25
32 Comments

1 year after quitting my job I've only made $42

Jun 2020: quit job
Jul 2020: start working on Petty Cash
Feb 2021: finish MVP and submit to App Store
Feb 2021: app rejected
Mar 2021: more rejections
Apr 2021: approved for App Store

Everything takes longer to build than you think

I estimated it would take me 4 months to build but it ended up taking 8 months. I was an iOS Developer for 10 years before I left my job and thought I was pretty good at estimates. I struggled a lot. Some weeks I wouldn't work at all and felt bad about wasting my time.

Apple can reject your app and not really tell you why

I submitted Petty Cash to Apple at the end of Feb 2021. It got rejected for failing to meet guideline "4.3 Design - Spam." I would ask for clarification but the reviewers kept replying with generic responses of copy and paste sections of Apple's guidelines. It sounded like Petty Cash wasn't different/unique enough and that they were no longer accepting budget apps. I've submitted apps successfully before and never had this happened. I was pretty upset and stopped working on it for a few weeks.

Be persistent

I decided sometime at the end of March 2021 that I put too much work into Petty Cash to just give up. I kept messaging the app reviewers until I got one helpful reviewer that gave me an actual human looking response with something actionable that I could fix. After more back and forth another reviewer gave me the name of another app on the app store that they thought my app was too similar to.

I looked up this app by name on google and my jaw dropped. Their app icon was very similar to mine but was another colour. I had used an icon service to create the icon for Petty Cash and this other app must have done the same.

In the end it turns out the app icon was the problem all along. I'm not sure why they couldn't just tell me that from the beginning. All the other changes I thought I had to make didn't matter. After changing the app icon and fixing a few other things Petty Cash was finally approved for the App Store.

Launching your product is only the beginning

After 5 weeks being live on the App Store, Petty Cash has about 300 downloads and made $42. I've started to focus more on marketing and getting users since launch without much success. All the paid users were from the first week of launch and I've had no new paid users for the last few weeks.

$42 after one year is hardly a success by any measure. It's concerning that I haven't gotten a new paid user for a few weeks but I just think about how much more grateful and excited I'll be when I finally get that next paid user.

I'm weirdly optimistic for the future and am excited to continue to improve Petty Cash and get more users.

Should I be worried that I'm not more worried?

  1. 18

    A friend of mine once said something deceptively simple, that once you have a product or service everything after that is sales. So right now you are at the point where you have your app. Congratulations, you have your product and it's in a store, that was step one. That's the step you were good at and it took you 8 months to do it.

    Now you have to hammer the sales side just as hard if not harder. keep getting feedback but you should be dropping links every single day, you have to beat the bushes because in a saturated market you need a USP or a real megaphone. Build the megaphone while you tune the product tighter and tighter to the market. It's a big mistake to launch and then say "well I guess they aren't coming" after a couple of dry weeks and only 5-6 weeks in total. Don't write off the 8 months yet till you have done everything possible to market the app. Find every personal finance blog, forum, community etc. where your audience is and go straight at them. Get some personal finance demi-god with a B or C level of followers and ask them for a product review etc. Work it.

    Also read this : https://www.indiehackers.com/post/marketing-is-probably-more-important-than-the-product-itself-7e12ef21d6

    1. 2

      This. Listen to this advice.

    2. 1

      Very good advice! 👏

      It can also take a lot of time before your marketing and sales pays off. Stay patient, optimistic and experiment.

    3. 1

      Thank you for this! I've saved your comment to re-read and action later.

      I do feel the easy part is over and now is the hard part of marketing and sales. It's something I'm a complete novice in but I am excited for the challenge and to learn something new.

      The fact that it took me 5 weeks just to post about Petty Cash on IH shows how timid I was.

  2. 8

    A couple of suggestions from my side.

    Ditch the .app domain and go for a .com domain.

    Install & Setup a WordPress on your domain. If you don't get pettycash.com ,something like getpettycash.com or gopettycash.com will also work. Setup a WordPress self hosted on it, and turn the homepage into a full landing page.

    On the homepage, show a gif of your app being used ( simple screen recording will also do ) , and also add more content to the landing page, as of now its pretty blank.

    With some normal keyword research you can end up with 50-60 content titles related to your niche. ( I can help in this part without any charge )

    Start covering those topics in blog post. These can include how to stop impulse buying etc. Once these blogs are done, polish with good images ( canva.com can help in this ).
    Add some Sexy CTAs inside these blog posts.

