On Developing A Notification Tool For Muslim Voluntary Deeds
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Recently I have made a mobile application targeted at the Muslim community: Sunnah Helper. Sunnah Helper is a tool to set notifications for voluntary fasting, night prayers, duha prayer, and other non-obligatory deeds. It is also possible to set notifications for obligatory daily prayers.
Additionally, Sunnah Helper provides nice home screen widgets (currently, for android devices only) to see the upcoming notifications for different deeds. Being a multilingual application, currently, Sunnah Helper supports three languages: Azeri, English, and Russian.
Sunnah Helper provides notifications for the following deeds out of the box:
- Daily Prayers
- Tahajjud Prayer (Night Prayer)
- Voluntary Fasts (Monday/Thursday, 13ʳᵈ, 14ᵗʰ, 15ᵗʰ days of Lunar month, Ashura, etc.)
- Duha Prayer
- Recitation of Surah Kahf on Fridays
Additionally, users may add (or remove existing ones) their own custom deeds (for example, morning & night duas/azkars). It is possible to assign different alarms and adhan sounds for the notifications.
One special and unique feature in Sunnah Helper is that it is possible to set the notifications relative to the prayer times:
From a business point of view, Sunnah Helper uses the AdMob platform for monetization. Users could view ads to use the premium features. Also, there is a one-time premium purchase for unlocking all the premium features and disabling ads.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
As a practicing Muslim, I do my best to fulfill the obligations imposed by my religion Islam like daily prayers, mandatory fasts, etc. But besides mandatory ones, there are voluntary deeds that are very beneficial practically, emotionally, and mentally, they bring a kind of tranquility inside and makes you a better person and more productive in work and life and bring you closer to Allah.
There are a lot of applications in the market that do notifications for obligatory prayers. But I could not find a tool where you could set up notifications for the voluntary deeds. And I know that there are millions of other Muslims around the globe that need this functionality. So I decided to make my own tool and I was very excited about that.
But having a full-time software engineering job, family, friends leave very little time for side projects. Finding out time for my project would definitely kick me out of my comfort zone. But I was very positive about this project. So I decided to do it and started the implementation in Ramadan (April-May 2020) and COVID-19 lockdown also played in my favor.
Staying at home gave me more time to spend on Sunnah Helper implementation. Within 3 months the first version of the app was ready both for Android and IOS devices. I released them to the production in August and received a lot of good feedback. I continue improving it and releasing new features.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When I started the project I already had the basic UI/UX blueprint in my head. Trying to keep it simple as much as possible the design would consist of 2 parts: Maintain the list of deeds that you want to get notified for and set notification times for them. Happily, Material design that is provided out of the box by Flutter allowed me to quickly draft and complete the main UI/UX parts that covered 90% of the functionality.
The next step of course was the branding and beautifying part. I needed some intro pages and a logo. After trying the different online resources for logo creation and intro design I could not find anything that met my requirements. So I decided to work with my Muslim designer friend who was happy to assist me with this project and make his contribution. He completed and handed me the logo and intro pages just in two weeks.
The arc in the bottom of the logo symbolizes the gates of a mosque while two vertical parallel lines symbolize takbiratul ihram (the person raising hands before the start of the prayer with Allahu Akbar).
In the intro pages, the triangular arc symbolizes the mosque and gets bigger on every next page which means that one gets closer to Allah by performing voluntary deeds.
Also, it took me some hard time to implement notification delivery and scheduling. Although flutter provides local notifications plugin to deliver notifications that work perfectly (both for Android and IOS devices) it turned out that scheduling notifications periodically is not as easy. I needed some mechanism to periodically update the notification queue in the background (both for IOS and Android).
Finally, I ended up with my own native code for Android and workmanager and flt_worker plugins for iOS. The reason was that the mentioned plugins had some bugs and issues.
One more thing to note is that I wanted my app to reach as many Muslims as possible so I decided to make Sunnah Helper multilingual and the current version supports three languages: English, Russian and Azeri. I plan to add more languages in the future.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After the first version of Sunnah Helper was ready I spent a week testing the app on different IOS and Android devices. I shared it with my Muslim friends and asked them to test as well.
