How I Went From $1,000 to $200,000 With Apps

“Speed provides the one geniunely modern pleasure.” – Aldous Huxley

Consider this a victory post and how I would advise my family if they wanted to get into apps.  I can’t promise you’ll be able to replicate what I’ve done, but I wanted to share my story in case you’re able to figure out a way to apply it to your business.  Abundance is better than scarcity, so here goes…

Apptopia sale

In case you didn’t hear, I sold my app portfolio. Woo!

Now that the champagne hangover has passed, I wanted to address a question a lot of people asked me.

“Carter, if you started over, what would you do RIGHT NOW? How would you approach the app market?”

I think this is a really good question to ask because it forces me to address the age old “if I knew then what I know now” type of thinking. Even more than that, the market is so different now than it was in October 2011 that there is a lot that I would do now that is completely different. What’s hard at this point is that there is a sense of urgency mixed with a million different options about how to move forward with apps. It’s overwhelming. I totally feel you on all counts.

In a lot of ways, I am starting over myself. I’m launching new apps with new models. But it’s different – I have money to play with now, I’m not beholden to a job or other responsibilities. I’m 29 and don’t have to think about a lot that many of you do, which allows me to roll the dice a bit more. So this post is for everyone out there trying to make the TRANSITION that the internet and internet marketing have promised for years. That life of passive income and excitement that grows to a point that can be your full time gig.

Let’s be honest, this post is about how to make money as fast as possible using apps.

Here’s what I would do.

Step 1: Buy Low, Re-Skin, Repeat. Only Make Games.


Call it app flipping, re-skinning, or just good business, the best way to enter the market is to hit the ground running.

In other words, leverage the work that someone else has done by licensing or purchasing source code. My drug of choice is Apptopia because you can get an app in the store immediately before having to re-skin. If you go to another source code marketplace, you have to re-skin the game before you can launch. It just adds time to your bottom line, although sometimes you can get powerful engines for cheap. Also, if you can get a universal (iPhone & iPad in one) you’ll have a big boost in revenue.

Typically you want to get a code engine that is “endless” or has an enormous number of levels. There are a few reasons for this:

  • More opportunities to advertise
  • More opportunities to advertise
  • More opportunities to advertise
  • Sell some In app purchases
  • Make the user happy with good source code
  • Re-skin multiple versions a LOT more easily
  • More opportunities to advertise

I’ll get to this in a minute, but the golden rule is that you want to be re-skinning GRAPHICS and not re-skinning CONTENT. That’s a huge difference.

Once you have this re-skinnable engine in your hands, move to Step 2.

NOTE: DO NOT try to build something from scratch. I say again – this is not about pride or being a revolutionary. This is not about your idea being great. This is about making money. Let me explain this further (free 4 part course – Click here). 

Step 2: Monetizing in 33 Days

So you have an endless runner engine ready to send to your designer and/or developer. Awesome.

Now you need to strategically place advertisements to maximize your game’s value. This is not pretty, but it makes money.

Without fail, the best place to place advertisements is at the beginning of the game. Use full screens and don’t be afraid to layer them. I use RevMob and Chartboost for iOS and launch them at the same time. It’s very aggressive, but it makes money.


The next is to place both these fullscreens on the Game Over action. The user jumps off a cliff and dies…BOOM you serve up both Revmob and CB. Same with when they hit the pause screen and exit back to the main menu. If they’re trying to leave the game, try to get them to leave in a way that makes you money.  These ad networks hinge on selling installations of other games so you need to get users to click on the ads, go to the app store, then install the displayed game.

Within this framework, you should also be using banner ads. The revenue won’t be nearly as good, but it’s something. I use iAds and MoPub. I hear OpenX is pretty good too. The trick is display as many ads as possible. Banner ads typically refresh on a 40-60 second interval, so you need to keep a user playing for about that long OR find ways to increase the number of times banners are served up.

Example would be: User opens game, sees RM/CB ads, picks level, starts playing, banner is displayed while they are playing. Play for 30-40 seconds, then end level or die which leads to Game Over screen. RM/CB fire off and while the the user closing those ads, you’re serving a NEW banner impression behind it all. That creates a secondary impression for the core user flow. This doesn’t work quite as well for CPC (cost per click) campaigns, but helps a lot of CPM (cost per impression) campaigns.

