Robert Lemoine’s story is a very inspiring one, of how an independent app developer can improve on an existing idea and have massive success with it. His most successful app, SMS Rage Faces has been downloaded more than 2 million times and has ranked #1 in the App Store for the Entertainment category. Those are super impressive accomplishments, and ones that I would love to eventually achieve myself one day!
Let’s jump right into the interview!
Are you an individual developer or are you the head of a company with in-house developers? If individual, do you code the apps yourself or outsource this?
I’m currently developing apps with just one other guy, a friend I’ve been going to school with since we were kids. We also went to university at the same time where we graduated with our Computer Science degrees. We write all the code ourselves and do all the design/art. However I wrote SMS Rage Faces by myself while my partner was finishing up another app.
What made you decide to get into mobile app development?
Mobile development is still growing every day and being able to develop apps that I want is a lot more fun than doing things for other people. We both already knew how to code so it was just coming up with ideas and we decided to give it a shot. Also who wouldn’t want to work for themselves 🙂
How many apps have you made? If you don’t mind sharing, how many times have they been downloaded total (roughly)?
We’ve made 12 apps so far (2 of them being lite/free versions of a paid one) so you could say that we’ve only made 10 different apps. Our biggest app by far is SMS Rage Faces. Some of our other apps have been downloaded anywhere between 5000-15000 times each. Those all being free apps. We haven’t had much success with paid apps however some have downloads just under 4000.
What categories of apps do you mostly create apps for? Is there a reason you prefer these categories?
Most of our apps are for the Entertainment category, mostly because that’s a big part of what people are downloading. You can also create a great entertainment app in under a month compared to a game that will take a lot longer. We tried writing a game app, Hungry Sloth. We just didn’t have the money to spend on marketing which makes succeeding in the game category difficult especially when you’re competing against big companies such a Chillingo, Rovio, etc. who are also selling their games for $0.99.
Are most of your apps free or paid apps? If you don’t mind sharing, do free apps or paid apps make you more money?
We have an even split of free vs paid apps and with the exception of our free SMS Rage Faces the paid apps make us more money.
What platforms to you develop apps for? If you don’t mind sharing, which platforms make you the most money?
We’ve only developed for iOS so far, however even though I’ve read many articles saying that Android doesn’t even come close to comparing with revenue made from Apple we started porting SMS Rage Faces to Android to see how that market works. Since it’s mostly ad based revenue we believe it still has a shot of making some decent income. Only time will tell.
What happens if you have an idea for an app but someone already “beat you to it”? Would you still consider pursuing this idea?
It depends on a few things. First how big is the market for that specific product? Is the app that’s already out a good product? With over 500,000 apps on the App Store almost every idea has already been made but a big percentage of those are not quality apps. Is the current app out paid or free? Would making a free one with ads pay off? Are there enough users to challenge another app? Can you create a better app? So you have to weigh your options, however the answer is almost always yes.
About SMS Rage Faces
How did you come up with the idea for SMS Rage Faces? Were you certain that this idea was a “winner” from the beginning?
Rage Faces have been around for a few years now and when iOS 5 came out which included iMessage it made sending images to other iPhones a lot easier, no more dealing with MMS and their costs! At the time when I started there was only 1 other rage faces app but it didn’t have a lot of images so I thought I would make a better app! I had no idea this app would get as big as it is now, I just wanted to make an app I could use and enjoy with my friends 🙂
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?
It took me 1 month from start to finish of version 1.0. Usually working 5-6 days a week, around 10 hour days…I was still very new to iPhone development at that point so thing took a bit longer than they would if I started the same project now. However since release 1.0 I’ve spent a lot more times with every new update. I don’t really keep track of every hour I code but A LOT of effort and time has been put into it and I believe it shows!
As for how much it cost to build it, I can’t really answer that since I wrote all the code myself, it just cost me time.
What were some of the challenges in developing this app?
There weren’t too many challenges with this app it just took patience. The biggest challenge on the first release was to get all the 700+ faces and edit each one for the project. Still not a very hard task, just time consuming.
