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Software developers, how viable is making your own app?
Old 11-30-2021, 05:09 AM   #1
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Software developers, how viable is making your own app?

I'm a web developer and I've daydreamed on the idea of building a web app in my spare time. It would be an idea borne from calling maybe 5 small businesses and finding a solvable pain point. That's the theory of it anyways.

The points that stop me are:

- I don't want to take it full time. I make low 6 figures and prefer that income stream's stability to taking a project full time, unless it booms to some crazy level which is unlikely given the niche nature

- While I could probably find time for dev and upkeep, maybe support too... marketing is a job in itself

- The internet is a high competition medium. Elon Musk says too many people focus on internet businesses. I sort of need to because of my skillset and living conditions (US citizen living in thailand).

I was just curious if other developers ever thought along the same lines and what conclusions or outcomes you may have reached?
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Old 11-30-2021, 06:30 AM   #2
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You need to determine what your objective(s) are. Are you looking to have it be a real source of income, or primarily a means to just keep your skills up and have something to do?

If you're looking to have it as a steady source of income that you'll need to make ends meet, you're likely going to have a difficult time at it. You're going to be competing for work with folks all around the world. On top of that, others are going to offer the same as you at lower prices...the developer sitting at home in China is going to offer his/her services for less, because they can.

If you've developed, or are looking to develop a new app that is revolutionizing in some way and sell it online in an app store, then definitely go for it. You'll never know unless you try.

Personally, I keep developing - I have apps in my head to do things I've always wanted to do. Not to sell to others, but for personal satisfaction and help me make money. Since being retired, I have developed a few and there is no greater satisfaction than seeing it work, and generate income for you, and not megacorp.
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Old 11-30-2021, 06:43 AM   #3
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Your 1st objective might be to build a demo project for your business. Learn about the different platforms and security. It keeps you moving forward in personal development.
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Old 11-30-2021, 07:21 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by njhowie View Post
You need to determine what your objective(s) are. Are you looking to have it be a real source of income, or primarily a means to just keep your skills up and have something to do?
I should have mentioned this in the OP:

* Favorable scenario 1 is the app makes 5 to 80k per year. Let's say $12,000/yr as a midline estimate. For every $35,000 in post tax savings it adds, I move my FIRE date 4 to 6 months forward.

* Favorable scenario 2 extends the first. If I deem the income stable enough to retire on, I may count somewhere around 30 to 50% of the income stream towards my target retirement income. This would dramatically pull my FIRE date forward. But it is a high bar, to assume that an app on the competitive internet can survive for decades.

I will probably focus more on scenario one, and maybe padd $500/month out of scenario 2 if the app is making over $3k/month
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Old 11-30-2021, 07:23 AM   #5
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Over the years my buddies and I referred to those as get rich slow projects. Good luck.
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Old 11-30-2021, 07:36 AM   #6
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It's highly dependent on how much spare time you have of course. I always have at least one of these on the go, as do all my peers. My suggestion would be to build a small team of like-minded individuals to handle any parts of the project you don't want to deal with. In my case, that's business development, requirements, UI design, and mobile development. All but one on my team are friends/family. Sure, that means I'm looking at 20% of the pie but it's more likely to get done at the end of the day.
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Old 11-30-2021, 09:14 AM   #7
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When I retired from being a software engineer for 37 years, I thought I would do something like this too, especially since I did not have many other hobbies. But, I have done absolutely nothing with development, and have several non-computer hobbies now. I have no interest whatsoever to code now. Funny how it turns out.
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Old 11-30-2021, 09:40 AM   #8
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With dollar volume being important to you, stick with business content and avoid consumer apps. Consumers don't have money to spend like businesses do. Find your moat, that is, something you can do that few others can. I'm not talking coding skill but rather content skill. If you have deep knowledge in a certain area, focus on that for an app. Make sure there is a way app users can contact you easily because the real value of your app may come from users who notice your ability and want you to customize an app for them.
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Old 11-30-2021, 10:59 AM   #9
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I developed a few digital mapping apps during my working days and no longer have the urge to do so.
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Old 11-30-2021, 11:29 AM   #10
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It would be an idea borne from calling maybe 5 small businesses and finding a solvable pain point. That's the theory of it anyways.
This is your biggest hurdle. You don't yet have an idea for an app and you are depending on your potential customers to give you an idea for a tool they'd be willing to pay for. Find the problem first and then figure out the solution.
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Old 11-30-2021, 11:42 AM   #11
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OP how old are you, and how close to ER? If you're still relatively young in your career, investing that time in your current role and mobility might prove a far better bet than any side gig, also far less risky.

Conversely, spending 20-40 hours a week on a side gig might hinder your performance on your main career (and don't think you can create anything profitable on less than 20 hours).

Remarkably few things are profitable on the internet for years, almost nothing for decades. For every killer app there are a million that failed, or looked promising then withered.

It's one thing to take on a side interest when you're in the last 5 years, but it doesn't sound like that's where you are.
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Old 11-30-2021, 12:55 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by camfused View Post
When I retired from being a software engineer for 37 years, I thought I would do something like this too, especially since I did not have many other hobbies. But, I have done absolutely nothing with development, and have several non-computer hobbies now. I have no interest whatsoever to code now. Funny how it turns out.
Same here. A few years ago I actually looked into creating an app. I took a Coursera course on getting started an setting up the environment was a nightmare, so I quit. A couple years later I tried again and got a "Hello World" app working on my laptop, didn't even try to get it on my phone, and I had no desire to continue.
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Old 11-30-2021, 01:02 PM   #13
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FWIW, I tried it out a couple of years ago and found Apple's tutorials to be great. Easy to follow and comprehensive.

