I did this interview with a specific kind of person in mind: someone has an idea for an app, but doesn’t have enough development experience to build it alone.
Three messages before we get started.
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And do you remember when I interviewed Sarah Sutton Fell about how thousands of people pay for her job site? Look at the biggest point that she made. She said that she has a phone number on every page of her site, because, and here’s the stat, 95% of the people who call end up buying. Most people though don’t call her, but seeing a real number increases their confidence in her and they buy. So try this. Go to Grasshopper.com and get a phone number that will make your company sound professional. Add it to your site and see what happens. Grasshopper.com.
And remember Patrick Buckley who I interviewed? He came up with an idea for an iPad case. He built a store to sell it, and in a few months he generated about a million dollars in sales. Well, the platform he used is Shopify. If you have an idea to sell anything, set up your store on Shopify.com because Shopify stores are designed to increase sales. Plus, Shopify makes it easy to set up a beautiful store and manage it. Shopify.com.
Here’s the program.
Andrew Warner: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How do you get an iPhone or iPad app built even if you’re not a developer? To learn how to do that I invited Ken Yarmosh, and I picked Ken for two reasons. First, because he created two apps: AudioBookShelf which plays a collection of curated audio books, and Tweeb which gives Twitter analytics and follower management. The other reason why I picked Ken is because he’s also the author of “App Savvy” an O’Reilly book which shows how to turn ideas into iPad and iPhone apps that customers really want. Ken, welcome to Mixergy.
Ken Yarmosh: Thanks Andrew. Appreciate you having me today.
Andrew: Why don’t we start off with giving people an example of what’s possible. Can you give me an example of . . . how about one of the apps that you built? How did it go from idea to product?
Ken: I think the first thing that I want to communicate to people is that you don’t have to be a developer, a designer, someone that has these skills in order to actually get into the App Store. That doesn’t mean it’s super simple, but it’s not as complicated as a lot of people think. When I first started getting into apps, I do have a digital background so I’ve been building websites. I’ve built desktop software working at a startup, and I really thought the App Store was an interesting place. I was downloading tons of apps and spending a lot of money on other people’s app. And I wanted to figure out how can I actually get my own app in there. Of course, as an idea person, I had pages and pages and Google docs and I had app ideas just about every place. But I started investigating what would it take to actually get into the App Store. One of the first things that I started doing was actually just going up to places where other app developers were. I’d hang out at meet-ups. There were some various events locally, and I started going and meeting other people who were actually doing this, because I had the ideas, I have people who I know who could do the design, but I didn’t have the person that could actually help me do the development.
So I think one of the first things that’s important is, aside from having the idea and researching that idea, is actually finding people, going and talking to those people. There are places locally and there are places online. Sitting down with those folks, picking their brains and finding out how they actually did it is a great place to start. And there’s a number of other things that obviously we’ll get into in a second, but I think finding those folks, researching, reading lots of blogs, there’s just tons of resources out there to get you familiar with things before you even start building an application itself.
Andrew: We talked before this interview, and you told me how much revenue your app brought in. I don’t think this is about your specific app. I know in fact this interview’s not about your app, and it’s definitely not about how much money you made from your app. But if you feel comfortable sharing that information, let’s talk about it.
Ken: Sure. So one of the first apps that I did has made just over $28,000, and it’s actually still a bestseller a year into the App Store. And you might think you’re not going to live on $28,000 but that’s one application.
Andrew: Did you build that app yourself?
Ken: I have a development partner that I partnered on that application with. So I didn’t build that myself, but I was heavily involved in coming up with the feature set, coming up with the idea. And then I worked with my partner, who’s a developer, and we co-own that application. We’ve done some minor updates since it’s launched over the last year, but the total man hours invested into that app is fairly small compared to what we actually got back in an investment.
Andrew: Which app is that?
Ken: That was the AudioBookShelf app.
Andrew: AudioBookShelf. You partnered up with someone.
Ken: I did.
Andrew: Do we need to go to meet-ups and find the right partner and basically put together a whole startup in order to create app? Or is this something that we can say, “Look, I see an opportunity here just like I saw an opportunity10, 20 years ago to create a website. I’m going to create it but I don’t have to do it myself.” Is that possible?
Ken: You definitely don’t have to think about it as a startup. In fact, I’m probably more on the base camp model in terms of how you would approach doing these applications. I’m sure this [inaudible 05:50] many times. But they started basically with that product on the side, and over time as it showed it was worthwhile, they continued to invest into it. So I think that when it comes to building any type of application, you don’t even have to go to a meet-up necessarily. If you want to work with people locally [inaudible 06:09] lots of different people online. A couple great places to do that, they’re even very app specific, on the development side there’s a site called Get Apps Done. You literally can put a blurb out there that says here’s what my idea is, and get developers to solicit. So these are contractors. They’re not even necessarily people that you’re hiring full time. In fact, I don’t recommend that you go out and spend a lot of money on an application that is a side project to start with.
Of course, we want to try to validate as we go along and understand if there’s actually a market, just like you would do with any other kind of startup or idea. But to answer your question directly, no. No, it’s not [inaudible 06:50] to build out a whole team. It’s definitely contractors. In some ways you can do, and I like to tell people this because it’s truthful, 30% or 40% of your application is not design or coding. It’s actually thinking about it. It’s getting the idea down on paper. It’s using various tools out there to help mock up what it might look like. One of those is Balsamiq. It’s a great tool that allows you to actually wireframe. Another one that’s on the iPad itself is called iMockUps. It’s really important for us to do all the thinking up front.
