* The Business of Software

A former community discussing the business of software, from the smallest shareware operation to Microsoft. A part of Joel on Software.

We're closed, folks!


» Business of Software FAQ
» The Business of Software Conference (held every fall, usually in Boston)
» Forum guidelines (Please read before posting!)


Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

My First Try Selling a Mobile App

I have been crying out that the sky is falling and the desktop is dying and talking about trying to make money developing for Mobile here for a while.  Yesterday we finally launched a mobile software product that we are going to try and sell, so I figured I would share my experience with the group. 

It took us about a year to build with 3 developers.  It was Bloody Expensive, and Really Hard work.

For iOS we are still pending approval, as I understand this may take up to  2 weeks.  So we must wait.  I hope they don't come back and tell us to change anything.

Google Play approved it within the hour, but it is not showing up anywhere on any searches from google play unless you search for the product by name.  So far nobody installed it directly from Google Play.  I expected they would do something to plug new apps but so far nothing.

The software is a 2 week trial with everything completely unlocked.  After 2 weeks we will lock a few features but the app will still work.  Unlocking all features at the end of the trial will require an in-app purchase of  $9.99 per month recurring.

10 users installed it from an ad on our website that was targeted only to people visiting on Droid. 

We were all a bit surprised at how engaged the users were.  I expected at least half of the people to look at one or two screens and then close it.  I expected most of the people to use it once and never open it again.  And I expected maybe 10% would watch the tutorial videos.  I was wrong on all counts.

The mobile users were much more curious.  They almost all watched our tutorial videos.  And then started using the app heavily.  The average user loaded 50 screens, some have already reopened it over 10 times and looked at over 150 different screen views.  This is considerably more user engagement than we get from our desktop users.

Even more shocking was that three of the users clicked on the buy now for $9.99 button.  But then when they got to Google Play to confirm the purchase, they backed out.  Maybe they got cold feet, Maybe they realized everything was already working and there was no reason to buy, or maybe they knew it is not really the buy button until you push the confirm on Google Play.  I am not sure what any of it means.
There is definitely not enough data to draw any conclusions yet.  The only thing I can say for sure is zero sales so far.  But it is fascinating for me just to see high levels of user engagement with our product, and a little bit of tire kicking.

I will post a follow up here in a few days.  Hopefully there will be more meaningful data to share.
C. Stark Send private email
Friday, October 17, 2014
Interesting stuff.

> It took us about a year to build with 3 developers.  It was Bloody Expensive, and Really Hard work.

Are you a developer as well, or only the business owner (sounds like you are a developer as well, since you said "took us" a year to build)? And  I can imagine you wouldn't want to specify much, but I am curious what "Bloody Expensive" means, and what about it was the really hard work (not that I doubt you at all). Maybe some hints?
Racky Send private email
Friday, October 17, 2014
Thanks for this report. Will be interesting to follow how it goes.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, October 18, 2014
@Racky, I expect that bloody expensive means that, assuming $100k salary costs and that covering 50% of business costs per employee (fully loaded cost includes office costs, administration costs, taxes) means $200k, so it cost $600k to develop in labor costs alone.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Curious, sincere question:

How much less (if any) would it have cost you to develop for (a) iOs only and (b) Android only? Also, how much Mobile expertise did you have going in - eg. what % of that 3-man years was spent learning the platform?

Anecdotal comment: I find it curious how despite the seemingly arduous Apple approval process, it is so common to install Apps that crash with little provocation.

One could excuse occassional crashes in even the best-built app, but the nearly continuous ones under routine use-cases are more disconcerting. Maybe their process is more about keeping people off their turf than assuring quality.

Good luck with your new App ;)
GregT Send private email
Monday, October 20, 2014
I don't have enough user data to update with anything meaningful yet i will post an update when i have morr users but to answer the questions

Bloody Expensive - means pretty much what Scott  described.  Except that scott valued my time at zero.  I disagree that I am worth zero.  The total numbers will vary if you are in San Francisco, or Kolkata, India but wherever you are in the world good developers will not be cheap.

Really Hard - relates to how simple it looks from afar yet how extremely complicated it becomes and before you know it you realise you need 40 distinct views for what looks like an app with 3 screens.  Also it is a challenge to make it fit and be useful, and easy to use on such a tiny screen.  Lots of iterations to make it flow.

Building it only for one platform would not have made much of a difference in time or cost.  We used qt so the
code was basically the same, maybe an extra month to get both platforms.

The developers had zero experience in mobile. For the server side this made little difference.  I don't think this slowed us down tremendously for the client.  They had many years c++. I have always felt any good developer can learn a new environment.  And it keeps things interesting.

I will try to post an update at the end of the week
C. Stark Send private email
Monday, October 20, 2014
When you said 3 developers I assumed you were a developer. If I knew you weren't among the 3 developers and it was a 4 person team, I'd have used the number 4 there instead.
Scott Send private email
Monday, October 20, 2014
That's interesting; I have heard of QT but didn't know it would be useful in this context.

Any good developer can certainly learn a new environment, the issue is how long that takes. I'm sure I could learn Russian if I was willing to spend a few years studying it ;)

Thanks for replying, cheers!
GregT Send private email
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Hey, this sounds really interesting.

Why don't you publish the Google Play URL? I'd love to try it out.

I don't fully understand why people don't publish their app names and websites. It's not like anyone here is going to put down $600k to clone your app. Your own competitors will likely find your app and THEY might actually be interested in cloning it.

