How to get a (good) job developing apps

One startup has made the shift from offering in-app sweepstakes to connecting talented developers with businesses.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile | 5G | Big Tech | Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read

Talk about a pivot.

When I last talked to SherLabs in March, CEO Satjot Sawhney was busy getting his TapFame product into the hands of game developers. TapFame was a sweepstakes engine that any developer could drop into a game with the aim of raising awareness and loyalty.

But after a recent chat, Sawhney said the company had changed directions yet again, this time turning TapFame into a networking business that connected developers with companies looking for talent in app design.

Sawhney had built a vast network of both brands and strong developers in his effort to push the sweepstakes idea. The brands that he worked with constantly looked for mobile developers to help them with apps, so he informally made some introductions.

When that started to take off four months ago, Sawhney pulled the plug on the sweepstakes idea and turned TapFame into a job referral service. On Friday, Sawhney told me that it had acquired MobileDeveloper.net to expand its business and rolodex of developers.

"We have a full-fledged marketplace for mobile talent," Sawhney told me. "It grew organically without a clever plan to make it happen."

The company recently crossed 500 iOS and Android developers in its stable, and has sent more than $250,000 in work to developers. The number of freelancers and revenue has each grown 25 percent month over month. It's also in talks to further expand by connecting Windows Phone developers.

The secret to TapFame's success, according to Sawhney, is the company's effort to filter out some candidates. While TapFame has drawn more interested developers, Sawhney said he is rejecting a higher percentage of applicants. Developers who want to be listed on TapFame have to show examples of past apps, and the company vets the apps for quality, errors, and how sophistication. Those that don't pass muster are booted.

Eight weeks ago, about a third of candidates got accepted, but the figure has dropped to less than 15 percent more recently, according to Sawhney.

"From our perspective, it's upfront work," he said. "Each developer we help go through the process has a long life-time value for us. Vetting them and qualifying them is more than worth it for us."

As a result, businesses such as MTV, and other venture-capital-backed operations, are eager to use TapFame. The businesses describe what they want, and TapFame's system chooses five appropriate candidates. Sawhney and his team make their recommendations and introduce the developer and business. TapFame takes 10 to 15 percent of the developer's compensation.

Developers like TapFame because it means the difference between taking an outside job for $15 an hour vs. a TapFame-found job for $100 an hour.

TapFame is the young upstart in a business that already has two players, Elance and oDesk, which both been around for a while.

TapFame is counting on Windows Phone for the next phase of growth. The company is working on a deal that would allow Microsoft to provide incentives for businesses to use Windows Phone developers, which could provide subsidies or marketing support. He sees Windows Phone ending up as a competitive No. 3 player, which is why he isn't working on BlackBerry 10.

Ultimately, Sawhney said he would like to get TapFame beyond mobile and to hook up individuals in other fields, whether its designers or writers, to big businesses, all using the company's filters to ensure quality candidates.

"We want to allow freelancers to leverage their credibility," he said.