Helping App Developers 101

Last week at GDC 2013, every facet of the app developers’ ecosystem was represented in some way. All the archetypes were there:

Corporate App Developers – who only ever deal with very specific apps for certain companies and industries, and have very little ownership of their product.

Development Outsourcing Companies – who develop apps for others, but never own or manage them, and have little contact to the app after it has been completed.

The Independent App Developer (IAD) – who creates and owns their own game and utility apps. Since this group actually faces the adoption and management risks associated with live apps, this group is in dire need of, and stands to benefit the most from, a simple and  intuitive platform for distribution and monetization.


Much like engineers, developers – any true creators, really – the fear of obscurity is what keeps the IAD up at night.  The IAD is creative and motivated by the desire to be and remain relevant, but not by the desire to make money. This attitude is what has driven the uncompensated contributions to the open-source movement and sites like Wikipedia. If the phenomena is boiled down, these creators only really want to earn money if it is as a byproduct of their creation being widely used.  The IAD wants his or her creations to solve real problems and to gain popularity as a result.


The Independent App Developer (IAD)

When the IAD creates an app, they hope that it will be beholden to a loyal user-base that will evangelize it, accumulate an audience…and then they’ll start thinking about how to make money.

Unfortunately, the chances of growing an app to any meaningful scale organically are slim.  Many developers take regular jobs to supplement their income while they wait for their app revenue to reach a sustainable point.

The IAD wants their apps to be seen and heard, but often don’t have a marketing budget to initiate growth. IF that app grows, a secondary challenge arises: gauging how and when to transition to earning money.

We tested ways to solve this very  problem. App developers can’t always pay for things with money, but they can pay for things via access to their captive audience. Our big insight is that apps have something that they can trade – ad space – and we could figure out a way to leverage that asset either towards reciprocal ad space elsewhere in a cross-promotion network, or revenue for hosting paid ads. The technology needed to make this happen in an easy way has not been developed yet, and the interface and visual mechanics that exist are crude and need further refining. This is what we are setting out to work on creating at Appfuel.

Many apps could truly benefit from a clear, simple, and intuitive way to grow their user base, and I was surprised to learn that many developers wouldn’t have a go-to cross promotion solution for them to team up with their peers.


My Advice to the IAD

Stay away from the ‘pay-to-play’ app promotion agencies, and don’t listen to them when they tell you that the only way to grow is to spend huge amounts of money. If your app audience is small, don’t waste your time with hosting mobile ads directly.  Instead, look for the network that help your app grow organically, and find a way to integrate the cross-promotion ads so that it isn’t disruptive and can be gradually phased in. Finally, don’t forget why you are developing apps in the first place: to get them used and (hopefully!!) to make a living doing what you love.