Making a Catholic Side Project Work

Pray Catholic Novena app

I just released my first iOS app, called Pray: the Catholic Novena App.

In this post, I don’t want to focus so much on the app itself but on the process by which it came about.

Neighborly Friendship

Two years ago I moved into a suburban neighborhood. We noticed the family across the street had children about the same age as ours, but it took several months before we waved hello to each other.

Pray Catholic Novena appAfter six months, we had had a few conversations. The husband and father’s name was Chad, and he was a computer programmer like me. I did mainly Microsoft .NET stack; he did iOS (iPhone etc.) development. He was working for a startup at the time and had long work hours.

After about a year, our children played together in the front yard fairly often. Chad and I now traded stories about what projects we were working on and our goals. He wanted to work on a side project, and had an idea for a photo management app. I had a few Catholic project ideas and had been working on one of them–a website that never came to fruition–at the time.

Moving Toward Partnership

He got tired of working on his photo app, which was a large scale project, and I told him my idea for making a Catholic mobile app. Most Catholic mobile apps, quite frankly, do not look very good and have poor usability. We as Catholics are used to second- and third-rate media quality, so we are just happy to have an app, period, that does something with our Faith, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

I wanted to learn iOS development.
He wanted a good side project that could build his portfolio.
I had the Catholic audience to where we would have a chance at marketing it.

And so I proposed a partnership. Here was where I made a good decision, one that Dean Soto here at Productive Catholic taught me: I offered him 50% equity in our endeavor.

Chad went from being mildly interested in doing a partnership to very interested. I was happy with it, because 100% of $0 is $0. I had no app, no users, no nothing. The hard part is actually shipping something, and most people never reach that milestone. I figured we should both be incentivized to make the app succeed.

We avoided the overhead of an LLC and just did a General Partnership. Much simpler and cheaper to set up. Taxes are higher, but again, if we make $0 the taxes are $0 anyway.

Starting the Work on Pray the Catholic Novena App

He had designed multiple mobile apps. I had designed one. So we made drawings of screens, mocked out flows through the app, discussed and debated, and then we started coding up the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Pray Catholic Novena appOriginally the app was going to be another Kitchen Sink Catholic app with daily readings, etc. but once Chad and I talked more, we decided to focus on the app on doing one thing, and one thing well: helping you pray novenas.

I setup a GitHub source control account for $7 per month, we made the workspace in XCode, wrote up the initial screens, and checked the code in: we were moving!

Chad helped mentor me on coding in Swift, the programming language for iOS. I learned a lot as I hacked stuff in. Sometimes Chad had to refactor or even remove changes I made because I goofed stuff up–I was still a newbie in terms of iOS development, in spite of my 15 years of programming in other platforms.

When he slowed down and got busy with his main job, I was able to pick up the slack, and vice-versa. Eventually he took the baton and ran it across the finish line, doing the lion’s share of the work on the programming side.

Marketing Is the Other 70%

We did so much work to get an elegant, yet simple novena app published to the App Store, but now the second big undertaking began: how do we get people to find out about it?

Amazon has countless millions of books. The App Store has millions of apps. Getting noticed in that ocean of water droplets is difficult.

My unfair advantage: I had built up a moderately sized Catholic audience over the past ten years. Not huge, not mega, but moderate. Some thousands of twitter followers, facebook friends, email readers, blog subscribers.

I contacted various friends with blogs and sites and shows and requested if I could be interviewed or write a guest post or have them review the app.

The results are still to be seen: I will plan for a follow-up post with the actual numbers of people who downloaded and installed the app. The app is free, and has no ads.

Why Make It Free?

Why not charge for the app? Well, two reasons: 1) we want as many people as possible to use the app to pray novenas and grow closer to God, and 2) if we get a good numbers of users then we can serve them with helpful products they may want to purchase.

We won’t ever be spamming ads at the users. Instead, I will personally hand-curate a set of products that I believe in and then at appropriate times in the app ask the user if they would like to learn more about them. E.g. books I’ve written, courses I’ve created, other services or products from orthodox Catholics that are helpful.

That is in the future, and only if we get enough users interested in the app. In the meantime, we will lose money on hosting costs for our server, logo design costs, database hosting costs, etc. But it is not that much money, and this has been a great learning experience for us either way.

We did a beta test after we quietly released the 1.0 a few weeks ago, and then invited a select group of friends to use it and give us feedback. That was quite valuable as we were able to fix a few bugs and make enhancements.

Now it is our big launch day! We would love it if you tried out the app and let us know what you think.

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