From Banker to Freelance iOS Developer

Note: This is a guest post by Michael Fellows, a friend of mine who went from being a banker to a freelance iOS developer. I love his story and thought you might enjoy it, too. – Josh

I was depressed and absolutely hated my job. My coworkers were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but the job wasn’t for me.

Getting up in the morning was the worst. I’ve always been a morning person. Not anymore. Maybe if I stayed up all night then I wouldn’t have to get up in the morning.

How it Started

I’d always been interested in technology companies. Creating something millions could use on a daily basis seemed pretty cool.

I graduated college with a degree in Finance in Entrepreneurship. I didn’t hate school, but my mind was focused mostly outside of it. Senior year of college, I worked full-time as a bartender (best job ever) and experimented with different business ideas. None of them panned out.

A tutoring company with no sales and a rent-a-truck business went nowhere.

After graduating, I had a few months off before embarking on a well-paid corporate career.

That Summer I started writing down ideas for tech companies. Just writing down ideas and reading everything I could get my hands on. The goal was to learn, learn, learn.

After a few weeks I realized these ideas weren’t going to create themselves. Obviously a person with no technical background can create one of these ideas by themselves, right?

I reached out to a few developers. One company that stands out the most was a group of college kids I met with. They were pretty smart. They’re out in L.A. right now trying to make it big. They had built other sites similar to what I was after, so I knew they could get it done.

Until I saw the price tag.

I had no money. I sold the last of my valuable possessions so I could move up from Dallas to Indianapolis to make ends meet until starting my job.

Instead of moving on, I reached out to a few friends and family members to raise a few thousand dollars. Understandably, this went nowhere.

I talked to the development company about a partnership. They were very interested in the idea, but the discount still left the price tag too steep.

Book Worm

Not having the patience to wait until I saved up around $10k to move forward, I did what I do best: read.

Book after book. HTML, PHP, Javascript, Objective-C, C, C++, C#, Java. If there was a programming book within ten miles of my apartment, I read it.

At first, I went nowhere. I was having trouble printing “Hello World” in HTML. For those of you who aren’t technical, that’s not good. But I kept at it.

Day after day, night after night. When work started, I was home at 6:30pm and reading, coding, and hacking on anything until 1:00am. It was a drudge.

Some weeks I would put the books down entirely and spend more time with friends. You have to give yourself a breather.

After a few months, I had an interesting little idea list application created. I even let some friends test it. It was honestly the dumbest website ever, but it worked. Note: It would have launched too, without a cease and desist arriving on my doorstep.

Each week I got better and better. Read more and more. Eventually I picked up iOS, reading every book under the sun. During lunch I was on my iPad going through some documentation, best practices, or how-to information. I was hooked. I wanted to build an app.

After six months of the same routine, I wanted to test myself. A friend of mine, Josh Brown [Editor’s note: that’s me], forwarded an email from Notre Dame. They were hosting a Big Nerd Ranch Beginning iOS Course in July and were looking to fill a few more spots.

I jumped at the opportunity and mailed them a $2,000 check. I had no vacation scheduled at work, and definitely didn’t want to part with a couple grand, but it seemed right.

Believe it or not, I figured it out. That’s seems to be the theme. Figuring things out. During the Summer I changed positions at work and was allowed to pick any vacation week I wanted.

At the Notre Dame iOS class, I was the only non professional programmer. We went through the first day of lessons and I was struck by reality. I’m actually better at this than the professionals. Maybe they weren’t iOS professionals, but they each had decades of programming experiences. I was sneaking up on one year.

During the week two things happened. 1.) I got confidence to build iOS apps for a living. 2.) I built the Ghostile prototype at the McAlisters in South Bend.

The next few months went on at home and work. At the office I was getting through the day. On my breaks, I would squeeze in WWDC videos, programming books, and studying source code. Home was more of the same. Learning and building.

The Leap

One week in October, I was fortunate to travel back home to Dallas. My little brother and I even scheduled an Austin road trip to catch Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and his WTP book tour. As if I needed a last straw, that was it. The next Monday I was putting in my two weeks notice.

I had zero clients.

I had no idea how not ready I was.

I had very little App Store revenue.

That was okay. Sometimes you just have to figure it out. It did help that I was able to save up six months expenses to get me through a bump or two. I’m now sure you can do anything you set your mind to with six months of living expenses saved away.

How Not to Ride Off Into the Sunset

After putting in my two weeks notice, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a relief. No longer did I have to live a double life. No more feeling like I’m cheating my employer and myself. The next two weeks were easy.

Until the fourteenth day. My phone buzzed. It was a text from Mom.

“I need to talk to you now.”

My grandfather passed away. He was one of the greatest men I ever met, a mentor to many, and everyone around him loved him. He had many nephews and nieces who weren’t even blood related. They just looked at him as a father figure and called him “Uncle Mike.”

My career as a banker ended a few hours early that day, and I was on my way to Houston. It was time I didn’t plan on wasting, money I didn’t plan on spending, and a loved one I didn’t plan on losing.

My first real lesson in entrepreneurship. Things happen outside of your control and there’s often nothing you can do about it. You have to go on, stick to your vision, and improvise when necessary.

If I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, I broke my ankle playing football. Not too big of a deal if you have health insurance. Which most 23 recently unemployed solo entrepreneurs don’t.

Eventually, I began working on apps and reaching out to potential clients for web development, app development, or any kind of work that would let me rub two nickels together. When you’re confident and open with the rest of the world, good things happen. No long was I a banker who had a little tech hobby on the side. I was a software developer.

One client came. Then another. Eventually, I was booked.

Although I wasn’t the greatest developer, I could sell. I could find a way to get work. That was reassuring.

Since I started, the work hasn’t stopped. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredible people around Indianapolis and some amazing projects. When people ask “What do you do?” I now have an interesting answer. I’ve learned more than I could imagine.

It would be nice to say I was absolutely certain it was going to work. There was no certainty. There still isn’t, at least in the short-term. I can’t predict what will happen tomorrow, next week, or even next month. I can be sure that doing the right thing day-in and day-out will compound over time.

That I am certain.

If you liked this post, you can follow Michael on Twitter or check out his blog. If you’re a freelance iOS developer, his new service,, might help grow your business. You can use the promo code roadfire to get $20 off for the first month, and he offers a 30-day money back guarantee.