“You’ve got to trust your process.” – Marcus Lemonis
After being in the app business for a few years, I’ve learned that it’s important to show step-by-step guides that allow others to have repeatable results.
This market can be competitive… but what market isn’t?
In order to bypass a lot of the mistakes I made (read: lost a TON of money), it’s important that I share my story. It took me and my team YEARS to figure this stuff out.
Hopefully you’ll be able to digest it in a matter of minutes.
NOTE: This stuff still works (in 2017). Join our workshop to see exactly how you can replicate this process by clicking here.
How we Built A Huge App Business
This is a detailed post, so if you want to skip the part that interests you most, click on a link below to fast forward to that section.
Table of Contents
- Why making money is not as obvious as you think
- Our research process for finding golden opportunities
- Why we went cross platform
- How direct deals can double your income
- The biggest thing we tested (and the results)
- How we rode the Super Bowl wave
- Why you need a well oiled machine
- Networking is not just a buzzword
- The one step that unsuccessful people skip
- What’s next?
The goal of this post is to teach you the frameworks and the model so that you can re-create what others have done. Our duty is to guide and inspire however we can – in this case, it’s with our experience.
In less than 24 months we (myself and my team) were able to publish over 1,500 apps on multiple platforms.
Early on, I sold over 100 of those apps to a hedge fund and collected over $200,000, began networking with the top grossing games on the app store, and slowly rebuilt yet another empire of higher quality apps and powerful portfolios.
The market got more competitive, yet our processes still worked. Profits continued (even now!) to roll in.
There are a lot of ways to make money out there and a bunch of ways to make money with apps… and this is the story of how we did it.
The “process” we used to grow like crazy boils down to a few key principles that anyone could put together in a cohesive way.
Here’s an example of app revenue from our internal document:
That aggregates all our apps (paid and free), ad network revenues and other deals for our app companies. This has EXPLODED some months and remained steady during others….but the overall trend is always moving up.
We followed business fundamentals, setup a system, automated processes and used competitive advantages.
Sound crazy? It’s not. In fact, doing this was one of the most straightforward (and fun!) adventures I’ve ever been on.
More importantly, this post is about showing that systems WORK.
Even though this happened over the course of two years, it still works now despite the widespread belief that apps are the land of “one shot wonders” and “gold rushes.”
Below is the 9 point process we’ve used time and time again to leverage a small team into the stratosphere of business…and a guide on how you can do it too.
1. We built apps to make money
This may sound like an obvious statement but you’d be surprised at how many people forget about this business goal once they got lost in the details.
When I started out, I had no plans of being a featured app or winning tech awards – I was in this business to make money.
What’s important to remember is that making money does NOT mean being a scam artist or spammer or even greedy – it means creating value at a level that the market will reward.
It’s about choosing how you focus your efforts and how you measure success.
Our strategy was always about following the basic formula:
We didn’t talk about downloads as much as we talked about getting source codes at better prices. We didn’t stress about “cool” ideas, but we did stress about finding solid, efficient processes that were profitable.
From Day 1, we always focused on making money…and that made a BIG difference.
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We used the template model to build most of our products and capitalized on our biggest winners as often as we could. This helped us “extend” the life of each project, thus lowering costs and giving more upside.
In the early days, creating market value meant building a lot of apps that converted well with ad networks.
Now it’s much more about engagement and delivering a great user experience. Crossy Road’s success was built on a great gaming experience.
Then reskinning those winning games and having an IPO 🙂 King is one of the masters of this process.
The overarching premise is the same. Some people build businesses to change the world or to raise money for charities (which we did), but our primary focus was less altruistic.
Think less about the money itself and think more about what the market will reward with money. That will change everything.
This is the foundation what we do at Bluecloud.
2. We did massive amounts of research
Research helps you find opportunities.
In business, the most successful companies do tons of research.
Ask any hedge fund manager what the most valuable commodity in the world is and they’ll tell you “information,” every time.
We did two types of research: “internal portfolio” and “external portfolio”
Internal Portfolio research is what most people do when it comes to apps – keywords, trends, titles, themes, characters, etc. It’s the research you do in order to decide how to design an app or find a market.
It also deals with app store trends, answering questions like “what types of apps are popular right now?” and “what’s a popular style in the gaming section?”
