Lincoln

@LincolnWDaniel

How I Sold My First App for $1,200 in Two Days — Learnings & Tips

June 18th 2017
inTouch noticed you haven’t talked to mom in awhile, so it sent your preset greeting to her by text to spark a conversation.

A few days ago, I wrote this article, “Why I Built inTouch and Why I’m Auctioning the Android App & Business Plan on Flippa”. Two days later, it sold for $1200. I’ve heard about people having trouble selling their apps on platforms like Flippa and even had trouble myself the first time around. Now that I have found success, I wanted to be sure to share with my fellow engineers and creatives how I acquired bidders and what steps I took to ensure a secure transfer of assets between myself and my buyer.

Have Something Worth Buying

You have to build before you can sell. In 2015, I built inTouch as a summer project outside of my internship at IBM Watson. inTouch is a simple app but has very complex logic behind it to make it work as it does. In fact, it’s so complex that I am not aware of any app that has managed to successfully replicate its functionality. Even the popular BroApp is a simpler form of inTouch.

Decide Why It’s Worth Buying

It is important to understand the value in what you want to sell before you attempt to sell it. I wanted to turn inTouch into a business, but I didn’t have the resources to do so as a sophomore in university. Still, I wrote up a business plan and tried to build a business around inTouch. While I couldn’t build the business, I am certain the right person can. What follows is why I believe inTouch would be worth buying if I was on the other side of the screen.

inTouch is so unique and difficult to build that when I was building it (and likely now), it was impossible to build it on iOS because of the necessary logic; some people tried but all they ended up with are simple reminder apps. inTouch is not a reminder app, but all of its copycats are only that. inTouch, making use of naive artificial intelligence knows who you want to stay in touch with, how long its been since you last communicated, and when would be the best time to send out one of your greetings to spark a conversation between you and those you care about most.

If I didn’t have the passion or time, I wouldn’t want to attempt developing inTouch. Someone who simply wants to take it as it is and build around it will be happy to have it developed for them. Had I had the money in 2015, I would have paid someone to make it for me instead. A buyer can build upon inTouch where I couldn’t to turn it into a real business. I will explain how I made this known later.

Sell it To Potential Buyers

Now that you have something you think is worth buying, it’s time to try to sell it.

Explain Why Users Will Want What Bidders Are Bidding For

First, do it in short to grab their attention. Here’s how I explained inTouch in the header of my listing that shows up in a little box across Flippa:

inTouch is an application that uses artificial intelligence to automatically stay in touch with your loved ones for you when you are busy living life by tracking your interactions.

Now that you have their attention, be sure to explain in greater detail how your app delivers what it claims to. Still, stay away from too many technical jargon; remember that your potential bidders may be business people, who have no technical background, just looking for something to build on. Here’s how I explained it on my listing’s page:

Prepare Vibrant Graphics

Reading a bunch of text is one way to acquire knowledge. However, on bad days, that can be a energy draining means to acquiring the information you need to take action. Pictures are another means that can easily excite while providing the necessary information in a more timely fashion. Fortunately, I knew this two years ago when I was building inTouch, so I already had vibrant pictures to add to my listing. The pictures show how inTouch works, why it works, and why it exists. I added many more pictures to my listing, but this single banner gets the job done:

Your buyers want to know that when they purchase your app, they are getting everything related to it. It is hard to know what you’re getting when you can’t see it. Your job is to make it easy for your buyers to know what they are getting. Add as many attachments as you can to your listing to communicate completeness:

These appropriately titled attachments show potential buyers how the app works, that there is a website included, and a bonus business plan that I will touch on later.