Andrew: Tell you what. Let’s take this all in order, because when you give me mock up applications, I want to dig in and ask for more applications. When you tell me about where to find a developer, I don’t want just one. I want to find several different places, and I want to ask you how to find the right place. Why don’t we do this? Where do we start? With all this that we’re going to be talking about, I want to make sure that we give people a path that they can go down. So where do we start?
Ken: The first place that we want to start is in the App Store. So once we have an idea, what we want to do is take that idea, we want to research that idea, and we should go into the App Store because it has all that information. Apps are assigned to categories. You can search by keywords. So for example, let’s talk about audio books. We initially did some research on audio books. We went in there, we typed in “audio books” and we started seeing what was out there. There were a lot of options, but nothing that was simple, nothing that was visually engaging. And so we decided, “Let’s take this idea and instead of having 100,000 different books to choose from, let’s choose the 20 that are interesting to people.” So the place we want to start with is jumping into the App Store and researching, seeing what other customers are saying about the existing apps and actually seeing are they even ranking. Because if it’s not ranking, then there’s a good chance that if you build a similar type of app that no one actually cares about it. So there are sort of two extremes on that. But the place that we want to start is doing that research into the App Store and comparing apps and seeing if there’s an actual market. Is it oversaturated or is there an opportunity there? So that’s really the place that we want to start.
Andrew: I look at the App Store a lot because it’s on my phone and it gives me something quick to browse and I like to fool around with my iPhone. One of the things that I keep seeing in there is tons of new apps. It feels like there are so many that I, as a user, as a browser, can’t even figure out where to look for new ones. I can’t imagine if I were to develop an app how I could compete, how I could even stand out with all those people in there. So how do I do that? How do I stand out with hundreds of thousands of apps in the store?
Ken: That’s a great question. It’s probably the hardest thing of everything that you’re going to do, development, the design, there’s people that have that. But how do you create something unique? How do you create something that’s going to grab attention? One of the ways that you do that is by not trying to compete on the features that everyone else is competing on. One of the greatest examples of this I researched for my book was something really basic. It was a lighter application for Smule. Smule is a really popular developer. They’ve done I Am T-Pain, if you want to have the T-Pain voice coming through. They’ve done Magic Piano and a number of different applications. But one of their first ones was a lighter app, and it was going to be the 19th lighter application that launched into the App Store. And you think, why in the world are you doing a lighter application? Well, from their approach to the App Store, they decided, “Hey, we’re not just going to compete on different flame types and making it brighter or softer.” They actually looked and said, “Let’s make this social.” Right? And so you might think Ken’s going to go after social media, but it’s actually not social media. Specifically, what they did was actually allowed other lighters to be ignited through the application by blowing into the iPhone. So you could ignite a flame somewhere else in the world and then show that on a globe. It caught on really fast, and not only did it become successful, it became the number one paid application basically in app stores around the world.
So the key thing here, aside from the example, is we need to think about not just our customers but our non-customers. And this comes from an idea in a book that’s really influenced the way I’ve thought about product strategy, not just apps, called “Blue Ocean Strategy.” The idea is to look not just at those customers but at those non-customers, and not just at your competitors but at your alternatives. So you can even think about Smule’s lighter application where they compare it to a physical lighter. And is there anything that we can learn from there? Or maybe even a flashlight. So we want to look at not just the direct competitors but learn from the things that are complementary or alternatives to our app. That’s a quick summation, but hopefully that gives some good pointers and insights so as to not just focus on the ones that are in the App Store itself.
Andrew: Okay. Fair enough. Now, I’ve got an idea and I check the App Store to make sure that there aren’t competitors that are too close but also make sure that there’s some interest in the topic that I’m thinking of developing for. How do I make sure? How do I validate it? How do I make sure that the idea I’m coming up with has some sense to it before I hire developers to do it?
Ken: On this point the customer is the key, right? And so the way that I have approached this, and it’s very popular not just in the app space and what I’m trying to do in some ways is pull principles from the web and from other disciplines into the app space so that there’s a strategy is getting involved and doing your customer development. There’s Steve Blank’s book, and Eric Ries has talked a lot about the lean startup. In some ways you might think about those principles being brought to the app space, specifically mobile apps. What does that mean? It means that you’re actually going, after you’ve gotten an idea down, and trying to get customers, to talk to customers. So people who might have actually downloaded other apps. You could do research on Twitter. You can go onto Craigslist and put out surveys and say, “Here’s what this idea is. I’ll give you an Amazon gift certificate or an iTunes gift card or an Apple gift card to talk to me for an hour and to get some feedback on this idea.”
But to give you a little bit more specifics on how can you get them excited so you’re not just pulling their teeth to talk to them but to actually get them excited, and this might happen after you have some basic design assets but not an actual app built, is to do what’s called a sneak peek. The idea of the sneak peak is that you’re actually showing something about the application, some kind of interface or maybe even just an icon, and you’re posting it to let’s say a gallery site, like Dribble is a place where designers go and post different portfolio pieces to get comments from other designers. And by doing that, you can now also get really good people that are the right people to test it because you want those early adopters testing it. They’re looking at it. They’re getting excited and interested in it, and now you’re getting feedback from them because they’re going to sign up for your newsletter. You’re going to have a landing page or a splash page. They’re going to sign up for your newsletter and they may even sign up to beta test it. So you literally don’t have to have any app. In fact, I’ve done this recently with one of my new apps that I’m working on called Rise Alarm. We shared it on [inaudible 14:09] over a thousand views for an app that wasn’t built yet just by showing an interface, by showing an icon. People went from Dribble over to landing page, and we’ve gotten 30 or 40 subscribers who want to learn more. And now we can talk to [inaudible 14:24] before the app gets out there.
