Space Box: How I turned Stripe into Paypal in 5 Days

Space Box: How I turned Stripe into Paypal in 5 Days

Oct 19, 2012 Opinions

Last Thursday, just before our podcast was recorded live, I had a conversation with my pal Adam Stacoviak. He mentioned he needed a way to accept payments, but didn’t want to use PayPal. I told him to use Stripe and his life would be complete. But like for most people, Stripe is just too low-level to use. It’s a developer tool and it does a great job at that. However, there is no simple way to accept payments without any setup and development work required on your end. PayPal, however, does have this feature. So at that moment I decided: “I’m gonna build this.” Then I did. It’s called Space Box.

During that podcast recording, I designed most of the app. Then I finished it up later that night. I worked on it Friday and Saturday, took Sunday off and was back on it Monday. Tuesdays are my other day off. Living here in Southern California, Tuesdays are perfect for hitting up Disneyland, LegoLand and the zoo with the family. Zero crowds on Tuesdays! I was back on it Wednesday and launched it on Thursday. Six days in total, but I was also working on other projects during those days. So considering Thursday was a half day, and the other days weren’t full-time on Space Box either, I’ll go with a five-day development cycle. Five days is my new personal record for app development. Previously it was nine days when I built Build It With Me back in 2009. Something interesting I’ve noticed from building numerous things is that apps where I handle every aspect (design & development) always go quickest.

An Overview

Space Box makes accepting payments with the Stripe platform quick and easy. On of the big benefits is that there is no coding necessary to start accepting payments. Space Box enables you to set up payment forms super fast. You can then use the forms to accept payments from clients, accept donations, etc. Space Box also automatically sends receipt emails to anyone who makes a payment to you. It’s a great way to move off PayPal and onto Stripe for those who don’t want to (or don’t know how to) write a custom payment form using Stripe’s API.

Speedy Development

The development cycle went quickly because the app is small. The actual app itself is only one page. I forced myself to work only on one page because I didn’t want to take time to design and code out internal pages. This is sometimes called “being lazy.” But in this case, I’d like to think that it was “being smart.” The homepage is a super simple one-page site that describes the service and prompts the visitor to sign up. That’s it.

By forcing myself to build things quickly, and thus choosing to minimize the number of pages I had to build, it enabled me to spend more time on the interactions. Which was fun. If you sign up you’ll notice them here and there, like this one.

On average I spent about five to six hours during the day on Space Box, and another 3 hours at night. I always get off work at 5pm everyday to hang out with the family. When I am working hard on a project I usually get another couple hours of work in after the kiddos go to bed. The main thing that surprised me about this build was: it wasn’t a “hack-a-thon”. I wasn’t killing myself and never sleeping. Instead, it was just super normal days. Loved it!

The Design

I actually was super jazzed to design this because for a while, I’ve wanted to make something really bright and loud. This was a perfect opportunity to to make something very original. What’s funny is, it turned out to be the opposite. Once I was finished with the design, I moved into the front-end development with HTML and CSS (SASS). While coding, I thought “wow, this is ridiculously similar to Lumo” (an app I’m on the verge of launching). So I failed, but then again, I didn’t. By creating something similar to a previous app I had already coded, I got to re-use TONS of code. TONS!

The design used zero images. Instead, everything is rendered in CSS. I uses my Pictos Server to display the icons. By not using images, and instead using SASS and the Pictos Server, development time sped up to 88MPH – which we all know takes us to the future… so that’s kinda cool.

The Tech

Speaking of re-using code, I did the same for the back-end. I personally like to build a fully custom backend for each app I make. I’m not a fan of MVC or using JSON templaters (I built one back in 2008). I have a code-base that I have refined and re-used for a few different apps. It’s awesome. Extraordinarily light-weight, JSON API by default, full of abstractions to make re-using it super easy. It’s built-in PHP, since that is what I am best at. Though my favorite language is Javascript by far. I also really like using Node.js.

Space Box has a RESTful JSON API built-in PHP and stores stuff in a MYSQL database. Old skool! I also use AES encryption for customer data. Space Box never stores or processes credit card information. That is all handled by Stripe, which is amazing.

All the JavaScript is custom, other than using jQuery. Writing custom JS is always best since you have full control over everything. Not to mention, you can always make things run faster when you don’t have additional overhead. Most people say “JSON templaters make for quick prototyping and development.” I say “bah humbug! Just get better at JavaScript!” But whatever, this is my preference and it works pretty well for me.

The service is hosted on MediaTemple. I’ve setup a custom box and installed some cool things on it like GIT. So code deployment is a breeze thanks to the good folks at GitHub for making it even easier!

One day I might open source the PHP framework I’ve built and been using, but there’s no telling when that will happen.

The Best Part

My son named the app! He is two years old and is in love with outer space. He builds with legos a lot… a lot. He usually builds rocket ships and space capsules. But a few days prior to starting Space Box, he brought me a lego build and said “It’s a Space Box!” I immediately thought “I’m totally using that as an app name for something in the future” I didn’t realize it’d be so soon!

So there you have it. A look at what went into creating Space Box. I hope you check it out and free yourself from the Paying of the Pals (aka PayPal)!

  • yz4now

    This makes me wanna build something awesome. Awesome job Drew!

