Taking the Leap into App Development

[Today is a guest post by Chad Ettebrick. He created an iPhone app after reading about my story. I wanted him to share his experience.] 

Let’s face it.  We all have an idea that we think will take us from the ranks of blog readers and wantrepreneurs to the ranks of business owners, entrepreneurs, MILLIONAIRES!

If you have read Benny’s awesome posts about his luck from creating apps, then you may be interested in chasing the dream of mega-app in the app store.  I recently released my first app, and wanted to share a little about the process to hopefully inspire you to chase your dreams.

First, a little about me.  I’ve done a little of everything.  I spent time doing the corporate grind.  I’ve worked in Mom & Pop businesses.  But for me, the real goal has always been to create something.  For a couple of years, I have carried a Moleskine notebook around and recorded ideas.  The first major idea that I thought would work was an online music instrument store.  It taught me a couple things.

First, I was horribly depressed.  I used the store as a way to distract myself.  Coming off quitting a job that I hated, the store became a scapegoat for my mood and troubles.  It took 6 months to realize that I was a zombie, walking around in a horrible funk.

The second thing I learned was that when I put my mind to something, I can do it.  I created a functioning business idea out of depression.  Vendors and manufacturers were excited about the concept.  They were also scared of the concept, and scared of committing their product to an online-only start-up (they need a wake-up call, but that is for later).

Once I was able to move from my funk of depression, I started really focusing on just ideas.  Creative or not.  My notebook started to grow very fast.  It only took about 2 weeks to realize that most of what I was creating were started ideas for what could be great apps.

That is how I decided on making apps.  It also lead me to really start learning about the app creation world.  The other question it raised to me was “why make apps?”

To backtrack again, my closest friend is a large player in the tech start-up world.  He has founded and sold 2 companies.  My interest in that world has been, as a result, very strong.

The idea that I could create something that was in the same marketplace and realm as what these awesome start-up companies were doing was exciting.  So I decided that instead of just planning and planning and never acting I would make a decision and just start.

As I reread my ideas I realized that one idea was being repeated through my notes, sometimes in different ways, but usually in a very similar manner.  It was also a very simple idea that I could easily flesh out and work through.  I was sold.

It was at this time that I first read Benny’s post about Photo 365.  I was stunned.  His story was very inspiring and sort of solidified in my mind that I could do what I was thinking I could do.  It actually helped cement the idea that I could do with for less money with less work than I had planned.  It was at this point that I first reached out to Benny.  I had started researching companies to work with and looking for developers.  I was able to add a couple more developers to the list through Benny and I’s conversation.

It only took one conversation with the team that I settled on to know that they were right for me.  Thus started the process of creating my app.

From start to launch, the process took just over 2 months.  We started with fleshing out ideas and making sure that we were understanding each other.  It took about a week to learn to understand each other through the language barrier and difference in English.

I managed the project and approved all ideas, which stemmed from my original notebook ideas.  I provided the company with drawings and concepts, which were then transitioned into UX and UI (user experience and user interface) elements.  The majority of the time was spent on making sure graphics and usage were perfect.  The majority of my cost came from the development of 10 unique graphics and 10 icon graphics.

Once I had approved the graphics and icons (on about the 3rd draft) we were able to move on to programming, which only took a few days.  I received my first working copy of the app and was able to start testing.  As we finalized more details I received new working copies.  The testing process lasted about a month.  After 3 to 4 test copies, we approved the final copy and started the process of submitting to Apple.  It took about 5 days to be approved and launched late on a Thursday night.  I had finally gone from having an idea in a notebook to having created a product that was available for sale.

The process was very exciting.  It was incredibly fun and powerful to work and manage a team of developers on an idea that I had developed.  There were some struggles.  The team didn’t understand my vision at first, due to cultural differences.  It was challenging to explain why I wanted things the way I wanted them when to me they were very obvious to the way we live in the US.  We also had issues with one feature that didn’t think was needed.  Again, this was something that I really had to push back on.  However the product ended up exactly how I wanted.

I had a budget of around $4000 for my app development, and didn’t spend my entire budget.

Here is what I want you to take away from my experience, and I’m sure Benny will echo many of these items.

1.  If you want to make an app, start by recording every idea you think of for a set period of time.  It can be a week, a month, any amount of time, just start by ideating.  I included the idea, drawings of what it could look like, and action plans for creation.

2.  Pick an idea that is very simple for your first project.  If you are using a company like oDesk to facilitate your project, make sure you give each company their due research.

3.  Take the time to express your idea fully.

4.  Make sure you are serious about pursuing your app creation.  It can get very expensive very fast.

5.  Don’t think you are going to make $30,000 in a month, or $5000 in a week.  Be ready to fail.  It is only when you are ready to fail that you can put your full attention into making the best possible product.  Do what you can to ensure the product can succeed, but don’t be surprised when it doesn’t.

