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Benny Hsu on Sudden Success and Creating Apps

You know Benny, right?

Benny, from Get Busy Living?

Benny, the awesome guy who leaves great comments all over the blogosphere?

Benny, who just hit the jackpot with a brilliant iPhone app called Photo 365?

Benny, who shared his story with us on Pat Flynn’s blog?

Well, there’s more to the story, and Benny was kind enough to share it with us…

What’s your background? How did you start out online, and what are you doing?

I started out online way back when AOL first started. I had one of those free CDs and signed up. I started a webpage about my experience going to watch “The Late Show with David Letterman”. I had been such a huge fan so seeing the show live was a memorable experience. My page told about my experience and gave advice how to get tickets and when to start lining up for the best seats. I designed the website using free HTML software. I was proud of it.

In 2005, I started a sports blog called “The Sports Pulse”. I wrote my opinion on all sports. I loved it. That was my first real blog. I had my articles linked from Deadspin when it was just starting and contributed once to a live blogging a World Cup game in 2006 on the blog.

I had enough advertising on it to cover the domain and  hosting for a year with a bit extra. I stopped it in 2007, when I moved overseas to Taipei to study Chinese. Just hard to write about sports when I wasn’t watching it every day.

However, I’ve always wanted to have a thriving blog. I found blogs like Problogger and and loved how they were making money online by helping people.

In the years following, I’ve tried PPC, affiliate marketing, and niche sites. I wanted a way to make money online. The problem was I was doing things I wasn’t interested in.

I’ve started and stopped a handful of blogs after I thought I would be passionate about but lost interest in writing more posts.

All the while, when I was in Florida, I worked at my family’s Japanese restaurant. I had been since 2001 and enjoyed it for about 5 years. I slowly began to hate my job. I knew I wasn’t meant to work in an environment where I couldn’t be creative nor wanted to deal with the stress that came with running a restaurant.

During that time I was miserable. I gained weight. I ate junk. I used television and the internet to forget about my troubles.

No matter what other jobs I thought I wanted to do, I kept coming back to blogging and making money online.

In late 2010, I discovered people like Pat Flynn and Corbett Barr. Here were guys who created a successful blog and were making income from products they created.

I’ve tried and stopped so many times but this time I felt different. I felt more confident. I had nothing else to fall back on if I wanted to quit my job and finally live a life I was proud of.

Where did the idea for the app come from?

The idea for the app came from something I wanted. In the summer of 2010, I downloaded an app for my iPhone that lets you save a photo a day. The app did what it said but the design was very basic. Black and white with no color. The calendar boxes were bigger so it didn’t look like a traditional calendar.

I thought it could be done better. I wanted one that looked better. I found online there was a community of people that saved one photo a day. Of course many of them love to take photos, so they took more than one a day but they just chose to feature one image per day. They posted their photo on their blog or on social media.

I looked in the App store, and found only the app I was using. It was a free version and so it had so many reviews. That told me that there was demand for it and little competition.

I went through the reviews and searched for the ones that gave feedback on what they wanted. That helped me with ideas to make it better.

What’s your experience with creating apps? What made you think that you can do this?

This was the first time I had outsourced a project. I found an ebook written on the outsourcing and the iPhone app creation process. It helped me get an idea of what to expect.

What made me think I could do this was seeing Pat Flynn generating income every month from his app company, LOLer apps. He didn’t know how to code so he outsourced the work.

Doing something I enjoyed helped. I love my iPhone. I love using apps. I’ve had a dream for awhile to be creating apps but didn’t have an idea or know how to do it. Now I had both.

What went right through the development and launch process?

The development process went according to the plan they laid out. They set milestones that corresponded to completing a part of the project and payment. They implemented my ideas or offered suggestions for the best way to do it.

They never rushed me through each phase. They made sure I was happy with their work before moving on.

I really liked working with them the whole step of the way.

What went wrong? What should you have done differently?

Nothing really bad went wrong. At least nothing that caused me stressful moments. They initially told me in the proposal they would have it done in 1.5 months. Instead it took 6 months. Part of that was my fault. Sometimes after they sent me the app to test, it would take me a few days to get around to testing it out. However I’m glad it took longer to ensure everything I had in mind worked right.

Also email replies were a bit slow at the beginning. I had to remember from reading the ebook that they worked for me so I politely told them I expected quicker replies, even if it was just saying they got my email and would get back to me.

One thing I would have done different was do beta testing. That’s sending out the app to other people to have them test it out and give feedback. I skipped that part because setting up someone’s phone and the app to allow them to do testing seemed way too difficult. I thought I didn’t need to and would just test on their phones and mine.

If I did, I may have found more features that I hadn’t thought about to add that users are suggesting now. It also would have been a way to let them use it and see if there were any bugs I didn’t see.

That’s the only thing I would do differently.

What were the most important lessons learned?

I learned that your first product doesn’t need to be complex. I learned that with creating your first product for your blog. Make it a simple ebook and not a seven week course full of videos, a webinar, and a forum.

My app is very simple. Take a picture. Add a picture. Share it on social media if you want. Repeat.

Now that I’ve released it, I’m lots of feedback for features to add. Now I know what people want.

As important as making it simple, I wanted an app that looked great. I wanted to make it look as stylish as some of my favorite apps. I wanted users to love opening and using the app. Buyers expect that.

I learned not to give up. I’ll be honest about halfway through the process I sort of lost momentum. That’s why it took me longer to test the new build and send back my notes.

However I’m glad I decided not to cut corner and rush to just get the app out.

How did you market your app? Why do you think your app has done so well so far?

It’s pretty bad but I didn’t do any marketing for my app. I imagined I needed to generate hype through Facebook and Twitter. I tried for awhile by creating accounts for the app but I stopped after a couple months. It felt too forced.

I planned on asking blogs to review my app in exchange for a free copy. Three blogs asked for a free copy to do a review the first three days. I thought about paying to get a press release made. These were some tactics others had done by others.

In the end, my only advertising would come from my app being seen in the App store and through keyword searches.

I spent $0 on marketing.

All I had control of was to make a really great product with a simple idea. For that I got recognized by Apple as “New and Noteworthy” in the second week. That was exciting as sales skyrocketed. The following week, to my extreme surprised, my app was named “App of the Week”. That doubled my daily sales!

App of the Week is phenomenal honor! Not many indie developers get that spot. In the forum I’m a part of, a regular member said he doesn’t remember any other member having that coveted spot. Most of the time apps in that spot are from companies with big budgets. I just had an idea and spent $1,900 for my app.

What are your plans now?

This app turned into a small project into something much bigger than I imagined.

This is a springboard to a possible full time income from creating apps. At least that’s what I’ve been told by experienced indie developers.

I want to improve this app to make it the best app that it can be. I want to keep the current customers happy while consistently attracting new ones.

I’ve been told to take full advantage of this momentum I have and make more apps. I would like to but want to focus on adding features to this app first.

As for my blog, I will still write there. I have an idea for a product I want to create. Making an app has always been just one part of the plan. I still enjoy writing and I want to help people live better lives.

Now I have my own success story as a result of the changes I have made to myself in 2011. I want to continue to inspire that with others moving forward.

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