Friday, 4 October 2013

AppCademy in retrospect

If you follow us on Twitter, you know that some of us spent the last month in Espoo, Finland with Aalto, Microsoft and Nokia. The AppCampus acceleration program (aptly titled AppCademy) is a four-week training course sponsored by the aforementioned.

I intentionally waited until now before writing this post. Being back at the office is usually good for putting things into perspective. It is easy to get excited about all sorts of things when you are in an an isolated environment focused on one task.

As I have told many people I've talked to, we were rather skeptical about AppCademy at first. Startups are always busy and the idea of spending four weeks away from home, getting very little work done, just seemed off. And um, Helsinki.. not exactly the most interesting and exotic holiday destination for us. 

I am happy to say we were wrong. The four weeks we spent in AppCademy were useful, constructive and fun.
Working on the pitch
Let me first address the elephant in the room: Windows Phone. I doubt there are more than a handful of teams in the program who only target WP. The same probably goes for AppCampus awards (i.e. the bag of cash they give you). I do not believe the AppCampus/AppCademy people kid themselves about this. In fact, I am sure they realize that most teams will eventually go for other platforms as well. Obviously, in the program all training is centred around Windows Phone and some of the sessions (namely the technical ones) have very little relevance outside the world of WP. There are very few of those "WP-only" sessions though and most of the knowledge you gain is applicable to any platform.

AppCampus do ask you for 3 months of exclusivity, which I find reasonable. After 90 days (starting from the day you release) you are free to publish your app anywhere you like. For most apps, this is a non-issue. 

The training topics cover a wide range of subjects from branding and marketing to privacy and legal issues. Most of the instructors are established professionals who have actually worked in the industry, which is a huge plus. It only took us a few days to overcome our initial skepticism, mostly thanks to these great speakers. Naturally depending on the state of your startup, you will find some sessions more useful than the others. We found that almost all sessions were useful to us.

1-on-1 sessions are another form of instruction they use and these we found extremely good. The idea is simple, you have short sessions where you showcase your game to a professional (or two) and they give you feedback on your app. We met designers, UX experts, investors, marketing professionals etc. who all gave us valuable advice on how to develop our business or improve our game. We tried to make the most of the 1-on-1s we had. You rarely get this good a chance to get 3rd party professional advice, for free. Useful tip for those taking part in future AppCademy courses: these sessions are short (20-30 mins usually) so make sure you can explain your app and your issues in a couple of minutes so you have time to actually dig into the app.

Final day pitch. Photo: Aydin Mir Mohammadi
It is also very important to keep an open mind. It's a cliché, I know; still, it is very hard to accept criticism of your brainchild you've worked on for months even if you realize it is right on the mark. For us, this was particularly evident during the 1-on-1s with the designers. Some decisions we have made simply do not work. We are still working on making some changes we now feel are necessary for the game to really shine visually and hopefully this will show on the final product.

And the bad parts? There weren't many. After a couple weeks I did feel like ramming random objects down anyone's throat who mentioned the Nokia Imaging API. It's also exhausting. The sessions usually start around 9am and last til 2pm-4pm (some days are more relaxed so you can actually get some work done) but you are still quite removed from your usual routines. Helsinki (the AppSpace is in Espoo but you live in a minuscule hotel room in Helsinki) is a bit on the pricy side when it comes to living. There were a few subpar sessions but by no means did they ruin the whole show. 

The other teams were great and it is always fun to hear what other app developers think about your game (or app). I am sure we will stay in touch with quite a few of the developers we met and got to know during AppCademy.

I am happy we decided to accept the invitation to AppCademy. We now have a pretty good idea where to go from here, what still needs to be done and, also importantly, what are our strengths. As they say, time well spent.

EDIT (5th Oct): fixed the second paragraph, the last sentence was incomplete.

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