I'm really excited to share an amazing and inspiring interview with Mike & Quoc of Free The Apps, an extremely successful iPhone app development company that I've actually paid a lot of attention to since their start, primarily because Mike & Quoc are two of my good friends from high school. [Editor's note: the Free the Apps site is no longer active.]
I knew they were doing really well since picking up their iPhone App Guide, but up until recently I had absolutely no idea how successful they actually were. I saw them in a recent article on Elance.com that blew my mind which is exactly why I had to get them here to share their story with you today. (Editor's Note: As of 2015, Elance has combined with oDesk to create Upwork.)
All I have to say is that I couldn't be more proud of what my friends have accomplished. They saw an opportunity, went with it, and created a life changing passive income business as a result.
Even though I have my own iPhone app business too, it's nothing like what these guys have. Enjoy!
Me: I’m personally quite familiar with you guys and your story, but can you quickly share with the SPI readers some background on how your company got started?
Of course. Thanks again Pat, for letting us share our story.
We were hanging out last summer and talking about the insane amount of revenue that some indie developers were generating by creating iPhone apps. One guy made almost $30k in a single day with iFart.
(This is Pat chiming in—here is Joel Comm’s public release of his earnings for his app, iFart Mobile)
We’re huge tech-geeks so we talked about how cool it would be to have our own apps on the App Store. Knowing our app would be available to the huge pool of iPhone/iPod touch users was enough to get us started. Making a few bucks off it was merely an afterthought, let alone creating a real life-changing business out of it.
We were amped to make it happen, but we ran into the hurdle of learning a new programming language. We didn’t have months to spend learning Objective C, so we did what any efficient entrepreneurs would do, we hired a team of experts to develop it. The idea to outsource our business was the single smartest decision we made.
Since then, we’ve released over 22 iPhone apps in less than a year and a half. Several of our apps have hit the #1 spot in different categories and in total we’ve had our apps downloaded about 20 million times.
It’s been an amazing ride and we currently have a lot more projects in the works.
If you wouldn’t mind sharing, I’m sure my readers are curious to know: how much money does 20 million downloads translate to?
For us, we’re currently maintaining an $800,000 a year business through our iPhone apps. Needless to say, we’re quite pleased and a little surprised when we step back and see just how much we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time. That being said, it’s obviously not impossible to make some good money in this business, as you know yourself Pat.
True, but I'm not making $800,000 a year! Those are seriously some incredible numbers. I recently read a guest post you did on Elance about your success story, which is why I wanted you here on SPI. How has Elance specifically helped you with your iPhone app business?
Elance has definitely been a key to our success. With the ability to collaborate with quality professionals all over the world, we’ve been able to leverage their talents to build quality apps for our users. Not only have we used the experts at Elance to develop our apps, but we’ve outsourced all aspects of our business.
We’ve used Elance for graphic design, marketing, copywriting, and our How to Make iPhone Apps ebook cover and sales page.
Of course, if you use Elance or a similar site to find developers, you’ll have to do your research and really make sure a particular developer is right for you. We’ve had a lot of experience working with several developers at the same time, so we’re pretty good at looking at the right metrics before selecting someone to work with. Sometimes you can get 20 to 30 people bidding on a particular application, and with all of the different prices and pitches, it can really be a headache sometimes.
I know a lot of the SPI readers are interested in this industry and have been looking to places like Elance and Odesk to find developers. What metrics do you use to select a developer and what tips do you have to make sure you find the right person?
Just like everyone else, we look at the feedback and reviews. One of the most important aspects for us is the number of “repeat customers”. We’ve found that developers who bid on our projects who have more repeat customers are more likely to churn out some good quality apps and be easy to communicate with. Communication with your developers is key.
We have hired some new developers in the past who have had no feedback or reviews, thinking that maybe some of them would be insanely good, just without Elance experience, and although some of those developers were okay, it’s better to go with a trusted source. If you’re developing your first application, we wouldn’t recommend hiring someone new. You’re investing anywhere between a few hundred dollars to thousands (depending on what kind of app you’d like to make), so you want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
I started building iPhone apps as an experiment to earn specifically a passive income—in other words, being able to earn money without trading my hours for dollars—putting the hard work in now and reaping the benefits later. Do you find that it’s a viable source of passive income or are you still finding that you need to put in a lot of hours of work each day to create a business like yours?
Good question Pat. Actually, that’s precisely why we outsource everything. By utilizing outsourcing for product creation and iTunes as a platform to sell on, almost everything we do is automated. Using this business model, which is somewhat similar to many of your passive income strategies, we’ve been able to only be required to work just a few hours a week in order to get things done.
Of course, nothing is totally hands off, and many thing still require our input. For example, when we give a developer a wireframe for a new application, he’s going to come back with us with some questions. After an app goes live in iTunes, there’s a little bit of marketing that needs to be done to get noticed. But, we’re not trading our time for dollars. Like you said, we’re putting in the hard work now, so we can benefit later and free up time to do other things in our lives. A lot of our most successful applications are still in the top 10 position in categories after only putting in a few hours here and there for maintenance and updates.
You guys truly are an amazing and inspiring story. Congratulations on all of your success! Before I let you go, I’d like to ask you one more question: What advice do you have for anyone that is interested in starting their own iPhone app business?
It's all about actually getting out there and doing it. Having an idea and actually creating something are two completely different things. Getting started is probably the hardest part, so get started!
“Ideas are cheap and plentiful. The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it's almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute.”
– Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson from Rework (full disclosure – I earn a commission if you purchase)
Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions and sharing your story. I wish you both continued success and millions of more downloads! If anyone wanted to learn more about what you do, where should they go?
Thanks Pat for giving us this opportunity and reaching out. We really appreciate it.
-End of Interview-
This is Pat again!
If you're in the Southern California area, try to stay cool and do what you can to protect your homes…fire season is upon us!
Wishing you all the best! Cheers!