Decide The Least $ Your Willing to Sell it For

This one is hard, but it will come in play down the road; on Flippa, they call it your Reserve. How are you to know how much your app is worth on the free market? I didn’t know, but i started off with why I was selling it: it was just sitting there on Google Play with 10–50 downloads over a year and I had no time to try to push it forward, so I decided to sell it to someone who might have the time to grow it. I didn’t really need the money for anything specific, but I did want enough money to say it was worth even building. How much would be enough to defend the sale against friends who might say I wasted my time building it? I decided that $500 was a good amount for bragging rights. $500 is a lot of money when you’re used to eating government cheese. So $500 it was.

If you can’t figure out what a good number is, try looking at other listings on the platform to get an idea of what yours could go for.

Auction It

Now is the time to auction your app. You fill out the form with the information that you’ve organized throughout this article and you prepare for your life to change forever! It’s an exciting time. You can hit the start button and get the bidding started or you can add some upgrades to increase your chances of selling.

I decided to get an upgrade for $59 to have my listing featured on the homepage of Flippa’s Apps page. I don’t know how much this helped, but I’m sure it helped some given that Flippa claims to be the #1 marketplace to sell apps and websites:

Hit the start button and begin the auction at $1. I’ve seen others start their auctions at high prices (I saw one today starting at $40k), but I don’t think bidders respond well to that. I take the approach of the tortoise and take satisfaction in watching the biddings grow somewhat exponentially.

Now, you can sit there are refresh the page every five seconds to see if you have new bidders or you can do something to drive traffic to your listing. The first time I tried selling on Flippa, I did the former and, although I ended up getting some bids and someone willing the purchase my first ever project, which I built my freshman year while learning to code for the first time, for $200+, I know I could have sold it for more. Knowing what I knew from that first experience, I chose to do something to drive traffic to my listing.

Drive Traffic to Your Auction

It’s hard to sell something when there’s no one in your store. I only had seven days to sell my app on Flippa, so I knew I had to act fast to get as many people as I could on my listing’s page. With that, I did what I’ve come to trust over the years: I wrote a article on this blogging platform called Medium (you should check it out).

Over the last couple of years, I’ve developed an audience of my own on Medium, and while building tools and platforms to help other writers and editors on Medium, I’ve developed valuable relationships that I was able to leverage in my time of need. I have a friend, David Smooke, who runs a popular tech publication here on Medium, and we helped one another out whenever it is appropriate. His publication focuses on tech and (I presume) helping one another navigate the wonderful world of tech, and I was selling a application I built. My article would focus on why and how I built the app and why I’m selling it, so it would provide value to the publication’s readers. I pitched it to him and he published it to his 125k readers for me.

I say all of that because it is important to build relationships along the way and provide value to people. By doing so, when you are in need, you will have a better chance of being able to find help.

This is the article I wrote for Hacker Noon:

I shared it on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Outside of Medium, the article didn’t get too many clicks even though it received many likes on Facebook and LinkedIn. Then I remembered that sharing external links to articles hasn’t worked as well as sharing native LinkedIn articles, so I rewrote the article on my LinkedIn profile and shared it there. It had a great reception on LinkedIn then. All of this drove a great deal of traffic to my listing.

Quickly after sharing the articles, my listing’s views, watchers, and bidders began to grow. Although the article wasn’t read by many people, it was read by the right people. This is what the buyer had to say about how he found my auction:

Give Them More Than You’re Selling

I credit the success of this auction to the article I wrote to promote it. It drove more views and led to more quality bidders. But why? I truly believe that if you give more, you will get more.

My auction was to sell my Android app that only has between 10 and 50 installs in the year that it has been on the Google Play Store. It had virtually no users. It’s not a traditional social networking app, a game, nor a overnight sensation of an app. It was a poorly marketed (hardly marketed) app and had no revenue. Yet, I was able to sell it for a price that apps with revenue demand. I want to believe that the drastic increase in bidders and bids was due to me providing my vision for the product along with what my business plan would have been had I the resources to play it out.

