How My Crappy App (Created in One Weekend) Made $2,500

Shane Labs February 13, 2014 5

Last year, I made a crappy app. I banged it out in one weekend and never looked back.  I wasn’t proud of it, but it ended up making me $2.5k. Here’s how.

It all started when my girlfriend

It all started when my girlfriend at the time (now wife) mentioned that she read something in the paper about San Diego doing an “App Challenge.” She knows I know my way around a computer, so thought I might be interested in participating. Basically, our mayor wanted to inspire innovation to improve our city. He posted a few requirements, set a deadline, and announced prizes. I was shocked to learn that about $50k in prizes would be given out, ranging from $2,500 for “honorable mentions”, up to $15,000 for the “grand prize.”

At first I didn’t think much about it. San Diego is full of bright people that would jump on this; competition would be fierce. Plus I’ve never made a native “app” before, only websites. I forgot about it for a couple months.

San Diego App Challenge

San Diego sponsored a challenge to make an innovative app for the city

Then the topic came up at a work conversation. I glanced at the website again and noticed there had been no submissions yet. Of the 4 month challenge, there was only 1 month left and no one had participated so far! My assumption about fierce competition was wrong, and I now did the math on the odds game. There were 12 prizes to be given out, and not anyone to receive them! Even if I submitted the crappiest app in history, and only 11 other people submitted anything too, I would be guaranteed a nice bonus (assuming you can’t win multiple prizes, which was an incorrect assumption).

Okay, I’m in!

The odds are in my favor, right? Okay, I’m in, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. It’s going to be a crappy app, made in HTML (not native), optimized for mobile browsers. I’ll limit myself to one weekend of work, and that’s it.

So I did just that. On the Saturday 3 weeks before the deadline I cranked out an app that helps you report potholes to the city (the suburb of SD I lived in at the time was notorious for having horrendous street conditions), hell maybe I’ll actually use it myself to report a few ditches on my street. There was no API to send data to the city, so I backwards engineered their online form, and mimicked a post via CURL.

The graphics sucked, the interface was simple, and it had a few bugs – but it did the job. I had to make a video showcasing its use, so I whipped up a scenario and within 2 takes of my GoPro camera we had all we need. I stitched together a few scenes with Microsoft Movie Maker, and our video was complete Sunday night – all within a weekend.

Here’s the final product I submitted to the challenge: SD Street Doctor. Take a look if you dare, but bewarned – it’s very rudimentary (and the video is embarrassing)! I normally don’t release something unless I’m proud of it, so don’t judge too harshly.

SD Street Doctor

My submission into the contest – a simple app that reports street maintenance issues.

At the time I submitted

At the time I submitted, there were only 2 other submissions. Yes, I’m still guaranteed a prize! In fact, I was so stoked the odds were in my favor that I whipped up another simple app in another weekend (I won’t discuss that one now). I patiently waited for submissions to close, and for me to collect my winnings.

But the day before the contest closed I noticed a SURGE of submissions. Ten, twenty, forty apps within a few hours. I was watching my prize slide out of my reach! Were people finishing within the nick of time? Or were they keeping their apps hidden from others until the last minute? I didn’t matter, I was deflated. By the time the window had closed, 78 apps had been submitted.

Looking at the other apps, it was apparent many people had spent more time than I did. They were impressive! I admitted defeat and didn’t think much about it. I got an email from ChallengePost (the company that organized the contest) letting me know about the awards ceremony. It might be cool to go, but I’m not going to waste any more time on this project.

Then I got another email

Then I got another email from the office of the Mayor:

Hi Shane,

Good News! I am delighted to share with you that your app, Street Doctor, has won a prize.  Congratulations! Thank you again for participating and creating an excellent application.

Winners will be announced publicly Thursday June 28th at the Awards Ceremony.  Please keep this confidential until then.

I see that you have not RSVP’ed for the awards ceremony Thursday evening.  Will you be able to attend?  Here is the eventbrite link…

If not able to attend, is there someone you would like to designate on your behalf to accept the award?  Please let me know.


WHAT?! I won something?! I was shocked. This experience has been a roller coaster – thinking there’s no chance, then I’ll win, then no chance, back and forth, and back again. Wow, awesome!

I ended up attending the awards. I got to mingle with other very smart developers, hear a couple inspirational speeches, and even meet the mayor!

Shane and Jerry Sanders

Me with San Diego Mayor, Jerry Sanders

The weekend I spent coding and filming had paid off, and it felt good. It was a nice pat on the back, and maybe even something great to put on my resume. Here’s the press release from the Mayor’s office with the final results: Mayor Announces App Contest Results

Contest Winners

The winners of the SD Apps Challenge

Why did I win?

I considered my app crappy, why did I win?

I’ve pondered that for some time, and here are some possible answers:

  • I was a local San Diegan – a lot of other submissions were from other states and countries, perhaps they wanted someone local?
  • Since I submitted my app so much earlier, I got more exposure. Maybe they’d given me an advantage since they’d seen mine before the rest?
  • My video rocked. Most of the other videos just had a demonstration on how to use, not a real scenario of people actually utilizing the app in San Diego.
  • Maybe my app wasn’t that crappy. My standards are too high and I should stop being so critical. I made a good app, be confident.

I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer, but I was stoked it all worked out.

So what now?

I got my check for $2,500 within a couple months. And since my girlfriend was the one that inspired me to do this, I rewarded her nicely and hadn’t thought about this in over a year.

Until today.

Today I noticed a new app challenge worth participating in: App Challenge. $65,000 in prizes for an app that uses an API to help people use their service for liquor, cleaners, or restaurant deliveries. Will I be able to recreate my luck and win again? Will I be able to spend only a few hours and make something that catches attention?

The answer is probably not. Although I really do want to try, I’ve got other higher priorities. As mentioned earlier, I’m focused on my new side project AmpedSense. This is tough for me – I really want to put things on pause and try another app challenge, but I’m practicing restraint.

So the contest is up for grabs – maybe one of you will participate? You’ve got 4 months from today. Good luck if you do, and please share your experience!

I’m curious, has anyone else participated in any development contests?


  1. Jeremy Rivera February 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm - Reply


  2. Coco Jack Russel February 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    great story …congratulations on the win. your APP makes alot of sense , rather than writing a long winded letter to get things done, your app enables a quick response ! Is it easy to be an APP developer? from someone who is ok with word and excel and nothing more ? : )

    • Shane Labs February 17, 2014 at 8:05 pm - Reply

      Thanks! Have you ever made macros in Excel? If so, then programming is the same. It’s kinda like learning a new language to speak with the computer. Give it a shot!

  3. Adam Kamerer February 20, 2014 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    This was an awesome read. Congrats! I’ve always been curious about designing apps. One day I’d like to take a stab at trying to create and sell some sort of finance-minded game to teach people about paying down debt.

    • Shane Labs February 21, 2014 at 6:13 am - Reply

      Thanks, Adam! I’d love to see your finance app – debt is a crazy problem and it affects almost everyone. Let me know if you ever do!

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