Ever since Pocket-lint’s appearance on The Apprentice, we’ve rarely been short of material for our 6pm App of the Day slot. Each day our inbox bulges with another deluge of requests from developers to have their work featured ranging from the small and ingenious through the mainstream and practical and right to the edge of the down right bizarre.
One e-mail received recently, however, stopped us in our tracks. A 17-year-old from Harrow by the name of Jamie Karia wrote to us about an app that he and three of his school friends had brought to market. This is their story and why we not only decided to feature them on App of the Day but also help champion their cause.
Each year at the John Lyons School for boys in Middlesex, the Year 12 students are encouraged to come up with business idea to run as a class as part of the nationwide Young Enterprise scheme. Each year, except this one.
Told that the school needed to divert resources to a building project instead, the current crop of wouldbe young businessmen were left instead to focus on their exams. Jamie, Sajan Khullar, Neehal Shah and Sukanth Yoganathan, however, were not to be deterred and under their own initiative and own funding designed and brought an app called Paraslinger to the iTunes App Store.
“We’d wanted to make an app straight away, even before the academic year had started,” explains Karia as the four boys in suits and ties sit Pocket-lint down at the same table in their local branch of Starbucks where their business meetings took place.
“We wanted to do something where we didn’t have to make a physical product, it seemed easier to get going, and it also meant that we’d have unlimited products that we could get out to people.”
With each of the four currently studying for A-levels in economics, it shouldn’t be surprising that they were quick to spot the kind of start up opportunity that could be both fast to get going and less limited by a shortage of resources. Perhaps of greater respect is that they had the determination to carry on after the set back - something that can’t be so easily taught in the classroom.
“We checked with the school to see if they could give us some funding or some help but they decided to cancel the project, so we had to go on our own,” begins Yoganathan as he shows us the early version of the software.
“The school only has one economics teacher and they said that he was quite busy already and the building project is obviously more important for them in long term than what we’re doing.”
“In some ways though, it’s been better to go independent rather than with the school,” adds Shah to his right. “It’s become more like a proper business venture than a school project.”
Forming the group back in October 2010 was not as easy as it might have seemed, however, with 15 boys in the class all interested in the idea, but as the four found out very quickly it was just not a manageable number.
“It was a bit like the early rounds of The Apprentice with lots of people shouting out ideas but nothing really heard,” points out Shah. “It just wasn’t going to work.”
After a some ruthless decision making the team was forged but the process of what kind of app they were going to make was a comparative snap.
“It was always going to be a game,” Karia tell us, the four of them beaming as he does so.
“Our inspiration was Angry Birds. Everyone was playing it at school and it was obvious that there’s a huge market for app games. What we needed to do was find one that hadn’t been made before.”
Paraslinger was what the group came up with; an addictive alien attack game where just a slingshot and your finger lie between waves of enemies parachuting from above and the annihilation of the earth. You get to use power-ups, combo attacks and an unlimited supply of coconut ammunition to last out as long as possible and reach your glory at the top of the worldwide leaderboard atop of which Karia currently stands with a score of 120,000 that took him a 35-minute session to achieve.
Paraslinger wasn’t the groups first idea though and although the boys had the minds to come up with the concept, what they were missing was the technical knowledge of how to actually code it.
“Our first idea was a game where you had to shoot stars at the top of the screen,” explains Yoganathan. “We tried to get companies in London to build it for us but they wanted huge sums of money.”
“Some of the quotes were over up to £25,000,” confirms Karia.
The group first contacted a developer in Argentina but after seeing little results back, no associated website and a simply a request to transfer some money via Western Union, they quite rightly decided that this might not be the best way forward. Finally, they found Tritone Tech - an Indian-based company willing to do the work for a more reasonable £1,000 which the boys managed to raise with a combination of paper rounds, washing cars, working for family members in offices and shops, dipping into savings and the odd fortuitously placed birthday.
“Luckily, they let us pay in installments,” says Shah who earned his share working at his uncle's Costcutter in Kent.
