Today we’re very excited to chat with Kim Maes, the brains behind Cook IT Allergy Free, a really fantastic and well-designed iPhone app that offers ‘allergy free recipes’. I caught up with Kim to ask her a little bit about what work went into developing the app, her mistakes and learnings and where things are going in the future. If you haven’t already please do take a look and her website and if you know anybody who has food allergies (and an iPhone), do pass this article on to them. You can also catch up with Kim on Twitter and Facebook, along with her party of other allergy free cookizealots.
First off, I know from reading your website the whole inspiration for learning to cook ‘allergy free food’ came from your son. Did you ever imagine when you were doing your research that you would one day be running a website and iPhone app?
Once I discovered that both my son (and then also my husband), had Celiac Disease and food allergies over 6 years ago, I knew I had to make sure that I was doing everything that I could to feel them in the healthiest way possible. I went back and got a Master’s in Nutrition and then from there spent hours in the kitchen coming up with recipes that would not only be safe for them, but that would also be extremely healthy and taste exactly like the foods they had been used to in the past.
As both my recipe collection and my confidence in allergy-friendly cooking experimenting grew, I just knew I wanted to do something to help other families going through the same experiences and struggles. I just never dreamed it would evolve into what it has. Because I was doing something that I was so passionate about, each new step was just exciting and obvious to me. The idea for my website – Cook IT Allergy Free – and the iPhone App came as I was playing with my new iPhone one day. I was looking through some different recipe apps and realized there were no apps for families that were dealing with food allergies. It was like that lightbulb moment and I just knew that that was what I was going to do.
Getting an app developed is no easy feat. What advice can you give to developers/website owners who want to get an app made? Can anyone do it? Is there anything you would do differently if you were to do it again?
I will be honest in saying that the adventure of developing an app was more involved than I initially imagined. It was a process that, before I began work on this project, knew very little about. I definitely made some mistakes along the way, but the developers that I worked with were very patient.
My biggest advice is to have a very detailed flowchart and screenshots of EXACTLY what you want your app to do and how you want it to flow. And then once you have initial versions of it you need to: test, test, test, and then test it again. Have friends test it. Have strangers test it. Get honest feedback. At first I was afraid to do that. I was embarrassed to ask for advice and I was fearful of any criticism that I might hear. But those very ideas and suggestions that others gave me, made for some of the best features of the app.
I do believe that if you have the confidence (and the patience), then anyone can do it. The process can be quite laborious and it did take a little longer than I imagined it would, but if you go into it with that open mind and with the idea that it will be a major learning curve as you go, then I do really believe that anyone can create an app. I did not do the actual coding of the app myself. I worked closely with my developers. I would design each and every screenshot and what I needed everything to do and how it needed to flow between screens. They would code it, then I would test it. If it was not right, or if was not how I imagined…then back to the drawing board we went.
The most difficult process of the entire project was making the substitution process within each recipe work. Because the main premise of the app is that it will customize any of the recipes to many food allergies, there had to be an entire formula to allow the user to trade out their allergen for a safe ingredient and then have the app correctly calculate the measurements of the new ingredient back into that particular recipe. There were many nights I felt like banging my head against the wall while we were figuring this out. There was a big celebration the day that it finally worked!
Social media has played a big role in getting your app out there. You’ve got a big Facebook following and users can share recipes on Twitter and to their friends on Facebook. Did you actively try to build up a social media following or did that come from the other PR the app picked up.
I honestly feel that my Social Media presence has played the biggest role in marketing the App. I will be honest in saying that the social media has been as much work as creating the app has been. The biggest suggestion I can make is to find a tribe of people that are in the field that would be your App’s target market. Start following their blogs. Start leaving comments. Start following them on Facebook and Twitter. Make connections with people. The more connections you can make, the more they will start to share what you are offering with their own readers and followers. If they have a product they are offering, share their information with your readers. Do reviews of other people’s apps or products. This will inspire them to hopefully do the same for you.
The social media world works most to your benefit when you are helping others so that they will do the same for you – reciprocal marketing.
I have developed some special relationships with many other people in the food allergy community because of the Social Media avenues. Those relationships have been what have helped drive sales of the app. They have done reviews, shared my information on Facebook, and tweeted about it on Twitter. Obviously, the more people that you can get to do this, the more viral it will be.
It may be time consuming, but it is essentially a perfect avenue for free marketing if you are willing to put the time in to developing these online relationships.
Your app is paid (and at the moment is on sale). Is an app enough to make a living or is it just a pipe dream for developers/entrepreneurs?
I think it depends on what the app is and if it is an idea that will be unique enough to garner some attention or if it is one that gets buried in the hundreds of thousands of apps in the iTunes store.
One of the most advantageous steps for the process of App sales is to get Apple to feature your App in the “New and Noteworthy” section and in the “What’s Hot” section of the App store. That alone will help to drive sales enormously. Once that happens, if you can keep a steady stream of sales up, it will keep your app listed a lot higher in your category.
I did not go into this with the idea that it was going to be enough to make a steady living. But, I will say that it has provided a decent income to this point. I may have been lucky in that I was making an app that was needed in the food allergy community so there has been a decent demand for it.
You just have to consider development costs versus projected possible profits. You have to be realistic with the numbers.
You’ve gone through a few versions of the app. What kind of fixes came up and how did you identify them?
There were two issues that came up that did require updates: One was because, somehow, during the building of the App in Apple’s Xcode program, I mistakenly chose an option that did not allow for users to use the App if their phones were operating on Apple’s iOS 3. So that update allowed for users operating iOS 3 or higher to access the app. The second issue was in our iPad version. There was an issue with the App operating in Landscape mode. We rectified the issue on that as well. Any other updates have been specifically to add features.
Finally, I have a few friends who have allergies so would love to try out a few of these dishes. Which of the recipes (and I know you have a lot of them) have received the best feedback? I’m looking for something that I could cook for a dinner party that’s made up of both people with and without allergies to things like dairy, nuts and soy.
Because we are able to track recipe use through our own back-end, I have been able to note the recipes that are getting the most use (or viewings).
I think a good menu for a allergy friendly dinner party using recipes from the App could be:
- Appetizer: Basil Shrimp
- Salad: Strawberry Spinach Salad
- Main Course: Roasted Chicken with Cherry Glaze
- Side Dish: Asparagus Risotto
- Dessert: Apple Crisp or Blackberry Cobbler
Also keep in mind that I will be adding about 100 new recipes in the coming months, including many for the holidays. There will be many more to choose from shortly.