    It's much better to advertise "how to save $500 per year, or how to get rid of junk food addiction and save money" as compared to directly advertising "budgeting app for iphone". You'll save a fortune on CPC ( cost per click ).

    That'll do for now.

    1. 2

      Excellent advise, this would have even been a great start before anything was even built.

    2. 1

      Awesome advice!

      Also, to find topics to write about, search for forums or other communities where people ask questions. Tons of people probably search google before asking that question, so make a blog post that answers it.

      Google is your best source for traffic.

    3. 1

      Thanks for this! I do want to start writing some blog posts on budgeting and personal finance.

      Do you really think a dot com is necessary? Either way, I just bought getpettycash.com just now. :)

      1. 3

        I'd say it'll make your job like 10x easier.

        The niche you are about to enter now, finance and budgeting isn't very easy to beat niche SEO wise. If you do one quick glance, you'll find most players are using .com.

        I am not saying using .app will make it impossible. But you'll have to waste a lot of $$ on backlinks if you want to rank it. Based on my experience I'd go with .com.

        Congratulations on booking your domain name, you've moved one step up the ladder.

        1. 1

          Absolutely do everything in this thread above - A quick example, unlike the original poster I have a dev partner. What we do is create a spec and while he builds it I build the website and we keep making sure they are completely aligned. When it's time to go out the door I have the website all ready to go and a huge list of blog topics. I will have posts in draft waiting to get indexed by google. We always want to look ESTABLISHED ALREADY versus brand new because it inspires confidence in a site visitor. I spend my time making marketing plans as it takes longer for the build than the website. The problem with lean/MVP etc. is that people don't fully commit to the marketing side, which is cheap and easy if it's just a website.

      2. 2

        @tayson - let me respectfully disagree with @rachitsingh on many of the recommendations made.

        First, you're offering an app. So, while a dot com is normally ideal, I don't think it's going to make one bit of difference for you. You may want to setup getpettycash.com to redirect to pettycash.app just so you can verbally tell some people a dot com domain name (because they will likely remember dot com moreso than dot app).

        "Petty cash" is more of a business term, vs a personal finance term. I'm not suggesting you scrap the name, but I would not go to a great deal of effort to promote a "getpettycash.com" domain.

        Don't redo your site (yet). Instead of a static image of your app in a phone, you may want to make a gif or a screen recording video showing some of the app's functionality. For example, maybe create a gif showing all the images you show of your app in the App store. Also, say more than "simple budgeting" in the hero slide. Maybe "Super simple personal budgeting" or "Personal budgeting -- simplified". Plus, some add-on tag like "An easy-to-use personal finance money tracker that..."

        I don't know what "zero-based budget" means, nor do I know what "assign a job to ever dollar" means. I've been on this planet a good while, and I have no idea what those phrases mean. So you may want to succinctly explain what those means, the benefit of doing those things, or rewording them so the average person knows what they mean.

        Do NOT waste time creating content for your website right now. You're not trying to get people to your website. You want to get people to the App store directly. If you start to drive people to your website, you're going to lose a lot of people because you only support iOS currently.

        You don't necessarily need to be perceived as an authority on personal finance (even if you are), because you're not offering advice. You're different than a SaaS, so you don't need to try and mirror what many SaaS and Software sites do related to content development in order to attract organic traffic.

        If you're going to create content, see if you can create content that can be used as guest articles on relevant blogs/sites (that will link directly to your App on the App Store). You're not going to win the content/SEO game in personal finance, so play to your strengths and don't waste time right now trying to get organic traffic to your website.

        FOCUS ON MARKETING
        FOCUS ON MARKETING
        FOCUS ON MARKETING

        Lot's of shitty products have done great, and many great products have done shitty. Marketing is the key, not the product.

        Try to find influencers (even micro-influencers) in your app's category on Blogs/websites, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, & Tiktok.

        Do 1-2 qualified, thoughtful, helpful outreaches per day. After 1 year, you'll have 365-730 entities that you've contacted and that you can follow-up with.

        Take your time, and don't get discouraged.

        Lastly, I may know some people with Personal Finance websites -- if you have a solid pitch, I may be able to make some warm introductions. Feel free to email me via the email in my IH profile and I can see what I can do to help.

