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Trip Planner for Caltrain [Apple Turnover #1]

Trip Planner for Caltrain [Apple Turnover #1]
By Alexander Greene • Issue #1 • View online
Hello Readers, thanks for tuning into Apple Turnover. Are you an iOS/Mac app developer or entrepreneur interested in acquiring apps and using your skills to make them even better?
Each issue, I’ll be reviewing one or more app investment opportunities sourced from public marketplaces, and private conversations. I won’t just be analyzing financials. As a developer & designer myself, I’ll review strengths and weaknesses of each opportunity from technical, design, and product perspectives, along with ideas for improvement.
Join me!

Issue #1
There are two marketplaces I check at least once each day for deals. One of them is Flippa. It’s full of terrible deals and vaporware, but it is still the biggest marketplace for online businesses, and that means it’s also the path of least resistance for someone who needs to let go of their project.
And when that happens, it’s possible to find a high quality app. This week, we’ll be taking a look at Trip Planner for Caltrain.
What is it?
Trip Planner for Caltrain is an iOS app that displays times and schedules for the Caltrain public transportation route. For those not familiar, Caltrain is an above-ground train that runs from San Francisco, CA to San Jose, CA (and a bit beyond that).
Why is it being turned over?
Due to COVID, the Caltrain system is not seeing much use, with daily ridership down from 65k to under 5k.
The seller has also noted that they have turned their attention to new projects.
Overview
Listed on: Flippa Auction
Asking Price: $4000 to Buy It Now
Recurring Expenses: $75 / month
What I like about this app:
Dedicated fans. It’s been in the App Store for 5 years. That’s a long time when we’re talking about apps. It has hundreds of 5 star reviews, and ranks #3 in the App Store for the search term “Caltrain”, behind Caltrain’s official app and one other competitor. There are people who rely on this app every day. When Caltrain ridership returns, the riders who liked this app will seek it out specifically, among competitors.
Well designed. I used to ride Caltrain every day and this was the app I used. Its design is simple and uncomplicated. It stands out among competitors and is very Apple-esque.
Clear target market. You know exactly who your customers will be, and any marketing/outreach will be easy to focus.
Two in one. The seller is also including a similar app for BART, another public transportation system in the Bay Area. This app is similarly well designed, but has a lower current rating in the App Store, suggesting it may need more improvements and maintenance. Nevertheless, it’s included in the sale.
What I don’t like about this app:
The biggest red flag with this app is that it’s an asset sale, not an app transfer or account takeover. Due to Apple’s Small Business Program qualifications, developers in the program will forfeit membership if they transfer an app. So someone who purchases this app will receive the code, assets, etc and have to resubmit it to Apple under their account. That means the reviews, ratings, rankings that Trip Planner for Caltrain has amassed will not be included, and existing users who paid for an upgrade will be disappointed.
Silver Lining: Caltrain ridership will not have returned before the owner sunsets the existing app. That means you’ll be up and running well before ridership returns and you won’t run into the scenario where a dedicated user searches for an alternative app. In addition, the owner would agree to notifying existing users of the new app, in a final update.
There’s a backend, and involves Firebase and a Python script that scrapes data.
Updates must be timely. Based on Version history, it seems that when certain changes to the Caltrain schedule are made, the app must be updated. This may be only for massive schedule changes, like the ones cause by COVID, and the backend script may be able to handle minor schedule changes.
Who should acquire this?
This is not something to get into if you’re looking for a passive investment. It’s a project, and there will be some time commitment involved in getting it back onto the App Store, understanding the schedule updating routine, and improving the monetization.
This does sound like a fantastic opportunity for someone who:
  • is a Caltrain rider, or knows several Caltrain riders. Using this app yourself will help you detect issues before your customers do, pick up on pain points, and actually riding Caltrain will allow you to talk to potential customers every day. I can’t think of an easier way to reach your target market.
  • Wants a project that already has product-market-fit and a high chance of generating revenue. If you make improvements and relaunch, you can expect some level of interest without any marketing effort.
  • Has some Python knowledge. While the backend is only Firebase, there’s a Python script involved for collecting schedule information. You should be knowledgeable enough to make changes quickly.
  • Has time to spare. I would budget time in your schedule to maintain this app.
