15 Nov

How I Made $19,000 on the App Store While Learning to Code

The past year and a half has been quite a journey. I’ve gone from starting to learn iPhone design, to quitting my full time job and focusing on an application full-time. All while teaching myself to program in Objective-C with no prior programming experience.

OneVoice is a iPhone/iPad application that gives a voice to anyone who cannot speak. Either because they have had a stroke or have non-verbal Autism (or many other reasons), it is making a difference in the lives of a lot of people. OneVoice + iPad replaces a $7,000+ medical device that is bulky and difficult to use. My goal was to make an application that was both beautiful and easy to use.

It all started when my sister-in-law, Hannah, heard I was looking for a project to learn to develop for the iPad. She was working with an autistic boy using one of these clunky medical devices and suggested I build a replacement on the iPad. I’ve spent a lot of time designing software, but have never been a programmer. I focused on the user interface and experience which is where I could add the most value. With the help of some talented friends I set out to create OneVoice. The rest of the story is here: One Year With iOS and The Story Behind OneVoice.

OneVoice was released January 2011. The first day it got 3 sales (great for such a high priced app), but that quickly dropped off. The App Store used to have a newly released list that would give you an initial boost in sales before you dropped off to App Store obscurity. I focused my marketing efforts on Speech Language Pathologists who work with individuals needing this kind of device. I contacted them personally by phone or email and offered a promo copy in trade for feedback. Quite a few took me up on the offer and gave some great advice that shaped the first couple of versions.

These industry experts also wrote great reviews in the App Store which I think made a big sales difference. Now the policies have changed so users who downloaded the app with a promo code cannot write a review. I’ve never been featured or had any promotion from Apple. So all of the numbers below are from my marketing efforts outside the App Store.

September was such a good month because two schools bought 20 and 30 copies each (educators get a 50% discount by purchasing 20 or more).

Here is how the $200 price breaks down:

  • Apple: 30% (I didn’t include this above because I never receive this money).
  • Acapela Group: 14% (I license the speech synthesis software from them).
  • Profit: 56% (Profit is used loosely. This is what I have left to pay myself or reinvest in the product).

Last month after slowly building OneVoice to $19,000 in profit (and keeping almost all of it in savings) I quit my full-time job and am now focused on OneVoice as a startup. Since the product is working well and has plenty of paying customers I am now almost entirely focused on marketing.

Every day I spend some time programming in Objective-C in order to get better. I have a couple other hobby apps that I work on to expand my skill-set, though I still consider myself a beginner programmer. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the help of Chris Brandsma, who patiently helped me through so many Objective-C problems.

I am fortunate to work on a project that both makes money and changes lives.

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63 Responses to “How I Made $19,000 on the App Store While Learning to Code”

  1. Nathan this is a great story, and nice job becoming both a coder and an entrepreneur. My wife is pursuing a speech path career, and I was always wondering what sort of ways technology could enrich the field. You’ve found a nice way. Any plans for an Android version?

    Best!
    Mike Parsons


    • nathanbarry says:

      I may do an Android version. The Kindle Fire is a great price so I may try to write it for that. Though Objective-c is hard enough to learn, not sure if I am ready to start on a second language yet.


      • You should definitely do a Kindle fire edition. It has great potential. Nice product by the way. I have some thoughts on how you could use your platform for great learning apps. Let me know if you want a quick skype chat to hear more about the ideas.


      • Steve says:

        The Amazon Kindle Fire uses a device-specific version of android. It is the only device, that I know of that uses this “forked” version of android. Otherwise, go for android, and thanks for this story. It is inspiring.


      • German Rimoldi says:

        try mosync software (objective c to mobile devices translator)


      • Nick Nezis says:

        Let me know if you have questions porting to Android.


      • Anonymous Coward says:

        Don’t worry, Java is a lot easier to learn.


      • Brad Mccormack says:

        Great work. I find this little post inspiring. I am probably the converse of you. I have no design experience :-)

        I’d suggest doing a little research on comparing Java to Obj-C. I have more experience with Java and in my opinion it is an easier to grasp language.

        Although as you are already aware, learning the language is only part of it. You will have to learn Android terminology and the associated tool-set.

        I wish you the best of luck regardless.
        Great work!


        • This is a great post regarding iphone development! Those who want to learn such will surely find these lessons informative and helpful.