PRO TIP: On the game over screen, make the level score tick up from zero to whatever score they achieved. That way the user has to wait for 4-5 seconds while the scoreboard gets to their score…while they stare at the banner ad. Not only does this give the servers enough time to download the ad and increase your fill rate, it will increase your click rates A LOT. I did this on some of my runner games and it crushed it.

When it comes to IAP (in app purchase), you’re not going to make nearly as much money on these type of games. Even if you put tons of cool stuff in your store, the IAP will be a joke compared to what you make on advertising.

The best thing to do is offer some ridiculously high, very clever options for the few people that are die hard lovers of your game (maybe 1% of users). Adding things like “Unstoppable Kid Mode!” where it’s impossible to die for $29.99 type of stuff. Remove ads for $0.99 is not going to help you retire. Sorry.

The reason for this is economics – the top 1% should pay for everyone else’s marginal cheapness. People who love the game should pay for everyone else who doesn’t have the money or find the value to spend the money. NOTE: that is not a political reference so please don’t go there. 

What’s the 33 day reference?


33 days is my window for making a 100% return. If I spend $600 on a re-skin, I give it 33 days to make $1,200. I’ll watch it and update it and do whatever, but after 33 days, I forget about it. Everyone’s got their own number, but after the first month, these low quality games really aren’t worth your time relative to the value you get from focusing on the next game.

Sometimes it’s 5 days, sometimes its 100 days. I choose 33 because it’s aggressive and forces me to work harder.

That bring us to….

Step 3: Choosing Your Theme

This is something I talked about in my App Empire talk. The one difference that I had early on was that I chose themes that weren’t “hot” themes – I chose themes that would provide qualified traffic for advertisers. Revmob’s top advertisers last summer were Pocket Gems and TinyCo, so I made animal style games that crushed eCPM.

When you choose your theme now, you have a few options:

  • Find the top advertisers on the networks you’re using and cater to them (casino, mafia, fantasy, young women, etc)
  • Capitalize on popular trends (I’ve seen plenty of examples of this being an AWESOME strategy for fast ROI)
  • Capitalize on hot apps (If Temple Run 2 is coming out, might want to make a game similar….)
  • Capitalize on flashy design (No matter how crowded, if you have a sick racing icon and screen shots, it will crush it for a week or two)

Bottom line is that you should choose your theme based on where the money is and where the volume is. When you can match those two together, it’s party time.

Step 4: Publishing


The #1 thing I tell people to do when they ask where to start is to get awesome at publishing. Publishing is the process of going from having an Xcode project sent to you and then having a live app in the store. What it includes:

  • Title
  • Screenshots
  • Description
  • Keywords
  • Provisioning Profiles and Archive uploading
  • In-app purchase setup
  • Game Center setup
  • All ad network setup

You’ll find that with the re-skinning model that this is almost always the bottleneck. The better you get at doing this, the more money you’ll make. Developers and designers, especially when they are using the same code over and over, can pump out projects for you. Then you have to move them to the store. Over and over. And over. Ugh.

If you don’t know much about publishing, that’s totally ok! I wrote a course with 5 free ebooks (over 150 pages!) that explains everything, including this entire publishing process. You can download it for free here. 

Step 5: Repeat

Do this again. Do it often. Start slow and do it right, then ramp up once you can publish apps like it’s a part of your body. Everyone I know who’s making $50-100K a month has gone through this exercise so many times it makes their head hurt. They are total masters at this 5 step process. They have a lot of it outsourced, but only after understanding the mechanics first hand dozens and dozens of times.

Step 6: Go Get Started!

The obvious next question is that you have to get the source code to start with! Duh. If you’ve been watching the charts lately, you see that there’s a very clear starting point. Some of these people build their own apps, but most are buying source code somewhere.

There are a lot of marketplaces out there but I think they can be overwhelming and also FULL of garbage. It’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not. That’s why I am selling codes on my own site. I’m just getting started but also only put up stuff that’s top quality and easily ROI positive.

Click here to get started with reskinning and source codes. 

