Your App's Icon Equals Downloads

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When we launched our app Trivi.al one of the by-products of doing so was creating the app icon as Apple requires this for submission. However, we quickly learned this wasn't a by-product at all as this was an extremly effective marketing channel. We learned via our own users that the icon was an important piece of marketing that was one of the first things the users would see when interacting with our product.

Everyday we launch our favorite apps by clicking on their app icon on our phones. We arrange our phones by the icons of the apps we love and use daily. Some people even group these icons by color or style and some leave the factory settings (I actually saw it out in public once.)  

First Impressions Matter
In the past few weeks I've been fortunate enough to be a mentor for the ARK Challenge, a tech incubator, here in Arkansas. This topic came up as one of the groups was exploring feedback on their app icon. I think in the realm of mobile app businesses you can relate the icon to the first thing people associate with your brand. That's how a majority of us discover apps in iTunes. People surf the app store on a visual basis and will click on icons that look interesting. With Trivi.al we learned that while some may not have liked the game they had a certain affinity for the icon and kept it on their phone. We even turned our app icon into a sticker and it's pretty cool driving into work somedays seeing the car in front you with your app icon on it. Our app icon was also featured in several galleries (http://iosicongallery.com/category/games/page/2/) and we had customers sending pictures via Twitter and Facebook of their homescreens with our app prominently displayed on it. All this helped to drive downloads!

When designing your app icon I think it's important to test it on your phone even before you launch your app and compare it to others and see what stands out. Be as detailed as possible and capture the essence of your app in a metaphor. Imagine the purest expression of your app and do that without using any text. This can easily be done in Photoshop with a few homescreen comps and images uploaded to the photos app.

There are many great design styles being applied to app icons for uniqueness. You can search Dribble and many other designer sites to see the uniqueness of each Here are a few that I especially like:

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Here is some important advice when designing your app icon:
1. Some people will love your icon, some will dislike the app but they will downloaded it to try it out. First impressions count.
2. If people like it enough they will want it on their homescreen and possibly share this via twitter, Facebook and the like.
3. Sometimes people download apps just by looking at icons in iTunes, we're visual remember. I know i do this.
4. The icon needs to really standout and be distinguishable. Your icon will be your single most important branding element to drive downloads organically.
5. The icon needs to standout amongst others on your phone so start testing this and pick the one that does.
6. There are a lot of design styles in icon design right now, pick the right one for the brand but also be different. Stand out.
7. App icons that are metaphors for the app itself do a great job conveying what the app does or does well. 

Cost To Acquire Customers for your App Business

I read an excellent post on Mercury 11's Blog earlier today titled "Mastering Start-up Math." It sheds light on how to value your  product and how to model your customer proposition. It's a great read and I highly encourage you to read it if you're starting out building your first product as it's extremely relevant.

Photo courtesy Wordstream

Photo courtesy Wordstream

When I first started out building my first company the "Start-up Math" was by far the most underrated part people talked about. Sure, I knew how to build and design apps, that was the sexy part, but it was the math that turned out to be the really fun part. Fun, yet elusive and challenging all at the same time. I found myself several times saying "I don't know" but, I had good mentors around me that knew it well and helped shed some light on the calculations

How do you determine how much you can spend to get customers? This is what people refer to as cost to acquire (CTA). This is pivotal to know to determine if you'll survive.

To understand CTA you'll need to calculate your revenue per user? Then calculate how long will they be a paying user or the Life Time Value (LTV)?

To calculate the revenue per user we have to determine the total revenue generated during a predetermined time period. In our business that time period is 30 days. Since the number of users is changing everyday we also take an average of the number of users over a 30 day period which will give you the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). A number that becomes vital in determining how much you can spend to acquire customers. 

Let's say for example our indy game generated:
Revenue = $3,012 for month 1
Users = 26,316 in the first month
ARPU = $0.11

Next we need to calculate the Life Time Value of our customer (LTV). In order to do this you need 2 things:
1. Average customer lifespan
2. Customer retention rates. In our case it's 65% (we measure this using a tool like Apsalar)

If you do the math you get:
52(ARPU)*Average Customer Lifespan
52(.11)*.12 = $0.67 and if we retain 65% thats 0.43¢ for the LTV

Month 1___________thru___________Month 12
.11   .07   .06   .05   .04   .03   .02   .01   .01   .01   .01   .01

This assumes we keep that customer playing our game for at least 1 year. The real under lying principal here is the value of the product you've created for them but, that's for another blog post.

