Android App is Launched

It’s official – our mobile app, crib sheet, has joined the Android party.

What’s Android?

Google is the maker of Android software, which they give away to carriers (like Verizon) so that phone users like us search more on Google. Consequently, you’ll find Android software just about everywhere (e.g. Droid, Evo, Galaxy, HTC Hero, Captivate, and many more).

Why Android Matters

There are as many (if not more) Android phone users as there are iPhone users. This means our “crib sheet” app can now reach double the number of potential users.

In the coming year, we expect it will mean even more – Android is big and about to explode.

The Birth of our Android App

Our Android development process began in January 2010, soon after we rolled out our app on the iPhone, with the search for a new design and coding team.

Android phones are completely different animals relative to the iPhone:

– different navigation (Android devices have built-in “back” and “menu” buttons)
– wider universe of phones and operating systems
– multiple screen sizes
– various input methods (keyboard and/or touchscreen)
– completely different coding language.

You’d be surprised at how seemingly trivial changes, like a keyboard or a “back” navigation button, can fundamentally change how you design an app relative to the iPhone.

I started by contracting with one of the best designers in the industry. He helped me see our app in new ways, and suggested valuable improvements to functionality and flow.

We began with some big picture “wireframes” (like blueprints for a house):

Then got more specific:

After weeks of revisions, my designers created multiple pixel-by-pixel specific screens:

These plans were finally delivered to my talented team of coders. Months of back and forths, testing, fixes, and now we’re live.

And the app is beautiful.

See Our Android App

If you have an Android device, search the Android Market for “crib sheet” to see all of our customers’ apps. It’s free.

If you don’t have an Android device, there are over 300,000 activations per DAY. So you probably know someone that DOES.

Our app works on over 95% of all Android phones (all but the oldest models – OS 1.6 and above). We think users will love it.

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What does it cost to build an app?

Mobile 101: This post is part of our educational series on mobile technology. If you are new to the smart phone/app arena, this series is a good place to start.

I’m often asked, “What does it cost to build an app?” This question is tough to answer because it’s like asking “What does it cost to build a house?”

Short Answer

In my experience, you’ll probably pay north of $100k for a polished iPhone app with good functionality, but you could pay $20k for something really simple. Multiply those figures if you also want your app on iPad, Blackberry, and/or Android devices.

Long Answer

Read on for some of the criteria I’ve learned to consider.


If we built an app with the very basics — just some text on the screen — users wouldn’t return. We needed more complex functionality (a news feed, feedback forms, polls, and the ability for our sponsors to update the app “on the fly”).

What I learned: Functionality is expensive, especially in apps.

Graphic Design

It’s not hard to remember what websites looked like twenty years ago:

Good graphic design is one of the first things a user notices when visiting an app.

What I learned:  You really need a good graphic designer to make your app look professional.

Interaction Design

I knew that graphic design was important, but it took me a while to appreciate “interaction design”.

Think of interaction design as the “big picture” thinking of an app. It’s the blueprint (wireframes) for how everything works.

What I learned: Design is essential at the beginning of the process. You may spend a lot of time up front, but this forethought will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Design vs Coding

I dove into our app development underestimating the difference between designers and coders.

In short, coders don’t design apps. They build apps. You wouldn’t tell a carpenter to build a house without blueprints from an architect.

What I learned: You can’t give a coder a general idea for what you want and expect that he or she can read your mind.  Spend the money to draw up good plans first.


I knew that I wanted our app on more than just the iPhone. If we had developed for only one platform, we’d exclude a whole bunch of users who don’t have that phone.

What I learned: The coding for one platform is not easily transferable to another platform, so you need a different coder and designer for each platform.

Maintenance Costs

Unlike building a house, when you build an app, your foundation is constantly changing (maybe it’s like building a house in California?).

At least once a year, the “OS” (operating system) is updated. The OS is like the foundation that all of your code runs on. Your code needs to be updated every time the OS is updated.

Also, when new phones are released, your code may need to be updated. For example, when the “retina display” was created for the iPhone 4, it was great for users, but a pain in the rear for us. We spent days updating our photos and images.

What I learned: You’ll need to pay for code updates when the OS changes and new devices are released.

Developer Choice

“Experienced” programmers have three years experience, so determining a competent programmer vs. a “big talker” is difficult.

