How to Build an App Empire: Can You Create The Next Instagram?

Chad Mureta runs his seven-figure app business from his iPhone. (Photo: Jorge Quinteros).

I first met Chad Mureta in Napa Valley in 2011.

Two years prior, he had been in a horrible car accident. He’d lost control of his truck in at attempt to avoid a deer, hit a median, and flipped four times, nearly destroying his dominant arm in the wreckage.

While in the hospital for a lengthy recovery, a friend gave him an article about the app market. Shortly thereafter, Chad began designing and developing apps. His results?

“In just over two years, I’ve created and sold three app companies that have generated millions in revenue. Two months after launching my first company, one of my apps averaged $30,000 a month in profit. In December of 2010, the company’s monthly income had reached $120,000. In all, I’ve developed more than 40 apps and have had more than 35 million app downloads across the globe. Over 90 percent of my apps were successful and made money.”

After finishing rehab, Chad was able to leave his real estate company, where he’d been working 70 hours a week, to run his app business from his iPhone… in less than 5 hours per week.

“Apps” are the new, new thing, thanks to major successes like Draw Something (bought by Zynga for $210 million) and Instagram (bought by Facebook for $1 billion), among others. But for all the hype and promise, few people actually know how to create something that gets traction.

In this post, Chad will discuss his step-by-step formula for rapid app development and sales optimization. It covers real-world case studies and the details you usually don’t see: early prototype sketches, screenshots, how to code if you don’t know how to code, and much more.

Last but not least, don’t miss the competition at the end. If you’ve ever thought “I should make an app that…,” this one is for you…

Enter Chad Mureta

When you are on your deathbed, will you be able to say you lived a fulfilled life?

I nearly couldn’t.

I started my app business from a hospital bed, wondering if I even wanted to live. I had barely survived a terrible car accident that shattered my left arm. I had gone through two groundbreaking operations, and spent 18 months in painful rehabilitation.

With limited insurance, I had racked up $100,000 in medical bills. Even though I survived, I had no clue how to get out of the deep hole I felt trapped in. I was moved to a physical rehabilitation center and worked on reconstructing my body, my mind, and ultimately my life. While I was there, I read two books that made a huge impact: Unlimited Power strengthened my thought processes, and The 4-Hour Workweek inspired me to pursue lifestyle freedom.

During that time, a good friend gave me an article about “appreneurs” and told me I should consider getting into the business. I learned that most appreneurs were one- or two-person teams with low costs, and the successful ones were bringing in millions in profits. Still in my hospital bed, in a state of semi-coherence from the pain medication, I began drawing up ideas for apps.

Three weeks after my final surgery, desperate, broke, and grasping at straws, I borrowed $1,800 from my stepdad and jumped into the app business. Fortunately, taking that leap was the best decision I’ve ever made…

These days, my life is about doing what I love while earning easy income. I run my business from my iPhone, working in a virtual world while earning real dollars. I am part of a growing community of “appreneurs,” entrepreneurs who make money from applications that are used on iPhones, iPads, iPods, Droids, and Blackberries. As of this writing, the world’s youngest appreneur is nine years old, and the oldest is 80!

Appreneurs earn money while creating lifestyles of great freedom. Two of my appreneur friends spend several months of the year doing nonprofit work in Vietnam, while their businesses are generating seven-figure incomes. Another is taking his kids to see the Seven Wonders of the World, creating priceless memories with his family. Still another friend goes backpacking throughout Europe with his wife for most of the year. As for me, I’ve hiked in the Australian Outback, trekked with Aborigines across the desert, climbed in the Rocky Mountains, got certified in solo skydiving, heli-skied in Canada, walked on fire, and most important of all, learned not to take life so seriously.

No matter what your dream lifestyle is, you can have it as an appreneur.

The Opportunity for Appreneurs

There are currently more than 4.6 billion cell phones being used worldwide, enough for two-thirds of the people on Earth. The app market is literally the fastest growing industry in history, with no signs of slowing down. Now is the perfect time to jump into the mobile game.

What happened during the early days of the Internet, with the creation of websites like Google and eBay, is exactly what’s happening today with apps and mobile technology. The only difference is that we have experienced the rise of the Internet and are conditioned to react more quickly to the app revolution. This means that the app world is running light years ahead of the Internet, when it was at the same development stage. Developing apps is your chance to jump ahead of the masses and not be left behind, saying years from now, “I wish I had…”

Common Objections

“I’m not a tech person. I have no experience in this market.”

I was in the same spot, and I still don’t know how to write code. But I found successful people to learn from, emulated their models, and hired programmers and designers who could execute my ideas. If you can draw your idea on a piece of paper, you can successfully build an app.

“The app market has too much competition. I don’t stand a chance.”

This industry is just getting started– it’s less than four years old! What makes the app business unique is that the big players are on the same playing field as everyone else. They have the same questions and challenges as you and I will have.

“I don’t have the money.”

You don’t need a lot of money to start. It costs anywhere from $500 to $5,000 to develop simple apps. As soon as you launch your app (depending on your sales), you could see money hit your bank account within two months.

“It’s difficult… I don’t understand it… I’m not smart enough.”

Just like everything you’ve learned in life, you have to start somewhere. Fortunately, running an app business is far easier than almost every other type of business. Apple and Google handle all of the distribution, so you can spend your time creating apps and marketing them. And you don’t have to come up with new, innovative ideas. If you can improve on existing app ideas, you can make money.

Many people are joining the app gold rush with a get-rich-quick mentality and unrealistic expectations. Maintaining an optimistic perspective is important, but so is understanding that you will have to put in work. My goal in this post is to help you think like a business owner, and show you the map I’ve used to find “the gold.” This is not a one-time app lottery, and you can’t treat it as such. If you think of this endeavor as a long-term business, it will grow and become a sustainable source of income.

Still interested? Then let’s get started!

Step 1: Get a Feel for the Market

As with any business, your success will be directly related to your understanding of the marketplace. The App Store is the marketplace of the app business, so in order to understand the market, we have to study the App Store. This seems rather obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many developers I meet that don’t understand this concept. They don’t watch the market, follow the most successful apps, or try to figure out why those apps are successful.

In order to become a great app supplier, you must first become an app addict. That means spending at least 2-4 weeks researching the market while downloading and playing with tons of apps (give yourself an app budget of $100 to start). This training period is an investment in your expertise, which will become the lifeblood of your success. The more hours you rack up playing around and studying successful apps, the better you’ll be able to understand their common traits and what users desire.

So, how do you keep pace with the market? The best way is to study Apple’s cheat sheet constantly. The App Store displays the top paid, top free, and top-grossing apps (the apps that make the most money, including free apps), almost in real-time. Apple provides the same lists in the individual app categories.

These charts are golden because they tell us volumes about the market. The best part is this information is freely accessible to anyone, at any moment (unlike the market info for basically every other industry).

Review these charts frequently, and keep a notebook of potential trends you spot. Doing this repeatedly will educate you on successful app design, marketing, and various pricing models. The research you’re doing is simple, costs nothing, and it’s actually fun!

Here are some questions to ask while you’re researching successful apps in the market:

  1. Why is this app successful?
  2. What is its rank and has it been consistent?
  3. Why do people want this app? (Look at the reviews.)
  4. Has this app made the customer a raving fan?
  5. Does this app provoke an impulse buy?
  6. Does this app meet any of my needs?
  7. Did I become a raving fan after trying it?
  8. Will the customer use it again?
  9. How are they marketing to their customers? (Check out the screen shots, icon design, and descriptions.)
  10. What is the competitive advantage of this app?
  11. What does this app cost? Are there in-app purchases? Advertisements?

Most developers will build an app and expect tons of people to find and download it right away. That rarely happens. You have to figure out what people are interested in and the kinds of apps they’re downloading first, then you build your app based on that insight.

Once you’ve put in the necessary 2-4 weeks of research and feel you have a decent grasp on the market, it will be time to look back on the trends you discovered and explore some ideas for potential apps you can develop.

Step 2: Align Your Ideas with Successful Apps

How do you know if the market wants your app? Again, you’ll need to look at the Top Apps chart. Are apps like the one you want to create listed there? If yes, you’ve got a potential winner. If not, keep looking. It’s that simple.

