Ken Yarmosh Q&A: How Non-Developers Can Create Apps

You’ve had this happen to you. You’re sitting at a cafe with a friend, and you suddenly think of the greatest idea ever for an iOS (s aapl) app. But what’s the next step? If you’re an app developer like me, you can start hashing out the idea, but what if you’re not?

This is one of the main questions that Ken Yarmosh, proprietor of a DC-based boutique mobile agency, tackles in his new book App Savvy. He talks about how people with ideas can connect with development teams to make their ideas a reality, among other things. I caught up with Ken to find out more about his book and how it can help people get their app ideas built.

TheAppleBlog: Can you give us a brief overview of your book?

Ken Yarmosh: App Savvy (O’Reilly) is a field guide for taking an idea and transforming it into an app on Apple’s App Store. The book literally steps readers through a disciplined yet straightforward process of creating an app, without assuming they have any relevant or related experience. I like to say, “it’s written for the rest of us” because it’s not a design or technical book, while still providing the right amount of design and technical information for the average person.

Ken Yarmosh

Many readers tell me that they consider App Savvy a helpful resource for building any new business. I had a feeling I’d hear feedback about the ideas being applicable to other contexts since the book embodies the spirit of my business and product philosophy. At the same time, I thought it would be best to describe how I applied my approach to one of today’s most exciting markets (mobile) and to the leader in that space (Apple), which is why App Savvy is focused on helping people build iPhone and iPad apps.

TAB: How did you come up with the idea for App Savvy? Did you approach O’Reilly with the idea or were they looking for an “app strategy” book already?

KY: While writing about apps and mobile-related topics often on my blog, one morning I set out to write a longer post entitled, “The Product Manager’s Guide to Building iPhone Apps.” After spending several hours on it, I realized there was a much bigger idea (see this tweet) and possibly even a book hiding between the blog post, notes, and outline. I didn’t go full force into pursuing it at that point. The idea marinated for just under a month before I decided to turn it into a book proposal and shop it around.

Publishers like O’Reilly probably pursue some authors but I wasn’t one of them. They were on the top on my list but having some experience with placing my writing, I didn’t get too excited about my prospects, especially with pitching a book somewhat outside of their traditional sweet spot. And at the same time, I also didn’t send my book proposal to other publishers because I felt I was covering an angle no one else was.

TAB: So your book is interesting in that it’s aimed at both non-developers and developers. What would you say would be the biggest take away for non-developers reading your book?

KY: It was a challenge to write App Savvy for all these various audiences. My approach to making it useful for non-developers and developers alike was to keep it practical. By keeping it a practical, step-by-step guide, my hope for non-developers, including entrepreneurs, product and project managers, marketers, and even just for people with ideas, was that they could be empowered to pursue building an iPhone or iPad app despite not having the design or development expertise required to do so.

That relates to one of the big takeaways: Roughly 30 percent of an app is about the upfront work of researching an idea, understanding Apple’s mobile ecosystem, talking with potential customers, mocking up an app, and hiring a team. None of these items require a designer or developer to be involved, so non-developers can rest assured that they can get started on an app the right way without anyone else’s help.

TAB: And what benefits would existing app developers likely get out of reading App Savvy?

KY: To start, I’d hope that developers also value the need to think first, code later. While having the ability to program (or design) is a huge advantage, it actually hurts many developers. They start their apps from the perspective of, “how can this app be done” instead of “should this app be done.” When the motivation is the former, it’s possible to build a technically superb app that no one wants to download.

The other major takeaway for developers relates to marketing. Many developers either do not market at all or begin doing so once their app is released. As a result, they miss out on one of the best opportunities for their app, which is in that short window when it first appears in the App Store. My goal was to guide them on how they can begin marketing an app in parallel to development, showing that development and marketing actually help each other. Many developers are surprised to discover that marketing will make development more effective (e.g., significantly increase the number of beta testers) and vice versa.

I do also need to mention user experience (UX) and design. While I usually lead UX on my apps/projects, I’m not a designer. App Savvy doesn’t go into tremendous detail about UX and design but they are addressed because Apple is known for easy-to-use, aesthetically pleasing products. If you are a developer and you are ignoring these aspects when building your apps, you’re doing so at your own peril and Apple likely will never do more than simply approve your app. If you can’t push yourself in these areas, then team up with or hire a designer to help.

TAB: One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the developer interviews. Can you tell us a bit more about the research?

KY: As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had my own successes in the App Store. But I’m humble enough to recognize that I don’t have the market cornered on building apps the right way.

There are many developers in the community that I admire. They’ve worked their butts off to create amazing apps and have seen the App Store become a large portion, if not the sole source of their income. I knew that to make App Savvy a definitive resource, their perspectives needed to be incorporated into the book. So, these interviews were a part of my plan from the very beginning.

Here’s my big secret: One of the reasons the interviews have been so useful for readers is because I also found them quite educational. Everyone in the book is a leader in the industry and I snagged folks whose background would directly relate to topics in each of the chapters. I then developed questions specifically for them, which were often based both on particular ideas in the chapter, how they build their own apps, and thoughts they may have shared on blogs or elsewhere.

I knew the interviews were on the right track when Phill Ryu of tap tap tap wrote to me, “Thanks again for some actually intriguing interview questions that are fun to answer.”

TAB: If you had to give 3 essential tips for people who are looking to make an app, what would it be?


  1. Aim big but start small. This point is especially important if you are bootstrapping or self-funding your app. Many get lost in trying to build an app with 42 features either to never ship it or ship something that does 42 things very poorly. Say goodbye to junior’s college funds.
  2. Keep customers front and center. Develop your assumptions but then talk with the people who will use your app even if your app is not built yet. It’s easy to do that today but even if you have a small network, start with personal contacts. The first time you get feedback on your app shouldn’t be in the Customer Reviews section of the App Store.
  3. Be prepared for the unexpected. There are going to be unforeseen problems. Development will get off schedule. You’ll get into disagreements with your team. An app similar to yours might appear days before your launch. Remain calm, know that you aren’t the first to encounter these problems, and push forward.

TAB: One final question: I know you’ve made your own apps in the past. Are you currently working on a new app idea for yourself?

KY: In order to stay sharp, I don’t just think and write about building apps. I continue to work with clients (everything mobile, not just Apple’s iOS) and create my own apps. The latter item is important because it gives me the greatest opportunity to refine existing strategies while experimenting and tinkering with new ones without not impacting anyone except myself.

I’m almost always working on a new idea. Not all of them launch but there’s one in progress right now that will called, “Rise Alarm.” It may seem silly to develop an alarm clock app with Apple providing its own option and with seemingly hundreds of them on the App Store. That’s a large part of why I am doing it. My goal is to further explore what it takes to succeed in a crowded market. It’s been a really fun project so far and I’m pretty excited by the response to the initial sneak preview on the Rise Alarm teaser site (

TAB: Even as an experienced app developer, I can say that I still found great tips in the book and appreciated the very practical approach. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Ken.

Ken Yarmosh can be found at and his book App Savvy can be found at

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