Making Apps, But Not Making Money

The couple aimed for one new app a month, but progress was slow and sales were slower. In March, with the apps bringing in only about $20 a day, they cashed in Mr. Grimes’s 401(k), which yielded $30,000 after taxes and penalties. They had already spent the severance from his job at Legg Mason.

One thing they never scrimped on was technology, especially Apple technology. At one point they owned a 24-inch iMac, a Mac Mini, a 24-inch cinema display screen, two 13-inch MacBook Airs, a 15-inch MacBook Pro, two iPad 2s, two Apple TVs, two iPhone 4s and an iPhone 3GS. “We justify buying new models by saying we need them to test out the apps,” Mr. Grimes said.

In the latest report for the Times’s iEconomy series, David Streitfeld looks at how difficult it is for app developers to earn a living as freelancers. One couple, Shawn and Stephanie Grimes, lost $200,000 in income and savings after Shawn lost his job and the couple decided to launch their own app business, which earned them a total of just $4,964 this year.

I’ve worked at a few startups, and know developers who tried (unsuccessfully) to build and sell apps on the side. One friend was on the verge of losing his job until he worked on an app that suddenly took off and sold brilliantly. The app was called “Draw Something.”

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