Don’t hate; Emulate! When you follow in the footsteps of successful apps, you will have a better chance of succeeding because these apps have proven demand and an existing user base. This takes the guesswork out of creating great app ideas.

I can’t stress the importance of emulating existing apps enough. It’s easy for people to fall in love with their own idea, even if the market doesn’t show an appetite for it. But this is one of the costliest errors you can make.

Unfortunately, developers make this mistake all the time. They focus on generating original ideas and spend a lot of time and effort creating those apps. When it doesn’t work out, they go to the next untested idea, instead of learning from the market. Often times, they repeat this cycle until they run out of money and dismiss the app game. This doesn’t have to be your experience.

A personal example of how to successfully emulate competitors is my Emoji app. First, I took a close look at what the market offered and downloaded all the major emoticon apps. I liked what I saw, but noticed that there was a lack of variety and limited functionality.

Screenshots from a competing Emoji app. The app (left) is opened once to provide the user with instructions on how to enable the Emoji keyboard (right).

I wondered how I could improve upon these existing apps, given that the Emoji keyboard had a limited number of emoticons that couldn’t be increased. I was also curious how profitable these apps could be if they were only being used once.

I kept brainstorming until it hit me. I couldn’t add more emoticons to the Emoji keyboard, but I could include unlimited emoticons within my app that people could send as images via text message or email.

I created an app that not only enabled the Emoji keyboard, but also contained an additional 450 emoticons within the app itself, which could be shared via SMS, e-mail, Facebook, and so on. The app was used constantly since users had to return to the app to send an emoticon.

Screenshots of my Emoji app.

The Emoji app was developed in two weeks. It followed the freemium model, meaning free with an in-app purchase option. The app hit the number one spot in the App Store’s productivity category and the number 12 spot in the top free overall category within six days, raking in nearly $500 per day. Bingo.

Whenever you decide to look into emulating an app, ask yourself these six questions:

  1. Why are people purchasing this?
  2. Can I do something to emulate this idea and take it to another level?
  3. What other ideas would this app’s demographic like?
  4. How many other similar apps are in the market? (Visit TopAppCharts.com to find out.)
  5. How successful and consistent have they been?
  6. How does their marketing and pricing model work?

Step 3: Design Your App’s Experience

You’ve studied the market, you see an opportunity, and you have an idea that could be profitable. Great! Now it’s time to turn those thoughts into something tangible.

To convey your idea properly, you can simply draw it on a piece of paper. Maybe it will look like a 3-year old’s artwork, but it will still convey what you’re trying to do. Some people like putting this together in digital form, using Photoshop or Draft. Whatever you’re most comfortable with, and whatever will give the programmers the details they need, is the way to go.

For your viewing pleasure, here are the rudimentary drawings (a.k.a. wireframes) for my first app, Finger Print Security Pro. As you can see, it doesn’t have to be pretty!

And here’s how the app’s final design turned out:

To make the design process easier, I look at certain apps in the App Store and reference them to show my programmers what I’m looking for. For example, I’ll say, “Download the XYZ app. I want the ABC functionality to work like theirs. Take a look at the screenshots from this other app, and change this.” I take certain components of apps that I’d like to emulate, and give them to the programmer so that we are as clear as possible.

Highlight menu vs. Facebook menu

Notice any similarities? Highlight’s menu (left) emulated the style of Facebook’s menu (right).

The clearer you are, the fewer misunderstandings and problems you will have once it’s time to hand off your drawings to a programmer. The idea is to convey what the app will look like, where everything will be placed, and what happens if certain buttons are selected. This helps the programmer know what you want and will be a useful blueprint when designing your app. Do not be vague or ambiguous. You should know what every part of your app will do. If you don’t, you need to develop your idea more thoroughly.

You have to consider your design to be final before you can begin the coding phase. Inevitably, you will have ideas for additional features once you start testing the initial versions of your app. But if you decide to make major changes after a substantial amount of work has been done, it can frustrate your programmer. It’s like telling the builder who just installed your fireplace that you want it on the other side of the living room. The news will not go over well. Most people don’t realize this is what they are demanding of their programmer when they ask for big changes. That’s why it’s important for you to take your time and carefully plan every aspect of the app before you submit it for coding.

Step 4: Register as a Developer

You now have your idea drawn out. Before you go any further, you need to sign up as a developer with the platform for which you’re looking to create apps.

Don’t be intimidated by the word “developer.” It doesn’t mean you have to be the programmer. It’s simply the name used for somebody who publishes apps. All you have to do is set up a “developer account” so you can offer your apps for sale in one of the app stores.

Here are the links for each platform and a brief overview of their requirements.

Apple iOS *— Registration requirements include a fee of $99 per year and accepting the terms of service.

Android— Registration requirements include a fee of $25 per year and accepting the terms of service.

BlackBerry— Registration requirements include a $200 fee for every 10 apps you publish. You must have a BlackBerry World App Vendor Agreement in place with RIM (the creator of BlackBerry) to distribute apps.

* For your first app, I strongly suggest developing for Apple iOS, rather than Android or Blackberry. Simply put, Apple users are much more likely to spend money on apps. You will increase your odds of making a profit simply by developing for the iOS platform.

Also, don’t forget to go over the App Store review guidelines. Apple enforces these rules during the review process, and if you don’t follow them, your app will be rejected. For instance, you might remember seeing a plethora of fart or flashlight apps on the App Store awhile back. As a result, Apple has decided to no longer accept those types of apps. Knowing these rules can save you a lot of time and effort. If you see any of your ideas conflicting with the guidelines, reject them and move on to the next one.

Step 5: Find Prospective Programmers

Coding your own app, especially if you’re teaching yourself at the same time, will take too long. The likelihood of you getting stuck and giving up is very high. It will also be unsustainable over the long run when you want to create several apps at the same time and consistently update your existing apps. After all, the goal is to get your time back and escape the long hours of the rat race. Therefore, programmers will be the foundation of your business. They will allow you to create apps quickly and scale your efforts.

Hiring your first programmer will be a lengthy process. You’ll need to: post the job, filter applicants, interview qualified candidates, have them sign your NDA, explain your idea, then give them a micro-test… all before coding begins! But while this process takes time, it is time well spent. Making great hires will help you avoid unnecessary delays, costs, and frustration in the future. You’ll always be looking to add new talent to your team, so learning how to quickly and effectively assess programmers is an important skill to develop.

Let’s get started. The first part of this step is to post your job to a hiring site.

Top Hiring Resources

These websites allow programmers to bid on jobs that you post. As you can imagine, the competition creates a bidding frenzy that gives you a good chance of getting quality work at a low price.

Here are a few of my favorite outsourcing sites:

oDesk— Its work diary feature tracks the hours your programmer is working for you and takes screenshots of the programmer’s desktop at certain time intervals.

Freelancer— This site has the most programmers listed. They claim that twice as many programmers will respond to your ad, and I found this to be mostly true.

Guru and Elance. Both of these sites have huge lists of programmers.

 

Below is a template of a job posting, followed by an explanation for each of its components:

Click the image to enlarge.

Enter the skill requirements—What programming languages do they know? For iPhone apps, the skills I list are: iPhone, Objective C, Cocoa, and C Programming.

Give a basic description of your project—Keep it simple and skill-specific. Tell the applicants that you will discuss details during the selection process. Do NOT reveal the specifics of your idea or marketing plan. Use general descriptions, and request info on how many revisions (a.k.a. iterations) their quote includes.

Post your ad only for a few days—This way programmers have a sense of urgency to quickly bid on your job.

Filter applicants—I always filter applicants using these criteria:

– They have a rating of four or five stars.

– They have at least 100 hours of work logged.

– Their English is good.

Compose individual messages to all suitable applicants, inviting them to a Skype call for further screening. Most of these programmers will overseas, which can present issues with communication and time zone differences. Therefore, a Skype interview is an absolute must before you can continue. Disqualify anyone who is not willing to jump on a Skype call.

The Interview: Essential Questions to Ask Programmers

Don’t give away any of your ideas during this initial conversation. Whenever the topic comes up, say you’ll be more than happy to discuss everything after they sign the NDA (if you want a copy of the NDA template I use, see the bottom of this post). Here are the questions you should ask each applicant before committing to anything:

– How long have you been developing apps?

