He Made Seven Apps in Five Years

Lin Junjie (CS’10) turned his childhood hobby of software development into a career — a move that led him to the first Apple Design Award win in Southeast Asia.

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For someone without formal training in programming and design, Lin Junjie (CS'10) has been prolific in this field of work. Over the past five years, he has created seven apps.

While his first five products, mostly mobile apps that simplify everyday tasks like sending emails and minimizing data usage, yielded mixed reviews, his latest venture has secured international attention.

Lin and his business partner, Muh Hong Cheng, got their big break in June, when their Singapore-based company, Clean Shaven Apps, picked up an Apple Design Award for their  travel currency converter app, Elk. Not only was it the first time a Singapore-based developer won the ADA, but it was also the first for Southeast Asia.

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Launched in April, Elk — available on the Apple Watch and iPhone — allows users to convert between their home currency and six others, and personalise live rates tables as their wallpaper.

“It’s surreal that a modest team of two, working out of a study room in a Housing Board flat, can be recognised at the highest level alongside top developers and designers from the United States and Europe,” said Lin.

Lin has always enjoyed the creative process. As a boy whose parents refused to buy him board games for fear of encouraging materialism, Lin crafted his own with paper, while his friends toyed with the actual ones.

“You need very little things to start out. Just start small. You don’t have to dive right in there.”

Lin Junjie
Full-time Software Developer

In 1997, at age 11, Lin started devoting his time to designing computer programmes. “To most people, computers were complex and intimidating machines,” Lin, 32, recalled. But he often used it to play games, sparing little thought to the machine’s capabilities.

The idea of making a computer programme was later planted in his mind by a classmate who had prior exposure to programming.

Lin ventured into computer programming with QBasic — a free programming software that was pre-installed in his computer. Since Internet resources were limited in the 1990s, he could only do his research by reading up on library books.

Designing computer programmes then became a hobby for Lin, who confessed that making a business out of it was “accidental”.

As an undergraduate, Lin had always been an aspiring journalist until he heard about the stressful newsroom life from his peers who interned there. That changed his mind, driving him to take up an internship in photography — a hobby he discovered while he was in junior college. After graduation, he juggled teaching photography during the weekends at Phocus, the photography school he helped set up in 2009, while exploring his passion for software development on weekdays.

As Lin devoted more time refining his computer programmes, he eventually left Phocus for good in 2013. His Phocus business partner continues to run it today.

A personal project Lin embarked on in 2010 was the Due reminder app, the first app he developed.

“When I started, I never imagined that I could make a living from developing apps. I just wanted to relive my childhood hobby.”

Lin’s brainchild was recognised by influential tech blogger, John Gruber — who owns daringfireball.net, which reviews Apple products and discusses consumer tech issues.
 

“When I started,
I never imagined that I could make a living from developing apps.
I just wanted to relive my childhood hobby.”

Lin Junjie
Full-time Software Developer

But what began as a hobby led to Lin speaking at a local Apple event about Due’s technologies.  That was where he met his future business partner, a full-time app developer, and formed Clean Shaven Apps in 2012.

As an independent software developer, he wears many hats. “We need to design interfaces and pitch the app to the press and reviewers when everything is done. We would also need to shoot promotional videos for the app,” Lin shared. “All these are areas I learnt from WKWSCI which came in handy.”

Since Lin’s apps do not have in-app advertisements, his income comes mainly from user downloads and premium feature purchases. However, he said many are not prepared to pay for such features because popular apps like Facebook and Twitter are free.

“They don’t think twice about spending money on a Starbucks drink that lasts them less than an hour, but they have second thoughts about purchasing a $0.99 app from the App Store.”

But Lin remains unfazed.

Staying true to his mantra of app making — simplifying everyday tasks — Lin, a vegetarian, hopes to design an app to help travellers find suitable food easily while overseas. He plans to start developing one for Singapore first. While he acknowledges the existence of similar websites, he feels that they are not user-friendly, especially for foreigners in an unfamiliar environment.

Lin’s advice for WKWSCI juniors aspiring to follow in his footsteps is to take baby steps.

“You need very little things to start out. Just start small. You don’t have to dive right in there,” said Lin.  

 

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