This type of research can help immensely with marketing and hitting close to the bullseye.
Now with tools like Apptopia, this can be an incredible way to skyrocket your research (if you haven’t seen their new service, do yourself a favor and check it out here).
External Portfolio research is like business school – how to hire people, how to keep a balanced budget, how other companies stay profitable, how to scale, what models are working. Even though apps can seem like a “trendy” market, it’s a very real and very clear business.
We found that reskinning was evolving to larger and more powerful apps. We started moving to Unity3D and publishing bigger projects.
We saw that “micro” markets were starting to take hold and created apps that leveraged the API of Instagram (you know those apps where you buy and sell likes? Guess who….)
We saw the casino category commanding enormous eCPMs…so we built 100 casino games 🙂 To learn which casino game did the best and how you can make your own, read this.
By understanding macro level business fundamentals, the entire business grew. Identify winning strategies and operations (macro), then create products that will capitalize on those findings (micro).
3. We went cross platform
When we were first taking off, the idea of using templates and reskinning apps was still unknown to most people. Because of that, everyone just focused on Apple and its App Store.
But when most people zig, the winners zag.
I started helping out with the Kiwi team down in Palo Alto and saw some BIG things happening on Android, specifically Google Play.
So, we moved a few over to Google to see how they would do.
We converted virtually all of our apps over to the Android platform, allowing us to “multiply” everything we did by 3 – Apple, Google, Amazon.
We even went as far as to upload a few to the Windows and Samsung stores as tests (but never went much further on the latter two with our own portfolios).
This was a very easy way for us to create a huge army of apps for a small relative cost. Every project we now did not only went on the Apple app store, it went on Google and Amazon’s app stores as well.
The impact? Almost 75% more revenue from Paid apps, In-app purchases and ad networks.
The kicker is that putting an app on Google and Amazon was a fraction of the effort required to get the app JUST on Apple.
Even more exciting is that as technology improved, our ability to do this did as well. Using source codes built in Cocos2d-X and Unity3D cut costs even more, allowing us to dramatically increase output.
Going cross platform was a great way to profitably extend our business.
4. We did direct deals With Premium Advertisers
From my “External Portfolio” research, we learned that the best businesses on the internet all got better deals than the other 90% of the population.
In other words, some apps would be paid $2 if 1,000 viewed an ad, while another app would only be paid $1 for 1,000 views.
Same ad, different website. The only difference? Getting the deal done.
When we learned this, we began pitching every ad network and every big app in the app store to lock down a “direct deal” which is a fancy way to say “premium price.”
We didn’t have a lot of apps when we started doing this but we kept reaching out and showing the larger apps how we could help them out.
As the data came in, we found the apps that performed the best and would email the folks at the big apps and ask them if they’d like more traffic. Of course they would!
They’d send me a new, premium bid that was often 40-50% higher than what they were paying on the open market.
Rinse, repeat, scale. Everyone wins.
How to find new opportunities for easy money and brokering deals is one of our primary initiatives at Bluecloud Select. One look at the mastermind discussion and you’ll agree.
5. We tested over 25 ad networks
Over the course of two years, we went through a LOT of ad networks. This was not necessarily about finding the “golden goose” but more about being able to test and optimized effectively.
When we started, it was all about games. But then we realized that it may be worth testing some new ad networks against the gaming networks we were defaulting to.
The results were fascinating.
Some days the game networks won, other days the new networks won. More importantly, we started to realize that sometimes certain source codes and apps will dramatically outperform the expected solution.
I would be remiss to say that one of the downsides of having dozens of networks is that it starts to add up in your Profit & Loss statements (see below). This can make things REALLY complicated. This is only a sliver of the 100+ income streams our companies had.
Consolidation is often preferred for scaling.
The most important takeaway is that you NEED to try and test different things. It’s not necessarily that the ad network itself will be better than another…it’s about finding one that works well for your business.
Over the course of two years, we were able to identify winners in my business and build strong relationships with those networks….but we never would have gotten there without testing others.
6. We capitalized on what was hot
In 2013, we heard that casino apps were on fire. We did our research and confirmed this – they were RAKING in the dough.
So, we built a fleet of casino apps that filled a market demand.
