My Interview For upcoming book, 'Mobile App Growth Hacks' by Serenity App Solutions
I was recently interviewed by Serenity App Solutions for research in an upcoming book titled “Mobile App Growth Hacks’. If you are interested, here is the interview
Michelle of Serenity App Solutions:
How long have you been developing apps and how did you get started?
I have 17 apps on the store currently and have been creating apps and games since iOS was still pretty new, in 2008. I originally began by creating apps that I wanted to use myself. In the beginning, the app store wasn’t so flooded and there wasn’t already ten+ apps to do everything you can think of, so it was much easier to find apps that really needed to be there but weren’t. That’s how my first (and still most successful) game, Phrase Party, got created. Me and my friends used to play Hasbro’s handheld game “Catch Phrase” all the time and it was clear that this would be a relatively simple game to re-create that would be perfect for the mobile platform. Since then I have been constantly adding cool new features like single player mode, and refining Phrase Party to build it its own identity instead of just being a copy of Hasbros game.
At the time, I was also making a little money by buying tickets from ticketmaster and selling them on ebay and stubhub. I had a pretty large inventory and kept track of it on a spreadsheet on my phone. I needed an easier way to see what I had in hand, what I had sold and what I had to ship out. To solve this problem I created an app called “SIMS”, for “seller inventory management system.” Over the last 4 years, this barebones app has evolved into “Inventory Now” and has become a fairly popular mobile inventory system that several large companies are using to replace their multi-thousand dollar legacy systems.
These two apps really helped to get me started. The one that really helped me pull away and become full time was a Dieting application that I called “PKU Tracker”. It was a very niche product that was also very unique at the time. Luckily I was able to sell that product to a company that catered to that niche and they also agreed to hire me part time to continue to develop the app on a freelance basis. This was the key factor that allowed me to quit my full time job as a lead software engineer for SRA International and move to Charleston, SC to focus on growing my mobile app business.
What do you love most about being an app developer?
The best part of being a successful app developer is the freedom. Being able to work when I want on the things I want to work on, from anywhere I want is so incredible. I am forever greatful to Apple for providing me the tools and the opportunity to do what I do now. The other best part is being able to work on building things that you use yourself or that someone you know is going to use. I enjoy all of my apps and games incredibly. It is extremely cool playing a game and picking apart what should be different and then being able to actually go and make it better.
What’s the biggest challenge you face when trying to market your app(s)?
The sad part of app development is that the market is becoming so flooded. And the problem isn’t just that there are a ton of apps and developers out there, the problem is that there are a ton of low quality apps and developers out there. During the Flappy Bird craze, it blew my mind how quickly developers pumped out their own extremely low quality clones… I mean, here is a game that was extremely simple and almost seemed intentionally bad, but it was fun. Then it gets removed and within a week there are literally thousands of the exact same game being published by everyone. But again, that isn’t the problem… the problem is that of those thousands of new games only a handful of their developers too the time to try to add anything to the game. Most of them just literally pushed out the same game but with even less polish and lower quality graphics- or even worse, the exact same graphics . I mean, if you’re going copy someone else’s ideas, at least use them to make something with high quality. That is what I tried to do when I created Zappy Duck, which is my take on Flappy Bird… I took the concepts, I refined them a bit and added my own concepts and I added polish. Unfortunately, my ad partner Revmob was having problems with the API when was publishing the game. Their API wasn’t in line with a new guideline that Apple had added and I was the first person who got rejected because of it. As a result, Zappy Duck took over a month to release after it was developed. By the time it got to market, I was just too late.
That is another sad thing about being a developer… the flops. Putting a ton of time and effort into a particular idea that never gains popularity is so, incredibly frustrating and it is unfortunately what happens in the majority of cases these days. The biggest challenge I’ve had is finding a way to market my games and tell people about them. I put about a year of time and $40K into my first and only large scale game, unFed unDead. A game that borrows some concepts from the old school Hungry Hungry Hippos game, but adds gameplay depth and incorporates Zombies. I think the final product was awesome, but no one is buying it and I have long lost hope that it may one day catch on and become popular. I wish I had some marketing guru that would come in, see that the game has potential and put together a marketing campaign in exchange for a cut. That just isn’t how anyone works though. The marketers all want their money guaranteed and up front. It is to the point that I think that the only people who are really making any consistent money these days are the people who are providing the marketing services to all of us sucker developers.
Are you currently able to make a living off app development alone?
I am one of the (relatively) few developers out there who has been able to build a business that allows me to concentrate on developing apps full time. Luckily I came into a position where my first two apps got out there early and marketed themselves, allowing me to be successful enough that all my flops haven’t done me under yet.
Is there anything you would like to see changed or done differently in the App Store?
The main thing that the app store can do a better job of is discoverability. With so many apps on the store, we need a better way to find which ones are the good ones. This is a very challenging problem and I hope that Apple will find some way to overcome it. Optionally, they might want to consider raising the standards for their apps and for new developers.
On the discoverability note, I am hoping that some sort of new social tools and apps will help to solve this problem. Many of the tools and apps out there are all paid promotions, so you can’t really trust them. I’ve been working with a team at AppSting.com and that is one of their main goals. I hope that they will continue their work and provide a bias-free social environment that can help users to discover quality apps and games that they care about.
Any advice you would give to developers who may just be starting out?
For a developer starting out, the most important thing I think you can do is to make your apps extremely high quality. Watch all of last years WWDC videos focusing on building apps for iOS7, as the cover a lot of really important design concepts that are easily missed by beginners. Make sure you think about all the details in your apps and games. If you want to help increase the chance of success for a particular app, make sure you have a marketing budget.