Friday, November 20, 2009

Goals and Achievements

Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the loss of my job. Well, technically, I lost it on Nov 21, 2008, but it was the Friday before Thanksgiving, so this is close enough. A quick glance back through relevant blog posts:

A few days after, no clue what I was going to do.
A month later, still toying with going back to engineering, just starting to mess with iPhone programming.
A couple months after that, bailed on engineering, unsure of where iPhone stuff will go.
Three months later, iPhone app available for sale.

Since I'm forging my way into a brand new world, I didn't really have any idea of what to expect. But I did have some rough goals in mind, so let's take a quick look at how I did.

In early March, I decided to join Apple's iPhone Developer program. The standard program costs $99 + tax, and is required to test programs on an iPhone, and sell apps on the store. My app, SlickShopper, was coming along well enough I felt this to be a prudent step. I had no idea what to expect in terms of sales, but figured I had mostly missed the gold rush that happened in the early days of iPhone apps. So my first goal was simple: recover my developer fee. With tax, that was $105.44. My app went on sale May 31, and my sales data says I hit $106.57 on June 27, so four weeks.

And I was thrilled!

Of course developers don't get this money right away. Apple pays out in certain minimums, and for a previous time period. So I would not actually get my first check from Apple until July 30. And due to the way Apple pays out for various regions, that first check was for only $86.10. This car is going to Vegas, baybee!

The next couple of goals are a bit intermixed, so bear with me for a moment. This will make sense in a few paragraphs.

Towards the end of March, I made the decision to attend Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). This was something of a gamble at the time, as I still had no idea if iPhone development was going to be my future, and I was still quite a ways off from having an app ready to sell. I decided to go for it. In hindsight, worth every penny, and definitely put me on the path to where I am today. But, it was a big cost nonetheless. The conference itself isn't cheap, plus travel, hotel, and so on. So the next goal was to recover that cost.

Now it is important to state that my accomplishment of this goal is NOT due to sales of my app. Far from it; in fact to date the app has only brought in maybe 1/3 of that cost. I have supplemented that income in other ways. However, after being negative for most of the year, I did finally reach break-even in the first week of September.

Again, thrilled!

That supplemental income? Strange/funny story.

You would be hard-pressed to perform a Google search for anything iPhone development-related and not turn up a link on iPhone Dev SDK. I've found many answers there, and continue to do so. Sometime in July, I came to the realization that I actually had enough knowledge to answer questions for other people. I made an account, and soon was burning a significant amount of time responding to posts. I enjoyed doing it; it reminded me of the time I used to answer I-DEAS questions on the ICCON mailing list. And I loved being in a teaching mode. I seem to do my best learning when I'm teaching other people. So with a decent nudge from WWDC, time spent on iPDSDK really helped to refine and solidify my understanding of concepts I've been struggling with for a couple years.

One day, a clearly frustrated guy was lamenting that he could not find good answers. He had even offered to pay people $10/question, and didn't get good results. I jokingly responded that I'd be happy to answer questions for $10, not really expecting anything. I'd been answering lots and lots of questions for free, and probably would have in this case, too. But hey, if he wants to offer, I'll accept.

We emailed back and forth a bit, and he was able to look at my post history and determine that I had a decent chance of knowing what I was talking about. He sent me his code, I spent a couple of hours going over it and making notes, recommending better techniques, pointing out where problems were and how to fix them. I returned his code, expecting that to be the last I ever heard from him. A couple days went by, I hadn't heard anything, so I assumed my initial assumption was correct.

But wait! An email. He's having trouble sending me a PayPal payment. Uh huh. Sure. But he is not in the US, so let's go see what options are in PayPal... huh. Sure enough. Toggle that, change that. Ok buddy, try again. Another day or two goes by. Yeah, that's what I thought.

But wait! Another email. This time with a screen shot of his attempt to send me PayPal. And for $20! Back to PayPal options. I now accept money from anyone, anywhere, for any reason. The next day, I get money.

Let's back up a moment. I developed SlickShopper for me. I wanted it. It was my first app, my practice app, my test of "can I actually do this?" If other people are willing to buy it, great, but this is for me. But, I was not ignorant of the fact that it was also my programming resume. I don't know that I had any specific expectations, but in the back of my mind I thought it would be nice if this app would help me to land a new job. I guess I was thinking more in terms of a regular 9-5 job, but whatever.

So, someone else - excluding SlickShopper customers - paid me money for my efforts. I received that first payment on July 29th, beating my first check from Apple by a single day. I received the last severance check from my job in February, so my period of zero income ended at five months. It certainly wasn't Real Money yet, but anything is better than zero.

Things continued like this for several weeks. He'd ask questions, I'd answer, he'd send me money. It took me a while to grasp what I had stumbled into. In the middle of this, other people started coming to me looking for similar arrangements. In some cases, I'd already been helping someone in a public thread, and they'd decide they were willing to pay for individual attention. In other cases, people would browse the forums, land on some of my posts, decide I sounded knowledgeable, and ask if I could help.

Eventually I would take a more proactive role towards landing jobs. There is a jobs forum, and people will frequently post that they are looking for developers. Most of the ones I went after would turn out to be beyond my skill level, and I'd have to decline. But I'd get smaller ones, and gradually built up a small pool of regular clients. Now I'm doing everything from basic support to full-bore application development.

At this point, I'm happy to report that BriTer Ideas LLC has experienced 5 consecutive months of record revenue, and signs are looking good for the future.

I found my new job.

The ratio of contract services income : SlickShopper sales is so skewed it isn't even funny. I can make more in an hour doing work for other people than SlickShopper will make in a week. I actually have started on version 2, but I'm so busy with other things (read: actually making money) that I don't honestly know when I'll have time to finish it. And I feel bad, too, because the new features are things that I want but didn't know how to do for version 1.

I still have a ways to go in order to regain my former glory. I'm hovering at just under half of what my former salary was, so I'd like to find ways of bringing in more income. Exceeding my former salary is my next main goal. I feel like the potential is there, I just need to put myself into position to take advantage of it. Also, like most small/home business owners, I need to add on the stress of being concerned about from where the next job will come. That will be less of a concern once my wife finds a new job, but for the moment it's nerve-wracking.

Otherwise, I'm having a blast. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun in engineering, if I even ever did. I literally do work 7 days a week. I won't pretend that I'm 100% productive each day, but I've been hitting it hard for months and don't feel like I'm forcing myself to do it.

A year ago, I said:
"One way or another, 2009 should be an interesting year."

I was right. And I'm really looking forward to 2010.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. A LOT of people who have built their own apps also do contract work ... there are plenty of people (and companies) who have their iphone ideas that they can't implement themselves. It's supposed to be good money, so if I were you, I would check that out.