Plan B - Pivoting to a B2B Product

Last year, I had an idea to turn the framework that powers Stories by Gus on the Go into a B2B product. The idea would be to enable others to create their own interactive children story apps. When I told Alice, she said she had been thinking the same thing. But we decided it was plan B. Always have a plan B

Earlier this year, I was reminded of this idea while listening to one of my favorite podcasts. Release Notes had an episode that hinted at why it might be a good idea to focus on selling our framework as a product to other businesses instead of selling interactive story apps to consumers.

But, again, we are still working on getting Stories to be financially viable. It is early days and we have several options in flight to help improve downloads and sales.

So I kept the idea on the back burner. Until a couple of days ago. For some reason I started thinking about it again. I wanted to record my ideas, as a reminder in case one day we enact plan B.

Sales options

There are several ways to turn this framework into a product.

Sell an application

Going this route would mean creating an application to sell to businesses or anyone who wants to create their own interactive stories.

Ideally, this application would generate a brand new iOS or Android app that is ready to be uploaded to the App Store. Alternatively, the app could generate an Xcode or Android Studio project, which the customer would then have to compile themselves. This may come down to whether or not customers want a turn key application or if they prefer some level of control.

Remember, the target customer is not a consumer, but another business or author looking to get into apps.

The application would require a simple interface to create the interactive stories. The framework itself is driven by a database behind the scenes. Currently, this is how I create the data for the stories:

Screenshot of spreadsheet to generate database
Screenshot of spreadsheet used to generate database

After manually entering in all the necessary fields for each scene, I run custom python scripts to generate the databases.

Clearly, this is not something we could sell to anyone else. I can see the marketing copy now:

Product dependencies: Must know Python.[1]

The process needs to be greatly simplified to be a product. It would need a nice drag and drop GUI that walks the customer through the entire story creation scene by scene.

Features could be added over time and upgrade pricing could be introduced to help sustainability. I know upgrade pricing has long since fallen out of favor with the consumer market, but the business market is more likely to be ok with it. This product will help them make money, so it makes sense for them to want to keep it up to date.

Contract the app creation

Using this option, we would keep the framework ourselves and create interactive story apps for clients.

This option could have custom pricing depending on story length and how much work the client has already put into it.

Clients would supply audio, text, and graphics. The more they supply, the lower the price. If we have to contract out the graphics or audio creation, then it would cost more. Obviously.

It would still be very handy to have the GUI to generate the databases for this option. It would improve my productivity by decreasing the amount of time required to generate the stories. Additionally, it would also allow Alice to create products for clients. If we were to become popular enough, it would give us the option to grow by hiring employees to create products for clients.

At that point, though, we could also potentially become a digital interactive story publisher.

Digital interactive story publisher

Under this option, we would, again, keep the product in-house. Authors who wanted to self publish interactive stories would do so through us. Some sort of revenue sharing agreement would be in place between us and the authors.

I don’t know how I feel about this, though. Our friends at tapStory App have a similar business model. I would want to talk to them first to make sure we’re not stepping on any toes. Some people say it’s just business, but I prefer maintaining friendships and good relationships.


But, again, all of this hypothetical anyway.

There’s a good chance I will create this application for in-house use at some point. I am quickly getting tired of manual database entry.

Do you know anyone who would be interested in an easy way to create interactive children story apps? I would love to find out if there is a market for something like this.

Does your business have a plan B?

If you want, follow me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. Python 3, of course.  ↩

Rejected: Holding My Data Wrong

I have a shameful secret. I’ve never told anyone. I can trust you, right?

I have never actually read most of the App Store Review Guidelines.

I know, I know. How can I call myself a developer? In my defense, in its current incarnation, it’s like 12 whole pages[1].

While there is some obvious laziness involved, I actually assumed most were super obvious. Additionally, none of my apps did anything remotely close to pushing the boundaries of what is allowed. My apps rarely ever used the latest, shiny technologies available. And when they did, they generally did so following Apple’s example code.

Nothing groundbreaking.

This does not mean my apps are boring. I swear.

The rejection

So I was quite surprised on January 11th, when Apple rejected my initial build for Stories by Gus on the Go. While I was on vacation. Naturally.

I had violated guideline 2.23.

Apps must follow the iOS Data Storage Guidelines or they will be rejected

Ok…

Luckily, in the details section, the reviewer told me exactly why it had been rejected. After downloading the content from an In-App Purchase, 13.95 MB were being synced to iCloud.

This surprised me. This was my first experience creating an app with downloadable content. I was not using any iCloud APIs that I knew about.

As a user I have limited experience using iCloud. I don’t do iCloud backups, which means I did not know there could be a problem.

After downloading the IAP content, I was moving it out of the cache directory to one that was guaranteed to persist. Short of deleting the app. What I did not know is that most of these sandboxed directories are automatically backed up to iCloud. Oops[2].

It makes sense. Users’ iCloud drives have limited capacity. If every app they used sent a bunch of unnecessary data during a backup, they would quickly run out of space and have to pay for more[3].

Dang. It really was my fault.

The fix

After some quick research, I discovered I needed to set a flag on the IAP files telling the system that they are excluded from backups.

NSError *error;
BOOL success = [iapContentURL setResourceValue:[NSNumber numberWithBool:YES] forKey:NSURLIsExcludedFromBackupKey error:&error];

Sorry for the Objective-C. Most of Stories is in C++, which makes it much easier to mix with Objective-C than with Swift[4].

I believe this key also excludes the files from backing up to iTunes, which in this case is fine. IAPs can always be restored via the app.

The fix was so simple. A fact that made the rejection that much more frustrating. But not less warranted.

Resubmission

There was still one potential issue with the app when I resubmitted. Stories allows users to create multiple profiles to keep track of their learning progress. However, since most users will not use this feature, there is a default user that is automatically created and used. This improves the user experience by not requiring an on boarding process.

Created user profiles should and do get backed up to iCloud. However, the default profile gets backed up if the user never creates a profile.

The default profile uses an extremely small amount of space. If guideline 2.23 were interpreted strictly by a reviewer, the app could once again be rejected.

I decided to take the advice of a recently read blog post titled, A simple tip to reduce App Store rejections. In the App Review Information section, I made use of the Notes box.

A Default user profile is provided in the Documents directory (and therefore also synced to iCloud) upon first launch as a convenience to the user to allow she/he to immediately enjoy the app. The user can edit this default user profile to suit themselves or delete it and create another, but as the app can track the learning progress of multiple users, at least a single user profile needs to exist and persist from the first launch. The space required to save the default user profile is minimal.

While I don’t know if I would get rejected for syncing a profile the user did not create to iCloud, I feel better about explaining my design decision to the reviewer.

Success!

Stories was reviewed again and this time accepted. I have left the note to the reviewer for three further updates and so far no hiccups.


Will I finally actually read the App Store Review Guidelines? Originally, I had planned to answer that question with a “sadly, probably not”. However, since discovering how short it is while writing this blog post, I actually may. Probably. We’ll see.

If you want, follow me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. I actually expected it to be longer than that when I started writing that sentence.  ↩

  2. That’s a technical term.  ↩

  3. Apparently not part of Apple’s business model.  ↩

  4. I warned you I hardly get to play with the new, shiny technologies…  ↩

How I Motivate Myself

When I am motived to do something, I do a better job and complete the job more quickly. It feels amazing.

However, motivation is not always a given. It comes in waves. Especially when working on a long term project. Attention span for the project starts to fade and with it, motivation.

That’s when I start procrastinating. Procrastination is the low point of my motivation wave. Sure, I get in some quality YouTube or Twitter time, but that is only fulfilling the first day or so.

I do eventually get out of these procrastination troughs. Sometimes it’s due to a conversation with a friend or due to something I read. Something will suddenly motivate me to output high quality work quickly again.

And so, like a sinusoid, I end up bouncing back and forth between both extremes.

Motivation sinusoid

Stories by Gus on the Go has been a long term project for me. As such, motivation has waxed and waned.

For the past nine months, I have been trying to be more conscientious in preventing and getting out of the procrastination troughs. It does not always work as quickly as I would like, but it helps.

Tips

Here are some of the things I do to stay motivated.

To-do list[1]

Hear me out, though.

One of the major problems when I’m unmotivated is indecision. Having a clear actionable list makes it far easier to choose what to needs to be done next.

