Growth Imperative #2: Mobile


Maya Bisineer // MeMeTales
Nelly Yusupova // Webgrrls
Sarah Kramer // Go Vegan app
Stephanie Quilao // Noshtopia

Stephanie: Moderator. How many of you are in the process of developing a mobile app? We'll break the topic into 3 sections: why, research and prep execution, and marketing strategy

Maya: Monetization is has to be built in the development phase. I'm here because I have a start up. Getting parents to raise smarter kids. We give kids access to great content through apps. I wrote a large part of the code; I moved here last year and raised angel investment.

Nelly: I'm the technology officer for an organization for women; also teach about mobile apps. Workshop teaches you what you need to know prior to development to avoid mistakes.

Sarah: I'm a vegan cook author. Been on web for 15 years. I have an iPhone app that just came out, which showcases my recipes from my 4 cookbooks.

Stephanie: I started blogging in 2005. I'm focusing on a food blog re healthy eating. Healthcare through eating. Coming out with 3rd app.

Stephanie: We have a nice diversity of subjects here. Let's start with the WHY. Why are you doing the app in the first place; how does it fit in with your biz.

Maya: People asked us to put an app online. Kids were using the iPhone like crazy. it was a quick test that showed us that mobile is where we needed to be.

The most important thing is that it's easy to believe that an app is something that you absolutely need. But until you sit down and explore all costs etc, you might not know if you really need. Maybe a mobile website is better than an app.

There are different strategies for figuring it out. You can develop a prototype to see if it'll work. Need to test it out first before you build it.

Nelly: Yes, you need to test before you build it. You need to test the why cheaply. If you want to monetize it, that's a whole different why. You need to test if people will pay money for it.

Stephanie: MVP Minimal viable product; a way to test an app.

Sarah: The first thing I did with the iPhone, was look for vegan. There was no app for vegan. Before I pitched it, I purchased other food apps, and drew out how I wanted it to look and flow. I wanted to keep it simple. With the app, I wanted to put some value into it since I was charging $7.99, we had to add content.

Audio and video content, plus more bells and whistles. Research was really important to figure out what I wanted.

Stephanie: My intent is to make the world a healthier place for eating. The iPhone is a remote control for our lives. A mobile makes it an easier experience for those on the go.

Question: Do you think the idea to monetize changes your perspective?

Sarah: You have to decide early on in the development process.

Stephanie: Look at competitive apps and read what people say about apps. Apps cost a lot of money. Where are your sales in the first 3 days.

Maya: It's a crowded arena, and it's expensive. Making money is hard.

Stephanie: Starting with prep and execution; looking into developers.

Nelly: 9 steps to developing a great product: The app itself doesn't have to be an app. It can be a mobile website. That's a good option. For heavy content websites, it's a way to make the info easier to access on a mobile.

There is no right or wrong answer. How much money do you want to spend. A mobile friendly website people go through the browser.

Question: Do you know about a WordPress plugin that makes your site mobile friendly. You can search in WordPress to find plugins.

Nelly: Validate the problem you're solving. Don't assume people will pay for it or use it. Market is saturated. Prototype the solution; drawing on paper or use wire framing applications. Do user testing before building anything. Define minimum viable feature set. How can you test this for the least amount of money.

You want to define value. Conduct usability tests. There are lots of tools for this. Give people a mobile device with a "faux" application to track use. Find a developer. This is key. Giving the developer the minimum viable feature set. Start small with features. Use agile project management techniques. So often the developer makes huge mistakes. Very important to stay involved.

Use techniques to work with developer. Developers can't manage themselves. You have to do it for them or hire a project mgmt person. Track and measure usage. You need to know how people are using your app. Improve and innovate.

Question: I work at a startup that works at converting content to mobile apps. How do you drive people to a mobile app or mobile optimized experience. Is it a new audience or a conversion of your existing audience?

Nelly: You can't push people to use a mobile app. Knowing the why is so important. If you're building something that's a convenience, and it's not, you're wasting your money building an app. Which apps are the ones you're using? You've downloaded a lot, but really, which do you use all the time?

Stephanie: That's a design question. The design experience is critical. If I'm not dazzled by an app, I get rid of it fast. There are tracking tools to determine how long the app is loaded.

Sarah: It has to be simple. The user has to be able to use it right away. I dump it fast if I can't use it immediately. There's a way to do a cheap version, and then another tier where people pay more for extras. You have to decide what direction you want to go.

Stephanie: There's an assumption that app developers know how to design. They don't. The way it looks and moves is critical.

Maya: Yes, developers don't know how to design. There are a lot of tools about design.

Sarah: You can put together a lot of images to show the developer. Screen shots of what you like and don't like. Have to boil it down to get to the essence of what you want, and work with the designer.

Stephanie: Screen shots of features important.

Nelly: You can steal ideas.

Maya: It's ok to steal. It's your job however to make it look unique. You don't have to make mistakes. Use apps and figure out what works and doesn't.

Stephanie: AppMakr is a cheap way to build free iPhone apps. It'll give you some visuals and you can do some testing. Play with these tools before you hire a developer. In the end, it's your money.