This gives us a number of 0.43¢ to use to acquire customers. This isn't much to work with, CTA install rates for mobile apps can and usually exceed .50¢ and depending on the platform can be as high as $2.50 or more for typical campaigns.

As you can see with the current model we'd go broke pretty quickly trying to acquire customers in traditional ways with PPC or paid ads. As a startup it's imperative to find other ways to acquire and if your building an app build viral loops into the product to game the system. Build your product where the viral coefficient is >1.0 and in order to do this you have to remove all barriers for mass adoption. This will present a good test to launching only the features that you need. How do you determine what you need? Features that make your app virally spread along with the core functions is ALL you need.

In our case we implemented several social mechanics into our game Trivi.al that allow for a nice daily trickle of NEW app store installs for FREE, while we leverage PR and social buzz generation to get to a critical mass value that would allow for rapid, scalable paid customer acquisition. We're still working on that piece.

As the app starts to scale, these numbers will change and we can make better predictions about where we're going but for now if you're just starting up this "Start-up Math" will help you make the right decisions. 

The game loop is the game.

The game loop is the game. That's the most important thing to remember.

Art of Gaming Deck

Art of Gaming Deck

I took a film class in college where the professor said "If you take my class you'll never look at a movie the same again." Well what he was trying to say was that once the unsexy tactics were exposed of how its made, the end product was never viewed the same again. Same thing was true in building a viral social game. Once you remove the sexy outer shell you have this extremely mechanical perspective, where every movement is calculated against the outcome your expecting. Understanding these mechanics down to the very decimals that make up the conversions rates are the holy grail of profitability.

VPs of Monetization don't ask "why" they follow the data and constantly test multiple scenarios to see which ones perform the best. In other words which one makes the most money. Seven weeks after launching Trivi.al and we find ourselves here, asking for the next release, how can we increase acquisition, how can it be more viral? What tweaks can be made to increase the k-factor?

When we set out to build our game, understanding the mechanics of the game loop was by far the most critical of elements to pay attention to, or so we learned. We knew having a free-to-play model meant our customers hadn't yet invested a dime and so we're going to have to convert them. So, we wanted to get them in, get them playing; playing leads to eyeballs and engagement and if they enjoyed the game opportunities to convert them to paid users. These paid users would be in the form of converted via free-to-paid or the Holy Grail 

in app purchases (IAP.) Whichever it was we knew we had to understand how to navigate the user through the model and keep them moving through it constantly. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. 

Our core game loop looks something like this:

Playing the game consumes coins. If a player challenges their friend, coins are used and an uptick of their IQ is exchanged. Increasing your IQ gets you more challenging questions in which you may need to use power ups. Power ups are purchased with coins. Once the player is out of coins there are these three well known options: wait, invite or buy. Players are driven back to the game via timer mechanics (wait for coins to increase) every 24hrs or they buy if they can't wait. Once back in the game they repeat this cycle.

Measuring the effectiveness of your loops and where users are dropping off will help you tweak your model and increase engagement. We want 95% of our users coming back into our game to create new games, so making sure this is clear as the priority path is something we're in the shop working on and testing constantly. 

Try it:

I challenge anyone of you to rip apart your favorite game or anyone of Zynga's popular titles and discover the "loop" and start to understand the mechanics of the game that lead them or any other app developer to monetization. 

30 Days to 30,000 Downloads

I debated on how to write this as my intent was to add value to other indy app developers that were in the same boat we were 30 days ago. We built an app and the question we were asking was how do we get customers? We had no platform, no suite of other games and no distribution network to get the word out. This was our first title and first release for our new company MobileFWD. The app is a social trivia game called Trivi.al and if you’re reading this I encourage you to check the app out, and at the very least, leave us some feedback in the comments section below.

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We looked at and searched for as many app launch case studies as we could find to understand what we we’re getting ourselves into. Some help, as such the one on Techcrunch that was posted today as I was writing this, and others not so much. It just so happens that we are 30 days in and have 30,000 downloads so the timing was perfect for our own case study.

Aside from building the app with viral loops and social mechanisms to invite players which we’ll talk about in later posts; we did several things leading up to the launch and post launch to acquire customers. I’ll break up the post into prelaunch, launch week and weeks three and four. To date we’ve spent no money on paid advertisements or incentivized campaigns and our growth has been organic via the app and or our social media efforts.

