2013 In the Studio Lab

December 31, 2013 · Posted in personal, projects, travel, work · Comment 

This year saw a lot of change for us.

Work

Starting in April, I took on a full time gig over at Hewlett Packard, working on their HP Flow CM solution. We released a few iOS and Android apps for clients (more info on this later) and have started on a few more. I’ve invested in some small things with hopefully large ROI. And finally, I finished my first semester teaching over at Boise State University teaching mobile application development on the Android platform. Next semester will be taught using iOS, which I’m looking forward to.

Ana has continued her Water Engineering job with much success, working on plants all over Boise and the surrounding cities and Twin Falls.

As an engineering family, we got a lot done, a lot of projects completed and were rewarded for all that effort by being able to crush the final student loan debt I’ve been putting off paying, and investing in new opportunities.

Travel

This year we finished up a month-long trip to Florida and Colombia. We also made it to New Jersey, New York City, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We’ve put hundreds of miles of hiking and walking under our belt, but not as many rock climbing routes as we would have liked. However, we put up a bouldering cave in our garage to help.

Projects

The bouldering cave that we built in our garage turned out better than we could have imagined. We still need to buy some more holds to set up different routes, but it’s been a blast setting up routes for ourselves and friends’ kids that visit.

We also bought a house that was only two years old, but we’ve still a lot of time into making it home.

I’ve done a lot of work on my bike with the help of my friend Nick who runs a motorcycle parts company, near Boise. I helped him put the site together and he’s helped keep my bike maintained.

2014

Overall, teaching has been the best opportunity. While it paid a little bit in money, it paid a ton in satisfaction of knowing I’ve made a difference in the lives of the 28 students that I had for Fall Semester of 2013; some more so than others of course. I look forward to improving the teaching of mobile apps to students and can’t wait to see their apps popping up on the app store.

The rock climbing gym should allow us to stay better trained to continue climbing the 5.10b’s that we’re able to climb at places like Smith Rock and City of Rocks.

Now that Matyas is a bit older, we can hopefully travel more, like we use to before he was born, although traveling with him to South America when he was 1 month wasn’t a bad trip.

Going Independent – Part 2

January 31, 2013 · Posted in advice, indie, work · 2 Comments 

In the first part of Going Independent, I talked about my day job, and my first year on my own. To recap, I made next to nothing but lived to fight another year. Which brings me to the second year of being independent. This is not a story about getting rich quick, or how I made several million dollars selling software (because I didn’t). It’s a more realistic story of struggle, failure and clawing and fighting my way to every dollar I earned, how I did that and the hope I see for the future.

Starting Over

I ended up starting a new LLC based on this website’s name, something I’ve been running for years. I registered another web domain name, setup another website installation, bought a theme for the website and filled it with content and portfolio items. Within a few months, we ranked #1, #2, and #3 (#3 was this site) when you searched “Mobile Development Boise.” The calls and emails started coming in. Some people just wanted to know how much it was to develop a mobile app, others were testing the waters, and still others had already committed, one way or another to having an app built and were just looking for the right people to do it.

That was as much marketing and advertising as we did. We didn’t cold call, we didn’t mass email. We simply had a product and service that people were interested in, and wanted to find out more. Surprisingly, more people have called than have used email to contact us. The calls are about 60%, direct email 15% and using the contact form was about 25% of our incoming inquiries. All forms of communication have resulted in very good clients so I can’t really say which one was better for us.

We picked up some web development jobs to pay the bills while we worked on the good ideas for client mobile apps. We didn’t take on every project that came our way. Some thought our prices were too high. Some were expecting the development to be only a few hundred dollars. And some just had bad ideas that either couldn’t be executed, or we didn’t want to execute them. You don’t want clients that have bad ideas or won’t pay you what you’re worth. When clients understand the cost, you know they’re running a good business themselves because they know what things are worth. When clients have bad ideas, they usually don’t have a proven business model to support it, or they simply aren’t familiar with the technology.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve done our share of low-budget apps, just because we liked the people who came to us. We have a soft spot for startups and people just trying to live their dream. Most of the time, these people already want a working business model and just need a solution to their mobile needs. We try to be fair, we’re always honest, and hopefully that builds better relationships.

Anyway, we picked the right projects and the money started slowly trickling in. We got some large projects where we threw every resource we had at them. We hired a bunch of great people who did great work, and we accomplished a lot of things. We paid them fairly and we paid them on time. If I could help it, I paid them up front. I trusted all of them, I had worked with all of them before and everything went well. Luckily. I’m a firm believer in, “It’s who you know.” And if you know great people, they’ll enable you to do great things.

Don’t get jealous of people’s abilities and talents; get inspired.

Success Depends on Reach

How many people or businesses do you know that can send you $30,000+ projects? If you were to get said projects, how many people do you know that can help you execute on those? You need to get to a point where you’re doing less of the development, and more of the management. Everyone knows management does nothing and gets paid the most; so why wouldn’t you want to be in that position? But the worst managers are the ones who couldn’t do your job if the company depended on it. I’m not sure why non-technical people are hired to manage programmers, but the best ones either know how to do the jobs of the people they supervise, or they admit they don’t and instead listen well and take their advice to make the best decisions. Be one or both of those things, but most importantly, have people working for you that can give you good advice.