Instead of putting bigger tasks on my to-do list, I break them up into smaller, manageable items. This allows me to cross them off more quickly, which increases motivation. Things are getting done![2]

For instance, this morning I had the task create beta version of Stories for French on my list. That wasn’t going to work at all. That could take days. The longer it stayed there, the more it would demotivate me. Instead, I split it up.

  1. Edit audio
  2. Create icon
  3. Create database
  4. Add target to project
  5. etc…

Each of these tasks could be accomplished without having to span multiple days[3].

Not only does this keep me focused and give me a clear path to accomplish the bigger task, but I was able to cross a few things off in the process. Brain, release the dopamine!

Utilize productive time

I am most productive in the morning. This is when I need to focus on my to-do list. Everything else is a distraction. Email, Twitter, web comics, podcasts, etc. There will be plenty of time for those distractions during my less productive afternoons.

This means, I try to have Twitter and my email client closed in the morning. I also turn off email notifications on my phone for all but the most important people in my life. Otherwise, these notifications would distract me and derail my productivity.

Because I am more productive in the morning, I write my to-do list the night before. I do not want to waste any of my precious, productive time.

Minimize dependencies

There’s some sort of NPM joke here.

When working on a particular task, if I suddenly hit a dependency issue, it’s very easy to throw my hands up in the air and claim I tried. I then get online and start a procrastination cycle. What else could I do? I am waiting for someone else to resolve their issue first.

This actually happened to me today. I was working on editing audio, when suddenly I came across a discrepancy between the script and the recording. My business partner is in charge of both of those, so I could have easily called it a day until she resolved the issue.

Instead, I made sure I had plenty of things on my to-do list that had little or no external dependencies and moved on to one of those.

Set a deadline

Sometimes, I work better under pressure. While watching a TED talk on procrastination, I realized some of my projects have no strict deadlines. There is nothing to jolt me out of my low motivation phases.

In the past, setting deadlines has helped me to stay focused on what absolutely needs to get done. However, this can also cause stress, so use wisely.

Keep the rewards in mind

My wife got a wooden plaque for my office with the phrase, “More ideas than time” on it. She knows I am constantly wanting to start new projects, but I can only handle a few simultaneously.

Last spring, at a meetup, I was introduced to Luba, an entrepreneur coach[4]. Although I was skeptical at first, she convinced me to try a few sessions with her.

One issue I wanted to work on was motivation. At the time, I was at a low point of my motivation cycle.

She did not give me the answers I needed to hear directly. Instead, she asked probing questions that led me to my own realizations and pointed out the ones she felt were interesting and relevant.

I particularly remember one phrase from our sessions.

If I stop procrastinating, I can finish more projects so I can start new ones.

This is exactly the reward I crave by finishing projects.

Simple and although obvious now, coming to this conclusion and saying it aloud energized my motivation.

Learn something new

I love learning new things. Be it science, economics, history, or programming related. In my less productive time, I try to spend an hour learning something new. I read or do a tutorial or a few self paced language lessons.

When working on Gus, I rarely get to use the latest technologies Apple or Google have added to their OSs. Using the time I have blocked out to learn, I still have a chance to play with the shiny new toys.

Often, what I end up learning can be used indirectly to improve my projects. Other times, I may get ideas for new projects… which is another reason to finish my current ones.

Try a change of scenery

When I can, I try working from somewhere other than my desk. I go outside or to a coffee shop or library. This breaks up the monotony and can inspire motivation.

Exercise

Before moving to a small town about six months ago, I had a gym membership I used regularly. I worked out 30 to 45 minutes, two or three days a week. Days when I exercised, I was far more productive and motivated. Despite taking extra time to work out, overall, I would get more done.

Excuses to not go are easy. Even now, after moving, I am finding it hard to get back into the rhythm. And I know what it does for me.

Bonus: Being healthier.

Extra Bonus: Music at gyms is usually terrible, so I take noise canceling earphones and listen to podcasts. Learning while exercising.


None of these ideas are new, but I find revisiting them regularly keeps them fresh in my mind. For some reason, they are easy to forget when you have already started a low motivation cycle.

If you want, follow me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. I wonder how many people closed their browser tab when they read that.  ↩

  2. But I don’t use Getting Things Done.  ↩

  3. All the tasks together might, but not a single task.  ↩

  4. If you speak German, Luba is offering a free trial session so you can see if it’s right for you.  ↩

Meeting People is Easy, but Hard

I have been doing app development since 2009. Initially as a hobby, then as part time work, and now as my full time job. It wasn’t until last year, however, that I found out there was an entire developer community out there supporting one another. That’s when I discovered conferences.

This pass week, I attended mdevcon and reconfirmed a personality trait I have. As is stereotypical for engineers and coders, I am introverted.

Let me actually clarify. Extroversion and introversion are not binary categories, but rather a continuous scale. I categorize myself as slightly introverted.

Yono on the introversion-extroversion scale

I consider myself fairly good at carrying on a conversation, but I am terrible at starting one with people I do not know well. Worse yet, if there is a lull in the conversation, I am rarely the one that can restart it. But like a flywheel, once I start, I can usually keep going.

Back to mdevcon. This was the second conference I had ever attended. I had such a good time at my first conference, Release Notes, I decided to try to attend 3–4 conferences this year.

There was something different about mdevcon, though. I was attending alone. I went to Release Notes with my business partner. We supported each other and encouraged one another to meet new people. Being alone, however, was a scary proposition.

I was determined to put my introverted tendencies in check and meet new people. After all, conferences are an easy way to meet new people. Even if it is hard.

Tips

I’ve put a lot of effort into forcing myself to talk to new people. Here is what I’ve learned so far.

Don’t hide in the bathroom, at the bar, or behind a plate of food

First, it’s definitely ok to use the bathroom. It’s also fine to get a drink or food. However, if you notice yourself using it as an excuse to avoid talking to others, stop. That’s counterproductive. It sounds silly, but I have done this a lot. I would go into the bathroom just to wash my hands. It killed time and got me closer to the end of the event. It did not help me meet people, though.

If you see someone standing on their own, approach them

More than likely, people standing by themselves are having the exact same trouble talking to people. When you go up to them, they are usually grateful that someone else has taken the initial step. It is also much easier and less scary to approach a single person than a group of people already talking.

Introduce yourself

I usually start with “Hi, I’m Yono”, while holding my hand out to shake theirs. Due to the unusual name, 99% of the time, I will then have to hold up my badge so they can see the spelling. The important thing is making that first contact.

Do NOT talk about the weather

Weather is typical, superficial conversation matter. And no one is interested in it. Except meteorologists and my uncle. People use it as a crutch. It is a terrible crutch. It will not support you. The problem is it rarely leads to a more meaningful conversion or connection.

Postpone asking “What do you do?”

This is a question you should definitely ask at some point during the conversation. After all, at a conference we’re all developers doing different things. It is super interesting to learn what projects others are working on. We can learn a lot from one another. However, I try to hold off asking this question as long as possible. I feel it leads to a more interesting and, potentially, personal conversation.

Ask questions

The easiest way to start a conversation or to keep one going is to ask questions. While you’re postponing asking the “what do you do?” question, ask any other question that could lead to interesting conversations. Usually it starts superficially (No. Not the weather).

At some point you’ll find a question, whose answer can be followed up with more in depth questions. The deeper the questions you can ask, the better the connection you can make with the other person.

Here are some example questions:

  • Have you been enjoying the conference?[1]
  • Which was your favorite session so far?
  • Oh really? What did you learn from it?
  • I haven’t personally used [that technology] before, but I’ve been meaning to play around with it. Have you done a lot with it?
  • Do you use it in your job or just for fun on the side?[2]
  • Have you seen the speaker before at other conferences?
  • Which other conferences have you attended?
  • Have you tried speaking at a conference?
  • How did you get into development?
  • Do you prefer vi or emacs?[3]

Make sure, though, you are actually going to be interested in the answers to the questions you ask. People can spot feigned interest and it will be harder to connect. Do yourself and the other person a favor. Ask interesting questions.

Help each other

If you do meet another introvert early on, your tendencies will be to find each other throughout the conference. This feels safe, while at the same time being social. This is not a bad thing. You can encourage one another to meet more people. It’s easier to go up to groups if you are not alone. Approach the group by asking, “May we join you?”. This can be followed up by introductions.

Don’t bury your head in your devices

If your goal is to meet new people, avoid opening your laptop. Avoid checking you phone while talking to others. Do not constantly check your watch. All of these are signs that you are more interested in what is on the screen than the person in front of you. Even if that’s not your intention.