– How many apps have you worked on? Can I see them?

– Do you have a website? What is it?

– Do you have references I can talk to?

– What’s your schedule like? How soon can you start?

– What time zone do you work in? What are your hours?

– What’s frustrating for you when working with clients?

– Are you working with a team? What are their skills?

– Can you create graphics, or do you have somebody who can?

– Can I see examples of the graphics work?

– What happens if you become sick during a project?

– What if you hit a technical hurdle during the project? Do you have other team members or a network of programmers who can help you?

– How do you ensure that you don’t compete with your clients?

– Can you provide flat-fee quotes?

– What’s your payment schedule? How do you prefer payment?

– Can you create milestones tied to payments?

– Do you publish your own apps on the App Store?

– How do you submit an app to the App Store? (Can they verbally walk you through the process, or do they make you feel brain challenged?)

Finally, mention that you like to start things off with a few simple tests (creating/delivering your app’s icon and a “Hello, World!” app) before coding begins. You need to tell them this upfront so they aren’t surprised after they have provided their quote. Most programmers are happy to get these tests done without a charge, but some will want a small fee. In either case, be clear with this requirement and have them include it in the quote.

During the interview, pay attention to how well they are able to explain themselves. Are they articulate? Do they use too much techno babble? Do they speak your native language fluently? Do they seem confident with their answers? How is their tone and demeanor? If you have any issues or worries, you may want to move on to somebody else. But if you can communicate with them easily and your gut is telling you “Yes,” you’ll want to proceed to the next step.

In either case, thank them for their time and mention that you will follow up with an NDA agreement if you decide to move forward.

Step 6: Sign NDA, Share your Idea, and Hire Your Programmer

You must protect your ideas, source code, and any other intellectual property. These are the assets that will build your business, so you need to have each potential programmer sign an NDA before you hire them. Yes, it’s rare to have an idea stolen, but it does happen (read the bottom of this post if you want a copy of the NDA that I use).

As you’re going through this process, you will be getting feedback on your programmers’ responsiveness. For instance, if it’s taking too long for them to sign the NDA, it might indicate how slowly the development process will move. Buyer beware!

Once the NDA has been signed by both parties, you can share your idea and designs with your programmer. At this stage, it’s critical to ensure they have the skills to complete your app. You do not have any wiggle room here, especially on your first app. Either they know how to make it or they don’t. You want to hear things like, “I know exactly how to do that” or “I’ve done similar apps, so it will not be a problem.” You don’t want to hear things like, “I should be able to do that, but I have to research a few things” or “I’m not sure but I can probably figure it out.” If you hear those words, switch to an app idea they are confident about or run for the hills.

After you’ve found the best programmer for the job, you can commit to hiring them. Establish milestones and timelines during the quoting process (break up the app into several parts), and decide on a schedule for check-ins that you’re both comfortable with (ask them directly how they like to be managed). You will need to periodically review their work, from start to finish. Most applications go through multiple iterations during design and development, and I won’t release partial payments until I’m fully satisfied with each milestone.

Step 7: Begin Coding

Rather than jumping haphazardly into a full-fledged project, I prefer to gradually ramp up my programmer’s workload by starting with a couple smaller tasks. You need to assess their graphics capabilities, implementation speed, and overall work dynamic (e.g. communication, time zone, etc.). If you’re underwhelmed with their skills, you need to get out quickly. Remember: Hire slow, fire fast. It will pay off over the long run.

Here’s my three-step process during the coding phase:

1. Icon—Ask the programmer to create and deliver the icon of your app. You will probably have several ideas for icons, so pass them on and ask for a finished 512 x 512 iTunes Artwork version of the icon.

2. Hello, World!—Ask the programmer for a “Hello, World!” app. It’s a simple app that opens up and shows a page that displays “Hello, World!”, and it will take them 10 minutes to create. The idea here is not to test their programming skills, but to determine how they will deliver apps to you for testing. This app should include the icon they created, so you can see how it will look on your phone.

3. App Delivery—When the programmers are ready to show you a test version of your app, they have to create something called an “ad hoc” (a version of your app that can be delivered to and run on your iPhone, without the use of the App Store). This ad hoc version of your app needs to be installed on your phone before you can test it. The initial installation was a bit cumbersome in the past, but a new service called TestFlight has simplified the process. I ask all programmers to use this service even if they have not used it before. They will be able to figure it out, and you’ll be able to install your test apps with a few touches on your phone.

The first version of your app is finished and delivered, and you’re now staring at it on your phone/tablet. Give yourself a pat on the back — you’ve made serious progress! But don’t get too caught up with yourself, because now it’s time to begin the testing phase.

Step 8: Test Your App

If you were having a house built, you’d want to make sure everything was in working order before you signed off. You would check major things like the roof and plumbing, all the way down to minor things, like crown molding and paint. You need to do the same thing with your app.

To start, your app must perform as expected. Pull out your initial design document and go through every feature. Never assume that something works because it worked last time you tested the app. Test each feature every time, especially before the final release.

Most importantly, don’t be the only tester. Your app makes sense to you, but it might not to others. You need to get everyone you know, from your 12-year-old nephew to your 75-year-old grandmother, to test your app.

The time you spend on testing is crucial because you will see how consumers use your product, what features are intuitive, what they don’t understand, and their patterns. They will have questions that won’t occur to you because you designed the app and everything about it is obvious to you.

Hand the app to them and say, “Hey check this out.” Don’t mention that it’s your app, what it’s supposed to do, or how it works. Give as little information as possible and watch as they try to understand and navigate through your app. This experience will be similar to the one your real user will have, because you won’t be there to explain things to them either.

Watch them testing your app and ask yourself these questions:

– Are they confused?

– Are they stuck?

– Are they complaining?

– Are they using the app the way you intended?

– Did they find a mistake or a bug?

– Are they having fun?

– Are they making suggestions for improvements? If yes, which ones?

Get them to talk about their experience with your app. They will be more honest if they don’t know the app is yours. Don’t get offended if you hear something you don’t like; their feedback is priceless. Assess each response to see if there’s a problem with your app, then ask yourself these questions:

– Would other users have the same issues? If yes, how can I fix them?

– Should I move things around?

– Should I change colors to improve visibility?

– Would adding some instructions help?

– Should I improve navigation?

Testing and debugging will take several iterations, like the design and development stages. This is all part of the process. Don’t forget to use TestFlight to save lots of time with the mechanics of installing test versions of your app.

Just remember: If you keep tweaking things and adding features, you might unnecessarily increase costs and production time. You need to get the app on the market quickly and in a basic form to test the concept. Only redesign during this phase if you feel you have a good justification for it. Otherwise, add the idea to your update list and move forward with development (I keep an update list for each app and refer back to it when the time is right).

Step 9: Post your App to the Market

At this point, you’ve had all of your friends and family test your app, taken the best feedback into account, and wrapped up any final changes with your programmer. Congratulations – it’s time for you to send the app to the App Store for review!

It’s a good idea to have your programmers show you how to submit your first few apps. Do not give out your developer account login information to your programmer or anybody else. The best way to have them show you how to submit your app, without having to giveaway your login, is to do a screen-share over Skype or GoToMeeting and have them walk you through the process. As your business grows, you might want to delegate this task to someone on your team.

Below is a screencast on how to upload an app to the App Store. As you’ll see, it’s a fairly confusing and tedious process. Best to leave this task to your programmers:

The amount of time Apple will take to review and approve/reject your app will depend on whether you’re submitting on behalf of yourself or a company. If you’re an individual, it will usually take 3-7 days. If you’re a company, it will likely take 7-10 days.

The real fun begins once your app is approved and available for download…

Step 10: Marketing Your App

The App Store is filled with thousands of great apps, but most developers are not skilled when it comes to marketing. Meanwhile, many poorly designed apps rank highly because their developers have figured out the marketing game. How do they do it?

