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The Secret to Making Money with Apps

Published January 7, 2014

If you make apps, you have a problem. I’d like to help you fix it, but before I share more details about Appiness and making money with apps, let me explain the problem.

The App Store now has over one million apps from 350,000 developers. 1,000,000 apps. That’s a lot of zeroes! And only 25 of those “brand name” developers, including King (of Candy Crush Saga fame) and Super Cell, who made Clash of Clans and Hay Day, make 50% of the revenue—or approximately $60,000,000 per month.

We’ve all heard the Cinderella stories about normal people with no programming expertise making six- and seven-figure incomes with in the app business. But what do the other 350,000 developers earn, on average, per month? $170 per month.

Are you kidding me?! You can make more than $170 a month delivering newspapers or selling junk on eBay.

So what’s the secret of the people making the big bucks?

Smart marketing.

Marketing is what separates the winners and the losers in the App Store. I’ve spent the last two years figuring that out. Yet a lot of people treat marketing as little more than an afterthought. Once Apple’s review team approves the app, they post the link on Facebook and Twitter then wait for the dollars to roll in. Their apps end up dying a slow death in the App Store, and most of them feel powerless to do anything about it.

After all, King is king of the jungle. Candy Crush Saga converts so well that they can afford to pay over $2 per install on Facebook and other ad networks. They can buy their way to the top of the charts, and they can also promote new games inside their own network of hundreds of millions of players.

How can indie developers compete with big studios? Can they even hope to move up the food chain and start making money with apps?

I know how easy it is to get discouraged.

Back in September of 2011, I started mapping out my first app, Mustache Bash.

I had no programming experience. Photoshop and Illustrator make me feel like I’m lost in the woods. I am NOT a designer. But I was stubborn (and stupid) enough to keep moving forward, so I hired a designer, and hired a programmer, and scraped together enough cash to start the project. Yes, you read that correctly: I didn’t even have enough money to finish the app at first!

Fast forward to June 2012. I had finished my first app, Mustache Bash, and it had made over $1200 in its first month.

I was hoping for more, but was still very excited. I mean, I’d published a friggin’ app. Me. This guy.

So after borrowing $3000 from friends, I made four more apps. But they barely made any profit.


I’d spent over $8000 to make five apps, and I was in debt (and to friends!).

My apps seemed dead in the water.

This uncomfortable situation forced me to start asking some tough questions:

  • Why aren’t my apps generating more revenue?
  • What if I’ve wasted all this time and effort creating worthless apps?
  • How are some indie developers able to make so much money with apps?

Rather than give up, I decided to start experimenting with small, inexpensive marketing tactics.

For example, I changed my app titles and keywords. I added localizations. I released small app updates. I switched out ad SDKs, and even changed the colors of certain buttons. Slowly but surely, my apps began generating more revenue!

My app business stabilized, and one by one, my apps went from the red to the black.

Six months ago, I realized that I might be able to help other app developers. I was in Portland, Oregon, for World Domination Summit, and I was listening to problogger Darren Rowse explain how he wrote his first guide fifteen minutes at a time. Darren wanted to help photographers with a big problem they were facing.

That’s when I decided to do something to help iOS developers with their big problem: marketing.

Though on some days I was only able to spend fifteen minutes working on the guide, 180 days’ worth of work adds up. I wrote out my true tale of appiness, as well as step-by-step instructions for the app marketing tactics that have helped me turn duds into profitable apps.

Appiness: An Unusual Guide to Doubling Downloads, Minting Money & Finding Freedom is finally finished. It is an unusual step-by-step, how-to marketing guide available for iOS developers because it gets into brass tacks and tells you now to do stuff. I wrote the guide that I really needed when I first got started.

App developers need to start with a solid foundation—that is, high-quality apps—and then execute a smart marketing plan to help their apps gain visibility, get more downloads, and start making money with apps. Appiness can help you do just that.

I hope the guide helps you tell your own true tale of appiness:

Popsicles and unicorns,

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