My Recommendations
If I met the above criteria, I would purchase this app with the intent of focusing on Trip Planner for Caltrain specifically, and not turning to the included BART app until Trip Planner is best-in-class. Either that, or hand off the BART app to a friend/partner who will go in on this investment with you.
Considering the expenses are $75/ month (not including the annual Apple Developer fee), no revenue of any kind, the app is non-transferrable, and is not a passive-investment, I would offer somewhere between $1000-$2500. That’s mostly based the high quality design, existing schedule scraping scripts, and the value of the existing users who would seek out the new app.
From there, there are two strategies I would consider as the new owner of the app:
Strategy #1: Keep it going.
There are people who love this app among many competitors. Keep it the same, make minor improvements, and charge a small fee of a couple bucks per year. The minor improvements I would make are:
A Make it easier for a rider to give feedback. The negative reviews in the App Store are from riders upset about incorrect data/times in the app. They felt the first place to go was the App Store, in order to get the developers attention. There’s a button in settings for a user to email the developer with feedback, but maybe that isn’t enough. I would make it easy for a rider to mark a specific time/schedule in the app as incorrect, and would remove the need for you to ask the user more info about what data was incorrect, which is what the current owner seems to have to do, based on App Store reviews.
Add Widgets. People love widgets, especially for apps that are checked frequently. The existing App Store screenshots stand out from competitors, and having widgets in there somehow would make them standout even more.
Strategy #2: Make it best in class.
The amount you can charge annually in its current state is limited, because a user has a lot of options for alternatives that are providing basically the same data. What this app does have going for it is that it’s a friendlier, cleaner design that’s a bit easier on the eyes. I think there’s an opportunity to charge a significant monthly/annual premium, if a few selling points are added, in addition to the ones mentioned in strategy #1.
Provide the absolute BEST Caltrain data. Better than from Caltrain itself. Caltrain has frequent delays, and sometimes those delays are significant. You’re sitting there waiting, watching the time board for an update, but nothing’s coming and nobody else around you knows what’s going on. Sometimes I would turn to Twitter, to see if others on the train are tweeting updates about where it currently is at, or if they’ve heard anything from the conductor.
To do this, you’ll need to crowdsource information from users. If you’ve already made it easier for a rider to give feedback, you’ve already started collecting some information that you didn’t have before. Now make it even easier, and make the diversity of information greater. Let riders tell you when there’s a health emergency, when there’s criminal activity, or a mechanical failure. Each of these things causes big delays. If you can validate this in someway, and send out a notification to other riders, that’s big. The rider who is now privy to this information has a leg up and can make decisions earlier about whether or not to change their travel plans. That’s a lot of time they could save, and when they tell the rest of the train car, someone’s going to ask them how they knew, and they’re going to mention your app.
Help riders plan which train to take. Take into account where the rider is located, and how long it would take them to get to their nearest Caltrain station, so you’re showing them which trains are feasible for them to take.
I think if you can accomplish the above, it’s not unreasonable to ask a rider to pay $30 or more per year for an upgraded version. On the low end, I would say $7, and on the high I end I would say $50. That’s a big range, but the point is that there’s an opportunity to solve a significant pain point, and a lot of competitors are not focusing/charging accordingly.
Another thing to consider: If you have the best data, your market expands beyond riders. Consider all of the Uber/Lyft/Taxi drivers that would want to pay to know when there’s an unexpected delay in Caltrain service. They can cut down on the time they spend waiting for trains full of potential passengers to arrive, and instead meet the customers where they’re stuck and are more open to hiring a ride instead.
Was this helpful? Was it interesting? Please reach out and let me know, and thank you for reading!
Alex
Did you enjoy this issue?
Alexander Greene

Hello Readers, thanks for tuning into Apple Turnover. Are you an iOS/Mac app developer or entrepreneur interested in acquiring apps?
Each issue, I'll be reviewing a selection of app investment opportunities sourced from public marketplaces, and private conversations. I won't just be analyzing financials. As a developer & designer myself, I'll review strengths and weaknesses of each opportunity from technical and design perspectives.

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