Kick Some Ass

And that’s it. These efforts will start compounding and you’ll find yourself making more and more money. It’s SUPER intense for a while and really doesn’t get less intense, but it’s how you make money with apps when you start with a few thousand dollars (not even!).

Hope that helps you guys. Everyone I know who’s done this makes more money every month than they did the month prior. That’s all that matters. Every month has to be more than the last. Do that and you will make a lot of money :)

Good luck! Keep rocking! Get the champagne ready!

Click here if you want more information on how to do this yourself »



  • LOL February 6, 2014

    ” Carter Thomas October 4, 2013 at 11:51 pm
    Sigh. Haters gonna hate. Funny thing is the apps I make are probably better than half the shit most indie developers spend months of their lives on…then go broke.”

    OH Wow! Thank You, you’re making the world a better place, really thank you.

  • Daniel February 6, 2014

    I got mixed feeling with the post. It’s inspirational in a not-so-good mannter. Teaches something about software reusing. It’s a remarkable “business” to find. I should look for analogies all around the world (probably less malicious). And there are programmers who may get value ($ or non-$) creating some skeleton code and non-programmers capable of making $ selling it.
    However, I understand you aim at dork teens. Somehow like selling drugs to kids. And that you cannot be too honest in this business (as in honest reviews as commented earlier). Jeez, this is the most revolving part.
    But, hey, in the end, you are just a domestic/donwscaled/cheapo version of Electronic Arts. So, best luck. Get as much as you can, invest in weapons, long-lasting food and hidden bunkers, and wait for the crash. And protect your children from people like you.

  • god February 7, 2014

    youre a bad person and I really hope you die slowly and painful

  • Sein oder Sollen February 8, 2014


    This is a great post in my book – and I’ve read a lot since 1992. The discussion/comment thread is equally interesting – some rather ‘deep’ knowledge can be inferred from it.

    And my professional perspective: as a business lawyer, I’m completely used to team & incremental efforts, procurement of half fabricates for further development and in general the adage ‘beter goed gejat dan slecht verzonnen’ – yep I’m Dutch.

    Writing that last line, I also remember the aha-moment when my father pointed out a painted steer in a Paris museum and asked me how original a painted steer can be… Have seen many since – and I ain’t never been to Texas, BOY ;-)

  • Max February 9, 2014

    “Everyone I know who’s done this makes more money every month than they did the month prior. That’s all that matters. Every month has to be more than the last. Do that and you will make a lot of money :)”

    This article summarizes so much of what is wrong with capitalism.

  • JP February 9, 2014

    So glad I have adblocker on my browser whilst reading this. I don’t care how much money you’ve made out of this, you are creatively and ethically void and one of the reasons that the proper hardworking indie devs go bust – because there’s so many other corrupted people making a fast buck out of others’ hard work, flooding the app stores with copycat clones and burying the original content from the light of day.

    You are scum. I hope you lose all your misgotten gains in multiple lawsuits.

  • Nick March 1, 2014

    This article is deceptive. It sounds like apps being made by you are useless and of no value, to the advertisers or to the users. The market will eventually recognize this and a purge will happen.

    Apps should be developed with a purpose and with value. No doubt this aspects of making money is available, but eventually even the advertisers will know that they are wasting their advertising money and will not utilize such service.

  • Francine March 31, 2014

    great article! I don’t understand why there’s so much hating in all the comments. App flipping is a business just like any other business. No different then flipping condos.

  • kathy April 8, 2014

    Doesn’t apple tend to not approve apps that have been reskinned too many times? I’m reskinning one of my apps and I’m worried that if I do more than 3 reskins of this app that on the 4th I will get refused…they are all different graphics, sounds etc..but have some similar elements as they are part of a ‘brand’..and it’s my brand but still I’m concerned and I can’t get a straight answer from itunes about this. Please help.

  • Igor April 15, 2014

    An interesting article, and so very true about mobile stores nowadays. I’m (or WAS) an indie developer myself, lost maybe 1.5 years and thousands of dollars on a few projects which never earned much on mobile (didn’t even cover their costs). Until I finally found a type of apps which pays out and, just as the article’s author says, I keep pumping them out like hell. It’s all digital recycling. My only difference is that I am a programmer and write all the code myself (and do the publishing myself), so it all goes at a much slower pace, and the quality of my apps is much higher. Yet, in the end, it’s all just about ads, ads, and more ads.