    4. 1

      This comment was deleted 17 days ago.

  3. 3

    Your story feels very recognizable, except you're doing better than me. I think I underestimated the amount of work about 3 or 4 fold, and it took me much longer to make my first $42. That said, I did it part time aside of contract work.

    I also thought that I was "done" when my product was ready, only to realize it was just the first stage. I had finished the part that I was good at. For the next stage you'll need to learn a lot of new stuff :)

    $42 after one year is hardly a success

    You have 300 downloads and are already making some money after 5 weeks. After your first launch. That's pretty good I'd say. Now find ways to get feedback from these users, listen to them (and other potential users), and change the app to better feed your audience's needs.

    I decided [...] that I put too much work into Petty Cash to just give up.

    You should not give up now (if you can deal with it financially), because only building the app is not a proper try. If after having put in a serious effort in stage 2 (marketing, finding audience, tweaking app, etc) you still have not succeeded, then you can give up.

    The hard part is that I don't know when a try is sufficient enough to call it a day. This is something that I struggle with myself. How long should I keep pushing? Sometimes I believe I'll succeed if I just keep pushing long enough, and sometimes I feel any effort I put in is a waste of time. Any thoughts about this are welcome :)

    1. 2

      I'm still optimistic because I don't feel like I've given it an honest try yet. There's still many things I can do and improve.

      I'll give myself a year since launch to make ramen money. I think it's okay to stop and try something else after that.

      Maybe when you're no longer enjoying the journey is a good time to call it a day? Only you can answer when you've put in sufficient effort and when to stop. :)

  4. 3

    "tried paying for apple search ads, submitting my app to different directories, and cross promoting Petty Cash in my other apps".... That doesn't sound like a real plan.

    Let me be critical for a moment. 42$ is very little for a years work. I would be worried to be honest.

    But... I don't know your situation. I have a family to feed, so this wouldn't work for me ;-)

    It doesn't mean this app can't work and make some money at some point. But I would probably rethink my commitment, especially considering that you have other projects as well.

    Or... maybe take a good look at what I mentioned first... you don't have a plan and there is a good chance that you'll invest time and money for nothing.

    1. 1

      Can you elaborate on what a real plan would look like?

      We're gearing up to take Contemplate from a web-app to the app stores, and I need to start thinking about these things.

      1. 2

        Hey! Not sure if you work on the same project here... Anyway... @unemployability already wrote down some valuable information.
        This would be my take:

        1. Make a list of blogs/podcast in your niche.
        2. Make a list of influential people in your niche.
        3. Analyze your competitors marketing (find out what you can "copy").
        4. Reach out to all sites and people on your list. Go for quality over quantity. Meaning: No mass mails - find a personal touch for every contact.

        I like this method. But there are a million ways. If you have some money to invest in marketing there are even more things to do. But careful... don't do too much. Go all in on 3-4 things and do em right.

        1. 2

          Thank you for the advice!

        2. 2

          Thanks for this, and for bringing my attending to @unemployability's comment. That was posted after mine, so I wouldn't have seen it.

  5. 2

    Nice work Tayson.

    Definitely don't get disheartened. If it gives you some confidence, my story was pretty similar to yours - leaving full time job, spending longer than expected building something, weird demotivating speed-bumps, but now we're at 60K MRR.

    My advice is that you need to be prepared that it could take a long time to reach Ramen profitability. As you've seen with development, it's just like a rule of startups that it takes a long time, and then starts to steadily build up. My experience is that it tends to happen about 2 years from when you start, so my point being don't be afraid to contract or take side jobs to get you through that period, so that you can persist on this on the side, instead of burning through every dollar of savings and crashing out. I ended up working part-time for about a year at similar point to you, and then the product started magically making money and managed to swing back to that full-time.

  6. 1

    Thanks for sharing, and congrats on the launch. I'd love to hear more about what went into those $42 (seriously!):
    https://www.indiehackers.com/post/tell-me-the-other-half-of-your-success-story-7dec3e3d17

  7. 1

    There's nothing worse than tech giants blocking you. For them, it's nothing: Apple can block as many apps as they like, and there'll still be plenty more for them to extract their 30% from. For you, it's everything: if your app's not on the App Store, all your work was in vain. That imbalance of power, and the callousness of the tech giants towards it, makes my blood boil. It's bullying, when it comes down to it.

