Category: Outside the Box

Much of this blog is devoted to helping mobile app developers, but blogging itself can be very useful to anyone – app developer, entrepreneur, college student – even you. Blogging is something that anyone can do and starts with using fairly basic skills sets.

The two most important components of a blog involve your reasons for blogging and a long-term commitment to it. Of these, it is usually the “long-term commitment” that factors most importantly. Otherwise, as long as you have an internet-capable device, access to a publishing platform and the ability to inform or entertain your audience, you can blog.

Long-term commitment is likely to be the result of your reasons to blog. Data suggests  that 60-80% of blogs are “discontinued” within a month of being started.

Why? My assertion would be that blogs are often started in the belief they will yield some fast results. Blogs are 99.99% likely to NOT generate fast results for anyone. The strengths of Blogging reside in Process.

Simply put, if you are looking for fast results, you are better off not starting a blog. If, however, your interests involve matters of Process, then blogging can be an extremely valuable tool.

Process?

Looking at where you are now, what is something you wish you would have started five years ago that would be useful for you today? Let’s say you wanted to get a college degree while having a full-time job and perhaps a family. Between evening and online courses, you could have had that degree.

Where do you want to be in five years? What will get you there? The longer you delay starting on it, the longer that “five years” is going to be.

The Process itself cultivates commitment and discipline which will make you far more productive and generally more successful than being undisciplined and uncommitted. While it might be said that this can involve doing things simply for the sake of doing them, you are developing your capacity to focus on what needs to be done relative to the long-term.

Results Associated with the Process of Blogging:

• Increase your knowledge and understanding of anything
• Increase your ability to get a job
• Develop a level of authority on an industry/niche
• Expand the quantity of your social and professional contacts
• Increase the quality of your social and professional relationships
• Pick up lots of tips and tricks to grow your blog that apply directly to growing your business
• Ability to re-publish anything you’ve written for different purposes

Professional Skill Sets Gained Along the Way

Inherent to blogging is the development of your ability to produce content of value to your audience, cultivating a better understanding of your audience, a bit advertising and marketing, some search engine optimization, expanded graphical capabilities, increased understanding of metrics and statistics, developing presentations and publishing – in general. Added to these you may end up producing newsletters, running membership sites, producing e-books sometimes hard copy books, advertising sales, potentially even web site development.

It can also open the door to multi-media development, video production, podcasts, traditional news reporting, participation in government and business forums, involvement with think-tanks, and more.
These do not come all at once, but little by little over a few years. It ultimately provides you with far more marketable job skills, job and business options than sticking just to app development or any other distinct job title.

To Learn for the Sake of Learning

Everyone starts somewhere. Experts started out knowing nothing at some point. When it comes down to a good reason to do a blog – Learning is as good as any. It is something that you will be able to do for as long as you live. The only thing you need to be able to do “to learn” is to be able to ask a question – and have the desire to research the answer.

A lot of tech people fixate too heavily on “tech stuff” – to where they may know everything there is to know about a program language or development platform. And? If they really knew everything about their “tech stuff” they would also know how to monetize it – to make money from what they do and so much of it that they would be “rich”.

I won’t say that blogging will make you rich, but the process associated with it will help open the door to where you want to be in five years. The first twenty years of my career were focused on matters of Logistics and Operations. While good in both, the capacity to write about my work is the one thing that advanced my career and other interests more than anything else. We all have different strengths and advance in our own unique ways, suffice that cultivating your ability to write helps to magnify what you know, provide insight others who need it, and broaden your skill sets.

Format?

Format is the least important component of writing. You can adapt most of the elements of blogging to web sites, newsletters, periodicals, to LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Twitter is far more limited, obviously, owing to a 140 character public post limit.   See 51 of the best blogging and publishing platforms  for a good list of some of your options for getting started.

The tech world has a way of coming up with new words for a lot of old ideas.  The whole notion of crowdfunding, for example, has roots in traditional fundraising, pre-order sales marketing and old school methods of finding investors.  Similarly there are different types of blogs, but they are all online adaptations of “pre-internet” methods.  They do change and evolve, but just because the name may change does not mean all of the “processes” change with it.  Some do, but most remain the same.

Summer’s almost here and this provides you an opportunity to find a college student to work with you as an intern. Internships and apprenticeships both work, they are very much the same if packaged a little differently. The point is you are providing someone a chance to get some hands on work experience, fill some space on their resume, a professional referral and possibly make some money. Here are some considerations and ideas for you to consider to help everyone get a win-win experience with internships.

