Newsletter Interview

I was recently interviewed by @katewhitaker for an internal IBM newsletter. Not sure if anyone’s interested but thought I’d post it up here.

So Chris, what is your app?

My app is a Facebook client for Android devices. It’s called FriendCaster and allows you to access Facebook quickly and easily, with lots of features not found in other apps, including the official app.

Where did you get your inspiration from?

My inspiration for the app came last year, I’d had a couple of devices running Android but was never satisfied with the experience of using Facebook on Android. In the end I decided to create my own with the feature I most wanted back then: notification alerts.

Is this your first attempt at an app?

I’ve created apps in the past but none as popular as FriendCaster. My first app was a shopping comparison app which could read an item’s barcode and show you the best prices from online and local stores; this was done as my final year project at Uni. Another app I’ve been involved in is an IBM project called Universal Information Framework (UIF). UIF basically allows devices to have messages pushed to it over the Internet, alerting the user and allowing them to respond; a scenario might be a bank sending alerts to its customers any about suspicious transactions, for the customer to then verify.

How long did it take to develop?

I started developing FriendCaster early last Summer with its first public release in July 2010 costing just £0.59. I’ve since added lots of features to it in my spare time, including an advertising supported Free version which has been available since December 2010. FriendCaster is now at a point where we cover all of Facebook’s functionality available to us. In terms of the amount of time I spend on it, it’s about 8 hours per week on average.

Roughly how many downloads have you had and how did you market the app?

FriendCaster has had over 600,000 downloads, of which the free version accounts for about 90%. As it started out as a hobby I didn’t really have a marketing strategy, but as more people downloaded the app I soon realised that there was a big market for it. The first thing I did was start posting on the big Android online forums about the app; word of mouth is key when you’re just starting out. I then started using Twitter (ironic, I know) to keep users up to date with my progress, this was important as it allowed users to directly contact me with suggestions, making them feeling involved. The app really took off in March when it was included in a Lifehacker article, my downloads increased 10x in a day and have kept growing since!

What are your future plans for the app?

The application was bought by a mobile development company called Handmark in May, meaning the app is now theirs! Luckily the company want to keep me leading development and we have many things lined up for the near future including a new Tablet version, Chat, a new interface and more. I’m also in contact with managerial people at Facebook so who knows!

What hints and tips do you have for budding developers?

I would say the big thing is to make sure you have an idea that you’re passionate about. Without the passion it will not be enjoyable to do and will probably end in failure. Another thing I’d say is to not read too much into the feedback you receive; even the best apps get users writing negative things about them. Finally, even if your app doesn’t take off the way you hoped, look on it as a learning experience and try again!