Prelaunch
Everyone will tell you to make as many media contacts as possible to help tell your story, and for us it couldn’t be truer. The keywords here being “tell your story.” I can not even begin to tell you how many apps are launched each week, so launching an app isn’t always the most compelling thing to catch a reporter’s attention. Leading up to the launch of our app our media traction seemed to be that we were a tech startup from Arkansas. Maybe an unlikely spot for a social gaming company but that was story worthy and it helped us get visibility. We started seeing spikes in web visits and we wanted to capitalize on this by making visitors join our mailing list first thing. We saw almost a 50% conversion rate and we were able to alert those users once we launched via targeted email campaigns. This was highly effective in seeding our user base on day one.

Launch Week
We knew having a website to promote the app was highly important but the question arose what to do with users once they got there. How do we convert them to downloads? We saw a tactic that our friends at Leap used, and considering we used it ourselves to download their app, we wanted to provide it for our visitors. We used a service called Twilio to create a SMS link onour site that allowed to user to enter their phone number and receive a text message with a link to download the Trivi.al app from iTunes. We knew not all of our traffic would come from our website but of those that did visit via certain articles or links we saw an 18% conversion rate vs dropping off.

We used the services of TriplepointPR, a PR firm out of New York, to help with PR early on and validate our app amongst the gaming community. Days before launch we showed up in an app called Wanna Play that asks its community of users would they play the game or not. We saw almost a 75% unanimous vote  yes and we stayed in their charts for several days. You can imagine we were pretty stoked when launch day finally came as we knew now there was a demand for our app.

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Prior to the launch week we had a trailer for the app created by Explainify and made available via YoutubeVimeo and many other game trailer websites. This tactic allowed users to see the app and how it works before they downloaded it. This started popping up on many other sites and helped with visibility and continues to get a lot of play.

We also were introduced to the group Indie Developers Re-Tweet Group who go by the hashtag #IDRTG on Twitter. This group was fantastic as its community will tweet and retweet about your game if you do the same for them. We’ve found it to be one of the most effective free marketing techniques available on Twitter and we saw our engagement increase 1500% via Klout.

We built several tactics/features inside the app and via our CMS that allowed for us to communicate with our user base via email or in app messaging. When users would leave reviews and or feedback we made it a priority to address their issues and in doing so we’ve managed to retain many of those users. We’ve seen retention in our app of users playing 5 times or more grow to over 65% since launch and uninstalls remain relatively low. When customers get a direct message from the founders asking about how we can help they were more susceptible to understanding sometimes things just don’t happen as planned. We were able to address and fix issues without further complaints.

In the back of my mind I knew we couldn’t just focus all our efforts online for customers, we also had to look offline as well. We discovered and approached a trivia pub group called The Big Quiz Thing that hosted live events in major cities like LA, Boston and NY and we partnered with them to do some promotions of their upcoming shows. We even got a great blog write up on their blog and some love from their founder Noah. We also reached out to Paul Bailey at the Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA) and we will be doing some cool stuff at their august competition in Las Vegas this year. Another effective offline tactic was stickers. We had such a huge demand for our stickers I wrote another blog post about it called How Custom Stickers Can Grow Downloads For Your App.

Week Three, (Our largest download week to date)
Week three was an experiment in price for us. I was having lunch with my dear friend Josh Clemence and he showed me a new app he said all his coworkers were using called Apps Gone Free. He said each day he gets a notification that shows him 5-7 great apps that are free for that day only. I checked it out and saw some big names in there I thought sure lets try this. I emailed the guys with the day our app would go free and BAM! we were in that day’s version and saw more than 5,000 downloads come through in 24hrs. A huge spike and lesson for us considering we already had a free version available, we just didn’t have these distribution channels. You can see in the picture this spike drove the charts considerably. 

Week Four
This week we were able to see the viral loops in the app really work as we’re seeing download numbers increase day over day with no external advertising. We did receive three great write ups one on BetaKit and two on Mashable. Both Betakit and the second Mashable article involved us reengaging the prior article’s reporter so you can see how the relationships matter. The stories on Mashable were a video on the History of Trivia and an interesting take on the 15 Most Missed Questions in the App. All are great reads and you should even check out the video @jeremiahjwdid based on seeing the history of infographic we did months before launch.