If it's to avoid your post being found via Google, you can break it up (ie  www.ex (REMOVE THIS) amp (REMOVE THIS) le.com ) or use pastebin.com or similar.
Sandy Wilkins Send private email
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
As a long time (about 14 years!) user of Qt on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, I would be interested to know how you found Qt on iOS and Android. How big were the compromises compared to doing it using a native toolkit?
Andy Brice Send private email
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I contributed building a layer on top of qt to use it with harbour, a open source clone of clipper language. We were able to have harbour+qt working on android.
I mean c++ qt, not qt quick.
now a guy in los angeles is building enterprise android apps.

I was able to port them to blackberry 10 too. Unfortunately no mac/iphone here, but a windows phone with a dev account to try.

develop, compile, debug on pc, then port to android....
fp615 Send private email
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
We just broke 100 installs.  This will be my last update on this thread.  [Can one of the Mods please lock the thread]

It has been 6 days since we first launched. 

Google eventually indexed our page in the App store.  The app store is crowded and we are very difficult to find.  We didn't really see a meaningful increase in installs from when they indexed us. 

Apple is still Pending, but supposedly 11 days is the norm for this.  So we wait.

Most of our installs came from us showing ads to the users who visited our website from android.

Here are the stats......

Sales Funnel:

2,200  ads displayed to website visitors 
100      installs
4          sales
3          5 star reviews (real ones)
1          troll review

Usage Metrics:

100    Users
736    User Sessions
7034  Distinct Screen Views

Average User Session time 7:04 (mm:ss)

Here is how I interpret this limited data:

For us it was a lot easier to get people to try a mobile product than a desktop product.  Our average Desktop install rate is about 1.5% from web visitors.  Mobile users from the same type of traffic were closer to 5%. They were 3x more likely to try the software.

We were all floored when we saw just how active the mobile users are banging away playing with the app.  They were much more active than our desktop users.  It very rewarding to see people enthusiastically using what you built. 

The initial results are above our expectations.  But there is not enough data to be sure that this is really what the conversion will be.  The only thing I can say for sure is the conversion rate is not Zero.
can we hold at four percent?
do we get more sales when the trials expire after 14 days?
will we do better on iOS than we did on droid?
I don't know. 


There will be 2 billion active smart phone users in 2015.  That is an exciting market to write software for.  If you can afford to take a shot at it without mortgaging your house.  I would say go for it. 

I like a lot of things about mobile.  Many big companies that  you would normally never be able to compete with completely botch things in mobile.  And a lot of little guys are sprouting up and getting big chunks of their market niches.

If you are not in a financial position to hire a few developers, you can still pull it off .  Just do it yourself or partner with some other developer(s) and put in sweat equity.  A tiny dedicated team can come out with a good app that people like.  Even if you have never worked  on mobile before. 

The only place I would advise caution is if you are not already good at getting your own online distribution SEO, PPC, Display Advertising etc.  This only worked for us because we had a website in our niche with a mobile audience already in place.  If we relied on the App store we would have 5 installs and no sales.


To answer the questions

@ Sandy Wilkins -  Sorry,  I only wanted to discuss the business aspect of  developing for mobile.  I love to talk about business in general but hate to talk about my product by name in forums.  I hope you understand.

@ Andy Brice - 2 years back we did a quick app in iOS with the native toolkit.  It was pretty easy to pick up.  Hello World was done in 1 hour.  And we were able to  go from zero knowledge to releasing a very basic app with a few views in 3 months 1 dev.    I never built anything droid with the Native Toolkit.
When we started building the app QT mobile was still in alpha.  And there were many shortcomings vs native.  But I just figured it would take some time for us to build it anyway, and as we worked out our side, they would improve the library.  They were great with all of the updates and bug fixes.
There are still some things that you can do native on iOS that QT has not incorporated very well yet like building browsers into your app, or playing videos. 

I was terrified of the idea of managing 5 separate projects simultaneously,  win, mac, i-phone, droid, tablets.  It is hard enough for me to do one thing right. 

My idea was one project, one core of parent classes that inherit down into other platforms.  From an architectural standpoint it seemed like a better way to build something.

I have heard good things on this forum about Xamarin, but I never tried it. 
Overall our experience with QT was positive.
C. Stark Send private email
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
>Can one of the Mods please lock the thread

We don't have the ability to do that.
Andy Brice Send private email
Thursday, October 23, 2014
6          days
100      installs
4          sales

I think we all can agree that mobile isn't really worth anyone's time.
Jeremy Morassi Send private email
Thursday, October 23, 2014
C. Stark Send private email
Thursday, October 23, 2014
>in my case i have 28 apps
>nearly $120-150 per day

Is that supposed to make me want to do mobile apps? If so, it had the opposite effect!
Andy Brice Send private email
Thursday, October 23, 2014

You have a point.  The guys on that forum aren't really making a lot of money.
C. Stark Send private email
Thursday, October 23, 2014
@Andy Brice

Depends on the country. If it is a solo developer in a country like India, that is a massive amount of money. Much more than what 99.5% of software developers will ever make through a salary (unless they become managers).
Anindya Mozumdar Send private email
Thursday, October 30, 2014
I don't live in India!

Also that may be great money in India. But those Indian programmers could probably be making a lot more with SaaS or downloadable apps.
Andy Brice Send private email
Thursday, October 30, 2014

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
Powered by FogBugz