    Well done for persisting, Tayson, I hope your revenue only climbs from here!

  8. 1

    Hi @tayson, my compliments for releasing an app on the app store.
    You got very good suggestions already.

    I see your app has very few reviews on the app store, try to get some reviews from friends and family, people are keen to download something which has already been "tested" and reviews are definitely going to help to get at least few more taps on the app store.

    The screenshots in your app store listing are not so appealing in my opinion, they would not catch my attention if you have friends who are good at graphic design ask them if they could help you redo your screenshots.

    As another person pointed out here in the thread, I do not know what "assign a job to every dollar" means.

    I would try to find some small influencers in your niche who could help you promote this app, there are definitely many and I would continue collecting user feedback on how to improve the app.

    You could also look on Instagram at some Finance influencers and go through their followers to see if you can collect some emails from their bio and try to reach out to them.

    Another idea would be finding some Facebook groups where people talk about personal finance, try to bring value there, and explain why your app would help them.

    There are also many small personal finance newsletters/podcasts that you could approach asking them to feature you inside.

    I do not think that at the moment you should put too much effort into your website, competition in this space is HUGE and the time and effort you would need to put in would be too big for the reward.

    I agree with many here that marketing is important but also the quality of the app is important, it makes no sense to make hundreds of customers for losing them right after they have downloaded the app.

    Are you tracking data from your app? From the 300 downloads how many people are using the app on a daily basis? I think this could be a good indicator for you to decide if you should go on with this project. If you see that the people who downloaded the app are also using it then I definitely recommend you to go on.

    I wish you the BEST success!!! I will be happy if I am able to help you, at least a bit :)

  9. 1

    Thank you for this post @tayson. Maybe it's something wrong with me but I appreciate posts like that (and comments below) more than another "I make 15k MRR" ;)
    You got a few good pieces of advice... and thanks to you I got them too.

    Best of luck!

  10. 1

    Congratulations 🎉 Many haven't gotten as far as you have.

    • Completely agree with @unemployability where you seriously need to invest in marketing. You need to spend 4x build costs at a minimum unless you have some new guerrilla-style of marketing. That isn't an exaggeration either!

    The iOS app store as of Feb 2021 pushes out over 30,000 apps each month (100,000 on Android) (Statista, 42 Matters). You're entering into a stupidly competitive space where even moderately successful apps have to fend of clone pirates and iOS legalities. Forget getting featured or using publishers to get your app out there, there just isn't enough in your app to make a user switch from all the other budgeting apps out there.

    Sorry to give some insight into the space you're in, but you mentioned you're an iOS developer so I guess some of this stuff you might already know.

    But, major congrats on finishing.

  11. 1

    One piece of advice about your homepage: you should make it clearer what problem you're solving!

  12. 1

    Great to see your progress -- though it does not look fancy as many people would think, it is indeed 99,999 % accurate for entrepreneurship. For your niche, yes, you should build an audience first that resonates to your product.

  13. 1

    Well, I wouldn't say that 42$ is necessary a failure. I spent about the same time on my first product and earned 0 total. If you got some money at this point I am sure you can get more in the future. Keep it up!

  14. 1

    What marketing activities are you doing to drive exposure and awareness for your app? Is it just relying on App Store marketplace search?

    If yes, you should proactively market your app too. Join communities where your target customers already hang out -- facebook groups, subreddits about personal finance, budgting, FIRE.

  15. 1

    Just putting out the exact truth many entrepreneurs need to hear.
    Great post @tayson! I appreciate your dedication and hustle. I think big things are already on on way. Good luck :)

  16. 1

    Keep going Tayson!

    Hopefully we can get more mobile app developers to jump on here and tell us how they did it 🤞

  17. 1

    This is very motivating... How are you promoting the app? and will you think about an android version to help raise money?

    1. 1

      I've tried paying for apple search ads, submitting my app to different directories, and cross promoting Petty Cash in my other apps.

Trending on Indie Hackers
I quit my 1+m$/year job to work full-time on my own project 21 comments Designjoy crosses $70k MRR! Someone pinch me...😱 14 comments RocketList - a collection of cloud actions for your site 9 comments My Core Web Vitals Tool Featured on Product Hunt 🔥 7 comments How a Twitter API suspension nearly killed my startup 5 comments Show IH: 16 Year Old Builds ₿itcoinForecast To Celebrate Currency Adoption 5 comments