App Showcase

First Time App Developer Success Stories Part 2: From Zero iOS Programming Experience to Launching Their First Apps


You may have read some app millionaire stories that earn tons of money overnight. But you rarely find stories about app developers who are less successful. Recently I reached out to a number of first time app developers and asked them to share their app development experience. To me their stories are equally amazing and I have learnt so much from them. These developers are all started from zero iOS programming experience and end up with their apps launched on App Store. A couple weeks ago I shared the first part of the success stories. Here comes to the part 2.

Some people think it’s hard to create their first apps because they get a big idea. Most of them only see the “million-dollar ideas” and want to hit big when the app launches. That’s unreal and you’ll easily get frustrated if your expectation is too high. The truth is you don’t need to have a grand idea and set high expectation when first started. The developers featured in this post just started small and built their first apps around a simple idea they cared about, be it a recipe app or a game book.

Once again, I’m really proud to showcase their works. Enjoy their stories and app development experience. If you’re still struggled about how to learn iOS programming and make your first app, you’ll probably inspired by their stories.

Henry D’Andrea – Secret Menu for Starbucks

secret-menu-starbucks-icon1. Tell me about your background and your app. Was it your first app?

My app is called Secret Menu for Starbucks and it provides users with custom ‘secret’ menu drink combinations for order at Starbucks. (My personal favorite being the ‘Twix Frappuccino’)

Even though my app, Secret Menu for Starbucks, isn’t my first official iOS app, I do consider it my first app that truly taught me Objective C and how to program good apps.

2. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take to develop the app?

Prior to developing Secret Menu for Starbucks, I never frequented or even knew much about Starbucks. Until one day from browsing the internet, I came across this concoction called a ‘Twix Frappuccino’. I had never heard of a ‘Frappuccino,’ but it looked delicious. Upon further research, I found out it was a custom drink that one could make at Starbucks. Even further research yielded that there were hundreds of ‘secret’ custom drinks you could make at Starbucks. With Starbucks deep integration with the iPhone already in place, this had to be an app.

In June 2013, I began developing the app and it was published to the App Store on July 19 (After two daunting rejections).

secret-menu-starbucks-23. Do you have any programming experience before developing the app? How did you learn iOS programming?

I began getting into developing iOS apps in 2010, following the release of the iPad. When I first got my hands on one, I thought it was amazing and I wanted to be apart of that amazing feel of using an iPad, by developing an app that other users could enjoy. I had no prior knowledge of Objective C (I barely got by with HTML), so I had to self-teach. AppCoda wasn’t around in 2010, so I didn’t have its amazing tutorials to help. I had to go the old-fashion way of reading a book to learn. It was hard. My first app was called Sketchy HD and it was the most basic sketching app ever. It had eight brushes and a save button. Looking back on it, it was pretty terrible. (It’s not even available in the App Store anymore)

Skip three years to 2013, when I discovered AppCoda and other great resources to learn how to develop amazing apps, when I began to teach myself how to develop apps again. My second and most successful app is Secret Menu for Starbucks and it wouldn’t have been possible without AppCoda’s tutorials.

4. What are you going to do to promote your app?

I consider everyday a promotion day. I don’t spend any money on advertising or big marketing campaigns, but I do tweet and have a website for my app. Since my app was the first of its kind to the App Store, it has been largely successful due to its originality. However, I know this won’t last forever and I am considering more options to market my app.

5. What were the most valuable lessons you learnt from AppCoda and its book?

The most valuable lesson AppCoda taught me was that programming isn’t as hard as it looks. When I first started back in 2010, the book I used to learn from was very overwhelming and dry. AppCoda’s tutorials and book provides users with a detailed step-by-step process and explanation on how to code. They even provide the sample code to alter or mess with.

My app is largely based on UITableView and before reading AppCoda, I didn’t even know what a UITableView was, let alone how to populate data into it. In fact, I’ve read AppCoda’s tutorial “iOS Programming Tutorial: Create a Simple Table View App” so much that I could recite it. It was that helpful and informative.

6. Any advices for those who just start learning iOS programming?

Never. Ever. Ever. Give Up. If you have no experience in Objective C or coding for that matter, it can seem very overwhelming and confusing. Don’t let this bring your spirit down and keep trying. Most importantly, keep learning and perfecting your app. You’re hard work and late nights will pay off when you get that email from Apple saying you’re app has been approved. It’s an amazing feeling and a great accomplishment.

7. What’s your next plan?

Currently I am working on a huge 2.0 update to Secret Menu for Starbucks and I’m very excited to launch it before the end of this month. Plus I am always on the look out for new ‘secret’ drink combinations, so submit away!

Editor’s note: Henry just updated that the version 2.0 of his Starbucks app is now live on App Store.

Shahed Farid – Asiatiske Oppskrifter

asiatiske oppskrifter1. Tell me more about your background and your app. Was it your first app?

My name is Shahed Farid and I am an electronics engineer. My app is called Asiatiske oppskrifter. It’s a recipe-app that presents dishes from all over Asia in Norwegian language and in a simple, easy-to-follow way. The recipes are stored in a server. When I add new recipes, I can send push notification to my users to notify them. There are many Asian recipe-apps in the market, what makes this one special is the use of local language and the simplified content. I have teamed up with a recipe-page on Facebook which delivers parts of the content.

2. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take to develop the app?

I came up with the idea for this app while I was living as a student and wanted to learn how to cook Asian food. I used about three weeks to make the main structure of the app: The table views, navigation, server connection and the push notification system. Then I spent one week experimenting with different fonts, colors and layouts. To simplify the server and push notification part, I used Parse as the backend.

3. Do you have any programming experience before developing the app? How did you learn iOS programming?

I’ve had some courses in Java and C programming in university. When I started on this app I had never coded for iOS-devices before but I watched a lot of YouTube-videos and read the tutorials on AppCoda.

asiatiske-oppskrifter-24. What did you do to promote your app?

The app has sharing capabilities for Facebook and Twitter which enables the users to share their favorite recipes from within the app. I am planning to do some corporation with restaurants for additional promotion. Also, I have requested some food blogs in Norway to write a review and I am making a web-page for the app.

5. What were the most valuable lessons you learnt from AppCoda and its book?

The tutorials from AppCoda are very easy to follow and describes all the basic topics you need to know about to get started. The included example source files makes it even easier to follow along. The tutorials on table view really helped me to get started with the most important functionality for the app (displaying recipes in a table) and the tutorials on Parse made the content management very easy.

6. Any advices for those who just start learning iOS programming?

My best advice is: Just fire up Xcode and start coding! It can seem very daunting and difficult to start, but there are so many tutorials that explains everything you need to get started. Xcode has a very simple programming flow, the combination of text-based coding and graphical coding makes the program very easy to learn.

7. What’s your next plan?
I am currently working on an iPad-optimized version of this app. I am also thinking about monetization models that can be incorporated, e.g. in-app purchases, advertisements and cooperation with restaurants. I am in the planning-phase of two other apps. The first one is an app that will read data from the diagnosis port of cars (RPM, fuel consumption, engine temperature, fault codes etc.) and present it in real-time.

The other app is a home automation-app for controlling lights, heaters and other electronic equipment. There will be available hardware to go with these two apps. Many similar apps exists on the market today, but in my opinion, they are unnecessary difficult to set up and use, and they are also very expensive. I want to make cheaper, more elegant and easier-to-use alternatives.

Mark Stoneham – Gamebook Companion

gamebook-companion-logo1. Tell me about your background and your app. Was it your fist app?

I’m a mid-forties, 80s child. I grew up in a developing world of Rubiks Cubes, electronic music, home computers and, of course, the rapid surge and growth of Fighting Fantasy! My love of these adventure gamebooks from my youth was the starting point for developing the Gamebook Companion, which was my first app.

2. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take to develop the app?

It was a wet and miserable afternoon and my girlfriend (who by some massive stroke of fortune is a huge gamer – both console and board style) and we had decided to give the two-player Fighting Fantasy books Clash of Princes a play through. It had been years since I’d played it as a teenager and I wanted to give it another crack. After sitting on the sofa playing through a couple of times (she died quite quickly on both occasions) it was frustratingly difficult to hold a piece of paper, pencil and dice and have somewhere to write and roll. We’d already given up with real dice and had grabbed an app to do this for us instead, but we were still stuck with trying to write on our adventure sheets while sitting on a soft sofa – so I made the comment that an app to store all the game details would be really handy. A week later and v1.0 of the Gamebook Companion was pretty much ready to go.

3. Do you have any programming experience before developing the app? How did you learn iOS programming?

I’d never written an app before so it was a huge learning curve, but the app is relatively simple and I’d done plenty of programming when I was younger (I even produced a drawing package for the ZX Spectrum for my Computing O’Level), so it didn’t take too long to pick it up. Using websites like AppCoda and others, I read and followed a number of tutorials to do everything I wanted in the app.

gamebook-companion4. What did you do to promote your app?

It’s a very niche market, so most of the promotion has been word of mouth through social media and RPG websites/forums. I also managed to convince the actor/writer and comedian Charlie Higson to tweet about my app a couple of times as he too is a huge Fighting Fantasy fan. I also have a couple of banner adverts on industry friends websites, which help promote it, along with full details on my own site.

5. What was the most valuable lessons you learnt from AppCoda and its book?

Take your time and make sure you fully understand what you’re trying to achieve before committing fingers to keys. The UITableView tutorial has been invaluable with my latest app, the Fighting Fantasy Collectors Guide. And the JSON tutorial has helped me work out a way to update the current second-hand prices without having to re-submit the app every time when there’s a change.

6. Any advice for this who just start learning iOS programming?

Again, don’t rush and make sure you have a goal. I’ve started numerous apps since and they’re still not complete because I don’t really know where I’m going with them. But I recently started a couple of new ones, with a clear goal of what they need to do, and one of them at least should be released in the next few months.

