Don’t Just Build An App. Build A Mobile Business.

This guest post is written by Charles Yim, Manager of Google Mobile Partnerships. Yim worked on the business development team of mobile ad network AdMob, which was acquired by Google in 2009 for $750 million. He now manages strategic partnerships within the games industry as part of Google’s mobile display advertising business.

Would you open a store without preparing for anything beyond its grand opening? Of course not. You need to plan for success; this is true of all businesses, including mobile. People often tell me about their “great app ideas” but when I ask them what their plans are post-launch, they usually don’t have a good answer. It’s like having a ribbon-cutting ceremony for your new store and expecting everything to just take care of itself from there.

App developers need to understand that there’s more to a successful app than just a good product and a launch. Having a solid product is a great starting point but it’s precisely that — a starting point. To cultivate success, you need to develop a business plan, think through marketing, distribution, monetization, and plan for the evolution of the product itself months down the road. If you want to succeed, you need to understand that you aren’t just building an app; you’re building a business on mobile.

Working with mobile developers to build businesses has been an incredibly rewarding and satisfying experience. I am excited to see that hundreds of developers in the AdMob network are on track to earn more than $100,000 annually. And that’s just the revenue they earn from us! These developers prove that sustainable businesses can be built on mobile. We’ve spotted a few trends that have enabled these developers to turn their ideas into very successful mobile businesses. Here are our 8 tips to building a business with your mobile app.

  1. Start a business, not just an app. What are you trying to accomplish with your app? Are you going to create a deep, engaging experience in one app that you continue to develop and build on? Or, are you going to build a portfolio of simpler apps that refer users to each other? Create a plan for your mobile business that extends months, if not years, beyond the launch of your app.
  2. Choose the right business model for you. There are plenty of ways to run a successful media business; you should pick the one that works best for you. Decide whether you’re providing a one time, high value experience that favors the pay-to-download model or if you plan to reach a large audience and continue to engage them over time, in which case an ad-supported model often makes more sense.
  3. Build for the user. You need to understand the different ways users are going to engage with your app, and build around them. People use their smartphones while they are commuting, waiting for an appointment and sometimes just to kill time indoors on a rainy day. You should recognize how your app will be used so you can delight your users with a great experience.
  4. Create buzz about your app. Find a unique way to generate interest in your app. Be the first to use a new device feature, create a social media presence, and tell the press an inspiring story about your app. Make people want to tell their friends about it.
  5. Be engaging. Craft hooks that entice people to keep coming back. Creating an app that people use once and throw away is no way to build a business. Provide compelling content updates and new features. If you are building a game, encourage users to compete and interact with one another.
  6. Build a brand. Think beyond the app and enable users to engage with your brand in different ways, both on and off of their smartphones. Whether it is a company brand like Backflip Studios that supports a portfolio of apps or a branded app like Angry Birds, companies that invest time and money in branding create a stronger base from which to grow.
  7. Measure performance (not just downloads). Every mobile success story seems to focus on the same thing — total number of downloads. Mobile businesses need to analyze metrics that identify the lifetime value of a user beyond the initial download: daily active usage, time spent in app, paid upgrade conversions. You should use these metrics to determine where and how to focus your development efforts. For example, if half of your users leave the app when asked to fill out a form, you may want to reconsider how and when you should ask for that information. Your relationship with the user starts at the download.
  8. Test and iterate. Television networks pilot shows and figure out what concepts draw the biggest crowd. Movie studios do focus-group screenings. Mobile apps are also a media business and should be subject to similar testing. Try launching in a smaller market and gauge users’ response. Evaluate user reviews and turn feedback into app improvements. People have high expectations, especially if they’ve paid for an app, so continuing to iterate, improving the app, and offering new content is key to building a mobile business.

For those who still say mobile is “emerging”, I say mobile is here. It’s clear that app developers of all types, from individuals to large corporations, are building fast growing and sustainable mobile businesses. It’s still a wide open playing field, but competition is only going to increase. So, think about all the other app developers fighting to reach the same users that you are, and figure out how to be smarter, faster and more innovative than “the next guy or gal.”