What I learned: Going abroad is almost always cheaper, but you often get what you pay for in terms of quality, design, and communication.


Building a professional, functional app on your own is expensive. The costs range wildly (anywhere from $50k to $100k+) for just one platform, such as the iPhone. I encourage you to read more articles and posts from people who aren’t trying to sell you an app.

In addition to costs, building a good app takes time and focus. If you’re an organization in the business of X, your focus should be on X.

We’re in the business of apps. We’ve spent the last two years learning what’s important, making revisions and building a great, customizable app called “crib sheet”.

Our prices are reasonable.  Our annual subscription will cost you less than the annual maintenance costs if you built your own app.

With the huge growth in mobile, now is the perfect time to get a mobile app for your organization. We encourage you to check us out.

Demystifying Mobile Platforms

Mobile 101: This post is part of our educational series on mobile technology. If you are new to the smart phone/app arena, this series is a good place to start.

If you sent your magazine out to only your blue-eyed alumni, you’d only reach a small slice of your intended audience. Not the best communications strategy, right?

Likewise, an app built for only one phone type (like the iPhone) will limit your potential users. Your alumni or members, and their phones, come in all types.

In this post, I’ll briefly describe the major smartphone platforms and what this means for your organization.


In the US, a majority of smartphones run on one of four major platforms, or Operating Systems (OS): Blackberry (RIM), iOS (Apple), Android (Google), and Phone 7 (Microsoft: small, but growing).


If you are thinking about reaching your alumni or members through an app, you should think about the stats in two ways:

(1) Phone Ownership

“What kinds of smartphones do your potential users have?”

The winners are: Blackberry (RIM), Google (Android), iOS (Apple) and Phone 7 (Microsoft).

(2) App Usage

“What kind of phones do people have who use apps?

The results are the same big four, but in very different order: iOS (Apple), Google (Android), Blackberry (RIM) and Phone 7 (Microsoft).

In short, lots of people own Blackberry phones, but they mainly use them for email and not for apps.

The Four Big Platforms

iOS (Apple)

Apple is the major player in the app world. They run their iOS on Apple-manufactured devices like the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Although the iPad is part of iOS, many companies (like us) create separate apps to take advantage of its large screen.

Apple started the app movement in July 2008 by opening their App Store with 550 apps. Today, the App Store has over 300,000 apps.

Apple is famous for being picky about what apps are allow in their App Store. The result, in my opinion, are higher quality apps than on other platforms.

ANDROID (Google)

Google is a little different. They give away their Android software to practically anyone so that people will do more searches on Google. Consequently, you’ll find Android software on lots of different phones and carriers.

Many people don’t even realize that they have an Android phone, but they’re everywhere: Droid, Evo, Galaxy, HTC Hero, Captivate, and so on.


Blackberry phones have long been known for their email and phone capabilities, and are popular as business phones. But many people don’t use apps on their Blackberry because (a) getting apps isn’t easy or (b) their company won’t allow them.

Fortunately, Blackberry is slowly beginning to focus more on apps. You never would have seen an ad like this from Blackberry a few years ago:

PHONE 7 (Microsoft)

Microsoft is in flux. Their software has been on mobile devices for years, but it was just terrible. So in the middle of 2010, they scrapped everything and announced their new phone software called Phone 7.

The jury is still out for how successful this will be, but with a $500 million marketing budget, I suspect that we’ll see a lot of phones sold with Phone 7 on them.

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

The future is mobile, but for better or worse, that future is a fragmented and diverse market.

If you’re thinking of creating your own app to reach all of your alumni or members, take a big picture perspective. An app on ONE platform gets you only ONE slice of app users.

If you’re like me, you probably want to reach as many people as possible (our app is everywhere). Being everywhere involves a big commitment…or just buy our app and your work is done.

What’s an App?

Mobile 101:  This post is part of our educational series on mobile technology.  If you are new to the smart phone/app arena, this series is a good place to start.

What’s an App?

The term “App” is short for application.  Apps are little bits of software that live on your phone – designed to enable you to easily do an endless number of things from your phone like checking the weather, finding movie times, taking photos, or reading the news.

Beck (age 18 months) and my iPhone

My 1 year old son is obsessed with the apps on my phone.  He knows that if he gets antsy enough in a restaurant, my phone will show him Sesame Street.  He drags his sticky fingers across my screen as he video chats with his Aunt Anne.

