Part 2.. How to become an App creating entrepreneur.. in 700 days or less.
Let’s start this post by stating the most important items that you should be working on. What should you do and in what order, to pursue your App building dreams:
- Always believe in yourself. If you do not dream about the future of your business, your passion and your wealth, you will lose inspiration.
- Constantly work on your Brain Map. I’m so glad one of my mentor’s told me about this. Take a whiteboard or large piece of paper, and get all of your ideas out of your head and in writing. Do it like a flowchart and connect the ideas that have to happen in a certain order. You always seem to take up too much time going back to something that you already thought of. We only have so many seconds in the day to think so you need a laser focus on what needs to be accomplished. The beauty of failing at certain aspects of your pursuit, is that your focus will become smaller as you learn which of your ideas are most important.
- Work on your business plan constantly. Take your ideas and put them into details that others will understand. Get out of your office, take a walk, or take your writing to a coffee shop where you mind is clear of other projects you are working on.
- Get involved with local events and learn from others.
- Read, read, read. Follow Twitter as its a fantastic resource of current technology and concepts pertaining to your field. Many people have inspiring quotes, helpful business practices and will also engage with you on a personal level if you have questions. Keep your focus narrow though.
- Make sure you take time off, especially if you have a family. If you are passionate about your business, you will spend every waking moment thinking about your ideas. You will burn out though. Stick to a 40-50 hour work week.
- This will sound trite, but always surround yourself with people who believe in you, and learn to not care about the disconcerting ideas of those people who are not visionaries.
- If you are starting out by yourself or with one other partner, find a co-working location, as being among other entrepreneurs will give you the spark to continue on, and they also have fantastic advice or hints to move your project to the next level.
- Do not rely on your family and large network of Facebook friends to launch your app into stardom. Most of them will not believe in your idea or be jealous of you working for yourself.
- Get customer reviews! Offer incentives if you have to, but those rating stars and those words on your review section of the App stores are vitally important.
It took me a few days, actually a week, before I wrote Part 2 of this blog post. I run two companies. My primary pursuit use to be my Technical Visionaries company, where I designed, engineered, wired, installed and programmed homes for whole house audio & video, home climate & lighting control, and theater. This has payed the bills so far, but that success, of creating Technical Visionaries, has given me the confidence and knowledge to continue with GenZPlay. Passion may give you the tools to visualize and pursue your ideas, but its commitment, desire and structure that will help you create a great company. All of your experience in life and all of your education will be your most valuable asset.
If my ego is a bit out of touch, it is because I spent most of my life believing that my constantly changing jobs was a hindrance to my future. I now realize I was wrong and my desire to move past the negativity that consumed my life for so long is the biggest drive I have. Yes, it is a hindrance if you don’t focus on anything in particular, but I always focused on technology and I truly believe that the 62 jobs is the core of my ability to put together various technologies and business concepts. Read more here: 62 Jobs in 30 Years
I started out with an idea and presented it to parents at a family Fair in Sebastopol, CA. I received incredible interest. This is one of the steps that needs to be completed when creating a concept; discuss with potential customers. Kevin Johnson, @bizwizkevin, wrote this post about creating business plans.
“Experience has taught me that when I get a new business idea, working on the business plan is one of the last things to do. The three crucial steps I follow before even thinking of writing a business plan will work for you, too. First, examine the competitive landscape to see what companies are already there. What do they do poorly? What can you do differently to create a competitive advantage? Second, discuss the idea with potential customers, asking basic questions that determine how much they would value your product or service, which is perhaps the most important preliminary step to writing the business plan. Third, develop a sketch or basic prototype of the product. If it’s a service, map out vital steps and describe customer experiences.”
I was fortunate to have done his 3 crucial steps naturally in the pursuit of my startup. My mentor, Sheung Li, was adamant about writing a business plan as my ideas progressed and my desire to get my company, and my app in the limelight. I read many Twitter posts and the book iPhone and iPad Apps Marketing, by Jeffrey Hughes. The book was very informative and gave me hope that my venture would take off as soon as I released my app. I have to admit that I did not take the time to write out my marketing plan, and that was probably the reason my App failed at its release. In the book, Jeffrey said there are 3 types of app developers. Those who created an app but don’t take the time to market it at all. Those who create an app and consistently take ‘some’ time to market it, and those who have significant funds to market it to all the avenues that are available to get your app noticed.
I figured I was in the middle group, but did not realize that just marketing a little bit was not going to make any significant impact on sales. An important lesson to be learned, is that you have to take the time to write a blog post every day, or at least 4 times per week. If I had made that commitment to focus more on my blogging and social marketing, I would probably have seen a significant impact in the acceleration of my app sales. If you are going to be in that middle group, you have to spend at least 10 hours per week focusing on your social media marketing.
