Today I’m lucky enough to be able to share with you an interview I did with Matthew Campbell a while ago about his experiences creating and making money with mobile apps. Matt not only is making some nice passive income from his main app Tasting Notes but he also provides iPhone Training and coding tutorials over at his site Mobile App Mastery. As if that wasn’t enough, he also authored the recently-released book, Objective-C Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach.
Let’s get right into it!
What sort of schooling and career path did you have before you created your iPhone app?
I graduated from Penn State with a Bachelors degree in Psychology (Quantitative Option). After graduating, I worked as a mental health counselor until I moved into a more research oriented position at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, NJ.
While I was at ETS I learned programming in SAS and .NET and eventually went on to earn a Master’s degree in Information Management Systems from University of Phoenix.
In 2008, I got excited about iPhone apps and went to learn iOS programming from the Apple engineers during the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). That June I published my first iPhone app Wine Pad. Later that year, I published Tasting Notes which would become my flagship iOS app.
What other business ventures did you have before you created your iPhone app?
Nothing serious, does trying to become a professional poker player count?
What made you decide to get into mobile app development?
It seemed like an exciting new opportunity that I knew I could take advantage of because I already had software development skills. When the App Store launched, it meant that you could create and sell a product just by using programming skills and that’s what I ended up doing.
Did you code your apps yourself or outsource this?
I coded the Tasting Notes iPhone app myself, but I did outsource the iPad version of Tasting Notes last year.
About Tasting Notes
How did you come up with the idea for Tasting Notes? Were you certain that this idea was a “winner” from the beginning?
I was looking for an idea that I could execute on given my data analyst background (databases) that involved something I was interested in (wine). If you look at the wine section of a book store, you’ll see these wine tasting notebooks for sale – they really just a notebook with special sections set aside for various wine tasting items.
As for the certainty – certainty doesn’t exist in app sales and so I was not at all certain that Tasting Notes would be well received or even used at all. My thinking was that the idea was good enough and the wine audience was passionate enough for Tasting Notes to have a real shot, at least as a niche offering.
How long did it take to create this app from start to finish and If you don’t mind sharing, how much did it cost you (roughly) to build this app?
Tasting Notes took about two and a half months to build and I spent about 4 to 6 hours a day on that project. This was for the initial release and of course periodic updates can take as long as a week or more to complete.
The cost of building Tasting Notes was around $800 not including my own time. During the development of Tasting Notes I was being supported financially by my other apps in the App Store. The cost involved was a result of getting a custom icon designed and there were some other web hosting costs in that $800 figure.
What were some of the challenges in developing this app?
There were technical challenges involved because when I developed Tasting Notes, the data persistence solution that Apple usually uses (Core Data) was not available. So, I had to develop a large portion of Tasting Notes using a low level C based database called SQLite directly. Also, the app depends on the structure of the SQLite database tables which makes it a bit complex.
The other challenges were created by the rapidly changing nature of the iOS platform. Every month there seems to be better technology available and it’s hard to stay focused and get product shipped when things are moving so fast.
How has this app been doing sales wise? If you don’t mind sharing, (around) how many downloads has Tasting Notes gotten? Is it your most successful app?
During its first few months on the App Store, Tasting Notes sold well enough to be in the top 100 list for the Lifestyle category. The price point started out higher at $4.99 and these two factors made Tasting Notes a good earner at around $4,000 per month for a while.
After the first year, Tasting Notes slipped off the Top 100 list and sales progressively went down to $1,000 per month to around $300 per month as of today.
I consider Tasting Notes to be my most successful app technically, but my original Wine Pad app did better when I launched because it was one of the first on the App Store.
Tasting Notes is currently for sale for $2.99 on the app store. Why did you choose this price? Have you experimented with other prices?
I experimented with other pricing and this seemed to be the best price point. $2.50 is also the average price for an application so that can be a good starting point. The universal version of Tasting Notes (iPhone and iPad) is actually $4.99.
How did you market this application?
The app has a website and I’ve tried a few things, but none of the marketing techniques that I’ve used in my other business seem to matter at all when it comes to Tasting Notes. Keep in mind that iOS apps cost on average $2.50 so its hard to justify paying for clicks that cost $1-$2 to drive prospects to the App Store on your behalf.
Other than generally getting the word out through press releases and any social media or mailing lists you have there isn’t much that you (or at least I) can do that would be better than the traffic you naturally get by being on the app store.
Where do you see the mobile app industry going?
It’s likely that you will see tighter integration for all our devices : phones, cars, appliances, tv.
If you were able to go back in time, what would you do differently in regards to app development?
I wouldn’t have removed my other apps from the App Store. That was a tactical move I made because I didn’t want to maintain 10+ apps given the rapid technology changes inherent but this cost me a relatively stable source of income.
What is your advice for people interested in making mobile apps?
Be careful how much you invest in this, mobile apps are not a get rich quick scheme. If you’re technical you can probably create a bit of extra cash-flow without any risk at all.
But, if you spend a lot of money to hire a consultant (at least $10,000-$70,000) then you have to be prepared financially for what happens if your app doesn’t hit it big.
Can you tell me a little bit about what Mobile App Mastery is?
Mobile App Mastery is my mobile app business. We have an iOS developer training program called iOS Code Camp that takes place over 6 weeks where I personally take you through the steps required to learn how to become an iOS developer.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to completely re-engineer Tasting Notes and add a Mac and possible web version of the app. The Mac App Store is another huge opportunity that far less people are taking advantage of.
Next, I want to build out Mobile App Mastery Institute into a comprehensive training system for this emerging mobile world. We already have a growing social network at Mobile App Mastery with developers who are doing great work. I would like to take all this to the next step.
Things to Take Away:
Although personally I’m a big fan of outsourcing the development of mobile apps, I think that for a lot of people looking to get into app development, learning how to code is more up their alley. He mentions one of the main advantages to coding the apps yourself is that you can essentially pursue your app ideas with limited to no risk on your part which is really nice for people just getting started.
Another thing that stood out for me is his quote that “certainty doesn’t exist in app sales.” I definitely agree here – you could have the best idea in the world, but sometimes consumers just aren’t as excited as you are about the idea and it flops. That’s why, to a certain extent, you have to treat app development almost as a numbers game. The more (quality) apps you produce, the higher your chances of success are!
Once again I want to thank Matt for doing this interview! If you want to learn more about coding iPhone apps I highly suggest you check out what he has to offer on iPhone Training.