The other day, my wife found him holding her phone and softly whispering “Anne?, Anne?”.

Where Can You Get an App?

You typically get an app through an app store.  There will be an app store icon installed on your smartphone.

App Store on an iPhone

Tap on the app store icon. Do a search for whatever kind of app you are looking for, tap install, and it downloads within seconds.

Steps to get an app on an iPhone

Many apps are free to $.99 while some can cost north of $10.

Can’t I Just Use the Web?

Smartphones are leading the change in how we connect to “the internet.” Phone and tablet screens are typically smaller than computer monitors, so most websites are clunky to use via a phone.  Compare the screen shots below:

Kayak WEBSITE on an iPhone

Kayak APP on an iPhone

Apps work better than the web on phones because, well, apps were designed for phones. They’re faster and more functional way to complete a task.

Apps Aren’t Going Away

Apps are growing even faster than the ridiculous growth of smartphones. Mobile app downloads are expected to grow from 11 billion downloads this year to 77 billion in 2014 (a SEVEN-FOLD increase).

The marketing machine for apps is starting young, and ain’t stopping. Just ask my son.

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The Clementines In My Kitchen

Everyone in my home loves clementines. They’re sweeter and juicier and easier to peel than the ordinary oranges.

Just the other day, Nicole purchased a big bag and put them in our fridge. When I heard about this big news, I immediately pulled out two and ate them like candy.

Vickey Family Fridge

The next day, I walked through the kitchen on my way upstairs. I thought about eating another clementine (or two), but I pictured myself:

1. walking four feet out of my way to the refrigerator,
2. opening the door,
3. opening a few drawers (I usually open the wrong one first),
4. taking the bag of clementines out of the drawer,
5. finding the opening in the bag,
6. removing one clementine,
7. putting the bag of clementines back into the refrigerator,
8. closing the drawer, and
9. closing the refrigerator door.

Easy enough? Yes. But these small speedbumps were enough for me to say to myself, “I’ll just get one when I come back downstairs.” And then I forgot.

And I wasn’t alone – over the course of the week, the clementines in my home weren’t “selling”. They were loved, but they were out of sight and less-than-easy to get.

Nicole, who actually thinks about things like “marketing” healthy food to our family, pulled the clementines out of the fridge and put them on the kitchen counter in a shiny bowl.

Friction-less Clementines

Unsurprisingly, every clementine was eaten in three days (mostly due to me).

So what changed? The clementines were now in my line of sight and super accessible.

Everyone knows that a figurative “speedbump” slows down action, but few people appreciate that even the smallest speedbumps can have a big effect.

In the making of our app, we asked this question: How can we remove every single speedbump for users so that they return to our app over and over again? Below are two examples of decisions we made to address this question.

Native App

We built our apps as native apps (apps built for specific devices) rather than creating a mobile website (cheaper alternative). By doing this, users always have an app icon on their phone.

MSU app icon

Why is this important? Because the clementines should be on the kitchen counter. Every time a user looks at their phone, they’ll have the chance to see their school’s logo in a pretty box and tap on it.

Location of News

Users usually return to our app to read current news from their alma mater. So what’s the absolute fewest number of taps to get this news? ONE.

When the icon for our app is tapped, the first screen a user sees is their news. Done.

One tap. Simple.

We’ve seen some other apps that take a different approach.

Duke University has a good app for their current students, but as an alumnus of Duke, I only want to read about basketball news (in my day, I was one of those fans). To get these updates, I need to tap five times:

Five taps

Simple? Yes.

Why is five taps too many? Because the clementines shouldn’t be buried in the refrigerator. A few extra taps can mean the difference between returning or not returning to an app.

When you’re planning an event or asking for your alumni or members to do something, think about the smallest of speedbumps. Removing these can make all the difference.

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The Ridiculous Growth of Smartphones

Mobile 101: This post is part of our educational series on mobile technology. If you are new to the smart phone/app arena, this series is a good place to start.

Smartphones and other “smart” mobile devices aren’t just growing, they’re growing at a ridiculous rate.  I’ll spend the second half of this blog post sharing some statistics and links, but before I do, let’s talk context.

Mobile phones were first seen in the 70s.

First cell phone (1973)

Over time, the phones got smaller (thankfully), cheaper, and more powerful. Besides calls, these “feature phones” allowed people to “text” and take basic photos.

