“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.