Results

Overall, mdevcon was a success for me. I met several new and interesting people. Naturally, there were also several times when I gave in to my introverted tendencies. I hope that with practice at more conferences, I’ll get better.


Do you have other tips I missed? Let me know on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt. I can always use more advice.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. I don’t actually like using this, because it is almost as bad as asking about the weather. Who’s going to say “no”? But it leads to the next question.  ↩

  2. This could lead to the “what do you do?” question.  ↩

  3. Just kidding! For the love of all things holy, don’t ask this unless it’s tongue-in-cheek. Wars were started for smaller reasons. Anyway, the correct answer is vi.  ↩

Keep App Stores Indie

Last week, Rene Ritchie wrote a great article, where he lamented the decline of indie apps in the App Store and passionately spoke out against its pop-ification.

In the article, Rene compared indie apps to the wooden toys of his childhood, which, for the most part, have lost out to cheaply made plastic toys.

App stores, like all markets with tons of cash, have seen that money flow from the small independent businesses to big name brand corporations. This market is now dominated by chain stores, putting many mom and pop stores out of business.

The next day, Daniel Jalkut wrote a response blog post, where he encouraged developers to continue making “wooden toys”. Much like wooden toys, Daniel argues there is still a market that values indie software.

Daniel’s post led me to tweet the following:

I promptly gave it no further thought.

Until the next day.

Keep Austin Weird

I used to live in Austin, Texas. Austin has a different feel to it than most places I have lived.

Keep Austin Weird logo

The unofficial slogan of the city has its origins in 2000. The city was growing at a rapid pace. The growth attracted more and more chain stores to move in, hoping to capitalize on the wealth. Some Austinites were worried the city was losing its unique feeling.

Keep Austin Weird was adopted to encourage people to support the small businesses of the city. It grew into a movement the helped define the personality of Austin itself.

There is even an annual Keep Austin Weird Festival going on 14 years now.

Keep App Stores Indie

Inspired by Keep Austin Weird, I started thinking more about what a Keep App Stores Indie[1] movement might look like. What’s the digital equivalent of bumper stickers and t-shirts? How do you inspire consumers to care about indie developers? How do you promote indie apps. How do you define an indie dev?

Promotion

Digital promotion could be as simple as adding wording to an app’s website proclaiming it as an indie app and displaying a Keep App Stores Indie banner.

Keep App Stores Indie logo draft

This might sounds a little like the old geocities webring tactics, but I am sure it could be done more tastefully. Further customer education could be done within an info section in the actual apps.

Word of mouth would need to be a key component for spreading such a movement. The more often someone comes into contact with participating indie apps, the better the odds of convincing them to support indie devs.

Indie devs already do a great job of helping out other indie devs. Is there more we can do? I don’t know if I have an answer to that one yet.

Platform

It could be useful to develop an online database of indie developers and their apps through an opt-in mechanism.

The website could contain the same or similar information as the App Store for each indie app in its database. This info would need to be searchable, but that’s something we’ve always wanted anyway, right?

The site could be a non-profit and use affiliate links to pay for hosting. I actually have not done any calculations to see if this would be sustainable. Just making a guess.

indieappstore.org anyone?

For Android – this is not just an iOS problem, after all – there could theoretically be a separate app store just for indie apps. It’s nice in theory, but I imagine that would be a humongous undertaking. Although, I suppose an online database of indie devs and apps would also not be trivial.

Issues

There are, of course, issues that go along with this project. A big one revolving around how you define an indie dev and an indie app?

Just bear with me. I don’t think it’s as trivial as you think it is.

I’ll bet you could get most people to agree that VC funding disqualifies an app from being indie. Fine.

What about limiting team sizes? A team of one is surely an indie dev. What about a team of 3? 10? 50? Where do you draw the line.

Another indie metric could be revenue. Surely an app that grosses $50 million is no longer indie, but where is the cutoff?

Then there are transitional considerations. What if a dev or app meets all of the indie criteria and then grows their team or revenue passed the agreed upon cutoff points? Are they no longer indie? What if an indie sells his app to a large company? Is it no longer indie, even if it is the same product? What if an indie entered a branding deal with a big company? Are they still indie, but not the app?

If the movement were to catch on, how could you prevent big players from capitalizing on it just like they did with the App Store?


This is currently just a thought experiment. To bring a project like this to life would take buy-in from a lot of the indie dev community. Would it be worthwhile? I don’t know.

Would you participate? Let me know on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Have a nice day,
Yono

One note… I am not a designer. I created the example logo to have some pictures sprinkled throughout this blog post. If I visually offended any designers, my apologies.


  1. App stores, plural, because… you know… there are more than one. And an indie’s an indie no matter their platform.  ↩

Stories by Gus on the Go: Month One

Long before we launched, I planned on writing update posts on how our new app Stories by Gus on the Go is doing. The last few days, though, I have been dreading writing the first of these. Downloads have been far below our hopes and expectations. And like most people, I would love to only report good results. However, we can learn just as much from the bad as we can from the good, so let’s do this.

Just a refresher – Stories is our sequel app to Gus on the Go. It is a children’s educational game that teaches kids a new language through simple stories, lessons, and mini games. At the time of writing, the app is only available in Spanish.


First a graph:

First two days of Stories downloads

Pretty good, right? What am I complaining about? Stories was downloaded over 1,000 times in the first two days.

When we got the results of day two, we were ecstatic. Our hard work had paid off and we felt vindicated. And fairly quickly, too. Especially after a disappointing 57 downloads on day one.

After a little bit of celebrating and not being able to leave well enough alone, I dug into the reports. My heart sank when I noticed a single line in the report that showed an educational institution had downloaded 1,000 copies using a desktop computer.

Now this might not sound terrible, but you cannot count on a different school downloading 1,000 copies each day. Additionally, analytics showed that our daily active users (DAU) for day two was 37. Clearly, someone had downloaded a bunch of codes and never used them.

Removing these bogus downloads, here are our numbers for the first 30 days.

First 30 days of Stories downloads

With these numbers, if we can get our conversion rate up to 5%, we are looking at making a whopping $1.337 per day.[1]

(573 downloads / 30 days) * (5 IAPs / 100 downloads) * 2 dollars / IAP * 0.70 = $1.337 / day

Sigh. At least that’s after Apple’s cut.

Press Coverage

We assumed that due to our experience, getting coverage of our app would be much easier this time around than it was 3 years ago, when Gus on the Go launched.

This, however, was not the case. We discovered that the mommy blogger industry has changed quite a bit. Despite also hiring a marketing agency, we are having trouble getting the amount of coverage we expected. NOTE: We are still working with our marketing agency, so I will not go into specifics about that experience, yet.

Here is a list of coverage we have gotten so far, some of which were sponsored:

Sponsored or not, this coverage is ultimately important for our SEO. The long game, as we found out with Gus 1, is to improve our SEO to drive people to our website. Once on our website, it is up to us to encourage them to download the app.

How do we fix this?

We had to remind ourselves even though we hoped to start with a bang, it looks like we will be taking the Gus on the Go route again – slow and steady.

After feeling sorry for ourselves the first two weeks, Alice and I sat down and started seriously discussing what we can do to improve the situation. Here is what came of that:

  1. New languages – Stories is currently only available in Spanish, but we designed the app to be easy to create new language versions. Using our sales data from Gus 1, we can make informed decisions about which languages to tackle next. New languages will appeal to different people, effectively increasing our market base and, hopefully, brand awareness.
  2. Site and podcast sponsorships – Find some websites and podcasts we can sponsor to improve brand awareness. As I mentioned in my offsite backup post, this kind of sponsorship is effective. At least on me.
  3. Experiment with ads – Google, Facebook, Twitter; Experimenting is key. And not just with ads…
  4. App Store Optimization – Since we plan frequent, small updates, we can experiment by tweaking the app store description, keywords, and title.
  5. Localization – Even though Gus 1 Spanish was sold mostly in the US, Stories has more international appeal so far. This is possibly because it is free. Localization should help expand this further and will be necessary when we release other languages, anyway.
  6. Improve website conversion – Use analytics to help us tweak our website to increase the number of people that download the app.
  7. Viral marketing – Create a funny video showing how easy it is to learn a new language using Stories. NOTE: I know counting on viral marketing is a fool’s game, but this is all about experimenting.
  8. Schools – Work with schools to showcase Gus in a classroom setting.
  9. Travel agencies, hotels, and airlines – Work with international travel agencies, hotels, and airlines to promote the Gus apps for young travelers.
  10. Microsite – Create a separate, fun language quiz site that acts to market Gus.

