15/3/2018 0 Comments
This is interview 5 in the Techpreneur Interview series featuring Alexis Theriault, the founder of the Brain Focus productivity app.
This week, we'll be chatting about his experience of hitting 500,000 app downloads and 10,000 daily users - all generated from his side-hustle; an app development business.
Welcome Alexis, thanks for joining me on the Purposeful Products Blog!
How long have you been an entrepreneur?
I studied software engineering, and now work as a software developer.
I started working on my own apps about 3 years ago - mostly to learn a new technology, but then saw the potential and started trying to earn some money!
Did you have any experience of building apps before you built Brain Focus?
Not too much. At work we had started building mobile applications. The first thing I did there was application maintenance, and then we decided to rewrite an application using new tech. That was when I started working on Brain Focus to learn about all aspects of mobile development.
What else can you tell us about your app?
Brain Focus is a mobile application based on the premise that your brain needs a break in order to be more productive.
It can be used to achieve techniques like the Pomodoro, or the 52-17 (52 minutes of work, with a 17 minute break).
I've tried several cycles, including the 50-10, but never the 52-17!
When I first left permanent employment to work as a freelance Software Delivery Consultant, some of the developers I worked with used Pomodoro timers to manage their time when working on product features and user stories. That was my first introduction to the Pomodoro technique, a technique to enhance productivity and concentration, by working on tasks in short, intense cycles.
There are many productivity cycles out there - it’s about finding the rhythm that gets you the best results.
If you're interested in exploring the benefits of working this way, here's a free chapter on productivity and focus, taken from my book of tools and software for small businesses, Entrepreneurial Espresso: http://bit.ly/free-productivity-chapter.
Brain Focus started as a single app, which is the productivity timer, but then I created another application which is called Brain Focus Time Tracker, which tracks time in a simple way. You create an item in the app, start tracking it, and stop the tracker when you’re done. Then you can look at your statistics to better understand where you spend your time.
When I can't decide between similar apps, I usually download 2 or 3, keep the one that’s easiest to get started with, and delete the others. When I was looking for productivity timers a few years ago, yours won!
I like the app because it has clean, simple user interface and design, it's easy to use, and there are some nice options available via the Settings menu. It’s the perfect example of “just enough” functionality arranged logically, and without going overboard.
There are a long list of options in the Settings area, but they are all clearly labelled, and can be easily accessed by scrolling up and down the screen.
Work, and break durations can be chosen, and the app can be set to vibrate, or play a sound when your time is up!
How did you first come to recognise that there was a problem that you could solve with Brain Focus?
When I started building the app, there were already a lot of similar applications in the App Store. I thought: “I’ll do this for fun, and we’ll see what happens.” Then I started to get some downloads, then more and more followed, along with some good reviews.
I started to get hundreds of users per day and began rising in the app store listings. At that point I started to think that I had something.
Based on the good feedback I had received, I began to think that I could earn money from the app, which would help in investing more time into it.
Were you able to get product feedback before launching, Alexis?
Not before launching, but I started to receive feedback from users post-launch, and started implementing the features that people requested. That really helped me!
I did do a small Beta launch with my co-workers…
What are the most important lessons, or realisations you've had about life as a tech entrepreneur?
Building software is costly (in terms of my time) and people are now used to getting software for free, so it can be challenging to monetise.
If you're interested in Alexis's business model, he has opted not to charge upfront for his apps, but offers a Go Pro upgrade option which works like an in-app purchase. Users that wish to move to the Pro plan can choose what they want to donate (known as PWYW - Pay What You Want, or Pay What You Wish pricing) by selecting from five set price points. In previous Techpreneur Interviews, (see interview 1 with Kyle Richey) we've talked about Apple's App Store users being more "primed" to pay for apps than Google Play Store users, but this is the first PWYW model that we've covered on the blog.
It can be nerve-wracking when you first start charging customers to use your services - especially when customers have easy access to free apps. PWYW empowers the customer, and can be used to gather data about how many users choose to pay, and in this case, to monitor which price points are most (and least popular).
Should Alexis choose to change his business model in future, he will have historical pricing data that he can refer to!
What else weren’t you prepared for, or expecting?
The Android software versions all have different behaviour. There are variations between different phone manufacturers too, so there are often bugs on one phone, but not on others.
This makes it hard to reproduce and fix problems, and I needed to buy a lot of phones!
It's never the first thing techpreneurs think of when running an app business, but when creating apps, you'll need to be prepared to do testing on different devices for the reasons that Alexis has mentioned - devices aren't the same, and they behave differently. Unfortunately, you can't rely on your app performing in the same way on different devices - even different models made by the same manufacturer of a tablet, or smartphone.
You can test manually, but you can also use app testing services, such as Amazon's AWS Device Farm, which give you 1000 minutes of free testing, and remote access to a range of real devices of different makes and models - all managed via the Cloud.
It depends on your product, but in my case, it's hard to test functionality related to measuring time in the Cloud, so I use physical devices when I test.
Let’s talk Android vs. iOS, web apps, and desktop apps. Do you have a preference?
Android, since I feel it's an easier, less costly platform. iOS second, since most people prefer to use their phones. Then web. I think desktop use is declining, but progressive web apps could change everything.
What have been the biggest highs and lows of your experience as a tech entrepreneur?
Seeing increases in downloads and usage is my biggest high, such as when I reached 500,000 downloads, or 10,000 daily users. My lows come if I introduce bugs into new app releases.
What’s your top cashflow/money management tip for tech entrepreneurs?
My best advice is to keep your day job, so that you don’t expose yourself to too much risk. That is a choice, but it can be better to start whilst employed, and when you think it’s a good time to invest all your time on your project, then you can leave.
What’s a typical day like for you now?
For now, it’s a full day’s work, then life with kids!
What would you do differently if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice now you’re “older and wiser”?
Start when you’re young!
I would have started working on side projects earlier, when I had no responsibilities (no house, no child, no girlfriend) because the more responsibility you have, the less time you have to work on projects. If you have less responsibilities, it’s easier to quit your job, and to focus.
Thanks for the advice Alexis! What’s next for you and Brain Focus?
I’m hoping to have more time to invest in Brain Focus, so that I can improve the Android version, and build an iOS version with the same features, and more!
Where can people go to find out more about your app?
Android / Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.AT.PomodoroTimer&hl=en_GB
iOS / App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/brain-focus-productivity-timer/id1262657470?mt=
Brain Focus Time Tracker
Android / Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.AT.TimeTracker
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