Awesome Geekness: Life as an Indie App Developer

We want to believe you can make it as an indie app developer and we’d love to prove that not everybody is failing at that.

When you’re an indie app developer, there is one question that drives all behavior. How do you get people interested? All the ideas in the world do no good if they fall on deaf ears. You know the saying: if an app is created in the woods and nobody hears it, was it even created at all?

Benjamin Larson and Russ Zimmerman began professional life founding a company called Imagine Learning, which has grown from a home basement office to the present day compilation of 300+ employees stationed in Provo. Both exited the company in 2014 and with the additional time and money on hand, decided to deep-dive into the world of indie app making.

“Technically, Awesome Geekness has been around for awhile, we did a couple of apps and stuff on the side, but we really opened our doors fulltime in May of 2014,” Larson said. “Our goal is just to make awesome apps that we would love to use.”

The first app created by Awesome Geekness was Tiki Kaboom, a game built around exploding bamboo walls and avoiding the dreaded wrath of the Tiki. Larson and Zimmerman both take pride in their creation because who doesn’t love their firstborn, but the game never took off (see: made money) in a satisfactory way.

Their next app venture took them into a world that everyone can identify with. You know those awkward times when you’ve already met somebody multiple times, still can’t remember their name, and just end up calling them “dude” or “miss” for an entire night? It’s horrible, embarrassing, and exactly the sort of scenario Name Shark was designed to solve.

“Name Shark solves a very universal problem, helping people remember names,” Larson said. “Everyone has to remember names and we feel like we’ve came up with a good solution for that.”

The app helps users to effectively memorize names: take a picture, provide a name, assemble the photos into different groups (work people, extended family, people you hate but have to be nice to, etc.), and then take quizzes to help train your brain. With newfound name-remembering abilities, your awkward situations are turned silky smooth.

As with Tiki Kaboom, Name Shark hasn’t fully caught on in a way the gentlemen of Awesome Geekness hoped. No worries, they did what all indie app developers do: move onto the next idea.

In March, Larson and Zimmerman were invited by Apple to go and test on the Apple Watch. What initially was a trip to push Name Shark quickly became something else, and it centered on the watch itself.

“We wanted to be the retro calculator watch for the Apple Watch,” Larson said. “We programmed that in about a month, went to Apple and tested it out, which is a good thing because it was totally broken. We spent a full day in their lab fixing bugs and got it up and going.”

There are watches designed to do everything nowadays, from counting calories and steps to tracking how many times you scratch yourself in inappropriate places. Instead of trying to think of more futuristic applications for the Apple Watch, Larson and Zimmerman actually backtracked in time, concentrating their mind grapes on turning the Apple Watch into an old-school calculator watch. They named it the Geek Watch and after being featured on Product Hunt and TechCrunch, it rose quickly in the Apple Store. The initial weekend saw the Geek Watch rise to number one in the entertainment category in 12 countries, eighth in the United States.

“In addition to having a calculator and stopwatch, we wanted to make it fun to do the things we used to do when we had calculator watches, spell words upside down or try to exactly time the stopwatch on one second,” Zimmerman said. “When you do those certain things, it unlocks watch faces or backgrounds on the iPhone.”

Building on the Geek Watch’s success is the next step. When you’re an indie app developer, the only way to stay alive is move forward, even if the ideas are drawing from the distant past.

Larson and Zimmerman don’t plan on abandoning any of their prior creations, but after fine tuning the Geek Watch and continuing to push Name Shark, different ideas await.

“Our list right now probably has 100 ideas on it and the top four we’d really like to chase,” Larson said. “We want to believe you can make it as an indie app developer and we’d love to prove that not everybody is failing at that.”

Published 6/12/2015

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