Mobile Development and ROI (Return on Investment)

Over the last 3 years or so, I’ve been very lucky in mobile development and IoT.  I’ve built hundreds of applications and games cross platform (yay for me), passed my 250,000th download (celebration time), but I’ve had some mistakes and also learned a few hard lessons along the way.

I’m going to share my top 15 “rules” I use to define my development model, and share what I use to make my apps and games profitable today.

Disclaimer:  Some of this information may be obvious and these concepts may not be a good fit for every developer and every platform, after all, I haven’t made a million dollars – so there are better ways!  If you take a different approach, I highly recommend sharing it with the community.

Tip #1: Sell Something, Anything, and then Support the Heck Out of it

My number one piece of advice is to get something selling asap!

My number one piece of advice is to get something selling asap! Communicate like crazy about it, engage people from online communities and improve it. Users are forgiving about quirky apps (as long as they don’t crash) if you communicate clearly with them you can build up lifelong fans.

Unfortunately in this day and age, this still needs to be said.  Providing quality support and being patient is absolutely critical.  Developers who are rude, or worse, threatening to users are not only detrimental to all developers on that platform but become a running joke in the community.  Great developers invest time into their users, treat them as people, and earn the respect of their clients.  To be ultimately successful, it is critical to invest the same time into each interaction as you would with anyone else in your life.  If a support volume for an application becomes unmanageable, the problem is the application, not the users needing support.

Tip #2: Look For Gaps in the Market

Keep an eye on what is selling well on bigger platforms.

In every mobile market, and each one is different, there are always gaps. If you spot one – jump on it. Be loud. Make it known that is your area.  And when you try to fill these gaps, make sure to stay ahead of your competitors and get people to associate your brand name with the gap you are filling.  To do this, you really need to spend some time talking with users and understanding what they think is missing on the platform (productivity apps?  browsers?  video streaming?).

Tip #3: Unique, Quick, but not “Too Quick”

A complex app is a hard app to copy.

Don’t focus on apps that can be done in an hour unless you want to break into an existing market. If you create a unique and innovative app that is easy to make then someone users can clone it very easily and you can become swamped with competition. A complex app is a hard app to copy.

Tip #4: Clone Other Quick Apps

Some of my most profitable apps have been 8 hour builds.

Check the best seller lists on other platforms or even on the same platform. If you see a simple top selling app, and it is missing on your target platform, make plans to build it ASAP. Some of my most profitable apps have been 8 hour builds, and if they hit it off really well, you can always come back and keep enhancing them later.   However, quick does not mean low quality.  For example, when I released my app Flippy Bird 3D after a popular game, it generated 2,500 in sales in its first month and this was entirely due to timing and keeping the quality high enough to make the game worth playing.

Tip #5: Plan your Application Life Cycle

Plan your return on investment (how much time you invest, versus how much it will return to you)

Applications and games have an upswing and a downswing, that depends on the type of application and the mobile market.  For example, Flippy Bird 3D dropped to the bottom of the market the following month, which is something you should plan for. The key here is to plan your return on investment (how much time you invest, versus how much it will return to you).  Using a structured plan with an exit strategy is incredibly useful, as it prevents you from toiling away on an application that may not return a value to you as a developer.  This requires product knowledge, platform knowledge and a little bit of experience.

Tip #6: Challenge Big Monopolies

A cornered market is an amazing opportunity.

A lot of the time, big companies have big footprints.  These giants need to bring in a lot of money to maintain their company.  For example, when Max Secure came to BlackBerry they chose to charge 10 dollars per install.  There was no competition in the market at the time and they have a high cost to pay for systems, staff, and even BlackBerry themselves for advertising.  This was incredible opportunity for a leaner development house, as I only have to pay myself, and already have servers up and running.  By building an arguably higher quality, and headless antivirus named Secure AntiVirus Pro, I was able to quickly corner the lower end cost zone of the antivirus market.

It’s been immensely successful, sold approx 1,000 units per month since release and resulted in Max Secure stepping up their game and drastically dropping prices. The more diversity we have, the better for users. A cornered market is an amazing opportunity as long as you are able to provide a better value than the competition.

Tip #7: Support Other Developers

Provides the opportunity to do free cross promotions

There is nothing worse than building to something alone and acting as a lone-wolf in this industry.  By meeting like minded folks, you can not only increase your quality of coding (and theirs) but build alliances will help to propel your applications further as a group.  It is easy to fade into the background when you are working alone.  By combining efforts it provides the opportunity to do free cross promotions and even build applications that work amazingly well together. I help new developers by helping them get in touch with other developers in a forum called BBM Chat for Junior Devs.

