5 years ago I quit my job as an Investment Banker to become an Indie App Developer … my story

In 2012, after finishing my masters degree, I was working in the fixed income department of an investment bank in Frankfurt, Germany. I spent 10 hours of my day with 450 colleagues on the largest trading floor in Europe answering client calls. They mostly requested prices for fixed income investments. It didn’t involve a lot of intelligence on my side. I was bored. I didn’t know why I went to university. And I hated wearing suits everyday. The pay was good, but I had to change something. And so I did.

Fast forward to today: I am sitting at my desk in Melbourne, Australia. In shorts. Free to go to the beach or meet friends in the park for lunch. This afternoon I have my final kite surfing lesson. Hopefully…

So how did I achieve this? While still in the bank I used most of my free time after work and my vacation to develop and test app ideas. Most of them were pretty basic, but I developed a feeling for the App Store. And realized, that there’s money to make. Even if you are only a small player.

My first published app, back in 2011, was called Boarding Pass and did little more than listing the airline’s mobile check in websites. I sold it for $0.99 and it earned some bucks everyday. Until September 2012, when Apple released a feature called Passbook. While my app didn’t have anything to do with it and didn’t even support it, people found my app when they searched for Passbook. Initially pushing sales to 500 per day and staying at a comfortable level afterwards. It’s now a fully featured itinerary manager and still sells quite well.

Daily Download of Boarding Pass

In winter of 2012, after around 20 smaller app projects, I developed yet another app. It should change my life. I called it “Where is that?” and it’s a geography game. You have to find cities and countries on a world map. Pretty basic. Initial development time was 2 weeks. I put together some open source map data with location lists from Wikipedia. From today’s perspective it also featured especially ugly colors.

Early version of Where is that? Do you like green?

But people loved it and 10 days after release I hit the top 1 position of the German iPhone charts. I held a top 10 position for a week, which was good for over 200,000 downloads and they kept coming at a steady rate afterwards.

First million downloads on iOS

I was excited. I thought about quitting my job. And so I did. In July 2012 I became a full time iOS developer. Leaving the grey world of investment banking and entering the colourful world of app development.

My first project in August 2012 was … being sued by one of Germany’s largest board game publishers for trademark infringement. One of my first apps back in 2010 was an adaption of the popular children’s game “Stadt, Land, Fluss”. In the US it should be best known as Scattergories. This old school board game publisher tried to secure a trademark for this title back in the 90s, but it was since deleted from the register. They must have banked on being the much bigger player here. I found a great lawyer and in the end they spent around €15.000 on their lawsuit they lost against me. It was one of the most stressful times of my life, but ultimately it was a valuable experience.

Much better colors…

I spent the first few months of my new life developing new features and refining the interface of “Where is that?”. I also developed a new version of “Stadt, Land, Fluss”, which did ok, but is not around anymore. After I conquered the iOS App Store I was ready to take this success to the Google Play Store. The only problem: I didn’t know anything about Android development.

First I tried to learn it, but soon gave up. The tools were just not easy enough to handle for a mediocre developer like me. I tried it with a Chinese guy from oDesk. He never delivered. I tried it with a Polish development studio, which a fellow developer recommended. They delivered, but the quality wasn’t that good. Finally I discovered that a highschool buddy of mine also worked as an indie developer and he rewrote the whole code base. After half a year back and forth, the app was finally ready to be published. Right in time for Christmas.

The first million on Android

The release was a little bumby. I spent christmas dinner with my laptop on the couch. But it was worth it, as it hit the top 10 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on Christmas Eve. I amassed 1 million downloads in just over 2 months and downloads have been steady since then.

Fueled by this success I wanted to take my game to the next level. I spent a good part of 2014 developing Geo Arena. A round based multiplayer geography game. It flopped.

In 2015 a few smaller projects followed. None of these were really successful. It was a hard year. Revenues were declining. I began questioning myself. Was it the right decision to quit my job? With these thoughts I went on a much too expensive 5 week road trip through the US, which was planned well ahead, when things were still good.

I came back relaxed. And with a brand new app idea. But first I had to revamp my existing apps to get my revenues to a more comfortable level. I spent the rest of 2015 doing that. Successfully.

Good news followed. My wife was offered a secondment in Australia for 2 years. As I can work from everywhere, we left for the other end of the world in the summer of 2016.

And I am excited about a new project once again. It’s called Scenic Drives and it’s a navigation app for guided tours in your own car. I got this idea when we were in San Francisco for a few days and wanted to get a quick overview of the city. Without being cramped in one of these tour buses. I couldn’t find an app for that. The first version of this app is finished. I am waiting with the release for spring in Europe. And for feedback from the Apple Promotions Team. And because I am a littlebit scared. What if it’s another flop?

Well. You never know if you don’t try. And there is always the next project. Let’s see what the next 5 years have to offer.

Update: Scenic Drives is now available to download for free: Scenic Drives - City tours for your car

Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash

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