The moral of this blog post is that we are not going to complain and feel sorry for ourselves. We are going to do something about it and improve our business.

If you want to chat with me about anything in this post, you can find me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt. I’m always open for discussions. I’ll also post there when I have updates.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. For Europeans who swap the meaning of a comma and a period in numbers, that is one dollar and 33 7/10 cents. NOT one thousand three hundred and thirty seven dollars.  ↩

Analyzing Businesses to Improve My Own

One thing I have trained myself to do over the years is to think in depth about how business models work. I am not specifically talking about apps, either. It can be a business model for a real estate investment, a youtube channel, or a blog[1]. The hope is with practice I will get better. And as I get better I should be able to improve the business models for my current and future products and investments. Toward the end of the blog post, I do bring it back around to apps, though.

Examples

DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert in any of these businesses. Some of the inner workings involve a lot of assumptions on my part. Corrections are very much welcome. That’s how I learn.

YouTube Channels

YouTube channels have used several methods to monetize their videos. It is quite important to do so as relying on one revenue stream (YouTube ads) is risky. Does this sound familiar? I’m looking at you, app developers.

Here are some options, I’ve seen some YouTubers use:

  1. YouTube ads – Built in way to generate revenue from a video.
  2. In video sponsorship – A sponsorship spot can be sold and edited directly into the video. I imagine the rates are fairly good, as they are read by the video creator, a trusted voice.
  3. Crowdfunding – A site like Patreon allows individual subscribers to voluntarily pledge support. A perfect way for passionate enthusiasts of the channel to give more.
  4. Merchandising – T-shirts, mugs, coasters, underwear, etc…

Blogs

When people think about making money online, they think of advertising. Seems to be a trend, right? Blogs, by their nature, are generally free of the constraints of proprietary platforms (like YouTube). However, a professional blog must also be weary of relying on one form of revenue.

Here are some options for blogs. Some are similar to what have already been discussed:

  1. Ads – The simplest method is using an ad network to sell ad space.
  2. Sponsorship – Blogs can also be sponsored. Much like with YouTube videos, I imagine that a trusted voice helps command higher rates.
  3. Sponsored posts – Getting paid by a company to write on a particular subject. The money should reflect in the subject matter, but not the opinion.
  4. Affiliate links – Blogs can use affiliate links when reviewing or talking about products they like to get a percentage of the sales.
  5. Merchandising – Stickers, books (for instance, a cooking blog could create and sell a cookbook), t-shirts, flamethrower, etc…
  6. Subscription – Create premium content for subscribers only.

Real Estate

I like real estate investing. I tend to give it a lot of thought and most of my business spreadsheets revolve around real estate. But as this is probably the least interesting part for most people, I will get through it quickly.

  1. Rent – Duh.
  2. Furniture rental – Additionally offer tenants furniture and appliances to rent.
  3. On-site laundry – Apartment complexes can have coin operated laundry facilities for tenants.
  4. Vending machines – Similar to laundry
  5. Physical advertising – Common outdoor space and walls can be used to sell advertising.

Calculations

Using these ideas, I will then do a quick back of the envelope calculation to find out what is possible. This is often done similarly to solving a Fermi problem. One or very few known stats and a bunch of educated guesses.

For instance, if I run across an article that mentions the average rent at an apartment complex or the size of the user base for an app, this could trigger one of these calculations. The stats from the article would be my knowns in the problem. I would then work through all unknowns as best as I could.

If I were really interested by the business, I would then take my back of the envelope calculations and make a spreadsheet! I love spreadsheets.

What is the point?

The goal of these exercises is to eventually be able to develop creative business models. It is really easy to spot creative businesses – hindsight being 20/20 and all. However, creating one is really, really hard.

My hope is by practicing my analysis, I will eventually get comfortable enough with how different business models work to be able to design my own. A good business model can be the difference between success and failure.

One last thought

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how sponsorships on podcasts (and YouTube videos) work. I have wondered if there is a way to integrate them into an app’s business model.

In a way, we have already done that with our two Armenian versions of Gus on the Go. AGBU sponsored us not with money, but with resources to help create the apps. In turn, we added their logo to the splash screen and the main screen.

The idea would be to take sponsorship a step further and have it more integrated into an app. Not necessarily rebranding an app, but more than just an ad banner. It would need to be done tastefully and in a way that keeps a trusted voice feel. Additionally, it would require being able to swap out sponsors on a weekly or monthly basis. Or as slots expire.

If we compare a podcasts unique downloaders to an app’s weekly or monthly active users, I image that an app would have to reach a larger audience than a podcast to command the same fee. This is a guess. I would assume that an app’s users would be seen as less trusting of said app than a listener is of a podcast. But again, just a guess.


If you have experience in any of the fields I mentioned and want to correct or add anything to what I have said, I would love to hear from you.

Or if you have any thoughts or comments, find me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt. I’m always open for discussions.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. No. Not this blog. This blog is by no means popular enough to have a business model… but other blogs are.  ↩

Offsite Backups and Data Security

I promised myself that I would not join the crowd of people analyzing the current situation between Apple and the FBI. So many people have already written about it far better than I ever could. However, in light of the FBI’s request, I wanted to revisit my offsite backup choice.

I listen to a lot of podcasts. I mean a lot. About a year ago, it was impossible for me to ignore the barrage of sponsorships by Backblaze. They did their job. The sponsorship spots made me realize that my backup solution was insufficient.

At the time, my backup solution was a Synology NAS running RAID 5. Actually, it is running a Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR) with 1 disk redundancy, which is their improved version of RAID 5. I have been running some version of RAID 5 since the incident. You know what I’m talking about. At some point we all experience a version of the incident. My incident was the death of a hard drive containing tons of photos that lived nowhere else. Classic.

Backblaze, however, does not support backing up a NAS. Bummer. So, I did what any good developer would do in this situation. I procrastinated.

Every time I would hear a new Backblaze spot, I would think about it again and maybe do a little research. I would take a look at a couple of solutions and always find something I did not like about each of them. Then I would procrastinate some more.

I know what you are thinking right now. Is this the point where he has another irrecoverable data loss? You’ve seen Hollywood movies. That’s how it works, right? Thankfully, no. I just kept procrastinating… but each time, I would feel more and more insecure about my data.

Then, in July 2015, I listened to an interview with Stefan Reitshamer on the, now defunct, Binpress podcast. Stefan is the creator of Arq – software that backs up data.

Arq intrigued me. There are a few things about it that I liked:

  1. I could backup my NAS
  2. I choose where the data is stored (I choose Pikachu… I mean Amazon Cloud Drive)
  3. I hold the encryption key for all backed up data
  4. I would be supporting an independent developer

Point #3 is what triggered the idea for this blog post after I heard about the FBI’s request of Apple.

I should mention, Backblaze also has the option to set a user selected passphrase as an extra encryption layer. I would highly recommend users do this. To restore your data, however, you have to decrypt the data on their servers.

While I am sure they take steps to ensure that the data is safe, it simply opens up potential weak points in the entire process where data could theoretically be compromised. If a user does not select a passphrase, there would be nothing to stop Backblaze from decrypting your data, were the FBI to strong arm them into doing so.

With Arq, the encryption key stays with me. All data on my server of choice is encrypted using this key. Access to that data without the key is useless. Were I to need to do a restore, the encrypted data is sent to my computer and decrypted locally. Less points that can be hacked.

iPhone Backups

Another aspect of the story is the accessibility of the iCloud backups.

I don’t allow my iPhone to backup to iCloud. But not because I’m paranoid. I just never set it up that way. Instead, I have it automatically backup to iTunes when it is plugged into a power supply and is on the same wifi as my desktop. The backups are encrypted with a strong password, which also allows health data to be backed up. BONUS! Arq then includes these iPhone backups when backing up my entire computer to my offsite storage.

Arq does incremental backups. So the new iPhone backups do not overwrite old ones. Instead, should I have the need, I can restore my iPhone from a specific point in time.

Why Should I Care? I Have Nothing to Hide.

One argument that keeps coming up is a rehash of having nothing to hide. This should not preclude you from caring about a fundamental human right.

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.[1]

Regardless on your personal feelings about Edward Snowden, it is hard to find fault with this stance.

Anyway

This is currently the setup that is right for me. That does not mean it is right for everyone. Far from it. But perhaps sharing my experience can help someone else with their decision.

If you want to start a discussion, you can find me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt.

