Paul Kemp is one of the best-known names in the mobile software and marketing world. He’s the founder of TheAppGuy.co, which has featured more than 400 podcasts, including interviews with some of the top innovators, influencers, and entrepreneurs in the mobile app development community.
He’s #5 on the respected Product Hunt Top 500 Makers list, thanks to his unique talent for successful mobile app launches. Two of those launches include a #1 music app and a number #2 recipe app, faced stiff competition in the iTunes App Store. He’s also a co-founder of iOSStack, a curated collection of iOS resources that gives back to the community by helping devs bring forth better and better iOS apps.
Paul hasn’t always been a free-ranging talent in the mobile app development world, however. In fact, he got his start in the high-risk, high-reward world of finance, based in London. Today, however, Paul’s headquarters is a global one. He shared with us the reasons for his transition from the buttoned-up world of finance to independent digital nomad, as well as how that transition came about.
We talked to Paul about his transition from the heady, lucrative world of finance where he began his career path to finding his true calling as a member of a vast digital nomad “tribe” focusing on mobile app development. Here are his observations and advice for entrepreneurs and developers alike about life in a new digital world and what he thinks the future holds in store for the mobile app development world.
Leaving the Hamster Wheel Behind
Often, when we hear about people leaving their careers or their day jobs behind to become entrepreneurs, they’re coming from less successful backgrounds than Paul did. He told us he was rocking a six figure salary, driving a sports car, and had an ostensibly “great life.” It’s not a life that many people would consider leaving behind for one that admittedly offers those just entering the fray little security. To Paul, however, it was a no-brainer.
“The reason I switched was because I lost any kind of worth or purpose in life. My job, my career didn’t seem to give me satisfaction, any spark, any interest the end of the day. I used to pay the mortgage and for the car, and for all of this stuff that I had in my life but was not adding value. Everything—everything was built around my career. So I quit, I became part of the digital nomad tribe kind of thing.”
“Life is changing. Who wants to work for a boss? I know a lot of people love the freedom. I’ve made a purposeful decision to have freedom from certain things, like a boss, and instead focus a lot of attention on my family and my kids. We’ve lived abroad with them, and I’ve been able to a lot of time that I wouldn’t normally have had with my children. It means we can refocus on what is actually most important in life.”
“When I was in the corporate life you could draw a line upwards for my earnings, and downward for my happiness, so the more money that I was getting, the lower the happiness was. To the point where I was the most successful on the outside but on the inside, I was feeling the least successful.”
A Rocky Road to Success
(With a Detour Down the Rabbit Hole)
It’s one thing to know why Paul would leave a career behind. No one wants to be stuck on the financial hamster wheel he described, after all. On the other hand, completely tossing away the corporate world and setting out on one’s own is a very drastic change. How did he make it to the point that he has now been, “proudly 3,000 days boss free”?
“Initially, I set up a business and lost about 60 thousand pounds (about 100 thousand dollars) which is what you do. I took all of my payoff from the city and put it into a business, hired some people, and started running that, and soon realized that actually, it’s quite hard when you try to finance something yourself.”
But while the road was littered with epiphanies, it would be some time before Paul finally settled on mobile app development as his wheelhouse. In fact, when he first encountered the digital world of money making, it was email marketing that caught his eye.
“And then I fell into the world of digital. I love the area where you can, for minimal cost, you can set up a business, you can meet people, network, and, I was doing that for a while.”
“So, my initial entry into the world of digital was actually through internet marketing. And, like many people, I received one email while I was running my company, and it gave me this kind of glimpse into the world of Internet marketing. Which I’d never known existed and I never knew that there was this whole ecosystem of people making money online, I went to a conference, so I got attracted to an email marketing list, a course that I paid $4,000 to go to this two day course, and I then started down that rabbit hole of trying to money through internet marketing and I then I really enjoyed the huge learning curve that I had, the huge reward I felt from the knowledge that I had gained; I had had zero knowledge of the internet.”
Finding His Niche
Learning and consuming are great, but there comes a point where we have to synthesize that learning, and determine what we’re going to do with it, according to Paul. The key to that is finding what we excel at. Paul channeled the same extroverted personality that made him a corporate success into his foray into the digital world.
“But after a while, I think 2 or 3 years, of trying different shiny buttons in terms of processes to make money online, I realized that the best thing to do was to create real value, real content and meet more people and have a more focused approach, rather than trying to do these internet marketing courses. So I made a conscious decision, about three years ago now, to put my focus on adding value and to really heavily network, because that’s what I’m excellent at.”
“I find it very important to find what you’re actually good at and where you can add value and to hone in on those skills and talents. And from my corporate job, I knew that I had always been very good at networking and connecting with other people and bringing people together.”
“I was building apps for people and I found that actually, it’s hard to get clients that you like working for, unless you become an authority in the space. So that’s what led me to do the podcast, over three years ago now, because I wanted to have opportunities come to me, and now anyone I speak with has usually listened to a little bit of what I’ve got to say and they trust me, they know me, and it means that I can work with some really awesome people. I just love working for these guys, and immediately we have that trust and so that’s why I do what I do.”
