Today’s guest post is from Johannes Metzler is the happy co-founder, appreneur and blogger at AppLeopard.com.
In the summer of 2012, my brother and I sat on the balcony on a sunny Saturday. We were drinking wine and philosophizing about what could be next in our lives and jobs. We both had great managerial jobs in a skyrocketing ecommerce company, were surrounded by friends at work and earned great salaries. Still, there was the nagging feeling that there should be something more to life than slaving your days away for someone else’s dream while sitting through countless meetings wasting your precious life. We were often discussing different business ideas and this day I was telling my brother about a blog article that I had read by some guy called Chad Mureta about his “App Empire” and how great the app market was.
Fast-forward 20 months: my brother and I just came back from a spontaneous week of visiting friends in Miami. We had both decided that we needed some sun while Germany was dominated by cold weather and rain. So we packed our laptops and flew to Florida, taking our business with us in our bags. While in Miami, we enjoyed the beach, the parties and the company of our friends. For a couple of hours per day we would get together, check in with our freelancers, upload some apps, and monitor the stats of our app business. We had just amounted over 8 million app downloads, released over 200 apps and were running a full-time business that was financing our Miami trip. Bazinga!
From zero to new life
In a little more than 1 1/2 years, my brother and I have taken a casual conversation on a balcony to running a family business – a dream come true! We are so much happier than we were before, we are enjoying life much more, and we love Mondays. I have taken my personal fitness to a new level as my new “job” allows me to go running every day before going to my brother’s apartment where we have set up our office. I can only tell you that getting started with apps has been one of the best decisions of my life so far. I know that many of you who are following Elaine’s blog are dreaming the same dream, so let me share some lessons with you on how we got started and scaled our business to a point where we could live off it full-time, and comfortably so.
1) Just do it and get started!
Do not hesitate your life away by contemplating every tiny step of the possibility that maybe you could at some point start thinking about perhaps developing apps. Just do it!
Here is how we did it: after discussing Chad’s article we decided to go for it and develop one or two apps, just for the fun of it. Imagine that we had zero programming knowledge! So we looked around on the App Store and found that joke apps were pretty popular. These were simple apps that hardly did more than displaying phrases. So we thought about what kind of content we could put into a similar app. We did some keyword research with the Google Keyword Tool and found that there was a decent search volume in Germany for the German equivalent of “love quotes” but only a couple of apps. So we scribbled down our “app design” (if you can call it that) on a piece of paper. Look at how easy it was to get started: it just took a piece of paper and some ugly drawing:
We created an account on freelancer.com and wrote down a short description of what the app should do. We got a dozen bids and awarded a Vietnamese freelancer to build the app for USD 120. We searched for possible background images, buttons and content on the web ourselves. A week later, our app was done. Uploading it to iTunes Connect was so difficult that the freelancer had to do it for us. But we had our first app! Look at how hideous it turned out.
But it got us started and that is all that counted. And by the way: this app alone has made over 200,000 downloads and is still earning us money every day.
In 2012 and 2013 this crappy looking app made more than 5000 Euro ($7000) on one ad network and $750 on another one. That means almost $8000 from our first idea. That is an ROI (return on investment) of 8000%!
These days, it is even easier to get started with reskinning. Good source code is offered all over the web, including on this very site. Basically, you can buy a source code and easily create an entire new app by changing the theme and graphics. So go out there and get started!
2) Learn the basics, and try to do everything yourself once
When we started, we didn’t know how to program in Xcode or design in Photoshop. But we thought it might be a good idea to get a basic understanding of it rather than outsourcing everything. And we believe that this philosophy has paid of nicely for us. So gradually we started learning about logo design in Photoshop, integrating advertising networks in Xcode and uploading code to iTunes Connect.
With every app that we created our understanding grew about all the processes that had to be completed and all the things that could go wrong. This knowledge has enabled us to become much smarter in hiring other people to do the work for us now. We can discuss projects in more detail and get a better understanding about someone’s skills, and we can hire cheaper as it is harder to cheat us.
If this thought overwhelms you, get some help on different steps of the process, just as we did in getting our first programmer. However, make sure that what these people are doing for you is not an entire black box for you. When designers create a logo or design for you, they should give you all the files that they used and hand over the source file so that you can open it up and see how it looks. When a programmer uploads your first app, tell him to walk you through it. You don’t have to become a master in every step but you should understand what is going on. It will help you greatly. Also, it feels great designing your first logo!
3) Don’t expect success from day 1 but get better with every app
If you are doing your first app you will not get millions of downloads and become rich immediately. Maybe your first app will be a complete failure. That’s fine; do not be afraid of it. And that is the reason why your first app should not cost thousands of dollars to create but hundreds at most.