You really need to focus on a few key areas to effectively market your apps, which will allow customers to discover and download them. Understanding how an app’s basic elements are marketing opportunities is essential to being successful in the app business. Your job is to create a seamless flow from the icon all the way to the download button. Let’s take a closer look at these components, which you can adjust at any time from your developer account:

ICON

The first thing users will see when they are checking out your app is the icon — the small square image with the rounded corners to the left of the app title. It’s also the image that users will see on their phone after they install your app.

The icon is important because it’s how the users will identify your app. It needs to look sharp, capture the app’s essence, attract the users’ attention, and compel them to investigate your app further.

Great app icons are clear, beautiful, and memorable.

Many developers create icons as an afterthought and focus all of their effort on the app itself, but the icon is the first impression you will make on the users. The old expression “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” applies here. Make sure you have a quality icon that represents your app and makes the users believe it has value.

APP TITLE

Over 80 percent of searches in the App Store are related to an app’s functionality, rather than an app’s name. Therefore, it is critical that you help users find your app when they perform relevant keyword searches in the app store.

Source: Chomp.com

Each word in your app’s title serves as a keyword, much like keywords in search engines. You can think of the title as your URL. For instance, if you type “angry” into the App Store search field, the Angry Birds apps will return as a search result.

DESCRIPTIONS

Having a compelling description for your app is like having a great opening line — people are more willing to learn about you once you’ve piqued their interest. The first chunk of your app’s description needs to be packed with the most relevant information customers should know.

If applicable, use statements like “Top App 2012” or “One of the Most Addictive Games in the App Store.” Follow it up with a call-to-action, such as, “Check out the screenshots and see for yourself.”

SCREENSHOTS

Screenshots are great marketing tools because they give users a visual of what they will experience. Think of them as the trailer for your app. Here are a couple examples of effective screenshots:

Nike+ GPS screenshots.

Free Music Download Pro screenshots. Note the use of captions to explain the app’s features.

Many people shopping for apps won’t read the description, but will instead scroll down to the screenshots. The screenshots need to convey the main functionality of the app without showing too many details that may confuse users. If your screenshots are cluttered, it will be as ineffective as a realtor trying to sell a house with messy rooms. The brain gets overwhelmed and buyers have more trouble seeing the product’s true value. Therefore, the screenshots you include should be clean, appealing, and informative.

KEYWORDS

Unlike your icon and title, keywords are not something the users get to see. When you submit your app to the App Store, you’re allowed to provide keywords relevant to your app. When users search for one of the terms you entered, your app appears in the search results.

For example, if you type in the word “kids” or “game” on the App Store, you will find that Angry Birds is one of the search results. The terms “kids” and “game” are not in the app title. The makers of Angry Birds most likely chose those keywords to associate with their app.

A good example of effective keyword usage is an app I created called Flashlight. Since the name is Flashlight, we came up with keywords, such as “bright,” “help,” “light,” and “camping.”

One time, I added the term “phone” to the keywords of my free prank fingerprint app. This seemingly minor change propelled the app to the number one top overall free category, which moved the company’s income from $1,000 per day to $3,000 per day. This is the power of refining the marketing components for your app. Simple changes can dramatically increase your revenue.

CATEGORIES

The App Store organizes apps into specific categories to help users find them more easily. In addition to the top overall rankings of all apps, each category has its own top rankings and, therefore, generates a certain amount of visibility based on these charts. Users looking for certain apps often browse through these category charts without looking at the top overall charts. For instance, an app that doesn’t show up in the top 200 overall might still be in the top 10 of a particular category.

When you’re submitting your app for review, make sure to select the most relevant category for your app. On the other hand, many apps can be classified into more than one category. You have to choose one, but you can always change the category during an update.

One of my apps, Alarm Security, wasn’t performing well, and I was trying to bring it back up in the rankings. I initially tried changing the name and keywords, but it didn’t move much. The one thing I hadn’t tried was switching it out of the Entertainment category. The app contained various alarm sounds (like loud screams and gunshots), so I assumed users would use it more as a goof than as a tool. I was wrong.

Once I moved the app into the Utilities category, the number of downloads skyrocketed. After five days, the paid downloads had tripled, and it was only because of a category change.

Just as your app will always need certain refinements due to consumer demand and competition, so will your marketing. For most of my apps, I have changed the icon and screenshots three to five times and the title and description between 5 and 10 times. I change keywords almost every time I update apps. I always switch the categories when it makes sense. Keep an open mind and continue to be inspired by your observations during your market research.

Finally, there’s a simple rule of thumb I follow for making changes: Tweak once per week, then measure. You have to allow ample time to see the effect of any changes you make. Measure your results, then make adjustments based on your data in the following week. Your goal is to increase traffic and revenue, all while improving your users’ experience with the app.

Bonus Marketing Tactics

FREE APPS

After you’ve taken care of the basics, your best marketing tool will be offering a free version of your app. It will generate traffic and visibility that you otherwise wouldn’t get.

Free apps create the most traffic because they have the smallest barrier to entry. It takes five seconds to download, and it’s free. Why wouldn’t you push the button? Once the free version of your app gains some traction, you can use it to advertise the paid version of the same app. This is like getting those free food samples at the supermarket. If you like the sample you tasted, you might buy the whole bag and become a long-term customer.

NAG SCREENS

Nag screens (pop-ups that remind users to check out the paid version of the app) have been the most critical marketing tactic for my business. You might worry about annoying users with these ads, and that is a valid concern, but you need to think of nag screens as adding value for your users. If they downloaded your free app and they are using it, a percentage of your users will be interested in buying the paid version of your app. For those who don’t, a quick pop-up message is a small price to pay for using the free version.

You have to accept this and not shy away from this type of marketing. If you’re still on the fence, consider this: When Apple launched its iBooks app, it used a nag screen within the App Store app. If you had an iPhone at the time, you may remember seeing that pop-up inviting you to download iBooks. Well, you were nagged by the one and only Apple.

Basic nag screen (left) vs. Advanced nag screen (right). Advanced nag screens typically have three times higher click-thru rates.

When adding a nag screen, explain to your developer what you are looking for, and reference specific examples of other apps that have nag screens. Be sure you can change the nag screen without submitting a new update to the app store. To do this, tell the developer you want your nag screen to be dynamic. This will allow you to change your marketing message redirect your app’s traffic within seconds. This is an absolute must. Your nag screens will lose a huge part of their effectiveness if you cannot change them on the fly.

How do you assess the effectiveness of your nag screen? All you have to do is keep track of how many times you show a particular nag screen and how many users click “Yes” to check out the app(s) you’re promoting. This is called your click-through rate, and the higher the percentage, the better.

Final Thoughts

This is the first time in history when so many of us have the tools and access to knowledge that can quickly lift us out of the rat race. Your background, gender, race, education, and situation are irrelevant. All you need is the desire and a game plan.

You don’t have to wait till “someday” to fulfill your dreams. You can start right now…

Contest and Bonuses

We’re throwing a contest for any readers who are ready to dive into the app world. Whoever comes up with the best idea for an iPhone app (as decided by me and my team) will have 100% of their development costs covered. That’s right: You won’t need to spend anything to have your app made – all it will cost is your time and effort. This will be a great learning experience for the winner, so if money is all that’s holding you back, we want to help you get started.

Here are the details:

– You have 1-week (ending Monday, April 30, 2012 at 9am EST) to research and design your app idea. Your app should try to fill a void in the market or improve upon apps that are currently available.

– Once you’ve decided upon your idea, post a comment below with a detailed explanation of the app you want to develop. Bonus points if you can show us (with a drawing, video, etc.) how your app will function. More bonus points if you show us the research you did to prove your app’s potential for success.

– You can only submit one (1) idea (one entry per person), so make it good!

– Up to $5,000 USD of your development costs will be covered. 100% of all revenues earned will go to the winner.

– Winner gets a 1-hour phone call with me (Chad) at any point during development or marketing.

For those who are worried that someone is going to steal your idea and make a million dollars with it– you don’t have to enter the contest! Just remember: my success in the app store came from emulating successful apps. In other words, borrowing proven ideas and trying to make them better. If someone else can succeed by taking one of my ideas and improving upon it, that’s only fair game. Don’t let the fear of losing prevent you from trying to win.

Contest deadline has passed; Winner (Alex K.) has been contacted. Thanks, all!

