Trevor McKendrick had no experience in coding or computer science. In fact, his background was in accounting. But when he discovered that a family member was making a substantial amount of money by selling iOS apps in Apple’s App Store, he decided to try it himself.
His first hurdle was obvious: He needed to come up with a unique idea for an app — not an easy task when around 1 000 new apps are launched in the App Store every single day. McKendrick dealt with this particular hurdle in the most inspired way possible — he circumvented it entirely. He would not try to create a new app, but would instead opt for creating a better one.
McKendrick started trawling the App Store for a very particular kind of app: One that was simultaneously popular and godawful.
In other words, he was looking for an app that users were willing to put up with despite obvious flaws, simply because there was nothing better on offer.
He found it in a Spanish-language Bible app. Spanish Bible readers, it turned out, were a surprisingly under-serviced segment of the App Store user base. If you wanted to crush candies, fling birds or post selfies, your options were vast. Try to read the Bible in Spanish on your phone, however, and you were in trouble. There were several apps to choose from, but none of them were good.
The perfect app
McKendrick had struck upon un-mined gold. Not only had he discovered a market in need of a good app, but the app they were clamouring for wasn’t even all that hard to create.
Consider, for a moment, the complexity of an app such as Uber. It needs to be able to find your location, allow you to choose between different ride options, send that information to a driver, tell you how long it will be until your ride arrives, process your payment, etc. This is not a cheap or easy app to make.
Now contrast that with a Bible app, which is essentially just (a whole bunch of) words linked to a table of contents. There’s not a lot of functionality involved. The app really just turns your phone or tablet into an e-reader.
Moreover, really old books such as the Bible do not need to be licenced. They are in the public domain, which means that you can go ahead and use that content for free.
Minimum viable product
Easy as a Bible app was to make, McKendrick didn’t possess the coding skills necessary to create it, so he commissioned a developer to do it for him. As mentioned, this wasn’t a terribly complex app to build, so producing it was relatively cheap.
“It cost me $500 to get a developer to create it for me,” says McKendrick. “Generally speaking, there are two ways to go about it when bringing in a developer. The first is to bring in someone who is very experienced and very knowledgeable. By doing this you really only need to pitch the idea. They’ll put the whole thing together for you. This way is easy and very hands-off, but it’s also expensive.
“The other option is to get someone to just do the basic coding for you. You’ll still need to do a lot of the testing and planning, which will save you money, but cost you time.”
The developer did most of the work for McKendrick, though he did help out here and there, but overall, creating the app was cheap because it was a very simple piece of software.
“I didn’t think of it as a minimum viable product at the time, but that’s really what it was,” says McKendrick. “With just R5 000 I was able to take a gamble and see if the app would take off.”
It took off. He sold the app for R10, and made R10 500 in his first month. By the end of the first year, the app had made R730 000 in revenue. By the second year it was making R1 000 000.
Speaking to Alex Blumberg in an episode of Blumberg’s podcast, StartUp, he said: “It doesn’t feel like real money because so little work is involved. Dude, I spend maybe an hour a month on this thing.”
McKendrick eventually decided that a ‘freemium’ model made more sense, whereby users get a basic service for free, but have to pay for add-on services.
“That seemed to be the way apps were going, and I thought it made sense,” says McKendrick. “The App Store was making the transition towards free apps, so I wanted to make that transition myself.”
McKendrick commissioned a developer to rebuild the app from the ground up. A big new feature was the ability to purchase an audio version of the Bible, as well as other related e-books.
This meant licensing the rights to the content, and in the case of a Spanish audio version of the Bible, having it recorded and edited.
“I found an audio studio in Peru, and it took them four months to record it. We had two translations, and the voice on both versions was the same guy. This one guy read the Bible out loud twice. They would apparently work in three-hour chunks,” says McKendrick.
As the app grew in popularity, revenue ballooned from R50 000 a month to R120 000. However, production costs and royalty fees now had to be paid, so overall profits grew by a fairly small amount. Still, McKendrick had created an app that was selling well and offering a very steady stream of (fairly) passive income.
Selling the app
Eventually, a buyer started sniffing around. “This guy just sent me an email and told me that his company was interested in buying the app. He introduced himself and provided some social proof that he was serious by telling me to look him up on LinkedIn.
Selling the app wasn’t something that McKendrick was actively trying to accomplish. In fact, he wasn’t sure at all if he wanted to sell. But he was being offered a great price: Five times revenue — a total of $500 000.
“The price was about eight times the profit I was making, which meant that it would take me about a decade to make that kind of money off the app. Moreover, I was losing interest in the business. I wanted to do something new,” says McKendrick.
So he cashed out and left the Bible selling business. He had made a tidy sum of money, but he had also found his passion. He now plans to help others do what he did — to build a successful app without any coding knowledge. McKendrick did it. Anyone else can, too.