By the time you build your 5th app you will avoid certain mistakes and see more success. Your 10th app will have a much higher return than your first one. And by your 30th app you will really know what you are talking about. With every app you will learn new things and get the chance to try out new things. These experiences are invaluable and you should see them as exactly that. There is no failure, only growth!
How we scaled our business to 5 figures per month
After a while you will need to ask yourself if you can live off app development full-time. You will need to scale your business from several hundred dollars of monthly revenue to several thousand dollars. Here’s how to do it:
4) Diversify your business and test, test, test to stay agile
If you want to be successful with apps you need to diversify all aspects of your business. You have to start somewhere and it is important to have focus. But never get too comfortable in one spot. Always try to take your business to the next level. From iOS to Android. From phones to tablets. From games to utility (or the other way around). From your home market to the global market. From one advertising network to ten. From one source of revenues to many. You always have to stay agile. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket or that basket may smash you and your business when it falls down. When iOS goes down you already need to be in the Android market. When your preferred ad network crashes you need to have several fallback options. When Apple changes something on the App Store and kills your cash cow you need to have several apps that can take that place.
But diversification is not only survival. Diversification is growth. Diversifying equals testing and always trying out new things. If you do that you will open up yourself to new possibilities and projects that you could never have anticipated. We once bought a source code and afterwards realized that there were tons of apps already on the App Store doing the same thing. We still launched it, and to our surprise it became our biggest app after a short while, opening our eyes to a whole new category that we had hardly considered before.
5) Outsource and automate to increase your throughput
If you want to scale your business you need to overcome superhero syndrome and free up your own time. Work ON your business, not IN your business. I had a hard time letting someone else design our logos even though that person was a design professional and I was a bloody amateur. I had a hard time letting someone else search for pictures and content on the web even though he would do it for 5 USD per hour and I had a business to run. I still have a hard time letting someone else do meta data and keyword research. Come on!
If you want to scale your business you need to focus on what matters most. If someone can free up your hands even though you think that only you could do it perfectly yourself, you should still outsource this task. If your app needs 100 pictures in it you have to accept the fact that you do not need to handpick them.
Outsourcing platforms like freelancer.com, odesk and others are great to get started and find people for unique projects. Look at our freelancer profile: 70 past projects (not including those that were direct deals or freelancers we found and hired elsewhere)!
After I while, I definitely recommend to hire part-time or full-time freelancers. They will be invaluable to your business and you will not have to explain everything over and over again. If you have systems and processes in place many of your tasks will be repetitive. Find freelancers for these tasks, especially if they are non-essential for your business. I myself am currently managing 3 part-time freelancers in the Philippines who do design, research and game building for our business.
You have to ask yourself on a daily basis which processes of your business you can automate through employees, freelancers, systems and processes. Without letting go we would never have been able to get to over 200 apps and reach an income level that sustains our business and lifestyle. Scaling your business means firing yourself and making sure that the company runs without you.
6) Invest and connect to become more productive
Our biggest leaps in business came when we started investing in ourselves. First of all, invest into your infrastructure: yes, proper office chairs, more RAM, an SSD hard drive and bigger monitors can increase your productivity; and you have to do everything to become more efficient. You may believe that you cannot afford superior technology but in fact you cannot afford to work with inferior tools! Once you have upgraded your tools you will know why you did it.
The same is true for learning and courses. Some courses may seem expensive to you when you start out. But as you grow your business you need to be able to take several thousand dollars and invest them into things you believe in. Otherwise you will probably get stuck where you are. Or even worse: you will fall behind because everyone else is advancing.
Thirdly, invest in source code and technology. We invested in several game builders. They seemed very expensive at the time and we had a hard time deciding to go for it. But in hindsight these were the best decisions that we ever took.
Fourthly, invest in community and networking. If you can invest to join a new community of fellow entrepreneurs or meeting new people in your industry you should do it. One of our software investments got us into an expert community with fellow appreneurs. We chat daily and exchange jokes, curses and most importantly knowledge. 50 or more appreneurs will always know where the market is headed and what obstacles need to be avoided right now. Help others and you will be helped. We have gotten tremendous value out of it and our business wouldn’t be where it is right now without this community, even though it is only virtual.
In summary, there are two things that took us to where we are right now: Getting started and always progressing. Always remember: There is no failure, only growth! Now go out there and do it! The future is bright!
Johannes Metzler is the happy co-founder, appreneur and blogger at AppLeopard.com. Learn more about living a meaningful, (h)appy life and grab his free tools for your app business!