Tip #8: Aim, Aim, Shoot!

The longer you take to develop and release, the more opportunities you provide to competitors.

The concept of Aim, Aim, Shoot is simple.  It means to aim by planning your application out, double checking that plan, and then starting development.  You don’t want to sit too long on ideas, and sometimes a general idea of the plan is as far as you are going to get and the longer you take to develop and release, the more opportunities you provide to competitors.

Tip #9: Games Burn Bright, Apps Burn Longer.

Games can do incredible sales in a short period, where apps sell better long term.

I’ve released a large volume of applications and games over the last 3 years on BlackBerry.  One thing I’ve found on that platform, is that games can do incredible sales in a short period, where apps sell better long term. If you get a healthy balance of both, you can keep a much more versatile app portfolio that can handle changes easily.

You will find that this is more-or-less true on every platform (sans console, obviously).

Tip #10:  Make it Simple, Make it Pretty

If you need a tutorial, verify your workflow.

I had an app I spent months on, it did all kinds of crazy things. But it wasn’t until I came back and simplified the app and it’s help that sales went up almost 10 fold. Users like apps that are intuitive and that have no learning curve. My opinion has been that if you need a tutorial, verify your workflow and see if the application has already become too complicated.  If you do build it, take every complaint as an opportunity and see if a workflow change might resolve that problem for other users going forward.

Tip #11:  Know your Market

To really learn the market well, you need to engage users.  Many, many users.

Did you make your app out of passion or with an intent to sell and earn a profit? Apps made from passion typically have a lower ROI – because you make them for yourself (not for others).  These apps feel really good to work on – Night Ports for example was an app of passion.  Because I didn’t expect to make money, I released it for free, and that’s what made it immensely popular.  These users can roll forward as fans to help push your other products, but at the end of the day, free versus paid – and how you structure your apps, depends entirely on your market and your intent.  To really learn the market well, you need to engage users.  Many, many users.

Tip #12: Be Visible and Vibrant

Use as much free marketing as you can.

Mobile development takes time, generates very little return on investment, and you don’t want to spend money where you don’t have to.  Use as much free marketing as you can.  For example, on BlackBerry, I have a series of forums I like to make sure my applications get mentioned on (CB, BlackBerryCentral, DeanLogic, FileArchiveHaven, OSBB, and United Blogs – just to name a few).  You also want to have something on Twitter, BBM (groups / chats / channels) and even Social Media in general (I would debate the advantage of Google plus and Facebook in this regard).Get fans on board and give out codes! Get visible on these blogs, be alive and make people know you. On a side note, people always review apps with a more open mind when they come from people they know.

Tip #13: Difficult Customer, New Beta Tester

They can become one of the biggest champions for your products.

Do you get a lot of support emails from one person? This is your super user, they are messaging you because they want to see that you care and that your product is important to them. They are maximizing your app to suit their lifestyle. If they take the time to message you, that means they will communicate how they feel your application functions.  You can use this to your advantage, turn them into a fan!  Get them helping you to find gaps in the software, they can become one of the biggest champions for your products.

Tip #14: Make Bug Reports Easier than Reviews

Make it easier for the user to contact you than to submit a negative review.

When someone wants support they open your app in the store front. Now they are 1 click away from a negative review and 1 click away from sending you an email.  Between these two options, only a review provides the user with an immediate satisfaction of their opinion being logged somewhere.  To remedy this you need to make it easier for the user to contact you than to submit a negative review.  Use the software to your advantage, allow it to open an email directly to your support team with version information – you can leverage this to make the user know you are there to help them.  Or better yet include a known bug list.  I add both of these options to all my major applications, and it severely reduces the number of negative reviews while making it easier for the users to get help.

Tip #15:  Finally, Monitor your Profit (ROI)

A poor developer can’t maintain their equipment, can’t buy new gear, and can’t update to the latest software.  To make this happen, you need to known how many hours it took for an app, how many hours it takes to support these applications and how much they are bringing in from sales.  With this information you can calculate how much you earned hourly.  At its bare minimum, you can calculate this using sales / hours.

Hopefully these quick tips and tricks help you to be successful on the different market places!  I didn’t go to far into specific examples, but instead tried to focus on the general concepts.

Lloyd Summers About Lloyd Summers
I'm a weekend developer specializing in cross platform applications and games. You can find me on OSBB, FileArchiveHaven and even writing for Connectedly.

About Lloyd Summers

I'm a weekend developer specializing in cross platform applications and games. You can find me on OSBB, FileArchiveHaven and even writing for Connectedly.