What is it? iTunes Instant is a web-based iTunes instant search engine.
Why built it? To speed up and clean up iTunes search through a web interface.
How successful? 400000 visitors to date; 2.6 million search results served.
Anything else? It is my most popular and profitable app by far!
15-Year-Old Creates iTunes Instant - Mashable
Fifteen-Year-Old Cleans Up With iTunes Instant Search - The Atlantic
iTunes Goes Instant, Thanks to 15-Year-Old - Fast Company
What is it? Artsy Editor is a premium WYSIWYG editor for WordPress.
Why built it? To provide a better writing experience for WordPress users.
How successful? Profitable since day 1; still generating passive income daily.
Anything else? I learned a great deal about marketing and customer support!
What is it? TwtRoulette lets you look at other Twitter user's home timeline.
Why built it? To discover interesting people to follow and connect with them.
How successful? 10k users joined, including Ashton Kutcher and Robert Scoble.
Anything else? Investor Shervin Pishevar pitched the idea to me and I coded it!
TwtRoulette Lets You See Twitter Through Other People's Eyes - Huffington Post
Viewing Someone Else's Twitter Timeline with TwtRoulette - Business Insider
What is it? ACPark.org is a park and recreation finder for Alameda County.
Why built it? To easily find locations and features of local parks on a map.
How successful? Got 2nd place and received $1500 at the County Hackathon.
Anything else? Beat 21 teams of adult developers to win the 2nd place award!
County hackathon produces mobile apps for the public - Oakland Local
Alameda County Hosts First Hackathon Apps Challenge in Castro Valley - Online Pioneer
What is it? NeedNumbers.me imports Facebook contacts to your phone quickly.
Why built it? To eliminate the process of manually typing numbers into a phone.
How successful? 9000 users in less than a week; viral among Facebook users.
What technology? PHP (CodeIgniter), vCards, Facebook API.
Anything else? With the app, what used to take 30 mins can be done in 30 secs!
What is it? OhBoard is an interactive whiteboard app in Google Chrome.
Why built it? To easily sketch mockups and create wireframes in the browser.
How successful? Helped 200 designers, developers, marketers to jog down ideas.
Anything else? It was one of the first apps on the Chrome Web Store platform!
OhBoard Is Your Whiteboard Solution In A Browser - Teens In Tech
OhBoard.com - Create Sketches And Make Diagrams - KillerStartups
What is it? OneExtraLap lets you take/create quizzes while competing with friends.
Why built it? To help people gain knowledge and have fun at the same time.
How successful? Spent 8 months building it and got few hundred signups.
Anything else? It was my playground when I first started learning how to code!
OneExtraLap, Why You Should Register - TechLeash
Further developed algorithms for the analysis system to fit the local and regional needs of WM Asia-Pacific.
Built an iTunes sales analysis system for WM Australia that allows them eliminate the use of Excel.
Developed a complex system to process and display eBroadcast's TV guide, the No.1 provider in Australia.
Created a simple warehouse management and invoice processing system for a local apparel business.
Wrote a series of articles on WordPress theme and plugin marketing for WP Tuts+ on the Envato network.
Served as the lead developer for Teens In Tech, a global network for inspiring young entrepreneurs.
"Stephen's exceptional skill-set has enabled eBroadcast to offer its users a state-of-the-art user interface with exceptionally quick search features. His ability to think outside the square is complimented by his excellent development and implementation skills."
"I am happy with the reporting application Stephen has developed for our users across Asia. Aside from delivering an application that met our requirements within budget and schedule, Stephen also provided prompt technical support throughout the rollout period competently."
You've already shipped an incredible number of products. How do you get ideas for your projects?
It's a simple 3-step process. 1. Pay close attention to things around you and find problems that annoy you. 2. Create the best solution to solve those problems. 3. Look for people with the same problems and promote your solution to them.
What rate did you start out at? And what's the highest you've charged?
The first time I put out a price tag, it was $50 per hour. I pretty set that rate because I saw a post (I think it was on FreelanceSwitch) recommending the starting rate to be $50. At the peak, I charged $125 per hour for some specialized work. My public rate is $95 per hour.
What are your long-term aspirations? What are your next steps?
It's my long-term goal to build a high-return, low-maintenance online business, whether it's a web app, a mobile app, an info product, a class, or all of them combined. I want to live comfortably while building something that solves a problem well and customers will pay for.
What advice can you give to other young entrepreneurs?
Marketing > coding. It is how businesses had been run for centuries, but it seems to change in the tech industry. If you want your business to be successful, you need to focus on marketing first. You need to communicate with customers. You need to generate leads. You need to get your pricing right.
What advice would you give to a developer that is just about to begin a side project?
