This man's Pokémon Go chat app is so successful that it's driving him bankrupt

Jonathan Zarra knew something about Pokémon Go that most people didn’t. As a beta tester this summer, the 28-year-old freelance developer had early access to the smash hit mobile game — and as a result, he could see that it offered users no way to chat with one another inside the app. And so Zarra built GoChat, an independent app that lets Pokémon Go users leave notes for each other at in-game locations.

"This is a feature that really should be there," Zarra says. "Especially in a location-based game — this just makes sense." Within five days, Zarra’s free app is approaching 1 million users and hitting servers with 600 requests per second. It may also drive Zarra bankrupt.


GoChat, which is available for iOS and Android, was released on July 4th — a day before Pokémon Go became available. Zarra posted about GoChat on Reddit, and the app was installed 10,000 times on its first day. As Pokémon Go grew into a global phenomenon, people began downloading GoChat at much higher rates. For the past two days, it’s been a top 10 search in the App Store. As of this writing, it’s the eighth-most-downloaded iOS social networking app. "The amount of traffic that we are currently getting has been the most insane thing ever, man," says Zarra, who lives in San Diego. "People are just blowing it the fuck up."

Also blowing up: GoChat’s servers. It was impossible to register a new account for most of the morning. And even if you did manage to log in, the app frequently crashes when you try to load a message. App analytics firm Sensor Tower estimates that 7.5 million people have downloaded Pokémon Go as of Monday, which would suggest that around 10 percent of all users downloaded a third-party chat app to go along with it.

GoChat is a hit, but it isn’t generating any revenue. Zarra resisted adding advertising to the app — "I hate ads," he says — and worries that attempting to monetize the app could draw unwanted legal attention from the Pokémon Company. He said he is currently having discussions with investors to keep the app solvent. Zarra declined to say how much he has spent on GoChat to date — "I don’t want people to know how stupid I am," he says.

Zarra hired a contractor using the firm Upwork to help build the iOS app and work on the database issues. "Trying to keep it up," Abdoelrhman Eaita, the contractor, told me in a Twitter message. "It’s really sad when you see your app crashing and you [feel] helpless about it." Eaita estimated that new servers to keep the app up would cost $4,000.

Aside from a few experiments, Zarra says, he had never built a mobile app before GoChat. He says he’s happy with the results — one user messaged him to say he had met a girl using the app and had made plans to take her on a date. And Zarra will figure out a way to stay afloat — eventually. "I’m going to be able to pay my rent," he says. "First and foremost, we really need to get our servers back online."


How Pokémon took over the world in 20 years

Comments

Ads and he hates himself.

$0.99 one time fee or annual subscription and everyone hates him.

Welcome to humanity.

Maybe an in app donations tab? Place it in the bottom nav bar, with information explaining the necessity of funds to keep it up. Maybe add features like stickers as an in-app purchase?

generally no one donates if you ask for it, not nearly at the rate of subscriptions/ads

Why would people hate him for 0.99$ fee a year? Would make a lot of sense, wouldn’t it?

None the less, I think crowdfunding here is the way to go.

Yeah, those never end in tears!

Are you serious?

What are we talking about? xD 1$ a year subscriptions or crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding campaigns that have ended poorly.

Most people don’t want to pay anything for apps. Most would rather have ads. I say he puts in ads that you can pay to remove. He probably would hate that idea tho.

I think that is true, but only until you have critical mass.

Donate button. Done.

Everyone laughs at him and he still goes bankrupt.

There are a lot of people ready to donate for this kind of stuff. I bet he would get way more than enough for the Servers and maybe even live out of it until the game gets less attention.

Yep, look at twitch and patreon, lots of creators that are producing 100% free content for almost no incentives. Making it free makes sense as the barrier to entry would hurt the community size, but adding donations + premium content is how you monetize these things.

That’s different. People are throwing money at people that they kinda sorta feel they have a relationship with. No one knows this guy, putting a donate button up there isn’t going to get the same play as it would on Twitch. It would probably get enough to buy some servers but not enough to make it a worthwhile business.

You dont need to make a personal link to this person. There are soooo many people using the chat and if only 0.1% donate something, he will have enough.
Btw. There is a lot of Software, including Wikipedia and Firefox that work like this.

Firefox relies on large corporate donations to stay afloat.

Not only. And it was just an example, there are thousands of companies that live out of that donate button. I would guess WinRAR too

His problem is he doesn’t have permission to make the app using any IPs from Pokemon. If he starts claiming income from it then he may suddenly have new licensing fees that will actually bankrupt him.

he would make a shitload of money on Patreon, it is perfect for service stuff like this since it is a monthly subscription

And the app stops working. Help him stay solvent and users continue to benefit from a popular chat app that solves a legitimate problem for them.

Win-win however I see it. Or maybe some kind of patreon link? Raise funds to help cover server costs.

I wonder why it’s so expensive, he’s just processing location data and text, right? Node could handle that load with minimal hardware. He must be using sockets or something.

If he’s using something like Firebase, the number of requests could easily blow up his bill.

This is why people should learn to run their own backend. $5/month for DigitalOcean VPS

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