleeplessness? Why, midnight wrestling of course! In one corner of the ring stands Alyssa Davison (technically Lahham, but shhh) and in the other, Cisco Martinez. Surrounded by adoring fans, the two of them began to spar – surprisingly well.  I’m not supposed to take sides, but Alyssa totally kicked his ass. Sorry Cisco.

4. The 4 am Dance Party

Inevitably, the delirium of the event begins to take hold. According to the firsthand account of one copywriting super star, Jelani Warren, “Saturday night, after a lot of assignments were completed and a lot of people were sleep, a dance party broke out. But this wasn't your standard shit. It was special. After we danced to Cupid shuffle and a few other line dances, we formed into a circle and had a dance contest inspired by chores! Some of the favorite moves of the night were: making the bed, grocery shopping, and changing diapers.”

5. The Final Presentation

The Final Presentation is always the most incredible moment of Forge 54. If you’ve never been to one, you’re missing out. Tom Ward – one of our dynamic mobile app programmers – describes it perfectly: “It's always mind blowing.”

6. #forgebooty

Our primary method of transportation was up and down the stairs. Who need squats when you can just climb 60 flights of stairs a day!

7. Traditional Pre-Presentation Toast goes Awry

As per tradition, those who present at the end of the weekend always get together to do a quick run-through and give a toast to celebrate the completion of a long weekend. This year, we took a shot of hemp vodka which can only be described as “toxic bong water”. Did no one try it before it was poured??

8. Breakfast Beer Pong

Cue Sunday morning. The sun is rising, Forgers are slowly waking up… straggling in… getting ready for the day. And yet, one group of troopers decked in sombreros is amidst a game of beer bong. (This is an appropriate time to give a shout out to our sponsors, Shock Top. Without you, beer pong for breakfast wouldn’t have been possible).

9. After Party a.k.a. the Forge 60

The after party should really be re-named to “It’s not over just yet, bitches.” There’s a ton of equipment that gets unloaded at the end of the night. A huge thank you to everyone who stayed and helped – and then partook in some refreshments. A special thanks to Daniel Sorrentino for being the equipment MVP.

10. Creepy Dolls

If you got a heart attack when you went to the restroom on Sunday morning. You can thank one of our volunteers, Brian Walsh, for introducing creepy limb-less dolls to the teams. Someone thought it would be hilarious to pose them in the stalls. Needless to say, it was horrifying.

Forger Spotlight: Brian Walsh

Brian Walsh, a recent Cal State Dominguez Hills graduate with a minor in marketing, is brand new to Forge 54! Despite being new to the Forge family, Brian has jumped in headfirst as digital project manager, helping to make sure all of the digital assets are on point for delivery to Wells of Life. This weekend, the digital team is responsible for updating the Wells of Life website, creating a donation platform, developing all new pitch materials, and more.

When he’s not busy Forging, Brian works at Amusement Park, a comprehensive manufacturer of creative content, tech products, business models, and branded relationships across media platforms, where he is the Digital and PR Coordinator. Brian and the Forge 54 team are fortunate to call Amusement Park home, as the agency has opened its doors to host the group two years in a row.

We asked Brian why he chose to donate his weekend to Forge 54 and Wells of Life, and he said, “We are donating our skills from a professional standpoint as opposed to general everyday giving. This is a highly specified way of giving back and it will continue to benefit Wells of Life for years to come.” Brian is passionate about giving back to causes like animal welfare, civil rights, social action, human rights, and the environment.

To learn more about Brian and follow his work, add him on LinkedIn!

Why I Forge

By Harvey Kaner, Creative/copywriter

Time is our most precious resource (okay, water’s up there too). So I consider where to spend my time very carefully. Of course, we all have obligations: work, home, family, friends. But the spaces in between those obligations? This is what defines me as a human being.

So what kind of person do I want to be? Like many, I selfishly want what I want. And therein lies the battle. Can I put someone else’s needs before my own? Especially in my limited free time? Sometimes.

I know fully well that I’ve been lucky in life. I’ve got a roof over my head, food on my table, clothes on my back and fresh, clean water coming out the tap. I also realize that this is not the case for many, many people in this world.

