Alternative Title: How my very first mobile app sparked my interest in building internet businesses
In this blog post, I would like you to tell you a little bit more about how I started my Indiehacker journey, its progression and the most important lessons learned. This is part one and has orginally been posted as a twitter thread right here.
CaseTools is a mobile app that helps young professionals to prepare for their upcoming management consulting job interviews at companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group or Bain. It became so popular that it was enough to pay for my college room at some point.
🤔 Why did I build CaseTools?
Back at college in 2018, I was the head of Austria's largest student consultancy and had big ambitions of becoming a management consultant, helping companies with their business strategy and positioning. Succeeding in multiple rounds of interviews at one of the big firms requires a LOT of preparation work, from personal fit interviews to solving various business cases.
The good news is, the more you study the exact interview processes, the higher your success rate.
As you can imagine, there's an abundance of prep material. Mostly in the form of boring books and ugly websites charging ridiculously amounts of money.
I thought I could do better.
Why not condense the most important parts into an intuitive and beautiful mobile app? At the same time, I was teaching myself how to code (Basic HTML, CSS & JS) and fell in love with the whole process.
Thinking about the architecture and the UI/UX design made me highly motivated to build things and this app was an excellent opportunity to try my new skill.
🛠️ How did I build CaseTools?
I wanted a native mobile app but only had a basic knowledge of web technology. So I was looking for the perfect hybrid framework, but React Native, Ionic, & Nativescript were absolutely terrible and way too complicated for me back then.
Luckily I stumbled on Fuse Open, a framework that allows you to build iOS and Android apps with pure JS and an HTML-like UI structure. I am 99% sure you've never heard of this hidden gem.
Unfortunately it has been struggling with maintenance, so I am not sure if I can recommend it in 2022. I have written a introduction article on Fuse here if you are curious to learn more.
🕰️ How much work/time was it to build?
Building the first version of CaseTools took me around 4 months. While the initial coding took around 1.5 months, the rest was talking to consultants and studying books to develop the most concise and original content. Long process!
Fun fact: To get a feeling for how the content will look like in the app, I wrote and designed the entire guide within my Figma wireframes. It was a huge mess but helped me to create the perfect UI/UX for the content. It's a lot of text, so it had to be engaging, right?
📊 What were the results?
My initial goal was to learn about the entire development + publishing process. However, I was curious. So, I added a freemium pricing model for $4.99 one-time purchase. It took 100s of revisions until Apple finally accepted my app. Finally.
One week goes by. No sale.
I'm okay because I didn't expect any sales at all.
Week two and three go by. No sale.
Week four. My first sale. Ever. On the internet.
More weeks go by. More and more sales trickle in.
Very likely the App Store search organically picked up and so more and more people that were looking for a consulting preparation app got suggested to use CaseTools.
After the first dozen sales, I knew that building digital products is what I want to continue doing. Perhaps, I could potentially earn a living with it one day? My rational was "I just need 9 more similar apps to reach ramen profitability". Well, let me tell you: it's not really that simple and I needed three more extra years to reach ramen profitability with HelpKit. A story for another time.
Let me continue.
Then in October 2018, in the backseat of a taxi, driving countless hours through Rajasthan | India, I got bored, created a hotspot and decided to increase the price from $4.99 to $9.99. Lo and behold, more people started buying the premium version which also sparked my interest for behavioral economics.
Let me tell you, V1 of the app was pretty bad: Lots of embarassing typos, weak UI and some other bugs. However, people still got value and bought it. During the pandemic, I decided to completely redesign the interface, start marketing on IG (with no real success despite the extreme amount of work I put in to create all the free content images/videos), and increase the pricing again.
And... it worked. People loved the new functionalities and design and did not seem to bothered with the new price. As of today:
- 100s of paying customers around the world
- $200 – $500 MRR (Seasonal dependency, ~ almost 100% passive)
- CaseTools' internal rating is 4.9
- Lots of happy emails
Most traffic is still coming through the App Store's organic search.
⏭️ What are my next steps?
I lost interest in working on the app for a while because my interest in the niche decreased and I was excited to work on other projects. If you don’t know already, this is the typical Indiehackers Shiny Object Syndrome ™.
The app has much more room to grow and I think it needs more marketing to find the right growth machine.
📚 What are my key lessons learned?
→ Don't be afraid of your first version. Launch and iterate. Some people will buy if there's enough value.
→ The right niche can be lucrative even with low volume and min. active investment
→ Find a product you enjoy working on
I hope you found this part one, on how I got interested in bootstrapping and building digital products valuable.