Can You Still Earn Money From Apps?

Can You Still Earn Money From Apps?

This is a two part series of an interview with Dennis Bowles. We discuss how he plans to launch an iPhone app on a shoestring and without any iPhone development experience.

Some of the risks facing anyone wanting to produce a successful iPhone app include the very competitive iTunes App Store, return on cost of development and ability to complete a functional app. We’ll see how a new entrepreneur with no iPhone development experience, who is currently in prelaunch phase, navigates these tricky waters.


From Dennis’ website: “Hello world! My name is Dennis Bowles and I decided to challenge myself and conduct a public experiment to see if I can successfully design, plan out, market and launch a successful IPhone App. Along the way, I plan to share all of my experiences; successes, failures and mistakes and show you the entire process in a 100% transparent way that hopefully will inspire you and even help you to design your own IPhone Application and have you own success. Sound like a fun experiment? I think so!” I would agree.

Back in the 2008 – 2009 heyday of the App Store, unknown iPhone app developers could throw a new app into App Store and expect it to bring in a tidy income. Updates to the app were also an income boost. Since then, the App Store has drastically changed. New apps and updates no longer bring in income like they use too.

The new reality is that the large percentage of app launches have struggled to gain any traction in the App Store. Many new apps now bring in only a trickle of income, leaving developers underwater on their development costs. Dennis describes below how he plans to beat the odds.

Launch Plan

Q Why launch an iPhone app given the high level of competition in the iTunes App Store?

Every business venture will have its own varying level of competition, the App Store is no exception, but the fact that there IS competition is an indicator that the App Store remains a viable marketplace where people can potentially find success. Competition is merely “a hurdle to success” in any business and should not be the only deciding factor for people who want to build a business in the App Store.

Additional reasons for people to consider the App Store as a business is low start up costs and risk versus reward. Depending on the complexity of the App being designed, people could potentially launch an App for less than $1,000 (if completely outsourced) and every App has the potential to make income.

Imagine starting a brick and mortar business for a moment. How much upfront cost would be involved with buying or renting a storefront, stocking the shelves with products, electricity costs, employee costs, marketing, etc? On the other side of that coin, people can design and launch Apps at a fraction of the cost thereby reducing their financial risk if they are unable to find success.

Dennis and Juli
Dennis and his wife Juli.

Q Given that you can’t time when a submitted app will be approved (or rejected) by Apple, how will you time your launch?

The App Store has gotten better with how long it takes an App to get approved but I would NOT suggest anyone plan on launching their App at the mercy of when Apple give it the thumbs up. Instead, when you submit your App set the launch date a few weeks (or even a month or more) in the future. Apple allows you to change your launch date one time, so if they have it approved in 7 days, you can reset the launch date to match up better with your marketing plan or on a specific date that you want it to launch on.

Free tip: Popular belief is that it is best to launch an App on Sunday over any other day of the week. I do not have any solid numbers to confirm this but it is the consensus of the masses so consider this when you are setting your launch date.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

Q Many apps get lost in the sea that is the App Store. App Creators can’t depend on the App Store for marketing. What are your plans for attracting customers?

As you touched on in the beginning of this article, the biggest challenge is going to be “gaining traction” in the iTunes App Store. People that are following along with my experiment understand that I cannot guarantee them (or even myself) success in the App Store. All we can do is “position ourselves” for the best opportunity for success. BUT, by taking the time to plan out a prelaunch marketing strategy, leverage social media as well as friends and family and optimize our Apps for the App store we will ultimately gain an edge over others who simply launch an app and hope for success. Of course there are many factors to consider that will affect any App’s success but we can do many little things that will help give us the best chance to success.

Some of the things we are discussing are

  • Icon design and the importance of having an eye catching image
  • keyword selection in the App Store
  • category selection
  • monetizing a free App with ads or making a paid App
  • pre-launch marketing
  • leveraging personal contact and social media
  • post launch marketing
  • using your screenshots to sell your App
    and much more..

Q What type of app will you be building and why that genre?

Let me begin by saying that focusing on a targeted audience can increase the chances of success for a new App. A mantra of the entrepreneur world is “there’s rich in the niche” and the saying holds some credence but by focusing on a smaller niche you ultimately limit the potential revenue you can create. This is why I decided to just go for it and design an app in the overly competitive Entertainment category.

Many of the most successful Apps (in terms of revenue) appeal to much larger audiences, but by focusing on such a large audience I will ultimately have to work extra hard to stand out or risk getting lost beneath the avalanche of Apps that are released on a daily basis. Because I decided to go for a “homerun” over a “base hit” I will have to be meticulous in my approach and spend extra time on marketing strategies and building a buzz about my App long before it is launched in the App Store.

Q What kind of research did you do ahead of time?

Awesome question! The lack of quality free content available for first time App Developers is the main reason I took on this challenge to create an iPhone App in a “live” format on my website. When I began my initial research I found several websites that basically outlined the general idea of designing you app and outsourcing it.. then there was nothing more.. ZERO quality actionable advice. The remaining websites built up the idea of making a fortune in the App Store IF ONLY you purchased their course for $99.99. That was when I decided that if no one was going to supply that information, then I was going to have to be that guy.

I scoured every website that offered the smallest amount of information on how to design, market or launch an app. Next, I found several books on the subject and pulled out any actionable material they provided and then I began interviewing people on my podcast on their experiences inside the App Store market. As I collected the information I found that that once I began to move the small pieces around I could begin to see the entire picture and from there I began implementing these ideas for my own app and I share these ideas and tips as the progress unfolds on my website.