Forge54 gives me the chance to use my skills for deserving non-profit clients. It’s a huge opportunity to give back. Yes, it’s a whole weekend of my time, away from my kids. But the impact we have from these two and a half days is immeasurable. Because the clients we serve provide such important services, our work is that much sweeter. I’m willing to make this small sacrifice of my time (and some money) so the people our clients serve can benefit in a huge way.

Take Wells of Life, for example. They build water wells in Ugandan villages so the people there can have sustainable access to safe, clean drinking water. And this saves their lives from waterborne illness. It’s a huge deal and literally life-changing for them. Doing my small part to help them feels great. That’s the bottom line. I help others and that helps me.

I guess I am still selfish. But at least I get to feel better about it every time I volunteer, especially with Forge54. So I’ll keep forging on.

What’s your favorite way to give back?

One Team, One Dream, One Well

As Forge 54 volunteers, together we’ve always had one goal: to help revamp the marketing efforts of a different Southern California non-profit organization each year. Our mission is to build (or rebuild) company branding through website/mobile app development, media awareness, social campaigns, and more; tasks that would typically take a team approximately 6 months to a year to complete…we accomplish in 54 hours!

The past two years have been way more successful than anyone could have ever anticipated. With the selfless donations of the ever-growing Forge 54 volunteers’ time, energy, and skills, along with the help of our sponsors such as Monster Energy, Vita Coco, and KIND snacks, to name a few, we are able to “#ForgeOn” with our assignments through the demanding countdown.

Seriously. We have a clock that starts at 54:00:00 and stressfully counts down to the very last second.

With less than 30 hours left, the pressure is getting real! So real that Torrey Tayenaka, Founder of Forge 54, suggested we should one-up our deliverables goal and raise enough money to build a Forge 54 Water Well with this year’s chosen non-profit, Wells of Life.

My thoughts? “Torrey, you need a nap. Dream on.”

But then we all got to thinking how cool it would be to have our very own water well in Uganda!

So why am I telling you about my weekend? To make you feel bad about yourself because you’re probably out spending time with your friends and family, sipping delicious cocktails at the beach, and getting a nice tan on this fine October day while we’re pulling a work marathon?

No. Not at all. I admit, I’m jealous, but I want to let you know that you too can help us achieve our goal of helping bring clean water to rural Uganda and having our own Forge 54 Wells of Life water well in Uganda from exactly where you are at this exact moment.

No matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing today, you can support our goal of raising $6,000 to fund our very own well by contributing to our Indiegogo Campaign.

I mean, having a water well in Uganda dedicated in Forge 54’s name - that’s pretty rad if you ask me!

Forger Spotlight: Dalip Jaggi

If you know Dalip Jaggi, you know you can often find him grooving to the sweet sounds of the Backstreet Boys and other 90s pop sensations. But in addition to his sweet dance moves, Dalip is a digital mastermind and the Founder of Devise Interactive, a branding agency that engages audiences through effective brand experiences that perfectly balance creative design and innovative technology.

But wait! There’s more.

Dalip, a Cal State Fullerton graduate, is also the Co-Founder of Forge 54, working closely with Founder Torrey Tayenaka to see each year through to success. Watching Forgers come together to work towards a common goal has been a particular highlight for Dalip, who heads up the digital team along with fellow developer Michael Gilmore. “A lot of people donate money to feel good,” Dalip told us. “But here, I can donate my skills which I think is much more important and exciting.”

In addition to his work with Forge 54, Dalip is also Co-Founder of EvaDrop, the smart shower system that reduces water use by 50% - a particularly important initiative in drought-ridden southern California. Between all of his professional undertakings, it’s hard to believe he has time for much else. But Dalip still manages to support Innovative Housing Opportunities, Playworks, and OC Food Bank, truly exemplifying the giving spirit that surrounds the Forge community.  

To learn more about Dalip and follow his work, add him on LinkedIn!

Forger Spotlight: Mina Zivkovic

Meet Mina Zivkovic! Mina, a nonprofit specialist, is on the Forge 54 research and strategy team helping to deliver the branding and marketing resources Wells of Life needs to continue on their mission to provide clean water to rural Uganda. We caught up with Mina during hour 30 of the 54-hour marathon weekend to find out more about how she became a Forger and why she dedicates her time to helping others.

