All posts by Mark Dabbs

Originally from Washington State, Mark has lived in Odessa as a permanent resident for the past 8 years. Involved in online projects and publishing since 1996 starting with webmaster for Primestar Satellite TV by Continental Cablevision. Since then, he has served on the board for several non-profit organizations, co-founded CyberCraft Corp., and enjoyed three years with Amazon.com. He found his way to Iraq in support of the US Marines from 2004-5 with Lear Siegler and EG&G heading up the corporate newsletter and promotions program. New with Opera Mobile Store, developers can expect to see useful, wide-ranging information on the new Global Mobile Internet.

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Knowing how to make a proper introduction can go a long way to helping you get properly introduced, too. You can always introduce yourself to others, but there are occasions where it is desirable for someone else to make the introduction for you.  The functional axiom is that what others have to say about you is more important and usually carries more weight than anything you could say about yourself.

A proper introduction helps to establish trust and rapport between the parties involved.  It makes starting a discussion exponentially easier than a cold call – particularly with established veterans and professionals in an industry.  Introductions help to expedite discussions toward more productive ends.

Proper introductions are valuable for anyone, which is to say – they may be beneficial to mobile app developers, too.  They apply directly to helping you get in front of people who can satisfy a specific need or business objective:

  • Specialized mentoring from a successful professional.
  • Helping get a key member for your start-up team.
  • Getting a friendly starting point with a potential sponsor, investor or strategic partner.
  • Arranging discounts or special terms on products or services that you need or offer.
  • Virtually any type of business deal or arrangement.

A Friend of Yours is a Friend of Mine

Introductions have historically carried a great deal of weight.  Some organizations, most notably fraternal orders like the Masons, developed their own protocols to make it easier for their members to “vet” one another.  Trust is a big part of any business relationship, but it usually takes time to build, sometimes too long.  Who are you going to trust more – someone you’ve known for twenty years or someone you just met?  Following that logic, are you likely to trust someone referred to you by a friend of twenty years more than someone who just emailed you a business proposition?

Vetting is a natural, normal and sane approach to business.  Today there is some friction between that which is known as the “Good Ole Boy Network” and “Transparency” – suffice that even where transparency is required in business, there is also a vetting process involved to make sure those applying for a contract (as an example) have the capabilities of fulfilling it.

You are responsible for the introductions that you make – they are representative of your reputation and judgement.  Introducing someone who turns out to be a problem for the person they were introduced to will likely hold that you in association with that problem, too.  Leastwise, you always want to strive to make favorable introductions – based on honest evaluations of how favorable the interests of those being introduced are met.

The Introduction Itself

Easy enough to do, a proper introduction includes:

  • A Personalized Opening.
  • Who – The person’s name, their company and position.
  • Where – Where they actually live or do business, and web site.
  • What – What they need, offer or their objective.
  • Why/How – The reason/s why both parties should talk.
  • When – Usually relating to the term of the relationship with the person making the introduction but would include any associated time-sensitive components.
  • A Qualified Closing

Here’s a basic example of an introduction that you might send via email:

Hello Jake,

It’s been a while since we last talked but I remember your business keeps an eye out for promising mobile apps. In this regard, I would like to introduce you to John Smith from Copenhagen, who is the founder of myuniqueapp.dot.com.

John is interested in possibilities for joint marketing opportunities and strategic partnerships. We’ve been talking about the things he is able to offer for about three months. It looks to me like it would be good for the two of you to talk. He will be attending the conference in London in December, so he could meet with you personally.

We’ve known each other for a few years, and as you know I do my best to send qualified opportunities your way.  I think John has something for you to consider – and with that, I will leave the floor to him.

Best of luck to both of you,

 

The format can be customized as the situation dictates, suffice that it provides everything to get discussions rolling on a productive basis.

There’s quite a bit more to cover regarding introductions – which I will do next week.  Perhaps an unusual topic as relates to mobile app development, it should not be.   Making business deals is not something most would call easy – and is probably even harder for most app developers.

The process of introducing and getting introduced is itself a “strategic initiative” that the vast majority of businesses ignore – quite often to their detriment.   Most organizations are suffering from an excessive reliance upon “tech” and not enough involvement with the “human” side of the equation.