I just installed Xcode and the Swift playground on my Macbook and I made a few very simple working apps I could sideload onto my phone (no jailbreaking needed) to fool around with.

Only did it to try to understand how it worked; I've never actually been a coder. So if I could do it, then certainly anyone in the coding world would certainly find it simple.
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Old 11-30-2021, 01:20 PM   #14
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OP how old are you, and how close to ER? If you're still relatively young in your career, investing that time in your current role and mobility might prove a far better bet than any side gig, also far less risky.

Conversely, spending 20-40 hours a week on a side gig might hinder your performance on your main career (and don't think you can create anything profitable on less than 20 hours).

Remarkably few things are profitable on the internet for years, almost nothing for decades. For every killer app there are a million that failed, or looked promising then withered.

It's one thing to take on a side interest when you're in the last 5 years, but it doesn't sound like that's where you are.
I'm 35 and have a FIRE date 11-12 years out. I don't see this side gig taking over 20 hours per week; the scope of it would hard cap around that amount of time.
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Old 11-30-2021, 01:36 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by cathy63 View Post
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It would be an idea borne from calling maybe 5 small businesses and finding a solvable pain point. That's the theory of it anyways.
This is your biggest hurdle. You don't yet have an idea for an app and you are depending on your potential customers to give you an idea for a tool they'd be willing to pay for. Find the problem first and then figure out the solution.
+1.

Seems to me, the most successful apps (or any product in general) are ones that no one even knew they wanted/needed. You have to find the solution to a problem they don't even know they have. But once shown, they can't live w/o it.

One very, very successful product came about this way. The Chrysler mini-van. IIRC, it was Lee Iacocca's idea. No market research, no focus groups, just intuition that this was something people didn't know they needed.

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Old 11-30-2021, 01:57 PM   #16
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... Seems to me, the most successful apps (or any product in general) are ones that no one even knew they wanted/needed. You have to find the solution to a problem they don't even know they have. But once shown, they can't live w/o it. ...
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I'm a web developer and I've daydreamed on the idea of building a web app in my spare time. It would be an idea borne from calling maybe 5 small businesses and finding a solvable pain point. ...
From eight or ten years of mentoring small businesses, one of the most popular failure techniques I have seen is a person with a product vision that they believe in intensely and invest months or years in development without ever getting customer feedback on the idea. I had a guy and his son who developed a cookie mix (very good cookies BTW), even formed an LLC, created packaging and a logo, etc. but who had never gone to a grocery store to see what the shelf competition looked like and had never talked to a buyer.

@ERD50 is right in a sense and consistent with the Jobs philosophy "Customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them." I call this "rifle shot marketing." If your rifle shot hits the bullseye you can be a big winner, but IMO most rifle shot strategies end in failure.

So I vote for the OP's strategy of starting by talking to potential customers, although 5 is a tiny number. 50 would be better. From that he may discover a big enough opportunity to justify a rifle shot effort, but more likely what he discovers won't be the next iPod. It will probably be some fairly prosaic tool that his millions of competitor developers either have not discovered or have not deemed worthwhile to pursue.
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Old 11-30-2021, 02:31 PM   #17
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Elon also says to focus in delivering a quality product that lots of people would find useful. He even goes so far as to say don't worry about cost. Although he is kind of contradicting himself with the message to his Tesla delivery staff this quarter.

Owning a business provides lots of opportunities but also comes with headaches.

I would find it hard to market the app unless it was something that sold itself.

Owning IP intellectual property that garners royalties is a great passive income stream. Just wish I knew how to capitalize on that idea.
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Old 11-30-2021, 02:40 PM   #18
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I started a business this past year. Its a tree service. I actually quite literally 'fell' into it. I was dealing with my own problem. I had a 90' cottonwood that was in the way of the new deck DW wanted to build. After dealing with that problem my neighbors started asking me if I could help with their same problems. I started dropping trees left and right for friends and family and neighbors that I knew and they paid me. But then I needed to invest into these problems with expenses. Then my business grew as I started trimming trees. And doing some brush work. Then a storm came and I had to deal with an emergency downed tree...actually 2. My point is...keep an open mind. Sometimes those problems are right in front of your nose. I also realize some people are not willing to spend a dime on tree care where others are totally willing to spend thousands. I don't work for the customers that don't care I work for the ones that want the problems solved.
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Old 12-01-2021, 12:04 AM   #19
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Like the OP I’ve been writing code for 24+ years. I’ve done multiple mobile apps… one using swift for IOS and another using react native.

Didn’t make a fortune cuz like others have pointed out… there are a million apps.
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Old 12-01-2021, 12:22 AM   #20
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I found a business problem and figured out a solution. Thought maybe I'd develop the app, but having written the entire billing system for a company by myself, I realized there is a LOT of work involved, and support, with pressure, and liability issues.

Still it kept nagging at me, so I decided to search for my great idea. I found a company with 300 employees that started just 6 years ago with the exact same idea and same solution.

If they need 300 employees to sell, support, develop, deliver, market, manage everything, it looks like it would be a full time job for me
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