In 2019, I was accepted into one of the first cohorts for the Apple Entrepreneur Camp–the company’s new hands-on mentorship program for companies founded and led by women. The experience has changed my life.
Before starting at the camp, I was no newbie when it comes to app development. Since 2016, I’ve been the founder and CEO of BetterMe–a health and fitness platform with millions of downloads, users, and equally substantial annual recurring revenue. One of our apps has even reached the top five in the App Store’s Health & Fitness category. Our goals were and remain sky-high: to empower everyone to get into shape regardless of where they are today.
I’ve never sought out a mentor before, apart from getting occasional advice from former bosses or investors. But I am insatiably curious by nature, and the desire to learn from the best made me look into mentorship opportunities and eventually led me to the Apple Entrepreneur Camp.
Why you should apply to the program
Apple started its first Entrepreneur Camp in January 2019 as a way to help women succeed in building the “next generation of cutting-edge apps” and create a global community that would encourage women to realize their entrepreneurial ideas.
The camp is roughly a week long and completely free. During that time, you attend lectures to learn the intricacies of Apple’s approach to app development, meet and get inspired by its executives, and work with one of the company’s top engineers, who provides personalized advice on your strategy and roadmap.
To get this level of attention from Apple, you might think you need to be a top performer already. But the selection approach is purposefully inclusive for female founders and CEOs. The only other requirement is that you have a female developer on your team–and of course that you have an app or a functional prototype that you can demo live.
New cohorts for the Apple Entrepreneur Camp are assembled every quarter, with applications accepted on a rolling basis. You’ll be judged on your answers in the application form, your knowledge of and commitment to Apple’s platform and technologies, and the uniqueness of your app.
Although the success of BetterMe could have played a role in the selection, I wasn’t sure if Apple would consider our health and fitness platform unique. In my application, I tried to elevate the universality of our features and demonstrate how they bring us closer to the mission of making weight loss accessible to everyone, especially beginners.
Luckily, I was accepted, along with about 20 other women CEOs and app developers–and thus began an opportunity that would fundamentally change how I view my business. Here’s what I learned in just one week of the Entrepreneur Camp.
Lesson 1: Community is empowerment
My first takeaway wasn’t one I had expected: the inspiration that comes with being surrounded by other women leaders, all striving to create outstanding products. Coming from Ukraine, where gender inequality in leadership positions is strong, it was empowering to see other female CEOs in action and hear how they’ve tackled similar problems.
After the camp, the relationships have only grown stronger–you get access to the alumni forum, where you can hear from other cohorts, share your issues, and receive valuable peer-to-peer feedback.
In addition, the connections made with Apple developers and executives never go away. They might even become the most valuable mentors you’ve ever had.
Lesson 2: Relearning app development, the Apple way
Everyone in our group had built apps before, both well-known and niche. Most of us were always concerned about blitzscaling, outsmarting the competition, and shipping lots of features. It seemed like the way to win, until we learned the Apple way.
I learned that everything Apple does is in service to emotion and it’s by far the top criterion for decision-making. One of the most memorable examples we were told was Apple’s decision to change the iPhone sizes. The result is not necessarily the most ergonomic or convenient for everyone, but the one thousands of people tested and said “felt right.”
Simplicity is another one of Apple’s maxims–essential to adhere to when you’re trying to create a mass-market product. Apple maintains that to make something intuitive you need to make it simple.
Learning from Apple’s top engineers and executives who are presenting right in front of you is humbling. You see what’s going on inside what I consider to be most inspirational company in the world.
Lesson 3: From an app to a company
For Apple, the company is also a product, one that you continuously improve and iterate upon. If the company product is robust, only then you can build apps that capture the market.
As a company, Apple says it aims to be quick to admit mistakes, pivot, and reallocate resources. The earlier you can do this with your own startup, the better the results will be.
Similarly, the values of “Emotion” and “Simplicity” are expressed throughout the whole company. Apple’s campus completely supports the well-being of everyone coming there every day, and just a single look at the Apple Store can show you how beautiful simplicity can be.
Aftermath: All the changes to BetterMe
When I came back from the Apple Entrepreneur Camp, it was impossible to continue working the way I used to. Even though I documented everything I learned thoroughly, I pushed hard to implement all my new ideas while they were still fresh in my head.
We started actively cultivating the feelings of confidence and calm among our users. While most fitness apps push you to go, go, go, and hustle, we have realized that keeping our users motivated also means creating an inviting and positive space.
We’ve also made user interests a priority. When you have investors or frequently disclose your metrics, it’s tempting to come up with crafty patterns that would increase user retention or time spent in the app.
Now, we’re building a solution that will help raise user awareness for healthy and sustainable fitness goals, but at the same time build a gamified plan and get them excited about making measured progress every day.
We are also working on making the app more exciting. I realized that excitement creates not just a better experience for users, but is crucial for weight loss. Shaking off extra pounds is a tiresome and often frustrating process. Something like gamification and interactive design can motivate people to stick to their weight-loss routine and help them achieve their goals.
And that’s just the beginning. I’m still amazed at how life-changing one week of hard work at the Apple Entrepreneur Camp can be for a female CEO.
Victoria Repa is the cofounder and CEO of BetterMe.