The Appreneur Cookbook – A Recipe For Success

“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do.” – Jeff Olsen, The Slight Edge

Yes, it’s been one year since I launched Alpha Combat. Hard to believe that I was once sitting behind a computer, 3 credit cards maxed out, scared out of my mind as my first “Ready for Sale” email popped into my inbox. I had spent over $14,000 of my own money and 300+ hours of my own time. It was an electrifying experience, one that will forever stay with me as a defining moment in my lifelong pursuit of achievement and happiness (kind of the same thing, in my opinion).

During that year, a lot happened. I learned a lot and failed a lot. I failed WAY more than I succeeded, but I remember that Thomas Watson quote that said, “If you want to increase your rate of success, double your rate of failure.”

I spent hours and hours designing apps, learning Xcode basics, and testing the market. I took a lot of risks and was conservative on other moves. The app world and app market has changed so much in one year, but more than that, I have changed. What this year has taught me is that I didn’t want to make a million dollar app – I wanted to be the kind of guy who can make a million dollars.

And that’s made all the difference.

I wanted to write a post that shares a lot of what I’ve learned, both from a technical and personal level. I want everyone out there to read this and walk away fired up, inspired, excited, whatever – as long as it’s positive. My goal of this blog is to give people the opportunity to learn about crushing it, because no matter how much money any of us make, it’s all about having more positive people in the world.

Chapter 1 – Get Real About Your Expectations

Do not read this as “you’re never going to make a lot of money” because that’s not the case at all. What I mean by this is to manage yourself and be honest about what’s really going to happen and the time it takes to happen. More importantly, set goals for yourself that are immediate and controllable. 

One of the biggest reasons for my “failures” in the past year is because I was looking at them in a way that made them failures. Two months into Alpha Combat’s lifetime, I was having a hard time putting more energy into it. Why? Because it wasn’t making $1,000/day like I thought it would. My dreams were filled with visions of a future filled with this sort of success, and I set my expectations accordingly. When I was only making $20/day, I felt worthless.

Fast forward 12 months and I set goals that I know I can achieve if I work hard for them. I never set monetary goals – it’s always something I can control. “I will install this social gaming SDK into 3 apps this week.” And so on. If I compared myself to larger gaming companies that are making $50-100K a day, I would feel like a loser. But I don’t (at least I try not to).

When I talk to people making apps, most are already thinking 10 steps ahead of where they really are, talking about what it’s going to be like when they make their fortune. I’m here to tell you that you’ll feel 100% better about hitting your small, immediate goals than you will if you keep missing your big dreams. Don’t swing for the fences every at bat –  take the time to plan out the small steps and knock them off your checklist every day. You will get to where you want to be and feel much better about doing it.

Chapter 2 – Arm Yourself With Tools To Win

Somewhere along the way, someone left a comment on a blog post that said “Can you give me a list of the tools I need to get started on an app?” I think that’s an awesome idea. Even if you never touch half this stuff, knowing it exists and how it works will make your life so much easier.

DEVELOPMENT AND DESIGN

Your Apple Developer Account – You’ll have to sign up for your developer account and learn the ropes of iTunes Connect. Read the developer agreement and the marketing guidelines. Become immersed in the world of apps. You will pay $99/year and take pride in it. You’re part of a select group of people when you enter this realm, so learn the rules and the environment.

Xcode – Xcode is the software that you build most apps in. It’s where programmers write all the source code and is what produces the file that uploads to Apple. A good analogy is having someone build you a website, but not knowing anything about HTML or even a content management system. You don’t know what’s easy to fix or how to change it. Install Xcode on your computer so that you can start looking at code and understanding what programmers are delivering to you. Easily the best investment of time I’ve ever made.

Photoshop – Check out my previous post about using photoshop for apps to get a full breakdown. Being able to use photoshop will make your brain work in a way that’s creative and fun. You’ll start to understand what makes design great and be able to ask for more from your own designers. You can modify images and even help with the re-skin process. You can download icon templates and start making your own. Photoshop + Xcode is the power pack of app development.

