Ever wonder how the more-than-50,000 iPhone apps in Apple’s App Store get from the drawing board to your screen? For one of them, the brand new Goddess Tarot app, the road was through Flatbush-based author and artist Kris Waldherr. The gilded app is the newest manifestation of Waldherr’s illustrated brand, and her first foray into the world of hand-held software design. Because apps are, well, the thing to do these days, we asked Waldherr to tell us how she went from idea to execution to approval on the digital celestial reader she’s marketing as “The most beautiful app in the App Store.”
How did you get the idea for the app?
I have this $18 tarot deck that sold more than 200,000 copies, and I have a web site which features tarot readings. So, this was kind of a natural segue. Unlike traditional publishing, the distribution for an iPhone app is only in one place, the App Store. So, it’s not like you’re dealing with Barnes & Noble or Borders or independent bookstores—it’s very straightforward. The other thing that happened was that I was approached by a developer who wanted to license my work. And the terms were really not favorable. He wanted to hold on to a lot of the rights. So I thought, Why don’t I just do this myself?
How did you design the app?
Apple has a developers’ network that you can sign up for. You can download what’s called a Software Development Kit, which gives you certain tools and information so you can educate yourself. For example, you’re not allowed to have buttons smaller than a certain size (20 x 20 pixels), because they’d be too difficult for a human to use. Apple also has guidelines about the type of content allowed—you’re not supposed to have obscene content, for example. After I saw what I was getting myself into, I then created what’s called a “use case spec,” which is like a road map for the app, where I put all the graphics together from screen to screen. The most important thing was that I tried to be as detailed as possible with what I put together, so that it would be clear what my expectations were. I really wanted it to be my app.
Where did you find programmers?
I explored learning how to program, myself, but I knew that I was getting in way over my head. I spoke to a friend of mine who’s a developer, and he gave me some referrals, and from there I spoke to other developers. I gave them my use case spec. There are a bunch of Seattle, Washington iPhone app developers. Talking to them was really reassuring because I got very helpful feedback. And they had signed non-disclosure agreements, so I felt a little like a spy, like “Ok, I’m giving you my secret, tell me what you think. And I’m giving you my secret, and tell me what you think.”
What did it cost you?
I had developers offer to do it for free in exchange for half of the profits, but I didn’t want to go that route because it would require my giving up too much creative control and I’d have to work on their time frame. If you hire developers in the U.S., a small job is probably about $10,000. And more complicated apps, the average iPhone app is probably about $30,000. I can tell you mine was a lot less than that. Established developers here usually charge $125 an hour, but I wound up finding a great team in India and the labor cost me about a quarter of that. I found them through Elance. I got lucky, because I’ve used people through Elance for other things and they haven’t been as great.
How long did it take to adapt the idea to the app?
Once I had a developer, it took a month. It was really fast, compared to publishing. This was intoxicating. It was like instant gratification. But it took Apple two weeks to approve it, which was a very long two weeks. I was constantly checking my email. You fixate on all these crazy stories of apps not being approved for different reasons. I knew I shouldn’t be reading the stories, but I couldn’t stop myself. Then once they approved it, it was on the market.
How did you decide on the price ($2.99)? What’s Apple’s cut?
I just looked at what other people were charging. Apple keeps 30 percent, but that’s really low. Most wholesale cuts are 50 percent.
What would you do differently in making a second app?
I did a lite (free) version, and I was so afraid of Apple not approving me that I didn’t make it clear how easy it was to upgrade to the full version. I think I would make that clearer, because I was a little too understated about it—I wasn’t enough of a hard sales person. I notice that on other apps, they make it really clear: “Click here to upgrade and buy.” I was like: “Click here for more information.” I was being too tasteful.
What’s your advice for someone with an idea for an app?
Research, research, research. I think the most important thing is to have a really, really good use case spec. Just be as clear as possible with what you expect [from your programmer], and really interview people. It’s easy to get blinded by the pie in the sky—there are all these articles about people making a gazillion dollars. I sat down and I worked out a P & L (Profit and Loss statement) where you figure out how much the app will cost, what will your profit be, how many you need to sell.
The biggest surprise of the whole process?
The whole Apple approval thing. The process of getting approved is a little mysterious, and there have been apps which have not been approved because Apple thought they were going to compete with them or for other reasons. You start thinking, “ok, what could they find offensive?” You just don’t know. You’re making this big leap of faith in developing the app, and it’s basically up to this one company to decide if it’ll get out to the world.
Any final thoughts?
Hopefully I’ll make some money.