Sometimes hard work and dedication still doesn’t lead to riches, in fact for some people it can lead to financial failure, especially when it comes to making it in the the App Store. The story of financial failure is more common than you would expect. One developer, Monte Benaresh, creator of ContactGo, knows this better than anyone, but his story is one that is shared by thousands of struggling developers.
In the 15 years since people began to find their way around the “information superhighway” en masse, billions upon billions of dollars have been made and lost on the Internet.
Thousands of startups have come and gone simply with the hope that they can make it rich in the App Store. As a result, countless people have lost their life savings, and a select few have made ridiculous fortunes.
Many companies continue to struggle trying to find a way to transform the power of the Internet and turn it into a reliable profit. The gold rush mentality didn’t start with the invent of the App Store, in fact it has been driven for years by the great success of companies like Ebay, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, AOL, Craigslist and so many others.
It was only a little less than a year ago when Apple opened the App Store and bore a new gold rush. A gateway of developer hopefuls with new app ideas began to flood in. The ability to download an application that can do more for you than any computer ever could simply because it is on a device which goes with you everywhere, opened a door that was unforeseen.
Suddenly huge numbers of developers that saw the potential for making money in the App Store started to get to work, and Monte Benaresh is one such developer.
Benaresh spent around six months developing ContactGo, a simple but elegant app, which allows you to send contact information from your address book in an e-mail. It might not sound like much, but it’s one of those great little utilities that fills a hole left by Apple.
The road for the app from brainchild to the App Store was a bumpy one. In short, coding was a nightmare because he had to reverse engineer the way the iPhone’s address book works. When it came time to submit, the names ContactShare and ContactMail were already taken despite no apps by those names being listed in the store. Then the app was rejected, twice. First, because it used Apple’s contacts app in the icon and second because Benaresh used the “Send” button provided by the SDK for a purpose other than the specific one Apple says it’s for. When the app was finally accepted it was labeled with a release date two weeks earlier than its actual release date, which means it may have missed some new app lists. In addition, if you do a search for “contact” or “email contact” the app doesn’t come up on the first page of results. Sales of ContactGo have also been dismal.
So it’s no surprise that a useful app like ContactGo is only pulling down between 1 and 6 downloads per day, according to Benaresh. ”Far below my most pessimistic predictions,” he said.
For Benaresh, ContactGo has been a learning experience but a financial failure.
LIke most developers Benaresh had what he thought were realistic expectations:
…I figured, with 15 million users as of the start of 2009, and about 20M now, if just 0.1% of users would get my wonderful little app, I would make $28,000. If I could get a full 1% penetration, $280,000! After that I could crank out all kinds of apps, which would be easy after getting over the hurdles of ContactShare, and in time start bringing in real money.
Benaresh’s story, like so many others, goes completely unnoticed. Instead, the mainstream media picks up on the gold rush stories, like this one from the New York Times.
The article profiles the developers behind iShoot, one of the best selling games on the iPhone. By paragraph 13 you get to the inevitable “I made so much money I quit my job” quote.
What I find interesting is the similarity in thinking between Ethan Nicholas, developer of iShoot, and Mr. Benaresh. Nicholas had heard the developer of Trism made $250,000 and figured, “if I could even make a fraction of that, we’d be able to make ends meet,” he told the NY TImes.
Both developers hoped for a fraction of true success just to make ends meet and both used almost the exact same figure to represent their wildest dreams. Nicholas succeeded and Benaresh failed.
It is easy to try to point the blame at Apple in such a situation. As we report on and review iPhone apps we hear about how Apple has crippled many developers in the approval process. Heck, we’ve even had trouble with Apple.
While the App Store is safer for the end user because Apple theoretically weeds out phishing and spam apps, it is also harder on the developer. Not only does every developer have to deal with an intensely competitive market but also with Apple’s software restrictions and their subjective and flawed approval process.
However, the true problem here is not Apple. As corny as it might sound, the issue is the American Dream and it’s as old as America itself.
In America, the mentality goes, a good idea will be rewarded. All you have to do is work hard and you’ll get paid. This line of thinking is even more prevalent in a recession or depression. Fantastic stories of overnight millionaires begin to fill the newspapers, air waves and now the Internet as millions of people flounder, lose their homes and their jobs.
People latch onto these stories because they provide hope. We envision ourselves as the millionaires and all we have to do to become one is have a good idea and work hard at it.
But, the truth is so much more depressing. Hard work goes unnoticed far more than it is appreciated. This reality is no different in the App Store. Benaresh is just one of many.
So as the App Store and its look-alikes in Blackberry, Android and Windows Mobile continue to gain an ever widening user base, I suggest a history lesson in the gold rushes of the past.
Many fail, few succeed and hard work doesn’t always pay off.