Finding an app developer can be a bitch, especially for a small business owner that just wants to make life a little easier by automating a once paper trail process for mobile. Good luck trying to find an independent app developer at a low price to build an app. That’s why a company like KICKdesigns, which has a team of developers totally dedicated to building apps for small businesses, is doing so well in today’s market where mobile has become a critical part of any business or marketing strategy.

But what if you’re not in Silicon Valley, aren’t tech savvy, or don’t know of the tools available? You gotta get a little creative, as Paul Cooper has done. Cooper is the founder and CEO of PropertyPal.

PropertyPal is a company built around an app which helps property managers better document move-ins and move-outs. It’s a big market which has grown tremendously over the last five years. Membership in the National Association of Residential Property Managers has almost doubled to a record 3,400 members since about 2006.

Cooper didn’t really have his sights set on capitalizing on this growing market though. He just wanted an app to make his life easier and cut down on the number of tenants who would challenge their moving out fees for damaging his property. So he approached a couple of computer science majors at California State University, Chico who agreed to tackle his problem as a senior project. They built the app for Cooper, free, because they wanted the experience to put on their resume.

“I couldn’t believe that as soon as it was built, and I talked about it at a conference in January, my competitors in Chico asked me to sell the app to them,” laughs Cooper. He hadn’t thought of the app being an actual business itself, just a digital tool to help him. He now sells it in the App Store for $39. It’s currently used by 200 companies.

“It’s such a great idea. And [Cooper] may not even realize the value this type of app truly has to this market,” says Jason Freedman, CEO of 42floors, a simple search site for office space. “The data the app is collecting can be incredibly valuable by giving property managers the ability to create metrics that help them improve upon everything.”

Freedman just has one word of caution. “Make sure you can grow the app quick enough or someone’s going to jump in and build it faster and beat you to the punch,” he says.

That’s a struggle for Cooper, who only now, six months after the app’s launch, is finally taking the next steps to expand his reach. He’s launching a new service in about a month that meets the needs of larger property management firms and easily integrates into their already existing software, which helps them keep track of vacant and booked properties. He needs to find a third developer and can’t afford it. He has actually brought on one of the students, who recently graduated, and in fact a CSU professor from Chico to help him.

Granted, Chico is not considered to be a top school for computer science. But with all of the major universities, such Stanford, MIT, and Harvard, already blanketed with companies recruiting, Cooper has found a goldmine of young developers eager to learn and build something. So it’s not a lack of supply that is hurting his ability to expand his business quickly. It’s actually funding.

“We now realize that we will need a small amount of funding — maybe $50,000 or so — to be able to bring in another developer, maybe from even outside our area,” says Cooper.

“I just didn’t realize when I created this app, that it would become so useful for so many property managers,” he laughs. “But I’m glad it can help and I hope that Silicon Valley investors will see its value and help me hire another developer.”

[Image courtesy The Shopping Sherpa]