Andrew: You actually gave me screenshots of what you did to test out your idea. I see the Dribble screenshot for Rise Alarm app. I’m going to try to edit this into the interview here so people can see it. But if I can’t or it’s taking too much time and I need to publish quickly so I can’t take too much time on editing, if I can’t, can we put it up on your website? Is there a place where we can put it up?
Ken: Sure. I’d be happy to do that.
Andrew: All right. What is your website?
Ken: It’s KenYarmosh.com. Very simple.
Andrew: Ken Yarmosh. Let me spell it, make sure the transcribers have it too. K-E-N of course and Yarmosh is Y-A-R-M-O-S-H. So if you go there, you’ll see . . . you’re such a good guest because you did a pre-interview with me, which is why we know where we’re going with this interview, you sent me some notes, and you also gave me a bunch of screenshots. And if I could fit them in here, it’ll be golden. If not, people can go over to your site and pick it up. What about if I’m not a designer? I know I want to test out a landing page and maybe I could cobble something together there, but I want to take this idea and just somehow show it to people. How can I do it?
Ken: That’s a good point because I like to say, as I was mentioning earlier, that you don’t even have to get the designer/developer involved until the second half of the project maybe. So there are some great tools out there . . .
Andrew: Before we say that, the screenshot that you sent me, a designer created that, right? The landing page that you showed, that you put up on Dribble that you got people to fill in their email address and say they’re interested . . .
Ken: That actual landing page, and I’m happy to link this up for you as well, is basically a standard WordPress template that I purchased for less than 100 bucks. And it was even designed specifically for iPhone and iPad apps so that screenshot in there, the design I got from my designer. But literally everything else on that page I spent 30 minutes setting that up on WordPress, and it’s a single page template.
Andrew: Do you remember what the template is?
Ken: I don’t remember it off the top of my head but I can get it.
Andrew: What’s the website?
Ken: I believe it’s ThemeForest.net or dot com. It’s a WordPress template site that you can go and buy WordPress templates from. Again, you’ve got to keep your costs down really low in this early phase, because if the idea’s not showing traction, then don’t keep driving forward the idea. So that was literally a purchased template. There’s also a great resource called Unbounce. You may have talked about that before, but Unbounce is literally landing pages out of the box and they allow you to do really simple landing pages without having any design skills.
Andrew: I see. So they just create a bunch of landing pages for you, you get to tweak them a little bit, you get to test them. The landing page that has the best sales pitch, that converts the best, is what you end up using. It also gives you guidance on what features people want because you’re testing . . .
Ken: Exactly. You switch out different features in there, see what people are gravitating towards. So yeah, you’ve got it.
Andrew: I don’t know if I’ve got the founder of Unbounce coming up here or not. But if I don’t, I’ve got to find out a way to get him on the agenda.
Ken: Great tool.
Andrew: Really great tool. So you were giving us suggestions for tools to use for creating mock-ups.
Ken: The other screenshot that you have there is literally something that comes from a tool called Balsamiq. And I was mentioning this earlier before you put me back on track and I was going all over the place there. So thank you for that. Balsamiq is a tool that’s actually available on various platforms. So if you’re a Mac or a PC user, it’s an air based app. It is a tool that allows you to take all the basic UI elements, they’re built in there, so you have all the standard iPhone controls and you just drag and drop. So you need a certain on/off toggle, drag that down and you can actually type in there and it goes off and it goes on.
The nice thing about that is it’s going to keep you focused on the functionality and the features instead of worrying about these design details. I’m a person, and I’m happy to admit this publicly, that I’m not a very artistic person. I sometimes call myself artistically challenged even though I’m very focused on design details. I can’t actually do it myself. I can tell someone else what I would like to have. That is the nice the thing about these tools like Balsamiq, which is available on the desktop and then iMockUps which is a similar application on the iPad, is that you’re going to stay absolutely focused on these functions and ideas that you have and not worry about the pixels. You’re not going to worry about colors. It actually looks like it’s hand drawn. So you’re not going to get consumed with, “Oh, how’s this supposed to look?” And you shouldn’t worry about the colors and the fonts and the typography and all that early on in the process. You should really focus on just getting the ideas out of your head. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s going to help your designer and even your developer moving forward.
Andrew: I love Balsamiq. I had the founder, Peldi, here to do an interview, and one of the reasons that people love Balsamiq is it is so simple. It’s just like pencil on paper. But if I were to draw out what I wanted my design to look like and I wanted to make an adjustment, I’d have to erase or I’d have to scrap that whole version and redraw it. With Balsamiq, you just drag and drop and everything works out.
Ken: I’m glad you mentioned that because a lot of people in my field and in my industry will always say, “Just use a paper and pencil if you’re just getting started.” And you can’t for the reason that you just mentioned, but also because how are you going to share that? How are you going to be able to send that out to someone? Do you want to go scan that in or do you just want to go in, jump in, make a quick little edit and send a new png out to someone else. So it’s a great tool, and actually Peldi’s also interviewed in my book as well. So we’ve got some synergy on Mixergy.
Andrew: There are a couple of other tools that people can use, right? Balsamiq is great for just barebones, easy layout. But what else is there that looks a little bit more like iPhone finished product?
