Community Inspiration

October 23, 2013

Leave Your Day Job And Develop An App: The Story of JamCam

For one year after graduating from University, I worked as an Acoustical Engineering Consultant at a small firm in the outskirts of Toronto. Our firm worked on some pretty cool projects, from designing the shell of movie theaters to Tuned Mass Dampers for large buildings.

An hour before lunch on an average Thursday this past summer, I was sitting at my desk trying to finish a report before the end of the week, but I was struggling. It’s not that I was struggling with the report’s deadline, but rather I was struggling with paying attention to the report at all. I didn’t want to be sitting at a desk making reports for the rest of my life. In fact, I didn’t even want to be doing this for the rest of the week.

It all started with curiosity and self-initiated learning

It wasn’t that I was lazy, and would rather be at home in bed binge-watching a TV show. It was quite the opposite.

For the past year, I’d devoted much of my free time to teaching myself how to program in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, MySQL, and Objective-C. I did this by searching for very specific help in Google at each step in the process of creating of a few digital products I was working on for fun. I loved the concept of learning for the sake of accomplishing a specific task, instead of learning for the sake of learning (as is sometimes the case with the current school system). I had visions of digital products that I wanted, but did not yet exist. But even more, I loved the idea of being in full control of the behavior and aesthetic of the product, which has been given the classification of User Experience, or UX.

Quitting day job and pursuing success in entrepreneurship

Yet there I was, at my desk, churning out a report by regurgitating facts that I had picked up over the course of my one year on the job. I’d learned a fair amount, and granted, still had a fair amount to learn. But something bothered me about the apparent lack of creativity, freedom and room for self-improvement in my small engineering consulting firm. It was also becoming clear to me that my ‘daydreaming’ about programming and design would not subside any time soon.
I continued to struggle through my report until lunch. Then I got up and left—for lunch. I made it two blocks before I pulled over and sat silently for a few minutes.

I called my girlfriend and told her I was going to quit my job the next day.

She supported my decision. My conversation with my parents that evening resulted in a similar outcome, although they were more apprehensive. They believed in me, but weren’t sure if it was the right time for me to ‘quit my day job’. But I was sure.
I gave my notice the next day, but I stayed on board for a few weeks to wrap up my projects and train my replacement. Then I made my 40-minute commute home for the last time. It felt amazing. I was finally free to work on whatever I wanted with complete commitment. No distractions. I had saved up enough money to live on during my entrepreneurial pursuits and I had a couple ideas of what I wanted to work on to start.

Product development

App Development Process

In the weeks that followed, I spent all of my time thinking, planning and making connections in the real world. I eventually settled on one idea and started programming. I spent 90 per cent of my time working at home and the rest in coffee shops. Two months after quitting and one month after beginning to program, I finished version 1.0 of JamCam. I could give you the whole pitch here, but it would be easier if you just checked out the site.

Unexpected success on the launch

JamCam Tools

Tools that brought JamCam to life.

The release of JamCam went better than I expected. A friend posted a link on Reddit, and it went viral – going to number one in the iPhone section for almost the entire day. This brought more traffic to the site than I’d ever seen – on average 20 concurrent users were visiting the site at any given time from all around the world. This totaled to over 3000 visitors for the day, which was enough to get JamCam trending on the App Store in many countries. It ranked in the top 250 apps in the photos and video section in the U.S. and Canada, and even reached the top 50 in some countries. The app was downloaded more than 5000 times in the first week. Then TechCrunch wrote about it. It was amazing to me to see 600 tweets fired about my humble app, once again bringing a comparable amount of traffic to my JamCam website.

Satisfaction and hunger for success

JamCam

This brings us to the metaphorical blinking cursor in my story. It’s October 5th, 2013 at the time of writing. Part of me is amazed, excited and honored to see the success that JamCam, my first creation since quitting my job, has had so far. Another part of me is let down by the fact that despite these seemingly major successes, it’s still a long road to the top of the App Store. There are an astonishing number of apps on the store and as a biased creator I am left wondering how some of the less impressive apps maintain their ranking.

