Picture the average app developer and you’ll probably imagine a Mark Zuckerberg archetype — a young, male computer wiz, eager to disrupt whatever. Judging by the prevailing demographics of Silicon Valley, you’re onto something.
But widen the aperture beyond the Bay Area and a different picture emerges. The $26 billion app economy has spawned a new generation of app makers who don’t have a lick of coding experience, but can picture in their heads exactly how their finished product should look and feel.
TIME spoke with six such app makers whose coding skills ranged from “none” to “completely blind.” All agreed that translating their vision into functioning code wasn’t a significant hurdle to getting in the app store. New app building tools have converted chunks of hand-written code into prefabricated building blocks. Coders themselves have become a global commodity, ready to work on a temporary contract at a moment’s notice. As a result, the average cost to build an app has plummeted to as little as $6,400, according to a recent survey by Appolicious.
In other words, building apps is the easy part. Gaining users, on the other hand, is no walk in the park. Less than .01% of app makers will break even by 2018, Gartner projects. Only app makers who maintain a relentless focus on end users have a shot at upending established industries. Thirteen-year-old entrepreneur Isabella Mandich likens the tumult to the Industrial Revolution.
“I don’t think we notice the revolution while it’s happening,” she says. But some kind of revolution is here, she suspects, and it’s increasingly open to anyone with a great idea and the drive to see it through.