Ken: So if you’re someone who’s a little bit more hands on and willing to have a little bit of a learning curve, another great tool that I recommend is OmniGraffle. OmniGraffle is kind of like a Vizio for Mac. I don’t know how many in your audience are Mac people versus PC. Vizio is the outlining and stencilling type of application on PC platforms. OmniGraffle is on the Mac, and it has a great number of stencils available and a great community that’s producing stencils that allows you to create something more finished. Especially for anyone who’s working with clients or wants to have a more polished look you can use OmniGraffle. I will give a shout out to also working in Photoshop too. If anyone’s a Photoshop fan, there’s also some great stencils and libraries out there. People can bring that in and kind of create that really finished, polished looking iPhone finish or iPad finish. But I tend to stay on the OmniGraffle and Balsamiq side myself.
Andrew: I would even say that if the first time you’ve ever heard of OmniGraffle is here in this interview, it probably isn’t the right tool for you. Stick with Balsamiq because it’s easier. What about iMockUps? What is that?
Ken: iMockUps is very similar actually to Balsamiq, and it allows people to do the same type of work except it’s actually on the iPad. And so it makes it unique because you’re really seeing that application, especially if it’s an iPad application, you can see it in full screen and almost experience it in real time on a device itself. So that’s a great tool. I do also want to mention a new trend, if you don’t mind for a second. Keynote, and even PowerPoint in some ways, is becoming really popular now to do similar types of things that those other tools do especially because a lot of people already have that. They already have Keynote or PowerPoint. I believe it’s Keynotopia that is one of the sites that you can go download some really interesting stencils for the iPhone and the iPad, and there’s a couple of others. I’ll make sure that I give those as links as well for resources for folks.
Andrew: I’ve got another one that I was looking at here as you were saying it, I Googled and came up with Mockapp.com. And one of the reasons that I like these is because you design using the PowerPoint or . . . what’s the Mac version of PowerPoint?
Andrew: Or using Keynote. And then I think often it works, right? It kind of works. So if people click a button, it takes them to another slide that looks like another screen on the iPhone.
Ken: Exactly. You can also link them together a little better. You can do that in other tools like Balsamiq, but you have to learn that versus something that we already know how to do in these PowerPoint and presentation tools. I think another one also is Keynote Kung-Fu. I could be wrong on that, but again I’ll make sure to link these up for people so they can go check them out.
Andrew: Okay. Cool. All right. So now we’ve laid this thing out. We’ve gotten some feedback, maybe we’ve shown it to some friends and tweaked it a little bit, took out some features, added other features. Now we’re ready to go and get somebody to develop it. What do we do?
Ken: In some ways what I was talking about earlier. If you want to work with people locally, there’s a couple of options. And then if you want to work with people virtually, there’s a couple options. Let me start with the local ones first, because these are the places that you’re going to find some great resources. And I’m going to skew even outside of just saying MeetUp.com and Craiglist, which are the ones that a lot of folks know about. But just to mention them briefly, go look for iPhone meet-ups, iPad or mobile meet-ups and you’re going to find some great, talented resources, especially developers. Designers are another group of folks that we’ll talk about in a second. But there’s also some other really Mac and Apple specific groups that you can go to. One of them is called CocoaHeads and another one’s called NSCoderNights. These are great places because you’re going to find some really heavy duty hitters. Not people who are just guessing or, “Oh, I’d like to try to do this.” You might find some of those types of folks in the meet-ups. Like, “Oh, I’d like to learn about this.” When you go to CocoaHeads or NSCoderNights, you’re finding people who are really deep down into the development. And they’ve probably been doing some sort of Apple, Mac development, and possibly even IOS development for a good period of time. So those are on the local levels for developers.
On the virtual side, again, you can think about sites like Elance and some other similar, ODesk. But where I find the place you’re going to get the best bang for your buck is actually a place like GetAppsDone.com. The reason why is because you’re getting really focused attention versus just kind of a wide net. You’re going to say, “No, these are people that are actually building applications.” Similar to that, with a different model where you’re more pro-active yourself, is TheyMakeApps.com. And this is a place where you can filter based on criteria. How much is it going to cost? Where are these people located? What platforms are they building on? And you can filter them through. So it’s a directory model versus a bid model which is what GetAppsDone is.
Andrew: I should have asked you this earlier. We know where we’re going to find these developers. I’m wondering what do we pay them. What would it cost to develop an app like . . . how about one of your apps? You pick which one. AudioBookShelf?
Ken: AudioBookShelf or Tweeb. AudioBookShelf I would say, in terms of the man hours that we spent on that, we’ve also invested in it over a year, but I’d say probably to start with for that app it was in the range of maybe $4,000 or $5,000 I think. Again, I have to go back and look at the numbers, but you have to remember that that was just a labor of our time. So it’s kind of hard to actually put the numbers on that because of the fact that we just put our sweat labor into it. Maybe I would say it’s something in that range. The baseline I like to give people with applications in terms of something that’s built actually well, and it makes people angry sometimes when I say this, is around $10,000. The reason why is because this isn’t a process even in some ways like a website. I know websites can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and the same with apps. But there’s a lot more actual really deep software development happening versus like I said that WordPress page that I built. Really basic, no development in the back end, just kind of plug it in and go. There’s a lot more intense software development.
