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by Ryan Weber

“I’ll try anything twice…” has always been a sort of motto of mine.  I believe everyone sees the most growth by getting out of their comfort zone; driving themselves to learn, achieve and even fail. 

So when I was feeling a bit burned out on commercial photography, I set out to experience new stimuli, in hopes that I’d get a binary answer on what path I should pursue going forward.  But what I realized was that life is a multi-branched path, not a straight line.  My reading of books, listening to podcasts and watching of online videos exposed me to myriad interesting topics, any one of which I could easily see myself experimenting with as a future career.

Should I create an online course to sell?  Dive into affiliate marketing?  Start a podcast?  Seek a position in the political realm?  Teach college-level photography courses?  I had some good ideas, some of which are still viable for future exploration. 

What landed in my lap was something unexpected.  One of my favorite podcasters, Tom Woods of The Tom Woods Show, had a guest who talked about creating and selling apps to local businesses.

After a bit of research, I realized a couple benefits of this idea:
1. It was a laptop-lifestyle career, which afforded the freedom to work from home or anywhere with an internet connection.
2. It was a product largely untapped by small local businesses, so there were lots of potential clients.
3. Designing apps nowadays is about as hard as designing drag-n-drop websites.   You used to have to know how to code, but now there are services that have app templates you can customize and have your app live in just days.  It’s a great product to repackage and sell to the right kinds of small businesses.

So I had it in my mind to start looking for app ideas all around me.  That’s where Disneyland came in…

Wait,…what?!

As Disneyland annual passholders, our family was at the park nearly every month and each time I’d overhear someone complaining of a dead camera, tablet or cell battery around dinner time.  I started hunting down all the well-hidden power outlets around the park, ultimately finding over 160 of them.  If dead batteries were such a problem, an app might help alleviate that issue, I figured.  So the Mouselets app was born!  (Click link to find out more about it)

Mouselets app screenshot of pinned power outlets around Disneyland Resort.

But creating a consumer app, and selling an app to consumers are two different things.  Because my app had special features, I had to learn about Google map APIs, JSON coding, creating Terms of Service & Privacy Policies, and many other behind-the-scenes elements of getting an app designed and published.

Getting it into the app stores was no problem, but marketing the dang thing was a Herculean feat.  Trying to advertise a niche app with nearly no profit margin to a wide demographic, all the while bleeding monthly hosting costs…well, it was both stressful and enlightening.  Much of the app’s success came from hours of good ‘ol fashioned social media outreach.

(Side note: Did you know you can harvest all tweets within a certain geographic area (Disneyland + 1 mile radius) for a particular keyword (“phone dying”)?  It’s a dynamite tactic for local businesses…just ask me how to do it). 

In my search for the best ROI for my advertising dollar though, I discovered the power of Facebook ads! 

Location-based ad serving, crazy granular demographic targeting, re-targeting people who’ve taken certain actions on your website or FB page, ads for pennies, detailed reports that allow you to fine-tune your current and future ad sets…the nerd in me found it all so fascinating!  Forget the app, I needed to be doing this!  THIS is the way you add value to a community!  Helping businesses and customers find out about each other through a platform they’re both already using. 

I’d discovered what I had originally set out to find…something that fired me up!  It was just a round about way to get there.

As an autodidact, I dove into many hours of getting familiar with FB’s ad platform, listening to trainings and reading blogs on ad strategy.  I tried advertising my app as a case study, but what I realized in the end was the Disney demographic was just too expensive to market a $0.99 app.  Anything Disney-themed had too much targeting competition and I’d lose money on each app download.

HOWEVER…I knew it would be a fantastic platform for businesses with higher margins, which is just about any other non-app business in existence.  I thought to myself “This is a freakin’ gold mine of demographic data, and hardly anyone is using it correctly!  What if I could take a traditionally low-revenue business, like an artist, and earn them some profit on a minimal ad spend?  That would definitely prove the power of the ad platform!  And if I can do it with a niche local artist, it can surely scale for a brick-and-mortar or online business!”

And so I did! 

In the next blog post, I’ll talk about using Facebook ads to help artist Toni Best find paying students for her gourd basketweaving classes.

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