Interview: Meet Jonas Downey Who Turned His Fun Side-Project Into The Best Weather App on iPhone

The app success story of Jonas Downey, a web-developer turned appreneur from Chicago, USA who turned his fun side-project with 2 friends into a mobile app making $600/month while working full-time. Learn how his dissatisfaction with the available weather apps led him to learn mobile app development and create a beautiful weather app that got rated as the best weather app on iPhone.

Tell us about yourself and what are you working on?

Jonas Downey Hello Weather App Success Story               Hello Weather App Icon

Hi, my name’s Jonas Downey. I’m a Product Designer at Basecamp, and the co-creator of a friendly weather app called Hello Weather. The app is available for both iOS and Android.

You have an interesting story for coming up with an app idea. Tell us more about it.

My friend Trevor and I decided to try making a weather app back in 2014. We were unhappy with all the offerings at the time because we felt they were either overly simplistic or needlessly complicated.

We had an idea for something obvious that no one had done very well: showing the most relevant forecast info for the current moment, the next few hours, and the upcoming week, all in one easy-to-read screen.

Then we’d hide all the less-relevant stuff in a secondary view, or exclude it altogether.

How did you validate your app idea?

I sketched a very rough concept and we thought it was promising, so we built a webview-only prototype in Rails to test it in the real world before committing to building a native app.

We refined the web version for months. At the time, we had no iOS or Android development experience at all, so making an app was going to be a significant undertaking.

We didn’t want to jump in unless we were confident we had something good.

How did you go about developing your app? What was your Minimum Viable Product?

We kept the webview and the Rails backend for rendering the forecast info, which is still how it works to this day. Then we layered our native UI on top of that, for things like picking locations and changing settings.

That worked great, especially given our limited knowledge of iOS programming.

Our 1.0 MVP was totally embarrassing by our current standards, but that’s how it should be! At launch, we had no customization options at all. The app didn’t support Celsius temperatures or 24-hour time, and it was really slow.

Hello Weather App Screenshot Version 1

Hello Weather App Initial Prototypes

Hello Weather App Screenshots v1.0

Hello Weather App V1.0. Pretty, isn’t it?

Hello Weather App Screenshots Current v3.0

Hello Weather App v3.0. Notice the bigger headers/numbers and bolder colors.

We also launched with a terrible icon that I hastily drew in one evening. But everything worked (in the US) and people liked it right away.

You can see the change in the app icon over the years. The original icon had some gravity issue and looked off to the side. 🙂 It was corrected in a later version which is shown in the middle. Our current icon version Hello Weather App 3.0 appears on the right.

Hello Weather Icon Old                      Hello Weather Icon Old                          Hello Weather App Icon New

When did you start marketing? What was your budget for the same?

We had zero budget for anything since this was a side project and we were starting completely from scratch. We absorbed costs for the first year while we built up some momentum and eventually felt good enough to start charging for it.

In terms of app marketing, we started with our own personal social networks, announcing app releases and giving it to friends. I also wrote blog posts occasionally and shared our design and development process.

The app picked up steam through word of mouth, and we got some nice press attention in a few outlets like Macworld and AppAdvice. That helped keep things moving.

Eventually, Apple started featuring us in the App Store’s Weather category, and that’s been awesome.

Hello Weather App Macworld Coverage

Hello Weather App Coverage in MacWorld

Hello Weather AppAdvice Coverage

Hello Weather App Coverage in AppAdvice

We also experimented with running paid ads in Marco Arment’s Overcast app, and we sponsored Federico Viticci’s AppStories podcast, which gave us a big boost.

We don’t have a ton of money to throw around for marketing, so we try to find highly targeted opportunities, and we prefer supporting fellow indie people.

Here are some of the other press mentions that we have received:

  1. Rated as the best weather app by Brooks Review
  2. Top 5 Apps of 2016 You Should Download on Your iPhone by News18
  3. Top 10 Mobile App UI of March 2016 by Proto.io
  4. Rated as the #2 weather app on iPhone by SweetSetup

Which of the above app promotion methods had the maximum impact for you?