I read many books to educate myself in starting a new technology business and to find insights through the great business minds of the 21st century. (See list at end of this post) The books might have made me a bit delusional as these great authors with their success stories made me think that I would be successful right away. I’m glad I wasn’t. My app failed because of the lack of content in the app, lack of marketing skills, and not being able to program on my own. One of the greatest strengths that I got from my previous careers is User Interface design. I have designed countless custom control systems for my residential clients. I have used countless programs in my 30+ years, and I’ve purchased or downloaded for free, at least 500 apps from iTunes. I know how to program a basic app, example being the app that I created for Olympian, Daron Rahlves, and his pro sports skiing race here in California, but when it comes to the advanced programming, using the accelerometer or GPS, I needed to hire more experienced individuals.
When I first came up with my ideas for GenZPlay, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I did want to create interactive outdoor games, using Bluetooth tracking and apps with fun story lines, where the children could learn about nature, nutrition and have fun outside of the house. I even researched becoming a playground equipment designer to pursue my goals. I did find a computer repair guy in town that helped me with my laptop and I enjoyed speaking with him about technology. Tony and I started meeting once a week to think about outdoor gaming, as he had an 8-year-old who loves technology. In hindsight, attending more tech and start-up conferences might have been helpful in building my network of programmers and mentors, but I’ve always been stubborn. I never believe what anybody says until I figure it out on my own. I didn’t want to be flooded with other people’s ideas or theories. However, I will always make sure that the people who have helped me along the way are given some sort of tribute, including Tony.
As I pursued my interests, and checked out many, many apps by other developers, I realized that there weren’t any apps that tracked the children’s movement and then showed them their progress in an animated fashion. One of my clients has been a VC and Angel investor in technology since the 70’s. I approached him about my ideas one afternoon, while working on the music systems in his new house. He asked me how much I needed and if I had a marketing plan. No, I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t know how much I would need. I told him that I had just sold my favorite mountain bike that morning and I was going to use that money toward creating my first app.
As it turned out, I didn’t have the money nor the ability to create this complex app. I learned about bootstrapping and seed money, but I didn’t want to take the time to continue the business plan, which investors would need. I felt that I could create the software technology on my own. The other hindrance was that my mentor also told me it usually costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to create hardware, so I started out by searching for app developers and found a company in Texas that seemed like the right fit. I gave them the specifics of what I was looking for, and they sent me some quick sketches to see if it would be a good fit. I loved the sketches, but the quote for $13,000 blew my mind. I didn’t have that kind of money, but I knew that if I didn’t have some sort of demonstration version, I couldn’t test the concepts with the kids and no investor was going to take me seriously with such a new concept.
You have to remember, in late 2010, there were practically no fitness apps, and there was hardly anything on the Internet pertaining to gammification, as it was just gaining momentum. I had the developers work me up a new bid for a demo version that would have a static background and the characters would run across one screen length, comparatively to a full motion 3D version. The new bid was $1800. I gave them a down payment and 5 weeks later I finally had something to show people. That first app allowed my friends and family to see that the idea in my head was starting to become a reality. I figured I was finally on my way and bought myself a new expensive office chair.
However, I got stuck trying to figure out my next steps, and I decided that going with Kickstarter would be my next approach to get the app fully funded. I’m not sure how I missed the idea, but many weeks after I had the demo version on my iPhone, it was obvious that I had to get some children using the app on video. Not only would it prove that the children enjoyed it, but it would get my thought processes flowing again. I tested the app with 4 boys, ages 3-9. There were no girls available at the daycare my son attended. I was awed and inspired by how much they all enjoyed it. I got some great video of them running as fast as they could, finishing their race and watching their cartoon character run on the screen. They loved the app and had great ideas for me, as well as asking when they could play it again. I had one father tell his child to take a rest, as he would run, watch the replay, and immediately run again. His heart was coming out of his chest. Great observation, as I needed to make sure I added rest time.
I taught myself how to use iMovie on the Mac. I added some music, and I now had a video of children using it. I had a better idea of how much it would cost to build, so I created my Kickstarter campaign page. I asked for $30,000. I got the approval from Kickstarter and the page went live. My parents were the first to donate, and then there was nothing. I posted the campaign on Facebook, my website and sent out personal emails to many friends and family. Nothing,… frustrating. I decided to cancel the campaign as it was causing me too much anxiety, and that after just 5 days, I could tell that my ideas needed more work, and the video needed better editing.
Continue with Part 3
List of books that inspired me:
iWoz by Steve Wozniak.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.