The popular Razr phone

Today, the U.S. cell phone market is considered “saturated” – it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have one.

Now we have a new wave of technology.  Smartphones, which I’ll define as a phone which uses “apps”, are exploding in growth. I’ll give two reasons for this (there are many).

Growth Reason #1: A Smartphone is Your Third Arm

With maybe the exception of a wedding ring, not much else travels with you every day, everywhere you go. Calls, texts, e-mails, photos, appointments…my cell phone is a clearinghouse for a lot of my daily contact with the world.

A lot of people obsessively use their phone (I love this commercial):

When a new cellphone comes out with a new bell and whistle, it means that I can do more in my life. Given the option to get a phone which can use apps (i.e. do anything), people jump at the opportunity to add another finger to their third arm…or something.

Growth Reason #2: Phone Economics

When you pay $199 for an iPhone, you’re actually paying over $500 for that phone over time. A portion of your monthly cell phone bill pays for your phone.

But, once your two year contract is finished and your phone is paid off, your monthly rate doesn’t drop. If it did drop, people might keep using their old phones for years (gasp).

The two year contract

Instead, you’re encouraged to buy a new phone at a low upfront cost and a new two year contract. It’s an efficient mechanism that quickly cycles people towards newer technology.

Do you buy a refrigerator every two years? Toaster? Car?  The adoption rate for smartphones is growing at a ridiculous pace due in part to these atypical phone economics.

The Numbers

If we looked back at the year 2011 ten years from now, I think we’d recognize a tremendous change in behavior — a tipping point — in computers, technology, and the “getting of information.” That change is “mobile.”

I read about this industry daily, but some of the statistics that I found when researching this post still amazed me.  Look at the trajectory of smartphones in the below graph:

We think smartphone usage for our user demographic is even higher because most of our users are college graduates (more affluent and technology savvy).

Impressive stats:

  • AdMob, the biggest supplier of ads on mobile devices, has seen a DOUBLING of ad impressions on popular smartphones (Android and Apple/iOS) in the last SIX MONTHS.
  • Nielsen is predicting 80 MILLION new US smartphone users in just 2011. To put this in perspective, we have roughly 300 million people in this country.
  • Google reports that there are over 300,000 Android phones activated PER DAY.
  • Fortune predicts that smartphones will soon outsell COMPUTERS due to “insane” growth.

This trend isn’t stopping any time soon:

And all of the above statistics don’t account for the rise of tablet devices, like the iPad, which I’ll cover in a future post.

What This Means for Your Organization

If your institution is looking to build loyalty with its alumni and members, you need to be forward thinking.  As Wayne Gretzky once said, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

The future is mobile devices. Go “mobile” and you’ll be able to sustain the kind of smart communication that builds long-term loyalty to your institution.

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The Birth of our Mobile App

All through 2008, I kept hearing “How about the book in an electronic format?” from customers. I looked into creating an “e-version” of our book, but I didn’t think (and still don’t think) anyone wants to read a book on their computer.

In January 2009, I got my first iPhone. I kept looking for new ways to use it in my daily life. Once you start using an iPhone, you get religion. You also get apps.

I started to think about how our content might work in an app. This post is a “behind the scenes” of how our app was born.

One of the early questions you have to answer when building an app is…

Who Should Build My App?

When we started building our iPhone app in March 2009, the app development world was like the wild west – a brand new field full of pioneers and pirates. It still is.

Today's industry of mobile app developers

I quickly learned that if you outsource your work overseas, you can save a lot of money.

First Contract

I awarded my first contract to India and fired the providers after about a month because they were incompetent. 

My lesson: Too many developers talk the talk, but few can actually walk the walk.

Second Contract

I awarded my second contract to a higher-priced provider in Vietnam. Here’s one of my favorite email responses from my developer:

You know the old expression, “When your iPhone developer accidentally responds to your question in Vietnamese, Google Translate is your friend.”? Well, just for kicks, I used it:

After over four months, we finally parted ways over communication breakdowns.  

My lesson: When your developers speak Vietnamese and “Objective C” (the programming language for the iPhone) but you speak English and “non-programmer”, the result is a crappy app.

Third Contract

I bit the bullet and paid up for developers in the States, though I did a lot of digging to find a firm that was good at both design and coding (a rarity in the industry).