Ultimately, the next time someone has the goal of creating iPhone Apps and they search the web for solid information, I want them to find my website and benefit from my research and experiences as well as the advise that I am still building daily from experts in the business.

Q Can you provide some additional details on how you decided on the entertainment niche? Why did it win out over any other niche?

Selecting a Niche would have limited the potential revenue because every niche is limited by the number of people within that niche. If I created an app specific to moped riders, for example, I would be limited by the interest of the people within that niche, others wouldn’t find that App interesting or fitting to them and they would pass it over. I was looking for a much broader audience.

I would not really recommend first time developers to go with such a large and competitive audience as I am for my first app but because I am able to leverage a little more of my social contacts (through FaceBook, Twitter and my webiste) I believe I will have enough of an advantage to take that risk in the more competitive category over someone with less leverage. To be clear, this is the ONLY reason I am taking this risk. Under any other circumstances I may have chosen a less competitive category for my app. Lastly, the App idea that I am developing really only falls under the Entertainment category so I am also limited by the decision to go with my original idea over conducting keyword research for a smaller niche.


Dennis has chosen Kickstarter to help fund application development. A smart move as it helps reduce his financial exposure.

Q What incentive do people have to fund the project?

I am using to attempt to fund my project as a way to show others that they can find ways to reach for their dreams even if they don’t have disposable income to start a business. As the majority of the people who are following my experiment do not have the disposable income to fund their own App, I thought it was only right to show the entire process in a way that ANYONE can emulate if they invest their own creativity and sweat equity.

The initial incentive that I hope people would find as a reason to back my project is that I am trying to build a resource to share with others to help them get started in the iPhone App development business. I am hoping that people will see that I sincerely hope to be able to create a reputable and quality resource that can be a launching point for others to express their creativity and try their hand at the world of entrepreneurship.

Additionally, with any Kickstarter campaign people that “back” your project qualify for some sort of predetermined reward that you create when designing your campaign on Kickstarter. Of course rewards vary from project to project, but for my personal campaign I have rewards that range anywhere from a free copy of the finished App to executive producer credits and even having their photograph included inside the app as one of the sample images.

Finding The Right Developer

Q What criteria and vetting will you use to find a developer?

There are many places that people can find developers and graphic designers to assist them in the creation of their Apps but I’ve found that using either or have given the most consistent results when considering quality, pricing and cost.

I am going to be using for the App that I am building on my website because after extensive research, I believe it offers the best overall experience for anyone that follows along with my step by step process. Of course when you are selecting a graphic artist or developer to assist you on creating your App you’ll have to consider several factors before deciding to put your trust into a strangers hands.

Here are a few things to consider before making your decision:

  • What rating has the person gained while working for others
  • What does their portfolio look like and does it have work in it that meets your expectations
  • What reviews have other people left for the work they have previously done
  • How long has that person worked for that service
  • How many other jobs have they completed for people in the past
  • Is there a language barrier that will hinder communication between you and your developer
  • What is their price and time frame for completing your app

I could go on and on with this subject, but this should give people an idea on where to begin when looking into hiring potential developers. I intend to go much more in-depth on this subject on my website if people are interesting in seeing more on this topic.

Building A Business, Not Just A Product

Q If your first app is successful, you plan to put any profits toward additional apps, creating additional streams of income. What happens if your first app ends up getting stuck on trickle income?

Dennis’ Podcast
1:09 Minutes

If I am fortunate enough to create a successful App on my first attempt I plan to do two things with the revenue it creates. First, I am going to “pay it forward” and help another aspiring App builder to fund their own App. People who are interested in qualifying for this funding opportunity need only to sign up for my email newsletter (the form can be found on the right hand side of

Once the App is in the App Store and begins earning a profit I will set a date a month or so into the future and one person (selected randomly) from the email list will be award 10% of its earnings, up to a maximum of $5,000. Details are found on my website.

My intentions from there are to create additional App’s that I hope to turn into a passive income stream that will supplement my current income and give my family a little additional financial stability and freedom. If I get to the point that I can focus more time on my entrepreneurial pursuits, I may look into other ways to build online resources that can help others find their own financial freedom.

To Be Continued…

Dennis posed a few questions to me:

  • Since you have found some success in the competitive world of App Development, what advice would you offer to people who are just getting started in App development?
  • What strategies do you employ to find success with your apps?
  • Do you have any suggestions on how to market an App successfully?

I answer these questions in Part 2 and analyze the current state of the iTunes App Store pricing structure. Please subscribe below to be notified once Part 2 is published.

My thanks to Dennis for doing this interview. I hope you got something out of it and are able to apply it.

I’d like to hear about your experiences in the app store or your plans for launching an app. Which strategies are you employing to attract customers? How are you approaching pricing? Are you building it yourself or hiring a developer? Please leave a comment below.


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  • Jennifer Cunningham

    Reply Reply March 16, 2013

    This is an interesting post. It certainly makes it seem simple to launch a new app.

  • Dennis Bowles

    Reply Reply March 18, 2013

    Hello Jennifer,
    I hope some of this info can help you with your journey in App Dev (if you are pursuing it) but I wanted to state that doing your due diligence before hand will make the process more simple, but there’s a ton of small things you need to do to set yourself up for success and reduce your risks however there are no guarantees. Do your research, optimize your App for search and doing some marketing will all increase your chances of success. Best of luck to you!
    -Dennis Bowles

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