How has this app been doing sales wise? If you don’t mind sharing, (around) how many downloads has SMS Rage Faces app gotten? Is it your most successful app?
SMS Rage Faces is by far our most successful app. We surpassed 2,000,000 downloads a couple weeks ago. We got a lot of downloads when our app reached #11 in the Top Free list in the US store. We were also ranked #1-2 for 2 weeks in the Entertainment category for Free US apps, which is a great personal achievement.
How did you market this application?
To be honest I didn’t market this app at all. Rage Faces were big enough to begin with that people were searching for them on their own and there really wasn’t a need to market the app. And since it’s a social app people will send a rage face to their friend, their friend will ask, “Where do you get that” and we have a new user! Also for a free app I would probably not waste money on marketing.
How are you monetizing this app?
SMS Rage Faces has a small ad banner at the bottom of the screen. That’s how were generating most of our revenue and we give the user the option to remove the ads for a price.
For people saying that monetizing your app with just ad revenue isn’t going to work that isn’t necessarily the case. If your app is something users will use once daily/weekly for 1 minute then you probably won’t be seeing a big amount of revenue. However if your app has 100K+ users using it daily for 10+ minutes at a time you can definitely make some good money correctly utilizing ad networks!
What is your typical day like?
First thing I do before anything else when waking up is checking my sales stats for the previous day 🙂 Then I make myself some breakfast and start answering the support emails and reading user reviews for our apps..sometimes you can find some very useful information in those. Then for the rest of the day unless I have personal errands to run, I sit down and write code for whatever needs to be done until I’m tired! We try to work on projects that we’re passionate about so working seems less like work. It’s always nice to be able to take a day off whenever you want 😉
Where do you see the mobile app industry going?
I don’t think the mobile app industry has even gotten close to how big it will be. Everything is going mobile now and the user base is still increasing.
If you were able to go back in time, what would you do differently in regards to app development?
I would have started developing iPhone apps a few years earlier! As the competition was a lot smaller. And I would of course have created Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope before anyone else 😀
What is your advice for people interested in making mobile apps?
Unless you’re serious and enjoy spending lots of time developing apps, don’t quit your day job just yet! Doing small fart type apps isn’t going to make you much money (if it makes you any at all). You have to have a good concept and be willing to spend many hours developing a quality product otherwise with the abundance of apps out there yours will just get lost.
That being said if you’re interested, start coding! Write your own little app to get started. Even if it’s just a flashlight app. An Apple developer license is only $100 which isn’t expensive and it’s very rewarding seeing your first app in the App Store! After that keep building on your apps or create new ones. It takes time but it’s very possible to make a living writing mobile apps.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue writing apps as long as I’m able to pay the bills with the income they make or until I no longer enjoy doing it!
Things to Take Away:
The first take away for me definitely is a ton of inspiration. After publishing my not-so-impressive first income report last week, seeing Robert’s success as an independent developer (especially in such a crowded category) is really encouraging!
One thing that stood out to me in the interview is his advice to people wanting to get into app development. App development is not a get rich quick scheme – like he said in his answer: you have to have a good concept and a quality product if you want to succeed. And that’s where I think many new developers fail – they want to quickly make another spin-off of iFart, sit back, and wait for their checks from Apple. Well, unfortunately for them, it doesn’t work like that.
The other thing I want to point out is how he said he did no marketing for SMS Rage Faces. Why is this? While some of you may be inclined to think that he just got lucky and “won the App Store lottery,” it’s definitely not that simple. People are on the App Store because they want to download apps. If you give them what they want (in this case a better app with more Rage Faces), sometimes you don’t even need to do any marketing because people naturally will find it and share it with their friends. Like Robert mentioned – people would send these cool Rage Faces to their friends in a text message and their friends would want to know how they could do the same. In a way, the app literally does it’s own marketing!
I hope you got a lot out of this interview and I want to thank Robert again for taking the time to answer these questions!