Lexody has had an iPhone app finished for months, but Apple won’t allow it on the app store. Why? They won’t let any app on their app store that won’t give them 30% of their revenue.
I’ve been hesitant about writing this post because calling out Apple as a bully and thief never goes over well. This post will also shine light on how hard it is for small, bootstrapped startups to compete with big established companies.
I’ll start by saying, I created Lexody because I love languages and my dream life is to travel and meet people and immerse into every language on this earth. I did not start Lexody as a get-rich-quick scheme, or to become a trillionaire (but it wouldn’t be a bad side effect). I looked for investors for a year, and even though I had users, and even users who pay for the product, Lexody was not seen as a ‘good investment’. If you’re an investor, you’re rich, and you can hire a private tutor to learn a language – most people just didn’t understand what Lexody is doing. Additionally, I’m a female, I’m a solo founder, and I have a B2C product – 3 things investors see as a terrible investment.
This did not stop me though – I decided I’m going to bootstrap this company together and do it myself without any money. Lexody has thousands of active users, but 90% of people never pay for a freemium product. Most people want everything for free, which is fine, but it means I work every day to provide a free platform in the hopes that 1 out of every 100 new signups will pay. Lexody does not sell user data or fill the website with ads. We don’t make millions – don’t be fooled by the nice design.
When I first started Lexody, I taught myself to program websites just to build this platform. First I learned how to build a web app, and learned Ruby on Rails, a common programming language. Then, people started requesting a mobile app, so I learned React Native and Node.js. Programming languages are like learning spoken languages – there are similarities, but you definitely have to put in the time and practice to learn and become good at each language.
There are 2 major smart phone operating systems in the market – Android and iOS. Each of these are built on a different programming language. There is a company called Expo that allows you to build both Android and iPhone apps at the same time, with 1 language – React Native. This means I can write one line of code, and it works for both apps. Now, realize I also still have a different project to maintain, which is for the web app (the website). If I want to make a change, I have to code it twice – in one language for the website, and in another language for the mobile app. It took me a year to rebuild everything Lexody has on the website, for the mobile app.
The only thing I can’t build in the app is payments for iOS. Why? They require all payments to use their payment processor, In App Purchases, which requires separating the Android and iOS code bases, and now I would be managing THREE projects. That means if I want to change something, even something simple, like the color of a button, I have make that change in 3 different projects, coding it 3 different times. Additionally, it is a new programming language I have to learn.
For perspective, Google has GooglePay, but they do not require you use it in their apps. Apple on the other hand, will reject your app from their app store, and completely remove it if you don’t use their processor IAP (In App Purchases). Additionally, they will not allow you to use any other payment processor in addition to theirs. Meaning, even if I added IAP, they will still remove Lexody’s app if I try to use Stripe, PayPal, or any other notable online payment processors. I tried to submit the app without ANY payments, and they still rejected it, saying that if users can upgrade on the web app or Android app, I have to provide IAP in the iOS app for users in the iPhone app. I’m not allowed to publish the app at all unless they have a way to take 30% of all payments!
It’s a monopoly. They are a bully. How do you become a trillion dollar company? You take 30% of every other company’s hard earned revenue.
Spotify made a great video explaining this monopoly, and predatory practice.
Now you’re asking… why don’t you stop complaining and just comply and use their processor? Sure, they take 30%, but you’d make so much more money because you’d get more users. Yes, and no. Like I mentioned before, most users will never pay a dollar for anything – people expect everything for free. Lexody might have more users, but now all bugs, feature updates, and product improvements will take twice as long to code, since I have to write code for everything THREE times now. Additionally, since Swift (iOS’s programming language) is not my specialty, this will take me a lot longer to build – like several months. I have decided I’d rather dedicate that time to improving search and matching features, creating interactive games to play on your Lex, and launching into international markets.
It’s disappointing to have worked for a year on an app, just to be rejected, especially because users reach out every day asking when the iOS app will be available. It’s even more disappointing to not have a big enough voice to make a difference. For now, Lexody’s app will only be available through TestFlight, which is an app Apple provides to download beta apps. You can install it following this link on your iPhone. If you’re an Android user, you can find the app in the Google Play store.
CEO of Lexody