I tell myself these same things sometimes, but then I have to check myself - it is actually easier to make way more money on an app these days than ever before. What is bigger is the risk proposition, which is why people tell themselves that success is entirely about luck - if your own skill doesn't matter, there's no reason to try, and if you try and don't succeed it isn't your fault.
This is a very real trap and I think in the reddit age (where if you aren't a cynic by 15 you're behind the curve) it is a mental virus. The world still rewards value, even if it takes some time. The people clamoring that it doesn't are doing so because they want to believe that it isn't their fault they didn't succeed.
You need to be willing to emotionally and mentally invest yourself in something with a reasonable chance of failure or you will never, ever succeed. The people that you see who you are smarter than that have succeeded haven't gotten there because of luck - they've gotten there because they tried. Luck just helped.
Those who succeed in such a scenario are often insensitive to the unlikelihood of their success - so are those who fail.
But it is very much possible to make a money selling apps. Just identify a market that you can serve, then make a good app, then advertise it effectively. Profit!
However, it's not easy to become a billionaire with your app; for that you need lots of luck among other things.
I think the comparison with acting is actually pretty good. There are a lot of people who make money acting. It's not that difficult. You need a bit of talent and a lot of commitment, but I happen to know more than one person who managed to become professional actors.
It is of course unlikely to become a world famous super-rich actor; but making a reasonable living from acting is absolutely achievable.
> It's not that difficult...
> I happen to know more than one...
> ...absolutely achievable.
I admire your optimism, but have you personally tried and succeeded at these things you claim are so easy?
They think it's sometimes easy to make money. The truth is that it is always hard to make money, and always will be. To see why, we can reverse it in our heads: do you think carefully about how you spend your money? Me too; and so does everyone else. That's the hump a product or service needs to get over before it can make much money. And it's true 100% of the time.
When a product or service looks like an easy way to make money, what's really happening is that it's a great product or service, so it gets over the hump more easily.
Another big misconception is that they think that ideas make money. They say, "there's already a great time-tracking app in the App Store," and think, "so it's not an idea worth pursuing, because it already succeeded."
The reality is that execution and operations are what make money--which means that many businesses executing on the same idea can all make money. How many dry cleaners are there in the U.S.? How many pen manufacturers? How many car companies? How many Mexican restaurants? Or car washes?
It's extremely rare that a concept is totally dominated by one large company. But because it is rare, those stories are endlessly told and retold within the culture. So if people are not thinking carefully, they can come to (paradoxically) perceive those rare types of companies to be the norm.
Here's a fun exercise: pull up the list of the Fortune 500 companies and see how many names you recognize. These are all huge businesses, but most people will not even recognize half of them. It gives you a sense that there is a big difference between being a famous business, and being a successful business.
The good news is that:
a) Persistence and hard work will usually pay off in the long run (assuming your product does indeed provide some sort of value)
b) There will always be new vacuums. If keep you a close watch on developing trends you might be able to climb on the tree when it's still young and sit back while it grows, instead of spending your resources building giant ladders...
You might recognize the power distribution curve, as it's the same as the graph of the long tail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_law#mediaviewer/File:Long...
What happens is that you have a handful of people who make a LOT of money, a small few who do OK, and the vast, vast majority starve. Since our economy is increasingly becoming an online, globally networked one, these effects are becoming stronger, and are a contributor to economic inequality.
Power Law phenomenon on the net has been observed for ages. Here's a post from 2003 where Kottke notes the distribution in the popularity of blogs on Technorati: http://kottke.org/03/02/weblogs-and-power-laws
I imagine the curve fits similarly for things like app store rankings, Reddit and Hacker News post popularities, top Steam sellers, Amazon rankings, etc.
> The world still rewards value, even if it takes some time. The people clamoring that it doesn't are doing so because they want to believe that it isn't their fault they didn't succeed.
The funny thing is, this is not entirely true. Quality is only important up to a certain threshold, after which you're at the mercy of what are essentially chaotic network effects early in the lifecycle of your product.
Salgankik, Dodds, and Watts performed an experiment that begins to provide
some empirical support for this intuition . They created a music download site,
populated with 48 obscure songs of varying quality written by actual performing groups.