Our average monthly revenue is around $600/month unless we make some noise promoting the app, and then we’ll see that bump up a bit.
The Apple App Store feature has given us a continual stream of impressions that definitely help keep our income steady. It’s been the best thing for our app, by far.
Press promotion and advertising tend to have more of a spike effect — you’ll see a nice uptick when the ad or the article runs, but then the action dies off quickly after that.
Our best promotional decision so far was the AppStories sponsorship.
It cost us $300 for a podcast read, but Federico liked the app and gave us a big review in a MacStories newsletter (which was not part of the sponsorship.)
That resulted in a roughly 3x increase in revenue for that month. Well worth the investment!

How does your app make money?

Hello Weather is a free app, and we’re fairly generous with what we offer on the free tier. You get the full forecast and unlimited locations, with some formatting options included too.

The app uses Dark Sky’s forecast data by default. There are no ads (other than one tasteful button that asks you to pay for the app.)

If you do decide to pay, you get lots of bonus features like radar, more data sources (Weather Underground, AccuWeather, etc), night mode controls, and other fun stuff. We call our paid tier the Hello Weather Fan Club.

We’ve messed around with different pricing options for the Fan Club. We originally offered three non-renewing memberships: $2.99 for 1-year, $4.99 for 2-years, and $6.99 for a Lifetime Membership.

That worked out well—there was a 60/40 split with the 1-year and Lifetime options (nobody ever bought the 2-year option.) But we wanted to simplify the whole thing, so we just recently switched to a single upgrade price: $4.99/year auto-renewing.

Can you talk more about your revenue and growth in users?

Since this is a side project, we run it like a non-profit. We dump most of our revenue back into improving the app, by adding new features that were previously cost prohibitive.

In the ~1.5 years we’ve been charging, we’ve made around $15,000 in sales, and the app has been downloaded about 100,000 times in total. We have ~10,000 active users per week.

That’s all been steadily growing over time. Slow growth is great for us because we’re a tiny team and we have day jobs, so we definitely don’t want any traffic spikes or heavy customer support load.

What’s next for you?

We plan to keep going! We just released a major update to the iOS app, designed especially for iOS 11 and iPhone X. The Android version will be getting an update too, and we’ll probably work on an Apple Watch app next year.

What’s your advice for app disciples who are just starting out?

Just keep at it! Progress will feel painfully slow at first, but remember to enjoy the process, and don’t stress about making a perfect professional app right away.

Take advantage of whatever limited skills you have and keep learning and improving as you go. Work with fun people you enjoy talking to.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I’m on Twitter and I write articles about design on Medium. You can also look at my woefully neglected personal site.

Neelabh: Jonas’s article on Medium is very interesting especially if you are a beginner app entrepreneur looking to develop your own idea into an app. He has transparently shared the entire process of coming up with an idea and transforming it into an app on app store. Do check it out: How we made an iPhone app on the side (and a few tips to help you do it too)

What tools/books do you find indispensable for your app business?

Since I work at Basecamp, I like to intentionally use competitors’ products for Hello Weather. We use Slack, Trello, and Gmail mostly, but we’ve also tried using Todoist, Highrise, and a few others.

I try not to read books about the software biz, but of those I have read in the past couple years, my favorites are “Badass: Making Users Awesome” by Kathy Sierra, and “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads” by Tim Wu.

                         

Final Words

Developer Name  Jonas Downey
App Name Hello Weather
App Niche Weather app
App Description Easy-to-use, well-designed weather app
iOS/ Android Both
Country United States
Year Published 2014
Pricing Subscription annual
Revenue per month $600
Total Revenue $15,000
Downloads 100,000
No. of people 3
Reason for success Focus on design, Continuous updates
Social Media @jonasdowney

Did you like the app success story above? What is the one thing that will be your take away from reading the above? Is there any other question you would like me to ask? Let me know in the comments below.

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