Outsourcing Websites – The gorillas in the room are Odesk and Elance…and for good reason. They are well built, offer great services, and have the premier talent in the world. This is where it all starts for anyone who wants to get in the game. Learn about these websites and become a part of them – it will change the way you look at everything.

Templates and Inspiration – This day and age, there are plenty of different ways to get started, one of which is to build off an existing framework. Some of my best ideas came from looking through other awesome designs and apps for a few hours. Here are a few to check out:

Testflight – Any developer will be able to set this up for you, but knowing that it’s out there is important. TestFlight allows you to test your app before it actually goes live into the store. Very cool stuff.

PUBLISHING AND MARKETING

Appcod.es – This website is awesome. I’ve mentioned it a few times and really think it’s great. It’s a keyword research tool for the app store. You can tweak all your keywords using this and see how your results will differ. There have been some big swings to my apps when using this, so you should check it out.

AppViz – This is a tool that will download all your data from iTunes each day and neatly organize it for you. Downloads, revenue, iAds, reviews, rankings – everything. It’s a terrific way to catalog progress.

Social Gaming Networks (if you have a game) – I’m starting to realize how important it is to connect your game to communities. Alpha Combat started with an Openfeint/GREE integration and I’m planning on doing the same with my other games moving forward. Check out HeyZap as one.

Push Notifications – A very important piece of the puzzle. You’ll realize how much you want to communicate with your users once they’ve downloaded and used the app. Push Notifications allow you to easily reach out and give an update or alert. You can even program this into your app so that it automatically pops up after a specified time period, or you can send them each time from the web. Check out UrbanAirship or Parse.

Analytics – Even if you don’t really care or know anything about your user data, you will at some point, especially if you ever want to partner with people or sell your app. On a fundamental level, this is going to give you good insights into how many daily users you have, how often people use the app, and anything else you can image. Check out Flurry or Localytics.

Cross Promotion – Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to cross promote your apps. If someone likes your app, they’re going to want more of what you have so you should make it easy for them. A nice SDK can be found with Chartboost and their “More Games” function.

 AND MOST IMPORTANTLY……

An awesome developer and designer.  I know this is a HUGE topic and one of the hardest things to find, but make sure you work with a lot of different people, even if it’s only for $50 jobs, in order to find someone you work well with. Finding the right person or team will directly relate to your success.

Chapter 3 – Surround Yourself With Greatness

In Chapter 9 of Napolean Hill’s epic book Think and Grow Rich, he talks about the Power of the Mastermind. What he meant by this was that colluding with other like minded smart people will lead to greater successes than any one person could reach on their own. This is 100% true in the app world and something I wish I really pursued early on. Surrounding yourself with greatness does not mean you need to be in an office with a team of people making some $500K app – it means that you need to start having meetings and conversations with winners.

Winners tend to be problem solvers. When you talk to other winners, they usually have different perspective than yours and can help solve an issue you may be facing. Similarly, the more you talk to people, the more you find out how people succeeded at the same stages you may be in. It wasn’t until I started calling people and reaching out that I learned about what app marketing really was. I had spent so much time reading articles and trying to figure it out myself, I didn’t stop to just ask people who had done it already.

Ways you can surround yourself with greatness:

  • Download 5 new apps a day from the “Featured” or “New and Noteworthy” section and write down 5 elements you like from each.
  • Download any of the great app marketing magazines for iPad out there and read through them….then track down the people in those magazine and as for 5 mins of their time.
  • Have coffee or get on the phone once a week with someone in your life that is making $100K or more.
  • Reach out to some of the larger marketing and monetization companies and ask them to send you as much information as you can about success stories, then reach out to those success stories.

These are just a few, but they are powerful. They say that in America, people tend to have an income that is the average of the 5 people they spend the most time with. The same is true for any other part of your life – humans will begin to assume the same qualities of the people they hang out with. Why not spend your time with winners?

