I wanted to share the story of my first business. It’s largely forgotten and poorly documented because I was only in my early teens. When I was 12, I started learning programming. I had been playing video games for years growing up. Counter Strike and Starcraft were the goto games after school, logging in online and playing with friends was some of the most fun I had growing up. I began getting interested in how games are made, it took sometime to understand that people were making these games I was playing, and largely they were making them with C++, a programming language.
The web and flash were growing in huge popularity at the time and my friend even made some money off of making a flash game which I thought was really cool. I had only recently gotten my first Mac, the black MacBook. Super excited about Mac, Unix and open source in general I ended up spending more time doing web development.
The web in general seemed more exciting but everything changed when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone. At $600 it was crazy for a 9th grader to get one but I got it. My family was on T-Mobile at the time so I had to wait until an unlock came out, I bought it, unlocked the phone and started playing with it. It was largely thanks to work by Saurik and the Cydia package manager that the jailbreak community flourished at a time when there was no App Store and web apps in Mobile Safari were extremely limited.
Soon the Cydia Store emerged and people started selling their packages, I tried out many but some were buggy and ad-ridden. Because I relied on my phone heavily I didn’t install too many packages but there was one feature I desperately wanted. At the time the iPhone could not multitask. And when you received an SMS, it would close the app you were in so you could reply. This caused a huge continuity problem and was eventually solved by Apple adding backgrounding/multitasking to iPhones but more on that later.
The 2-3 packages that existed for replying to texts without closing the app you were in were not only largely expensive but also extremely bug ridden, ad-ridden, and didn’t fit the overall theme of the operating system. I set out eventually to see if I could make a rock solid implementation myself that I could use. The requirements seemed quite simple, just reply to a text. But it eventually ended up taking almost 8 months for me to pick up Objective-C++ (a variation of Objective C and C++ that runs the two together), the intricacies of UIKit and the other iPhone frameworks (without documentation), and build the functionality needed.
Eventually I ended up having to rebuild large parts of the entire chatting app to give the requisite functionality. Including my own custom bubbles, laying out texts with variable length, characters, and all of that was custom code that had to be written.
Even then I was hustling, look at the avatar picture, this was my staged product photos. I spent a great deal of time making sure everything worked exactly as Apple's Messages app, I tested extensively any bugs, including many edge cases that people could encounter so everything “just worked.”
I dogfooded the app for quite sometime and eventually cleaned things up and approached the package repository managers about listing my package. I had settled on $2.99, it seemed a fair price for such simple functionality. I probably should’ve charged more but I was happy if anyone would buy this and get value from it.
What came next was really quite awesome. My friends had also jailbroken their iPhones and not only bought it but actually loved it, they also agreed it was the absolute best extension for this feature on the market. When I got my first months sales numbers, I thought it was pretty good, 30k. I was still in 9th grade. I told my parents and they flipped out so I felt pretty satisfied.
I spent more time on the app, adding features and improving support as Apple continued releasing new iPhone OS versions, including iOS3, and 4. But pretty quickly there wasn’t much else to do, the package was working just fine, great in fact and I just collected the income for almost 2 years. Overall I grossed close to 500k in total sales for almost 2 years with close to 20k MRR. It was a great experience from building a product, marketing, and supporting it with over a hundred thousand customers.