Question: There's a system called Genwi that works well.

Question: Do you have any way of getting any performance data?

Nelly: I don't know if anybody would release that info. It's proprietary info. What works for one audience may not work for another. You have to early on, build tracking mechanisms, to see which features people are using. Future decisions are based on the feedback.

Maya: There are companies that will release some data. App Figures that has the top apps in all the categories.

Nelly: An article I read last week that mentioned half of the money goes to x developers. This is valuable info.

Sarah: I wanted my app to make my recipes portable; I wanted my store to be on the app. My app is a year old. It's weird to sell. I can't go on a book tour to sell. We show videos how it works. We reduced the price on the app for one week to $2.99. Our sales have gone through the roof, and it pushes it up in the iTunes store. That's a tip.

Stephanie: I built one of my apps for under $100. The intent was to get you back in your skinny jeans. Used Conduit. Basic but you have the ability to tweak it. My approach is holistic; but the feedback from users was it was too much. That was valuable. I launched a book and the mobile app concurrently.The audience wanted 3 separate apps. How do you find and hire a developer?

They'll ask who do you know? But you need to narrow it down. Be specific about what you need.

How do you find a developer? Look at, look at their ratings, hourly rates; get bids. Interview them. You'll learn through the process. Get developers to pitch you. Go to local hackerthons where you can meet developers in the area. figure out what happens if you split with your developer; and have a contract!

Nelly: If you're not technical, you still need to know terminology. You might get intimidated. Become more familiar with the process so you can take full advantage. The more you know the more you become important to the developer. You need to have an equal say in how the product is developed. You are the brand; not the developer.

Sarah: You have the vision. You need to find a good fit with a developer. Look for chemistry; choose wisely.

Nelly: Hire slow, fire fast. Take your time. Never be desperate.

Stephanie: It's like dating.

Nelly: As soon as you see something that bothers you, address it immediately.

Maya: Something I do is write down everything. Keep status updates. Respond within 24 hours. Break the project down into small parts. If they mess up on a small part, you fire them. Don't get dependent on your developer.

Stephanie: Don't be too nice. Be businesslike. Focus on any pain; helps to terminate the relationship. Do it fast. At events where it's mostly guys in their early 20s, it's easy to be intimidated. We're all learning on the fly. Things are changing fast in the field.

Contact other bloggers and talk about their experiences. Mobile apps will get cheaper to develop over time.

Nelly: You can build native applications, but there are also app tool kits where you can have your developer build a similar app. They don't have to build a new language. I'd recommend going native, but use the existing apps if you're testing something out.

Question: Everyone should look at their target audience and see how they're using apps. Don't build an app if target audience doesn't use them. Cross promote in all your marketing channels to get your app out there.

Sarah: You have to know enough about cross promotion so that you can make good decisions when developing.

Stephanie: Contracts are important, even something simple. List what you've agreed on. Have a lawyer look it over.

Nelly: Specify who owns the code. Intellectual rights are important to you.

Stephanie: I've had offers from other companies to license my app. Who owns the IP filter? With my first app, the developer got a certain percentage because they underwrote the cost. Bartering or an exchange can get sketchy. The value gets questionable.

Nelly: Women entrepreneurs may say they don't want to give away a percentage. But if it has a big potential, why not give it some thought? Especially if it's a high end developer. You have to be very careful re equity.

When you hire people full time. When they want $100k, but you can only pay $50k, you can talk about a share of equity.

Question: You need a lawyer because this can get so complicated.

Maya: Especially if you raise money. Don't share your IP. Own your creation.

Question: Make sure you have a privacy clause re you app. In terms of service.

Stephanie: Getting into the marketplace. With Android, your account needs to be set up in advance. Google will automatically make your app free unless your money is set up in advance. Once it ends up on Android for free, you can't charge. They don't tell you that.

With Apple or Microsoft, you can change the price at any time. You have leverage. Monetizing apps. What have you, the panel, used.

Maya: We have a way within our store where you can purchase pieces of content. Upselling in the app store makes money for us. There's a light version, and then make paid upsell version. Can do ads within mobile app. Can add page views on your mobile app.

Stephanie: The free version is a little taste. And the consumer is more willing to pay for the full version.

Maya: Really hard to convert light users to paid users. Depends on your app of course. We reach parents via newsletter, trying to get parents to pay for the upgrade.

Nelly: If you want to sell ads on mobile, it can be an extension of your brand.

Stephanie: Test your ads on your mobile. People get angry if you take up too much space on your mobile with ads. With pro versions, they strip the ads out.

Maya: We capture email addresses with plug ins. It can be very valuable. We can run ads in our email newsletters to parents.

Stephanie: What is the one thing that you'd like to share?

Nelly: Become more technical

Sarah: Do your research on apps. Lots and lots of due diligence.

Maya: It's really expensive and crowded. Mobile hasn't been around a long time, so everyone is still learning. Learn more to get less overwhelmed, more confident.

Sarah: What's your niche? Be unique. Be special. Big competition is always around the corner.

Stephanie: If it doesn't work, get out fast. Don't beat yourself up.