Have a nice day,
Yono

Selling Apps via Apple's Volume Purchase Program

Alice and I have been discussing how we can expand our marketing outside of the mommy blogger space for Stories by Gus on the Go. For one, we are finding it more difficult this time around than a few years ago. Maybe we are less patient. More importantly, though, we want to diversify. Much like how in business it is risky to rely heavily on one customer or one revenue stream, it is simply too risky to rely on a single marketing idea.

One avenue we have tried with Gus 1 is targeting schools. However, due to the business model change for Stories[1], we will likely need to adapt our approach and maybe even our app a little.

But first, let me back up.


Back when I submitted our first app, Apple asked if I wanted to make Gus on the Go: Spanish available with a volume discount to educational institutions. I checked the box. This program allows schools to purchase 20 or more copies at half the price. If they purchase less than 20, they pay full price. It sounded good on the surface. I honestly did not give it a lot of thought.

As part of our marketing for Gus 1, Alice and I have tried several times to target schools and educational institutions with varying degrees of success. It is generally a hard market to break into because we are competing with other school necessities and limited budgets.

As it was explained to me by two former teachers[2], major purchases in each department usually occur at the end of the school year with the remaining budget. If a teacher wants something during the school year, the teacher would have to make a pretty convincing argument to get approval from the department head[3].

Despite the difficulties, we have had a measured amount of success.

Techniques

In no particular order, here are some of the things we have tried:

Cold emailing bilingual day cares: I individually emailed about 180 bilingual and multilingual day cares in Germany and offered promo codes to try out the app. This involved a ton of research and personalizing the emails to each day care based on the languages they offered and the people involved. This resulted in 8 responses.

Soliciting feedback from language teachers: We talked to several language teachers about what they would want in an app for their classes and got great tips. This helped us not only improve the quality of our app, but also develop some good relationships with teachers.

Speaking with a principal: I have also spoken with a principal, who I personally know. Not only did she put me in touch with one of her Spanish teachers, she also told other principals about the app.

Review sites aimed at teachers: We paid a site that specifically targets teachers in the UK to review our app and add it into their system.

Nothing: I think a lot of schools found out about us through our other marketing channels. This is not really targeting schools, but it is easy, since we are already doing it. The lesson? Always be marketing.

Results or: who does not love colorful graphs?

The following three graphs show how volume sales to schools increased compared to our overall sales. These graphs show only iOS, as Amazon and Google do not seem to have an educational discount program. Since revenue increased from year one to year two to year three, this necessarily means that the total revenue brought in by volume sales also increased.

Year one volume sales by units and revenue Year two volume sales by units and revenue Year three volume sales by units and revenue

Additionally, the breakdown of volume sales by language roughly (but not exactly) follows our overall sales by language. Interesting, but not wholly unexpected.

Volume sales breakdown by language

Finally, and my personal favorite, a histogram of volume sales by month. Here we see most of the schools, to which we sell, purchase at the beginning of the school year and throughout the first semester (August - December).

Volume sales histogram by month

While this seems to run contrary to the explanation I received, I think it is indicative of something else. Although major purchases (read calculators, triple beam balances, Bunsen burners) are usually done at the end of the year, purchases of consumables (think erasers, markers, batteries) are done as needed throughout the year. My best guess is that our apps are cheap enough to not fall into the major purchases category. Especially when they are half off.

We are not a cup of coffee. We are an eraser.


Adapting Stories

There is a slight issue with our business model for Stories. The app is free but with in-app purchases. There is no volume purchase program for IAPs.

When purchasing through the volume purchase program, schools have two options to distribute content to students. Either they manage the distribution to particular users or devices via an app, or they use redeemable codes. Managed distributions allow schools to reassign users and devices at the end of the year but the redeemable codes are permanently tied to the accounts that redeem them.

The problem with our content driven business model:

  1. In-app purchases would have to be done manually on each device
  2. The student would have to pay for the IAPs, if the devices are not owned by the school
  3. No possibility to transfer the IAP to a new student the next year
  4. No volume discount

The best solution for Stories might be to create premium versions of the app in addition to our freemium versions. The idea would be to package up a new app every time we create about 4 story packs. These apps (Stories 1, Stories 2, etc…) would then be sold alongside the freemium version.

Shall we do a pro/con list? I thought you would never ask!

Pros Cons
More easily sell to schools Lots of apps to maintain (languages * (1 + story packs / 4))
Custom analytics to see how schools are using the apps Customer confusion
Separate marketing copy targeted toward schools Extra marketing

You will notice marketing on both sides. On the cons side, it means that we will have to spend more time and energy on marketing, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It is simply not an easy thing. Especially not for me. I would rather be coding.

Where Do We Go From Here? (And Should We Really Care?)

If you have any thoughts or experiences on selling apps to educational institutions, I would love to hear from you. Or if you have first hand experience buying apps for a school, please get in touch. I have a ton of questions for you.

Start a conversation with me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt. I’ll post there when I write more.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. You did read that post, right?  ↩

  2. Thanks Charles and Joe!  ↩

  3. If you can target a department head, this would potentially make things easier  ↩

New App - So Why Not A New Business Model?

Business models are a funny thing. A lot of people tend to assume they are a constant and any change is bad. I used to think this way.

When my partner Alice and I released Gus on the Go, we used a business model that we felt was the equivalent of taking the moral high road. We were convinced that parents hated apps with In-App Purchases (IAPs), apps that linked to external content, and apps that had advertising. Our proof? Reading forum after forum of parents saying exactly that. This resulted in us using a business model that revolved around having a premium app with no further monetization or sharing options.

Was this wrong? Not necessarily. Not necessarily for our apps nor for the time we released them. Would we do something different today? Glad you asked!

While applying to a couple of startup accelerators[1], Alice and I were forced to think about our business model for Gus 1 and what we may or may not do differently for Gus 2. The application process really helped us focus the concept for the new app. There were a couple of difficulties brought about by our Gus 1 business model:

  1. Premium apps, despite being what parents “want”, still have a very high a barrier of entry. This is reflected in app buying habits of parents we have talked to and witnessed firsthand.
  2. With premium apps lacking IAPs, we are forced to always find new customers as we have nothing further to offer existing customer. Finding new customers takes more effort than selling to existing customers.
  3. We do not know who our customers are, if they do not contact us directly. They are all technically Apple’s or Google’s or Amazon’s customers. Not ours.

With this in mind, we developed our app idea and business model in parallel.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

For those of you who have read my previous posts, you know that we are not afraid of changes and experimentation.

We wanted to have an app that would be independent from the content (read: language lessons). The app’s purpose should be to deliver new lessons to the student. This would allow us to focus on creating new content for the app each month[2]. Our tag line was originally, The language learning app that grows with your child’s proficiency.

To sustain the content development, we could either charge per lesson or offer a subscription service once our lesson library was large enough to justify it. As a side effect, this would also shift our company’s priorities from shipping new apps to shipping new content.

This business model addresses concerns 1 and 2 mentioned earlier. We currently do not have a solution for number 3. And we are ok with that.

Following Through

Last week[3], we released Stories by Gus on the Go with this completely different[4] business model. Stories is a free language learning app targeted toward kids (but also used by adults). The app is broken up into story packs. Each story pack contains a lesson to introduce the student to new linguistic concepts (words and grammar), a review, a simple and familiar story, and a game to reinforce the learned concepts. The app includes two story packs and a further two are available for purchase via IAPs. In the future, we plan to release more story packs. Sometimes free and sometimes paid.

The hope is that we can build a healthy business using this new model.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Every time I type this header, I hear Dave Mustaine’s voice in my head.

In a few weeks, I plan on reporting on how Gus 2 downloads and sales are doing. Until then, feel free to ask questions or start a conversation with me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt. I’ll post there when I write more.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. See my Gus on the Go: Year Three post for more details.  ↩

  2. For example. This is not a hard schedule.  ↩

  3. February 2, 2016 to be exact  ↩

  4. Different for us  ↩

Lifestyle vs VC Funded Business

I have a quick and timely update to my last blog post. I know what you’re thinking. Finally! A short post.

A few minutes after I published my year three article, I drove two and a half hours to Amsterdam to see what Appsterdam is all about. Each Wednesday, they hold two meetups – a lunch lecture and an evening meet and greet.

The lunch lecture yesterday was given by Mike, mayor and founder of Appsterdam, on the subject of funding. What a coincidence. The lecture focused mostly on how funding works and a lot of the terminology behind it, but also touched on why you might want or not want to get funding for your company.

