Will Jim Powers' BeerCompass point the way to money?

As a record industry executive and owner of Minty Fresh Records, Chicago's Jim Powers has proved his creativity and eye for talent time and again. He discovered the Cowboy Junkies, was one of the first to sing the praises of Liz Phair, brought the music of the Cardigans to America, and turned Ralph Covert from an aging club rocker into a kids-music phenom.

So why is a guy like Powers dabbling in the world of iPhone apps, especially those designed to sniff out beer? It turns out that Powers, a beer connoisseur, found himself intrigued by the possibility of turning a pastime passion into a viable cash cow. And so, BeerCompass was born -- an app that locates suds and pubs anywhere on the planet.

WalletPop spoke with Powers not long after BeerCompass went public to find out what inspired his sudsy smart-phone creation, and how his detour into applications has fared financially.

WalletPop: Where did the idea for BeerCompass come from? Where were you, how did the idea come to you, and what was your first impulse once the light bulb went off?

I was talking with someone who was looking for marketing ideas for an app they were making for a festival, and I blurted out the idea of a compass dedicated to finding beer ... a "beer compass." I loved the idea and thought the compass had potential, so I made one.
It seems fairly unconventional a notion that an iPhone app could possibly fund the efforts of an independent record label, but I understand that's one of the hopes if BeerCompass hits it big. Tell us a bit about that.

Powers: My bread and butter has been running the independent music label, Minty Fresh, for years, but I've always had a few different creative pursuits going on at any given time. I get bored easily! Also, the way music sales are these days it's a good idea to diversify and find revenue in inventive ways. The app field is full of promise, people are excited about it, and anything goes. It's kind of like the Wild West out there, which is fun.

WalletPop: So now that you've been through the process, tell us what making an app is like. That is: How long from idea to app? What were some unexpected hurdles? And, what does it cost to make one?

Powers: It took about three months from initial idea to on-sale date. I needed time to find the right graphic sensibility and it took a few weeks to find a tech company that could execute the concept within the technical standards set by iTunes. Once it went to iTunes we had approval in about a month. I figure ballpark costs were around $10,000.

Jim Powers WalletPop: People see creating an app as a moneymaking bonanza, but it's not that easy. How do you make money on BeerCompass, and what's the track record on downloads so far?

Powers: We've been up for over a month and have sold a few hundred in the U.S.A. and places such as Great Britain, Sweden, France, Australia; BeerCompass works all over the world. Sales so far are without any PR campaign yet, so I'm encouraged. We are getting word out about BeerCompass in the weeks ahead with some press and marketing.

WalletPop: Now that you've done this once, would you develop an app again? And if this one is successful in the end, do you see it as a way to funnel money into what you do at Minty Fresh?

Powers: I've enjoyed the app developing experience and I'm already developing other concepts now. I wouldn't rule out the app revenues helping with Minty Fresh, perhaps as a separate division of the company, but it also may be a standalone pursuit. I'm still figuring that out.

WalletPop: How has your view of the applications market and creative process changed since you first thought up BeerCompass? Do you think we've already seen a peak, or will the apps field continue to grow? Is it saturated, or still ripe with beachfront property?

Powers: The market is saturated but I don't think app creation is anywhere near peaking yet. The iTunes app model is so inventive and the principles enabling their function are so promising that it is hard to imagine where things will go.

WalletPop: Speaking for yourself, what are you most proud of when it comes to the BeerCompass app? And do you see some updates that will improve areas you wish were better? Or do you plan to pretty much leave it as it is?

Powers: I'm very happy with how it combines fun with usefulness. A beer fan wants to know where to get a beer and BeerCompass shows them. Neat! We will have updates on bars every couple of weeks as new beer establishments come and go.

WalletPop: What are some of your favorite iPhone apps besides BeerCompass -- the ones you wish you had invented, perhaps -- and why?

Probably Ocarina by Smule. It's beautifully designed, a blast to play and artfully combines your own musical creation with an entire planet of fellow enthusiasts in real time. Wow!

WalletPop: Anything else you care to drink to?

Powers: If anyone in Greenland is reading this I'd really like to know how BeerCompass worked for you! And anyone with questions can speak to me at 773-771-7540.
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