“It meant that both sides could trust each other but, more importantly, it meant we could afford it.”
“Their English was good and they understood everything we wanted from them, the only tough part was that was that some of the updates took a while to come back. They had quite a few holidays and the cricket World Cup in India was on at the same time which was obviously a distraction for them too."
“And when we did get the updates back,” adds Karia, “they’d fixed the bugs but managed to create a few more at the same time.”
Something that no doubt with which many developers can sympathise.
It took to the end of March 2011 for the app to come back as the boys had wanted but, while the product idea had remained the same from start to finish, something that happened in the time between made quite a significant change to their business plan.
“A representative of Great Ormond Street Hospital came to speak to us at school,” explains Khullar a the four begin to nod.
“They’re trying to build a new premises with new equipment and with family rooms so that the mothers and fathers can sleep in the same place as their children and stay the night instead of having to go home and leave them.”
Each year the John Lyons School looks to raise money for a charity of the students’ choice and the four had considered helping out with their profits from the business even before they heard the talk.
“We’d thought about giving 5 or 10 per cent before but after they came to speak to us, we knew we wanted to make it much more and decided on 50 per cent. It was a collective idea. We like what they do. It just felt like the right charity to give to,” confirmed Karia.
So far the profits from the 59p per download app have been limited with the boys receiving 36p of each sale once Apple has taken its cut; not that the four are complaining. Paraslinger nearly didn’t make it onto the App Store at all as Jamie explains.
“We had to create a bank account as it was required in distributing the app but it took around a month. The banks seemed unwilling to give us a business account because we were under 18 but we managed it in the end.
"After that, the app got rejected. We wrote on the description that we were giving half the money to charity but Apple told us that we couldn’t do that unless the app was free. So, we tried again and finally it was up on 20 April.”
And how did it make them feel to see their work up there? The one word unison from the boys pretty much said it all. Proud, was the reply.
“It already felt like a success,” said Khullar. “The fact that it was out there on the market and it wasn’t just us guys talking about something but actually doing it. That felt really good.”
Friends and family were the first to download it but it was only when the team experimented by making Paraslinger free for a day that they saw any significant downloads. The stats jumped by 2,000 in 24 hours where they’d been struggling before with the game proving a big hit in Taiwan, but the four will need figures of around double that when the game is pay-only before they can break even - something which Pocket-lint would like to help them to do by making it our App of the Day.
While admiring highly produced apps games like FIFA football and Forbidden Brakes, the team are realistic about the kind of product that have with Shah underlining its USP.
“It’s an addictive game and you have to spend a lot of time to learn how to play it properly and by doing so, then you get addicted. So it’s got a few stages. There’s around 25 people playing it each day but we expect it to stay active on people’s devices for a couple of weeks.”
Success for the four is to make their money back, as far as they're concerned, and after that they’d love to have enough to improve their game with more power-ups, two-player over Bluetooth and even a store where you can buy improvements to your slingshot for a micro payment here and there.
“We’d like to get it onto Android as well,” says Khullar tapping his HTC Desire, “and we might consider a lite, ad-funded model for that platform which should help get some more sales too.”
“Eventually, if it gets really popular,” adds Karia. “We might consider selling the app to a company. I heard that Tweetdeck was sold to Twitter for $40 million. That sounds pretty good.”
Whether or not Paraslinger makes them a fortune, all of the boys agree that they’ve got plenty out of their venture. When asked if they’d choose their business over a place at university, there was certainly some interest from all but each remains grounded as to what it’s all been about.
“I’m not saying for the rest of my life, I’m going to be developing apps," says Khullar. "I’m looking to become a doctor but it’s certainly something that might be interesring.”
“It’s a great experience to have,” adds Shah, “and it’s something that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. We’ve learned how to deal with people, how to keep a check on our business and how to get a product made from start to finish. You don’t get taught that in economics.”
Download Paraslinger for your iOS device. It's all for a good cause, be that charity or young enterprise.