Mike is a very good speaker and the lecture was quite enjoyable. Much more succinctly than I, he was able to explain the lesson that Alice and I learned while applying to startup accelerators:

A lifestyle business and a venture capital funded business are mutually exclusive.[1] Your business cannot be both.

Venn diagram of business types

I think we’ll stick to building Gus on the Go into a lifestyle business.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. A lifestyle business is one that is grown to provide its owners with a certain level of recurring income. A VC backed business is expected to grow at an unsustainable rate until a successful exit (acquisition or IPO). Most of the latter do not have successful exits.  ↩

Gus on the Go: Year Three or: Maturing

This is the third and final part in the series on the background of Gus on the Go. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to write about it again, but I will likely stick to current events in the future. What an odd sentence. If you haven’t already, check out part one and part two.

Also, we just[1] released our first language for our sequel app Stories by Gus on the Go! It is Spanish (you’ll see why below), but other languages will follow shortly. Be on the lookout for future posts discussing how this new app evolves our business.


The title of this post is Maturing, as by year three, we had gone through the learning curve of releasing and marketing an app and were now in much better state than years one and two. This does not mean we knew everything there was to know about selling language learning apps for kids. Maturing also means that we continue to learn and improve our business.

The Great Hindi and Arabic Experiment: Race You to the Bottom!

In November and December of 2014, we decided to run an experiment on our two worst selling languages, Hindi and Arabic. Both were released earlier that year and both disappointed in terms of sales. Prior to the experiment, we had sold a total of 70 copies of Hindi in 9 months and 113 copies of Arabic in 7 months.

We had started to wonder if our $4 price tag was too high a barrier of entry for most people[2]. We’ve all heard something along the lines of “people pay $4 for a cup of coffee, but not for an app”. This isn’t really a fair comparison. With so much crap in the App Store, they at least know what they’re getting with the coffee.

The question was, would people try our two worst performing apps for free? We did a two week price drop with the sole intention of learning something about our market. We had no plans to upsell anything as our app had no In-App Purchases. We did it for the data.

We were only able to discount the apps in the Apple AppStore and the Amazon AppStore. At the time a switch to free on Google Play was required to be permanent, so we left that one alone. The results were beyond our most optimistic expectations.

Arabic for free Hindi for free

During the two weeks (15 days for Hindi and 16 for Arabic, actually), Hindi was downloaded 1,427 times and Arabic 1,898.

Language iOS Amazon Total
Arabic 892 1,006 1,898
Hindi 153 1,274 1,497

Had we offered an IAP for the same price that our app normally sells, conversion rates of 5.9% for Arabic and 4.9% for Hindi during those two weeks would be needed to equal the revenue of the previous 9 months.

Part of this, of course, is due to the publicity that price drop alert sites automatically give. But that wasn’t the whole story. We noticed language organizations more likely to recommend the apps to their followers and members after it was free to use. Perhaps, they felt there was no risk of backlash from their members if the app turns out to suck because it had cost nothing to try.

This is a truly interesting hypothesis. If you have the ability to offer something for free, not only will more people try it out, but the media is more likely to recommend it because it is safe. This is, however, useless without a way to generate revenue.

This experiment greatly influenced our business model for Gus 2[3]. Man, do I love data!

The Lesser German and Portuguese Experiment

At the same time, we decided to run a parallel experiment on two apps that do OK by our standards, German and Portuguese. German does much better than Portuguese, but also came out over a year before. On average, German currently sells 2–3 times more apps than Portuguese.

We weren’t going to make these apps free. We wanted to learn something different. Over the years, we had slightly experimented with price. Starting at $4.99 briefly dipping to $2.99 before settling at $3.99. We found, for our apps, sales volumes did not decrease when going from $2.99 to $3.99.

However, we had never tried the rock bottom paid tier for any of our apps before. $0.99. We wanted to test it out with these two languages. Again for two weeks.

For the two weeks prior to the experiment, we sold 23 copies of German and 9 copies of Portuguese. At the $0.99 price point, we sold 51 copies of German and 17 copies of Portuguese. However, this is what the revenue breakdown looked like:

Language 2 Weeks Prior ($3.99) 2 Weeks Of ($0.99)
German $58.88 $42.19
Portuguese $24.30 $11.84

Armenian

In the fall of 2014, we were contacted by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU). This is a non profit organization, whose mission is to promote the Armenian culture, including language. They liked Gus on the Go and were interested in creating two Armenian versions – Eastern Armenian, a dialect spoken in Armenia, and Western Armenian, which is spoken in the Armenian diaspora.

By this time, We had started planning Gus 2 and were worried that adding more Gus 1 languages would distract from this priority. However, Alice and I are suckers for niche languages. The honest and heartfelt thanks we receive from parents, who speak niche languages, is extremely rewarding. They often have trouble finding any material to help them raise their children with their mother tongues.

We signed a contract with the AGBU and by March 2015, we had two new languages in our series.

Armenian performance relative to other languages

This chart shows how the two Armenian dialects have performed against our other 26 apps over time. The current positions are Eastern in 26th place, Western in 16th place, and combined they’re in 11th place. And this despite only having 8–12 million native speakers.[4] Amazing what a little marketing can do! (Notice a theme?)

The nice thing about our partnership with the AGBU, is that they’re just as interested as we are in seeing the apps succeed. They have a direct line to Armenian speakers and are able to effectively get the word out. I’ve even heard a rumor that they purchased a giant advertisement for Gus in an Armenian airport. I’ve asked for pictures, but have yet to see any.[5]

Startup Accelerators

Sometime in the spring of 2015, I was listening to a podcast with an interview with a Y-Combinator graduate. It made me wonder if a startup accelerator could be something for us. Up until now, we had been bootstrapping our business, but that didn’t mean that there couldn’t be something else out there that could work for us.

I convinced Alice that we should at least apply just to see what would happen. We decided to apply to two simultaneously and to a third later on. The two, to which we initially applied, were Y Combinator and Imagine K12. The latter was focused on software for education and was created by a venture capitalist, who had worked with Paul Graham on Y Combinator. In fact, the application forms for the two were almost identical, so it really wasn’t more work to apply to both.

We realistically did not think we could get into Y Combinator, but Imagine K12 seemed like a really good fit. We were pleasantly surprised to get a video conference interview with the 3 partners of Imagine K12! They said our application was especially compelling. We later decided we were interesting to them because we boldly claimed we were going to be the next Magic School Bus and do $50 million in revenue within a few years. Yes your read that correctly. Ballsy.

We really tried to prepare for the interview, but we did a terrible job. Not really knowing what the VC world was like, we prepared for the wrong types of questions. We should have watched Silicon Valley beforehand. The one very important question that we stumbled on was how were we going to scale to a million customers. And by stumbled, I mean I babbled incoherently for about 5 minutes like a politician trying to answer questions about misusing campaign funds at a strip club. Needless to say, the next day we received our rejection email.

A few months later, we decided to again apply to an accelerator program. We decided on co.lab, as they were an even better fit for educational software.[6] This time, to avoid having an embarrassing, babbling answer to how we were going to scale, we changed our $50 million forecast to a conservative $2.3 million. Needless to say, we did not get to the next round.

The lesson? The best way to get an accelerator’s interest is to aim high, just make sure you have a reasonable explanation of how to get there.

Oh well, we didn’t want to give up control of Gus on the Go anyway.

A huge benefit to us, by going through the application process, was it really helped us refine what our concept of Gus 2 was going to be. Prior to applying, we had a very vague idea that we wanted to do a sequel, but assumed that was enough to get started. Nope. It really wasn’t. This application process required us to think through what the business model would be, which helped further define how the app would work. That alone was worthwhile.

In episode 212 of Core Intuition, Manton had a similar experience when applying to the Slack Fund. He said crafting the email to apply helped him clarify what the appealing thing of his idea might be.

Overall Sales Update

Update on our sales for year 3. Due to working on Gus 2 and not really concentrating on Gus 1, sales were fairly flat. If you want, you can possibly see a trend line going slightly up.

Overlay year 1, 2, and 3 revenue

This is an interesting breakdown of our top 6 languages for each of the first three years of Gus on the Go.

Top languages in year one Top languages in year two Top languages in year three

But you can understand why Spanish is our first language choice for Gus 2. This also helps explain why our geographical sales have crept back toward 75% in the US, to which I alluded in my year two post. Spanish sales have gotten stronger relative to other languages and 96% of our Spanish sales occur in the US.