And so the way that I like to break down that number for people is as follows. If you think about let’s say $75 an hour as a rate, which is a fair rate for more local resources, we’re not talking about offshore resources, and you think about a part-time designer, let’s say 20 hours a week for four weeks and a full-time developer for four weeks, right? So these are people who are focused on building applications. You’re getting someone around even just that $18,000 just for those numbers. So you can see if you were having a much more complex app where that can add up much more quickly. I think $10,000 is a fair baseline. The caveat is that, you can especially if you have experience, go get it built for much less than that. In fact, I’m working with a variety of different folks, and I’m able to get that cost down much more because I have the experience [inaudible 28:14] for the low cost option if you haven’t done this before because you have to give them really specific guidance in order to get it done for a cheaper cost. So that’s kind of a baseline for an app. And like I said, I have to give you a data point. The TheyMakeApps directory that middle ground is somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000. I actually asked them to pull data for me and that’s self-reporting. So that’s not Ken guessing. That’s actually numbers that other developers are reporting themselves.
Andrew: I was a little hesitant to even get into that because I know that it’s all over the place. That someone listening to us could create the mock-up, could do a little bit of research, could have the idea, could have everything put together, maybe even some partnerships, and then go find a co-founder at an event and the two of them don’t spend anything except their time to build it out. Someone else who’s listening might say, “I have developers in here anyway. They can either be trained or they already know it because they’re spending time on their own learning how to develop apps. Just toss them on this project and at that point it’s just salaries.” So I know it’s different, but I also think it’s interesting to hear that your app today, the AudioBook app, would cost $4,000 to $5,000. So if somebody’s listening to this interview and says, “Hey, I want to take my own curated list of audio books. Maybe it’s self-improvement books, maybe it’s biographies and I want to have it developed, it’ll cost me $4,000 to $5,000. This is what I need to have ready in order to get it developed. This is where I would go out and get those developers.” We’ve given them that much to get them going
You and I talked earlier, and I said I use Elance a lot to have outsourcers develop things for me. And what happens is I get . . . I love sites like Elance because you get flooded with results, people who are all bidding on your work and giving you thoughtful responses. But I also get frustrated with it because you get flooded with results, people who are custom writing messages bidding on your work. I don’t know how to sort out when I have 50 different, 20 different people who want to work with me, how do they match up. And you had an interesting suggestion for it.
Ken: I’m a fan of automating just about everything, and it’s not because I don’t care about people. It’s because we’re all busy people, we have lots of things going on. And so one of the ways that I do that is actually using forms. So I use Wufoo and I use Google Docs and I use a number of different form or survey solutions, and I basically put out surveys asking for various pieces of information. This could include how many apps they’ve built. I want them to show me the apps they’ve built. I want them to tell me what specific experience they have, for example if I’m trying to integrate with a web service, and I want to ask them a lot of things that filter them down. This does two things. One is, if someone’s serious, they’re going to take the time to fill out a thoughtful questionnaire. And secondly, it gives me a very easy way, as you said, to be able to compare all these quickly. So when I’m going through, if costs or budgets are really important part for me and I make that a required response, I can quickly see what are those different price points and filter even by budget. How much does this person typically do their applications for? So again, there’s free solutions to do this. There’s really easy ways. You grab those links and when you go on to the various different places you say, “Hey, I’m looking to do this and here’s a link. Please go fill this out if you’re interested in bidding on it.” I know Elance has different models, but literally you could do that on Craigslist. That’s what I did for one of my earliest apps, and I got 30 or 40 responses just on Craigslist from all over the world. You thought it would be locally, and you just kind of go through those and engage the folks that you want to further ask more questions to.
Andrew: I see. I do ask the same questions. I might say, “Send me your writing style,” or “Show me what you’ve built before.” But unless I have a form it’s really hard for me to pick out what information people put in and to compare it easily. This is a great idea. I’m wondering if I can use it with Elance. Do you know if Elance allows their freelancers to fill out forms outside of the website or they want to keep it all in-house?
Ken: I’m not positive and I’d guess that they probably wouldn’t like that. I would definitely do it there if they allow it, but I don’t know off the top of my head because I’ve kind of gone away from Elance the last couple years personally.
Ken: I think the main reason is that my experience with the people on there was generally not good. This was probably going back a while ago now when I first started. We were trying to use outsourced help. We’re just not as popular anymore. But when I first started using remote workers, it was too early almost in some ways and I was burned early by Elance. But I also like to go to these sites that are more specific. So even if I was doing something like web, I would actually go to a more specific site that’s just focused maybe on web only. Like I said even some of these gallery sites, so going back to the designers, you find something like Behance Network or Dribble and they’re all really working on IOS apps. So I can filter out already a little bit more by just going to a site that’s focused on exactly what it is I’m looking for.
Andrew: That’s interesting. I like the idea of going to one site that has everything. If I need to find a blogger, if I need to find someone to write a manual for me, if I need someone to write a WordPress plug-in for me, I like the idea of going to Elance for that. But you’re right. What I’m realizing is if you go to specialty sites like ProBlogger.net to look for a blogger, you’re going to get a different kind of blogger and a much better fit chances are than if you go to a site that does bloggers and plumbers and everything else.
Ken: And I think obviously there’s still value there. It just depends on what you’re trying to do.
Andrew: Okay. And you also said that you can email the people who create the apps that you love. How do you know if you see an app and you love it and it works really well, how do you know if it’s built by the company itself or if they hired a contractor to do it?
Ken: One of the great things about App Store listings is they will list the developer’s website. So if it’s a major brand, I’ve worked on a couple of major brands’ apps and some of them are not out yet so I can’t mention them, but you can actually go to the developer website and see who it was that built it. And even sometimes with smaller brands, they’ll just list it under the developer account. We’ve done that for some applications where they don’t want to have to provision their developer account and they say, “Just put it out under yours. We just want to be in the App Store.” So you can find it through that. And then even through some of these other sites that we talked about; they typically have links to their websites and you can track them down that way. For the biggest, most successful and popular apps, it may not be popular but for the large portion of them you can typically find who did that.