Finally, for those who’d like a copy of my NDA template (along with the checklist I use when hiring a new coder), email a copy of your receipt for App Empire, my comprehensive book on app development and marketing, to bonus (at) appempire.com. The book goes into depth on advanced marketing and monetization techniques, including how to put your business on cruise control (automate).

We look forward to seeing what you guys come up with! Talk to you in the comments 🙂

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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951 Replies to “How to Build an App Empire: Can You Create The Next Instagram?”

  1. My app is super simple.

    It is to create a CPR emergency response app in Spanish, and another in Simplified Chinese.

    How it works:

    this app would be for people with CPR training only and would require that date of certification be entered in the app at first use.(this is just a deterent for those who would think the app was training enough the date and user info would be stored on a database on the internet somewhere)

    the app would have a quick loading main page that would instruct the user to assess the scene and if necessary call 911 or if others are around to instruct them to do so while user attends to the injured. there would then be another button which says “start CPR” it would then give audible instructions on what to do… check if breathing give thirty compressions two breathes check airway etc. when it give the instruction to give compressions a loud beat timer would sound so the user can keep the proper beat. this would be very similar to what is already available in the portable defibrillators on the market today and is thus already market tested. Though hardly anybody carries such a thing with them.

    Market research:

    I came up with the idea when a user of a similar app on the app store commented that it should be available in Spanish. I figured that chinese speakers would be a good community to serve as well.

  2. Hello Chad & Tim!

    Here’s a video for my app contest entry- hope ya like! Basically, my app is an intuitive to-do list that syncs with your calendar so you can take your list from simply being…well, a list…and actually move the items onto your calendar.

    There are a couple really cool aspects of this app that take it to the next level beyond to-do list, beyond calendar, to something more complete. When asking people whether or not they used/liked to-do lists, the people I surveyed (via facebook, and stopping any and all coworkers that I saw using an iPhone last week), many people said they liked the idea of to-do lists, but that they weren’t actually helpful beyond just providing reminders. They all said they used separate calendars, and several people, myself included, noted that it was frustrating/time consuming/inefficient to go back and forth between lists and calendars. My app fills this void, and with some really creative twists!

    A couple items I forgot to mention in the video: based on the research I did on comparable to-do, GTD, and calendar app’s, I think $5.99- $9.99 is an appropriate price range for the app. And, I haven’t done a ton of marketing strategizing yet, but I certainly will, once I have Chad’s book in hand!

    OK, here’s the video- fingers crossed!! Pick me! Pick me!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-ocnk-GrTM

    Jackie

  3. Hi

    A little background…. I have a chronic kidney disease and need to do regular checks every month, its a problem to keep all those around, so the idea is to have a way to input those on my phone, along wkth mymeds presvriptions and health issues, so if any emergency arises anyone can check all my history in my phone, be it a doctor, a nurse or whoever should need it… future enhancements would involve a database online for cross platforms (evernote like), and special services for doctors, from a basic checkup via the system (if i input the results of a test i had he could check em asap if needed) to sending medications prescriptions via the system, and more improvements I have on paper but since ive dealt with this for more than. 8 years I. Have a good list of the free part and the paid app… for example meds alarm, checkups alarms, results input, and a long etc… this could be applied for u or for ur sons/wife, etc so you can help your loved ones to follow up on their health

    Hope im on time, I live inMexico and really dont know the deadline time if not by gmt 🙁

    Greetings

  4. Vudu Doll (Voodoo Doll)

    Background, what does it look like? The background would look like a Voodoo alter that might look like this: http://site.thejukejoint.com/voodoo/elly.gif

    The doll, what does that look like? Dolls would look similar to these – before your pics/face photos are pasted on. http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/26272892.jpg

    Found that Sack Dude seems to be very popular, showed up on the top 25 list. You beat it up, shoot it, strike it with lightening and relieve stress. Now karmically speaking, I don’t know where I would stand with an app like this. An idea I had a couple of years ago was taking a voodoo doll and being able to a picture of whoever you want (and then specify whether that person was male or female), an ex gf/bf, you would be able to do a number of things: stick it with pins, light certain parts on fire or tickle it relentlessly. My app would be freemium and allow you to stick it with pins, light it on fire, break/tear off limbs, tickle it. But you could, for .99 each, purchase other methods of torture, like knives, guns, stakes, candles to pour hot wax on it, etc (from what I’ve seen on TV and Google, I think these are somewhat ‘authentic’ voodoo devices). The doll would make sounds according to what you did to it, screams, laughing, ows, etc. However, there would not be the cheesy written graphic to accompany them. The sounds, cries, etc would be gender appropriate according to whichever you chose.

    You would be able to log-in and share via Facebook and share via Twitter (not sure whether Pinterest pinning would be an option.)

    I think like Sack Dude, Vudu would be a great stress relief and considering people often have these types of thoughts about others anyway, perhaps it would also help to get them out (considering the karma factor here again, lol).

    Comparables:

    There is a Voodoo Doll Free that lets you take pics from your library or phone and only uses stick pins. Not very well done or highly rated. There’s an Obama Voodoo doll that’s very specific and highly rated but only lets you buy pins and seems to only have a few dolls. Youdo Voodoo doesn’t seem to allow pics for specific targets and only has happy & sad pins. Decently rated. Design not great. Poke My Voodoo has only animated dolls that you can customize with clothing, tattoos, etc. Only pins and hexes and you can share via Facebook. There’s a free and paid version. Decently rated. Hoodoo Voodoo lets you take from your phonebook, you can take instruments and make the doll suffer and share via Twitter, FB, etc. The graphics are lovely and you can use a hammer, knife or needle or heal them with plaster. Highly rated. $2.99

    Sackdude is the most downloaded and has a 4 star rating average. You can shock, shoot, tickle, paintball or punch and the graphics/design is pretty nice. You can change the face, but only the ones you can change them to are the ones they provide and they’re all sack faces. The sounds that the sack dude makes aren’t that great – they’re like old time action shows, like Batman with the kapow (and its written out on the screen). Doesn’t appear to be any upgrade options.

  5. Thanks to Chad for one of the most inspiring and influential posts I have read. Great combination of encouragement, call to action, and the tools for doing so.

    Just put out my add for a programmer on freelancer. Thanks to the instructions you wrote it got me to go for it now instead of waiting for things to fall into place.

    Thanks to Tim for the great books and an amazing webpage.

  6. ” But I found successful people to learn from, emulated their models, and hired programmers and designers who could execute my ideas.”

    “I borrowed $1,800 from my stepdad and jumped into the app business.”

    can anyone give me some links where are programmers and designers teams that work as a team for 3-6months doing my imagine apps ? pls 🙂

    I can’t imagine good work for 2k in india but i see it is posiible in USA 🙂 fantastic … for me

  7. Chad – – great piece. In Tim’s book, he devotes a whole chapter to “testing” and stresses the importance of ensuring the idea will be successful, without having to spend the money on the creation process.

    Can any testing be done in the app world, prior to spending 2K+ on creation?

    Thanks!

  8. Here is a little UPDATE to my entry for OWNR – The location based Action Sports App!

    This video shows you my talk at the ”Appril” conference last wednesday in Amsterdam about the OWNR concept and its potential:

    How location based Augmented Reality can change Action Sports

    http://vimeo.com/41372470

    Enjoy!

    OWNR:

    Find Spots

    Link your trickvideos

    Battle for the best trick – who OWNS the spot!

    Check out the pitchvideo and full concept here:

    http://indiegogo.com/ownr

    Thanks!!

  9. VERY Inspiring story, thanks for sharing all of the details and for giving us a roadmap! What you have been able to accomplish is AMAZING. Thank you!!

  10. Hey Chad, I bought your book and I was wondering where top send the invoice to get the copy of your NDA

  11. Thanks for this article! I am still wondering what your monetized apps do differently than the free apps you put out there to whet your audience’s appetite. In other words, once you hook ’em, how do you reel ’em in?

  12. I do appreciate that the advice just says go out there and try it, because that’s sometimes what people simply need to do. However as some posters have noted the examples Chad mentions are of low value. I’m simply not sure following a low value strategy now is the same as following that kind of strategy a few years ago…apps were new and people were downloading them to explore the features of their phones. Now there are simply so many of them, my bet is if you create a low value app now it’s like gambling. You may hit it big, but statistically probably not (and the odds get worse each day).

