The allure of owning a business building Android or iOS apps for mobile devices has drawn some developers away from company jobs and enticed many more to consider it. However, making the jump from employee to business owner involves a lot more than submitting your two weeks’ notice and picking a clever name for your business. Building a business requires a lot of work, but it can also be very rewarding.
Anyone who goes into business thinking they will immediately earn twice as much for half the work is in for a surprise. Some folks do get lucky, but expecting perfect luck is courting disappointment. Instead, you should make plans to enter the entrepreneurial world with a solid understanding of what lays ahead and an understanding of how the business side of a mobile app company works.
Low barriers to entry
The barrier to entry for Android apps is very low. A mere $25 gets access to deploy your Android apps to Google Play. Beyond that, almost any computer can be used to develop apps, and the emulators allow you to test apps without even purchasing a test device.
Developing an iOS app carries a few additional costs, but if you already own an Apple phone or tablet as well as an OSX computer, you only need to pay the $99 yearly fee.
Additional hats to wear
Owning your own business means more flexibility with your time, but it also introduces a lot of responsibilities that don’t normally impact employees. For instance, I have worn many hats on the job as an engineer (including working with requirements, testing, interfacing with customers, graphic design, and user interface design), but I never had to do marketing or PR or be the final authority on legal and tax matters. It can be quite a juggling act to do all of these things at once.
One of the more difficult things to plan for is that you can spend a smaller amount of your time on the core task than you might expect due to all of the other hats that you need to wear. A way to possibly ease the time crunch after starting your company is to learn about these business topics and set up the infrastructure in your “spare time” before you are running your app businesses in earnest. Another approach might be to partner with someone who can help handle these tasks. You may even want to outsource any task that isn’t in your core competency.
Some types of businesses compete only with local competitors and merely need to hang up a sign with their general business type (think Dentist or Kung fu lessons), but I doubt I’d get much business if I hung a sign outside my office that said Apps.
Mobile apps are distributed in marketplaces that cross regional boundaries, and that means that your competitors could come from anywhere. This hits particularly hard when you have to deal with companies that are well-funded by venture capital and companies in regions of the world with much lower operating expenses. The net result is that it sometimes seems that competitors can build an app much faster than an independent developer. If you are not lucky enough to find venture capital, you will need to ensure that you are doing something to differentiate yourself, such as a better idea or better implementation than your competitors — do anything but follow the pack.
When building your own app — regardless of its size and complexity — as an independent developer you get to choose how to design it, when to work on the project, and when to release. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that flexibility. You can rush through testing and release an app with bugs (and feel the customer backlash). You can be a perfectionist and never release your ever-improving product. Knowing when and what to release is an art, and if you don’t have experience with this, I suggest reading up on the topic and get as much experience as possible.
Another benefit of this flexibility is that you can release updates and fixes to apps on a much tighter schedule than many big companies can. Since Google Play doesn’t have a validation cycle, you can make an update and release an update for an Android app within hours.
Many developers take the side job approach to building apps on their own time, and are content to continue employment as their main source of income. But if you plan on building a full-time business out of your app development efforts, I recommend researching and building the infrastructure soon rather than focusing only on creating an app.