New iPhone
By Jason Moore
uSightRead

Background

So here I am, maker of a iPhone App, not exactly what I planned. I always wanted to make and sell my own software. After college I worked for a large goverment contractor, and I mostly viewed that as my “day job”. The real work was done at night, behind closed doors so nobody could see the million dollar idea I was working on. Only problem was, there was no million dollar idea, just a bunch of false starts and half finished software that never even sold one copy. Then about three years ago, I got a job at an actual startup. I was still just an employee (the only employee) with no real power, but I was working with the latest technologies and I was still going to be driving a Ferrari in five years. The only problem was that the founders didn’t really know what they wanted and with the birth of my first child, I no longer wanted to work 60 hours a week.
I moved back under the umbrella of a large company again. It was a nice 40 hour a week job. The people here came from a startup that was recently purchased, so it still feels like a startup with the fast pace, and get it done attitude. Odd that when I’m happiest at my “day job” is when I actually decided to make some software that would actually sell.

Just Do It

My friend and I had talked about making an iPhone app for a few months. I convinced my wife to buy me the required Mac, and set off on actually creating an application. In previous attempts at making a software product, I would get extremely discouraged if I found any hint of competition and usually abandon the idea. This time was different. The product I chose was not particularly unique, and there’s even a couple of other directly competing products on the iTunes store. Why was it differenty this time? Why was I willing to actually compete? I guess because it’s a product that I actually wanted and in the past it was all about finding a product someone else wanted.
Armed with my idea, my MacBook, and about half an hour of free time a day, I set off on creating my app. Since I was working alone, I was responsible for everything, from graphics to the website. This clearly shows in the final app. I’m a software developer, and my art skills definitely leave something to be desired. Despite these failings I did manage to get the app on the store in about a month. It’s missing some major features that I would like to have put in before shipping, but I really wanted to get something out there. In the immortal words of Guy Kawaski, “Don’t worry, be crappy.” The best thing about getting a product out there is that customers (or potential customers) will tell you what they want from your app. Now instead of guessing which features to implement first, I know what should be first because 10 people have told me.

First week of sales or, I’m not going to be retiring anytime soon

Bob Walsh asked if I wanted to do a guest post and I told him sure, but I wanted to wait to see what the first week of sales are in so I had something to report. Well, the numbers are in and I sold a grand total of 43 copies. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, even the pet rock application has sold more copies. I’m actually just amazed that anybody bought anything that I made.
At this point there’s a couple of options on how to increase sales. The first is more features. Obviously there have been some comments, so I have a general idea of which things are high priority and which are not. Second there’s marketing. I’m already third on the major keyword phrase on Google, so that’s pretty good. The one major problem I have is that nobody (besides me for testing purposes) has clicked on the “Buy Now” button for my App. About a third of my website traffic is direct and I’m guessing that’s the people getting to the website from the iTunes store, but nobody is going the other way.
At this point, I think the features are more important and they will make the product easier to market. My current schedule is to have a release every month with the most requested features. I doubt I’ll ever be an iPhone App millionaire, but it’s fun and for the first time ever I have a product someone can buy. It’s a good feeling, you should try it sometime.

About

My name is Jason Moore. I’ve been a professional software developer since 2001, and a hobbist for many years before that. I wrote an application for people to practice reading music called uSightRead.

11 Comments

  1. Jason – I clicked the buy now button from your website…it worked for me. I think your story will resonate with a lot of other developers. Great job. Keep up the good work.