    I think of this like the housing bubble…the moment you see TV shows, and authors writing about how ANYONE can buy and flip a house, it’s about time to move onto the next big thing….

  13. Too late to submit apps? I have one that “emulates” angry birds. It’s actually based on a much older game that shares the slingshot, but differs on (in my opinion) just the right aspects.

    I got turned down last week by a VC who was looking for angry bird sized games, so you know it’s good.

  14. Hey Chad,

    two questions.. is there a “money return” possibility, if my customers don’t like the app? or does not apple/android not support this?

    second question is: do you have any idea how much work it is to “reprogram” an android app to an iPhone app? total new programming?

    thanks a lot!!!

  15. Just getting started with my App career and I am seeing Do It Yourself App Development software. Would you recommend any of them or stick to an established company? Thank you!

  16. First off, thank you Chad & Tim for sharing an inspirational message.

    I know that the deadline has passed for the contest, but I wanted to share an app idea I thought of after the deadline (darn).

    App: The 4 Hour Work Week Game App (!) – obviously, this would be something Tim could develop, or with his approval & Licensing Agreement, I’d be more than happy to work with

    How it works (Free Version):

    – The goal is to find an effective muse for the player.

    – There are multiple player options to start as (College Student, Single Mother, Family w 3 kids, etc.)

    – The game is laid out like a calendar planner, using averages to book time spent per day(6 hours sleeping, 11 hours going to & from work, 1 hour eating, 1 hour house chores, etc.) with randomized events mixed in (2 hours family funeral, sick & in bed for the day, 3 hours kids soccer game, etc.)

    – The app is built like an hierarchy of decisions the player makes, using time vs. money resources (go to college/trade school, read book to learn how to start up internet company, invest in stock market, etc.), to work towards the muse.

    – Success of effective decisions are based on player attributes that player has option to assign x number of points towards his player (HEALTH – length of game, could be increased by reading & following through with 4HB! ENERGY – determines how much player needs entertained, is the player a hustler or a tv watcher with free time, INNOVATION – creates more opportunities, can lead to more free time MARKETING SKILLS – increases chance of success) & predesigned probabilities (ex. player decides to start up e-commerce website – probability based on a combination of time on research, player attributes, & preset odds of success)

    – Teaches users the value of free time & time management skills with an emphasis on the techniques taught by Tim

    Paid Version:

    – The purchaser has the ability to imput own schedules into calendar format, customized to each purchaser (ex. I sleep 8 hours on weekends, work 10 hours, eat half an hour, house chores of 1 hour, read blogs 1.5 hours = 3 hours of free time to work towards muse)

    – Player calculates real life muse income tim’s worksheet & becomes the real life goal

    – Prerecorded video/audio messages from Tim could be played when a goal is met

    – Other ideas could be generated by this community as they would be the target audience

    Hope this wasn’t too long. Interested to hear what everyone thinks.

    Best wishes to everyone!

    -Dan

  17. StoriesWithFriends cont…

    Words: Cat, Anticipation, Fingers, Fruition, Friends

    Once upon a time……..

    DC/JC wrote:

    These two guys and a CAT, with FINGERS crossed, and that was difficult for the cat, waited patiently for the results.

    ANTICIPATION of the FRUITION of their app becoming a reality and sharing it with FRIENDS had become paramount in their daily thoughts………the CAT pondered the possibilities.

    to be continued………

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuaQ_rT6bN8

  18. I have been checking back around 40 times over the past two days. Am I missing where the winner is announced? I says announcements will be made May 7, yesterday.

    1. Hey guys,

      Many apologies on the wait! We just got in touch with the winner of the contest (Alex K), and will proceed with development once we hear back from him.

      I want to thank you all so much for participating in this contest. We were truly blown away by so many of your ideas and the amount of effort put into the presentations. With 600+ submissions, it was extremely difficult to narrow it down to just one winner!

      I know many of you will be disappointed that your idea wasn’t picked, but remember: you don’t need our help to pull this off! Getting an app developed isn’t as expensive or difficult as you might think, and I hope this post has given you all a good enough roadmap to make your app idea into a reality.

      Best of luck, and much love to the 4HWW community!

      Chad

      1. Alex K, congrats!

        Chad, Thanks again for the opportunity, would still consider teaming up on our app outside of the contest, if your interested?

        Offer is open to all interested partners, lots a great opportunities and talent on this post over the past few weeks! Time to think about leveraging our resources and making this happen!!!

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuaQ_rT6bN8

        Contact us at our email address: DCJC (at) storieswithfriends.net

        Best Always,

        DCJC

      2. Chad,

        Any reason why the bonus@appempire.com address returns a “return to sender” notice. I tried sending a copy of my book purchase receipt to collect on the bonuses and returned me an error.

        Thanks,

        Ryan

  19. For everyone. A very efficient way to get NDA’s signed is through echosign.com. You and the programmer can esign it in a breeze.

  20. Dear Chad & Tim,

    Not the fanfare announcement we were all hoping for… 🙂

    Maybe you have something more planned.

    But a wrap up post would have been nice. I take it all back if there is one on route, though it’s getting late…!

    All the best

  21. Congrats AlexK & thanks to Tim & Chad for the info! Looking at a number of the entries, the real measures of “wins” are going to be what they always are – actions over wishes / intent.

    -D

  22. Hi Tim/Chad-

    Is there any way that we can get some sort of follow up on the contest to see why Alex K.’s app was chosen? (CONGRATS MAN!) I think it’d be really instructional and an even deeper dive into Chad and his team’s thought process behind what they think a great idea is and why.

    Thanks for any response guys!

    Paul C.

  23. Hello to all – again I would like to say a big thank you for this inspiring post!

    Does anyone have any programmers they can recommend? I have had real trouble finding anyone reliable on odesk and guru, it seems like they are preoccupied with fees and I constantly feel like I’m getting ripped off.

    Any recommendations gratefully received! :))

  24. Hey Tim & Chad,

    I just wanted to thank you guys for putting up the competition. It was the motivation I needed to jump into the app market.

    Now, 20 days after you originally posted, we conceived and designed the whole app and a marketing/launch plan.

    Check us out! http://wwww.generation-ink.com

    Twitter: @generation_ink

    Thanks again,

    Johnson

  25. Hi Chad,

    Thank you very much for this post. I just purchased your book. I hope to write you in 6 months with the results of at least successful apps.

  26. First of all. Thanks Tim for your posts and that you never stop posting great things! 🙂

    I think that yes.. it’s still possible to make good money with apps. But nowadays it’s harder to make a million or so just with one app.

    Good for the Instragram-Guys that they were bought from Zuckerberg 🙂

  27. I hope many of you read Chad’s book. I bought it and read it online then asked our local library in Montpelier Vermont to buy it for everyone in town to explore.

    It will inspire you to live your dreams, as you apply Chad’s vision to your personal ideas.

    Jim Eaton

  28. Thanks so much for posting this article! My 9 year old son and I had been looking at million dollar houses in an area where we want to live & he was inspired to create an app in order to be able to afford one. We planned it all out (probably not all, but a good bit), and lo and behold, came across your blog post. It was extremely helpful. You’re helping to keep him inspired.

    p.s. You should have seen the way his eyes lit up when you said that anyone planning an app should spend about $100 on top selling apps. He thought he’d hit the jackpot.

  29. Just want to say thanks for giving me hope of a future. I’m very sorry I didn’t catch this article until after the contest was closed! I tend to come up with loads of ideas while I’m doing other things. Like working countless hours, driving to work, driving home from work, getting ready for work in the morning. I have read this article at least four times since last week and done a good part of the research you’ve suggested. Three of my ideas barley exist in the app store and one is non existent. If I understand you correctly, those would be a good place to start. I’m not looking for a get rich quick fix, and I’m not afraid of work. You have put a whole new twist on the possibilities of my future and I thank you for that. There are no mistakes in life unless you don’t try.

  30. An app that tells people how blindingly beautiful they are. May be succesful because ‘Ugly Meter’ has been up on the top charts forever and (at least I) downloaded it so it would tell me “hooold on a minute you don’t belong on this app.. you’re beautiful!”. I think it would be nice to have some “Dayum gurl you fine” moments in peoples lives to start their day.

