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Completely OT, Mobile App Development -


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My experience:

- developing is easy though a bit expensive

- making money is basically impossible (no barriers to entry)


Most apps are built for fun or to build a portfolio. The only reliable way to make money off mobile is to build a business and use mobile as part of the user experience (e.g. Uber). But even these businesses require large amounts of capital.


I can't think of any standalone app (other than games) that is profitable.


A hit game can be profitable but the odds against are probably 1000:1.


Edit: I have since thought of a few modestly profitable standalone apps - instapaper, weather apps, etc. But these are all hyper-competitive niches.

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I keep dabbling around with Android and iOS all the time, though I have only had a few apps in Play store (free). They were downloaded a few thousand time over a year or so, and I did not active react to the feedback to improve the apps.


Over time things have become very easy from a development perspective. I had built for the Palm, and then developed for a custom device (embedded programming). Ever since Android came along, things have become much much simpler. Now there are framework that enable one to build mobile apps from a HTML template.


The best success I have had has been in building apps for the corporation I work for, in extending the feature set to the mobile use cases. Though they were free apps as well, it gets in traffic and in many cases the development cost is absorbed in other aspects of licensing.

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I'd echo KCLarkin's comments 100%.


Mobile is great if it's supplementing an existing business.  If you're trying to build a business with it you're looking at a task that's 90% impossible and 10% luck.


The issue with mobile is discovery is terrible for new apps.  Plus no one wants to pay.  Users won't pay $1.99 or $3.99 for a game as it's too expensive.  It's a very crowded space.


The way to make money is sell a B2C software package and tack on a mobile offering.  Joe-consumer isn't going to pay $2.99 for something, but a local community bank will happily pay $250k for a new mobile offering.


There's a lot of room in the local space.  Why not make a dry cleaning app that integrates with a backend dry cleaning system and then sell to local dry cleaning companies?  I'm guessing you could sell a decent number of licenses.  Users would get a push when dry cleaning is done.  There are a ton of other ideas like this.


What you want is the mobile to be the end point that's using it, not driving usage.  A friend's VC fund backed the NoWait app.  That app is incredible as a dining patron.  But it's not driven by diners, it's driven by restaurant adoption.  They sell to restaurants and the restaurant tells consumers about the app.

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I can't think of any standalone app (other than games) that is profitable.



I'd imagine many app developers are highly profitable. Developers would not have built over a million iOS apps if they weren't profitable.



I'd venture to guess that iOS developers are much more profitable than Android developers, as Android users (as a whole) seem to think that everything should be free and are much more resistant to spending money on apps than iOS users. This has resulted in iOS apps being much better than Android apps overall.



Apps are typically sold for a lot lower amount of money than equivalent to what desktop apps used to sell for (and still do), but they benefit from scale.

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I remember reading this a while back and it breaks down the average revenue per app and sorts based on ecosystem. Keep in mind the article is over a year old so there have been changes since.




Obviously averages do little good in this case because a single app that takes off and makes millions drags the average revenue up but it's a starting point.

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Ready to laugh.


People that make productivity apps (for business) on BLACKBERRY phones make more on average.  Smaller market place and people will pay for an app that serves a business use case.


There, I said it.


In general, I have not done app development because it is a huge waste of my time.  I have 15 years of software development.  A lot of co-workers make apps and I have no idea why.  1) They don't make money.  2) It takes time.  3) What you learn does not really translate into what you already make a lot of money doing.  I made an extra $15K on the side doing a stock screener for a popular website some of you may know.  That's how you make money on the side.


Anyway ... want to make an app?

1) Find an unserved or underserved market.  Preferably in a market that is business, not consumer.

2) write software

3) profit.


Most people do this:

1) Clash of clans makes a ton of money

2) If I make a clone that is better I'll make that much money

3) fail or never even start


I've had a few ideas that fall in the unserved or underserved scenario and never bothered to follow up.  I'd make Android apps and skip iOS altogether even though there are frameworks that are code once => release on multiple devices.

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There's a really great podcast called StartUp (http://gimletmedia.com/show/startup/) that had a story about a guy named Trevor McKendrick, who kinda took a value approach to building an app. His approach was to seek a section of the store that appeared underserved but still had high demand and then build an app better than the best selling app in the section. He ended up creating a Spanish Bible that made him $100k in its second year in the app store. I can't remember what episode, but a little googling ought to surface it.


Also, I have a friend who made an app to manage BitTorrent downloads remotely via android phone. It was free but contained ads. He was pulling in $3k/month on ad sales last time I talked to him. It took him only a month to build, so I'd say he easily made his money back in effort.

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I worked on this app with a couple friends 2008-2010: www.mycaddie.net

It was a fun experience and is still providing a small but quickly declining cash stream every year. 22% of the company has given me about $20k to date.


We're all orienteering runners, running with map in a forest. So decided to make a maps app. And thought golfers had money to pay. We charge $7-$30 depending on country and how good golf course coverage we have there. Got some initial maps from a paper-map maker and then hired a romanian and an indian firm through elance to make maps on google. The traditional map-maker advertised us well for 20% of the income.


Learnings, positive:

- It's so much more fun to work with friends than in a big company.

- Outsourcing on elance worked well

- Joint ventures can create win-win.



- Developing a product you really have to be passionate for the end user. We were good engineers and map makers but didn't really care deeply enough about golfers. And that's what gives the big bucks in this kind of marketplace. If starting something again I will give greater weight to what I enjoy doing and do less speculating on who has money.

- Charging a pretty high first sales fee was probably a mistake. Today I would try a subscription model if still inclined to work on it. If we were charging a low monthly cost, say $1, probably many of our ~10000 customers would be too lazy to cancel.

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I'd imagine many app developers are highly profitable. Developers would not have built over a million iOS apps if they weren't profitable.


App development is a fat-tailed distribution. If you can make it onto Apple's top-grossing list, you can make money. The top games make over $1B per year. Almost all of the revenue is made by the top 100 apps.


The vast majority of those 1 million apps are:

- hobbies

- portfolio builders

- companions to an existing website or business

- triumph of hope over experience

- VC backed


Very few of these are profitable, especially if you count sweat equity.


As an example of how hard this is: Marco Arment is an iOS celebrity. He was CTO of Tumblr and built Instapaper. His latest app is Overcast. Because he is an iOS celebrity, the launch had massive publicity and was featured by Apple. In 2014, Overcast revenue was $15k per month. That sounds pretty good but Marco could probably easily make $300k+ if he worked for Yahoo!. So he is actually losing >$15k per month if you count the opportunity cost.


With my team, I have built apps with millions of downloads so I have some experience here. OP, if you do decide to pursue this, just be aware that the odds are against you.

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I am the Entrepreneur in residence at a university which means I get to teach on entrepreneurship and work with and mentor those students who are actualy developing a business while in college which is a much better way of "teaching" because you just can't really teach entrepreneurship from the front of the room, somethings they just need to try out.


Anyway I have heard so many app ideas, frankly getting tired of them. of the roughly 20 of them that I have heard so far this year 2 are possibly viable( lots of questions but they should pursue the idea) 3 of them didn't actually need to be an app to solve the problem that they wanted to solve and the rest just don't have a chance in my opinion.


But Apps are cool and they seem to be all that this kids think about.

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Thanks all for the input.


Many of the good points mentioned, the phone about using mobile app as a channel is so true.


I work in IT, and have some down cycle (work less busy) for next few months, thinking to get a site or app going.



Was thinking to do something stock investing related, but seems lots of brokers and media are already in the place.



kfh227 - how do u manage to get those side jobs? using site like elance?


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