Lorraine also gave me some advice which I think is really the "secret" of your success: Make a really good app.
Tangentially, I've found Twitter to be remarkably useless for marketing. For the most part on Twitter, nobody is listening. Everyone has thousands of followers but nobody is actually reading. Thanks to bit.ly's public analytics, I can see it's not just me either.
The biggest event for me on Twitter was when @glinner (Father Ted, IT Crowd, hugely influential tweeter) tweeted a recommendation: https://twitter.com/#!/Glinner/status/103123278650028032
...and that resulted in about 40 extra sales. 40.
However, my experience with Twitter is that people don't even click the link in the first place. I used to go through people's twitter feeds, people with thousands of followers, and look at the bit.ly stats for their links. It was rare to see any link clicked more than maybe 5 times. More often than not, it was precisely zero.
Unfortunately, t.co has made that game less easy.
Do you think it is specific to your market to suffer from this or is it a wider problem?
Now when I'm deciding if it's worth pushing the app to someone on Twitter, I check if they have a rational following to followers ratio.
Even when following a normal amount of people on Twitter, the sheer amount of traffic means that your link will probably get lost in the feed.
The first is this general flow of information en masse. If you're at a party or other social event, it's like the general tone of the room. Have you ever been to a shotgun wedding? Or a corporate event where a huge success is being announced? You can walk in the room and get a sense that something good or unpopular is going on, just from the atmosphere. That's the mass twitter stream.
The second is the specific, targeted communities. My colleague down the hall is huge fan of horse racing. He curates a list of handicappers, jockeys, horse trainers and owners. If an important handicapper posts something, he's literally reading it in seconds. If my friend is following a specific horse race, he pays close attention to what race fans and trainers are saying about the horses.
If you're failing to get traction from Twitter, I would argue that you're getting lost in the stream -- you're one voice among many. You need to identify and figure out how to get in front of people who matter. That means that you need to be doing something real and useful -- not periodically tweeting some pitch.
Other social networks are similar. On Linkedin, for example, some people, especially recruiters, collect thousands of people like baseball cards, then mass-spam useless PR or other nonsense. That defeats the whole purpose of "social media"... social media is powerful because I trust and listen to people with whom I have a connection. If a friend or someone whom I respect says "Hey Duff -- you need to check this out, you'll love it", I'm there.
The biggest event for me on Twitter was when @glinner.. tweeted a recommendation
Posted without comment.
I have an app that could fit into both, but went with Music. I'm curious if Education would be a better fit.
If your app is something that teenagers would want, then it should go in Music.
Overall, although your app seems great (purchased it recently), there is at least one serious and extremely obvious bug. The spelling quiz feature relies on a voice synthesizer. The British accent (haven't tested the others) version fails totally on the first word (easiest) spelling list, and the short words produced are unintelligible. It would seemingly be easy to have tested this, and I'm surprised this wasn't picked up.
I'm not picking on you, and I'm glad I purchased your app for my child. However, this bug made me wary of buying your other app.
I really love to make it better for UK people. This is small market compared to the US but as you can see in my post, small market (like France) can be profitable as well. By the way, I've also have a lot of request to use a UK voice for Montessori Crosswords and that's something I want to do as well (in this app it is a recorded voice)
What are your thoughts about EDU platforms like SmarTots? Other than expanding the reach of your app are there any sorts of features such as click analytics, reporting for parents or achievements that are appealing to you?
(Disclosure- I'm an early employee there and focus on dev support, so it's not merely an academic question!)
This is what we offer end customers (i.e. parents): reporting on how much their kids play which apps, breakdown by subject, feedback on how their children are doing (if implemented by the developer), organization of educational apps by subject and age level, and finally recommendations for subsequent app purchases.
What developers get is the following: parents who buy more apps than the average customer, a sales channel via parents looking for their next SmarTots app, usage data of their app broken down by demographic, and a free evaluation of their app by a qualified educator.
We're also offering a few more things on a beta-basis: a system for developers add achievements for children to earn and "anti-achievements" that we call areas for improvement. Parents have been very positive about this kind of reporting. We've also the option of sharing the achievements on FB, which can serve as another marketing channel for app-makers. Also in the pike is the tracking of user data. This will be useful for app-makers in much the same way as analytics are useful for website creators. If you can test what actions users are making, you'll have more data to help you refine and improve the app.
One thing I can offer is help getting the app integrated if you want to give it a try. Either way, thank you for the feedback!
Thanks especially for the marketing/promotions information. That's my biggest struggle to be honest, so any information in that area is gold for me.
My current strategy is to have an app-promotion website, with a big green link to the app store, and using adwords to bring people to that site. Below you can see a site for one of my 'coming soon' apps, do you think i'm on the right track?
These are the posts that encourage one to continue on, I strongly believe that, as an Indie Developer, you need to laser focus on a niche and do the best you can on it, sometimes it's best to have a small and concise goal instead of a really broad one. It's all about baby-steps.
I hope to finish my app soon, also in education, a category that has a lot a potential. As a parent you go to great lengths to enhance your child's education.
Although it looks like you experienced very early success, I'm sure there was a period of time where you questioned your decision to become an indie developer (or you were at least unsure what to expect). When was the moment when you realized that you really could make a sustainable living from developing these apps?
Also, what do you find most challenging in being an indie developer? Is it difficult to stay focused or motivated at times?
biggest challenge : designing innovative apps and doing the promotions (then artwork)
my family was a great help to stay motivated. My most important issue was money and being able to feed my family, but My wife told me that it was better if we didn't have a lot of income and I was happy with my jobs and stayed at home with her and the kids. She was so right. Doing something that you enjoy (and of course where there is some money) is the key to stay motivated (for me and I think for a lot of people).
So You just want that your app is visible to everybody. If, by magic, everybody was aware of my apps I would sell 100,000 units in one day I think !
The common thread I keep seeing in app developer success stories is the app being featured in NYT or on the App Store. What do you think most contributed to you being discovered and featured like you were? What can "normal" devs like me do to increase our apps' chances of getting noticed?
We will definitely be tweaking our pitch and app after reading your insight.
It would be even more interesting if we would know how much money you've spent to achieve this.
You wouldn't say to someone who is making 200k with a cushy corporate salary and ask "but what's your time worth?" - it's redundant.
Many developers make $150K.
He's able to do this while running his own business and working for himself.
I think most developers would rather take $200k running their own business over $150k working for a corporation.
This is HN after all - we know many people here are taking much less than $200k in order to build their own businesses.
Not to mention with a corporate salary, that $150k stops once you stop working. With recurring revenue from selling products, it doesn't.