Visitors to the site were presented with a list of the songs and given the opportunity to
listen to them. Each visitor was also shown a table listing the current “download count” for
each song — the number of times it had been downloaded from the site thus far. At the end
of a session, the visitor was given the opportunity to download copies of the songs that he
or she liked.
Now, unbeknownst to the visitors, upon arrival they were actually being assigned at
random to one of eight “parallel” copies of the site. The parallel copies started out identically,
with the same songs and with each song having a download count of zero. However, each
parallel copy then evolved differently as users arrived. In a controlled, small-scale setting,
then, this experiment provided a way to observe what happens to the popularities of 48 songs
when you get to run history forward eight different times. And in fact, it was found that the
“market share” of the different songs varied considerably across the different parallel copies,
although the best songs never ended up at the bottom and the worst songs never ended up
at the top.
Salganik et al. also used this approach to show that, overall, feedback produced greater
inequality in outcomes. Specifically, they assigned some users to a ninth version of the site
in which no feedback about download counts was provided at all. In this version of the
site, there was no direct opportunity for users to contribute to rich-get-richer dynamics, and
indeed, there was significantly less variation in the market share of different songs.
There are clear implications for popularity in less controlled environments, parallel to
some of the conclusions we’ve drawn from our models — specifically, that the future success
of a book, movie, celebrity, or Web site is strongly influenced by these types of feedback
effects, and hence may to some extent be inherently unpredictable.
This is the takeaway for me - success takes time. In an age of 30s videos and short snippets of text, who has the attention span for success?
I would be interested in hearing from any app developers who have managed to break through this cycle recently and the marketing techniques they used.
Off the top of my head, I think 95% of my revenue is from ads. I have plans to work on improving IAP conversion since I don't like the fact that I show ads. This article got me thinking about what I can offer more than just "remove ads".
Of course, it's not ALL about metrics, and in some ways I reject the line of thinking that you can't improve what you don't measure (qualitative research/understanding can go a long way). But with quantitative research/data so easily available... it only makes sense to make use of it.
Thanks for sharing your insight!
I track a lot of metrics and keep a custom dashboard that I can look at any time to see how things are going long-term/short-term/real-time.
Not jumping on the IAP train fast enough was probably the stand-out one. Over time, it seemed like people got used to buying via IAP and almost resisted doing anything else. Sometimes it was as simple as being afraid they'd have to start over with their data if they purchased a whole different app (they wouldn't).
I think its important to let people pay when they are ready with as little friction as possible. If you have the friction of returning to the App Store, you will lose a lot of them in the process.
I have always been curious how much Hours Tracker makes. It dominates the app store searches.
one struggle i had was what to make free and what to charge for. i thought about making the app free and charge only to export data, but i felt like people might feel duped by not realizing and then be forced to pay when they thought it was free. the plan with limiting the # of entries makes way more sense.
Supertop's Unread also has a great (similar) take on IAP:
When ever I use any type of voice recognition software it's a requirement to use the phrase " My voice is my passport. Verify Me.
LOVE LOVE LOVE Sneakers
A single app store can’t keep up with exponential growth in the number of apps. It really needs to work more like Netflix, where there is no single top sellers list, but instead recommendations are made per user. Apple appears to be hesitant to innovate here and it’s understandable, since I imagine it takes a lot of resources to keep up with new apps and their updates. But the way they do it now is unsustainable, and was showing its limitations within a few months of the app store opening.
I’m thinking that the future of the app store is probably to act as a point of sale system. But the real action is going to take place outside of it on a site like Amazon, that better organizes and finds the sort of semantic relationships between software that people are interested in. Apple will probably make it as far as using their iTunes Radio algorithm in the app store, but I don’t expect them to really “get it” and build something revolutionary. Ironically this helps early apps rank well, which creates a feedback loop because Apple makes a cut of their sales and doesn’t want to disrupt that. I would so love to be wrong about this though.
What usually would need a whole team of highly educated professionals he seems to do all by himself ...
Simple, yet very beautifully designed.
I have always wanted something that tracks my location that I can refer back to. I drive all over, and if I forget to make a note of when I arrive and leave, it becomes a CSI-style investigation, cross referencing text messages and emails and phone calls to try and determine when I arrived and left a client's office.