      • Hello.. Actually this is my 1st visit to your website, I found it very interesting..
        Can you answer some of my questions??

        I am studying Bsc Computer Science.. I also like to write code!
        I code daily, bt I gets depressed due to time that I have apply to code and not for study…!

        But I am good in programming, Logic and coding..
        The problem is .. I am from poor background and want to do something big..
        Can I become a good freelancer?
        Or should I do a JOB?


  2. Great story! More impressive is the idea than the amount you made.


  3. Moritz says:

    Actually I was about to write a comment how you should clarify in the text what this profit means, à la “Your revenue minus server cost is only profit if your labour is worthless”. Then re-read the cost break-down, pleasantly surprised.

    Great project btw!


    • nathanbarry says:

      Right, in this case profit is a loose term. I would have made more money for my time by doing contract design for other companies (as I often do), but the satisfaction level wouldn’t be the same. So like you said, the $19,000 is profit, if my time has no value.


  4. [...] did not know how to program when he started.  More details on this application (and a great read): How I Made $19,000 on the App Store While Learning to Code Cancel [...]


  5. Austin Osuide says:

    Very well done, dude!!!
    Follow your passion!


  6. I just wrote a blog post on Forbes about how you are never too old to learn and anyone can learn to program if they put their mind to it. This is a great example of that.

    Kudos to you and for building something that truly helps people.


  7. Randy Ayn says:

    The part of this story that stood out to me is that you replaced a bulky 7K device that was probably a pain in the ass to use. Also having the foresight to license someone else’s software when needed. Nice work.


  8. What an impressive story, Nathan. Thank you for sharing. I’ve invested an embarrassing amount of money toward trademarks, patents, and independent IT developers, without a single return yet. Stories like yours keep me motivated to press forward with my business model.


  9. Great story. Props for using your programming talents to really make a difference in individuals’ lives


  10. Thanks for sharing your story with us Nathan.
    Great job.


  11. Great job! Looking forward to read more about you on HN, etc. You both changed your life and you’re helping other people change theirs!


  12. [...] http://nathanbarry.com/how-i-made-19000-on-the-app-store-while-learning-to-code/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Junk Jack – Minecraft clone for iPhone / iPad [...]


  13. Nice job! and good luck – and you nailed your target market – are you reaching out to the big centers around the country where they’re researching and training in this? Univ. of Georgia @ Athens, and UK in Louisville and some others – drop me a note if interested, I have a contact at UK doing this exact type of research – he might be interested in hearing about it.


  14. Craig says:

    Hey Nathan,

    I am wondering how you taught yourself object-c with no background in programming. I looked at it the other night and it looked like Greek to me! I work at a school and we are looking at starting an app writing class and I was wondering what the best resources you found in learning objective-c form nothing? Thanks, Craig


    • Mike says:

      Developing Apps for iOS by Paul Hegarty on iTunesU is a good start, and it’s free


  15. Great story!

    1. Learned programming for iOS
    2. Helped people who need help, and their families
    3. Learned marketing for your product
    4. Made money

    I’d say you can’t beat that!


  16. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without the help of nathanbarry, who patiently helped me through so many Objective-C problems.”
    I wish one day, I would say thanks to u! :-)


  17. Omar says:

    Hey Nathan awesome story. I’m a 22 year old college student and I spent the whole summer learning Objective-C and the iOS SDK. I’ve finally begun prototyping and your story is an inspiration to me. I would like to make enough with my iPhone development skills and any apps I might sell on the app store to live off (and hopefully some kind of cool product that turns into a company too). Any tips or pointers on the free lancing side of things or would you recommend just staying focused on building a product?

    -Omar


  18. Very well done, Nathan. A very inspiring story to boot.


  19. One questions, what path did you take to learn Objective-C? Reading? Coding? Tutorials? Action learning?


  20. Well done! You should definitively do an Android version as well.


  21. As the developer of another application for users with special needs (seniors, in my case), I want to congratulate you on choosing to build something that actually HELPS PEOPLE who are usually under-served by technology. Looks like you hit the nail right on its head!


  22. what a great tale of filling a need and being compensated for it well! great work!


  23. brian says:

    Now think how much more you could have made on Android, sell direct and immediately save 30%! Selling direct also makes more sense considering the way you are sensibly marketing the product.

