How Helge Keck’s passion for community and commitment to his craft paid off

At User Camp, we’re advocating for indie software in the Microsoft Store. This is the third in a series of interviews with successful Store developers.

It’s received wisdom that indie developers should “scratch their own itch”. Solving a problem that you personally have, the thinking goes, will keep your motivation high and your requirements sane.

But this doesn’t work for everyone, because it turns out some developers have pretty weird itches. Luckily for Helge Keck, his itch — the need for a polished, user-friendly WiFi analyzer in the Microsoft Store — was shared by multitudes of eager users. WiFi Tool was a breakout success that was well-covered in the trade press, and even spent some time as the Store’s #1 paid app.

In the announcement of our acquisition of Wifi Tool and its extensions, we promised an interview with Helge. Here it is — read on for how Helge plans his app development, the ups and downs of his career as an independent developer, and how you can drive the success of your own apps by engaging with your user community.

How did WiFi Tool start, and how did it evolve over the years?

I always wanted a WiFi analyzer on my Windows Phone, but Windows Phone 7 and 8 didn’t have the APIs necessary to make this type of app possible.

I started on Windows Phone 7 with three apps: Cellular Live Tile, WiFi Live Tile and Bluetooth Live Tile. Everything started at this point — fragments of the code from WiFi Live Tile for WP7 still exist in the current version. You could say this was the beginning of WiFi Tool.

Windows 10 introduced APIs that made a Wifi analyzer possible, so I started to create the app. I did this mainly because I wanted one, not because I wanted to sell it. But after some Twitter posts, I quickly realized that I had a good chance of succeeding in the Microsoft Store.

I announced the first version of WiFi Tool (the one on the screenshot) by posting on Twitter. I connected with a lot of WiFi engineers on Twitter to gauge their reaction. I spent a lot of time chatting with these people; this was very helpful.

Screenshots from the first version of WiFi Tool.

After implementing all the app’s features and fixing problems I found along the way, I created the app’s extensions. This was an important step, since it gave the app an enormous boost in the Microsoft Store. This was the most critical moment in the development of the suite.

For a WiFi analyzer like WiFi Tool, users have very clear expectations. Because of the research I did before starting development, the first version was nearly feature-complete. From there, it was a smooth evolution — I just tried to implement the ideas that people gave me.

Screenshots from a recent version of WiFi Tool

How did you know the time was right for you to move on from the WiFi Tool suite?

It was a feeling I had. I knew I had to change something in my life, to start and to learn something new. It was a very difficult decision, but User Camp made me a good offer, and I could see they would take care of my apps.

I’ll miss the apps and their users, but sometimes you have to leave something behind to go forward.

The WiFi Tool suite’s customer base is vocal, supportive, and responsive. What advice do you have for other developers who want to build a similar community?

The best advice I can give is to love what you do. You must be convinced of the value of your work.

It’s not enough to create an app just to make money — users can feel whether you love your app or not. If you do, and if you engage with your users, the community will grow on its own.

I highly recommend using Twitter to engage with your users — in my opinion, it is the best social network for app developers.

How did your app’s community influence your development process?

I always listened to my users and tried to understand their needs and wishes. Especially in the beginning, I got hundreds of emails from users with their feature requests. I categorized every email before I answered them (Outlook Rules did a great job of helping me with this). This helps you to find out what the majority of the users really want and expect.

You know when your job is done when you don’t get any more feature requests.

I also contacted professional users directly. I gave every professional user (WiFi consultants) that I could find on Twitter free versions of the app, and asked them what they thought about it. Not everyone responded, but from those who did, I received invaluable information about how the app should work.

If you were starting from scratch as an independent developer, what would your strategy be?

I would invest much more time in researching and planning than I did before. Instead of looking for one idea for a new app, I would look for two or three different ideas, and then I would invest enough time to find out which is the best choice.

Evaluating each idea is a matter of making a simple pro/con list, asking myself what I want to achieve with the app, what my end goal with the app is, and why I want to make it.

I also evaluate whether my execution of a given idea will be a substantial improvement over other, similar apps.

What’s one mistake you made as an indie?

I wanted too much, too fast, in too many languages. This caused a lot of problems, and I had to invest much more time than I wanted.

Every time I added a new feature, I had to localize it as well. The quality of each localization affects your app’s ratings in that language’s Store.

I didn’t pay for the translations. I personally translated the app into four languages, and the rest of the translations were done by users who offered to help me. I had to contact every translator several times after I added or changed a new feature. Some of them didn’t respond anymore, which I understood, because they didn’t work for me. What should you do in this situation: look for a new translator? Bother the old one? Use Google or Bing Translate?

If you depend on external translators, you should be sure that your app is feature-complete. It is better to wait before you translate an app than to have an incomplete or bad translation — it saves a lot of time, and increases the quality of the app.

I made a classic mistake of quantity over quality. Don’t do that!

What was one pivotal, successful moment in your journey as an indie?

I really didn’t expect it, but after the first big release, everything went totally crazy. It seemed like every blog and magazine wrote an article about the app, and it became the #1 app in the Microsoft Store in more than 50 countries, with an average rating of 4.7.

Even though I knew that the app wouldn’t stay on the top of the Store forever, it was for sure one of my proudest moments as a developer. It also felt good every time I read something about my work on sites like Windows Central, or any other site that I followed for years as a reader.

How do you enunciate your app design strategy?

For many design and feature decisions, I follow standard patterns. But for me, everything else is a highly intuitive process. It is something that is really difficult to explain — it is a feeling, an emotion I have, when I think about an app.

For important decisions, I wait for one of those moments where you forget everything else around you, and I wait until i have a good feeling about it. Sometimes this happens when I’m in a cafe or restaurant, sitting in front of my laptop, not moving for a very long time. It must be very funny, or irritating, for other people to see that.

What’s your development setup?

    What’s next for you, and what do you hope to achieve?

    I want to do a project where I can learn something new. I have some projects in my mind, and some offers from companies, but I still don’t know what i will do. I will wait until I get the ONE idea, or an offer that I cant decline.

    Thanks Helge! You can follow Helge on Twitter.

    Share your own app’s journey

    This article is part of series of interviews with successful Microsoft Store developers. Previous instalments:

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