Advice for a New Generation:
Create, Give Back, Surround Yourself with Talent
Paul’s success is undeniable, so it’s natural that we wanted to approach him for any advice he has for those that are new to the industry. Here’s what he had to say.
“For people coming in new to the industry, I’d say there’s no single right or wrong answer [to be successful]. What works for me won’t necessarily work for others.”
“I prefer to learn by actually talking to other people, interviewing other founders rather than reading lots of content from the big gurus. It’s easy to get caught up in the whole paralysis of digesting content, and then that’s all you do. I’ve been on that journey and it’s changed the way I consume. So before, I would consume lots and lots of courses and books and podcasts and lots of things, but you can overconsume, and it can paralyze you.”
“Now I’m the reverse, I actually enjoy creating and meeting with people for real and learning from them and their experiences, rather than just reading the next big blog post by one of the top gurus.”
“Set goals for yourself, to create things, whether that a regular blog, whether that’s regular content for your own podcasting, whatever it is, and certainly give back something to the community.”
“And this is the biggest thing: give back more than you take. Because when you come in new, you have nothing to give, really, you don’t have a network, you’re not that well-connected, you can only take from someone. So while it is important to be able to connect with influencers, I would say it’s just as important to figure out ways that you can actually add massive value for these people and that will come back to reward you, and they’ll start to trust you. Don’t just assume that everyone wants to focus just on helping you. A lot of people do make that mistake.”
Opportunities and Challenges for New Developers
New developers face a huge challenge in terms of breaking into the industry. Paul, who’s an impressive creator in his own right, tells us how he helps new developers through his own contacts.
“It’s important to remember that we are moving into a very digital age, a new digital age. The biggest skill set for many successful organizations is top talent development and so there are huge opportunities; wages are actually increasing for new developers.”
“The biggest hurdles are trying to surround yourself with very likeminded talents. I think that actually, in terms of trying to get into some of the biggest organizations, like the Googles, the Facebooks, the Apples, the best thing is for newbies to surround themselves with terrific talent. That can be with a startup, or with organizations that have a focus on developers contracting out in order to learn. Learn from all of these great people around you, rather than working on your own right away.”
“I’m seeing this firsthand. I’ve been putting a lot of business through to my inside contacts at a company called Toptal and also at a company called Gigster, where I have some good insiders who look after my tribe, my community. What I realize is that there is this huge demand for absolute top talent, the best developers. And I think, also, that the best developers sometimes are not the best marketers of themselves, and so they do need organizations to be there to help promote them.”
“So maybe that is this new model that we’re going into, where you contract/hire through these kinds of companies that organize and screen professional developers.”
“The reason I [refer new developers to contacts at known organizations] is because I feel it’s better for a company to work with developers through a contract as if they were employees but without all the headache of having to hire a team of developers. Also, these companies do screen developers, and I know this screening is tough. I’ve known a few developers and designers in mobile actually not make it through on their own.”
An App Explosion; A Review Process Implosion?
It’s no secret that devs can be frustrated with the current iTunes AppStore review process. We asked Paul, who’s seen the process evolve over time, his thoughts.
“When I started in the industry, in this business, there were less than 1,000 apps being submitted to the app store per week. And I’ve submitted a lot, I mean, at one point, I’d submitted maybe forty different apps at once, and I’ve had some approved, some rejected, some have had to go back and forth, back and forth.”
“And now, I’ve learned from my interview with the founder of Apptopia, that there could be in the region of 50 thousand apps a month submitted (both to Apple and to Google). So that’s just to show there’s been a massive increase, from 1,000 a week to whatever it may be now, and (I don’t remember exactly the number, but it’s a lot), I don’t know if they can cope.”
“It’s horrendously bureaucratic and it can be tough. The guidelines are sometimes very opaque and the reason you get rejected is often something like ‘I don’t think your app comes up to our standards of design’, just very general. And of course, if you’re putting a lot of investment and time and money into an app, there’s nothing worse than not getting it through the review process.”
“There is no pre-approval, there’s no way to get prescreened before you actually start. So I think yes, it’s keeping a nice quality in the app store, because of the manual review process, but also it’s just going to be really difficult and risky. You just have to take a risk and submit it and hope that it will actually meet their high standards and get through.”
We asked Paul the projects he’s working on right now that we can share with our readers.
“The way you can help is to share the podcast, on Apple iTunes and it’s on Google Play now. I’d also like to share the community of iOSStack, it’s a lovely community, with a ton of developers, designers, investors, and lots of founders. And it has a daily digest, which is crowd sourced by the community.”
From high finance to becoming a leading mobile dev community podcaster and app launcher, Paul Kemp has a broad experience of the mobile app world and keen insights derived from his interviews and relationships with the prime movers in the digital nomadic tribe. We especially take to heart his advice to discover what drives you personally, what you are best at, and to pursue that with all