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How I've Made $200k in the iOS Education Market (lescapadou.com)
291 points by PierreA on Oct 26, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

As a kids iOS dev, I'd also like to thank Lorraine of "Moms With Apps" for her support. "My PlayHome" & "Pocket PlayHome" are just starting to be profitable but at the start Lorraine really helped get things going and is still actively helping me get the app out there.

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.

I've found a similar thing with many forms of social media. My business site gets 500-1000 views a day with a 30-40% bounce rate. Two days ago, we got 5500 views with an 80% bounce rate -- turns out, we got featured on Reddit and were reasonably popular, but people just aren't interested in viewing your site or buying anything, they want to click, see it, be entertained, and move on.

That's another problem.

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.

My conclusion from bit.ly stats for my app's Twitter feed with 130 followers and my own behavior is that people use Twitter to read tweets, not to click on links. Especially on my iPhone but also on a laptop, I can read 10+ tweets in the time it takes me to follow and read one link, where I don't know what I'll find. So if you want people to read what you've written, put it into the tweet.

Wow that is interesting regarding Twitter. It might be more useful longer term for customer engagement though?

Do you think it is specific to your market to suffer from this or is it a wider problem?

A lot of the problem is that many people seem to treat Twitter like a game where the aim is to get the most followers. People agree to follow back if you'll follow them. Therefore you get the ridiculous situation where people have 5000 followers and are following 5000 and obviously nobody really gives a damn about what anyone is saying.

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.

I think Twitter has two key aspects.

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.

I've found Twitter to be remarkably useless for marketing

The biggest event for me on Twitter was when @glinner.. tweeted a recommendation

Posted without comment.

The app was posted to a Twitter account with 150,000 followers. A reach that large only produced 40 sales (0.027% conversion). OP is using it as an example of how ineffective Twitter is as a marketing avenue. It's not an example of cognitive dissonance.

... or indeed without reading, apparently.

Does anyone know if Education or Music is a bigger App Store category?

I have an app that could fit into both, but went with Music. I'm curious if Education would be a better fit.

The education section is typically dominated by apps for designed for the owner's children. Parents go in there looking for stuff to occupy their kids in a healthy way. Does your app fit that description? Apps that keep kids quite in the car are very valuable to parents, and they will pay for them.

If your app is something that teenagers would want, then it should go in Music.

According to this article, Music would be a better choice since there are fewer Music apps being submitted.


You can select 2 categories anyway.

Thanks Guys ! As I've said in the post, it's a pleasure for me to share after all I read on hackers news and others places. if you have questions don't hesitate to ask.

Your app looks great, but your QA may need to be stepped up a notch.

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.

Yes in word wizard the UK voice is not great as the US one. I rely on an expensive library for voice synthesis (acapela) and I can't do a lot things to fix it. However there are others UK voices available I have to check- so thanks for the feedback. I Mainly target US market and thats why the QA is better for the US but I will take care of UK in next versions

Glad to hear that. It should be noted that the UK voice will also probably be chosen by parents in other Commonwealth countries besides the UK because of the way the letter "Z" is pronounced "Zed", not "Zee".

decx, if you want to check others voice (you can do it online) you can mail me at pierre@lescapadou.com. Thanks

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)

I noticed that you're aiming a couple of your projects at kids.

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!)

xiaoma, I was really interested in smart tots sdk and really want to implemented in my app but I was really having difficulty in trying to find out what the sdk does. I created an account, downloaded the sdk, looked around and I couldn't figure out what it does or how some of the stuff will show up in my app. Because of that I didn't follow thru.

Right now the documentation is definitely lagging the features a bit.

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!

do you have contact info i can reach you at so we can take this off line

Sure. Email bill@smartots.com and we'll take care of it from there.

it's something I have to look seriously but unfortunately my time is limited. I wanted to do this myself but a framework could be interesting. I imagine also there are some opportunities for cross-marketing.

Brilliant info! I'm gradually getting to where you're at, I really hope i can do as well as you :)

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?


I really don't know. The issue is for people to find your site - so it is SEO. In addition, I've never found very good data about how people find apps (I've seen some generic data but of course I'm looking for data about parents looking for apps for their kids). Do people look for apps on google ? You should also look at your keywords on the app store (of course)

Thanks for sharing Pierre!

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.

Thanks Pierre!

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?

Yes of course there is some risks but you cannot succeed if you don't try. I just put some targets according to the money I've got in the bank. It was OK because we (family) have had enough money for more than one year without income. When my first app was mentioned in the NYT, I realized that there was a market and it was possible to do a sustainable living. I also realized that promotions was the key once you've got a good product - OK everybody know that but when you are an indie with a software engineer background it's not easy to do it because you are reluctant to do it.

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).

what kind of promotions did you do ?

please check the post. But actually everything is good to promote your app, you have to try and see the result. The difficulty in promotion is that most of the times difficult to evaluate to ROI and it is a kind of weird thing for software engineer - you don't know if it works or not (except if you've got a mention in a major blog/newspaper). But mentions in major blogs or newspaper don't appear by magic, you have to make some noise about your product.

