Leonard Mehlig is young, studied – and is already a successful entrepreneur. He has his app “Structured” to thank for that. And a lot of luck.

Millions of people download apps onto their smartphones every day. One of them is the organization tool “Structured”. But behind it is not a big app manufacturer – but the Berlin student Leonard Mehlig. As a particularly promising developer, he has already been invited by Apple to the WWDC in-house exhibition and, together with 200 other German developers, has been funded through the Apple Foundations program. In the “GrĂ¼nder:innen” program, he will be highlighted as a particularly promising talent on June 29 in the App Store along with eight other apps from other notable developers. We spoke to him about the secret of his success, why he continued to work despite a six-figure income and how he imagines the future.

Leonard, two million people have now downloaded your Structured app. How do you explain your success?

Anyway, I’ve never had that one boost that a Tiktok or Instagram video from a big influencer triggers. My theory is that the word daily planner just hadn’t been used before, so in the end I was just very lucky. I was looking for something like “Structured” exactly, an app that combines to-do list and calendar and shows the tasks in list form. But there wasn’t. And because I was one of the few who used the word daily planner in the app title, which is very important for the search function in the App Store, many others who were looking for it came across “Structured”.

But that doesn’t add up to two million downloads.

An important factor is of course that the hurdle is very low. The app is free, there is no expensive subscription, just a one-time activation of the professional functions. This helps so that people are willing to just try the app. I was then quickly ranked high in the App Store in Germany and Great Britain and then a kind of snowball effect developed. Today, 400,000 people around the world use the app every month, and 150,000 tasks are created with it every day. That makes me proud.

How did you come to develop an app in the first place?

As I said, I was looking for an app to organize my studies. I’m usually not that structured and had seen how other students created their tasks in lists and wanted to see if there was an app for that, I wanted to be able to enter tasks in the calendar and tick them off. But I didn’t find any that matched my expectations. Since I had previous experience with programming and developing apps, I decided to build them myself. And then it was just another step to release them too.

“That was really exciting”

You make that sound very easy. Mainly because you run “Structured” completely on your own.

There are apps that do that. As a hobby developer, I couldn’t develop a top game on my own. With such a small app, however, it is more manageable. I then looked at other apps, how they are structured and based myself on that. Also, like I said, I had experience. I’ve been to Apple’s developer fair WWDC three times since 2015 and worked in development for the yoga app Asana Rebels for a long time and for the graphics program Vectornator until about a month ago.

2015? You must have been very young then.

That was the first big trip alone. When I was 17, I suddenly found myself in California among all the developers. That was mighty exciting.

How do you get to a fair like this so early?

I had programmed before, I had an iPod Touch and found it exciting how the apps were created. I then tried it out with the help of a book and tutorial videos and also did school internships at companies where I could learn programming. I first heard about the trade fair when I was 16, but by then it was too late to apply. I then worked through the night to develop apps that I can submit as an application. And then the next year it worked. That was a huge motivational boost. After that I was there twice more, without Abistress and Corona it would probably have been even more often.

In addition to the WWDC, Apple has now also invited you to the App Store Foundation program, which supports young founders. How would you rate the support from the corporation and the App Store?

This is totally helpful for me. This gives me direct contacts who can help me with the development, and the fact that Apple now has an extra feature gives the app a powerful boost. Without the App Store, “Structured” would certainly not be available in 150 different countries.

For some big developers, Apple’s fees — 15 percent of revenue for companies under $1 million in revenue and 30 percent for those earning more — are highly controversial.

I can understand that. But for me it’s worth it. Especially on the financial side. I don’t have to deal with customer or credit card details, I get a statement once a year that I can submit to my tax advisor. Otherwise I would have to employ half a department. But I also understand why this is a big cut for larger companies.

But you don’t have to pay the full fee yet?

No, I’m not there yet. I’ve made about $750,000 since adding paid pro features in late 2019. After deducting Apple’s fees.

“I want to be more flexible”

Didn’t you just say that you had a part-time job until recently? You didn’t need that anymore.

That’s true, it was often difficult in terms of time. But I always enjoyed working there, felt comfortable in the team and learned a lot. It is something completely different whether you are pondering your app alone or working hard for an employer and exchanging ideas with colleagues. But now I wanted to have a little more time and be more flexible and travel in the near future.

You are in the final phase of your studies, is it your plan to make “Structured” your main job afterwards?

It will definitely be in the near future. I still have many ideas and suggestions from my user community that I would like to implement. That’ll keep me busy for a while. And I can live with that too. In the future, however, I could also imagine bringing some employees on board and tackling other projects. But so far I see no need for it. And as long as I’m only responsible for myself, I have more freedom.