    Suspect your profit is somewhat overstated unless you consider yourself a slave(!). The words ‘gross income’ better describes it which unfortunatly is a lot greater than net income, which is a lot greater than net profit!


  24. Great story, I hope to do the something similar perhaps someday.

    However, once you correct your math (Revenue-Expenses=Profit) you land at about 13,000. Your pie chart looks more like Apple has 30% “Profit” and you have “40% revenue, less salary).

    I suggest moving to Android, so you can have a bigger slice of that 30% Apple is taking before your salary. I am not sure what Acepela does over lower cost/free TTS libraries, but there may be an opportunity to get more for less there too.


    • nathanbarry says:

      The $19,000 is after Apple’s cut. Before they took their share I made closer to $24,000.

      Acapela is the best TTS solution out there (for quality) on IOS. But Android does have some other options.


  25. great job, i would love to hear more about it if you get the chance. send me an email so we can chat, you have a really impressive story.


  26. This blog post comes at a period when I am considering doing something similar: Quit my first ever job to work on my own project(s). There are some differences though: I am starting from scratch on the projects side (I don’t have any draft presentations, business plans or prototypes for any of my ideas) but not on the developing one (I am a Computer Science graduate and I have already developed a few “things”). I don’t know what I am going to end up doing but thanks for the insight anyway!


  27. Great story. Thank you for sharing.


  28. Robert Olsson says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. This was a great success story, not only for you but also for your customers. But don’t forget to plan for the future business now that you have quit your employment.


  29. Glenn says:

    Well done you


  30. I, too, would also love to hear what resources you used to teach yourself Objective-C with no previous programming experience. I’m aware of the Paul Hegarty podcast…was there anything else that you found particularly helpful?

    Also, on average, how many hours a day (or week) would you say that you devoted to learning and developing this app?


    • nathanbarry says:

      I’ll write a post about how I set out to learn Objective-C. It probably averaged out to 1-2 hours per day building OneVoice. But that includes designing a ton of icons as well as learning to program.


  31. Mike says:

    Nathan, great idea and app. I’ll be suggesting / passing on the info to family who recently had a stroke.


  32. john says:

    Just a thought – could you put an empty shell on the App store and make it free. Then the data for speech could be downloaded to the device from the web – after a payment has been made directly to you.


  33. Srujan says:

    Nice work Natan, I wonder how it works….. will see it.. is there a trail version of it… I have an iTouch.


    • nathanbarry says:

      The demo version is still waiting for Apple’s approval. Hopefully it will be out this week.


  34. Hi Nathan,

    I saw your story on Hacker News. I found your human-centered-design process and the resulting app to be very inspiring, and a testament to the power of applying human centered and user centered design principles to a real problem.

    I would imagine there’s still room for innovation in medical devices, and I look forward to telling lots more stories like yours on http://www.getspotta.com about creative designers and developers who saw a problem, imagined a solution, and made it happen.

    Well done!


  35. Nathan thank you for the inspiration.

    I came to your site from Twitter as you were recommended by Twitter – and what a recommendation. I’m a WordPress developer and online marketing professional. Your blog is full of inspiration and I must appreciate that you do share a lot. Thank you and I hope I’m inspired to do the same.


  36. Nice hopeful story.
    The only issue being, for most, is that you need to be an American citizen to post to the AppStore, or at least have an EIN and Social Security number.


    • nathanbarry says:

      There are plenty of developers selling the in the App Store who are not U.S. citizens. Do a few Google searches, there are quite a few threads discussing how to work with this exact issue.


  37. nakul says:

    Hey Nathan,
    Your story is probably the ideal way of life.
    Do something good, learn something new, get paid for it.

    Very nice story and m glad its working out for you.
    All the luck for you and the people like you.

    Thanks
    Nakul


  38. mike says:

    that seems awesome. what a nice app to code for people in need.


  39. Just great to find out your blog from SPI and just loved what is available for app developers to learn how to make money. Just going to check the books as it’s something most interest me about as I’m publishing few books these days and the once on Amazon didn’t the expected attention.


  40. Hey there would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time making
    a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely
    unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I
    had to ask!


  41. […] very popular post in November 2011 brought 60,000 visits in a few days. But it was a one-hit-wonder. You need a way […]


  42. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d
    like to send you an email. I’ve got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
    Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.


  43. Thanks very nice informations


  44. Im a designer as well I struggle with code … its not easy so my hat goes off to you.


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