Recent revenue by geography

Email List Update

Quick update on our email list growth. By the end of year three, our list was 4,882 emails strong. Again, I haven’t done much analyzing of the data yet. This is the first time I generated or looked at this graph.

Email list growth

Year Three: By the Numbers

  • Sales: 22,872
  • Revenue: $60,024
  • 1* Reviews: 2
  • 2* Reviews: 0
  • 3* Reviews: 1
  • 4* Reviews: 2
  • 5* Reviews: 15
  • Languages Available: 28
  • Total Apps: 84
  • Email List Size: 4,882

Where Do We Go From Here?

Congratulations! If you have read all three posts, you now have a pretty good background on Gus on the Go. Next time, I’ll will start with Gus 2[7], its business model, and why we changed it. After we have enough meaningful data, I should being doing some posts on that too.

In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter @yonomitt. Feel free to start conversation with me there. I’m also sure I’ll tweet when future posts are up.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. On 02/02/2016  ↩

  2. Well, duh.  ↩

  3. I’ll wrote about this soon, I promise.  ↩

  4. According to Wikipedia  ↩

  5. If you see it, take a picture and send it to me! I will be forever grateful.  ↩

  6. It turns out that Imagine-K12 was more focused on software to help educational institutions to teach more efficiently as opposed to software to teach. A subtle but import difference.  ↩

  7. Gus 2 was just our working title. The new app is called Stories by Gus on the Go  ↩

Gus on the Go: Year Two

This is part two in a series of three blog posts giving a background on what my parter and I have done so far for our language apps, collectively titled Gus on the Go. You can find part one here. Go ahead and give it a read. I’ll wait for you.


Year two started out with Alice and I treading brave new waters… at least for us. I had been working on converting the code base for Gus from using the cocos2d-iphone framework to using cocos2d-x. Why go from Objective-C to C++? Portability. We had a bold plan to double our sales. We were going to release Gus on Android!

Ok maybe we didn’t realistically expect to be able to double our sales, but at the time, Spring 2013, Android was aggressively growing its market share. Android phones were about 50% of the market. Although Android users spent significantly less than their iOS counterparts, based on our research (read googled), one exception was the children’s education market. As best as we could tell, for every dollar a user spent on educational children’s apps on iOS, an Android user spent 65 cents.

Expected Android/iOS split

Sorry, I couldn’t actually find the research we read at the time. The important thing is that we believed it. Mistake #3. For mistakes numbers 1 and 2, see the first blog post. To date, we routinely see sales on Android (from Google Play and Amazon combined) as about 17% of our total monthly revenue – which is a little less than half of what we expected.

Actual Android/iOS split

We don’t necessarily regret porting for Android, but there are some headaches involved. For starters many more devices to support[1], which required carefully optimizing certain aspects of the code to ensure compatibility with slower devices. Additionally, the switch to C++ made crash reporting a pain at the time (things have gotten much better since then with Fabric[2]).

But the really big change from the business side that came with the Android port was the decision to hire an app marketing agency. Alice and I decided that marketing, after all, was our weak point. We were essentially running out of marketing ideas and avenues. We had a wonderful product that elicited some fantastic, heart warming emails from our users. The problem, we felt, was that not enough people knew about it. A professional was going to be our silver bullet. Mistake… well, was it really a mistake?

A Marketing Agency to the Rescue

In May 2013, I emailed 5 different app marketing agencies inquiring about their services. I immediately heard back from all but one. After scheduling Skype[3] calls with the 4 candidate agencies, I had a clear favorite. Appency. We would not work with them, then, however.[4] Aaron at Appency, flat out told me that his company was too expensive for us. At the time we were doing $1,796 in monthly revenue. He did, however, speak to me for about 30 minutes on app marketing and gave me some tips that really positively affected our bottom line![5]

After further deliberation, Alice and I chose Appular to help market our Android launch. Something interesting to note here. Appular convinced us to do a launch-style marketing campaign for our Android release as opposed to the long game of marketing. We agreed as they were the experts. Mistake #4 It turns out that an Android launch is not interesting enough of a story to justify a launch-style campaign.

Appular had a list of 166 sites they wanted to target (narrowed down from their full pool). From that list we got 23 write ups, of which 12 were sponsored blog posts). While we did get quite a few write ups, the overall bump in sales was essentially zero.

30 day moving moving average around android launch 30 days of sales before and after android launch

During the campaign, I kept a spread sheet that correlated a site’s write up with their analytics to the traffic brought to our site.

Site Unique Visitors[6] Social Week 1 hits on our site
parents.com 1.3 M ??? 43
angelasanalysis 1,335 FB: 2,216; TW: 3,342; PIN: 2,335 6
sensiblysara 2,008 FB: 1,560 2
cyber-kap ??? TW: 3,904; PIN: 1,190 27

This is just a small sample of my analysis, to give you an idea of what I was tracking.

We were disappointed. And justifiably so. We were sold on this idea and the results weren’t there. At least not immediately. It would take another 6–7 months before we would realize what we truly got out of this 1.5 month marketing campaign.

One benefit we immediately got from our contract with Appular was a new and improved app description and list of keywords. We took these and immediately plugged them back into the iOS side along with an important tip from Aaron of Appency.

Metadata Localization

One of the pieces of advice Aaron gave me during our chat was to localize our app description and keywords. His logic followed, since our app was localization agnostic (the only language in the app was the target language – immersive learning), we could easily localize our app’s metadata and attract users from around the world to download our app. No change was needed to the app itself.

I discovered fiverr and set to work hiring translators from around the globe fairly cheaply. Fiverr is a micro job marketplace, where people provide services, such as translations, in multiples of $5 (also known as a gig). One piece of information that fiverr does provide is the country of the seller. I decided early on to only hire translators that came from the country where the target language was spoken. My reasoning being, I would more likely get a native speaker.

In total, I spent $75 to get translations in 15 languages. As the prices are cheap, it made sense to at least double check the results using Google Translate to ensure that it roughly means what you expect. I had no problems I could detect this way, but have no way of knowing if the nuances of the translations are correct. For the rest of the languages, I got help from friends, who are native speakers of those languages.

The results?

Pre-localization of metadata Post-localization of metadata

Prior to localization, 74% of sales of Gus on the Go were from the US. Afterward, it was closer to 56%. This is amazing – effectively a 32% increase in total sales solely due to markets outside the US!

In recent times, sales in the US have crept back up to 74%. I need to investigate if this is due to a disproportionate increase in US sales or if international sales have since fallen comparatively.

New Languages

While ordering translation services on fiverr, I also noticed many people offering voice over services in various languages. I realized this could be a great opportunity to expand the number of languages in the Gus on the Go series.

Over the course of several months, I spent $190 to record 114 words in 12 languages. Out of that came 7 new apps on 3 different platforms (so, 21 new apps). That is cheap. Sometimes quality is great and other times it’s so-so.

In addition to those, we also recorded friends for 4 further languages.

Percent of revenue from apps released in year two

These new languages brought in a total of $8,752 in year two. Not too shabby. We also still have 4 recorded languages we could theoretically release. Anyone interested in Bulgarian, Dutch, Indonesian, or Urdu?

SEO

I mentioned earlier that we wouldn’t understand the effects our Android launch write ups would have for 6–7 months. It turns out that those articles and blog posts had a big net positive effect on our search rankings. One of the original write ups was on parents.com[7], which was recycled by many other sites.

We didn’t really understand this effect until February 2014, when we received emails from Fuhu and Fingerprint. Fuhu was a company that made kid-friendly tablets and ran a curated App Store[8]. Fingerprint works with companies to create platforms with kids apps. Both were interested in bringing our language apps to their platforms.

When meeting with them, possibly the most important question we asked was, “how did you hear about us?” Each time, the answer was the same. They did a Google search for best language apps for kids and Gus on the Go ranked fairly highly. This, most certainly, was because of the media coverage Appular helped us receive.

Cyclical Sales?

After two years of Gus, we started noticing a distinct cyclical nature to our sales. At least we thought we did. I originally wrote this section completely differently. I think our mistake might have been recalibrating revenue expectations based on current months. This is shortsighted because we lost perspective of how much the current months had improved over the previous year.

Instead of showing you the graph I had in my head, here’s the actual graph of year one vs two revenue.

Overlay year 1 and year 2 revenue

Not a hockey stick, but still nice growth.

Email List Update

Our email list also grew quite a bit this second year.

