How to Sell an App – Six Figure Exit for a Self-Taught Programmer

rteMike Angell is a self-taught programmer who spent his teenage years playing around with websites as nothing more than a childhood hobby. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago when he decided to turn his talents into a business and set about creating his own web design agency. This was a success – with one if his e-commerce clients experiencing such rapid growth that they decided to take him on in-house, full time. After a few years, Mike decided that it was time to go back to working for himself, this time, instead of creating another service based agency, he decided to start developing software apps based on the areas that he had the most experience in. This is where his top rated Shopify app began.

After completing a six figure sale with FE International, we had the chance to interview Mike and learn more about how to sell an app and his journey to success.

What got you interested in the online businesses / software sales in particular?

To be honest, it was the SaaS pricing model. The idea of developing something once and then continuing to be paid for its usage is very attractive.

What would you say are the top skills required to be a successful entrepreneur?

I believe the top skill is persistence. It is very easy to have a lot of good ideas, but the challenge is selecting one of those ideas and seeing it through to the end. It’s a skill I work on every day as I find it the most challenging.

What inspired you to start a business on the Shopify marketplace?

The choice of Shopify really just came down to experience. I worked with Shopify through my period working in-house at an e-commerce company. I knew all the shortcomings that were a part of my work day and reading through the Shopify forums regularly it was apparent many other people had the same feelings.

What do you think led to the success of your Shopify app?

A big part of the success was being first to market. The app was an idea I had long before It was created, but there was no developer access to the data needed. As soon as an email notification was sent out with access to the data needed for the app I sat down that weekend and developed the first Public version. It may seem like a very short time frame, but the first product was very much a MVP to see if the idea would work.

One of the key strengths of the app was its functionality, how did you keep innovating and stay ahead of the competition?

As mentioned we launched with an MVP and this version gave people an idea of what was possible and how easy the app could make their lives. From here we reached out to customers or they reached out to us to find out what else could help them manage their orders. This process is one of the most crucial I believe to creating the best possible product. Turning customer requests into what they actually need is a challenge in itself, two different requests that don’t seem to be related can sometimes merge into a single feature that helps a range of different problems.

Were there any challenges to the business and how did you overcome them?

The main challenge for me was learning how the SaaS model actually works. When I first planned this out I was expecting a burst of installs from day one, however, this is far from true. SaaS is very gradual and as soon as you understand this you can better manage the business. Also, another big challenge that we had was the diversity of our customers and fine tuning features to work. An example of this was the product search. Smaller customers with 100 products don’t expect to use a search box and prefer a drop down, however, customers with 500,000 products would crash if using a drop box and are expecting a search box. Creating a single solution to work for all customers is sometimes challenging, it takes multiple iterations so don’t expect to get it right the first time.

Had you ever sold a website or business before?

I had never even considered selling an online business before and it was never the plan for my Shopify app. It was just an idea that I wanted to make so I did. The idea to sell came from the fact I actually had other ideas I was more passionate about creating than maintaining my Shopify app. My first contact with FE International was actually more of curiosity of what it was valued at. The figure that I received back was more than I ever expected and meant that I could finally work on some of the bigger ideas that I didn’t have enough capital to launch before.

What process did you go through to find an online business broker?

I’d love to say there was a deep research process on this but I put a lot of trust in Google ranking search rankings and FE International was the number 1 organic search result.

Why did you choose to work with FE International to sell your business?

The professionalism is what really got my attention. I did contact other brokers after I received an estimation from FE International to confirm that the company I had found on Google wasn’t going to sell at a low price just to get a quick commission. However after contacting other Brokers it was clear FE International had provided a very high valuation based on their experience selling SaaS businesses and being able to project future sales on a young business.

How did you find the selling process?

Easy, there isn’t really another word to describe it. I was expecting to need to quickly read some business articles to understand the terms and process during the sale process however this wasn’t the case. All the contracts are straight forward and everything is explained very well so that even someone like myself could understand without needing to google it after a conversation.

Where do you think a website broker adds the most value to the sale process?

Really for me looking back at the whole situation there would not have been a sale without them so the entire sale process was the value for me. FE International showcased my business to a massive audience and then even filtered that down to people that were serious about buying the app with very minimal input from myself. They developed all the contracts and negotiated the best possible rate between myself and the buyer. I run every aspect of my businesses myself and this is something I would hand off to FE International every single time.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to sell their online business?

The one mistake I made was not planning to sell the business, the best thing you can do is prepare your site for sale well before you even considering selling it. This means doing all the little things such as making all the domain names, hosting accounts etc under their own entity. I left this to the last minute and looking back It’s something I should have done from day one. Spending that small amount of time doing it now will save you the rush when your business sells and you realize that accounts are shared with personal data or other business data.

Finally, what is next for you?

For me, this sale has motivated me and provided the capital to go big and I’m finally pursuing building an entire hosted e-commerce platform that I have been thinking about for over 5 years. In the next 12 months hopefully people can refer back to this business sale as the stepping stone for

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