But there were other timely moves that helped with our growth. On the small scale (which many of you have done) is to capitalize on Google Trend style traffic spikes – find huge search volumes that happen quickly that can drive big downloads.
Here’s an example:
We knew the Vikings were going to the Superbowl. There was no app that came up for Adrian Peterson’s name. So we updated everything (graphics and keywords) right before the Superbowl. NOTE: We took this down just to make sure we’re not stepping on any trademark toes.
The obvious question you’re asking is “Yeah, but what about these days?!”
Well, let’s look at the store:
The reason this picture is important is because it’s the day after Apple released their iOS 8.3 update….which included a whole new batch of emojis.
So my buddy updated and re-released his emoji app knowing everyone would be searching for it. BAM – #1 in the app store. Zero paid traffic.
What most people forget to realize the TYPES of trends they can capitalize on. Here’s a quick list that we use:
- Keyword trends. Pop culture, events, etc. Superbowl. World Cup.
- Function trends. Model what people love using. Example: people like “swiping” the way Tinder pioneered. Capitalize on “swiping” for something completely different like Pets or pictures or whatever.
- Developer trends. If you know that Apple or Google is releasing some new stuff with the SDK update, build an app that uses it. HINT: There is more to the app game than Apple and Google! You can be the first to use Windows SDK update and…well, you do the math 🙂
Being able to identify these new opportunities is a terrific way to keep your business leapfrogging in revenue (and exactly what the new Apptopia product does).
7. We had a system that was well oiled
Product, people, process. Those are the three parts of business.
We organized a team of developers, designers, project managers, virtual assistants, accountants, and everything in between to be able to immediately make things happen.
One great example happened early on the business with Gangnam Style. I sent an email to my developer right before boarding a plane to fly home for Thanksgiving.
We were making arcade games and saw a friend’s app go to #2 in the app store just because it had the name Gangnam in it. We send my developer an email and said “Hey, make an app with that design.”
48 hours later – we uploaded the app. 4 days later we were approved. 7 days later we had just made $22,000 off that one app.
It never would have happened if our processes hadn’t been in place.
Fast forward to 2015, we use the same processes to get almost anything done. “There are a lot of people requesting an ASO course. Let’s build one.”
7 days later, we have the course completed and ready to launch.
Some of the tools we use to coordinate and help facilitate these systems:
- Google Docs
- Many others – check out the Resources Page here
The bottom line is that without a process, you’ll never be able to scale. Friction KILLS growth.
There is nothing that will kill your fire faster than trying to do it yourself.
I don’t care how strong you think you are and how much espresso you drink, without the help and information you get from others, you’re toast.
This was something I’ve always pushed myself to do and urged my team to do as well – reach out to other people in the app community and ask them what’s going on.
We would share our secrets and our #1 ad traffic solutions. We made it a point to constantly reach out to people and ask them what else is out there while giving as much as we could.
A great side effect of this is that you start to hear about all the latest trends as well.
The people who communicate the most almost ALWAYS have the latest information and the best vantage point.
And, as much as you might be an introvert who wants to just read blogs, the real information doesn’t come until you get on the phone or meet in person.
Over the course of two years it was critical that we stayed in touch with all the other developers, the ad networks and the other people in this space.
If you’re interested being a part of our mastermind community (where we share these secrets), click here to join.
9. We Got It Done
This one isn’t rocket science and is often the #1 reason why people don’t get where they want to be.
Early on I realized I was very susceptible to the most evil fallacy in business:
Putting a lot of ENERGY into something but not putting a lot of EFFORT into it.
Meaning I could spend hours and hours researching and coming up with strategies and mapping it all out and getting the right source code.
But until I actually launched the thing, I never really knew what would happen.
It’s really easy to be a theorist in business, especially in a marketing business. If you look around any marketing website, you’ll see tons of people who can rattle off every Facebook and Twitter strategy known to man….but they only have 2,000 followers.
They put tons of ENERGY into learning how to do everything, but not as much EFFORT implementing it all.
Same is true with apps. You can buy all the source codes and do all the keyword research, but if you’re not launching your apps, you’ll never know.
This is not to say I am perfect. Quite the opposite – I struggle every day with the natural inclination to consume information vs produce new business opportunities. But that’s what business is – who steps up to the plate and who doesn’t.
