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How I Earned 2000$ with a Mobile App

claudiobernasconi profile image Claudio Bernasconi Originally published at claudiobernasconi.ch ・8 min read

I usually blog about .NET related topics on this blog. I got asked by a friend, why I did never blog about my mobile app, and how I earned 2000$+ with it. Well, I guess it’s true, I never talked about it, and I never wrote about it (except this article from 2015).

I have to admit that my mobile app is not a .NET app, but an Android app written in Java and published in the Google Play Store.

It’s finally time to reveal all the secrets that made me rich so you can become wealthy too – I’m kidding. This article gives insights into my experience programming, marketing, selling, and rewriting my first mobile app.

I also share what I’ve learned during the process and what I would do the same again, and what I would do differently in another mobile app project.

Did I really earn 2000$?

Let’s talk about money first. Yes, I made more than 2000$ in sales with a simple mobile app in the Google Play Store. Let’s dive deeper into what money went into my pocket.

Back in November 2010, I released my first (and only) mobile app to production. After the initial release, I made several updates and a complete rewrite in Spring 2017.

App Sales

Let’s take a look at the earnings. The following data shows the sales, which means that 30% of the amount went to Google, and 70% of the amount went into my pocket.

Total Sales

My currency is CHF, and all the data is provided in CHF. At the time of this writing, the USD is 1:1 to CHF, so it makes it easy for people to understand, and I do not need to convert those numbers. I use USD in this article.

Year Sales
2010* 303.85$
2011 1178.08$
2012 451.08$
2013 209.38$
2014 122.35$
2015 113.19$
2016 42.48$
2017 18.21$
2018 18.15$
2019 3.90$

*only November/December

As you can see, I made most of the profit in the early months after the release. Within the first 14 months (end of 2010 and the complete 2011) I made about 1480$ in sales.

In total, I made about 2179$ in sales, which is a net profit of 1525$.

It also means that between 2012 and today I only made about 700$. There are a few things I learned that I want to share with you:

  1. Make sure that your app is working and feature-rich when you first launch it. Sure, you might use agile development practices, but your app should be working and have a minimal feature set. My app got pushed in the market, and therefore, I got many downloads in the first few months. If the app did not solve a real problem, people would not pay for it, and the store would not have recommended my app to new people.

  2. Developing an app is not only writing its first version and never touch it again. It’s not a money machine like real estate or something else like that. I did not care about the app after it’s launch, which was a mistake. I would suggest planning to work on the app after it’s release as long as it’s in the store. I only did a few bugfixes, but I never made any more significant improvements, and I never added additional features. I guess that’s the reason why after only 1 year the sales dropped significantly.

  3. You can make some side money, but you won’t become rich from a single app. Sure, if you build the next Uber with an entire engineering team and funding, the sky is the limit.

But if you’re an independent developer without a team and you develop your app in the free time don’t expect to make that much money from it. I have to say that 1000$ per years seems pretty neat to me, and I did never expect to make more than a few dollars out of it.

The app I made

I made CarParking Schweiz, which is a directory for parking lots in Switzerland. If you open the app, you can see which parking lots are open and how much parking space is available.

CarParking Schweiz Screenshot 2
More screenshots available on Google Play.

Besides the listing, I also included a map view that shows all the parking lots, and if you press on a parking lot, you can start navigation to it using Google Maps.

The app has a one-time price tag of 1.95$. I don’t like subscriptions myself and I think most consumers do neither. Therefore, I decided to go with a paid app with an upfront cost. 2$ is a small amount in my country and I might even be able to raise the price, which I never did.

How I got the idea

I wanted to create something for myself that helps me finding a parking lot when I visit different areas in Switzerland. In the cities, there is often traffic jam, and I was sick of searching for parking opportunities. I wanted to jump into my car and drive to the closest available parking lot to my destination.

What I learned from it:

  • It is crucial to have a clear goal in mind. Your app should solve a problem for the user. It does not matter how hard that problem is to solve; it is essential that the app solves the problem.

  • The motivation to finish the project was to be able to solve a real-world problem for me and to learn how to develop mobile apps. At the time of the release of this app, mobile apps were pretty new, and I wanted to gain some experience developing a mobile app.

How I developed the app

Back in the days Eclipse and the Android Developer Tools (ADT) were the way to go. I installed that software on my computer, and I was ready to go.

Everything I needed to know to build an app was the programming skills that I already had and the online documentation of the Android platform, and of course, an Android device to test the app. Back in the days, I used an HTC Desire, which was my first smartphone.

The rewrite in 2017

After a few years, I got back to the project and thought about modernizing the app. There were new Google Maps APIs I had to use. The old API was retiring, and there were other platform changes like the physical buttons that disappeared from the devices.