Considerations:

There are a variety of ways your program can be framed and there are legal considerations for how you define it. It is appropriate to understand that there are both paid and unpaid internship programs, apprenticeships, commission-based only sales jobs, independent contractors, and other forms of agreements to include unpaid consultancies. Legal considerations apply to each that you will need to research specific to your country, but in most cases you can structure conditions to meet those requirements. The main considerations include:

  • Compensation. Again, you will need to consult your local laws regarding unpaid internship programs. It is appropriate to note that training, experience, professional references alone can be valuable commodities depending upon the local job market.
  • Supervision.  A considerable degree of supervision is if not necessary, certainly desirable, but that could be defined simply as having instant messaging via Skype. You need someone with experience to be on hand to answer questions as they arise and provide contextual references.
  • Training materials.  If you intend to run an internship or apprenticeship program frequently, it is practical to create (and retain) reference materials as needed. This may involve an overview of the company, products and services, team members, essential company mission/positioning statements, frequently asked questions, technical manuals, and so forth. These are all good to have “anyways”.
  • Workload. It could be part-time, full-time, flex-time, completely informal, at an office or work from home – defined formally or left completely to a “whatever you want to do” basis.

To what end? Why would you want a trainee or intern?

Speaking specifically for mobile app developers, there is a lot of information to take in regardless what your technical position is – whether on the programming or marketing side. There’s far more that you could be doing, should be doing, but probably aren’t. Getting a little bit of help on these things can go a long way. Examples:

  • Let’s say you would like to expand your distribution network. After showing your sidekick how to add your app to one mobile store, they can proceed to add it to several others. The same could apply to setting up a different promotion for your app on each store.
  • Testing apps. You should have a beta test team, so you can assign your trainees tasks such as organizing bug reports, testing your patches prior to sending out new versions to beta testers, or if they are programmers, to see if they can identify the erring code.
  • Starting something new for you. It could be that after their orientation to your company, you would ask them what they would do in areas that you are not doing – to develop an action plan. That’s good homework! It could apply to how they would manage your social networking, advertising or any of your marketing activities.

Compensation Options

Most app developers are not breaking even as it is, so some sort of paid internship program may seem completely out of reach. As the saying goes, “It takes money to make money” – albeit with enough time, you can make money, too. That’s how business goes – businesses have employees as their time enables the business to make more money.

As noted earlier, there are multiple options to exactly how you might define and structure an internship program and to varying extents, it may end up being nothing like an internship program. Nevertheless, there are people out there willing to work, who do not have jobs, who would like one – so any effort to create a job is favorable on its own merit.

There are a few things that should be absolutely provided.  One is a letter of recommendation – three originals preferably on high quality paper, defining and thanking them for their work, and signed by you.    This would also be good to provide in PDF format.  A recommendation on LinkedIn with points for each of the areas they worked on with you.  An understanding that they can use you as a professional reference with confidence that you will provide them a positive referral.  An personal, verbal thank you.

Of course, if their contribution was less than one would expect, these recommendations and referrals are probably best set aside.

Notes for Prospective Interns and Other Job Seekers

It’s not always easy to find a job.  Sometimes it takes extra initiative when the “standard and customary” methods are not working – like applying for jobs behind a line of hundreds of other applicants.   Job hunting is not easy, it is not fun, it is usually not particularly fast.  In some areas of the United States, people have been out of work for so long they have stopped looking.

Consider the plight of the entrepreneur — who will frequently invest lots of their own time and money just to do what they want to do.  Like it or not, you are an entrepreneur – the only question is whether you are applying to it… perhaps not to create your own business, but maybe just to get a job that you like and are good at.

Between social networking and the various Q&A boards, not to mention LinkedIn, you have the option to approach those you know – and perhaps some you don’t – to give your skills the opportunity to do something for you and them.   If you are good at what you do and can do better than what they are doing, or you can show that you can make them money – you simply need to talk to the owner, avoiding large companies with hiring managers.

If you are new to the job market or to the industry itself, you are likely to be looking for a mentor who can facilitate getting you some hands on training or experience and can help pave the way for your next job.

Be clear with any terms you may have – if you have any expectation of pay, you need to make that clear.  But if it is the difference of showing what you can do for the potential of getting a job vs. never getting past the first interview, taking the extra initiative can be very useful.

Written September 30, 2013 – Updated:  May 13, 2015

What is your mobile app’s revenue model? Free with paid in-app advertising? Freemium? Premium?  There’s another revenue option that with a bit  more work and some creativity could be a major revenue stream for developers of mobile utility-based apps – membership site subscriptions.

