How this 14-year-old already has 12 apps in the iOS store

When I was 14, I admit I spent the majority of my time playing video games.

Today, 14-year-old Zach Cmiel spends his free time building them.

Zach, a sophomore at Chicago’s St. Ignatius College Prep, has designed and developed 12 iOS games and apps currently available in the Apple Store. His work has seen thousands of downloads, reeling in more money than most kids ever earn in allowance.

“With one of my games, ‘Do you know the USA,’ I’ve had over 1,000 downloads, and that’s priced at $0.99,” Zach said. “And I’ve made a couple hundred dollars off ads from the remaining apps.”

As his company, PoKoBros, has grown into something much more than just a hobby, Zach too has evolved into an earnest entrepreneur. A former baseball and basketball player, Zach has given up sports in pursuit of something greater.

“Entrepreneurship can really only be learned by doing,” he said. “Doing things at a young age is the best time to start.”

The road to code

Zach said he started coding at just 11-years-old after reading a book on app billionaires, which profiled not just the most profitable apps and games of the year, but the developers behind that success.

Zach’s interest was piqued. After spending some time on Buzztouch, whose software helps novice developers build native iOS and Android apps, Zach started to take coding even more seriously.

“I wanted more flexibility and customization with the apps and products as I was learning, so I decided to learn code and game development,” he said.

Through blogs and books, conferences and classes, Zach has since added Objective-C, Swift, and HTML and CSS to his already formidable repertoire of skills. This year at school, he’s taking a Java course to bolster his programming chops.

“[My school has] been really helpful and accommodating in supporting my learning in tech, but everything else has been outside and on my own,” he said.

What’s in a game?

Even at his age, Zach knows that structure and method are paramount in app development. By the time he released Circle Swipe — the latest addition to his virtual toy box — he seemed to have a fairly solid process in place.

“Most of the work is devoted to designing and planning the game, because if you don’t plan or design the game well, then you’re going to have a really hard time actually developing it,” he said.

After ideating for about a week about a concept behind a game, Zach dives into designing its basic aspects. Only then will he start coding. Once coding is complete, he sends the prototype to friends and family for feedback, implementing any changes they recommend.

Finally, he submits it to the app store for review while he ramps up pre-launch marketing efforts.

Zach, who said he intentionally tries to keep his games and apps as simple as possible, said development can take anywhere from two to three weeks to upwards of a month.

“It really depends on the scale of the game,” he said. “It’s gotten shorter as I’ve made more, because it’s easier and I know the process better.”

A promising future

As Zach has learned more about app development, he’s become more proactive about nursing the business side of building a game.

“Over the past year or so, I’ve started to reach out to the startup community around Chicago to see what I can learn more about — especially the business side of things, because I’ve focused on the more technical aspects of making apps,” Zach said.

Part of that outreach led to Zach being taken under the wing of MobileX Labs CTO and co-founder Kiran Panesar, who quickly became a mentor to Zach as Panesar helped cultivate his talents. This summer, Panesar extended an offer for Zach to intern with the company, and Zach’s mother Mia said their family is incredibly grateful for the opportunities made available through MobileX Labs.

Zach’s father, Michael Cmiel, said outside of Panesar and MobileX Labs, it’s been difficult to find Zach resources that can keep up with him.

Still, Zach is adamant that entrepreneurship sits on his professional horizon. He’s already pinned Stanford at the top of his dream school list, where he said he wants to study either computer science or business.

“I do definitely want to try and turn this into what I want to do when I grow up,” he said. “I feel like the two routes I can go down that I would be most interested and passionate about would be either starting my own company or working in an early-stage startup. I feel like that’s the best way to create an innovative product that has the biggest effect on the world.”

A few minutes after our conversation ended, Zach called me back, asking if I could include his advice to other young entrepreneurs in his story.

So, Zach, I admirably oblige:

“When young entrepreneurs are starting out, as long as you don’t have the responsibilities of an adult — like buying a house, having a family, or going to college — I think you can take advantage of that time to do whatever you want, and have the passion to do it. Don’t be afraid to do something that’s out of your comfort zone, because you really have nothing to lose.”


Originally published at www.builtinchicago.org on August 25, 2015.