A few months ago, I was stuck between side projects, and did something crazy. I offered to build an iPhone app for anyone who wanted one for $200 (see details here).
I posted this offer on Hacker News, and within the next few hours and even days, I kept getting emails from people who were interested. I posted the offer at night on a weekend (so Hacker News was in a lower traffic time), so I got a total of about 30 people who reached out.
I was mostly looking for people who were responsive, passionate about their project, and had a project that fit my criteria (see details here). Some people had very unrealistic project ideas – basically things that just can’t be built or would cost $10,000 or more to build by an agency. Others were not very responsive – I followed up, but never heard back for a while. Others, it felt, were trying to exploit me for their business – to build their startup at a very cheap rate. So in the end there were about 10 people who I thought were “qualified” for my offer.
Here is what I learned from the experience:
Working With Other Developers Is Ideal
The first two projects I worked on were building starter apps for web developers. They just wanted a basic app that they could play with and work on in the future. I really enjoyed working with the other developers mostly because they had very realistic expectations. They knew that $200 wasn’t much, so they really understood the bare minimum features they needed to get a prototype of their idea out there. The down-side is that these apps won’t be out for a while, so I can’t really share much about them.
Pick Projects You’ll Have Fun With
The third app I worked on was a kid’s shape-matching game called Stay in Shape for someone who wanted this game for their child. As of right now, it is officially out in the app store, so check it out!!!! I knew this game would take much longer than what I planned to spend on each project, but I was very excited by the challenge of actually building a game, so I ended up working on it for a few weeks.
Of course there is much more I can do with this game (like use it to play with Sprite Kit), but I currently have other priorities, and there is only so much I’m willing to do for code I don’t own for $200.
Have a Limit
I didn’t put a limit on how many apps I’d be building. It was so much fun hearing about all the ideas people had, and I really wanted to build all of them! However, life gets in the way.
Eventually, I came up with some of my own side projects, and the $200 offer project fell off the grid. I didn’t follow up with the rest of the people who wanted apps build, and they didn’t follow up with me. I only charged $100 at the start of the project, and $100 at the finish, so it feels good to know that they didn’t pay me, so there are no strings attached.
I’m not sure I’ll continue building the apps for everyone else, since I’m now looking to focus on a personal side project, but maybe if I’m stuck again, I’ll pick up some of these again for fun.
Experimenting Pays Off
I did this as a crazy marketing experiment, and it worked. I was personally stuck between side projects, so it was very refreshing to get some amazing ideas from others. Some of them were brilliant, some funny, and most I would never have thought of on my own.
In the process, I ended up talking to some really amazing people. Some of them were in great positions within the industry, so it was a great way to connect.
I talked at a meetup for recent code school graduates a few weeks ago, and one of the things I was asked for was tips for landing a job in the industry. I can’t think of a better way to get your foot in the door than starting out by offering to do some work very cheaply. You’ll meet people who’ll see your work, and it could definitely lead to a longer-term higher-paid position in the near future.