    Thanks

  31. Thanks for posting this inspiring article.

    Do programmers offer any suggestions or creative/programming direction from a concept, or are they strictly writing code?

    Thanks.

    RB

  32. This was a great read. I have actually been thinking about creating a few new apps myself but thought it would be this huge project. After reading this, I have decided to go for it. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Chad Mureta is a big FAKE. recent news informed that his apps are fake and only 1 has some success. it seems he uses principle “fake it untill you make it”

  33. Thanks Chad love the article and am inspired to build my own app empire! Truly inspirational, great to see that the app market is not yet over crowded either and there is still room for opportunity.

  34. Hey Chad,

    I presume I need an iPhone to even consider making apps? Is it possible to develop apps just with my computer?

  35. Great article. I have a couple of questions..

    first, if I am planning on creating an app that is to be accompanied by a website, which would you recommend developing first, or should they be developed simultaneously?

    What database storage system would you suggest to use? I have heard Amazon S3 is quiet popular for minimal cost, or nirvanix..

    What marketing tools could you recommend? I was thiking of using a company such as appcelerator, but wanted a couple of options to consider. opinions? What is the best approach to becoming “featured” or on the top lists.

    Lastly, Is it better to have an app released as a individual developer or a company entity.

    Thank you for any constructive criticism!!

    Andrew

  36. Hey Chad, excellent article! I am an eighteen year old college student and your article has inspired me to get a few of my friends to invest in an app! We have a few simple game ideas we are really confident about, I just have a question on hiring a designer. You say between 500 and 5,000, but how do you know which price will be appropriate for which product? I am going to set a bid on Freelancer.com, any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  37. As a freelance developer, I would recommend against anyone using these techniques when interviewing programmers. If someone calls to play 21 questions without providing any details on the project, a good developer will screen them out promptly. Asking questions is good, and be sure you the developer you hire is competent, but don’t expect to get straight answers without giving any details about what you’re looking for. In short, skip the NDA nonsense at first. No one wants to steal your app idea until it’s up and making money. trust me.

  38. hey your article was so helpful and inspiring i was just wondering how much would i need to pay a developer? would $300 be enough? considering im 17 and on a budget lool

  39. Hi,

    Great article. I wish I would have read it earlier so I could have competed in the contest.

    I am currently working on an app for facebook and have just made a final decision on a developer, who I paid the first installment to a few days ago.

    Do you have any experience with facebook apps and would any of your recommendations differ at all?

    Regards,

    Qin

  40. Hi, I just loved reading your article. Just a couple of question’s has anyone found a good and not so expensive developer in Australia yet ? Also if my idea target’s major department stores in using this app whilst shopping would I go to the department store’s with the app idea first as I need to use there material in this app ? Such as how would scanning and registering a barcode on stock which is in the store actually work ??? Do you need a database of all stock barcodes to start of with ?

    Thanks

    Mel

  41. Chad,

    I purchased your book and sent a copy of the receipt over to the two email addresses you have listed in this post but still haven’t received the NDA and checklist. Just wondering if those were working now or if there was another way to go about getting a copy of those things. Thanks.

    Jason

  42. I like this: “In just over two years, I’ve created and sold three app companies that have generated millions in revenue. Two months after launching my first company, one of my apps averaged $30,000 a month in profit. In December of 2010, the company’s monthly income had reached $120,000. In all, I’ve developed more than 40 apps and have had more than 35 million app downloads across the globe. Over 90 percent of my apps were successful and made money.” 🙂 🙂

  43. OH! We don’t need to build a company to start an app. Many developers right now is doing a new application that is useful with the consumers. From time to time, consumers will find a new and not boring app. Like our thesis, back in college days. We made a Mobile Tong-its ‘played by touch’ thru WiFi. A mobile card game that is played by 2 or 3 person even he’s not beside you as long as you are connected thru LAN.

    “Testing and debugging will take several iterations, like the design and development stages. This is all part of the process”

    -Yeah! you’re right Mr. Chad in this process you have to be patient. It is not easy to build an app.

  44. Wow, this article has really got me thinking. I’m just starting out as an entrepreneur, having been inspired by “The Four Hour Work Week”, and am still deciding upon which avenue to take. After reading this, becoming an “appreneur” is a serious contender.

    I especially like the idea of improving an already existing and established app, instead of taking the risk, and additional time designing and marketing an entirely new idea.

    It seems that thinking small is the new big in the app world.

  45. @Chad Mureta Million thanks for not only sharing your experiences but tons of inspiration and motivation I got. I have been looking for apps development, but this post really fuels my soul to fire.

    I want to know how we can protect our code under NDA when dealing with developers from other countries? I will be thankful to you if you can give a hint about this.

  46. Hi. I would love to develop an app of my own but I do not have a Mac computer. Is a Mac necessary for submitting an apple app into the appstore? Can I use a Windows computer?If not, can a developer do it for me? Thanks so much

  47. Hey all just wanted to say articles like this and many other Tim ferris associated topics have inspired this aspiring developer to begin construction of my app empire hopefully!

    Check out the free droid app

    “Bags score keeper”

    Feedback always much appreciated!

  48. I’m about to create my first app. No ones got this idea yet. Not sure if it’s eligible for a free trial just the thing in one piece. Where do i post the job interview? So I can get a programmer? And how do they sign an NDA if they’re in India an you’re in Australia?

  49. Hi

    I was just wondering if this app stuff you talking about is just for iphones because I have this really awesome idea for a software for computers?

  50. call of duty MW3 you have got hard levels and you go to places like paris,london,africa and others and when you die you start at your check point and you get to go in choppers,tanks and amry trucks and there is a person that tells you what to do and thats all.

  51. Coding an app take a quite considerable amount of time – even if you’re a developer already.

    And I wasn’t accounting the time spent doing “paperwork” to enter the market.

    4 hours a week? Doesn’t sounds right to me.

    Plus, the app market is already pretty much saturated and full. The majority of little app developers are at loss and only the big players who can afford spending 15’000 dollars in ads can manage to get enough visibility to maintain decent earnings.

    I’m not inventing figures, they’re available on the net.

    All the others will sink a while after launch deep in the app-sea.

  52. Some useful information here. I am currently in a process of creating an app myself. I cannot afford to hire anybody and just love my stuff and want to do it properly. Luckily I know how to program and the chance to finally use all my experiments with computer graphics.

    Creating a simple game at the start, nothing innovative just to get some experience and build the infrastructure for future projects. you might also check http://www.stylishnet.com for my efforts

  53. Hi Chad,

    What a truley inspirational and very motivating story. Thanks for the advice.

    I have been developing an idea over the last few months for an app that shoppers would use. The interaction and detail involved for it to work is very extensive. If there was another app that had part of that information (say a potential buyer for this software that had an existing app that wasnt anything special) how do I go about developing an app that needs another’s content? Is that possible? Or do I get the the software built as if there is no other app that we could take that info from?

  54. Regarding my last post – do you think its a good idea to make the app with the intention of selling it to companies rather then seling it on the app store?

  55. Hey Tim and Chad great info!

    Has anyone here heard of http://www.applits.com? Not my company but it looks pretty cool.

    Applits is like Kickstarter for apps. You can submit multiple app ideas and the last week of every month voting opens on all ideas. The community “votes up” the ideas they like the most and the users critique and improve on ideas. At the end of the month the person who idea is “up voted” the most gets some cash and applits helps them make their app.

    I think this is a great way to micro-test app ideas. Even if you don’t get picked you’ll probably get some good input.

  56. I am 75 + years old and you got me feeling like 36 years old.

    Wow what a education for this old man 75 going on 36

  57. Hi Chad

    The other day I thought of an idea involving the emojicons app, and literally hours later I stumbled upon this article, saw that you were the brains behind the success of the app and took this as a sign to further my goal to make it happen. Long story short, would you be willing to sell me the development end of your emojicons app, or even talk with me about my potentially great idea I have.

    Thanks hope to hear from you soon.

  58. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked

    submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all

    that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say superb blog!