Although I paid many, many, many multiples more in costs, I picked a fantastic provider and I’m still working with them today (Michael: I hope your little one enjoys her horseback riding lessons and private school tuition). I’m often on the phone with them daily, and they have grown into the role of maintaining the app.  

My lesson: Communication, design and competent coding are all integral to building a good app.  Don’t look at your developer relationship as a six month project, as you’ll likely be working with them for years.

The resulting crib sheet app is our new baby:

It packages our popular real world content with our customers’ brand and news.  It allows users to send address updates, answer polls, RSVP for events.

And it can leap over tall burning buildings to rescue babies stuck in trees.

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The Birth of our Book

As I mentioned in a previous post, Cap & Compass started as a seminar company. Here’s one of our very first high-quality promotional pieces:

Duke University seminar (2001)

Our client schools liked the seminars, but they wanted something that could reach ALL of their graduates. So, the content from our seminars grew into our popular book, “life after school. explained.


At first, I only gave schools the ability to customize the cover with a few lines of text. The gold star on the cover was my groovy idea. I’ve since learned the value of a graphic designer.

First book cover design (2001)

In 2005, Dartmouth College wanted to buy the book for their seniors, but they wanted to customize the book on their own. I begrudgingly said ok, and they used a big photo:

Dartmouth College cover (2005)

It looked fantastic. I learned to get out of my own way, and let my customers brand the book.

Here are some more examples of customized covers over the years…

Syracuse University cover

Procter & Gamble cover

Alpha Sigma Alpha cover

So I started marketing the book with a host of customization options, including inside covers and 8 page custom text inserts. Sales took off.

To date, some 500,000 of our books have been given out at graduations, senior picnics; and as corporate welcome gifts to recruits, interns and new hires.

Our book at St. John's University graduation

Today, many of our college and corporate buyers were recipients of the book when they graduated from college.

Our customers recognize that our book is more than just a gift. It’s a way of providing value to graduates in their post-college journey. And when you provide value, you build loyalty.

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The Smart and Lean Approach

We focus on providing fantastic products at a price that’s affordable for everyone. We do this by running smart and lean without cutting corners.

The development of our app’s promotional video is a good example of this philosophy.

I wanted a fun explanatory video like the simple cartoonish ones popularized by companies like Skype:

After reviewing some of the “big fish” in this niche market, like Common Craft, I felt their services were too expensive (over $15,000 for a 90 second video).

Through a few freelance sites, I interviewed and reviewed the work of a number of talented artists who create explanatory videos (I’ve learned a niche exists for everything).

I found my guy and we got the video done for $2,000 in a little over a week. I’m really proud of the result:

I try to keep the “smart and lean” approach when producing our books, developing our app, and even in our home life. I always ask my daughter to make handmade cards. They cost a lot less to produce than store-bought, and come with highly customized art for my wife.

The best kind of card (Elle, Age 6)

As an organization looking to build loyalty on a limited budget, don’t always go with the first or easy choice. Spend the extra time to find low-cost, creative solutions to reach your alumni and members. Or just buy from us.

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Building Relationships Through Education

Is education part of your organization’s higher purpose or brand? If so, keep your educational mission front and center with your “customers” (alumni, employees, members, etc.)

Why? A good article in the Harvard Business Review describes what customers want:

Many brands have a demonstrable higher purpose baked into their missions… These feel authentic to consumers, and so provide a credible basis for shared values and relationship-building. To build relationships, start by clearly communicating your brand’s philosophy or higher purpose.

Disney is one example of an organization which does a great job communicating their higher purpose. In the words of Walt himself, “My business is making people, especially children, happy.”

I live in Orlando, which means I talk to a lot of repeat visitors of Disney. They don’t come back for Space Mountain or Mickey-shaped ice cream. Instead, they wax on about the magic and happiness they see in their children’s eyes.

If your perceived value doesn’t extend beyond the time your “customers” spend with you, your relationships will be fleeting. If you brand your value as delivering life-long education, you’ll grow authentic and lasting relationships.


Use our book and app to:

  • Educate about the necessities of the life, like buying insurance, paying taxes, and even choosing a fork.
  • Tell your “customers” about the other ways you provide education (on-line lectures, educational travel programs, etc.)

Reinforce your higher purpose of education and build lifelong relationships.

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