These were the bids before I shared the article:

After publishing the article, I started spamming my listing’s refresh button to see if it was working. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working as fast as I could refresh the page, so I made quick decision to hopefully increase my chance of selling. I had to add a “Buy Now” price. I thought I could get $800, but I randomly thought $1200 would be satisfying enough and the a safe number to go with. I decided on $1200 and started sharing the article more.

Soon, the auction went up to $100. The next morning, I opened my laptop, saw the auction was at $120, then two minutes later, two people bid for $150. I told my girlfriend it was going up now and she was very happy. I put it down to finish getting ready for the day. When I returned five minutes later, an existing bidder had decided to quit the child’s play and end the auction.

He skipped from $150 to $1200. Why? I have nothing to believe other than that the article describing the app, my motives, my vision, and the business plan that could be used to develop inTouch into a company convinced him that the entire package I was selling was worth skipping the chance of getting inTouch at a lower price or losing it to another bidder.

Engage With Bidders & Viewers Publicly

It is important that you make yourself available to clear up any questions or concerns that potential bidders may have. Engage in discussions with your visitors and don’t be afraid to use the opportunity to further explain what you are selling and how it might lead to profit for the buyer:

Close the Sale

This might be the most stress inducing part of the process.

So you managed to convince someone to commit to buying your app. You should be happy and excited, but proceed with care for your time, feelings, and wallet. The keyword here is “commit”. As you know through your experiences with Life, commitments can and will be broken if the conditions are not right to maintain them. I knew this very well from reading reviews of selling on Flippa, having sold things on Craigslist, and bought things on eBay, so I took extreme care in dealing with the sale completion.

Dealing With Instant Regret

Immediately after receiving the final bid from the buyer, I felt instant regret… I thought, “Damnit! I could have gotten $3000 or even $5000!” Although I do believe that inTouch is worth even more than $5000, I had to swallow my regret and finish the sale. I wasn’t about to give up $1200 for the chance of maybe getting $5000. I also didn’t want to be the one to bail on my side of the deal.

Transfer Assets

The key here is to communicate trust. Every message you send should be crafted in a way that will communicate that you trust the buyer and that they can trust you. If you are using Escrow, the system makes it a little easier to trust that the sale will be closed successfully, but regardless of how you choose to transfer assets, a level of trust must be established to avoid losing your assets without securing your payment or scaring off the buyer.

I tried to communicate trust by laying out the plan for how we would transfer our assets and answering the buyer’s questions swiftly and more informatively than necessary:

I added the buyer to a GitHub repo that had all of the code he was buying, I was showing that I trusted him to not just clone the repo and runaway without paying me. Of course I wouldn’t put all of the code up without first having my money in hand. This is where the buyer’s trust in me would come into play.

This is the Escrow process that Flippa uses. The buyer putsthe money in the vault, the seller releases the assets to the buyer, the buyer indicates that Flippa can release the money from the vault to the seller, and finally, Flippa pays the seller after identity verification. You have to understand how this system works if you want to play the game of trust correctly.

The buyer has to trust that you are giving them all of the assets and you have to trust that the buyer won’t run away with all of your assets without releasing the payment. I have no idea how Flippa or other Escrow systems handle a runaway buyer (or seller), but I don’t put too much trust in resolution centers.

To secure myself from the chance of a runaway buyer, I withheld a very important piece of the package that renders the source code virtually useless in its absence. After developing a significant amount of trust between myself and the buyer, I let him know that I had withheld a piece of the code to protect myself while trying not to make him defensive:

It appears he didn’t care much about it. We carried on and finished the transaction after four days (patience is important). We both walked away happy after what was a very long process.

So, in all, it took me two days to get a commitment of purchase from a buyer, 4 days to finish the sale, and one day to spare.

Conclusion

So, that’s how I sold my first app on Flippa. I hope the information here helps you in the future when you are ready to sell your own app or website. Let me know your thoughts, questions, concerns, or whatever comes to mind in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this story, please click the heart below to let me know and help others find this article. I will appreciate you forever!

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