November 30, 2018iOS entrepreneurship
This year’s been a really crazy year for me. I dropped out of university, left my job and went full time on 8x Protocol.
Today I’m excited to announce I’ve also sold The Homework App (http://thehomeworkapp.com). Reflecting back over the past 6 years, I’ve been able to showcase the fact the app has:
- Received 2.5M+ downloads globally
- Been used by 100,000 students every month in over 90+ countries
- Featured on the front page of the App Store, Forbes, Yahoo and more.
- Received the Apple WWDC Scholarship + many more awards
As cheesy as it might sound, the path to this point has been really special. I initially started coding when I was 12 because it seemed like something that was kinda fun to do. My first app was an app to help me say goodbye to my Dad at the airport via my phone screen. Making it was a massive challenge, I’d relentlessly copy StackOverflow snippets hoping they’d work and read O’Reilly’s books on iOS development. The hardest bit was trying to figure out the programming concepts presented and applying them.
Here’s how the app looked at the end:
I started off charging $1 per download. The days someone would purchase my app I’d buy something from the school cafeteria.
Home of Tapping (a.k.a HOT)
I was massively into Runescape and MapleStory so I wanted to try making my first game, although without graphics. Since I couldn’t afford a graphic designer to hire one and was horrible at drawing myself I decided to create a game to see who can tap a button in various game modes.
As you can tell, my design skills were pretty immature. Although I’m still pretty happy with the hard light effect I managed to create on the buttons. By the time I finished HOT I wasn’t blindly looking at tutorials and could improvise more when it came to writing code. I probably spent a year on this project and a few more on the side. HOT got a few 10,000 downloads but probably less than $100 in ad revenue.
The Homework App
I think by this point I was a basic iOS developer but creating a CRUD application was still beyond my reach. One day after failing to remember to do my homework I thought I’d get an app to help me. Despite not having the best design abilities, I had an eye for design and knew there was an opportunity to create a better looking app than the existing ones out there. It also was the perfect application of a CRUD application so I didn’t need more convincing to start developing. I think to get the very first version of The Homework App out the door I spent ~ 6 months building, designing and testing the application. My user testing team was basically just my parents and sister who would give me feedback on how easy/hard it was to use the app. To date, they’re still the best UX testers.
For me, this was a big step up compared to my previous applications in terms of design and engineering. Luckily the hard work paid off and I got 100 downloads on the first day launch of the application — with no marketing whatsoever. This was a massive deal for me. My business intuition told me it was probably a good idea to keep working on this one rather than jumping to the next idea haha.
A few days later I got my first email from a user asking for a feature request, this was my introduction to product development and listening to user feedback. As the years went on, I had to learn to prioritise and learn who to listen to and who to ignore. All by trail and error unfortunately haha.
The app continued to advance over the next few years and it slowly morphed into something bigger than I had initially planned.
I think what blew me away was when I saw real people use the app and share it, without me even knowing they existed in the first place.
Seeing reviews from students all around the world thanking me for creating something that they truly enjoyed using and made a true difference in their life never got old.
I think one of the craziest things was waking up, searching for my app on Google and seeing this from Forbes:
For a teenager, in New Zealand, to see that was pretty breathtaking. Like I got featured on Forbes without even reaching out?
Making products is really, really hard. Late 2016, I felt the app had lost its design edge but also needed some critical updates such as cloud syncing. The best approach, although painful, was to recreate the app from scratch and reimagine the entire experience. I spent a few months creating wireframes and high res images for the refreshed look, and then another few months coding and testing the new version.
The update was meant to be spectacular:
- Cloud syncing (highly requested feature for years)
- Slick new design that was very iOS 10 centric
- Cool new dashboard that had cool animations
In addition, I had made changes to the revenue model by making it subscription based rather than a one-time payment. The end result of it all?
175 one-star reviews in 2017, a lot of angry users and lots of lost revenue.
People were angry, confused and mad about the new update. It didn’t conform to their expectations and their sense of familiarity had been completely shattered. It took about 6 months to a year for the dust to settle but there were a lot of learnings I took from this experience:
- Rock the boat, but don’t rock too many things that people don’t have any connection left with what you created originally
- Gather lots of view points and feedback. If it doesn’t match your expectations, listen even closer — don’t ignore it (I did exactly the opposite).
- The larger you build something, the more fragile it becomes. From revenue streams to product choices, make sure you understand what it is you’re changing and the impacts they could have. Are you ready for the worst case?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed growing up making iOS applications over the past few years, however it’s time to move on to bigger things. As cliche as it sounds, crypto is the one thing I’m probably going to be dedicating the next decade of my life to.
What makes crypto exciting is the intersection of politics, economics and technology.
I’m still extremely clueless about how societies work, economies are made, wars are started and what money really is. Learning about all of these topics is going to provide my inner curiosity the kind of hunger it desires. Until then, it’s back to square one with 8x and starting fresh on a brand new venture.