As with everything, there are processes to follow – and we will get to them.

It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but in principle – yes, there is “free money” out there for those enterprising enough to find it and go after it. Enter the world of grants where governments, large corporations and sometimes universities, non-government organizations and private foundations provide money to do… something. Grants do not require repayment. For our purposes, we can also include “requests for tender” which are invitations for proposals.

The following are just a (very) few examples reflecting the variety of organizations issuing grants, what they are for, and grant sizes.

 

Are Grants Like a Lottery Ticket?

Before going further, I want to qualify that this is not “easy money” and it is not particularly “fast” either. Considerable research and paperwork is involved coupled with a sometimes lengthy evaluation process. It can take from 6 months to 2 years or longer to receive any funds – all variable per project and issuing organization.

On the other hand, grant money is money that is already budgeted. It is there and someone will get it. The number of people or organizations applying for grant money tends to be a small, but very competitive field. Quite simply, most grants are not widely advertised, few know about them, fewer still apply for them.

Grants are like a lottery ticket, except for two things. You can’t buy the ticket – instead you do the research, the paperwork and complete the application process which is specific to each grant. While you are not guaranteed to win a grant, the more familiar you become with the grant process the greater your chances of winning future grants. That comes through research, talking with other grant writers, being better prepared with the information needed for the next grant application, as well as developing relationships with grant-issuing organizations.

Grants are worth pursuing if you are:

  • a small-medium-sized business open to additional projects and revenue-generating opportunities
  • an organization actively engaging the “greater good” (i.e. civil society).
  • a developer focusing mainly on utility-based apps
  • an entrepreneur with good project management and team building skills
  • good with research and documentation and willing to network your skills with organizations interested in applying for grants

Grant Writing is a Job and Business Opportunity

The last of these deserves extra comment. Many businesses are involved directly or indirectly with the kinds of research, development, technology and other interests usually associated with grants – but are not involved in pursuing grants. Some of them would be if they knew about them and had someone able to pursue them (do the research to find them, coordinate the grant paperwork, go through the application process, etc.).

That could be a job for “someone” – potentially a small business unto itself. Essentially, those interested in this pursuit would first get tied into all of the different grant opportunities and look for other “aligned” businesses, developers or other business arrangements such as special purpose vehicles (SPV’s).

Where to Find Mobile App Grant Opportunities

First, this will often depend upon where you live (country/geographical region). Second, “following the money” will likely lead you to government agencies, large corporations, banks and universities – specific to your country. Additionally, you will want to keep an eye on international aid programs like USAIDEBRD (European Bank of Reconstruction and Development), the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Project, various agencies of the United Nations, and all manner of Start-Up Accelerators and Incubators.

A more proactive approach would involve setting up a Google Alert or an “If This Then That” recipe to keep you notified of new grant opportunities as they are announced.

Requests for tender deserve mention in conjunction with grants in that they provide money for you to develop something much more specific.  This puts you in the business of being a subcontractor.  The big difference is that you will not hold the rights to the end product.

While most grants are for utility-based apps, there are occasionally grants awarded for games – especially with an educational bent.

Winning your first grant or bid will be your greatest challenge, but once you do – future applications will be easier not only for your familiarity with the process but for also having something to show. It probably won’t be easy.  Completing your first grant application might involve several days of effort.  After a couple, you can have all the work done in 1-2 days.  Then it is just a matter of waiting to see if you win or not – and not giving up on applying to future grants.

GritsYou have the potential to find an income in the world of mobile apps without being a mobile app developer.   There’s that old saying from West Virginia, “If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs… if we had some eggs.”  What I am here to say is that you, too, can have ham and eggs even if you don’t have ham and eggs.  If you don’t like ham, switch it with grits…. grits and eggs.

Gee… thanks.

Okay, well, let’s put it a different way.  The difference between being self-employed and unemployed is that one of the two is waiting for someone else to provide them an opportunity (for an income).  A self-employed person will frequently pay out of their own pocket to find (or create) the same opportunities.

Fundamentally, it comes down to a lot of people perceiving they cannot generate an income because they don’t have something to market (or an audience in that market).  That something could be a product, but it could also be “any” job skill.  There are, of course, situations where the world is stacked against you or even an entire geographical region.  Even then, there are possibilities – provided we have the willingness and determination to seek them out.

