I’ve got an iPhone app to sell, since it’s just sitting around collecting dust and I know it can be a kick-ass, profitable app with a cult-like following with only a little work. Read on…
I’ve been a big fan of the craigslist.org site for quite some time for buying and selling things. The interface is lightweight, it’s fast, and it’s not overburdened with all the mud that sites like eBay insist on covering themselves. A few years back, I had to post a bunch of items on craigslist, and became frustrated at the terrible interface that they have for posting – it’s burdensome, slow, and impossible to use on a smartphone. The iPhone had just come out, so I started the slow process of developing the specs for an application that posted craigslist “for sale” items right from the phone, using the built in camera and having some intelligent template designs for ease of use.
In late 2008, I finally got a good functional specification together and started working with a group of Eastern European (Ukraine) developers with whom I’d had good experiences in the past. I gave them the spec, and they seemed to think it was a decent app. They were super-flexible, and agreed to do the work for cash plus a percentage of the “profit” on the proceeds from the Apple iTunes store sales on the software. To make a long story short, this was their first iPhone app and development took a bit longer than anticipated, but it did eventually come together. I called it “GoCraigsy” to include the concept that it was a craigslist app, and also that somehow perhaps it was for craigslist fanatics. I couldn’t come up with anything better, so… that’s what it’s called.
In February of 2009, I launched the app with a selling price of $3.00. I figured: if people were going to be selling things with the app, they were recognizing real, actual money from the use of the app. Not too many other applications can be directly linked with cash finding its way into your pocket… so this was a sure-fire winner, right? So it turns out that people are cheaper than I had considered. The $3 starting price was a flop – probably only 20 copies sold in two week. OK, I said, let’s try a quick giveaway for a day or two – wow, that was an eye-opener. I think I was shipping five copies a minute for almost a day and gave me great feedback and use on the app for 24 hours and so I figured “Well, maybe I’ll price at $1 to see what happens.” Again, the downloads slowed to a trickle as soon as I gave the app a price. Interestingly, the people who did download it used the HELL out of it – one person posted something like 200 ads in a one month span. I could track this because there is a keyphrase the user could opt to put in the ads, and I would just search on that to see how many ads were posted with it. I also added up the dollar amounts for a while of the items listed for sale, and lost track after it hit the $250,000 mark. The free users were just as active as the paid users, and even today a year or so after I turned the app off and took it off the store, at least one person launches roughly every other day.
What happened next? Well, I got tremendously busy with my day job, which sucked a lot of wind out of my sails for doing side projects. The income was pretty low – maybe 3-4 people per day purchased it. The app worked great for about two months, and then craigslist changed one of their form values. This is a pain, because many of the parts of the code look at the page format on craigslist and parse those into various places to make it appear that the app is a person (this allows me to create the fast and “nicer” UI that is iPhone-friendly.) So the app broke, and I had to contact the developers to get tiny tweaks done, and then had to re-sign the app and get it sent back to Apple for an update. But the iPhone development kit isn’t simple, and I really really hate it. This time around, it gave me huge problems signing the app and getting it uploaded, so I threw up my hands in disgust and haven’t touched it since.
I’ve not even looked at it much since then, and honestly I suspect I’ve lost my taste for iPhone development, at least where I’m supposed to be the guy out there astroturfing about what a great app it is and putting up ads on websites and shilling on MyFavoriteiPhoneAppBloggyBlog.com. I’m a great promoter of other people’s software, but when it come to my own I suppose I’m just not as enthusiastic for some reason. So I’ve decided that this needs to be sold, not simply for the money that I could get from it, but really because I want to see it live again – I want to USE this software, and someone needs to become the maintainer of the code and hopefully the reaper of the profit. I’ve got too many irons in the fire right now, and I’m trying to trim down the number of projects I have on my mind. This one has been lingering, so it’s time to do something with it.
Since I left it last, two significant things have happened that could make this app more interesting and profitable with a little work: Apple has introduced the concept of “micro-payments” on the iPhone platform via their in-app payment system, and just as importantly, the iPad has come out. The combination of these two elements I think can make this a winner application. But much more importantly in the recipe for making this a great application is the ability for the app to be shepherded by someone who is a fantastic promoter of iPhone apps. I’m famously terrible at self-promoting, so this app probably failed not because it wasn’t awesome, but because I can’t advertise appropriately.