  2. Darryl Whitmore Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story Jason. You’ve really struck a chord with me. I too am a developer with a day job and dreams of developing my own software. Years ago, before we had kids, I used to stay up late at night hacking away on my projects. I had a little success with a small ShareWare (that’s how long ago this was) utility and sold a couple dozen copies.
    Then along came our children, and they sucked all the time out of my life lo these many years! My days of banging out code until 3am on weeknights were over. It didn’t help that I was getting a little too old to subsist on caffeine and a few hours of sleep, either 😉
    Then a couple years ago I came across Leon Bambrick’s blog entry “New Year’s Resolution: Build Your Own Micro ISV!” (http://www.secretgeek.net/ny_2007.asp) and it was a revelation for me. The kids were getting older, and I could steal a little time here and there to start tinkering again.
    Not having a lot of time, I had to come up with projects that were doable for me; small to medium sized apps that I could have a chance to finish. One of the best bits of advice I’d read somewhere was to scratch your own itch; to come up with something that you’d want to use to solve a problem.
    I came up with one idea and worked on it a bit at a time for several months before abandoning it. Some time passed, and I came up with another idea with the same outcome. More time passed and a new idea came to me last summer. This was my best idea yet, and I worked on it really regularly until this spring, when I began to realize that a part of this project was in itself a pretty good idea for a standalone class library product. Down a new road I went.
    And that’s where I am now, trying to complete a product that was a complete accident. I had always thought in terms of standalone apps, never class libraries, as my projects, and I find a lot to like in this different approach.
    As always, I hope I can complete it. But I don’t view all the prior projects as failures. With every one, I learned new and better ways to improve my code. I’ve learned how to use FxCop and Nunit and Sandcastle Help File Builder in the process. And I bring all this expertise back to my day job as well.
    So thanks again. It was great read about someone with similar experiences. And right you are: “just do it”!

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  4. Congrats! We’ve just completed our first iPhone app also. Our customers were constantly asked for iPhone versions of our software and finally we do. But applying and being approved in their Dev program, as well as adding a ready app into AppStore were … too challenged. I new many developers who failed to make this long way You and us did this! The next quest will be getting our earnings from Apple. 🙂

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  6. I read this post, and I felt like I was reading the story of writing my own first app! Well, except for the 43 sales… 🙂 My app has a much smaller niche, but I’m not so worried about the sales, because I’ll talk about the real reason I did it.
    About 6 months ago, I started my quest on building a Micro-ISV. I did the same waffling on whether to write an app for the store. I was doing all of the market analysis, and trying to figure out whether it was a product that I could eventually grow to provide a full-time salary, and the numbers weren’t coming out good. I was just about to scrap the idea when the person I was discussing my plans with (Josh Kaufman of http://personalmba.com, a site I highly recommend) broke my stagnation by saying that even if the launch doesn’t create enough revenue to live off of (or worse, a complete failure), it is a great experiment that has very little downside ($99 to get into the app store, a little more for incidentals, website, etc.), and a lot of benefits, the biggest of which being you actually get to experience and learn what it is like to be a Micro-ISV.
    I’m glad he talked some sense into me. The experience has been great, and it’s given me the platform to do all of the experiments in marketing, website design and SEO, social media, sales, copywriting, etc. to gain experience for when I launch the real thing (not that the iPhone app isn’t real, but the chances of it becoming a paycheck). I always sum it up by saying that I’ve become addicted to entrepreneurship, because being an employee just isn’t the same high it used to be. 🙂
    I would say if you are investigating being a Micro-ISV, look into this as one way to test the waters.

  7. As a developer I read your post because I am interested in building iphone apps. When I discovered what your app was, a tool for practicing sight righting I was really interested as I’ve been looking for something like that. Then I visited your site… which appears to be a developer blog about the product. This seems very strange, I happen to be a musician and a developer, but I’m sure that the majority of people that would be interested in this app won’t be. If I was a musician and visited your page the first thing I see is some code and I’m going to run a mile. Tell your customers what it is and how it helps them, keep the development side of things separate and I’m sure you’ll get more downloads.

  8. This is a great article. Very well put. The things you said about discouragement when you find out there’s competition, working for yourself instead of others, real work starts at night, etc… everything was spot-on for me. Great article.

  9. Thanks for the comments.
    @Olly SB: You’re right. It shouldn’t be the dev blog on the front page. I started the blog just to get some pages out there and to establish the site. Now that I have a product, I needed to change it so that people know what they’re looking for. Now maybe people will click buy instead of running 🙂

  10. Congrats on publishing your app. I published my first app in 1985 as a shareware tool and have been publishing software every since.
    Maybe the Apple approach to having such a strongly tied in store also helped your sales. I can’t remember a single product I have ever built that had any sales in the first week. Usually the first week is spent trying to find all the places to post it to even get started with trials. Or back in the old days you would spend days dialing into BBS systems and posting your app. Wow, glad we don’t do that anymore. 🙂
    Best of luck on your product

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