I made an app and you can too.

For the past few weeks, I have been working on something completely new and unknown to me. The purpose of my blog is to record such adventures so that hopefully someone else can learn from my mistakes. Or, if nothing else, so that I can look back at them and not make those same mistakes again.

So this, my latest endeavor, was to develop an app. I have always wanted to develop an app. Like so many others, I have had these brilliant app ideas that later get made by someone else. Every time this happens, it makes me more and more determined to not let that happen again. So I started doing some research as to how someone like me, with zero tech background or knowledge, could make an app.

Of course, the first thing I did was to Google it. Let me begin by saying that I can never find what I am looking for on the internet. And this was no exception. All over the web there are people and courses trying to teach you how to code so that you can make your own app. But I have a job, a son, a wife, a house, a dog, (if you’ve been reading my blog, then you already know) a garden, you get the point. I have no time. No time to learn how to code, something that looks so foreign and overwhelming to me that it was simply too much to even comprehend. So I gave up on the idea of making it myself.

But I did not give up on the app. Next, I searched for a Podcast that describes how to make an app (at my job, I listen to Podcasts or music pretty much all day, so this was an obvious next stone to turn for me). I ended up finding a really great Podcast called Smart Passive Income, by a guy named Pat Flynn. Now, a lot of the stuff Pat talks about in his Podcast is pretty well over my head, but I was able to take a few very valuable pieces of information away from his Podcast (I believe it is Episode 014). And before I go any further, if you are interested in making your own app, I highly recommend that you go listen to that episode. The main bit of information that Pat gave me was that there is a terrific website out there called Elance.com that works like a forum to connect people who want to hire programmers with programmers. In other words, I was able to hire someone else to build my app by posting my job on Elance.com. Some of the other helpful tips from Pat Flynn were that you really need to have a good, physical idea of how you want the app to look. Have a sketch or template that details how you want it to look. It is not the job of the programmer to design it. That is either your job or you can also hire a designer. Another helpful tip from Pat was to keep the first app simple and to keep it fun.

So that’s exactly what I did. My app is a single screen with a button that triggers a sound and a pop-up. The inspiration behind the app came from my time living in South Korea. In some of the nicer restaurants, there would be these buttons called “Etiquette Buttons” in the restroom stalls that looked like door bell buttons. The concept was simple, if you were in the stall and wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having a loud bowel movement while other people were in the restroom with you, you would press the button and it would trigger the sound of a toilet flushing in order to drown out your nasty bodily sounds. So I took that idea and turned it into an app. The pop-up that I mentioned is a poop-joke that pops up after you press the button that triggers the sound of the toilet. Simple and fun.

The first thing I had to do was create a free account on Elance. That was easy. Then I created a new job to be posted with a description of the app I wanted to be made. Again, easy. In the job, you can choose to either pay by the hour or a flat rate for the whole job. I chose a flat rate because it was such a simple job I figured it would only take a few hours to make (an assumption that was very wrong, but I will circle back around to that in a bit). Because this is such a simple app, I said that I wanted to pay the least amount possible for its production, which is $500 or less. As simple as that, I posted the job. Trust me when I say that if I can do that, then you can, too.

I was amazed by the response. Within 24 hours I had 17 proposals from programmers. Their prices ranged from $30 to the full $500. Of the 17 responses, two were from people within the United States. The rest were from people/ firms in India, Russia, Ukraine, Italy, you name it. With each proposal, you can view their profiles, which include their portfolios and reviews from previous Elance work they have done. It was very helpful in deciding who to hire. I must say, the $30 proposal was the most intriguing. It was from a firm in India, and they sent a solid working prototype with their proposal. I was impressed and it gave me confidence that the app would be quick and easy to get done since they had put that together within hours of my job being posted. But in the end, I decided not to go with the lowest bidder. After reading the reviews, the only complaint about the firm in India was the difficulty to communicate with them due to the language barrier. So I decided to go with an American whose proposed rate was $100. I hired him by assigning the job to him and transferring the money into an escrow account so that he knows I am good for the money and he doesn’t get paid until the job is complete and satisfactory. It’s a good system.

Using Pat Flynn’s advice, I had drawn a simple layout of how I wanted the app to look. I wanted a backdrop of tile that looks like the tile in a bathroom, and in the center I wanted a cartoon toilet. Beneath the toilet there should be a button, THE button that triggers the toilet flushing noise. I scanned and e-mailed my drawing to the programmer. He said it would be easy and that all he needed from me was an arsenal of poop jokes and a sound bit of a flushing toilet. That was the fun part. I spent the better part of an afternoon carousing the internet for poop jokes and memes. My face was soar from laughing. I was excited.

The very next day, the programmer sent me a prototype. It was not great. The toilet, even though I had ok’d the image, did not look professional. It looked cheap. And the toilet noise didn’t work. And there was no button. But my spirits were still high because I had only hired his the day before and I figured this was pretty good progress. Well, for the next week and a half, there was no progress. In fact, he ignored me completely for five days. I messaged him everyday. Finally, after a week, I told him I was going to start looking for someone else. Go figure, he got right back to me. But with no progress to show. I was a little miffed, but he had put some work into this thing and I thought he deserved a shot at finishing it. Which he did.

In the mean time, I had decided to make it a free app and to start it out in the Android store only. If it does well, then I will add it to the iOS store as well, but the Android store is cheaper. In order to setup Developer account with Google Play in order to publish apps for Android, you pay a $25 one time fee. The Apple store charges $100 per year and takes 10% of the app’s profits. On top of all that, my wife and I both have Samsung phones and we decided we definitely wanted the app on our phones, so we chose Android.

By making the app free, hopefully that will equate to more downloads and more use. I created an account with Admob, Google’s app advertiser. So I have banner ads running across my app and every time someone sees/ clicks on an ad I get paid a very small amount. If I am understanding it correctly, I will make about $6 for every 1,000 clicks. I had to find my Admob ID in order to have the programmer insert it into the app. That was not easy. I actually had to give the programmer  my login info so he could find it because I could not. I was very uncomfortable with that, but it worked out. I also created a Developer’s account with Google Play so I could publish the app once it was complete.

Two weeks to the day after I hired the programmer, he sent me the finished product. It looked great but there was still no button. I pointed that out and he got me the real final product the next day.

Submitting the app wasn’t exactly a cake walk. The programmer had done his part and now it was up to me to figure out all this technology stuff. The real tricky part, for me, was sizing all the images to the exact size the app store requires. There is probably an easier way to do it. but I was forced to figure it out myself and it took me longer than I thought. All in all, it took me about an hour to get it published. Once it was published, it was available in the app store withing a couple hours.

I published the app on Sunday (07/26/2015). I am so proud of this thing it’s ridiculous. It cost me $125 total and probably somewhere around 5 hours of “work”. In my opinion, it was totally worth it. I learned so much and really enjoyed figuring all this stuff out. I was also glad I stuck with the programmer, he is a young guy with another job and he was working when he could. He was patient with me being a first-timer and walked me through some steps that would be no-brainers for any one with any tech savvy whatsoever. But most importantly, I’m happy with the product.

So the lessons I have learned are as follows: Everything takes longer than you expect. Nothing is as simple as you think. Be careful who you hire (check reviews and portfolios). These are all pretty obvious lessons, and I honestly feel pretty stupid even typing them. But they were lessons hard earned.

By the way, the name of the app is Toot Mute. Check it out in your Android app store.

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