  59. This is a great post. I got the book, too. I’m currently in the process of getting one of my app ideas developed. It’s kind of funny to see how many people use the job submission template almost to the letter. Thanks Chad and Tim.

    -Crystal

  60. Hey Chad,

    I just ordered your App Empire book on Amazon.com

    I tried sending an email with the receipt so that I can recieve your NDA via email. I send it to bonus@appempire.com but it did not go through. Is there another email that I can send it to ?

    Cheers

    Muzz

  61. Hi Chad

    I’m a bit confused, you say not to give out your developer account login information to your programmer in step 9 post your app, but then say:

    Best to leave this task to your programmers. Can they do this without you giving that info?

    I’ve read stuff like, Developing provisioning profiles, devise ID’s, development certificates, App ID, Distribution provisioning profiles, Distribution certificates, Apple Application Loader utility, filling out Export compliance forms, needing Adobe Flash to upload it, Download your team’s distribution provisioning profile from the iOS Provisioning Portal. Do I have to do all this, or same of it? If I have to do it myself I’ve read that you have do do things like unzip the app IPA file (change the extension to .zip) then Locate the APP file within the payload folder and compress the APP file to create a new ZIP archive. then use the Application loader to upload the compressed APP file to itunes connect.

    If something goes wrong who am I to call? If I became a member then surely the help line would help me out, or not? There’s to much research to do.

    And what if the programmers say a quote to way and above, you’ve then disclosed it to the public and then only have a year to patent it then. This leaves me stuck in my choices.

    From Angela

  62. hi, if the programmers and me are in different countries, how are we supposed to sign the NDA form? Please advise, thank you.

  63. There is a lot of good basic advice for the stand alone app here. However mine I want to have develop is reliant on information coming from other sources from the government. How can this be set up without a large data base center? It would be like the earthquake and tornadoe warning apps.

    Thanks again for the advice.

  64. The article about application empire building is very informative for me as a tech-savvy because it tackles the process on how to plan and to create your own application in the mobile world. It also discusses some tips and tactics on how to market your own application in the internet such as planning and illustrating your design first in scratch before you actualize it. It also teaches you on how to apply steps by steps as apps developer in apple and android. It also helps the developer on how to market his/her apps by using catchy designs, user friendly functionalities, relevant information of the apps, and screenshots.

  65. How’s it going? Me and a friend are looking into the app business, we feel very strongly about the app as a whole and we need help. We are virgins in the business world but need help getting started, if anyone reads this and can help out please contact me. This is a serious inquiry, no bs. We want to kick off this app as soon as possible. Developers welcome. Thank you for reading and please be professional.

  66. Question here: If I fire a programmer I am working with overseas, how do I get the work hes done for me and what is it called? How do I handle that process?

    1. For Edwin:

      When negotiating the terms of outsourced work, set clearly defined benchmarks in the process. Maybe its at certain waypoints in development or maybe its every Friday afternoon, but you need to have employees send all work completed to you in exchange for payment at certain intervals. This way when you have to switch programmers you have all the work completed thus far, and you only pay for what you receive.

      I’ve had to switch programmers before and this saved me. I set this up for my artists as well, just in case.

  67. Hi Mr. Mureta,

    Thanks for the inspiring and informative post. I hope you are still answering comments here because I have a few questions.

    I have what I think is a great app Idea, but it would require a social network. I have zero programing knowledge and have never tried to do anything like this so any resources you can direct me to would be much appreciated.

    Is it better to create your own network or use an existing one? Would a programer create this as well as your app?

    If you are of limited means (like a month away from living out of your car limited) is a gaming app that requires a social network going to be too ambitious for a first-time developer?

    Thank you for your help.

    ~Claire

  68. Sweet blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to

    get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Cheers

  69. Just letting Tim and Chat know that DietOrb is now on the app store and doing amazing numbers because it is providing a solution to a problem! Thanks to them and everyone in this contest who provided inspiration for making it happen!!!

  70. Wow. Aside from the technology aspect, the story of Chad is really touching. I’m glad he was able to find happiness out of such an unfortunate accident. The Apps business is definitely profitable, but I suppose the questions you posted are vital. The hardest obstacle is discovering an App that people have an absolute need for. Once you can figure that out, and maybe get the help of a developer, the gains are unlimited.

  71. First off just want to say great post. Incredibly helpful and inspiring.

    My questions are related to hiring a programmer.

    I’m interested and in the process of designing a game for the iphone. even though its still an app, i assume its going to be much more complicated for a programmer to help me with.

    Finger Print Security Pro is a great example of the step by step process of turning your ideas into the app itself. But realistically its an app that would only take one programmer to complete.

    Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Mega Jump….. these are all games with interactive animation and seem like more than one person was involved in.

    My questions are:

    – Who would I contact to create my game app?

    – Will I need more than just a programmer? “animator, illustrator, ext”

    – How much money would it cost me? If my game is good, would a game company be interested in it?

    1. Hi Adam,

      Chad hasn’t posted here for a while, so I thought I’d give you some insight since I just completed my first app called Insult Bot using this method. I’ll answer your questions in order of the process.

      —Will I need more than just a programmer? “animator, illustrator, ext”—

      Creating an app takes a team of, at very least, 3 people.

      1. The designer / project manager (you)

      2. The developer (programmer)

      3. The artist / animator

      You are in charge of coming up with the idea for the app, fleshing the idea out on paper, and all of the content. I’d recommend making a Scope Document that lays out the app & entire project in incredible detail, making wireframe drawings of how the app should look (screen by screen), and all of the content in a separate document. Then you must hire the people to make the app (and keep everyone on track). You may be tempted to do the artwork or programming yourself. Unless you are already talented and have done this type of project before, DON’T DO IT. Acting as designer is already a full time job.

      —Who would I contact to create my game app?—

      Sign up for an account on Elance. Look around at other people’s posted jobs to get an idea of what your post should look like. You can post your own jobs for free. Set the price as negotiable. Create one for an iOS developer and another for an app artist. Change the verbiage and repost these jobs every few days until you have a large pool of applicants. Watch out for people that apply to every single job. Look at peoples’ work on their pages and start doing Skype interviews. Hire the one you feel comfortable with.

      —How much money would it cost me? If my game is good, would a game company be interested in it?—

      Creating a very simple app will cost you around $1,000; a few hundred to the artist for quality art, and the rest to the developer to make everything work. The problem with this is that Apple doesn’t like approving simple apps anymore… They want more polished products.

      *Keep in mind, the idea doesn’t necessarily need to BE better; it needs to LOOK and WORK better.*

      Expect to spend at least $2,000 on simple ideas executed well. Check out my app Insult Bot. It’s a simple idea, but looks great and works well. I don’t mind telling you that it cost me over $3,ooo, and that’s before marketing. Complex games like Angry Birds will cost $10k plus, and that’s being very conservative. More like $20k-50k.

      Other companies will buy finished apps from you, but only if they’re great apps and/or they sell well. A better goal would be to create several apps that do decently and hope someone will buy your portfolio. Don’t expect to sell an app IDEA for a nickel. The only buyers you will find want finished products to add to their own portfolio.

      Hope this helps,

      Brent Mercer

      Green Oak Apps

  72. I bought your “App Empire” book today on itunes and can’t wait to start reading and mapping out this new venture. Are you able to send me the NDA template (along with the checklist you use when hiring a new coder) for my purchase?

    I can send you a copy of my proof of purchase but didn’t know how to attach it or where to email it to.

    I appreciate this article and your shared knowledge.

  73. Hi Chad,

    I have an idea that I’m interested in turning into an app. I wanted to know whether there was a low cost testing process that can be used with apps such as the tests used when testing ‘muses’ as Tim talks about in his book.

  74. Hello all. 

    I’ve been developing a couple of games for the app store for about two months now and I’m ready to move onto the next step of the development process. I have a couple questions. 

    1. I want to have a company to upload my games under and I’m curious as to how to go about getting that started. I’m Canadian so I don’t think I can have an EIN number because Canada does not collaborate with the IRS. What are the steps as a Canadian to get that sort of company started? And will it cost me any money?

    2. Is there any way for me to test a programmer before hiring them to see if they can handle the type of programming I require?

    An info would be greatly appreciated! Hopefully see you all in the app store soon.