My biggest challenge was taking the first step.

What is stopping you from taking YOUR first step?  What tools or methods would help you get out of your comfort zone and go for it? 

Take it to the comments and let us know what is stopping you.

The process was overall very thrilling.  If you are interested in creating apps, or ideating, please contact me at chad [at] chadettelbrick [dot] com.

Chad Ettelbrick is the Founder of Current Weather, an app that focuses on the weather right now, and lets you share your weather with your Twitter followers.  He also runs the blog We Work From Phones, which focuses on mobile working and small businesses.  He also is in the process of creating an app and media company, Ettelbrick Media.

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  • Hey Chad,

    Awesome post and high five for taking action! I love the tech start up space, spent time managing a site that covered it and even went to TechCrunch Disrupt.

    I’ll be getting into apps later this year and I’m so pumped to get started. At this point I’m just building up the loot and doing my homework.

    After reading this, I’ll be looking out for an update post down the line. I was also wondering what kind of research you did prior to launch/outsourcing per the market, competition, etc.

    Jonathon

    • Hey Jonathon,

      Thanks for the kind words. As for research, I did a number of things. First, I should disclose that I studied meteorology and have an overall love for the weather. I researched what people liked and didn’t like about their weather apps, and used the general app market as a compass to make some design and feature choices. I wish I would have been more aware of the sales trends for the Weather category, but that was an oversight on my part. For outsourcing, I simply put out a listing and looked seriously at each response. The company I chose was not the cheapest, but they offered things that others didn’t. Hope that helps.

      Best,

      Chad

  • Since I am the first to comment as far as apps go I have always really wanted to create an app and I think I have some stellar ideas but I have never made it to the first step. I guess I am afraid that it’s not that good of an idea and I will lose a lot of money but hey it sounds like I stand to make a lot of money too. I think this article may have pushed me over the top thank you!

    • Hi Elena,

      I understand wondering if an app is a good idea or not. One way to check is to take a look at the App store and see if there are similar apps to what you want. Do they have reviews? Reviews means people are at least using them. Then see if there is a way you can make it better. If there is an app that is dominating the niche, then find a different angle. Don’t go for the same features. Another way to determine if it’s a good idea is to ask friends. Will the app help solve a problem? Entertain? Figure out what the goal is. Creating an app doesn’t guarantee success, but if you do your research beforehand you can at least know if your app will have a chance to not.

      Hope that helps!

    • Couldn’t have said it better!

      It can be very worthwhile to make your first product with no plans to make money from it. I understand that can be hard to do, but you have to think of it as an investment in YOUR future. It can be a weight-lifting realization when you finally make your move on something that you created.

      I say go for it and don’t worry about the sales. They will come.

  • Ray

    Great post, i like the part where you mentioned, “if i can put my mind into it, i can do it.” Even though there were many obstacles you’ve encountered. You managed to pull through and get the job done. Very inspiring. keep up the the good work!

  • Very inspiring. It’s like a follow-up of what success could be- not from just one exceptional person…can I be the next?

  • lalit

    yes mobile apps are very much in demand . i also think to get started with this have to start saving money for this.

  • Marcin

    Everything you post about apps I read leaned to my desktop:) And so it was this time…but I’m missing something here. Chad, can you say something about your launch? How did it go? What are your results? I guess they’re ok if you’re on your way to create an app company (which is my goal too). Thanks in advance for some feedback!

    • Hey Marcin,

      I will be covering results in a post on my blog next week. Check it out! Sign up for the mailing list to make sure you get it right away! I will share some secrets from the post here, too.

      My plan was never to make money. I did no advertising and no promotion of any kind for the app. I wanted to first month or more to be an organic experiment. A successful experience for me would have been 50 sales on the first weekend. My sales for the first month exceeded my expectations greatly. The second month is where things become interesting.

      More on that on my blog!

      Thanks,

      Chad

      • Marcin

        Thanks for your reply. Then, I’m looking forward to your post about results!
        BTW: Your plan was never to make money? Come on…what do you do at the moment? You must have a pretty nice job, if you just create apps because you like it;)

        • Chad Ettelbrick

          I spend so much time planning things and not finishing them. The money I spent on the app was an investment in myself just as much as anything else. I actually am only living on passive income money right now as I develop a couple things. I really didn’t think the app would make money. I HOPED it would pay for itself. That was my goal. That said, if you haven’t bought it, please do! 🙂

          Thanks,

          Chad

          • Marcin

            So it’s still haven’t paid for itself?
            I understand you very well, I also plan a lot of thing, projects, but don’t finish many of them, I’m working on that. Congrats for you that you are able to live on passive income, this is my goal too. Can you tell what are your best (most profitable) methods so far?