The more you swing the bat, the better your chance of hitting a home run.
The biggest success we had was learning to build systems. A lot of people look at what we did and say “Of course you did well, you were there early on in the app craze” or “Well you have a website so it’s easy for you to network with people.”
And realistically, some of that is true. The early success did come from a bit of timing.
But remember – I could only produce all those apps at the beginning because I had a solid system built with a development team. And this website doesn’t just run on it’s own.
Without systems in place, neither would have ever gone anywhere.
Moving forward we’ll be focusing on what we’re most drawn to – education, awesome content and connecting people who want to make things happen. And yes, working on some new exciting apps (in our portfolios and in other peoples’).
For you, the opportunity is endless. While I can’t promise there will be another reskin gold rush next week, I can promise you that by having a great network where you can connect with people like yourself, you’ll achieve something much bigger than you can on your own.
Start small and learn how to build an app. Then take it from there.
You’ll be ready when the “next big thing” comes….and it will, sooner than you think. Your app dev empire depends on being prepared.
We built Bluecloud Select to connect the people in our community who are dedicated to building something awesome with their lives. It could be a small app thats a hobby, or the portfolio that’s going to get you out of your full time job to spend time with your family.
Join us on our next two year journey. We’ll share everything we do with our members.
Rock and roll,
Thank u Carter for this article.
@Ashraf – you’re welcome!
Cool analysis, really well detailed! Thanks Carter.
Can we get a Free trial for Apptopia or is it immediately 199$ ?
@Fred – Glad you liked it. Yes, you can sign up for free. Just click on the top navigation and head over to pricing. You should see a free sign up (you just won’t get all the good data). Let me know if you have any questions.
One thing i learned in my app journey is that, Timing is one of the most important thing.
I left my job the day i felt i shouldn’t continue! Best decision ever in my life!
Released Christmas App, got me 10K$ in december 2013. When my revenue was 17K per month, I left reskinning casino games. Cause I estimated in future the competition will be craziest & i cant go with only ASO like previously in casino category! I shifted to consistent money by developing photo & video apps which are evergreen. That was one of the best decision so far!
Released an App seeing the dubsmash trends got me over 35K$.
@Tasnim – So pumped that you left your job for something better. Life is short. That’s a great strategy – always be one step ahead of the crowds and identifying winning opportunities. One of the biggest mistakes people make in apps is that they think timing and opportunities only apply to big, widespread stuff like the holidays or events…when in reality there are a million good opportunities every day if you look at the market differently. Good luck to you and your continued success!
@Carter – Thanks for the inspiration. Being featured multiple times in iOS Appstore is the ultimate goal for me! Hoping that by the end of this year i will achieve this.
Hi, Carter! Great article. I was actually trying to develop just one iPhone game app and was researching on how to do that. I have a couple of team members interested as well. I was wondering if you could give me tips on how to get started or how to get the ball rolling? Like the process on how to do these things. It would be greatly appreciated.
@April – you bet. If you download our free ebooks (150 pages) you should get everything you need to get started. http://www.bluecloudsolutions.com/make-an-app
Thank you Carter for your insight into making money and systems for doing so in the app world. I came up with an idea for an app a few years ago that would be s great concept for my industry, hairdresser world. I went to several meetings looking for someone to develop it… I found it difficult to build a team to develop it… That has been my experience though as I am a hairdresser myself and not very techy. You are right though without a team in place to make changes on the fly and in a tely manner the cost is too great to make the investment. One company wanted $18,000 to develop the app for me with no support…to follow it up… So the idea is collecting dust in my office….Again thank you for the article I enjoyed reading your experience and good luck on your journey…
@Chrissy – Thanks for reaching out. Sometimes ideas that come back the second time are when the timing is right. Let us know how things work out!
Carter – The Vikings haven’t been to the Superbowl since 1976…
@Adam – Right, but Adrian Peterson was voted #1 player in the NFL in 2013, which they announced on SuperBowl Sunday. Plus, I was the only app in the store for his name, especially on Amazon. With 100M viewers in the USA alone, there’s going to be a lot of search volume for that name irregardless of if he was in the game itself since he was mentioned so often.
HEAPS of great stuff here. We’re currently in the process of scaling ourselves, but with a bit of a different model and it’s great to pick up a few pointers!! Thanks!