I built up that kind of network over the years by staying humble, listening and always remembering that I don’t need to be the smartest, best person to be successful.

How Successful Was It?

I technically started up the new LLC in March so it hasn’t exactly been a year. Remember that ten thousand dollars of income I made the first year? Well that LLC made a lot more than that, but that’s pretty much all I saw. This year, the company is projected to be almost a magnitude greater than that, for a period 12 months. Ok, so I’m playing with numbers and dates a bit for my benefit, but you get the point right? I’m making a decent, living wage after a year below the poverty line (although my wife made a decent salary, so technically as a family we weren’t).

I could have gotten a “real” job and made 2 or 3 times what I did. Sometimes, I’ll admit, when the bank accounts were getting low and I didn’t have any outstanding invoices due to me, I wish I had. But because we built a solid foundation with the website and our portfolio, the next call or email would come in, and off we’d be rolling again. A bit of a roller coaster, ulcer causing existence sometimes, but having retained earnings, diligent savings and always looking ahead, ensured we were always busy.

Looking at 2013, while we have a ton of things and ideas in the pipeline, to potentially grow the revenue even more, I still think: “Would it be better to just give it all up, get a ‘real’ job and not have to think or work so hard?” I think anyone trying to run their own company who thinks they’ll become rich overnight should take a long hard look in the mirror, and then laugh at themselves. While overnight successes happen, sort of, it mostly takes a lot of hard work, good decisions and a lot of talent to become rich. Sometimes it just takes a while to get all those things right.

Doing this kind of thing is not for everyone and there’s no shame in that. But regrets are a lot harder to justify than failures.

Post in the comments below about your successes, failures or questions and make sure you subscribe below.

Care to follow my progress?

Going Independent – Part 1

January 29, 2013 · Posted in advice, indie, work · 2 Comments 

Hindsight is 20/20 so I thought it time to reflect on going independent two years ago. I consider myself fairly successful and thought I’d share in case it helped someone else live their wish. Here is that story, what I did to prepare, the after math of that decision and the years that followed.

My First and Only “Real” Job

In the spring of 2007, I graduated with my shiny new degree in Computer Science from Virginia Tech. Even then, I was very picky about who I wanted to work for. I had sold some of my own software in college and loved that experience. When going to job fairs, I would only consider companies that appreciated good User Experience (UX), and didn’t program in anything .NET. Why? Mostly, because I knew I wanted to be involved with anything UX, and I was an Apple developer since 2003, and loved working in that environment.

Eventually, I found a company right in Blacksburg that did online product demos in Flash. I had dabbled in Flash a bit but knew nothing about it. On top of that, this company had clients like Hasbro, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Graco, Canon, Reebok, and the list goes on. As a freshly minted Computer Scientist, I was a bit intimidated.

What the job actually taught me was, those companies are run by people, and you can talk to and reason with people. They have wants and needs and are not some super force of power. The people are generally approachable, but very professional. You can’t play games, you can’t be immature and no one likes drama. You are a vendor who provides a service and you can be switched out at any given moment.

I ended up becoming very good at Flash and talking to clients. I created a ton of new technologies for the company that had never been created for that platform (although most likely existed in other places). But we got switched out.

What I learned from that is, nothing is a sure thing and things can change overnight.

 

Learn to Swim – Or How to Start Your Indie Journey Before You Jump Ship

We were down to our last client and before the ship sank into the sea of failed companies, I jumped on a little life raft and paddled my way to fame and glory. That life raft was iOS development, which I started about two years before I left. I asked my boss at the time, when iOS 2.0 came out, if he wanted to offer iOS apps to our clients. He kind of laughed and said he didn’t think anyone would buy apps for a phone. We could have been one of the first mobile development capable companies. Instead, I started my own, which became one of the first.

What I learned was, when you see a clear and present opportunity, take it.

So I worked nights and weekends on our first mobile applications: BarNinja, Unprinted, a game on wake boarding, an app that helps municipalities clean up streets of debris and potholes, an Inbox Zero email helper app, a comic book app and a few other smaller projects. It was hard. My girlfriend at the time complained about how much I was working and we got into some fights about it.

What I learned was, how to write iOS apps of various types, including games, and apps that use native hardware features.

I didn’t just write one app and call myself a mobile developer, I took on challenges that I didn’t know how to do and did them. I didn’t make much money. I made enough to buy a new 13″ MacBook Pro and pay my utility bills each month (less than $100/month). What helped, was, I didn’t have cable and I really loved what I was doing.

When the time finally to put in my 2 weeks notice, I had half a dozen completed apps under my belt and I had lined up about $10,000 of client work in the next 2 months. Everyone says, have 6 months to a year of savings. I probably had a month or two and a load of student debt. When you have a salary, your expenses seem to fit your income. If you plan on going indie, you need to become a lean and productive worker. Cut out all luxury expenses, like cable TV, prepared meals, turn lights off when you leave rooms; whatever it takes because you’re going to live off of nothing for the foreseeable future.