What is a Membership Site?   Here, we are talking about a web site where people pay for access – to other people, specific information, instruction or training, and sometimes for things like a trade association or possibly for matters of prestige.   There are membership sites for everything: celebrity fan clubs, for fans of rock-n-roll bands, for sports teams, churches, hobbies, and online games, too.

Even WordPress can be used to make a membership site.  Many membership site platforms provide a few different levels of membership at different subscription rates for different levels of access.   The benefits of these platforms is that they are mostly “plug-n-play” – all the features are there, most importantly with integrated member and billing management.   Membership sites are usually very feature rich making it easy for the “average user” to add their own content – articles, pictures, videos and other files, conduct live stream events, maintain an event calendar, make it easy to share across social media, and usually a LOT more.

Why would a Membership Site be useful for a Mobile App Utility?  This requires seeing the big picture and where you and your app fit in it. If you have an app that is useful for people in a particular profession – both you, your professional/social network and your app/s have a place in that profession.   You have the basis to potentially offer and be paid for far more.It is helpful to look at what you do as it relates to both products and services – and see that frequently “services” have greater value than “products” – and that providing products is a great way to promote services.   Tax preparation software, for example, is a great way of promoting tax preparation services. 

It is appropriate to see providing access to subject matter expertise from subject matter experts as a service unto itself.  Depending upon the individual profiles of those subject matter experts, intangibles like trust and prestige can come into play – and to an extent, their own “social-professional connectedness”.  If, for example, you are preparing to graduate from college and are looking for a job as a tax accountant – developing relationships with other established tax accountants can make it a lot easier to get into a good company.  Another example is your local golf course – odds are it probably has a membership club.

How much work is a Membership Site?  Honestly, setting up and managing a membership site can be a lot of work.  Much depends upon how you structure it for the long-term, but one can expect a fairly intensive 30 – 90 days of content development and structuring it for your membership.  Thereafter, you can settle into a schedule of periodic updates.

A few things deserve to be pointed out.  First, you don’t necessarily need to do this yourself.  If you have an experienced colleague interested in some side work who knows your app, you could enter into a partnership with them.  Second, the more you encourage and reward membership participation, the more the site will tend to “manage itself”.  While about 90% of your membership is likely to be fairly passive, the other 10% will be happy to take on an active role because they will see and understand doing so helps others while simultaneously advancing their own interests.

What can this do for you continued app development?

As can be expected, a membership site effort would require producing high quality, industry-specific content, news and additional services. Obviously, this would expand your role well beyond the scope of mobile development. Consider the following advantages:

  • Recurring monthly or annual membership billing.
  • Industry specialists to help define desired features and new apps.
  • A built-in group of beta testers.
  • An additional venue for advertising and acquiring sponsors.
  • More easily connect with industry bloggers and journalists.
  • Your own store front.
  • Better ability to incentivize your “super-users” to promote your app more.

This combines your mobile app – a unique product, with a nearly unique service. The core features of a membership site involve a combination of specialized content, expertise coupled with low level consulting services, community, opportunities for members to network with others (B2B and/or B2C), in some cases – prestige.

Consider how much you make selling each copy of your app. Compare that to what you might make through subscriptions. While heavily relative to the market, it is not uncommon for a web site monthly subscription to run $5 or $50 a month or $50 to $500 per year, or more – per subscriber. Some financial and investor related sites run in excess of $300 monthly. The variation relates to matters of expertise, exclusivity, prestige and target size. Celebrity status (yours or that of your core members) can influence this further.

Structuring Membership Levels – Most platforms offer several levels of membership – like:  Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold or even Platinum.   As an example (and a recommendation), it is good to always have one free option – basic – letting people access some of your content, sign up to your newsletter, so that you have their contact information.  Bronze or Silver levels add access to content on a paid basis – perhaps at just a few dollars per month or $10 – $25 per year.  Gold and Platinum levels are reserved for the “major movers” – and those who want access to special services – whether some consulting, one on one time, or perhaps advertising capabilities, often for much more.  The pay structure needs to fit your market.

Additional Revenue Streams.  Having a membership site for a specific trade/industry/interest can facilitate corporate sponsorships and advertising.  For some, corporate sponsorships can be the greatest source of revenue.  In one case, a site focused on electric-powered vehicles made more through advertising than all other sources of income combined.

This may require more marketing savvy and greater effort but your ROI relative to base app sales is potentially much greater. You are not precluded from adopting multiple marketing and promotional efforts. You can still feature your app on stores just like you can promote your site through your app.

