Studentpreneurs bring crowdsourcing to app development

Posted: February 26, 2014

Josh Tucker (left) and Keith Shields launched Applits, the first company to bring the power of crowdsourcing to mobile application development.
Buckeye engineering students Keith Shields and Josh Tucker know a lot about rising to a challenge. While pursuing their degrees, the two senior mechanical engineering majors also launched Applits, the first company to bring the power of crowdsourcing to mobile application development.
Applits is an online platform that enables anyone to submit app ideas for the chance to earn free development services and a share in the profits after costs to design, develop, market and support it are covered. The community is a key partner in the process; each month they vote to narrow down submitted ideas to the top five. From there, an Applits team selects a winner based on criteria such as technical feasibility and marketability. 

The Applits concept was born out of the duo’s desire to make app creation accessible to all. 

“Apps are very expensive and time consuming to code, you’re looking at $10,000 to $20,000 to put even the most basic app out into the market,” said Shields. “We wanted to make this platform to bring everyday people into this cool industry.”

The two former high school classmates from Marcellus, New York, dreamed up Applits while brainstorming possible entrepreneurship opportunities. The booming, multi-billion dollar mobile app development industry seemed to be a good fit and Applits launched in the summer of 2012 with a $70,000 investment from family, friends and angel investors. 

The company is also a mechanism for the duo to share their love of entrepreneurship, Tucker explained.

“Basically it lets people build a business without even having to run it. We take care of all the operations, stuff that normal people don’t have the time, knowledge or expertise to do…and they benefit from it.”

Juggling the many tasks needed to run an app development company while being full-time students isn’t easy, they admit. Tucker is currently taking the semester off to focus on Applits full-time, while Shields’ goal is to complete his education as soon as possible. Together, the pair has enough time to run their business, but just barely.

“It would also be impossible for us to run this if we coded all these apps ourselves, so we outsource all the development, graphic design and project management work,” said Shields. “We’re more focused on the management of the whole platform, the site and the community building aspect of it.”

A second branch of the company, Designli, offers paid app development services for clients who have an idea, but not the technical know-how to implement it. It provides vital revenue for the company, Shields and Tucker explained.

The Applits concept seems to be catching on, with more than 2,200 ideas submitted so far. Each month during public-voting week, a couple thousand visitors vote on which ideas should be developed. Nine apps are currently for sale, while five more are in development.

“That’s the fun part about this, nothing ever gets stagnant,” said Shields. “You have a new product coming out every single month.” 

Occasionally, the public voting aspect means ideas the founders really like aren’t chosen as finalists. Sometimes, they offer those submissions the same terms monthly winners get. 

Applits currently has nine apps for sale with more in development.
“A good example of a staff pick is FaceCap. Someone submitted this idea for a custom emoji creator and we loved it,” said Shields. “It didn’t happen to win, and we were like, ‘We have to make this.’ So we did and it’s doing well on the App Store right now.” 

Competition in the mobile app development industry is stiff, the duo said, both from other apps on the market as well as from those who seek to launch similar community-app-building platforms. Shields and Tucker said that competition validates their business model and pushes them to innovate further.

Some of those innovations launched earlier this month. Now, in addition selecting the top app ideas, community members will be able to contribute ideas, vote and follow each stage of development, from naming and slogan creation to icon and graphic design. 

“We’re trying to involve users even more in community app creation instead of just community idea generation,” explained Shields. “Right now users help us identify what product we’re going to make next, but then no one knows what happens to it until four months later an app pops out. In that interim, you lose some of the buzz that was generated by the community when they were voting on it.”

The new system also provides more revenue earning opportunities beyond just submitting ideas, such as if you name an app. 

While building a business involves a lot of trial and error, the Buckeye engineers also credit the helpfulness of the many Ohio State resources available to budding studentpreneurs. These include being able to work out of the Ohio Union’s Keith B. Key Center for Student Leadership and Service, and the many learning and networking opportunities available via extracurricular clubs, such as the Business Builders Club.

Applits also receives free public relations and marketing assistance from the PRactice, a student-run public relations firm at Ohio State.

“Now we have this system for ideating, creating and launching apps, but how do you market all of these individual apps?” said Shields. “We’re working with the PRactice and have a team of seven communications and marketing students who are trying to market our products.”

After realizing their passions lie in being entrepreneurs, Shields and Tucker look forward to being able to do a little less juggling and focus on Applits full-time after graduation. With their commitment and creativity, the future looks bright indeed for these Buckeye studentpreneurs!

Written by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, 
Category: Students