Chapter 4 – It’s True. Patience Is A Virtue

Before I say anything else – if you have never read the book The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen, drop everything and do so. It will be the greatest investment of time you will ever make.

Hands down, the biggest lesson I have learned in the past year is the power of time and it’s impact of business. Before I got into apps, I was doing internet marketing which is also clouded by the idea of speed and hyper growth. With apps being even hotter than that, I figured it would be the same sort of mentality and I spent the first 6 months accordingly, moving as quickly as I could and pushing out more and more information, hoping to break through to the big leagues with every move I made.

I’m here to tell you that if you’re not patient, you’re going to burn through a lot of money. Trust me.

For anyone out there who is smart, ambitious, and willing to work, I would tell you that the best strategy is to think of your success as a three year play. If you want to think about  your app journey as a “Hey maybe I’ll get rich the first year” type endeavor, you’re going to lose a lot of money because you’re not building a foundation. I always try to remind myself that are three tiers to success – Learning, Mastering, Teaching.

Think about your app journey in this way and you will be so much more successful. Dedicate your first year to learning as much as you possibly can, both successes and failures, and change directions often as you gather this knowledge. Spend your second year deciding on a course and become absolutely amazing at that one thing. By the third year, you will find yourself drawn to areas where you show others how to do it (and get paid for it) and also sharing your knowledge in order to help people in the earlier stages find their way.

The most important part is being patient and remembering that the first year is all about LEARNING….not retiring.

Chapter 5 – Take Time To Help Other People

No question about it – it requires enormous focus and drive to build a profitable app portfolio from scratch, especially if you have little or no experience. This can often lead to wanting to shut off to the world and keep all the success for yourself, capped by a very short fuse for people who are not helping you achieve your goals. I’m the first to acknowledge that style of work in order to make things happen quickly, but also realize that it’s not sustainable and will not make you happy long term. I don’t care who you are or how bad you want it, it’s important to stop and give back a little bit.

Do I mean you should give away your secrets? No. Should you share your source code and designs with someone else? Of course not (unless you want to).

But there is someone out there who is a few steps behind you right now and wants the inspiration and motivation to make their own dreams happen too. Whether it be apps, entrepreneurship  or anything else, stopping and helping them get started is going to make you really fired up and even more excited to continue your own journey towards success…because it will remind you of how far you’ve come.

Chapter 6 – Hate It Or Love It, Money Makes You Feel Great

One of my all time favorite quotes (followed by favorite speech) is by the character Francisco D’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged, asking the simple question, “So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?”

I’m not trying to get political here, but this is an important lesson for me and one that I hope to pass on to everyone else. It’s only when you build something yourself do you realize how money shows it’s value. 

Spend 500 hours on an app, then watch it make zero money and tell me how you feel.

Spend 500 hours on an app then watch it make $100/day and tell me how you feel.

When you create something that generates revenue, you feel proud of it. In the app world, that’s the scorecard. In other markets, there are different scorecards. Your work gets other people to pay their hard earned money for it. They see value in what you have produced. It’s a tremendous feeling.

This is very different from greed. If money is the only thing you care about, you are never going to be happy in this business. But building something that generates money will make you feel amazing. It’s a small difference, but an important one.

The reason I’m talking about this is because, irregardless of your sentiments towards monetization, it will make your journey more fun. You’ll enjoy each day even more when you have a score card to look at. There will be low points, of course, but you’ll get past them.

From day 1, start thinking about how you can get all the hard work you’ve done give something back to you. Read my blog post of monetization for a place to start.

Chapter 7 – Do Whatever It Takes

Lastly, I want to address a topic that is not something you will read in success books or feel good inspiration forums. This is the #1 thing that no one talks about when they write a book or article about how they made all this money and didn’t know how to program and now they’re traveling the world as their “money making blog” just goes on auto-pilot. This is the best piece of advice I can give to anyone out there that knows deep down that there aren’t really any shortcuts to success.

Do whatever it takes.

