How stones in a Fjord inspired an F-16 pilot to make an app
Some of the greatest ideas come from people who can’t build it themselves. In these instances, finding and collaborating with the right partner is critical to bring the idea to life. This is the story of how Rolf Liland, a former F-16 pilot and parachute instructor found inspiration to build an app and what steps he took to realise his idea in under two years. iOS Download.
A seaborn man who found wings
Brought into the world in the 1960’s by his seafarer parents meant that Rolf Liland started exploring the world early. His academic journey took him through Norway and the United States; and eventually led him to the Royal Norwegian Air Force as an F-16 pilot. His skillful work, passion for sharing knowledge, and interesting hobbies like parachute jumping brought him back to the US as a flight instructor for NATO – where he worked until he transitioned into commercial aviation.
If you already feel inclined to meet him, ask the crew on your next SAS flight if Liland is flying; or find him as a speaker at the Norwegian airshows where he’s been an active participant for the past 15 years.
The stones that inspired the app
In the summer of 2018, Rolf visited the Skjelfjord near Lofoten. He was searching for an old war memorial he had heard of and eventually found the signage leading its way.
Upon arriving Rolf saw a stone-rise… but nothing more. Confused as to why there was no information about the memorial, he started looking around and joyfully lifted a yellow sign lying in some overgrown grass. To his disappointment – it said “High Voltage Fencing” and was not at all the information he sought.
It dawned on Rolf in that moment that very few people would understand the memorial without on-site information, and that tourists from other countries might not even be able to locate it as all the signage leading the way was in norwegian.
“Someone’s gotta do something about this.”
And so his quest of making culture and art more accessible began.
Funding and the journey from sketches to app
A fast paced journey began once he started sharing his sketches and ideas with friends and family. Alternating between receiving advice, new contacts, and constructive feedback; Rolf suddenly found himself pitching for Bodø Municipality.
“The problem statement was clear; there’s too much art and other installations hidden in plain sight. Information must be readily available and discovering them ought to be engaging and fun.”
With his app-proposal proving to be a great answer; the municipality enthusiastically and unanimously decided to invest half a million Norwegian Kroner from their “Industry Fund.” They also directed him to Innovation Norway’s Bodø office, for whom he would pitch for shortly after.
On his way to Innovation Norway, Rolf snapped a photo of the NordlandiART piece by Thor Erdahl just outside their own offices. In the pitch, he asked about their familiarity of the two story art piece; which happened to be limited. Rolf proceeded to tell them about how this and the other pieces in the NordlandiART collection tells the story of their region through the eyes of artists.
Rolf passionately demonstrated the relevancy of app and importance of being somewhat rooted in local culture-heritage. Innovation Norway was convinced – and Rolf successfully secured another investor.
Finding the right partner to build the app
«If there is one thing I’ve learned in aviation it’s that whenever you’re about to do something challenging you get experts to do it for you.»
As learning how to code was out of the question, Rolf started looking for someone with the capability to bring his idea to life. Returning to his network, he was again met with interchanging waves of advice, new contacts, and constructive criticism.
After some time, Rolf got in touch with the daughter of a friend of his. She worked at Computas and could provide the necessary contact. After pitching the why, how, and what – Computas management suggested to arrange a meeting with Shortcut.
“I was under the impression Shortcut only worked with larger companies, but after a few conversations they expressed interest in the project.”
Budget constraints and app development
There is no secret that building an app is expensive. The first step in Rolf’s collaboration with Shortcut was to define a roadmap and how we could identify and secure more funding.
Hoping to convince more investors, Rolf and Shortcut decided to build a proof of concept (POC) with the necessary features to demonstrate its utility. Choosing among the various features we envisioned for the full app was of course not an easy task; however, with some diligent work, a dash of app-wizardy and some tough prioritization we managed to build something that resembles the utility of the real deal. After some months of work, the POC was completed by fall of 2019. It proved to be a great way to secure more investments; and the necessary capital to build its full version was secured already within the first quarter of 2020.
To us this shows that investing a little money into an MVP might be one of the best ways to get what you need to build something bigger that people will appreciate.
Rolf decided to start the entrepreneurial journey without a co-founder or partner. One might argue that having a co-founder can help build the business faster, but to Rolf – making the decision of being alone allowed himself to stay truly dedicated to the original concept. Working odd hours and days as a pilot, lots of conceptualization was done through discussions with fellow travelling colleagues and while exploring places as professional tourists. Building a network through friends and people with different fields of expertise would lay the ground for expanding his company when the time was right.
Shortcut joined later to advise on and build the app. Whether that makes us similar to a CTO or not didn’t make much of a difference in the way we collaborated; the core of our partnership is honesty and transparency – and we firmly believe that these two components make it fun and easy to work with one another. As Rolf puts it:
“If we’re about to hit unpredicted bumps on the road, then for God’s sake tell me. I love bad news because I can do something about them!»
It’s been an exciting journey for Rolf and Shortcut in making art and culture more accessible through this app we have chosen to call InitialPoint.
InitialPoint was also the first joint app-project between Shortcut’s offices in Denmark and Oslo. As we’re releasing the app’s first version to the AppStore this summer we’d say the cross-border collaboration was a success and we look forward to doing this again.
Shortcut strive to make apps that in one way or another improve our lives. We work with big companies as well as individual entrepreneurs. If you think you have an idea that will impact lives positively, please reach out to us!