Until then, I offer an ad-free, functional app for free but then charge to unlock the complete functionality. It's worked quite well for me so far (but obviously nowhere near five figures a month) seeing as how about 15% of downloaders end up unlocking the full functionality which I think is a pretty good number.
It's a younger product with strong growth and lots of room for refinement. I'm satisfied with how it is going so far.
I have a special reason to seek this insight: I did nearly the same thing, and my app makes THREE figures per YEAR. I read this post hoping to gain some insights as to why. I was disappointed.
Actually, I didn't do what he did. If I did what he did, I would be making all that money. My complaint about the post is that it didn't help me discern the key differences.
In March 2010 I introduced Bill It , a time tracking app. I was motivated by my own need combined with a desire to get into the exciting world of mobile apps. Like the author, I was a .NET developer by day. As a contractor I wanted something for myself, and I figured I was not unique.
I want to be very clear that I am not surprised of my lackluster results or jealous of his success. (Well maybe a bit jealous.) I approached it as a build-it-and-maybe-someone-will-come-but-who-cares-because-its-fun-and-I-learned-something kind of thing. It hurts my head a little to think about it marketing, so I built it and threw it out there.
But so did he: "Surprised to see it getting some traction, I decided I should take HoursTracker a bit more seriously."
His app took off with no marketing at all. Mine did not. Had I been able to say this about Bill It, my whole story would have played differently. Had I seen the proverbial fishing pole starting to bend, I would have grabbed it and stared reeling, as he did. Is that a post hoc rationalization? Maybe, but I don't think so.
So what made the difference? Time-to-market? Features? Try-ability? Pricing?
As others have said, time-to-market is important because the app store keeps the winners at the top, and it's easier to get to the top early on. Maybe I was just too late to have a chance without serious marketing. Who knows?
My "killer feature" was supposed to be Quickbooks Integration. I was running my consulting business on Quickbooks, and I needed to get my hours input in order for billing to be linked to payments, deposits, revenue, etc. I created a very nice feature set to accomplish quite smoothly (if I say so myself). I decided not to add a timer. I explain the rationale in the product description. Perhaps this was a bad decision. Who knows?
Bill It launched shortly before in-app purchases were introduced. So I created a "lite" version and a full version. As soon as in-app purchases came out, I added a "full" purchase in the lite app. Did I "accidentally give too much away for free?" No. If anything, I erred on the opposite side. The Quickbooks integration took some setup work, so my main goal for the lite version was to allow the user to verify it before paying. I only allowed 5 time entries, which was plenty to see how the app works but not enough to actually use it. Maybe that was the problem. Who knows?
Just before Bill It came out, another time tracker featuring Quickbooks integration came out. Although I thought my integration feature was superior, their app seemed to have a few more features and a little more polish, so I tracked just below their price, ending up at $8.99 (about the same as the pro version of HoursTracker), which is still a high price as apps go. Maybe a different pricing strategy would have been better. Who knows?
I want to clarify another point. I don't expect the author the know what made him successful where I and others weren't. My real complaint is that the rest of us expect that of him. From the first word of his title, "How," we can see that he wants to meet this unrealistic expectation. The post would have been better titled "HoursTracker earns five figures a month on the App Store" but then no one would read it I guess. I told you, I'm bad at marketing.
* >70% of all time entries saved in HoursTracker are made via the timer. Having the timer is probably very important.
* QuickBooks integration would no doubt be a useful feature, but in 6 six years I've had maybe 10 emails asking for it. It's been on "the list" for almost the entire time, continually bumped.
* Once I started seeing some organic downloads/revenue, I found myself forced to address marketing.
My story is more about how I've had to adapt to the App Store changes over the years, primarily the rush to Freemium. That focus is mostly a response to the plentiful stories out there about how free apps are ruining it for everyone.
I could write about adapting to app store search changes, iOS 6 card results, ranking changes, etc. In fact, some longer drafts went into some of those things. But, I ended up trimming it to the most still-relevant things, for brevity and out of respect for the reader's time.
I guess I knew that focussing on Quickbooks and lacking a timer would narrow my market from the start. But we're often told, narrow your focus, don't try to be all-things-to-all-people, do fewer things well, etc. Probably I needed to actively market from the start.
My guess is that time-to-market explains your initial lift, then a strong quality version 1.0 created a tail wind with good reviews, then you jumped on it and did all the right things. Kudos!