Earning money as an Android developer fresh out of college.

Earning money as an Android developer fresh out of college.

Just graduated and skilled in Android app development? Learn how to earn money with your expertise.

Mobile app development remains a lucrative and accessible profession for independent developers. Despite competition from large companies and big gaming studios, it is still possible to generate income by creating smaller apps. In this article, we provide tips for developing high-quality apps on a minimal budget, helping you earn your first dollar.Please subscribe to our blog which will continue to publish more and more such articles.

Understand the market you are going to target

Once you decide to launch your app, it's essential to understand the target market. Begin with a broad market and then narrow it down to a level where you can create a genuinely useful product. For example, start by choosing a country. The USA is the most valuable market in the world after the EU. However, if you want your product to go viral, you might consider India, although it is significantly less valuable than the USA.

Next, determine the app's purpose. There are millions of Android apps for everything. If you're building something that competes with an existing player, such as an Instagram clone or Tinder clone, success becomes much more challenging. Why would anyone choose your one-person app over something that is already well-established?

Therefore, selecting your target is crucial. Here are some ideas that you can use to choose your app target:

  1. Speak to your friends and family to find out what problems they face that could be solved with an app. If it's useful for one person, it's likely going to be useful for many others.

  2. Observe activities that people are doing manually and ask yourself if you can automate them using an app. This could be something as simple as a kitchen timer or reading a religious book. If people are doing it in the real world, it's easier to replace it with an app.

  3. Target a niche first. The smaller the group, the less likely someone has already targeted it. For example, a recipe book for those allergic to peanuts or protein-rich vegan recipes.

Research

Spend a significant amount of time examining existing apps and trying them out. Look at their install numbers and check the age of the apps. If an app has only 10,000 installs over 5 years, that's too few. You need to target a larger audience.

You can also explore online app marketplaces such as Flippa.com. These marketplaces allow you to buy and sell apps along with their source code. Studying these marketplaces provides valuable insight into popular and profitable niches. For example, pets, bikes, vegan food, sound systems, and musical instruments are some niche areas that can be very lucrative when targeted appropriately.

Importance of thinking small

It is easy to think that you will make an app that would be next Instagram. In reality, it is going to be extremely hard and likely you will fail. You lack the skill, vision and luck to get there.

On other hand remember that the richest people in USA today might be tech billionaires, but a large number of rich people in USA are actually those who did something simple ? Like real estate, coffee shops, car dealerships, garbage pick services and so on ?

If you make an app that gives you financial freedom, then you can spent that rest of your time on actually chasing bigger projects. Also success with smaller apps helps you build credibility that you at least have the necessary skills to create a good successful project.

App name is absolutely critical

App name is extremely important. For indie developers always keep app name as simple straightforward word that tells you what the app is all about. Do not chose fancy names.

The reason for this is that, when you start small you have to rely on ASO, App Search Optimization. Hence people will end up finding your app when they search for something like "Romanian Bible Quotes" or "Kosher Chinese Recipe Book".

Of course you don't have to decide on the name the very day you build this app, but it is good to remember that a fancy name wont help you much. So do not waste your time on that.

Launching an app for free

It costs $25 to create a developer account on Google Play Store. I recommend creating a new Gmail account for this purpose. Once you've created this account, you can start uploading apps, and you'll be in business.

Any app requires a lot of auxiliary services. You need an IDE, actual android device, services to generate interesting cool graphics, a app webpage, if you have a backend service then you need hosting of some kind.

Here are some useful services which have pretty generous free plans that you must use.

  1. Vercel: You can host NodeJS based backends here. Excellent for primarily static content with some limited backend processing.

  2. Google Analytics: Free analytics and must have.

  3. Github Pages: I recommend this to host your app landing page.

  4. Bootstrap: A CSS framework that will help you design a website.

  5. Firebase: Google product that also provides a lot of app related services. I highly recommend you integrate your app with Firebase even if you do not need all of their services right away.

  6. Canva: Use this tool to create logos and promotional graphics, such as Play Store banners, that appear highly professional and visually appealing.

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We have another blog for front end engineering which also covers topics related to Android development. The article about deploying a nextjs backend to cloud run is especially popular.