Andrew: That’s interesting too because you’re right. I sometimes will see a big brand, and I’ll look to see who created it and it’s just some little company somewhere that built it for them. I don’t understand why big brands don’t brand it themselves, and you’re saying it’s because that they don’t want to bother with the provisioning and they just want to get something out there.
Ken: And like I said, the recommended approach is always to do . . . it might be a small hurdle, but ultimately it’s your brand and you should own all of that. You’re right. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not something that I’d recommend, but a lot of people are just, “I just want to get into the App Store, so get me there as fast as possible.”
Andrew: That’s helpful for us to know that developers are accessible that way, and it’s also good for us to know to not allow our developers to put our app under their name.
Ken: It’s ultimately better for them if you do that in some ways, especially if you’re a brand that’s well known.
Andrew: Okay. What do we need to know about preparing or submitting our app to the App Store?
Ken: Can I take it one step before that, which is going back to the customers which is making sure that we actually beta test our application. The step before submission is the step of beta testing. And people don’t realize it sometimes, I’m surprised but maybe it’s because I’m so immersed, but there’s actually ways of beta testing outside the App Store. And that way is called ad hoc distribution. So Apple gives you basically 100 device slots where you can collect information from potential testers and then send out a version of your application for them to engage in. So you should really go through that process almost immediately, as soon as you have a somewhat stable version of the app, start testing, start getting those customers involved. This also helps with marketing, because now I’m going on to your next question with the submission, is that when you get into the App Store and that app gets approved, that’s the highest time of visibility that you’re almost ever going to have because you show up on the new release list. So what you need to do in terms of submission process is have all your assets lined up, which means your screenshots, your App Store description, the keywords that you’re going to use. These are all things you can get from gleaning what is relevant to your customers from those conversations. And you’re also making sure that you’re outreaching to bloggers, to press folks, to even in some ways these gallery sites continuing to post out to there. And you need to have that development and the submission process lock step with the actual marketing, because when that gets out there, you actually have the ability to hold it before it gets approved into the App Store and then you blow it out to everyone and say, “Hey, I’m going to release the application five days from now. You should get your post ready, anything that you want to do if you want to write a little something about this so that it’s ready for that day.”
Andrew: You mean we can hold it after we get approved? We can say, “Don’t run it until five days from now.”
Ken: And you can kind of work with folks. My personal preference is to say, “Hey, if you want to write about this write about it.” Because it’s hard, as you know, today to get any kind of traction. But if you’re close with them, if you have any kind of a relationship, you might just say . . . in fact I did this with a couple of folks with Rise Alarm. I did a sneak peek and I actually have gotten a couple blog posts already about it because I have some relationships because they know the apps I’ve made in the past. So you can hold it until whenever you want. But again, if you’re starting out just be happy someone wants to write about it. Don’t tell them what to do.
Andrew: By the way, I saw your app . . . I want to make sure that I get the name right. AudioBookShelf.
Ken: You got it.
Andrew: Such an easy name to remember, but I’m always worried that I’m going to say it wrong. AudioBookShelf. I saw it on TUAW, The Unofficial Apple Weblog. How did you get your app on there? I imagine that tons of people want their attention.
Ken: Actually, my partner was out at the big Apple Keynote, and they said they might be looking to talk with some folks. So we did a two-pronged attack. I actually pinged them. I was in D.C. and he was out there, writing the book of course, and he hit them and said, “Hey, yeah. We just pinged you guys. Are you guys ready for us?” And we got them to do a quick little review of our application, and actually that was when the iPad version was going to come out so that actually really helped. And the sales on the day that we got that on there were quite a bit higher than they normally are, and that definitely helped give some more life to it. So a good principle here is just because your app’s been out there for a while doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to market it and continue to promote it, especially if you have a cool update coming out. And that’s why they were interested in it because we were porting it over as a universal application so it worked on both iPad and iPhone and we got that video interview. So it was great press for us.
Andrew: And you guys did just a minute and a half. And that’s the way I like to see those videos. I know I do videos that go for an hour. But when I look online for a sample of what a product’s about, I just want to see a minute, minute and a half and just took them right through it. When you said you pinged them, did you just email tips@TUAW.com or whatever their tips email is?
Ken: They actually might have had one specific for the Apple WWDC. But we literally, I kind of hit them there. And then they said yeah. And then my development partner was out at the event and we got the signals at the right time and we were able to get the interview in. So that’s all we did and you’d be surprised. You’ve just got to be aggressive sometimes, and even if someone doesn’t write back, don’t feel bad. Just be aggressive and hustle and that’s the way we’re seeing traction happen because we keep pinging folks.
Andrew: Blogs that cover apps are a natural to turn to. What about directories? Do you know if they’re effective at all?
Ken: I haven’t done a lot with directories, but what I’ve done outside of the Unofficial Apple Weblog is don’t just think about the sites that are covering Apple or iPhone or iPad. In fact, it’s really hard to get onto those sites. I like to do two different things, so I can’t answer your question directly because I haven’t tried that. But the other things that I do are to look at complementary type sites. So what I mean by that is for Tweeb, I reached out to a bunch of social media folks who don’t typically write about iPhone or iPad or anything IOS, but they love Twitter. And so we reached out to a number of social media folks and got a number of write-ups. We got on Social Times and we got on a big, influential twitterati or something to that effect. And this again was when the app was basically not even out yet and people were getting excited about it. Look across and outside the gadgets and the tech industry to whatever it is.