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So, here we are now looking at the future wondering what that magic number is to hit critical mass and then the viral loops completely take over and put us in the million download range. Maybe we have a long ways to go maybe not. We’ve learned a lot in 30 days and think our next 30 are going to be even better. We’ve listened to our users and their feedback and submitted a new version of the Trivi.al app to iTunes. Any day we’ll have a new improved version out and we hope you continue to play.

History of Trivia Is Anything But Trivial

Our friend Jeremiah Warren (@jeremiahjw) created a great video on the History of Trivia. The video starts with the history of the word and journeys through time including the 50′s Quiz Show scandals, Ken Jennings and Brad Rudder smashing Jeopardy’s prize money, and gives a sneak peak into the future of trivia in social games on mobile phones with the Trivi.al App.You can see more on how the video was created and Jeremiah’s sources on his Blog. Check out the video it even got mentioned on Mashable. Thanks and nice work Jeremiah.

Launch Week Press Round Up for Trivi.al App

We've had an over whelming response to the Trivi.al App we launched in iTunes last Thursday. If you haven't downloaded it check it out today! While, we're steadily working away to improve the app and bring you some of the new features as requested, we wanted to list some of the great press coverage we've received for both Trivi.al and MobileFWD the past few days. MobileFWD featured on Fast Company  - Read Article Fun Mobile App: Trivi.al - BoingBoing - Read Article App Developer Uses Trivia App to Name Baby - Social Times - Read Article Trivial Blends The Perfect Blend of Competition And Social Interaction - AppAdvice - Read Article Introducing: Trivi.al - The Big Quiz Thing - Read Article Fayetteville Company Launches Trivia App for iPhone and iPad - Fayetteville Flyer - Read Article Trivi.al Review - 148Apps - Read Article Play With Your Brain: Trivi.al Hits App Store Today - Gamasutra - Read Article Trivi.al Preview - Gamezebo - Read Article

Interview with co-founder Matt Hudson - APPress PR -

Made in Fayetteville - The Trivi.al App is.

Our friend Josh Clemence started a new community movement to associate great products, artists, community leaders and anything born and bred from the Fayetteville area called "Made in Fayetteville." Since MobileFWD was started right here on Dickson St. to be a mobile gaming company and produce great products like the Trivi.al App we were honored to post this badge on our site. To associate ourselves with others in the area who are doing big things from the neighborhood makes us proud and makes being a part of this community an even greater thing.



Visit his site and get your badge: http://www.madeinfayetteville.com/

Made In Fayetteville

Infographic - The Trivi.al Side of Trivia

We’re a few days away from releasing our app Trivi.al. It’s in the hands of Apple now and we wanted to share with you an Infographic that we put together on the history of trivia called “The Trivi.al Side of Trivia.” It’s a fascinating industry with a lot of cool tidbits of knowledge we’ve throughly enjoyed learning about. And, this journey has led us to meet so really cool people from all over the world. We’ve talked with people from New York to London to Warsaw, Poland and many more in between. We’ve loved the journey so far and we hope it continues to grow as we introduce you to the app. Stay tuned and if you enjoy the infographic leave us a comment below. We’ll have some printed versions soon so if your interested let us know. Thanks

Big thanks goes out to our artist @warlick for the illustration.

Trivi.al on AppStori

AppStori is a great site to help crowd-fund your next mobile app idea. Michael and the team at AppStori have created this great widget that shows the progress of our contributors and we're excited to share it with you guys. We hear they have some really cool stuff coming up soon for their site and we've been pleased to be a part of their early release. If you dig mobile apps (esp. social trivia apps) check them out and maybe drop a few bucks to help build the next great app. Be an Appvocate!

How to Get Great Traction for Your Startup!


Last Thursday we were featured on a site for startups called Betali.st (www.betali.st). We enjoyed watching the effect it had on growing our business and building awareness for our product. We saw our highest day ever of traffic and saw a 200% increase over our previous high day. Not only were we featured on their website at http://betali.st/startups/trivial, we also made it into their email campaign and RSS blast. We doubled our mailing list subscribers over a three day period and we were thoroughly entertained by the comments we saw about Trivi.al from users on Twitter, Google + and more. Some of our favorites we're:

AmritKJudge - "What's after #DrawSomething? TRIVIA! trivi.al"

@greenamit - "Is this going to be the next Draw Something? Trivi.al"

Looking forward to trying Trivi.al shar.es/rcAvV. Next "words with friends"!