After the testing process was completed I deployed Sunnah Helper in AppStore and PlayStore on the same day. Also, I quickly created a landing page with screenshots and some basic descriptions.
Before starting active promotion I created a Youtube channel as well and prepared a promo video from the intro pages that my designer friend did:
I shared the app with my friends and with their support Sunnah Helper acquired the first 100 downloads and a lot of positive feedback. The next step was to inform Muslims around the globe about Sunnah Helper. So I started to promote my app with Google Ads and Facebook with an initial total budget of 50$ per month.
Although the budget was not so high, the promotion was bringing 20-30 users daily and most of the feedback was very positive. The reason for the low budget was that I wanted to collect some feedback and identify issues and bugs before reaching more users.
Below I shared some graphs:
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Sunnah Helper was launched in August simultaneously in AppStore and PlayStore with a very passive promotion in the first 2 months. During the first month since launch Sunnah Helper received a lot of feedback. One important feedback was a request to add widgets into the app.
The reason that there were no widgets in the first version is that Flutter has no support for home screen widgets. Because I received multiple feedbacks for the widget feature I decided to pause the promotion and implement the time widget at least for the Android devices.
It took me a few days to learn and implement simple home screen widgets for Android devices. I have developed basically three widgets. Two of them were for displaying upcoming notifications and the last one for the silent mode manipulation. See the images below:
I have shared a short demo on widget usage.
I have postponed the iOS widget implementation due to the workload I have currently. Happily, Apple has recently announced the availability of Android like screen widgets in iOS, so I am very excited to learn and implement similar widgets for iOS as soon as possible.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, I have paused all the advertising and promotions. I plan to continue with iOS widget implementation from the next year and start aggressive promotion with more budget. I did not do any promotion for the IOS version of Sunnah Helper.
People’s needs are frequently changing and we as software engineers should be able to identify them and apply technology whenever possible and benefit humanity.
Additionally, I want to add Quran and nearby halal place searching features into Sunnah Helper in near future.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Flutter provides a lot of nice plugins to exploit native device features without writing native code. These plugins are usually updated frequently. I try to use the latest versions to ensure the best performance and fewer bugs. So every time before deploying new versions to the production I used to update all the plugins to the latest versions. Once after the plugins were updated before deployment I ran basic testing on my android device and deployed new releases for both platforms. And guess what? Later it turned out that there was a bug with one of the plugins on iOS devices.
So I quickly reverted to the plugin's stable version and updated Sunnah Helper in AppStore. What I learned from this, first of all, never get emotional and impatient with the deployment to the production and always do proper and thorough testing. Secondly, be careful with third-party plugins and stick with the stable version. Whenever a new version comes, wait for a while for the community feedback, then test it on your own.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Below are the tools I used for Sunnah Helper project:
Flutter - Google’s UI toolkit for building beautiful, natively compiled applications for mobile, web, and desktop from a single codebase. There are material design components right out of the box.
Google Ads - an online advertising platform by Google, where you can easily promote your mobile or web app.
Firebase AdMob - used for the monetization of mobile and web apps. Sunnah Helpers' earning estimated 4-5$ per month with 300-400 active users. Flutter provides nice plugins for AdMob integration, like this one, that is easy to use.
Facebook Ads - another nice platform for promotion.
MockUPhone - here you can generate mobile screenshots of your app.
Install Mac into VMware - if you don't have a Mac device you won't be able to deploy your app into AppStore. So one "solution" for that is to set up the macOS virtual machine in your Windows host. This is not the best way to do it, but at least it works.
Pub.dev - a repository of flutter plugins.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I was inspired by the other similar apps in the market that have millions of downloads and they benefit the Muslim community. I have decided to make my own app that would be useful for Muslims as well.
Technology and science are the tools to make life easier and make the world a better place to live. People’s needs are frequently changing and we as software engineers should be able to identify them and apply technology whenever possible and benefit humanity.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
The main point here is to know your audience and their needs or even be a member of this audience. The second important key is to analyze the market and find out what the current market does not provide for the users. Also, you should be ready to leave your comfort zone if you have a full-time software engineering job and family.
Work on any project like you are working for yourself and create a product that is beneficial for yourself in the first place as well as for the community.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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