Email list growth

While writing this blog post, this was the first time I had seen or generated this graph. I did not expect the 3 major jumps in size. It’s most likely due to a popular person or site linking to our printables page, but I should probably double check and report back. Writing these blog posts has also given me insights as to what kinds of graphs I should generate regularly and keep tabs on!

Year Two: By the Numbers

  • Sales: 17,224
  • Revenue: $44,883
  • 1* Reviews: 6
  • 2* Reviews: 2
  • 3* Reviews: 3
  • 4* Reviews: 3
  • 5* Reviews: 71
  • Languages Available: 26
  • Total Apps: 78
  • Email List Size: 2,375

Where Do We Go From Here?

This post has gotten really long. I think I’ve pigeonholed myself a little in trying to do one post per year of business… Next up, in Year Three we ran some experiments that would influence our business model for Gus 2. Additionally, we developed some business relationships and looked at some startup accelerators. Coming to a blog post near you!

In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter @yonomitt. I’m sure I’ll tweet when future posts are up.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. Although Apple is working hard to bridge this gap!  ↩

  2. That’s a blog post for another time.  ↩

  3. It’s amazing how many companies use Skype to conduct client meetings.  ↩

  4. We are currently working with them for the release of Gus 2, though!  ↩

  5. Aaron’s honesty and helpfulness is why we came back to them when we were ready with Gus 2.  ↩

  6. Unique monthly visitors was estimated by a 3rd party service and therefore accuracy is questionable.  ↩

  7. I had to get the page from the WayBack Machine, as the site is now 404’d  ↩

  8. Fuhu recently filed for bankruptcy.  ↩

Gus on the Go: Year One

This is the start of a series of posts that have been trapped in my head for a while. While attending the Release Notes conference, my conversations with several people[1] encouraged me to finally get my thoughts down.

Most indie devs are great on the technical side, but a little lost when it comes to business and marketing. I wanted to share our experiences to help our community and encourage more transparency and openness among us. This is not a how-to manual. Just a catalog of what we’ve done and, usually, the thinking behind it.

I am releasing sales figures (with my partner’s permission), but I don’t expect all people to follow suit. We were comfortable with doing so and felt it could round out the story a bit.

Also, if you’re looking for it, I’m not going to complain about Apple or the AppStore. All mistakes are my own.


My partner, Alice, and I are currently working on a sequel app to our Gus on the Go language learning series. The new app has a different business model and incorporates a ton of lessons learned from the first app. Before we get to the new app, I wanted to establish the background. Over the next 3 posts, I will discuss in (hopefully interesting) detail each of the first three years of Gus on the Go.

<elevator pitch>

Gus on the Go is a language learning adventure that teaches kids aged 2–6 about 90 words in a new language in an immersive way using lessons, reviews, and games.

</elevator pitch>

We released our first two languages in the Gus on the Go series on July 13, 2012 — English and Spanish. Each language is a separate app, which has positives and negatives[2].

During the first year of Gus we released 15 languages (ergo apps), which represent over half of our current Gus on the Go catalog. Some are good sellers, some are bad. Due to the number of apps, I’m just going to report sales across all apps.

Year 1 Gus revenue by week

Notice our completely-by-the-book launch curve:

Typical launch curve

Ha! Ok, so that’s not what we saw. Instead, we grew our sales and revenue numbers slowly and over time.

Not knowing a thing about marketing, we just put the first two languages in the AppStore and expected people to find us. Mistake #1. Classic rookie, gold-rush thinking.

Shortly after we launched Gus on the Go with little or no marketing plan, we realized that we needed to do something in order for people to find us. We started putting together some ideas for how to market the app.

However, we consciously put off implementing these ideas in favor of releasing more languages. Mistake #2. The thinking at the time was that any marketing effort would be wasted if we did not have more language options available for potential customers. We were actually worried that:

  1. our marketing would work
  2. people would come to our site
  3. not find the language they wanted
  4. and leave never to come back

This line of thinking was ridiculously irrational. For starters, the two languages we initially released make up 34% of our total sales to date. This is due to the strength of the US market. And people in the US want to learn Spanish[3]. Additionally, to mitigate these fears, we could have put up a “coming soon” page on our website to hint at languages we were going to release – with a prompt to sign up for an email list to be notified upon release!

Mommy Bloggers

When we finally started marketing, our plan was to approach mommy bloggers. We got our first break when Alice contacted a blogger she knew with a popular food blog. Alice convinced her to do a write up on Gus on the Go, which appeared on October 27, 2012.

Her blog wasn’t a 100% fit, but it got us off the ground because she was a trusted voice with over 1 million page views per month. Sales went from an average of 2.9 per day for the 30 days leading up to the post to 8.8 per day for the 30 days after the post.

30 day moving moving average around food blog post

Amazing what a difference a little marketing does.

Our next reviews came fairly close together in February of 2013, so it would be hard to extract the long term effect each individual post had on our sales. We first had a review written up on another trusted mommy blog, that is no longer around. That gave use a nice spike of sales directly after and, of course, helped with SEO.

Shortly after, we got a big break and were featured on Cool Mom Tech. Alice was persistent and had contacted them several times. It wouldn’t have happened had we not been actively approaching bloggers about our app. Much like in other blogging or online media areas, the mommy blogger world tends to feed itself. So getting a couple of writeups makes it much easier to get more writeups.

Prior to these two reviews, our daily average sales went from 14.9 per day over the previous 30 days to 23.0 per day over the following 30 days

30 day moving moving average around 2 Feb blog posts

I should also mention, that Alice really spent a lot of time researching the bloggers we approached. She read their entire blogs and crafted very personal emails to them if she thought we were a good fit for each other. I recommend you read those last two sentences again.

When done right, marketing is tough, but works.

Growing a Mailing List

Early in January of 2013, we decided to try another marketing idea. Based on what she had seen on Pinterest and other craft websites, Alice hypothesized that we could drive people to our website if we offered free supplemental learning aids in the form of printable crafts. Once on our site, we would have a chance to upsell the Gus on the Go apps.

Since we weren’t exactly sure how to do this well, we decided we should at least capture emails to give us future opportunities to upsell. The idea was to require an email address to receive the desired printable. At the same time, they would be signed up to our newsletter.

Here is how our email list grew until the end of that first year:

Email list size over time

Not tremendous growth the first 6 months, but it’s a good thing we started. We now have an email list over 6,000 strong to inform when updates and new apps (Gus 2!) are released. Additionally, since the printables are language based, we know which languages each newsletter subscriber is interested in. This is valuable information as we can send pertinent information to each person, which, theoretically, increases open rates. Our last newsletter had an open rate of 21.3% compared to 15.6% industry average for software and web apps[4].

We currently don’t use our email list enough, but there are plans in the works to change this once Gus 2 is getting ready for release.

Our email list is also a way to try and keep in touch with our customers and potential customers. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s that much more important to iOS developers, since we don’t automatically know who our customers are.

Facebook and Twitter[5]

While we did the obvious and easy thing to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, we don’t use them to their full potential.

On Facebook, we’ve tried things like contests and giveaways, but most of our engagement has been with friends of ours.

We’ve mostly used our official Gus on the Go Twitter account to connect with mommy bloggers and customers, which has been good, but, again, we utilize it way too little.

Year One: By the Numbers

  • Sales: 4,478
  • Revenue: $14,396
  • 1* Reviews: 1
  • 2* Reviews: 0
  • 3* Reviews: 1
  • 4* Reviews: 4
  • 5* Reviews: 50
  • Languages Available: 15
  • Total Apps: 31 [6]
  • Email List Size: 183

Where Do We Go From Here?

In my next post, I’ll continue to talk about the business side of Gus on the Go and show more fun graphs from Year Two[7]. Additionally, I’ll go into detail on hiring a marketing agency and our Android release. I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat.

In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter @yonomitt. I’m sure I’ll tweet when future posts are up.

Have a nice day,
Yono


  1. Thanks @parrots, @8BIT, @subdigital, and @shanezilla! - whether you know it or not  ↩

  2. I’m sure I’ll get to these in detail in a future blog post.  ↩

  3. Overall, the US market is about 71% of our total sales. 96% of our Spanish sales are in the US. More on geography breakdown in my Year Two post.  ↩

  4. According to MailChimp  ↩

  5. We also have a Google+ account, but please don’t hold that against us. Everyone was doing it! I swear!  ↩

  6. Gus 1 launched on Android about 2 weeks before the end of year 1, but that’s a story for the next post. Oh and as a test, 1 language went up on Amazon, too.  ↩

  7. Spoiler alert: Revenue does go up!  ↩