Despite these contrasting reactions, and the uncertainty in what lies ahead for JamCam, there’s one thing that for me is certain: The past few months have been the most engaging, thrilling and meaningful months of my whole life. That sounds pretty dramatic, but I think it’s true. To be able to wake up excited every morning and be empowered with the ability to turn ideas into products that (so far) thousands of people can use is incredible to me. I plan on working hard and making enough money to keep this dream-turned-reality alive, but even if I crash and burn, I would never regret the decision.

My Abbreviated Retrospective To-Do List:

  • Convince yourself that you would much rather work for yourself and fail than continue to work for somebody else. It will be difficult to gather the courage to go ahead and quit unless you’re entirely behind the decision.
  • Patience is the key to self-motivated learning. It might not feel like you’re making progress for a few days or a few weeks, but if you keep going for months, you’ll be surprised by how much you can teach yourself (with some help from Google, of course).
  • Don’t be afraid to go weeks or months without praise or reward for the product you’re working on. It can take a while to build a product (especially for a sole designer and coder), and during that time, maintaining focus and perspective can be a real mental battle.
  • Ask for people’s advice, but don’t take action on all of it. One of the most important skills for a creator is to differentiate between changes that have a real positive impact on your product, and changes that deviate from your product’s core purpose and objective.
  • Constantly think of that daily commute to work that you used to do, and then revel in the realization that you no longer have to do it!

Interested in sharing your story on Despreneur? Get in touch now!

Website: jamcamera.com

Twitter: @JamCameraApp

Founded: September, 2013

Headquarters: Toronto, Canada

People: Matt Loszak

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Author

Matt Loszak

Designer, coder and entrepreneur based out of Toronto. Say hi at Loszak.com, or follow him on Twitter.

9 Comments

  1. “Then I made my 40-minute commute home for the last time. It felt amazing. I was finally free to work on whatever I wanted with complete commitment.”

    I actually smiled as i read this line.

    Very inspirational

    Well done

  2. Great Job Matt, very inspiring. I am also wondering how some apps manage to stay at the top. What are the strategies to get to the top, there are lots of articles, but still havent found a “great” one.
    Also how did you decide will your app be free, was it a goal from the start ? And how long did it take from starting objective c till having fully finished weather app?

    Thanks and good luck with your future projects!

    • Hey Goran,

      I don’t think there’s a single great strategy to get to the top and stay there – I’ve found that press and exposure give momentary bursts of downloads but nothing sustainable yet! I’m still trying to figure this out.

      I wavered a bit on the price in the beginning, but by the time the product was done I knew it had to be free. The plan is to add a bit of a social network around it for sharing videos.

      It took around 1 or 1.5 months to go from zero to having finished my weather app (Sol). At that point I was still at my job, so I could only work on it during evenings and weekends! I probably wasn’t getting as much sleep as I should have…

      Best of luck to you too,

      Matt

  3. I have been doing courses learning just for learning…this is what I need…just lack the motivation.

  4. This gave me motivation to get back on my side projects. Keep up the good work and congrats on your success!

  5. A motivational story, and a well written article. I tip my hat to you Matt!

  6. Congratulations from China ! Your app is great!

  7. This is really an inspiring post. http://www.aqee.net/leave-your-day-job-and-develop-an-app/ here is the Chinese translation of your article. I have a question here, what is the root of your inspiration for working on an app independently? Did you ever feel frustrated when you got stuck at some technical problems?

  8. So inspiring! Can I ask how long did it take you to learn iOS development? You mentioned that over the past year you learned various programming, so before that, did you have any experience doing programming at all? I am struggling with learning iOS dev myself vs. outsource it….I do love the full control of user experience, but learning iOS dev is a little daunting, and I cannot make the commitment. Thanks for your help in advance!

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