Goodbye snooze button, thanks to Joaquin Brown. He is the CTO and Co-founder of YogaWakeUp. An app that peacefully eases you out of the bed in the morning. Here’s what he has to say about his development experience.
Swift Engine: How did your app development agency start out?
Joaquin Brown: We started about three years ago. Lizzie, my wife and business partner, does PR and I do app development. We focus on wellness and fitness. We first developed an app called FindMyYogi. It was a way for instructors to share information to students about retreats and stuff like that. It didn’t work out. We just didn’t have the resources. For it to be useful we need people to be on it, and the teachers aren’t going to post unless there’s followers on it.
Swift Engine: So did the idea for YogaWakeUp spawn from FindMyYogi?
Joaquin Brown: Around the same time that app failed, I was in a yoga class at Equinox. The teacher told us to pretend we were in bed. She took 20 minutes to gradually get us off the mat and onto our feet. I just thought, why can’t we wake up like this all the time. After class, I told the teacher about my idea and she said “I love it!” She was one of the first 4 teachers on the app.
Swift Engine: How have you utilized offline strategies to promote the app?
Joaquin Brown: My wife is really into yoga, so she new a lot of the teachers. For networking, Lizzie is just awesome. We’re talking to Kimpton Hotels. They’re going to have little inserts in their hotel rooms with our card on them. And the app will be free for customers while they’re staying at the hotel. She’s constantly talking to yoga studios and like minded brands. There’s some studios in New York we’ve been working with as well.
Swift Engine: What are some other features that you’ve built out in the app? And how?
Joaquin Brown: Well, if you’re staying at that hotel in West Hollywood, it will list teachers in the area. So you could just walk down the street and take a class. When we on board teachers, we ask them which location they would like to be associated with. We then enter their GPS coordinates into our cloud database. Since we only have a few teachers, we can download all teachers when the app first starts up. We then use CoreLocation to get the users location and compare it to all the other teachers locations. We then display the teachers in order of nearness.
SE: What do you think makes this app so effective with users?
JB: I think the basic idea of the app is in the name, Yoga Wake Up. Plus it’s a simple idea and easy to understand. Also, the press loves talking about anything you can do from bed. Other than the negative, occasional crash here and there, most of it is “wow this app is a game changer.” We have a 4.3 rating in the app store with 98 ratings.
SE: What is causing the occasional crashes, and how are you diagnosing/solving them?
JB: Our crash-free percentage is actually pretty good now, like 99.9%. It took us a while to get there, but we used both Crashlytics and Xcode’s crash log. Both of which have been very helpful in isolating the causes of crashes.
SE: What’s one of the challenges of a multi-sided platform app that has teachers and students?
JB: Creating an easy to use CMS system which will allow teachers to login and manage their information. This is difficult for a front end iOS developer such as myself and will require developers with different sets of skills… or a platform like SwiftEngine.
SE: On the more technical side, how did you get drawn to this work?
JB: I’ve been a software developer for over 20 years. I’ve been doing iOS pretty much since it came out. I’ve just always wanted to do my own idea. This is actually our third app. I just basically work on it on nights and weekends because I have another client.
SE: What technical skills have helped with developing this app?
JB: Well, I’m good at iphone. And as far as backend, AWS gave me access to the cloud database without hiring a backend developer. Later on, we were able to invest in a backend developer to help me with things I couldn’t do on my own. For instance, the push notification server. And right now we’ve moved to a subscription service, so the subscription receipt validation has to be done on the backend as well.
SE: As a CTO that’s not good at backend, how did you go about interviewing/finding/hiring a backend developer?
JB: We actually have a part-time backend developer who is a friend of mine (Eric). When we are ready for a full time backend developer, I will probably ask him. If he can’t do it, I will start with LinkedIn looking for friends of friends and have Eric interview them. If that doesn’t work, I’ll probably search online. And if all else fails, find a headhunter. I’ve worked with Job Spring Partners in Westwood when I was looking for work a few years ago and they seemed to have a lot of resources.
SE: Is the company just 3 employees right now?
JB: For technical, it’s just myself and the one backend developer. But we’re actually moving off of that, we’re moving onto Mixpanel. Which is gonna do push notifications, a lot of the analytics, our newsletter. So I have a technical contact there. It’s just a part of the fee that I’m paying Mixpanel.