What this does NOT mean:

  • Being unethical
  • Being mean or nasty to others
  • You are at war with the world, and it’s you or them

What this DOES mean, however, is that you only get one shot to live your life. Every day that goes by is another opportunity to kick ass. I’m not saying you have to live life like this, but you have to remember it’s up to you to get out of bed and make it happen. If you really want to be a success, you need to have the pedal floored as often as possible.

Earlier this year, I made a decision that I refuse to wake up and be 40 years old and talk about how I almost did something epic the way I’ve heard so many people do. I was in a situation where the momentum was slowing and I was surrounded by a hundred reasons to go back to the easy, nice life I had going, even if it wasn’t what I really wanted for myself.

For the months of February and March, I drank more coffee and RedBull than I ever thought I could. There were days I woke up when I simply didn’t feel like doing anything, so I drank a double espresso and put on techno music. I blew off parties to learn Xcode and push myself even further. I was feeling very low about my situation with Alpha Combat kind of humming along and with no major growth in sight and needed to make a change. I had to prove to myself that I could make it happen if I wanted it bad enough.

I crashed at the end of the 60 day binge and slept 14 hours a day for a week. I had learned more about Xcode, Photoshop, and outsourcing than I ever thought I could. I didn’t produce any great apps and I didn’t make more money. But I proved to myself that I could do it and that I deserve to be successful.

Am I recommending this? Hard to say – it’s definitely not for everyone. Then again, neither is success.

Now here I am, 8 months later, sitting on the opportunity of a lifetime that I never would have had if I didn’t have that total slayer mentality.

My point is that this entire business and all your dreams and all the fortunes of the world are out there for the taking.

Don’t wait for it.

Here’s to another year of kicking ass for each and every one of you that has taken the time to ever read my blog and be a part of this journey. I sincerely wish you the best and hope you all wake up each day and are fired up to make something happen. This is being posted on my 29th birthday (today). When I was 24, I wrote myself a check for $1,000,000 post-dated for my 30th bday, a wild dream that I’ve believed in from the start.

I’m ready to make that dream come true.

Keep rocking,

Carter


 

COMMENTS

  • Johann October 30, 2012

    Great post hermano. Hope you’re thriving out there in SF!

  • Chad October 30, 2012

    Carter,

    Fantastic post. Sounds like you had a productive year- congratulations and happy birthday.

    From one of my own favorite speeches, “productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form.” -John Galt

    Cheers to not shrugging our responsibility to create.

    -Chad

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas October 30, 2012

    Hey Chad,

    That’s awesome. Thanks for being a loyal reader and participant on Facebook – I hope you’re killing it and all is well in your world.

    Carter

  • David Janner October 30, 2012

    Happy birthday mate!

  • Andrew Woo October 31, 2012

    I subscribed to your blog a few weeks ago, and this the first post I ever really read. A lot of it describes what I’m experiencing right now.

    Is that sales graph real?

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas October 31, 2012

    Yeah – totally. That’s when I made the app free, had about a 90x multiplier on the downloads (only a slight increase in revenue). I relied on in-app purchases and Playhaven. If I could go back and work with that type of volume, it would be a different story (I hope!).

    Thanks for subscribing to my blog.

    Carter

  • Cory Boatright October 31, 2012

    Carter,

    Awesome post! I urge you to check out http://italkfast.com/revmob . We were using Chartboost and then started using Revmob. Man… the income doubled! I’m not kidding either. The eCPM’s were off the chart! If you’re not using them go sign up. I know the owner Gui if you want me to introduce you to him too.

    Remember… be a servant,

    Cory Boatright

  • Stu Fraser October 31, 2012

    Great post Carter, awesome of you to share your journey into this world so far. I think you’re right on target for your $1m soon. Keep up the great work!

    Is that App sales graph one of yours and if so are those spikes the result of launch days of new apps or marketing campaigns?

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas October 31, 2012

    Hey Stu,

    Yes, that sales graph is mine. It was simply making an app free a week after launch – nothing more. A marketing campaign to get that kind of volume would be pretty intense. CPI networks typically charge around $0.50 per install. Anything else would be hard to move the needle.