7. What’s your next plan?

As I mentioned, I have a couple of new apps on the go. The first is Dice Dungeon, a Fighting Fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons inspired dungeon crawler. I’ve already spent a couple of years working on it and there’s still plenty more to do, but maybe one day I can get it finished and released. The second is the Fighting Fantasy™ Collector’s Guide that’s being pulled together with the help of Jamie (The Warlock) Fry from the official Fighting Fantasy website. Although it will be an unofficial release, it does have the approval from Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (the founders of Games Workshop and the Fighting Fantasy brand) to go ahead. Featuring a full list of collectible Fighting Fantasy books and memorabilia, users will be able to tick off everything they have from a built-in checklist which will also provide approximate second-hand prices for each item.

Jonathan Dolden – Hog Hunter Pro

hog-hunter-pro-icon1. Tell me more about your app. Was it your first app?

The app I am currently working on allows Wild Pig/Hog hunters to estimate the weight of there catch, take a photo and post the photo to Facebook.

2. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take to develop the app?

The original basis for the idea was given to me by a friend who came up with the formula used in the calculations. He was using a laptop and spread sheet to calculate the weight. It has taken me about 2 months from no experience to having the app almost ready to go.

hog-hunter-pro3. Do you have any programming experience before developing the app? How did you learn iOS programming?

I had some limited Visual Basic experience before this and I am still learning iOS programming as I go. Most of my knowledge has come from your book as well your web site and internet forums. I had also been working through iOS for dummies and some other dummies books that were next to useless and were getting me nowhere. Then I discovered your site and book and in two months have got an app ready for launch.

4. What are you going to do to promote your app?

I plan to use Facebook and hunting forums to promote my app.

5. What were the most valuable lessons you learnt from AppCoda?

Not to waste to much time reading and start coding!

6. Any advices for those who just start learning iOS programming?

Use your book and like I said in the previous question don’t read to much. Just start to get your hands dirty and code.

7. What’s your next plan?

I have two more app ideas in my mind that I will start to get them out as soon as the first one is launched. And I also start working on porting my first app to Android to reach a bigger market.

Editor’s note: Jonathan’s app has been approved by Apple. The Hog Hunter Pro app is now available on App Store.

Felix Fan – SpeakPal

speakpal logo1. Tell me more about your app. Was it your first app?

My app is called SpeakPal, it can be download from App Store. It’s my third apps since learning iOS programming. My first app is Chief Executive Election HK that serves as an online platform for discussion and raise people’s awareness of the 2012 Chief Executive Election. It’s a basic app and later I move onto developing a demo app related to iBeacon, which is not published on App Store.

2. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take to develop the app?

This idea is quite simple, my friend and I wanted to build a simple app for basic English learner/ kids to learn and practice English Speaking. We started from scratch, brainstormed loads of ideas and prioritized technical features. We created over seven paper prototypes to visualize our idea.

3. Do you have any programming experience before developing the app? How did you learn iOS programming?

I do have few programming experience previously. I was an engineering student and learnt some basic computer science theory.

iOS programming, however, is more a practical and trial-and-error experience. When I started using Xcode and iOS Programming SDK, I seldom solved problems by referring to my academic notes or books. It’s about more about trial-and-error and taking actions. Sometimes I got stuck on some bugs for a long while. What I do is to google online resources, try out the solution and keep coding. During the search, I found AppCoda which completely accelerated my learning path.

speakpal4. What did you do to promote your app?

I promoted the app by using Keywords Search Optimization (Some call it ASO – App Store Optimization). I created a facebook page as well as using Facebook paid App Ad. Furthermore I reached out to some local tutoring schools and provided them promo code to try my app.

5. What were the most valuable lessons you learnt from AppCoda?

Overall speaking, “Tutorial #28: How to Create a Cloud Backend for Your App using Parse – Part 1” is my favorite tutorial. It’s like magic when I created an app that connected to the cloud. People thought that I am a genius in programming. What they did not know was I achieved this simply by following a tutorial on AppCoda and used Parse as the cloud backend.

6. Any advices for those who just start learning iOS programming?

It’s quite simple to make an app nowadays with all the online resources. Do not panic yourself to build it all from scratch, start working on it step by step by following AppCoda’s tutorials. It offers the most essential and basic programming skills you need to know, ranging from app interface, server connection, etc. Don’t forget to check out the Github libraries too. Remember to learn programming through practice, not just reading the programming theory, unless you want to pursue a career in academic field.

7. What’s your next plan?

I am now working on iOS Passbook-related project, a pass design platform for which retailers can easily build offers and reach their customers.

What’re You Still Waiting for?

If you still think it is hard to learn iOS programming, I hope this post inspires you to kick start and build your own app. The real trick to learn iOS programming is just to get started. Fire up Xcode, follow a tutorial and code.

To be clear, I didn’t say programming is easy. These developers work really hard to build their first apps. Remember don’t wait for “some day” to get started if you’re serious to invest your time to learn. Now is always the best time to get started. You may grab our iOS 7 programming book or check out our free course to start learning.

The “First Time App Developer” series is not yet finished. We got lots of responses from other first time app developers after part 1 was published. So stay tuned. You’ll see even more success stories in part 3.

Again, if you have built your first app and want to share your experience, remember to let me know.

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