But let’s skip the philosophy for now and jump into some distinct possibilities where you can find an income from mobile apps without being a mobile app developer.

Are you fluent in two or more languages? If so, you might examine freelance or even professional work for the “localization” of mobile apps. Many apps are released in a single or limited range of languages. Localization makes it easier for an app to engage users who speak different languages.

Being a localization agent works best for two types of markets. The first market concerns economy of scale as relates to language demographics coupled with mobile platform (Android, iOS, Java, etc.) penetration. The second concerns helping to open up new markets.

Localization will involve text, graphics with text, and possibly changes in an app’s graphics for greater cultural relevancy. The greatest technical hurdle is going to involve how any in-app purchases are handled. Localization can also be tied into additional local marketing services. This has the potential to be a full-time job or small business with a low (sub-$1k) to no upfront investment, other than your time.

The Local App Expert – If you are a good writer and can talk in front of an audience, being an “app expert” could be made into a part-time job. This presumes you know your way around a wide range of apps – games, utilities, the different app stores to include Opera Mobile Store and some basic troubleshooting skills.

The “conventional” approach these days is to set up a blog and a YouTube channel and eventually grow a following. The real benefits, however, involve going “old-school” and expanding into newspaper, magazines and journals, radio, possibly television, but with a heavy focus on lectures and speaking events.

Organizations – businesses, non-profit organizations, social clubs, retirement communities, etc., frequently host events. Often times, they like to bring in guest speakers for a topic and are even open to topic suggestions.

Add-on ideas include developing a niche specialization, becoming an expert on local e-governance components, and making arrangements with app developers to promote their apps during your events. While there is minimal financial investment required, it can take up to three years from a standing start to see some income. A creative, aggressive approach focusing on speaking engagements can help expedite revenue flow substantially.

The Niche App Expert has comprehensive knowledge on utility-based apps for a specific purpose. This is a lot like the local app expert, but here you are likely going to be focused on a specific industry or career field – but it could be international.

The venues you would be looking to get into would involve both online and offline magazines and journals, industry-specific membership web sites and podcasts, conferences, trade shows, exhibitions, possibly colleges and universities. Your theme is likely to be something about “apps to make your job easier.” With proper knowledge and positioning, you could expand into providing consulting and possibly training services.

There is quite likely to be a higher financial commitment to this approach as it may involve acquiring premium apps, keeping up with new devices, and subscriptions/admission fees for industry journals and events. You can try to get into events for free by requesting a journalist pass. Sometimes, trade mags provide free subscriptions to industry specialists as they may be making their money on advertising.

The Patron, The Investor and The Business Maker

My post on LinkedIn goes into more depth and additional options suffice that everyone has the potential to put “something” on the table (figuratively speaking). This is likely to translate to money, knowledge, resources, networking, or time. You have something to invest – and it is up to you how much you will invest and where.

The mobile app market is very interesting but largely not very different from any other market. Over 90% of mobile apps are distributed for free and that roughly 70% of developers are struggling to break even. That would imply it is a “different market” – but it parallels the same market dynamic faced by starving artists for over a thousand years.

Relative to the logistics and distribution involved in almost any brick-n-mortar business, the dynamics of mobile app development are exponentially easier and with near-zero cost.

The PROBLEM is that there is not a lot of handshaking going on between mobile app developers and old school business development, quality assurance, marketing and distribution. Of course, the big mobile app developers are not having a problem because they can afford to hire people with this experience (not that they always do).

The BENEFIT to resolving this problem stands in the risk to low investment ratio and return on investment potential for someone to help solve “one promising developer’s problems” in monetizing their app.

The process to doing that is getting people with business experience talking with mobile app developers and programmers. Mobile app developers… develop – they don’t really want to know more about marketing or business development. However, they can implement or integrate a significant amount of those marketing and business development components into their app code.

We all see “the problem in front of us” in a different way. That’s completely natural. How successful we are in solving the problem comes down to a combination of will and skills. What’s likely to perform better – one highly motivated person with one or two skill sets or a team of highly motivated people with all of the required skill sets? Good teams almost always win.