Build the app itself

One common mistake new developers make is to start writing their own app. You do not have to. Google provides may very high quality sample apps with different features and varying level of complexity.

If your idea is extremely unique you might want to start with one of these open source apps. But if it is not unique and merely an adaptation of existing app, then you are better off searching an existing open source app and then simple clone it.

F-droid is an unofficial app store of open source apps. You can search it to find high quality open source apps and then simply fork it and create your own version. However I must caution you that some of these apps might be pretty complex.

Build small, fail fast

Don't attempt to include all features. Since you're creating an app for a niche audience, there's a good chance it might fail. It's better to fail quickly than to fail after expending significant effort.

My recommendation is to launch your app as soon as possible with only basic features. When you release an app, create an associated website and promotional graphics to attract some organic traffic to the app.

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Organic traffic means people who naturally discover your app and install it. This could be your friends and family or people searching for your app related keywords in the play store. Opposite of organic traffic is paid traffic where you pay and advertise your app. Obviously you need more organic traffic.

If there is no organic traffic it means you are targeting far too niche audience and you need to adjust your app name and description to attract more organic traffic. There are other ways of getting this organic traffic too. I will talk about them in our next section.

Growth strategy

How will you get more and more installs for your app ? It is an extremely hard problem and eventually boils down to buying ads. But given that you are starting small you should focus on organic traffic only.

Search optimization for app store

Make sure that you have excellent app icon that looks very click-worthy. Then make sure your app description and other graphics is visually appealing, easy to read and will interest your potential users. If you are targeting a specific location make sure your language is appropriate. For example there are subtle differences in UK English and US English.

Online communities such as reddit

Start being active in online forums and communities like Reddit, Quora and Hackernews. Try to make good valuable posts, answer other people's questions and wherever appropriate do advertise the app you have developed. Do tell your personal story so that people give you encouragement and feedback.

For example:

I recently visited Wyoming and found that there are no good apps that tell me about all the amazing trails that this state has to offer. Then I decided to spend some time and make this app in my free time. Given that I am fresh out of college, please do not expect this to be well polished but people who have used it have found it useful. Feel free to give your critical feedback to me. Here is the link.

Despite all you might have heard, online communities are pretty great way to make new like minded friends. This also teaches you an important skill of writing about your work and accept feedback.

Friends, family and most importantly YOU

Remember that if you're not using your app regularly, it's likely not a good app. It's important that you, at the very least, find your own app useful. Additionally, ask your mother, grandmother, or partner to use it. Encourage your friends and younger siblings to promote it within their social circles. Don't be overly pushy, but do seek their assistance. This is especially true if your app is actually going to be useful .

For example say you have made a Bible Quotes app. It would be great to attend Sunday Church and share it with people there. This is not self serving but rather you are using your real world connections to give them something useful.

Remember that Facebook started as a social network for college students and the founders were their initial customers.

Zero cost ads

While you might not be able to spend millions on advertising, it is always possible to do advertisements at cheap. For example you can print your app install QR codes and post it at your Dad's shop, your dorm notice-board or simply print out flyers and mail it to people who you think might be interested. Think about innovative but legal and privacy and property respecting ways of reaching out to more people.

Tracking numbers is important part of growth strategy

It is critical that you measure your success here. Did working on that Reddit community help you get more installs ? No then move on. Is Quora answers sending any traffic to your website ? No then move on.

Remember you have limited time, if a door does not open soon enough you should move on and find a different door to unlock.

Understand something about growth. You might reach out to 100 people at certain cost of time and money for yourself. Out of which only 5 will visit your app link and our of that may be 1 person will install it. I am exaggerating. Even for best apps only 5% of those who visit it, end up installing it. Out of the 100 people who have installed your app around 60 people will uninstall it the same day.

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Retention is the word we use to describe users who have installed your app but have not uninstalled it yet. 7 day retention means number of users who have kept your app installed even after 7 days have passed since install. Ultimately retained users is what makes you money.

Monetization Strategy

There are three primary ways you can make money of your app after it has good amount of engagement.

In app purchases or paid app itself

The Play Store enables you to sell items within the app itself, such as virtual currency in games. Google takes a 30% cut of the revenue and gives you the remaining 70%. Although this method may seem appealing, most apps on the Play Store do not adopt this approach. The reason is that people are generally reluctant to make purchases within an app unless they find it extremely useful.

