Wednesday, 3 April 2013

My quest to help app developers

“Don’t lose sight of why you are here”

Each day I meet app developers of every type. At GDC 2013 last week, I think every facet of the app developers’ ecosystem was represented in some way. I met corporate app developers, who only ever deal with very specific apps for certain companies and industries and have very little ownership of their product. I met 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. I also met the independent app developer, who create and own their own game and utility apps. Since the final group actually faces adoption risk and must actually manage a live app, this is the group that I will focus this post on.

The independent app developer is often driven by different motives than other people. If you ask engineers, developers – any true creators, really – what their biggest fear is, their answer would almost always be obscurity. Most true creators are motivated by the fear of obscurity and the desire for relevancy, not by the desire for money. Indeed, 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.  In short, they want their creations to solve real problems and grow in popularity as a result.

This concept drives much of the internet and indeed much of the inventing that happens today. Often, things are built simply because they needed to be used. The concept of open-source software is a result of this, as are countless inventions out in the world today.

The truly creative minds out there that are looking to create apps will openly shun the concept of making money. In their minds, it is their job to create an awesome product, release it into the wild, and feel some satisfaction knowing that people are enjoying it. They hope that it will pick up a loyal user-base who will evangelize the app, accumulate an audience, and only at that point will they figure out how to make money.  

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

At its core, these app developers want their apps to be seen and heard, and often they don’t have the marketing budget to launch a true campaign and grow in that manner. As that app grows, it is then difficult to gauge when and how to transition towards earning money –again, the truly committed creator thinks of earning money as secondary to getting people using the creation.

We created Appfuel to solve this problem. App developers can’t always pay for things with money, but they can pay for things via access to the captive audience that they have. Appfuel’s core function is to give apps something that they can trade – initially an ad space – and allows that asset to be traded for either reciprocal ad space within our network, or cash by hosting campaigns.

If there was one thing that I could have said to many of the independent app developers that I met at GDC, it would be to remember why they became developers to begin with. Many apps could truly benefit from a clear, simple, and intuitive way to grow their user base, and many apps don’t realize the asset that they have within the app itself. Many app developers that do have a decent user-base are still confused about how to maintain that audience, and also how to earn from it.

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 time the integration of actual 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. 

Andrew Boos

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