Focus on solving a real problem for people. There are so many misconceptions out there that you should always buy a domain and start writing code right away when you have an idea. From my experience, that never works. The process of idea validation is crucial to the idea's future success.
How do you bring ideas to life?
First, I validate the idea. I believe it's stupid to write a line of code without having someone willing to pay for it. Then I go to a whiteboard to sketch the idea. I plan out how each screen looks like, how they connect to each other, and improve them until they make sense. Then I'll go on a coding period when I write all the code as fast as possible.
What is the most valuable thing you've learnt from the time you've been running startups?
Make your creations really good so that people want to talk about them. This is very powerful. When I made iTunes Instant, because people enjoyed it so much, they told their friends and blogged about it. And from this kind of word of mouth, it became insanely popular in short amount of time.
What have been the best surprises that you found in starting your business?
I found out recently that you don't have to be big to be successful. The common notion is you have to have a $xx millions company with #xxx employees to be successful. But that's not true. I will consider myself successful when I make $10k/month from a simple one-man lifestyle business.
What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
My first entrepreneurial endeavor is OneExtraLap. I started around November 2009. It was treated mainly as an experiment. It came along pretty well. Our small buy loyal group of users loved it. I just kept on developing what users requested, and at the same time, learning more and more about the world of programming and marketing.
This is something that I haven't told anyone online.
I came to the United States only 4 years ago.
As many of you know, I've accomplished a lot in the tech industry over the past 2 years as a high school student, contributing my parts by making apps and doing freelance programming.
But what I want to talk about here, was the 2 years before that.
I was born in Kaiping, China, a city 200km from Hong Kong. I lived a normal childhood - going to school 8 hours a day, completing homework on time, and playing basketball at the court downstairs - just like any other kid in the neighborhood.
My parents' friends kept telling us that I had the potential to accomplish big things. Although I participated in our school's math Olympiad team, I couldn't comprehend what they meant.
Fast forward to June 2008, I've just completed 6th grade, and was getting ready to move to the United States. I didn't know what to expect. All I clearly remembered about the U.S. were huge hamburgers, easy schools, and the NBA.
So there I went. On July 30th, 2008, I landed in San Francisco International Airport. I had a little less than a month to get ready for school. Even with the help of family members, it was still difficult to understand everything around me.
When I stepped into my middle school classroom for the first time, I had no friends; I didn't know how the school was being run; I barely spoken any English; nor could I understand what the teacher was saying. Even though I had my little translator device with me at all times, it was still a struggle.
Meanwhile, two role models came into mind - Jerry Yang and Kai-Fu Lee. Both came from Taiwan, immigrated to U.S. at their teens, overcame the language barriers, and achieved extraordinary success in the tech industry. Jerry Yang founded Yahoo, Kai-Fu Lee worked as a top executive in Apple, Microsoft, and then Google.
I constantly told myself, "sooner or later, I can do the same."
After the 1st week of school, I started to do 3 things on a daily basis. 1) Learn the meanings of words that I didn't understand throughout the day. 2) Put the words into a sentence and say it until it flowed smoothly. 3) Use the words in a conversation the next day. I forced myself to learn at least 50 vocabulary words a day. It wasn't an easy task at all - I often stayed up until 11PM doing it.
In 3 months, I could at least have a clue of what's going on around me. I got used to the environment. I got used to the customs. I got used to the people. I decided it was time to move out of the ESL class. I decided to convince my teacher, fortunately she let me mainstream so I had more chance interacting with native English speakers.
In 6 months, I became comfortable with my new friends and found myself being more extroverted. I was no longer that shy student sitting in the back of the classroom. I was no longer that lonely kid eating at the last row of the cafeteria. Although my spoken English was still unarticulated and far from natural, I was at least brave enough to start a conversation and didn't feel bad about it.
In 12 months, things started to click after getting through the initial barrier. Before that, I couldn't ask a question when I didn't understand something because I couldn't even express what I didn't understand! But after 1 year, it wasn't a problem for me anymore to raise my hand and ask my teacher to clarify a word in simple English or ask a friend to explain it to me in context.
In 18 months, my conversational English was fine. I could go to places and hang out with friends with no problems. I even earned the highest grade in my English class, and received Student of the Month award. As I had more free time, I stumbled upon TechCrunch, and was permanently hooked into the technology arena...
Now, my English is still far from perfect. Besides focusing on my programming stuff, I still try to improve my English with every opportunity I have. There are many things I need to work on. You know, things like being natural when talking to people.
As I retraced these facts, I started to realize how many obstacles I've overcome in those two years. I worked hard every day, encouraged myself to interact with people. And most importantly, I never gave up. Without those two years of perseverance and determination, I wouldn't even had a chance to step into this wonderful technology world.
I am proud of myself.
PS: If you had a similar experience, email me so I can tell you something I've been planning for!