Plan for a Very Sparse First Year

That $10,000 in two months turned into about 12 months. That is basically how much money I made in 2011. Let me repeat that, I made about $10,000 in my first year as an independent.

Here’s what went wrong:

  • The $10,000 jobs were with people I had never worked with before. The projects dragged on, requirements changed and of that projected $10k, I got about $1,500. That’s about a months living expenses for me.
  • I moved from Blacksburg, VA to Boise, ID. I knew not a single sole in Boise, ID, let alone any potential clients.
  • Besides spending a lot of time in the move, and various other chores and errands, I wasted a lot of time chasing ideas that never came to fruition. I felt like I was thrashing in a giant sea and all around me, passing me by, were big cruise liners filled with cash, waiting for me to climb aboard.

Here’s what I did:

  • I married the girlfriend way before jumping ship. She was the best thing in my life and when you have something that special, you chain her down with a fancy ring and you keep her happy no matter what. She was my anchor, my support, my goal, my dream and she kept me going. We had our fights about money, about time, about everything. But she supported me and sacrificed to let me have what I wanted. For that, I will be eternally grateful to her.
  • Twitter is an amazing tool to meet people in another city, say, one you’re planning on moving to. Once I knew I was moving to Boise (since my wife got a great job there), I followed everyone I could that listed their location in the City of Trees. A month after we moved to Boise, I saw a tweet from someone looking to work with a mobile developer. Hey! I was a mobile developer. A sit down and coffee later, I had my first Boise gig.
  • I dropped the idea of doing web development and concentrated on what my passion was: mobile apps. I also concentrated heavily on networking. I went to any meeting of professionals and industry people that I thought was interesting and a good opportunity to meet people. I went with the attitude of just meeting people, not trying to sell anything. I talked about what I did, but I mostly listened. Finally, I started to recognize some faces on the cruise liners. A lot were even willing to throw me a line. Some became live savers.

Financially, the first year pretty much sucked. Socially, I met some really great people, so at times I felt rich. That’s what good friends and good people can do for you. But you still need to pay the bills. Next time, I’ll talk about starting over and how to actually start a business that makes money as I did in 2012. Subscribe to the mailing list below to get the latest on what I’m up to. I keep them short, sweet and infrequent. And, follow me on Twitter.

Read Going Independent – Part 2

Care to follow my progress?

New App: Boise’s Most Wanted

April 6, 2012 · Posted in iphone, news, personal, projects, work · Comment 

So I had one of those late night ideas for an app after seeing this site: Boise Area’s Most Wanted. I thought that would make a great app because who’s going to sit there and remember all those faces and names. However, if it’s on your mobile device, you can quickly look up that seemingly familiar face you see walking around the Boise area. Of course, this wouldn’t be so that one can play vigilante, but instead be a way for common citizens to be more aware while they’re out and about and call the police if they see one of these characters.

Anyway, since I figured it wouldn’t be too hard, I took about two hours while I was in a chat-based meeting with a few of my developers, and threw together this app that scrapes the HTML for the website and compiles it into a native iPhone app:

Boise Most Wanted iPhone App

It’s all dynamic and pretty cool, although not very pretty. But what do you want from 2 hours of work?

I’ll probably release this on the app store after a bit more polish and maybe a big “Call Crime Stoppers” button that tells your iPhone to dial the hotline to report your sighting.

Other ideas:

  • Display bounty information – Some of these suspects have bonds as large as 10s of thousands of dollars!
  • Have a separate listing for the Arrested section. Because don’t you feel all warm in fuzzy when you see direct results of the police force’s hard work?
  • Aggregate the daily incident reports for easy reading on your phone.

What are some other ideas to add to this app?

Would you think this app would be useful to the general population of Boise and surrounding areas?

Do officers even have iPhones?

This was just one of those ideas that seemed like a good idea at the time, but I need honest feedback if I should continue development on it. So, let me know what you all think in the comments below!

Mobile App Development Boise

March 19, 2012 · Posted in goals, news, personal, work · 3 Comments 

Edit: We’ve moved into an even larger, less expensive office located at 507 1/2 W Hays St in Boise. I’ve updated the post below so there’s no confusion.

I’m proud to announce the opening of our office in downtown Boise for mobile app development. It’s located at 507 1/2 W Hays St. 512 W Idaho St between the Flying M and Java in downtown Boise. We’re also located right next to the web and software development company known as Nerdy Dragon and DTX Creative.

From this office, we’ll be creating iOS applications for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch as well as developing applications for Android phones and tablets. Stop by with your iOS device and we’ll give you free copies of some of our apps. We have created over 15 successful applications and would love to share them with you.

You can also stop by our new website dedicated to the education, development and consulting on mobile application development. We’re still creating our app portfolio, but if you’re here, you probably already know about some the mobile apps I’ve created (hint: see the right sidebar).

I also started teaching mobile application development class at Boise State University in order to create developers with the experience to create their own apps. Hopefully these students will go on to start and develop their own mobile apps and increase the mobile app industry in Boise and make Idaho an authority on mobile app development.

I’m super excited about the new office space, the new website and the future of mobile app development in Boise.

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