In 2017, turning an app into a business is no walk in the park.

With such massive competition, you’ve got to have the right teams, resources, data, funds and endless willpower. However, there is still much to be learned from existing success stories.

When examining successful apps of 2016 we see that they all have common factors. They’re all innovative, social and have shown substantial growth. The difference between them is measured in many factors such as genre, size of teams and more. Some are location based, some are PvP (player versus player), some are live streaming apps and some are comprised of combined genres. While apps like, Unow and LiveMe are all about live services, others are focused on creativity. While some are teams of 12, others have teams of 100.

So the question asked is, why were they successful?

turning your app into a business

First, they were all innovative, with strong experienced teams, while the fact that they were heavily monetized didn’t hurt either.

The 3 pillars of a successful mobile app

Core growth is driven from the product. At the end of the day, if your product isn’t good enough, no one will go out and buy it.  In the product, we should monitor the 3 main factors which are: Retention, Monetization, & Virality.

turn your app into a business

Successful apps have a monetization DARPU of over $0.15. When it comes to retention, the expected D1 rate is between 45%-50%, which used to be considered high but with today’s competition these retention rates may not be enough.  As for an example, the retention rate for Pokémon Go was between 65-70%. In terms of virality, we all know what happened with Pokémon Go.

If you want to swim with the sharks you need to bite like one.

The amazing success of these apps may inspire you to join the competition but keep in mind that the teams you’re competing with are experienced and super innovative. There is no place in the market for mediocre teams and dysfunctional companies. The app business will show you no mercy and if you don’t have what it takes you will quickly run out of money and momentum.
In order to succeed and make a business out of your product, try to maintain the following principles:

  • Work together

Your product is extremely important for your success. However, completing the product opens up a whole new set of questions. Once you’ve launched you’ll need approximately 8 months to optimize and reach your desired goals (Hopefully less, but expect that time frame).

What teams do you need to succeed?

  • A killer product design team – the basis of your entire product
  • A strong tech team – you won’t get anywhere without one
  • A good BI team
  • A marketing team with a vision

Ultimately, you need to make sure you have mutual goals and make your decisions together. Supercell is so successful because the teams are able to make small, dedicated decisions with the same goals but with different perspectives.

Make sure to:

  • Have a defined, common ultimate goal.
  • Establish one KPI but use different perspectives and actions to achieve it.
  • Use data to make decisions, not intuition. take the time to analyze and improve together as one, unified team.
  • You should have both weekly and monthly meetings to discuss the KPI, goals, and analyze the work in order to prioritize.

Incorporate data in all of your decision-making. Backing up all of your decisions with data will help you measure your success.

  • Execution through marketing

Now that you’ve got your team and set your KPI’s it’s time for some effective marketing. As you start thinking of your marketing strategy keep these four tips in mind:

  1. Have a good plan
  2. Go big or go home (Ladder strategy is an option, I don’t love it)
  3. Be aggressive
  4. Move fast

When it comes to marketing, there is no one magic formula but a combination of methods that can help you succeed. Here are a few factors to think about when building your marketing strategy.

Choose your channels and goals wisely

Explore different marketing platforms (not necessarily paid channels) to find out what works for your app and what doesn’t. If you find a channel that works, increase your budget and leverage it to your benefit. You don’t know how long it will last so when you find good users, go for it!

ASO is one of the least costly ways to promote your app and can have a huge impact on your success (or failure).  

If you’re focusing on retention – work on loyalty systems. Make sure your game/app/service is dynamic and interesting enough, otherwise your users will get bored and move to the next hottest app.

Find the right market

As written earlier – it’s getting more and more crowded in the app stores, and more difficult to make it, especially in big markets like the US and Europe. If you want a chance at success consider a blue ocean strategy.

“Blue ocean strategy generally refers to the creation by a company of a new, uncontested market space that makes competitors irrelevant and that creates new consumer value often while decreasing costs.” –

Look for markets like Singapore that have a less competitive price than the US and a high lifetime value. If you grow in smaller less competitive markets you can use that money to generate growth in new and different markets. Don’t start off in a tier 1 country because your chances of competing there are low. Blue oceans are important for growth, look for them when you have a market fit for your product and a budget.

Use Data to recognize marketing and product usability trends

Data is crucial. Work with your BI team to get data on what’s working and what is failing miserably. Recognize your best performing countries and placements as well as current trends you can’t afford to miss. Apps succeed when conversion rate is high, so find out what’s converting.  

Have your players reached all the levels and finished all your content? Use your BI to see when you need to produce new content and features. Check your data daily to see where you are growing and where you can improve.

Featuring is nice, but it’s not everything

Featuring can help you grow but it’s not everything and shouldn’t be your only focus. While it’s important to have a strong plan to get featured, it’s not the only thing you should be aiming for. For Apple and Google it’s all about building a relationship. Think long term, be smart, and put users first.

You either got it or you don’t

Obviously, having a big budget can provide you with more resources and opportunities but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll “make it”. If you want to have a successful app you have to be creative, have a damn good plan, and track your progress. Know your strengths and use them to your advantage. When you go big and aggressive, go all the way and give it everything you’ve got because if you don’t, you may miss your organic users momentum.
Make sure to focus on retention and monetization to get the best LTV you can have ,and your eCPI will come from your organics and smart marketing.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you set realistic goals and expectations and have a thought-out growth plan that will serve as your guide and help you turn that fabulous app of yours into a thriving business.

About Michael Velkes

Michael Velkes is CMO and executive producer at Playlab. Playlab is a leading game developer & publisher that has grown from a handful of passionate gamers to a group of 80 and more enthusiasts striving to create the best games for iOS and Android devices along with Facebook


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