    Thanks for the great article! I’ve certainly learnt something. So, I’ll use the lesson to increase my revenues. Basically, I need to speed up and care less for quality, prefer quantity instead because, well, my user don’t give a shit about quality. They need tons of crap.

    To all the haters: guys, I understand you completely. I hate what I have to do with all this “digital recycling” but it’s the market which dictates this. Who is playing mobile games anyway? I don’t play them myself. As a hardcore gamer with 20 years of playing experience and years of experience as game reviewer in specialized journals, I can’t stand the free-to-play model and don’t enjoy any of that “endless runner” crap or similar games. Still, there are millions of people playing that garbage. Who are they? Low-IQ kids? Their low-IQ moms? I don’t care really. If this ads-raping works for them and if their tastes are so low that they can endlessly swallow this garbage, why not make use of it and at least accumulate SOME money which you could later make use of in your other, serious projects. It’s still better than sitting in some shit company like Dilbert and “exercise in futility”.

    Where is the world going… Idiocracy as it is. And this new world has its new heroes like the article’s author.. At least give him credit for his good math skills and the entrepreneur’s drive. It’s not his fault that there are so many stupid people out there who play crap. He just adapted to it.

  • Jake April 26, 2014

    Very interesting read! I’m very interested in pursuing this, however the high initial outlay of costs is a little daunting for something I have never tried and may not be able to achieve, but I spouse if I scrounge the cash together one day I might feel comfortable to just take the plunge. I have one question though, how do you go about creating your new themes? What sort of software/websites/companies do you utilize to produce all the imagery required for new themes?


  • Haden May 9, 2014

    So much negativity. .. Thank you for your information even though I’m not making apps but I did get some good ideas on marketing. … I’ll get back to you when I’m a millionaire not that money means that much to me when I just really love what I do…filming!!! it doesn’t matter what I film but am happy if even one person enjoys it and if someone purchase from rites to advertising so be it. And there are apps that are just dedicated to selling on all platforms big and if some one decides to follow the above well great they are making a effort towards bigger things.

  • Justme May 12, 2014

    Good way to make money but like with everything it probably does not work any more since so many people now know about it. Reading about this guy, I would say most of the negative reviews here are by him :) He is using negativity to generate interest :)

  • Matt McCann June 5, 2014

    I am currently a soon to be sophomore in high school looking to start a new hobby (creating apps) and possibly make some cash doing so. Where do you recommend I start? Do you think I should start by trying to create something on xcode or…? I appreciate your time.

  • Asher June 12, 2014

    Good idea. Stupid people make creative people rich.

  • ronin June 20, 2014

    No matter what people say here. I thank you for taking the time to share some valuable help and experience. Agree or not Thanks.

  • LM June 26, 2014

    I can’t believe the losers who come here to criticize you for having a brain. Thank you for sharing. I’m amazed at liberal idiots turning this into a political arena to bad mouth capitalism when you are sharing your hard earned secrets with them, what are they sharing with you? They are sharing jealousy and hate. That is what people who are complete losers do, they claim some altruism and say that capitalism sucks and the 1% sucks but they expect handouts from those same 1% and they are never the ones to donate or help anyone with anything. The best is the people who say that apps are supposed to be developed for a purpose. Really? They wrote the universal app law? If I create an app that tell you to go f yourself then that immediately has a purpose. Anything that someone creates has a purpose, but these morons think only their purpose is a valid purpose. I thank you for your advice and for trying to help your fellow man to achieve what you achieved. Not only is your work totally ethical but your article shows true initiative and integrity, you are not forcing anyone to buy your apps, they download them at their own leisure and I applaud you for giving people what they want and making a profit on it. Great job.

  • Peter July 19, 2014

    Love this post. Great money making strategy in the short term.

    Since this post is written in 2013. Whats the best way to market the reskined games in 2014 and gain 100% roi in a month. I dont want to spend too much on marketing.