I got back to the code base and let me tell you; it was a pain to develop with Eclipse and ADT. The tools were bad in 2010, but they did not improve in 7 years. At least not to something I wanted to use. I was used to Visual Studio, which developed a lot and offered many more features.

It was time to try the new Android Studio. I installed Android Studio and decided that the app was that old that I would write it from zero. I opened up the IDE and started working. Except for a few resources, I completely rewrote the app to fit the current platform requirements.

When I completed the project and released version 2 of my app, I hoped that it would gain traction again and make a few sales. As it turned out and as I described above, it did not go according to plans.

Things I would consider for a new project

Going into a new project I would consider the following key learnings:

  • Make sure to solve a real-world problem. If the app solves a problem, there is a potential market for it.

  • Your app has to solve the problem well. There are millions of apps in the store, and you want people to install your app. It has to stand out and do it better, faster, or in a unique way. Marking people would refer to this point as a unique selling proposition (USP).

  • You can make money as I explained in detail above. People are willing to spend money on apps that solve their problems. Sure, there might be free apps available, and if you do not want to make money, you can always create a free app.
    But if you want to sell your app, make sure to get the pricing right. In my case, I sell my app for 1.95$, which worked for me pretty well. I have to admit that I never tried a higher price. Make sure to test what works for you best and do not hesitate to change the price often when your app is new.

  • Completing a project like developing an app from start to finish helped me to understand the project lifecycle of the software in general. I had to do everything from planning to designing, developing, and marketing on my own, and I have learned a lot. This knowledge helped me a lot to understand business processes in the company I was working for in my day job.

Technology choices

If I created a new mobile app today, I would try Xamarin. Microsoft acquired Xamarin in 2016. Xamarin development was very pricy before Microsoft bought it. After the acquisition, most of the resources such as the Xamarin University, became free for developers.

Also, one of the downsides of my Java code for the Android platform is that the app only runs on Android smartphones and tablets. It was always my goal to bring the app to the iPhone, but without a Mac, I could not compile the app, and I would have had to rewrite the code in another programming language.

Xamarin and Xamarin Forms offer a compelling platform to develop a single code base, cross-compile to either Android or iOS, both resulting in a native app for the respective platforms.

Conclusion

This article explains how and why I created my first (and only) mobile app back in 2010. It also reveals how much money I made from it and that it is possible to make money with a simple app.

If I come across another problem I want to solve; I would consider writing a new app again. It was a fun experience, and the few extra dollars helped me to pay my bills during my time at the university.

Although it is still possible to write Android apps in Java, as an experienced .NET developer with a heart for C# programming, I would try Xamarin and Xamarin Forms for my next mobile app.

Let me know in the comments if you also wrote an application, which technologies you used, and what your results were.

This article was originally published on claudiobernasconi.ch on May 22nd, 2019.

Posted on May 10 '19 by:

claudiobernasconi profile

Claudio Bernasconi

@claudiobernasconi

I'm a passionate Software Engineer, Blogger, YouTuber, and Counter-Strike player

Discussion

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Thanks for the detailed article. I myself have a few solid ideas for apps, and I've written full SDD for it. I always come to a full stop because I don't want to maintain two code sources. I am venturing in the Flutter world and see how it goes. 😁

 

There is no right or wrong approach. As long as you develop your app and get it into the Store, everything is fine. You'll find out what fits you or your project best.

 

by the way I forgot to mention I don't like subscription based apps either, either give me a ad based with non intrusive ads, or sell me a free ad.

 

Thanks for this article.

It's funny, as I wanted to learn Xamarin Forms a couple of years ago, I developed pretty much the same app for Strasbourg. I never got the guts to put it out there though. I only used it for my personal benefit.

I want to get into react native. Your experience encourages me to develop a complete app and publish it. Whatever money I get out of it is a bonus but it's definitely going to be a fine experience.

 

Thanks for your kind words. The experience you gain from projects like this is much more significant than you might think in the beginning. You can build a mobile app company; you can do consulting work, you can change jobs into a mobile developer position, etc.

I also learned that we all try to focus on money, whereas we should focus on the customer, the user, or even the requirements of the app. If we do our job, there will be customers willing to give us money for the service we provide them. The money follows naturally if we do our job.

 

Thanks for sharing your experience as wonderful article.You explained things very nicely and it would be useful for all people.

 
 

Thank you for sharing the insights!
I started developing a couple of apps (tried expo.io, react-native and other frameworks) and always struggled to start monetarizing it.

 

Monetizing can be a complex topic. I would suggest focusing on the app itself, and if it satisfied customers/users, the monetization would follow. Maybe ads, maybe in-app purchases. There is no one size fits all here.