@Dane – glad you enjoyed!
So how did your system work.
Something like this?
1. You find a code and send to VA
2. VA makes description and sends ad ids to coder
3. Coder finishes app and uploads while VA finishes store listing.
@Mikey – that was part of it, but that’s just the development cycle. Knowing what apps to make, what features to update, and how to strategize everything was a much bigger piece. Just uploading the same source code as everyone else quickly stopped working (no surprises there).
It was a great information for free i have one suggestion as a small developer funding is a issue, how about making a platform for app dev fund their ideas by people who are willing to buy the code in feature.
@rik – The economics don’t really work. You’d be surprised at how hard it is to get people to spend money on something like a “pre-sale” for source code.
I have been a loyal follower of your site for a while now….reading about your strategies and tactics. I have recently reached a milestone of $1k perday and would like to sincerely thank you for sharing all your knowledge. You are like a teacher to me! I have however hit a dead end and do not know how to continue. Would be great if u could drop me an email so we can keep in touch!
@Ken – congrats! That is a big milestone. Are you part of Bluecloud Select? That’s the easiest way to get in touch. If not, you can join here: http://www.bluecloudsolutions.com/join-bluecloud-select
Great info, can’t believe you share all this for free. Sharing with my indie app dev friends.
Hi Carter, Thanks for sharing all the information. Could you please give us feedback on our game which we launch it last month but still low revenue.
link : https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/oblivion-bounce-the-line/id991167974?mt=8
promo code : YW77EHH9JEXA
@Abdul – Thanks. Have you signed up for Bluecloud Select? We do this kind of stuff all the time (with the entire group)
I am looking for simple source code for a wallpaper app i can re skin as well as a photo frame app source code I can re skin. Know of any out there?
If you allow, I would like to be a little different from the other commenters and criticize your approach. Hope it brings useful insights from another perspective.
I see your decisions on which apps to build, which platforms to publish on, which tools to use for building, as too opportunistic. It appears as if you were chasing the money and wanted to be the FIRST everywhere. To me, this is a “gambler” philosophy of business. You may gain high profit, but this has low probability.
My belief is that being the BEST is actually much easier to do in business. You focus on the evergreen stuff and all it takes to win is that you are a little better than your competition (not perfect!). Just like in sports – you study your opponent and identify the easiest way to beat him. This business philosophy has significantly higher probability of success.
This is the first decision everyone in this business needs to make – how to compete. Having in mind the educational nature of the website I wanted to bring up this perspective and hopefully contribute to the conversation.
Great post Cater! Thanks for looking back and sharing your insight like this.
I meant “Carter”, sorry.
Carter creating apps is great I guess something I always wanted to do however I don’t want to create apps for myself , I’d like to create apps for businesses and government councils for example the Bradford council app this app is for a erm local government it notifies people who own that app of bin days, if they want to report potholes and so forth. Would this be covered in your courses or are you strictly into games? Thank you for your time hope you reply soon as i’ve been looking into going for this for the last few months
@Carl – awesome stuff. We cover everything, not just games. We only talk about games bc they are the most popular + that’s what I did a lot of, but everything is applicable to any industry.
@Carter – Since I graduated from collge back in 2010 I never went into a day job, I preferred working as a freelance graphics designer working in a reskining world for my client since 2012. I never had the idea how much money it’s bringing for client client because I was already happy earning salary of $800/month doing some 8-10 reskin games/month for him. but then I was shock because I saw his earnings around $15-$25k/month. I got goosebumps right after I saw what I though I was doing for him was just boring business. Then I researched and watch video tutorial regarding iOS development. I both my first code then upload. after It was approved and 3weeks after I only earn around $5/month. WHAT THE F*%^ after all what is the problem?!? my client earns $15-$25k while me got only $5 then thats when I read your articles, blog post and even facebook post. I was like WOOOOAHH!!! I see… then from $5/month it went $50 then $400 then $1,500/month and now I just released a minion game without any kind of marketing at all just after 2months it game me around $10k REVENUE. That is what I learned from your website that TIMING is one of most important KEY!!! KEEP INSPIRING OTHERS!!! God bless!!!
@StormCyclone – that is bad ass! Congrats on the latest success. Keep doing it!