  • Gabriele July 23, 2014

    Guys, he wants money, he gets money, he is doing fine, i’m happy for him. What he does is lame, yes, i agree, and that is because he is a skilless person trying to carve his own way in this world. I don’t think he is wrong in trying to do that, and when you are untalented anything you do will be lame at most. And why all the hate? If you are trying to do great games mood up, shitty games and great games are not in the same market and don’t share the same customers, he is not a competitor of yours.

    That said, it seems to me this is a big commercial for his startup, so i doubt he really got half the success he advertised.

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas July 24, 2014

    @Gabriele – Thanks for the comment. What makes a “great” game vs a “shitty” game?

  • Thompson July 25, 2014

    Thanks man, I’m inspired..

  • idan August 10, 2014

    Hi Carter! thanks for the great article.

    I have a question, why in your opinion people even sell their apps on apptopia for $200 if they claim the app is making so much money for them.

    I’m just trying to understand the way of thinking because I saw an app that I thought was worth while to buy but than again I thought “why is this person selling this?!”

  • collin August 16, 2014

    I just have a question or if you can give me a clear understanding because right now i am on the process of developing an app, so my question is how can i make money out of my app?

  • valery noah September 4, 2014

    So carter, i just purchase a source code on your website. Well i looked at my bank account and the money was taken. But , i still haven t receive the code!!!!!!!!!!! It ‘s been two days!

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas September 5, 2014

    @Noah – thanks for your comment. I’m responding because we’ve have a few emails back and forth and you really wanted me to publish this comment so the world can see,. In your words: “you have to post my comment or i will make sure that other peoples see your true color.” Unfortunately, this may have not worked out well for you. After we went back and forth a few times on email it turns out:

    1. You received the dropbox links IMMEDIATELY after purchasing, you just didn’t realize it.
    2. After you sent an email to Jess, she ALSO sent you the links, you just missed them.
    3. You pointed out that you’re an electrical engineer with a double major in math + engineering so you definitely know what’s up…
    ….but then also said you wanted a refund because you were under the impression that: “that after the purchase of the code, you will help your customer with the reskinning. What i mean by that is like a free tutorial that show how to reskin. I know a little bit of c,java but i don t want to have a headache. I just want to change the pic, the d, the music like. you said.”

    4. So I gave you a full refund, even after you told me you would go buy immediately from a competitor if I did not provide the free tutorial you requested.

    In any event, good luck to you.


  • Jagjit Bhatia October 30, 2014

    To all idiots bashing Carter: Wow…..such harsh comments? This guy is offering you people GAME CHANGING and GENIUS advice, and this is how you repay him? By writing a crap ton of dirty comments? You guys should be ashamed of yourselves! Those of you that are saying that Carter is not creative are probably not creative yourselves. Or at least your not creative enough to realize that what he is doing IS creativity. It’s business man! Instead of a nice “thank you”, you guys are calling him things I wouldn’t even say as a JOKE to my friends…..this deserves a true facepalm.

    to Carter: Thanks a lot for sharing this advice! I am actually thinking of going into some app development as a small, high school job. It sure sounds like a lot of fun XD. Either way, keep up the great work!

  • David Morales November 2, 2014

    This is something interesting I didn’t knew about. I’m going to try this approach but I don’t have the money to invest in source code right now, though I know how to code, so I’ll be generating my own source code copying from some popular game apps.

    I really need to get out of the rat race and this seems the most profitable idea I have met so far.

    Thanks a lot for the info and ideas.

  • vinodh November 14, 2014

    I am a java developer for 15 years.
    trying to learn android apps making.
    I have no experience in gaming programming.
    Is it possible to publish gaming apps in anroid.
    any website from where I can learn gaming for android.

  • blanko November 16, 2014

    Thanks for the write up. Its very impressive

    Am a software engineering major from africa with a lot of passion for app development. I’ve always faced challenges getting into this app world due to the fact that am from africa and don’t have a credit card or bank account.Also, app developer accounts are not permitted in my country. Currently i have a windows pc so i can do android and windows apps but i don’t own a mac but can use a service like macincloud for ios temporarily till i get a mac.
    Any idea on how i can join the app business with this challengesWolf of Wallstreet

  • MARC December 3, 2014

    Interesting. well i willing to pay someone if they can teach me how to create app and how to make money of it. i willing to learn please contact me…

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