Dollar Up is now just over 2 months old. As a developer I’m especially proud of this app, not so much for what I’ve done within it technically, but for what the app can do for people.
The main reason I wrote Dollar Up was to help out. A teachers aid/assistant wrote to me and asked if I was in a position to write some apps for Special Needs students. Whilst I wasn’t able to do everything she asked, I was quite excited at the prospect of writing an app that had the potential to really make a difference.
So I came to an agreement with the teachers aid who provided a lot of input into the initial design and layout of the app that I would build it at no cost to her or her school, and provide her with as many copies as she needed. I got to own the app itself, and consequently any proceeds from sales.
Over the next 3 months I spent most of my development time (which means spare time as this is not my main job) putting Dollar Up together. My understanding was that there was a genuine need for an app that helps to teach basic money skills to people with learning difficulties such as Down Syndrome or Autism.
This was to be my first foray into Special Needs education. Over that first month I learnt a lot about what makes an app easier to use for people with special needs. Make buttons bigger, allow students an option to retry a question, etc.
One huge lesson was that my perception of what people can grasp and understand was centred around my own experiences. That is to say, I had no comprehension of just how much I take for granted in this world. The simple fact that some students couldn’t be expected to grasp or learn concepts like numbers over 10 rocked my world. More than one night I’d get an email explaining this sort of thing to me, and I’d turn to my wife, shaken and unable to get on with the programming. It takes time to absorb this sort of thing for me. Whilst I’m by no means the smartest guy out here developing apps, I’m so used to being able to do these simple things, that comprehending just how ignorant I am of those around me left me more than a little upset.
This learning experience did one thing; it galvanised my desire to do this app, and do it well. I wanted to make a difference, to help fill a gap in the app store, and provide Special Needs teachers around the world with a tool they could use.
In the past, with one notable exception, I’ve done all of the work on my apps; the code, the artwork, the sounds, everything. I work to a shoestring budget. Some say that my apps suffer from this; that if I spent the thousands they do on artwork I’d do better. They may be right. With Dollar Up, I decided to use my little income from the other apps in my portfolio to pay for voice work, and some artwork.
Initially Dollar Up was just for Australia, but it became clear that there was a demand for it in other countries as well, so I started researching where to get permission to use images of coins and banknotes from other countries. In some cases, like the UK and Canada, this proved to be a long process involving a number of emails and in one case phone calls to sort things out. Eventually I had the permission I needed. I never set out to make much money from Dollar Up so it was important that the various institutions understood that.
At release, on the 7th of February, Dollar Up supported 7 lessons with 5 currencies (Australian, US and Canadian Dollar, UK Pound, and Euro). A week later, I added a 6th currency (New Zealand Dollar) because I’d heard via @TheAppyLadies that there is a strong Special Needs community there. Since then, there have been 2 more updates, adding at least 9 new features the most recent of which is the ability to extend the app using the iPad’s built-in camera.
During the last few weeks prior to the first release, I distributed Dollar Up to over 30 beta testers around the world. This was invaluable, not just for fixing things and improving the app; it showed me that people really were looking for an app to help them teach their students or children money skills. It heartened me and confirmed to me that I had done the right thing taking the time to write Dollar Up.
On the day the app was released I remember having a coffee with my wife. During that coffee my phone was buzzing away with messages and tweets showing support for the app. It was an affirming moment for me.
In all of this my expectation was that by supporting all of these currencies I would see some interest from the key markets of Australia, US and UK. Whilst I included the Euro as a currency, I didn’t expect a lot of interest from Europe because the verbal/audio feature of the app is English only.
One thing to note; if you work with currencies other than “Dollars”, don’t let the name of the app put you off . If you select Pounds or Euros as your currency, then the app will intelligently use the correct terms through all of the lessons, both on screen and via the audio prompts.
What has surprised me the most is that the UK has proven to be the quietest. As the graph to the left shows, the US is by far the strongest market, but the UK falls into the bucket at the bottom.
Sales haven’t been huge, but I never expected them to be, and it’s not why I wrote the app in the first place.
I had however thought that the spread of sales would be more uniform. My hope with this post is that by telling the story of the apps development, I can try to give it a human side. I’d very much like to reach more people and schools with Dollar Up; I want it to help. If people don’t know it’s there, they can’t use it and it can’t help.
If you represent an English speaking school that uses, or wants to try the “Next Dollar Up” method to teach money skills then perhaps “Dollar Up” can help. If you’d like a promotional copy of Dollar Up to try, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Explain which school you represent, what your needs are and if I can I’ll help out with a free copy or two. Of course, I only have limited numbers of these so I’d really prefer to provide them to schools where the potential to reach more students is higher.