I have a few ideas (well, three) that I think would turn this software around. Micro-payments is obviously one, though the details and the other idea I’ll hold onto until someone wants to have long conversations about this application.
There have been a number of craigslist-oriented applications that I’ve purchased or tried on the iPhone. Many of them are wonderful for browsing ads. A few of them even allow ad posting. But they’re all terrible. Universally. Don’t believe me? Try them yourself – I won’t name names. They’re awful, if they work at all (most don’t – they crash or error out.) The UIs are terrible, they don’t support templates, they default back to the browser interface (sometimes in a window) and they’re just plain garbage, and I’ve verified this even as of last night. The methods I used were complex and in some ways a bit fragile due to craigslist’s lack of an API, but it WORKED and the experience was light-years better than the apps that currently exist on the marketplace. More importantly, it was faster – LOTS faster – than any of the existing apps for craigslist posting, and this really appealed to me (and quite a few people who wrote to me about it.) Posting an ad took around 35 seconds, including pictures (but excluding the time it took to type the description, which is a “fixed cost”) and that’s pretty snappy. For someone like myself who wants to wander around the basement and take pictures and sell a whole lot of stuff, that’s exactly what was needed in a craigslist app. As a sidenote: I’m inclined to think that the people that run craigslist are not so friendly towards their users, otherwise they would have developed an API by now to allow all this stuff to work without the gymnastics. Every message I’ve sent them has gone into a black hole, and other developers have experienced outright hostility or legal threats. They don’t seem to realize that real, actual humans want to do things for the right reasons, with the right controls, and not everyone is a spammer. This is despite their existing system failing to manage the spam problem via the web interface that is the weak link in their process. Apps like this, if done the right way, could solve a significant problem they have today. It’s a mystery, folks… but that’s neither here nor there.
So what are the details on what I’m selling? There’s a server side and a client side, though the server is just a dumb web server that feeds out templates for day-to-day changes. That’s on the www.gocraigsy.com server, which is a VM ($20 a month?) somewhere. You can go to that page and even watch a video of the way the app works. I’d be interested in selling the server, the domain name, the source code, the specifications, and all the code on the server (which isn’t much – just a few support scripts.) You’d need to get an SSL certificate to make it work (it only talks HTTPS to the template server) and you’d need to have an existing relationship with Apple – I’m not selling my company, which is the entity that can transact business with the Apple iTunes store. You’ll probably need to have prior experience developing iPhone apps, otherwise this is probably too much of a hassle for you to learn on. You’ll need to have the ability to convince me that you’ll be able to send me money. I’m open to a combination of cash and/or percentage of income from the iTunes store (sorry, can’t work on “profit” – too complicated.) I’d like to make sure my Eastern European developers eventually see some money out of this, as well. However, don’t let this frighten you – I’m not greedy. Your next question is “Well, how much are you charging for this?” and the answer to that is actually quite open. If you were paying just cash, it would be quite a bit – there are hundreds of hours of development and effort in this app, and I do have my stupid sense of honor. If you’re thinking about purely percentage, then that might actually work better, since I’d like to see this app running again and it puts my money where my mouth is – if I didn’t think this was an amazing tool that other people eventually will find useful and worth paying for, then I’d be shy of a percentage deal. However, a cash + percentage deal would work as well, since that will reduce my percentage requirement. Up to you, but assume I’m not going to give it away.
You will almost certainly need to do some tweaking to get it running, but it would be minor. I’m sure craigslist has changed some style elements on their pages which will have to be managed. But that is about 1% of the work of this app – there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background that is pretty fancy, and would take quite a bit of time to reproduce. This is nearly a ready-to-wear application, but it’s not a game or another @#%(@#%@#% flashlight app – it’s a useful, network-based tool that interacts with a very complicated commercial platform. It’s amazingly useful, has a significant value to the user base, and is almost universally interesting to anyone who has something sitting in their garage that they want to sell. Sounds like a winner to me… why don’t you take it over and make some money?