For example, when I do this alarm clock app coming up, I might actually reach out to some alarm based folks, because we really focused on the traditional alarm clock design. We might also reach out to folks who make device holders, apparatus to hold that device because we’ll say, “Hey, why don’t we partner up on this and maybe you could be our official alarm clock stand.” So you’ve got to think outside the box, not to use a cliché, and look for other types of complementary services or blogs or whatever it may be to help promote things because [inaudible 42:20].
Andrew: Because you’re what? Sorry. We lost the connection for a moment.
Ken: Sorry. I said the whole tech and gadget and Apple blogosphere is pretty focused on the next big thing, and so they often are not really caring about some little app that’s just about to launch.
Andrew: By the way, I should have maybe asked this earlier on. I’ve got to ask. Is this just a fad? Are we just talking about everyone’s creating an iPhone app so I’ve got to create an iPhone app and next week when they all create iWatch apps we all have to create apps for the watch? Or is there any real business long-term strategy here that this is a part of?
Ken: I think it you look, just pulling out from he details here that we’ve been into, the whole mobile ecosystem is exploding. It’s been quoted many, many times, but the mobile web and mobile internet is going to surpass desktop in the next five years. So I don’t think apps specifically are fads. I think the thing that people get wrapped up on a little too much is do I have to have this mobile native application? So there’s mobile websites and then there’s what we’ve been talking about the whole time which are iPhone and iPad apps. And I think that not every single person needs to build one of those. Specifically, they may not even need to build it for the Apple platform. But mobile strategy and mobile presence is absolutely necessary. So whether it’s a mobile website, a mobile app that’s on IOS or Android or potentially even Windows Phone 7, whatever it is you have to have a mobile strategy. So that is not the fad. It’s debatable whether some brand has to have an iPhone app that literally just lists their blog and their contact information. Probably not a good use of their resources. But again, it depends on how big you are, what kind of budget you have. If you have a big budget, then yeah, you probably should be on all these platforms because there’s a big enough reach, especially at least on iPhone, iPad, and Android at this point.
Andrew: And everything that we’ve said up until now applies to Android 2, it applies to Windows, it applies to whatever happens to come up next. And maybe at some point it might apply to BlackBerry. But right now BlackBerry apps, the worst.
Andrew: Not there. Not quite there.
Andrew: By the way, you can’t even run certain apps on the BlackBerry unless it’s fully connected to their network. I was in Argentina, I bought a BlackBerry, I had it shipped all the way down to Argentina so I could use some kind of BlackBerry to read books on and to do other things. I couldn’t do any of it because I needed a SIM card. It was a BlackBerry SIM card that wasn’t just a prepaid, which I couldn’t get a non-prepaid there. BlackBerry boo. Man, they lost their lead.
Ken: Actually, if you look at the numbers, Apple and Google are basically outselling RIM at this point. So there’s still people who love emailing, and for those people they live by their BlackBerries, or their Crackberries as they’re called, but even a lot of business users are now getting excited about iPhone in particular.
Andrew Until you can run apps normally on the BlackBerry, I don’t think it makes sense for most people to develop for them. What else do we need to know here before I wrap this up? Is there anything else that I need to cover?
Ken: The big thing that I want to encourage people on is you hopefully got a little excited by knowing how empowered you could be from this. But just because your first application doesn’t do well, doesn’t mean that you’re done. I think people have this idea that, “I’m going to go into the App Store and I’m going to do really well. My app’s going to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Or maybe they think tens of thousands of dollars and that doesn’t happen. I think the biggest thing with the first app that you go in with is that it’s a learning experience. And some of the things that we talked about should emphasize that, which is we shouldn’t be spending six months building this app. We should try to keep it focused and recognize that it’s a mobile app. It’s not a website, so we have to have a couple features. And if we can get customers involved, then we can validate some things and try to get the app out there quickly. And if you see after three or four months there’s just not enough traction, then don’t continue to invest in it. And don’t be upset about that because you’re going to be much better prepared and you can then invest more resources into that next app versus just continuing to sink money into something that’s not working. So don’t be overwhelmed if the first app doesn’t come out the door high flying.
Andrew: What about before the app is finished? Is there anything I can do to make sure that the developers are on track, that they’re doing their job, that it works? And I say that considering that I’m not a developer myself, that the person who’s listened all this way through the interview is probably not a developer but they need to manage developers.
Ken: That’s a great point. To pop back up a level from the broader takeaway that I was trying to give is use tools like Unfuddle. Unfuddle.com is a great tool that allows you to manage a development process. It’s like a base camp in some ways for developers. So you can assign out tickets and you can say, “Hey, here’s the bugs that need to be addressed.” Just in the same way you can inspect design, you can inspect very clearly the way the application’s progressing by having them send out the same build that you would use for your beta testers. Before you start beta testing it, you’re testing it yourself and you’re making sure that it’s not crashing. You’re using it not just at home or at the office but using it in a real world situation to make sure that it’s not being funky outside of a normal Wi-Fi environment, which is very common. So you’ve got to continue to test the development side of it just as you do with design. Use something like Unfuddle, and there’s a number of other similar tools out there to keep track of the development.
Andrew: What’s that name? I want to make sure it’s right.
Ken: It’s U-N-F-U-D-DL-E. Unfuddle.com.
Andrew: I see. Instead of “befuddle” it’s “unfuddle.” I got you. That’s where we can go to keep track of what’s going on with the developers. You’re saying keep testing it throughout the process. That probably means have them start off on a small feature set, test that and then add and add and . . .