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 !

You mention that Children's Technology Review gave you an award. Did you contact them and pitch the app or did they find the app on their own?

I just sent them a code to review the app as I did with a lot of blogs or children's technology specialist

If things had not worked out as well as they did, what was the backup plan?

go back to work as an employee or contractor !

I'd imagine 100's of sales / day, and all that money keeps your motivation levels sufficiently high.

yes once you reach a threshold it's more easy to get motivated :-) But this is the start that is the most difficult, of course

How long after release did it take you to reach those 100-200-500 sales per day? I've had some moderate success with an Android app, but nowhere near 200k. :)

Let's say that for me it was profitable last January and I began to work on iOS in March 2010. Of course it really depends on what you need. You can check the figures in the post to see details.

Thanks Pierre, great stuff!

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?

Journalist in big blog or newspaper cannot be reached directly (I think they should receive hundred of mails everyday!). So you need to have a nice app and make some noise and perhaps they will hear about it. I was very lucky for my first app (check the previous post on my blog), but for the second it was easier because people knew about my apps already (it was through Children's Technology Review that I've got an article for Word Wizard) For the App Store, it is still a mystery but of course you need a great app and with great artwork (I noticed that all the featured app have georgous artwork).

Thanks Pierre for sharing your story. It proves that solo entrepreneurs can indeed succeed, as can bootstrapping! The insights on how you broke down your time were very valuable! You definitely serve as an inspiration to anyone look to that same.

Thanks for sharing your figures, it's always great to see indie developers succeed. I'm constantly surprised by how many hidden opportunities there still are in the iOS market - you just have to be creative and produce really polished stuff.

Great info. Thanks for taking the time to post all this information in detail and to provide some background. It's very helpful to those of us trying to make a living in this market to see what works and what doesn't work.

Thank you for sharing your success... It is an insparation for a lot of us.

It's interesting to see some concrete data about the size of the educational market for iOS - and I only see this growing in the future.

I love the fact that you worked with your wife and kids when developing and perfecting the apps. Congratulations on your success! :)

actualy, it was great way to be motivated ! I always look for ways to do things with my kids that they love and I love, and I also thought it was a great way to show them what is "working"

Damn I really should have stuck with the education iOS market. Was in the top ten for quite a while when the app store first launched and was making good money, just could only ever manage to keep an app up in the rankings for a few months. Focused on the physical product side instead of the mobile app side... Wow that was a mistake...

Very interesting article. We launched (are in the process of updating the website) a kids educational app as well -- Alphabet Fruits which can be found at http://www.apps4tots.com

We will definitely be tweaking our pitch and app after reading your insight.

I bought Word Wizard a few months ago for my 2 year old and he absolutely loves it.

Awesome Pierre! Thanks for sharing with us and giving back to the community!

way to go, pierre! if anyone is interested in the analytics he used, here's a shameless plug: http://www.appfigures.com

Hi, Just wondering, with appfigures, do i need to include a library in my app so that it'll send data to their servers? If not, it sounds pretty neat, and i'm definitely interested.

Great post, thanks for sharing and congrats on the success!

Very impressive, fantastic breakdown and a great post. Congratulations on your success and best wishes in the future!

Wow, very cool to see a post from you top-ranking here :-) Hope to see you at the next Open Coffee Sophia :-).


It would be even more interesting if we would know how much money you've spent to achieve this.

I just worked hard (and time is money!) + some money for hardware and some Press Release and ads (about $2500 I think). I've done everything myself so far. I will add this to the post, thanks the comment

Did you notice if any adverts affected your sales? I'm starting to think about advertising but am doubtful if any sites are really worth it.

What avenue(s) did you use to distribute your press release / present your ads? It sounds like it was a successful campaign.

PRmac.com (you have to do it if you've got an app and it's cheap) and 3 times I used prweb.com which is much more expensive (and there is a lot of discussion to know if it is profitable but it is more professional). For the ads I went to theiphonemom.com and bestkidsapps.com. Honestly I don't know if the ROI is enough for ads on these sites - I've stopped advertising there but I looking for new place (or will come back to these places) to put ads because I have to

Good info. Thanks!

Your time is not free is it?

I don't really understand comments like this. No, his time is not free, but his 'salary' is the 200k he made while doing 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.

$200K if you count all the benefits, insurance, and tax reductions, $150K base on W2 is equivalent to bare $200K.

Many developers make $150K.

Indeed. So what?

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.

what do you mean exactly ? I just wanted to say that it was an investment because I did not work as a contractor or employee while creating apps. But in a sense, I could estimate the cost because for the first 8 months I was not profitable and have to use some money I've have in the bank.

Never tried creating any applications for iOS, It is a very good idea working some similar idea, hope it works for me this time.

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