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The app world’s secrets are known by relatively few. Most people think success is due entirely to how “viral” your app becomes, as if it’s some external factor beyond your control. As it turns out, you can control it. And I’m living proof it’s possible.
Since the app store’s inception, I’ve been working with mobile apps and advising others as they develop their own apps. In that time, I’ve learned what makes an app wildly successful and seen surefire recipes for painful flops. If you’re looking to launch your first title, don’t buy into these three myths.
1. Every detail needs to be completely original.
The startup world seems to put a lot of emphasis on making products and apps that aren’t like anything else on the market. While it’s both noble and inspirational to innovate against the grain, you have to ask yourself, “What’s my ‘why?’ ” If your goal is to build a profitable company, it can be quite a risk to do something unlike the public’s ever seen before.
While it’s possible you could build the next Uber, you should know there are thousands upon thousands of failures for every billion-dollar app unicorn. Instead of making something entirely new, you can spin existing tactics, psychology and proven app concepts into something unique enough to gain attention and attract downloads.
Within the gaming industry, developers take a systematic approach to app monetization. After a relatively low — or free — initial price, users make in-app purchases to get character upgrades, unlock levels or lead to other gamification elements.
Sure, you could invent a new way of making money with your app. But you’d better bring some serious cash, time and dedication. If you choose unproven, untested methods, you also must make certain your employees, business partners and investors are comfortable with the risk.
2. You need to raise a ton of money.
Many indie app developers are self-funded or bootstrapped their companies and now are making millions in revenue. If you raise money from others on the front end, you’ll have to split up the profit pie, too. Sometimes, accepting investors also entails giving up a degree of creative control.
The million-dollar myth is just that. You don’t need piles of cash to get ahead in the app world. In fact, strings attached to that funding might not be worth it, even if you were guaranteed success.
Done right, an app can fund itself entirely. Once you’re making a certain amount of revenue per user, you can redirect a portion of that money to new-user acquisition. As long as you can keep your cost per user lower than revenue generated from ongoing customers, you might have a scalable-to-infinity hit.
3. You need billboards, Super Bowl commercials and celebrity endorsements.
App marketing is grossly misunderstood. Ironically, the incredible initial success of apps like Candy Crush are the main reason behind such thinking. These apps dominated every possible online platform and needed to go to great lengths to attract new users.
You’ve also probably seen apps with their own Super Bowl commercials or large-scale billboards in major metro areas. Maybe you’ve heard celebrities endorse specific products. Generally speaking, only a select few app companies successfully carry off these marketing techniques. Everyone else is simply wasting their money.
Getting a big-name star to endorse your app works only if you have all your ducks in a row. You need to leverage a huge base of existing users, high revenue per user, strategic use of psychology, robust gamification elements and other factors.
Fortunately, there is a method to the madness. Performance marketing is one of the best ways to build a scalable app marketing campaign. But be warned: Lots of people are pitching user-acquisition services, and few can deliver. You must thoroughly vet any consultant or third-party company. Combine performance marketing with an effective public-relations campaign on relevant platforms, and you’ll reach a significant portion of your target market.