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App Developers: Can You Quit Your Day Job?

It takes guts to quit a good job to launch a company, especially during the worst economy since the Great Depression. But that’s what George Christopher and Suresh Kumar did in late 2011.

By Tim Kridel

It takes guts to quit a good job to launch a company, especially during the worst economy since the Great Depression. But that’s what George Christopher and Suresh Kumar did in late 2011, when they launched Blue Innovations, a Chennai, India-based developer of apps for Android, iOS, Windows and other platforms. Their experiences are worth pondering if you’re a developer considering striking out on your own.

Childhood friends, Christopher and Kumar were working at separate software companies in 2009 when they started to develop apps in their spare time under the name 5dollarapps. Soon they were winning competitions and awards such as Intel’s Black Belt, successes that helped convince them to rebrand their effort as Blue Innovations and turn it into a full-time company. We recently spoke with Christopher and Kumar about how they decided when to quit their day jobs and what they did to increase their odds of success. [Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.]

Blue Innovations started out as 5dollarapps. That name suggests you were already making money from your apps, right?

George Christopher: Yes. Under that brand, we had developed a contact manager, a reminder application, a shopping experience application -- things like that. We got some revenue from that, but I wouldn’t say it was enough to support a developer’s family or even a developer who’s alone.

What advice would you give other developers who are considering quitting their jobs to launch their own company?

G.C.: It’s a combination of factors and probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Our friends and family believed that we were taking a huge risk by quitting our day jobs because I was around 10 years of experience, and Suresh was around nine. I was working as a senior product manager and Suresh was working as a testing manager.

The major thing that enabled us to make a decision was that we had a framework for app development in place. So I wouldn’t say that having a single app or two apps was a criteria for us. It was a framework to convert an idea to an app to be released to market. If we had an idea, or you gave us an idea, we had the confidence that we could take it [to market] in two to three weeks.

Developers should have at least six months’ of sufficient funds to manage their homes. We called that our runway. A startup is like a flight that’s trying to take off, and the more length you have with the runway, the easier it is to take off. If you have some problems -- revenue is down, a deal doesn’t click, things like that -- you still have time to make corrections and then take off.

What are some potential revenue sources that developers should consider?

G.C.: In order to get a steady stream of revenue, a developer should have a brand name. And to have a brand name, you should have visibility. That’s basically a chicken-and-egg situation.

For example, when we started out, we won a few competitions. We were the most valuable developers at Intel Lab in 2011. That gave us a huge amount of branding. People could relate to us. People could trust us because we had won a set of challenges and were working very closely with Intel. That really helped us.

Revenue is the second thing. The most important thing is that you should have a reputation. You should have your branding and all of those things in place. For that, you can participate in challenges. Samsung provides that. Intel provides that. Many others provide that. Make sure you participate in that. Then you can start working on marketing and all of those things.

In-app advertising we haven’t really explored. We have a very straightforward development application. We have a trial version that works for a month, and then if users are interested, they can purchase it. I personally don’t like in-app advertising.

Suresh Kumar: Build a beautiful app with features that make people’s lives easier, simpler or happier. Don’t go for money. Just try to build an app that solves a problem. Everything [else] falls into place. First and foremost, build an app that really solves a problem so people get excited.

As you look back, is there anything you would have done differently?

S.K.: We should have done it earlier.

G.C.:

Seriously, the reason why we wanted to tell people about the personal side of this is because there are a lot of people out there who think it’s too risky or too tough, or they wait for a time to come. When we made the decision to start up, it was a really tough point. I had a 3-month-old baby. Suresh had a daughter and was expecting a baby.

Even today, when we think about it, we still think that we should have made the decision earlier. If you have an idea, immediately jumping on it is not a good thing. You need to make sure that you have a framework in place and sufficient resources in place.

Photo: Corbis Images

Tim Kridel has been covering all things tech and telecom since 1998 for a variety of publications and analyst firms. Based in Columbia, Mo., he still enjoys the childhood hobby that led to a career writing about technology: ham radio.  He is a frequent contributor to Digital Innovation Gazette.

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