  • Drew Wilson

    Thanks! And, you should!

  • Joshua Sortino

    I hope this catches on. The fact that you built this in such a short time is inspiring.

  • CJ Melegrito

    Ahh! Stripe is US-only! :(

    • Drew Wilson

      it’s actually US and Canada right now.. they are adding more.

      • yeol

        :( Hopefully!

  • Ben Werdmuller

    On top of everything else, your sites are beautiful. Would you mind sharing your design process?

  • timothybsmith

    Dude. You’re awesome. I love it.

  • akhan

    I like the name. Similar to Space X (Elon Musk’s project).

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  • Josh Hemsley

    Fantastic job, Drew. Keep killing man!

  • Roger Smith

    I love your design. I am trying to become better with css myself. As an engineer can you help me understand which, if any css frameworks you used and any help there overall?

    • Paul Asselin

      sass but that only helps with the syntax.

    • Drew Wilson

      I use Compass and SASS. the best ever.

      • Roger Smith

        Thanks, do you use any frameworks on top of Compass?

  • Norm

    Awesome! You made this entire app in 5 days and even had time to hit Disney land!

  • Nelson Rodrigues

    Love the design of your app. It’s so clean and your elements are clearly defined.

  • Luis Martins

    C’mon, we know you had the help of your 4 clones man.

    • Luis Martins

      Fantastic job btw, i wish we had something as cool as Stripe available in Europe.

  • Samer Sultan

    Finally a real alternative to paypal. Hopefully this picks up!

  • jhaime

    did you use bootstrap for the front end dev work? Really looking to ‘short-cut’ our way to launch without compromising on design and UX too much.

    • Drew Wilson

      Never used boot strap before. I prefer not to use frameworks. I like to hand code everything. It’s much faster since you can control everything. Might take longer on the first build, but once you start iterating.. its WAAAAY better to have had designed the code yourself.

      • Chris Wallace

        I don’t know. Once you get to know Bootstrap, the UI conventions are quite reliable and handy. Plus it’s all documented for you so if you ever decide to have someone else do maintenance, you can just refer them to the documentation.

        I uses SASS files in all my Bootstrap projects and you can chuck or keep the stuff you want/don’t want. Also, you don’t have to worry much about cross-browser issues. That’s always awesome.

  • joshu

    You might introduce your kid to Kerbal Space Program sometime – great little game where you build, pilot and orbit your own rockets, mun landers and space stations.

  • myoffe

    You are not using any JS library at all? Doesn’t that make writing code for multiple browsers (i.e. IE) a pain in the ass?

  • Sacha Greif

    I’m curious why you decided to launch a new project rather than revive Quixly? It seems like Stripe integration would be a perfect feature for it. Is the Quixly codebase just too messy?

    • Drew Wilson

      Quixly isn’t a product I can support on my own. Still on the look out for the right partner there.

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  • PJ Brunet

    But really it took you a lifetime to build this. Saying “5 days” belittles the work.

  • PJ Brunet

    While I think this is cool, 2.9% + 30¢ isn’t exactly optimal. Since you’re comparing to Paypal–if you have Freshbooks invoicing, Paypal is a flat 50 cents. (How to get that 50 cent rate without Freshbooks, I’m not sure.) Stripe takes 7 days vs. check in the mail (3 days) and that’s absolutely free. Personally, I’m going back to checks! Sad but true, the US Postal Service is FASTER than these electronic systems once you factor in the fraud detection delays. It takes 10 days to process a Paypal eCheck plus 4 more days to move the money to my bank = 2 weeks! Vs. client sending me a check with Billpay which might only take 2 days before I have the money in my hands. 2 days (free) vs. 2 weeks NOT FREE. And then there’s Dwolla which is only 25 cents but I can’t send an invoice from Dwolla if the recipient doesn’t have a Dwolla account, as far as I can tell.

    • bpmilne

      “And then there’s Dwolla which only costs 25 cents but I can’t send an invoice from Dwolla if the recipient doesn’t have a Dwolla account, as far as I can tell” – Bit of time you’ll be able to do this. Nicely written article. Thanks for the mention!

  • jambay

    Love the user experience. You should consider adding payment subscriptions. I know someone that has been looking for a dead-simple payment system like this to manage a paid-for podcast and this would be great for that.

  • Matthew Carl Moore

    Awesome work! The rapid build out is super inspiring.

  • Eric Hayes

    I hate you because you are so awesome.

  • Chris Salvato

    Why are you charging so little?! It seems like it adds so much value, but you are only charging $7, and free for most users! What am I misunderstanding here?

    Also, have you been pursuing this app as a full time thing since launching? Or was this just a fun go-at-it sort of thing?

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  • Abhimanyu Ghoshal

    This is ingenius PR for your book Execute – if each page is even half as awesome as this, you’ll have a winner on your hands. Congratulations on launching Space Box!

  • Paul Jarvis

    I’m so happy there are finally options to paypal. I’m sick of their reign of terror ;-)

    • John M

      I love what Stripe is doing but I would hardly consider it an option until the pricing can match PayPal. If you are doing any amount of large volume, the extra 0.07% adds up very quick

  • litebrite

    How is Stripe’s customer service compared to payPal’s customer service? I know PayPal is hard to get a hold of.

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