Since graduating from UCSB, Mina has used her creative and critical thinking skills to focus on bringing efficient and impactful change to her community, both in her personal and professional life. In her current position as Fund Development and Resident Services Coordinator at Innovative Housing Opportunities, Mina oversees resident services, fund development, and communications programs to help provide affordable housing to those in need.

Mina signed on as a Forge 54 volunteer in 2014 to donate her time and professional skills to serve Playworks, and now serves on the Playworks and Forge advisory boards to make an even bigger impact in 2015 and beyond.  She also works with the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club and she volunteers with Bixby Educational Events. Through her nonprofit work, Mina hopes to set an example for young people to get more involved in giving back to their communities.

To learn more about Mina and follow her work, add her on LinkedIn!

Millennials and Social Activism: The “Not-As-Selfish-As-You-Think” Generation

We’ve all heard it over and over again. From the middle-aged newscasters on CNN to the cover of Time Magazine, Millennials are infamously regarded as a lazy, selfish, and spoiled generation. We have become interchangeable with the caricature of a selfie-obsessed Instagram star. Even outside the realm of pop culture, we have been criticized for being self-interested because we don’t settle down with families or buy houses as early as previous generations. Luckily, we tossed those historical markers of success out like last week’s recycling. My generation decided that changing the world would be a better marker of our success.

For millennials, social activism is more than a tagline, it’s our way of life.  A survey taken by TBWA/Worldwide & Takepart found that 7 out of 10 Millennials would describe themselves as social activists. Every little bit helps. Millennials will often silently boycott stores whose policies we’ve deemed egregiously unequal and exploitive. I, myself, can think of at least three that I won’t step into (even when it means passing up a substantially cheaper TV). We have water filters in our homes to avoid using wasteful plastic water bottles; we even re-fill the pitchers in our friends’ kitchens purely out of habit.  It is so normal in my group of friends that I flinch if I see an empty pitcher. Is that weird? I digress. Even professionally, we will investigate a company’s commitment to social issues, particularly those that resonate with us.  In the Deloitte 2015 Millennial Survey, a whopping 60% of responders cited “a sense of purpose” as a primary reason for being with their current employers.  I don’t have any numbers to prove it, but I’d be willing to guess that many of us have sacrificed pay, benefits, accolades, and fancy Christmas parties in order to work for an organization that is as dedicated to social issues as we are.

The Overhead is Worth It: Marketing in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit marketing is no easy task. There is often no clean and clear measurable goal for which to entice donors and if there is, the results are seldom instantaneous. To combat these obvious drawbacks it is important to consider the power of good marketing efforts. Mina Zivkovic serves on Forge 54′s board as a our nonprofit chair and has worked professionally in the nonprofit sector for many years. Hear her take on why nonprofits should factor marketing into their annual budgets.

By Mina Zivkovic

If you are have ever been asked to justify what percentage of your budget goes to overhead, you might work for a non-profit… and you are not alone. With the constant scrutiny of budgets and expenses, it is a sheer wonder that non-profit organizations have managed to stay afloat, let alone grow. 

As you can imagine, marketing is often the first to get cut in smaller nonprofits. More than once, I’ve reviewed annual budgets for organizations and seen a big, fat ZERO in the line item for marketing. For a minute, it almost makes sense. Why would you increase your overhead for a fancy website when you haven’t gotten a raise in years?  The answer is: Because it’s worth it. 

For the last four decades, charitable contributions have only ever accounted for around 2% of the GDP in US. There has been no real growth, only marginal fluctuations. And how could it? The nonprofit sector has the unique disadvantage of playing by a different set of rules than for-profit organizations, particularly when it comes to marketing. In effect, big companies get to pour their resources into competing for the American dollar in a far more aggressive way than nonprofits can. So I say, why not play by some of their rules?  Why not invest in our own growth?  

Effective marketing can improve the exposure of your organization. The world becomes your audience. You can communicate the severity of the need and why your nonprofit has the solution. You can enlist volunteers by proving to them that your mission is worth their time. You can engage the community and cultivate their support as you implement your programs. You can convince the average individual that contributing to your cause is substantially better than buying that frappucino. Communication is the key to unlocking potential revenue streams that you may have never even known you had. 

Think about it. More exposure means more funding. More funding means more people served. More people served mean more impact. 

I’ll leave you with this quote from Dan Pallotta, “Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world.”