    Thanks for your words.

    Carter

  • Stuart Watson October 31, 2012

    Great post Carter and thanks for sharing this. I’m a couple of months along a similar journey by the sounds of it. I just love your positive vibe mixed with a healthy dose of reality.

    Couple of questions for you though:

    – 1. Why do you say getting to know Xcode was the best investment of your time? I feel I should be worrying more about the app experience and the marketing.
    – 2. Are you looking towards narrowing down on a particular niche? I notice you’ve got apps across a bunch of categories. Which are working out best for you?

    Thanks again for sharing and looking forward to your next post.

    -Stuart

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas October 31, 2012

    Hey Stuart,

    Right on, that’s a good way to put it. Realistic optimism, I guess. That artwork in the post is in the genre dubbed “Romantic Realism.” I love it.

    Answers for you:

    1. I say this because understanding the code allowed me to do so many things that I never would have been able to do myself. Examples include installing Revmob or Chartboost, updating apps, adding buttons, and being able to talk to developers (especially overseas developers). Most importantly, it gave me confidence and credibility – I knew when a dev was handing me garbage and I could call them out on it. This knowledge gave me control and speed, two things I craved deeply when it came to maintaining velocity of growth.

    2. My focus is kind of different than what others might think about. Most of the app marketers and appreneurs out there talk about focusing in terms of picking a category niche and producing a lot for that niche. The way I do it is that I became really good at what I saw as the biggest bottle neck for my biz model – publishing. I could find developers and designers who could produce everything very well, but beyond the Xcode delivery, I couldn’t find anyone. Publishing meaning the launch of the app, keyword research, name, screenshots, etc. So I spent all my time on it.

    Doing this has allowed me to literally send out app ideas to my team, have them deliver finished Xcode projects, then move to the next while I can the apps up in the store looking great and getting strong organic traffic. The developers love this and move fast, I get way more apps up in the store.

    Over the next 6 months, I’m going to start messing around with Entertainment and Utility apps, which I see big opportunities in with the publishing.

    Good luck to you.

    Carter

  • J. GArcia October 31, 2012

    Happy Belated Bday Carter!

    Thanks for this motivating post. May God Almighty bless your endeavors and bring you good fortune; as well as to the rest of good intentioned and spirited appreneurs. Me and some friends are just starting this journey and yearning for it because of stories like this. Thanks again Carter! :)

  • Nick (Appnific) November 2, 2012

    That’s an amazing list of resources and knowledge that any aspiring appreneur should read before starting their journey of creating an app.

    The idea of using Photoshop to create the schematics of your app instead of the more traditional “black and white” format that mockups tools employ is quite intriguing, but i think the extra time spent in developing them is well worth when you see that your app resembles very precisely your initial vision.

    Happy birthday to you, and i hope you accomplish your dream of that 1,000,000$ check by the time you hit 30.

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas November 5, 2012

    Thanks Nick. I agree with you on the photoshop for mockups – I think the more the client puts in before they hand off anything to a developer or designer, the better. Even if it’s not a nice looking design, it will start to connect the dots, as you said.

    Carter

  • john kallas November 15, 2012

    How much money you have earned with your apps overall?

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas November 15, 2012

    I honestly have no idea – never really done the full breakdown. A quick glance at my financials look like I’ve made somewhere in the $100K range so far (13 months). Granted, the first 6 months I was making about 20% of that, so 2013 is going to be well in excess of that. That’s also a gross revenue number because I re-invest almost all my money into new apps.

    So, I’m still subscribed to Groupon.

    Carter

  • Simas December 18, 2012

    Great post! I’ve been reading your blog all day long. There’s a lot of wonderful stuff! Just wondering, would you mind sharing how much money did you invest into app development during the year?

    Simas

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas December 18, 2012

    Hey Simas,

    Thanks for your comment. Oh man, hard to say. If I had to guess, I probably spent about $40K total? But have made over $200K, and it’s ramping up to $50K a month now.