  • Hi there, Great job!!! Strong determination is the key to success. Obstacles are always part of it but when you stick to your goal, there is no impossible in this world.
    Thank you very much for sharing—was very inspired.

  • I’ve never once thought of creating an app. It would have to be something that I would use, because that’s the only way for me to focus 100%.

  • Ariana

    I’ve had an idea for an app that I think will be very successful. The problem is finding a programmer – I’ve posted “help wanted” ads on FB, asked the IT department at work, & asked everyone I know to be on the lookout for a programmer that can help. Crickets. Could you recommend a good programmer? Also, if anyone on this forum knows how to build an app (this particular one will generate information from a database), please let me know, I’d love to work with you.

  • I have absolutely ZERO skills in app development, but I think the inspiring thing about your story (and Benny’s) is narrowing your focus to do one thing really well. Is this hard for anyone else but me??? =)

    It feels like it takes a lot of discipline to say, ‘I’ll set THAT aside to do THIS,’ even though THAT may not pay off in the end. But when I’ve done that, even in small ways, I’ve seen the strategy pay off.

    anyway, good for you!!! Note to self, FOCUS. FOCUS. FOCUS!

    • Setting aside one thing to work on another is HARD!!!!! I would venture to say that it is nearly impossible.

      I spent probably 2 solid weeks focusing on getting all the details right for Current Weather. During that time I literally put all other things aside. But as soon as the details were set and I was simply managing the day-to-day of the build and process, I immediately started working on other projects.

      The creation of my first app led me to understand more how I work, and it inspired several other projects. It actually inspired me to take a LARGER step than I ever expected. Be sure to sign up for the mailing list at the blog to learn more about that! Coming soon…:)

      Thanks,

      Chad

  • thanks for sharing the story and thanks to Benny for asking you to share your experience
    i always wish i had some brilliant idea for an app
    i don’t really
    but i think those principles and your experience can be used in other areas of life when we strive for our dreams and goals
    i’m writing my heart and guts out
    maybe i’ll earn $5 one day 🙂
    but that’s not the point. the point is i’m doing something i love
    Noch Noch

    • I actually love this response. One thing I learned early is how to take others experience and mold it to your own needs. I comment on it on a post on my blog called Pinpoint Your Inspiration. It is such a great skill to realize that what other people do won’t always be the same as you, but you can always take something away.

      As an example, while reading the Steve Jobs bio I began to realize that the man I respected and idolized was not the real Steve Jobs. However, the Steve Jobs that I saw was an absolutely real part of his personality. I had pulled my favorite parts of what he did and tried to emulate them, even though they were not traits that even he would have probably acknowledged.

      The point is this. If you don’t make apps, there is plenty to learn from those who do. Same for writers, musicians, filmmakers, bloggers, jewelry makers, mom’s, dad’s, leaders, soldiers, everything! Learn as much as you can from everyone to help you form who you are! Only then can you do what you love!

      Best,

      Chad

  • I’ll cover where the app is at on my blog next week. Need to save something for over there. 🙂 Thanks for the great questions and kind words!

  • Chris Barker

    Hello Chad!

    It’s so amazing what had you experienced but inspite of those not so little succes you’ve really outdone it. I think it just a matter of how you handle any circumstances in your life and how you overcome the latter. I’m so proud that you’ve made this app and be in the market. Great!

  • Very cool stuff Chad! Benny certainly is an inspiration to us all. And I love the name of your blog btw. I can’t imagine working without a smart phone now!

  • Very interesting read, thanks for the post.

    I’ve been trying to get my head around the development of an app recently. I think the most important point of all, like you said, is to take action early and get the ball rolling. Otherwise ideas tend to lump together in to a soup of nothing’ness. You begin to lose faith in your own brainstorming if you never manage to take action on what the last brainstorming produced.

    Congrats on your success!

  • I love the way Benny has created that apps, I have read his story on Blog Tyrant blog and its really great to see how he earned that much money with an idea and determination to make it..

    Chad, its great to see to that you are also getting success with the your apps…

  • Starting something is not the best but finishing it to the best of your knowledge. I must saya big congratulations to you for taking the step to do something worthwhile and I wish you success with the app.

    I will like to read some figures after few weeks of releasing the apps to know how much you’ve made and the exprience as well.

    Sheyi

  • Having a bit of a background in software development a few years ago mobile apps is something I have always wanted to look it but never really researched any further. You post was informative and made me consider maybe looking at it again when I get some free time.

    Great post many thanks

  • Hi there. Yes I am agreed with your ideas. Craving for designing an app especially for iPhone is really a great idea and your points to develop it is another interesting thing also. After reading this post I must say, Yes you should go ahead with it.