Betali.st has provided us some very important exposure from people that are influencers in the startup community. People that blog and tweet about startups that have huge networks and can get our product seen have helped us extend our reach. We're definitely a fan of tools like these.

They had a super easy submission process and it took about a week for our app's site to be reviewed and approved. If you've got a hot new startup in Beta and you need to gain some awareness I would highly recommend using Betali.st, it's a great tool.

Thanks to the team at Betali.st for all your help!

Creating Appvocates via AppStori.com

Appvocate - to be a part of the next great App!

We're excited to be a part of AppStori (www.appstori.com) as they roll-out this week and launch to the public. AppStori is like a Kickstarter for mobile apps that allows mobile companies like MobileFWD to build appvocates for the apps their building such as Trivi.al. The idea to involve supporters and fans that can help us reach our goals is a fantastic idea and we're excited to grow our user base and take part in this exciting launch.

Michael Semegran and the guys at AppStori have been fantastic to work with and have been extremely supportive to feature us in their new release. We feel like this is a great opportunity for MobileFWD to build appvocates for the apps we're building and hopefully get the resources we need to help grow our team. And to bring Trivi.al to many, many platforms in the near future.

We've been working on our app for the past few months and we will be blogging there regularly to let you know our progress, especially as we get closer to launch. Thank you and we look forward to your support and having you on as an Appvocate.

Check out our page at: http://www.appstori.com/projects/56

Earning an Advocate

Earning an advocate for your app/brand/company is not easy.  There is no scientific formula, gimmick, or give away that will earn you an advocate.  I say, earn, because that is what it takes to have someone become an enthusiastic evangelist for you.  I hear a lot of social media people talk about being "genuine" and "positive" or whatever the hot new way to get people to follow you and re-tweet your tweets or to come in your door or to buy your app, but that's not it.

I have been using Parse (a server-side stack for mobile devices) to build Trivi.al for the past several months.  Their platform is incredible.  It started out with limited functionality, but everything worked.. right out of the box.  Facebook Single Sign On -- CHECK.  Twitter Integration -- CHECK.  Simple Data Persistence through SDK -- CHECK.  Caching -- CHECK.  Offline Data Queue -- CHECK.  I could go on.

I had some questions, so I emailed them (they said, anything you need shoot us an email).  They replied back.  I checked their about us, and it was one of their main developers.  Wow.  They cared.  I emailed them several times over the next few months about different issues.  Some of them they answered, and some were feature requests.  They added the feature requests to their list, and a few weeks later I started receiving follow up emails, personal emails from developers saying features had been implemented.  Wow!  Just like that, I had case insensitive RegEx queries, many to many relationships, OR subqueries, and more!

All of that is really great, and honestly I was already sold on the first half of the features.  The second half was awesome and made me excited about tweeting what they were doing.  They were earning an advocate.  Now here is the tricky part.  The special sauce.  The part that, as a business, you won't be able to just "do."  It has to be apart of who you are and your philosophy as a company.  Parse went over and above.  They invited us out for a get together to talk about their product and just hang out.  Well, we are in Arkansas, and they are in the heart of San Francisco.  But for us, this was a really big deal, we are a startup in a scene who has a fledgling startup community that is being nurtured by things like @JoshClemence's buildingicebergs.com and @JAmerine's The Ark Challenge and @KristianIndy's Gravity Ventures.  So we emailed them and said, we're flying out, could we hang out at your office??  They said of course!  @JamesYu invited us to work from their couches and hang out until the event began.  When we showed up, they greeted us and showed us a place to work and hooked us up with T-Shirts.  THAT, my friends, is earning an advocate.  It even inspired me to blog about it.

I follow @TedRubin.  He talks about Return on Relationship.  This is an interesting concept to me.  I haven't read a book about it, but I believe the gist is that the more you pour into your customers the more they will pour into you.  I've followed the golden rule on Twitter.  I RT things I believe in or thoughts I subscribe to, and yeah, I get some RTs or @mentions back, but honestly.. who cares?  What is the real value of that?  The only real value is in the relationship it creates.  Parse has created a relationship with us and earned an advocate.  They don't know us, but they invited us in.  Two mobile guys from Arkansas creating a kick ass trivia app called Trivi.al.

What Parse does: all of the heavy lifting for 10k different developers on their platform in regards to data persistance, single sign on, data caching, and the less obvious server scaling.  If you're building an iPhone or Android App or even a web app, you should consider them.