For example, Tinder allows paid users to match more partners hence you can pay around $27 per month to increase your chances of finding love online. For many this is a small price to pay for a big reward. However if you try to sell your "Cookie Cooking Guide" app, it is unlikely that anyone would pay for your new recipes as the same information is available for free elsewhere.

You can successfully implement in-app purchases only if your users are genuinely hooked on your app and cannot find what you are selling elsewhere. This typically involves real-world goods, tangible services, or highly addictive games.

Note that you will have to write lot of code to provide such in app purchases as well and this code has to be maintained as Google frequently makes changes to how it works.

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Average android user spends less than $6 per quarter on apps and in-app purchases. So this is a really tiny amount.

Affiliate links or partnerships are another common method to generate revenue from your app. The affiliate link industry is quite large and can become very complex. In simple terms, it works like this: You provide a link to a partner website or app within your app. If your user clicks on it and eventually makes a transaction, you receive a small commission on that sale. Each affiliate program has its own terms and conditions, but generally, even if the user purchases something within a 10-day window from the click, you will earn a commission.

For example, imagine you create an app for dog walkers in your city. The app might be free, but you could include affiliate links to a pet store or pet food site. Whenever your users buy a product through those links, you earn a commission. Since you are targeting a very niche demographic, this strategy works quite well. However, this monetization method may not be as effective if you are targeting a broader audience, such as with a Solitaire game.

Amazon Associate program is pretty popular. Another one is Ebay Partner Network. There are also aggregators of different affiliate programs such as squaredance. But ultimately you should pick whatever is most likely to work with your app and its audience.

Good old mobile ads

The third, most common method to make money off your apps is by using mobile ads. Google's Admob is perhaps the best adnetwork today for ads.

This involves placing some code in your app that displays ads in the app when users spend their time in your app. These ads can be banner ads, interstitial (full page) ads and there are many more formats.

For US users you can expect around $10 per say 5000 visits to your ad serving page. While this may not sound like a lot of money remember that if your app does not require active maintenance and takes only couple of weekends to build, you can earn this money everyday for a very long time. Basically making money while you sleep.

Once you figure out how this works, you can move on to make your next app.

Don't expect overnight success

Once your app is in good shape and has strong features, focus more on growth and stability. The goal should be to make the app function without requiring your daily attention for updates or bug fixes. Success won't come overnight, but if you've played your cards right, you'll see traffic and revenue over time.

As time goes by, create more apps. For instance, if you've made an app for cat owners in your city, target dog owners next. The more you do this, the easier it becomes and the simpler it is to make money.

Learn in the process

Remember that even if things don't work out as expected, don't forget to LEARN in the process. Learn how to write code, market an app, monitor it, understand how to make your apps popular, and how to generate more revenue. The skills acquired through this experience will make you more valuable in the job market in the future.

Learn engineering

You will obviously learn about writing code, deployments, client server architecture and best practices. I would recommend taking an approach of doing things the right way so you actually learn more of it and develop expertise.

Learn people skills

Depending on the nature of your app you might have to interact with lot of people and users. This is a valuable skill that no college can teach. Learn to take feedback from others and offer feedback. Meet other engineers and veterans and do no hesitate to ask help.

Learn management

You will learn how to manage time, understand trade offs and how to deal with failure and planning for success. All on your own. You will have to understand that your time is the most valuable thing here that is at stake and you need to make best use of it.

Showcase your work

Always showcase your work. Maintain a blog where you post updates, no matter how trivial they may seem. Share with the world what you are building and hacking. Through this, you will develop the skill of communicating with a broader audience, and in the process, learn about leadership and being a pioneer. In a small way, you are also an entrepreneur in this endeavor.

Conclusion

This guide is a pretty soft guide that assures you that it is possible to make some money by being an independent developer. It is possible to make your apps with shoe string budget and then make some profits out of it. It is not a deep technical guide but it gives you an important plan. If you want technical help or any other help we are here to help and you have to only comment on this article.

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If you are an independent app developer please write here a comment and give us a link to your app. If you want us to cover any specific topic around app development, analytics and monetization feel free to ask us a question and we will address it in our next post.

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