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Developing a mobile app seems like an overwhelming task, but it’s not as difficult as you might think. Whether doing the work in-house or farming it out, lots of very small businesses are finding the process quite manageable and affordable.
In fact, some of the coolest new applications are coming out of small companies, some with only one employee. BusinessNewsDaily got the lowdown on how and why five entrepreneurs developed their apps and what inspired the idea in the first place.
Amos Winbush doesn’t really want to talk about it, but yes, he is a former "American Idol" contestant. Now that that’s out of the way, the former singer/songwriter and current chief executive of CyberSynchs wants to get down to business.
His mobile app, CyberSynchs, is a data synchronization program that allows users of all mobile devices to back up and store all of their data, music, contacts, etc., on CyberSynchs’ network.
Winbush took a unique approach to the app and to the business he launched in 2008 to develop it.
“I started the company because I bought the first-generation iPhone and it crashed,” Winbush told BusinessNewsDaily. “All of our lives are managed from this one piece of technology, and when it’s gone we’re lost.”
Winbush was looking for something that could back up all the data in his phone, regardless of which phone he used. It was then that CyberSynchs was born.
Rather than finding a company to create the technology, Winbush built his own, following an unusual business model. He recruited his team with the promise of no salary for a year, but with a stake in the ownership of the company. He invested just $250 of his own money.
Two years later Winbush has a growing New York-based company of 15 employees that is set to launch a variety of new products. He has been named one of Inc.com’s "30 Under 30" and the 2010 Black Enterprise Innovator of the Year.
Winbush said it cost between $30,000 and $50,000 to develop the application. Users get it for free, then pay $2.99 a month to store their data with CyberSynchs. Winbush says the company has 500,000 subscribers and anticipates 3.5 million by the end of 2011.
Randy Stuart was working as a legislative aide to a longtime county commissioner in Texas when he realized how difficult it was to research the voting histories of elected officials. After several years of observing how disengaged average citizens were from the election process, Stuart launched a website, MyElectedOfficials.com, that aggregates the voting records of national-level elected officials nationwide.
It didn’t take long for Stuart’s company, the Houston-based RK2 Enterprises, to take the technology mobile.
“The first step in the development process was to map out what content was necessary and what was ancillary,” said Stuart, who also owns a boutique PR firm.
He outsourced the development of the program. “I realized there were similar apps" — one or two major competitors with paid apps — "so I knew that My Elected Officials needed its point of difference. That’s when we went with the 'follow' option. With our app, users can select a representative to follow, and when that elected official casts a vote in Congress or is in the news, our users receive what mobile services call a 'push notification.' That is a unique feature for our app dealing with congressional-related content.”
Using Application Programming Interface (API), the program pulls from a breadth of website portals, many of which draw from a Library of Congress system that tracks voting records.
Stuart said it cost under $30,000 to develop the app, which is currently available for Apple products only. Users pay $4.99 to download it. The company is in the process of developing a version for BlackBerry and Android.
Stuart said the most challenging aspect of the design process was to write code that worked with both the 4G and 3G phones.
“These have been issues for developers across the board, but it’s a relatively small community of professional developers and we found forum threads were most helpful in troubleshooting,” said Stuart.
His company has a total of three employees.
David Jack is a children’s recording artist who, until recently, focused primarily on technology that improved the quality of his concerts.
But it was when standing in front of the refrigerator that Jack happened upon the idea of developing a mobile app.
“I realized that I never can keep track of when I opened stuff — if it was last week or the week before,” said Jack. “And I was thinking, 'I wish there was something that could remind me of how long I’ve had things open.'
"As soon as I saw that smartphones could read bar codes, I knew it could be done.”
Jack's mobile app is called the FridgePolice. It keeps track of when you’ve opened food products and lets you know when they’ve passed their prime.
Jack, whose company, V.L. Jack, is based in Huntington Valley, Pa., said he had no idea how to develop an app, but he contacted his the company that designed his website and found out they could take on the job. The app was launched in early November.
The app, which costs $1.99 on iTunes, cost less than $10,000 to develop. After a couple of hundred downloads in the first two weeks, he said he’s got to sell a lot more to make a profit.
Some companies develop mobile apps that are a standalone product, but for other firms, an app is just an extension of what they already do.
Such is the case for Fort Lee, N.J.-based MyRegistry.com, which offers an online gift registry that allows users to register for gifts from any store for any holiday or occasion.
The company’s mobile iPhone app, which was released in April, allows users to take the technology with them. They can use their phones to scan product bar codes in stores, which are then added directly to their online registry.
Oded Berkowitz, founder and CEO of MyRegistry.com, developed the product in-house at his 14-employee firm. “The difference with our app is that it’s an extension of our website,” he said. The company launched an Android version of the app in early November.
The app is free to users, as is the use of the MyRegistry.com service. MyRegistry gets paid by the retailers whose products get purchased through its service.
“I have agreements with thousands of stores, from big to small,” said Berkowitz, who used to work on Wall Street. But even if the company doesn’t have an agreement with the retailer that carries the product you want, not to worry: Berkowitz said the company’s goal is to make the customer happy, even if MyRegistry makes nothing on the sale of the product.
Unlike apps that are purchased or downloaded by individuals, icihere, a small firm based in Princeton, N.J., has developed a mobile app that is free to users, but is paid for by a company or an organization.
The company’s app, called ici, allows organizations, municipalities or events (think: city-wide arts shows, city cultural organizations, small-business associations) to create media-rich, location-based “maps” that guide users with information to help them enjoy the experience, and to drive business to participating businesses.
If you’re wondering what the heck that means, here's an example: The company recently held a contest in which it offered the winner a free, customized ici app designed exclusively for that organization.
The winner, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, will get an app, branded with its name, that combines podcasts, video of its lectures, digitized images of the museum's collections, and information on events — to enhance the experience for museum goers.
Ici, which launched in 2008, also has an app that is being used by arts or cultural organizations in the city of Philadelphia. Its location-aware app allows users to navigate through a city while finding events and background information. User can view maps, read detailed stories, see videos including tour previews, learn about local artists, and much more.
Icihere CEO Ken Kay, said the application is free for non-profits who can benefit from the service. Their use also allows Icihere to get some public exposure.
The cost of developing a privately branded app for a “for profit” organization is between $10,000 and $50,000.