Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mobile appreneur interview: Thomas Strock

Thank you for waiting longer than usual for this interview. I flew home for Christmas and I'm spending my time catching up with family and friends. Nonetheless, I'm pretty sure you're going to like my today's guest. Thomas Strock is still in high school, but already makes more than $3000/month. What is more, he does that without extensive coding experience or technical skills. Sounds impossible? Find out yourself.

Bartek: Tell us something about yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? What do you do in life?

Thomas: I’m a high school senior from Pennsylvania, but more importantly I’m an entrepreneur. At the moment, my main businesses are Kindle publishing and iPhone app development.

Bartek: When did your app development adventure start and how? Why did you decide to do it?

Thomas: Going back to when I was twelve I wrote a children’s book called Tomato Turtle: A Trip to the Park. It ended up getting picked up by a national publisher and I started learning how to market it, as a lot of that is left up to the author to do. From there I eventually found Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income and started getting into online business. I started off with niche AdSense sites and eventually transitioned into Kindle publishing and iPhone apps.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create apps?

Thomas: I don’t actually code or design the apps myself. I considered teaching myself to code at one point but decided the best decision for me was to outsource. Here’s the post I wrote about why I made that decision:

Bartek: Where do you look for developers and how much do you pay them? Could you shortly describe the process of finding someone to code an app for you and then having it done by them? Have you had some bad experiences with freelancers before?

Thomas: I find my developers with freelancing sites like Elance. I pay on a per-project basis and how much I pay all depends on how complicated the app I’m building is, where the developer’s located, and how experienced the developer is. Typically for the smaller, more content-based apps I’m making it costs around $200-500 per app.
I’ve had my fair share of dud developers who lead you on and then eventually deliver nothing. However, I’ve learned over time how to filter out most of those developers in the vetting process with hiring them. Also, I always use Escrow with Elance and never pay for milestones, only at the very end of the project once the app has been approved by Apple.

Bartek: Have you tried other freelancing portals than Elance?

Thomas: I have only used Elance so far, as that's what I got started with and am comfortable with. Plus I've built up enough previous business there where it makes more reputable developers see I'm legit.

Bartek: I know you produce both Android and iPhone apps. Which type is working for you better?

Thomas: I’m making more money with iPhone apps at the moment. However, it’s not a fair comparison because I have concentrated a lot more of my time and money towards iPhone and have only dabbled in Android.

Bartek: Where do you take app/game ideas from? How do you know if they have a chance to be successful?

Thomas: I publish content-based apps so my process for finding profitable app topics might be different from someone who is developing games or other more interactive apps. Basically my process involves picking a category, studying apps in the top 100-200 of that category, researching topics based on those top-performing apps to see if the majority of apps on that topic are successful, then finding a way to make a similar app that improves upon the current ones available.
You never know for sure whether or not an app will be successful or not until you publish it. For that reason, I prefer to publish many smaller, less expensive apps rather than just a few really large projects. That way I’m more diversified and not relying on one or two apps for the majority of my income.

Bartek: How long does is take you to make a single app?

Thomas: Outsource to multiple developers, I can be “working” on multiple apps at one time and get them created and published much faster than I could do myself. Obviously the time for one app depends on the complexity, but typically for my smaller, content-based apps it’s anywhere from 2-10 days depending on the app and developer I’m using.

Bartek: How much time a week do you spend working on your business: ebooks, apps, etc. I know you're a student, so school probably takes a big chunk of your time.

Thomas: Yeah, school takes up a large chunk of my time, though I do manage to “multitask” and get some small stuff done during the school day. Every day’s different, however I probably spend at least 5 hours a day doing business-related stuff, whether that’s reading blog posts, working on apps/ebooks, or responding to comments on my blog.

Bartek: Where did you get money to start all this? How did you fund your first apps, ebooks?

Thomas: One of the great things about Kindle books is that they’re not that expensive to create. You could potentially do everything yourself and get your first book up there for $0. However, if you’d rather outsource, you could get a book done for as little as $60-70 if you hire the right people.
Personally I had a little money saved up from previous business ventures that I used to publish my first few Kindle books.

Bartek: Where did you learn how to be an entrepreneur? Do some of your family members do similar stuff?

Thomas: I’ve been interested in entrepreneurship since I was little, it was just a matter of taking action and making it work. The only member of my family who’s an entrepreneur is my uncle who runs a tile business.
Bartek: How much are you making on your apps?

Thomas: My Kindle books have been my main source of income, usually bringing me around $3,000/month. However, the past couple months I’ve really started to take app development more seriously and this month I’m around $20-50/day this month. I have 12 apps currently in the works too so that’s only expected to increase.

Bartek: How did you come up with the idea of making money on Kindle books? Do you think it can be more profitable that making apps? If you're earning so much more this way, why do you still stick to the app business?

Thomas: I heard about Kindle originally from Eric at The reason I’m also doing apps is to diversify my income. If for some reason my account got shut down or Amazon created new rules for authors, I don’t want all my eggs in one basket.
Bartek: How do you monetize your apps? What ad networks do you use if any? Do you have any advice on it for others?

Thomas: Right now I’m only monetizing through paid apps, but in the near future I’ll be exploring using a freemium model with in-app purchases or affiliate marketing within my apps.

Bartek: Do you use any marketing techniques or ASO to promote your apps?

Thomas: For most of my apps I don’t do outside marketing for them, so I rely on picking profitable topics and optimizing my apps for keywords. I use and Sensor Tower to find the best keywords for the topics I choose and incorporate those keywords into my app metadata. I’m definitely not an expert on ASO though, but I try to incorporate the basics as I learn how to improve in that area more and more.

Bartek: What are your plans for the future? What do you want to create/achieve?

Thomas: Until the end of the year I’m planning on going all-out and publishing a ton of new Kindle books and iPhone apps (probably around 15 of each). For the first few months after the new year I’ll keep doing Kindle books and apps in the “background” but my primary focus will be doing a case study on my blog about starting a Software as a Service business. I’m going to find a major pain point within a small business industry and create software to help solve that problem, which should hopefully generate some nice recurring revenue as a result!

Bartek: What do you want to do after you've finished your high school? Do you still want to go to college?

Thomas: I’m still planning on going to college while continuing my businesses. Ideally by the end of college I’ll have built up my businesses enough where I’ll only have to take a 9-5 if I actually want to.
Bartek: What advice would you give to other developers (something that you wish you had known before yourself)?

Thomas: Instead of coming up with completely unique ideas, you’ll have a better chance of success finding already popular apps and improving upon them. Use market research to your advantage and choose ideas that have been PROVEN to be successful instead of leaving it to chance.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Thomas: The main place to connect with me would be on my blog at and make sure to sign up for my email list, as that’s where I share some exclusive content that’s not on the blog. You can also connect with me through social media, all the links are right on the blog too.

Bartek: Thank you for your time and good luck with all future projects!

P.S. My Blobby Volley game had 231 installs after 3 days. It's my best result so far and I'm hoping to get even more. Go check it out if you haven't done it yet!

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