SE: Why did you choose Mixpanel for your push notification system?
JB: I wanted to send notifications based on complex analytical results. I looked at Urban Airship and Mixpanel. Urban Airship was more advanced in sending dancing push notifications (i.e. notifications with media, like videos and images) but their analytics engine was not as sophisticated as Mixpanel. Plus Mixpanel seemed more willing to work with startups with little cash.
SE: Do you take on any other roles besides development?
JB: I do the sound Engineering. So I do the recording. We record the teachers in our closet. (He laughs). Which is a little weird. But Lizzie is there, so it’s not just me and the teacher. That’s what we do in LA, but when we go to New York or Florida or wherever, we get a recording studio.
SE: How have you balanced working another job while starting your own company?
JB: It’s really tough… just with focus. I want to be looking at my analytics, seeing what I can do to improve my app. But my app isn’t really paying me yet. The other app is paying the bills. So I have to make that my first priority. And somewhere along the way I have to save energy to work on my app on nights and weekends. Which makes it difficult. I’m tired, I need to sleep, but I also have a son. Not to mention my son is a new middle schooler, which is a whole other ordeal.
SE: What’s the other app you work on like?
JB: It’s another Subscription iOS app. It’s for parents of children from 0-36 months. It equips parents to be better teachers.
SE: Is your other job aware and supportive of you building your own app?
JB: They’re aware, they support it. The good thing is, we don’t compete. We both have subscription servers, we’re both iOS. And we’re learning from each other. So they’ll want to try things and I’ll tell them “oh I tried that on my app it didn’t work.” So we’re sharing ideas back and forth.
SE: Do you find it’s easy in this industry to collaborate like this and have open communication?
JB: I feel like it depends on your working ethic. And as long as they trust that they’re getting the value that they’re paying you for, then they are okay with it. I’m working full time during the week, so I’m giving them their value. And at the same time I’m giving more value because I’m sharing my experience with my own app.
SE: Who are some companies you admire?
JB: Headspace is one that keeps coming up in my mind. I don’t know that I want to be them. But I do feel like they’ve done a really good job on getting their brand out there and raising awareness for meditation. They’ve done something right. I know they’ve had a lot of funding. We have no funding. They attracted the right investors.
SE: What are you doing right now to fund your app?
JB: The app is starting to make money. We just had our best month yet. But we’re just reinvesting that income into digital marketing. It’s growing. If it continues to, in six months we’ll be able to focus on the app 100%.
SE: Do hope to create other projects around this app?
JB: Yes. The next step would be Android. We want to get on TV’s. Another thing we wanna do is get on airplanes. This way passengers can do a little wake up from their seat. That’s probably about 5 years out. We want to be on everybody’s phone.
SE: What keeps you motivated?
JB: People. I recorded a teacher this morning and she couldn’t stop thanking me and telling it’s such a good idea. The fact that the idea is understood and that it’s changing people’s lives for the better.
SE: How did you get into tech?
JB: In college I took a programming class. I dropped out of Cal State Northridge. I just couldn’t focus. But in the programming class I could focus and I was good at it. So my dad told me to look into software. I eventually got a job for a software company, answering phones, but they let me do some programming. When I wasn’t getting a phone call, I would go through this programming tutorial that was on their mid-range IBM computer. And I did really well and it took off. I dropped out of school to do the job.
SE: Is there anything that would help improve your processes?
JB: The biggest thing is that I’m a one-man team. So I don’t have to answer to anybody. I think the best thing for me and for other companies is to collaborate with other developers. Especially if you can’t afford to hire other developers. I’m thinking of starting a Meetup to hang out with other iOS developers.
SE: Are there instances that have come up recently that you feel you’ve needed feedback on?
JB: Just today, I was working on a method for a database table and there’s four tables that are the same. Basically I was looping over, iterating on each table, and I had to duplicate the code because then they weren’t the same. And I think there’s a way where I could’ve had a parent table and inherited from that parent table. But I don’t know how to do that. Some things aren’t easy to google. So a Meetup or collaborative team would be helpful with stuff like that.