It’s not a decision to be made lightly or without research. It requires an honest appraisal of what you can do, the quality and usefulnes of your apps, and a long-term commitment to a specific niche or industry.   That can extend to who you know and what they are willing to do, too.  Most importantly, a successful membership site requires a deep understanding of your position within the industry and a long-term, persistent effort to improve it.

Frequently, to make what you do most profitable requires doing a lot of other things. Properly approached and developed, however – you can leverage the interests and activities of your market to substantially augment your own efforts. When your “network” becomes a hub or attraction within your industry, others will be looking to increase their position within it, too.

Getting straight to it, Horizon 2020 is a massive European Union Research and Innovation program with 80 Billion Euros worth of funding spanning from 2014 through 2020. Its goal is, “to ensure Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation” – to promote economic growth and create jobs.

This deserves attention, not so much for the EU, but for mobile app developers (individuals and companies) residing in eligible countries to be involved in projects backed by grant funding. Horizon 2020 is not specifically concerned with the Mobile Industry, but its interest overlaps with matters like the proliferation of Mobile Technology, the Internet of Things, and eGovernance.

Participating countries include Iceland, Norway, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Israel, Moldova, the Faroe Islands, Ukraine and of course, all of the countries of the European Union, proper.

ISO 9001+.  Somewhat further afield, but worthy of consideration for developers with the appropriate background or willingness to work with individuals or companies with the experience, concerns development of app utilities to support ISO 9001, et al, (International Standards Organization) processes and management programs. The basic theme is that as international trade agreements are reached, the details will need to be pegged to standards acceptable to all participating countries.

Rather than enact different laws and regulations for all the different trading partner configurations – it is much simpler for each participating country to adopt and apply to a uniform standard (i.e. ISO). While ISO publications are available in multiple languages, there are not a lot of ISO related mobile apps and most of those that do exist are not localized for use in many countries.

EN 15038. Even more arcane, but also relevant, is that some European companies which apply to ISO and work internationally are also concerned with the “standards” of their translations (See EN 15038). Additional information for “TSP’s” is available in The Translation Service Provider’s Guide to BS EN 15038 by Chris Cox which could useful for developers focused on localization services.

While applying to these standards can certainly help you score projects for specific companies, there is plenty of opportunity for developing generic products under these titles for training and management purposes – likely for high-end premium utility-based apps.


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Sometimes, paying $2.99 for all the coffee you can drink is simply not enough and paying $4.98 for twice as much coffee as you can drink is a really good deal! Now, if you are having difficulty keeping your coffee hot, a few drops of habenero sauce will keep your coffee hot all day long. Okay… Today presents some opportunities that you might take a look at relative to where you are in the Global Mobile Market.

SingTel Accelerator – Singapore – September 6 through October 20, 2014 –  is sponsoring a three-staged contest with a top prize worth $10,000 to fast track your app to market. There are a few opportunities in this program worth looking at if you have what it takes to compete.

Ncell  Mobile App Development Competition – Nepal/International – Register your team and idea by October 28, 2014.  Competition is open for four thematic categories:  Agriculture, Education, Tourism and Corporate solutions.  Ncell App Camp offers an opportunity to win cash prizes; essentially with a motive to support you to set up your own start-up firm.

Prizes include: cash reward of Rs. 250,000 net of tax to each category winner. Likewise, one overall winner will receive an additional Rs. 500,000 net of tax in cash plus an opportunity to participate in an overseas App Camp in 2015.

[Category winners – Rs. (rupee) equivalent of about US$4.2k; Overall winner – about $8.5 k]

Winning teams with complete product will receive awards in full at the closing ceremony on Dec 11. Winning teams with working prototypes will receive Rs. 100,000 at the closing ceremony and remaining prizes on completion of their app, as they pitched. Deadline for completing app is Jan 31, 2015.

500 Startups Accelerator – Programs are available in Mountain View, San Francisco and Mexico City.  This App Developer Incubator graduates 100 new companies per year with 4x three month classes.   Companies selected can receive up to $75,000 (net) worth of investments for a 7% revenue share.  As an incubator of mobile developer companies, you get comprehensive instruction and guidance on how to run an actual business.

MORE?

There are other opportunities available, but these are the best three that I’ve found in the immediate future that do not require you to be enrolled in a specific college.  I’ll post more as I find some good ones.

There are numerous app incubator programs.  They all have their criteria to meet and funding is not automatic.  Nevertheless, if you are aiming to make a career out from your mobile apps – incubators are among the best ways to accelerate your way into having a solid start-up foundation spanning the overall operation of a company.

If you know of other programs or would like to talk about your own experience with a start-up, please let me know!