Ken: You got it. You want to build out a screen or a feature at a time, continue to test on that. And by the time the application’s development part of it is done and you’re going to test it with others, you have a fairly stable application even before others start jumping into it. You don’t want to send out an app that’s not functioning to your testers. You want feedback on the actual features and the whole experience of the app. So if you’re sending it out to them and it’s just not working right, they’re not going to be excited to continue to test it with you.
Andrew: You hit something here with App Savvy. You wrote a book about a topic that’s hot right now, that people are curious about, and you brought it down to a level where the average entrepreneur or business person can read and understand and go implement it. Did you know when you were starting this that it was all going to get this heated? I guess there’s no way you would have known that Apple was going to bring IOS apps on Apple hardware, but how much did you know of what was coming up?
Ken: I always was passionate when I saw the space evolving so I started the book . . . I actually submitted the book proposal not even a year ago and now it’s out there. But I saw an opportunity as the space was kind of heating up that no one was really approaching it from a discipline perspective. And even the developers who have been successful in a lot of ways were successful because they were Mac developers before this. So they were successful just because they had the audiences. Did I foresee exactly what was happening though? Maybe a little bit. I’d like to believe that I did, but ultimately I was just excited about helping others do the same thing that I had done and making sure that they know that they actually can, because everything else out there was design and development. There may have been even a little bit of marketing, but there was nothing that walked people step by step. I don’t know if I saw exactly where it was going, but I had a hint that this could be a really helpful place to focus on especially with the experience and the background that I have.
Andrew: And “App Savvy” is published by O’Reilly, one of the few brand names in book publishing that actually means something. You know that when you get O’Reilly you’re going to get quality. You know when you get O’Reilly you’re going to get technology, you’re not going to get novels, you’re not going to get history, biographies. You’re going to get tech savvy books by people who are geeks, who are developers, who are in the space, who are respected. How easy is it to get O’Reilly to publish your book?
Ken: How easy was it for me, or how easy is it for everyone else? I don’t know if my experience . . .
Andrew: How do you get your book published by O’Reilly?
Ken: I don’t know if my experience is common. But we’ve talked in a couple situations where I am definitely a very detail oriented person. Maybe I’m even difficult to live with according to . . .
Andrew: And I’m going to ask you how difficult you are to live with. You’re absolutely detail oriented. You sent me screenshots, you sent me links, you sent me possible questions and insight into what the answers would be. You gave me a copy of the book beforehand. We did a pre-interview, which I wish more people would put up with. More people need to understand a pre-interview’s a good thing as you can see through this interview. You’re sitting there, you made sure the shot was good. We can talk to each other because the connection is good because you didn’t just wing it. You made sure it worked out. Frankly, between you and me, I’m wearing a T-shirt here. You’re wearing . . . look at the outfit. People can see this. Your hair is . . . so are you difficult to live with? I’m going to meet your wife at some point soon. Is she going to say, “This guy’s just way too . . .”
Ken: It depends on when you ask her and what’s happening. She’ll tell you yes, most likely. But in any case, with the book itself, I actually really researched how O’Reilly wanted to get their book proposals done. They actually have a completely thorough, detailed description about writing for them, and it’s a lot of material to go through. I found even their book proposal template. I dug that up. So I submitted the book proposal very specifically, and I’d always wanted to write a book and I’d researched before how you actually do a book proposal. Typically you go and submit that to an agent. I said, “Why not just submit it to O’Reilly directly?” I followed their formats, and I thought it was unique enough that they would be interested in it. And literally after sending it in just before the holidays, I got someone getting back to me and said, “Hey, we’d like to talk to you about doing this book.” And I did pitch it to be completely transparent, because I know that’s what the Mixergy audience expects anyway, I did pitch it initially as a digital book. So I didn’t expect it to be a print book. And one of the big reasons I did that is because . . . well, two actually. One is that I knew that the content would have to be updated very frequently since the space is changing so often. In fact, when we started the book iPad wasn’t even out and IOS 4 wasn’t even on the horizon. So I said, “We’ve got to keep updating this thing.” Secondly, I know as a first time author that that was going to be more palatable to them. So I said, “It’s more important for me to be published by O’Reilly than to have a book sitting in a book store which most likely is not going to be sold anyway. Ebooks are big.” So as we went into the process, they got excited about it. They saw the plan that I had put in place, and they said, “No, this has got to be a print book as well.” And it’s great to hold a print book. I’d be excited to have anything with O’Reilly, but it’s great to have the published version as well.
Andrew: The book is “App Savvy.” If you guys heard anything in this interview, then I know that you’ll agree that Ken is very detail oriented. His book is full of details and stories. And here, I wrote out . . . I copied and pasted a sentence from your book that I think illustrates why I love it. You said, “So requesting that you make your app unique is not helpful.” How many times do I do an interview with someone who says, “Well, you have to write unique content.” You’re right. That’s not helpful. I bought this book to learn how to create a unique app. I invited a speaker here to talk about how to write a blog post that convert or that go viral. I want them to teach me how to make it unique. I want them to give me more insight. And you’re right, I’m going to say this, too many books, too many speakers will use words like “unique” and “strong content” without saying, “Here’s how you do that.” And this book did that. “App Savvy.” Highly recommend it. Check it out. I don’t even get a commission from selling this book. There are no affiliate links on Mixergy. It’s just me saying this is a good book and me saying that when you read it, you’ll agree and my reputation will grow in your eyes when you get “App Savvy.” Thanks for doing the interview, Ken.
Ken: Thanks for having me today. I appreciate it.
Andrew: Cool. Bye everyone. Thanks for watching.
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