Wow! Big thanks! Great info.
I keep on asking you help regarding the 64bit of Avalanched Mountain 2 but you keep on ignoring me. Is this how you treat your past customers? i purchased that code and now it’s needed to be made in 64bit you left me hanging. PLEASE I JUST NEED THE 64BIT VERSION
@Jed – I’m not sure who you’ve been emailing, but as you know we stopped selling source codes 2 months ago. You’ll also notice that Avalanche Mountain 2 was not built by us, it was built by Brian Appell who handles all the support and updates for his own codes. If he’s ignoring you, I’ll do my best to ping him.
I have 4 years experience in developing but my revenue very low, because i never make a plan and i don’t have any info. about marketing.
SO!, I will try and follow your strategies, plans and steps.
I really hope to hit something great in this following, Thanks a lot for your inspiration.
Thanks for the valuable advice. Do you still think it’s possible to build a profitable app portfolio as of now (almost December 2015)? I released my 2nd app last week and although I’ve made $13 profit (!) from IAPs, I’ve quickly watched it drop out of the charts. I know I need to better understand ASO but just wondered if you think the market is too competitive now. I’ve built the app to be data driven so it can be quickly reskinned but I’m concerned that I’ve missed the boat with apps.
For reference, the app is here: http://bit.ly/whatthebookquiz
(^ Apologies and please remove if you don’t allow links.)
@Marc – thanks for your comment. It is definitely still possible to build a profitable app portfolio now. The difference is that the barrier to profit is no longer just being able to reskin an app and get it in the app store. You need a great marketing, analytics and monetization strategy. It’s very similar to websites – you can’t just put something on the web and expect it to make money, you need to offer something valuable to the right people then drive them to your site.
Yes, ASO will help a lot but so will identifying all the data and updating your app. I looked at your app and it looks good. You’re obviously targeting book readers, specifically the children and young adult genres. Who is your ideal customer? A young person? A middle aged mom? What are you doing to get in front of them?
If you just release the app into the app store and hope millions of people will find you, you’re going to have a problem.
Thanks for the reply Carter.
I think that my market for this particular app is the middle-aged mom who enjoys reading. Looking at the apps I was basing it around (e.g. Guess The Logo/Brand etc.) I might have made my market too niche.
I think marketing is where I fall down. I’ve been in the video games industry for 20+ years but as a developer. Hence I’m happy building any games but less savvy when it comes to actually getting people to see them!
I’m going to focus on the marketing now and attempt to acquire more users. I’ve also built the app to be data driven so I can hopefully now release new versions very quickly.
I’m going to look at your mastermind group too as I think it’ll help.
@Carter Great reading, tried to download the free ebook on 150 pages but couldnt find it.
Could you please send me the correct link.
@Vincent – sending you an email with a link for you 🙂
@Carter Thanks for the quick reply. We’ll be looking into these things before joining Select.
Hello friends I trying how to make own website & android app
wow ,explained well about market stratergy and its secrets ,thanx yaar
@Carter Great reading, tried to download the free ebook on 150 pages but couldnt find it.
Could you please send me the correct link.
@Najeeb – yes of course. If you email email@example.com they can send you a link.
Wow! This is sound counsel you have here. I am just starting out in the app business and I can now see many potholes that could have trapped me or slowed me down in the future if I had not come here. I will surely go over this website and take appropriate action. Thanks a lot!
That is great. I want also make apps. How to start?and where to purchase license or code
@Hari – the best way to start is to join Bluecloud Select (http://www.bluecloudsolutions.com/join-bluecloud-select)
Cool analysis thank you. I want to start an app business in Tanzania and this information will help me as i’m on the research part right now. Thank you.
great information here
can i please have a link to the 150 – pages ebook?
@Ernesto – You can get the updated version here: http://www.bluecloudsolutions.com/how-to-make-an-app-guide
great stuff, Carter.
already try the 5 step app system & now saving some money to be able to enrol for the blue cloud select member.
i want to build my app portfolio & i know blue cloud going to help me get there
Again, thx for the shared story & link you give
@Eky – awesome! Can’t wait to see your progress.
that was great and thank you so much ,i have leaned a lot here
Your website has some of the biggest blogposts I’ve ever read…..it isn’t just long but informative too. Thanks 🙂