I’m building and marketing an app from scratch (and sharing everything I learn)

Update 2016: I’m building employee survey software to help employees be heard better by management. Check it out!

Update: Read Part #2: Building a Pre-Launch Interest

I’ve been reading quite a few stories recently about how difficult it is to market an app. There’s a ton of competition, everyone wants apps for free, and retention is tough.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been trying to learn more about app marketing, specifically how to drive acquisition. I’ve had trouble finding in-depth resources on this. After some thought, I’ve decided that I’m going to jump in and create my own mobile app. In addition, I’m going to share everything I learn.

The App

Yesterday on my way to work, I watched a girl riding a bike, while using her phone. She almost got hit by a truck. I then got off the subway and was stuck behind another individual glued to the screen while walking up a flight of stairs.

People are addicted to their smartphones. Research has been done, and on average, people check their phone 150 times per day. That’s insane. People need a break from technology.

To combat that trend, I’m building an app called Digital Detox and it turns your smartphone into a phone that only gives you access to calls/texts for a specific period of time. The goal is to give people who want to do cool things (starting a business, building relationships, finding new hobbies) the extra boost of time they need. This app will give people their most precious resource back to them…time.

Right now, this will only be for Android. Signup and I’ll let you know when it launches.

Digital Detox

Outsourcing development on Odesk

In the past I’ve spent a ton of time learning programming. I don’t have time to learn Android development, so I’ve decided to outsource the app development on ODesk. I’ll be sharing my tactics on how to hire, and it will be a good chance for me to get better at writing detailed specs. The app is relatively simple, so I don’t think it will be too difficult.

I’ve already hired someone, and the total cost (so far, this could change) is $1000. I spent over $1000 for classes in college, but this experience will teach me more than I ever learned in a boring college class. It’s worth it.

Outsourcing development will allow me to spend my time marketing the app, which is probably a better use of my time.

Why Android? I honestly don’t think this type of functionality is possible in iOS. I’ve seen alternatives on Android, which suggests that this is possible.


My primary goal is to learn.

I’d also like to break-even on the $1000 I paid for development.

That means I will be charging for the app. I’ll probably start at 99 cents for the first week, and then increase the price to $1.99. All options are on the table.

I also want to share my learnings with you. I really enjoy when people “open up the books”, and share how things are going.


There’s two major risks in this project:

  1. App development – I could get an app in a couple weeks that barely works. I just paid a guy to build it, and while I think they will do a decent job, I’m also a bit nervous about what the end result will look like.
  2. Demand – Do people want an app that limits apps? Do they want to pay for this?
  3. Android only – I’m not building an iOS version, primarily because I have no idea where I will be acquiring users. I also wonder if the target market I want to reach is on iOS. I honestly don’t know.

Gauging Demand

The most important thing I can do is find demand for the app, and get them on my pre-launch email list. If my friends aren’t even interested in this app, I’m doomed. The first thing I did was write this Facebook post to test if people feel addicted to their phones.

Digital Detox Demand

A decent response. I created a basic mockup, and a couple days later posted this:

Digital Detox App

30+ likes. Not too bad. But I don’t want likes, I want emails. I posted another photo last night, and got a few emails on the list, and for some random reason, decided to tweet at Tim Ferriss.

I woke up this morning and it received 15 retweets and over 500 visitors to the website (and 31 emails so far.) I have no idea what happened, but I’ll take it. Demand seems to exist.

More research

I’ve created a screencast below to step you through some of the things I look for when gauging demand. Make no mistake, there are alternatives to my idea. That’s okay.

Join me

I’d really enjoy feedback on this idea, and I’m excited to see what happens. At the very least, it will be a good learning experience, and the best case scenario is that I break even on my investment. If you’d like to follow my progress, please signup with the widget on the right.

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  • Nice Luke, love your stuff. Let’s keep in touch 😉

  • That’s a great share. Takes a lot of effort to document all the very steps you’ve gone through – Thanks. I would recommend getting into the weeds of programming and do atleast parts of it yourself. I know of so many companies that went belly up because they had poor jobs done on their software by freelancers

    • Nikolai,

      Thanks for the comment. I plan on digging in shortly and learning how to setup Mixpanel or Google Analytics on the app. Nothing too intense, but I’d like to learn a bit about how to set this stuff up.

  • Philipp Etzlinger

    Great idea, like your approach. But I have one question: the Facebook postings were sponsored posts or did you only ask your friends?

  • This is awesome to see Luke, even more so as I’m literally in the same boat as you in creating an app (sorry for the link drop – however I feel that my app idea is probably going completely against yours in the fact that I’m acknowledging we are being made “dumb” by out smartphones and sort of promoting it.

    Curious to hear what you think if you get a moment to spare!

    Signed up to keep track of your progress too :)

    • I really like your app. Have you thought about exploring integration with CRM solutions (connecting to their APIs?). If you can, you’d be able to super-charge your USP AND focus on selling the app to businesses

  • Thanks for sharing buddy, nice post!

  • Awesome Luke–pumped to see your progress/learning with this (especially when you start the user acquisition challenge).

  • Great post Luke.

    I’m really interested to see how successful your outsourcing is.

    It’s something I’ve often thought about doing, when I’ve got an idea I think I could run with from a marketing perspective, but no time to learn how to code it.

    Hopefully you’ll be successful!

    Subscribed too as I’m interested to see where things go from here … Best of luck!

    • Sam,

      Thanks a ton for the comment. I’m very interested too :)

      The app I’m trying to build is very basic – if there was more complexity I wouldn’t outsource it. I’m excited to share more about how the outsourcing process is going…It’s been a bit learning experience so far.

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