    The way my biz model works is kind of a month by month financial statement. I flip an app, then use the revenue from the previous month to fund the new projects. Design/Development/Publishing takes about a month. Assuming the aggregate of all my monthly apps is positive, I can re-invest more into the next month.

    Carter

  • Nate December 24, 2012

    I hired a contractor via oDesk to develop my app. Upon completion, what can should I expect to receive from the developer? I want to make sure I get all the assets (code, back end dev, ect) for the app. I am not as tech savvy as I should be and want to make sure I am not leaving anything behind once I cut ties with my current developer. I may want to have other developers look at the code and add features so I want to make sure I can give them everything they need. Any advice on this would be great.

    Thanks,

    Nate

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas December 24, 2012

    Hey Nate,

    Good question. They should send you a zip file that contains:

    Xcode project and associate files (frameworks, images, header/.m files)
    All design assets that are in the Xcode folder as PSDs
    Icons as 1024px png and PSD

    That should be pretty much everything. I’ve never had a developer “disappear” after the transfer, so if something comes up it should be OK.

    If you have backend development done like server side integrations or databases, you should get all the access files and logins for that as well.

    Hope that helps.

    Carter

  • Lana December 27, 2012

    Carter,

    hello there I’m 31 and I hoping to do this as a hobby. But I have always wanted to do something like this on the side. I’ve posted everywhere on your site. I have no experience whats so ever. I’m pretty busy with my degree, but is there a quicker way to learn Xcode? I have asked this several times,do you have a book or manual to help us illiterate people like myself that no nothing about Xcode? Thanks

  • Logan Merrick February 1, 2013

    Hey Carter,

    I know how you must have felt. I remember my first app…scary business…

    It’s like anything, until you’ve done it and learnt all the pitfalls, it’s scary and you live with a lot of uncertainty.

    I dare say that I didn’t have the credit card scare that you had but regardless, it was scary! I’m a mobile game developer as a profession now and I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be out of the early entrepreneurial stages of my career :)
    Pushing, trying, hustling just to get by.

    With that in mind, I will forever live with knowing that “I did it the hard way” haha!

    As far as developing goes, I don’t believe that it should be done as a hobby. Last time I took up a hobby I gave up on it.

    A hobby is something you do with a bit of your spare time. And app development as a Hobby, is an expensive exercise.

    The only way to make it in this game – just like any other – is through hard work, passion and network.

    Carter, it looks like you’ve done well, so congrats my friend, and all the best to you!

    Logan

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas February 4, 2013

    Thanks for your words, Logan. Life is as good as the effort one puts into it.

    Keep kicking ass.

    Carter

  • Lynn May 24, 2013

    Hi Carter,

    Thanks for this inspiring post… it reminds me of my app development journey to date and exactly how I feel. Yes, my 1st app, a gratitude photo journal (yes! I know there are a lot of such apps in the store. I created an extra Favorites Display feature, hoping to stand-out) was just released 2 weeks ago. There was a high momentum when I started building and developing the app. When it was released and I did not make the $1000/day like in your case, I was feeling terrible, esp. when I only have a few downloads to-date, only made like USD$12 for 2 weeks! I did not create the pre-app launch marketing, I wanted to play safe, in case of any rejection by Apple. Guess I worried too much. I should have created some buzz and contacted reviewers pre-launch and not now, though I am trying to do catch-up.

    Reading about your experience and from other comments make me feel I am not alone, that I can still make it. At least I am happy that I tried. I rather try at something than wonder what if? if only? I feel great and so excited when I saw the email that my app had been released for sale. Even better when I saw notification of 1st download, every single download matters, even if it is one download. I hope to create more awareness of my app.

    I saw your source code for sale on gaming. I would like to buy the licence, yet I am no expert at re-skinning. You have developers you can recommend to help on this if I should buy your licence? Thanks.

    I look forward to being a success story like you are, living the life of my dreams and paying it forward to help others coming behind me and those who need help.

    All the best to you and the others on similar journey…. and to myself too :-)

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