Several inquiries over the past few weeks have come from non-developers with ideas for mobile apps. Half of the questions concerned how to go about creating an app, while the other half focused on finding funding or sponsors for the their app idea.  Some attention has been given to this, but it can be expanded upon.

Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Vetting your idea can save you a lot of time, energy and money. I recently was at a conference where a “senior investor” was bragging about having started something like 70 businesses, of which more than 60 were “disasters.” It was painful – listening to him that is, as it is highly indicative that he spent little or no time vetting his start-up ideas.

Going into mobile app development without being or having a mobile app developer is an uphill battle. It can be won, but that will come through a focused, persistent effort for a good product backed by a good business and marketing plan. It’s one thing to make an app; it is another to make a profit on it. Understand that 90+% of apps are distributed for free and roughly 70% of mobile app developers are not breaking even.

But you do have one advantage.  If you are not an app developer you won’t get caught up in making an app just because you can – and then trying to monetize it in a very competitive market.  While a developer can make an app for free, all of the time invested in making it and then trying to monetize it is an expense.  Instead, your time can be devoted to evaluating whether you can monetize your idea for an app.

Research is critical.

There are millions of apps; odds are pretty good that there is already an app similar to what you have in mind. There may not be, though. Even if there is something closely resembling your idea, there could still be room to compete.

You want to make informed decisions, either way. Fortunately, initial research is pretty easy – consisting mostly of keyword searches on search engines and app stores. Simply use the words that would define what the app does as your keywords. If you intend for your app to be specific to a specific geographical region, you can add it (i.e. India, Maharashtra, Mumbai).

Example: If you wanted to create an app that will connect you with fire department, ambulance, police department, etc. via one button, you could use keywords like:

*  ambulance app

*  ambulance app Mumbai

*  emergency service app

*  emergency speed dial app

Your First Decision Point

This early research should bring you to your first decision point – to proceed or not?  No one else can really answer that for you – it depends upon your degree of interest, how much you can and are willing to invest, what the competition looks like and what you think the monetization potential could be.

Leastwise, having spent some time examining what already exists you should be able to reach one of the following decisions:

  1. No – there are already lots of apps out there that do mostly what I had in mind, or
  2. Yes – my idea looks better than anything else that I’ve seen and it warrants further examination.

Don’t be disappointed if you decide not to pursue your idea, you’ve avoided a bad investment of your time and resources.  This does not preclude you from trying to evolve your idea, or since you’ve started looking at the wide world of mobile app development — perhaps exploring other ideas!

Feature Lists

While you are doing the searches, keep track of the URL and app names of anything that comes close to what you have in mind. You will likely want to download and try using those apps, or at least make a list of their features to compare (or add) to yours.

This is not to say that your app needs to include everything that other apps do, just to provide you a broader perspective on what you could do.

It is also worthwhile to evaluate the effort other developers put into creating their app. This type of information might be found on their company web site, possibly news stories or press releases concerning fundraising, talking with mobile developers or even raising questions on public forums (Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, etc.). This can yield information like the company having received grant, investment money or is receiving specialized assistance, that it involves complex code or needs to connect with third party systems/software, has special security issues, and so forth.

Try to get an idea for:

  • how many developers worked on the app?
  • how long did it take them to create the app?
  • how is their app performing (# of downloads)?
  • are they getting good end-user reviews?
  • does it appear that the app is profitable for them?

Exact information is not really needed here. A rough approximation is useful for having something to compare against.  Knowing their app required only one developer three months to create or required a large team six months, will help you gauge the resources you will need to produce your app.

One emergency service app, for example, raised over $60k via a Kickstarter campaign plus $500k in contests in conjunction with students from MIT and Harvard – two prestigious universities.   That’s an indication that what may seem like a simple idea is really quite complex.  Their app would need to include GPS data, automatically acquire local emergency numbers, handshake with every telco and mobile operator to place calls even when the user has a “zero balance” on their account, etc.

Avoid the Mom Test

It is essential to ask questions and listen to the answers, preferably from people able to provide an objective and informed answer.  That means avoiding asking your friends and family…

“Mom, is this a great idea for an app or what?”

“Oh, absolutely Dear, that’s the best app idea ever!”

Functionally, the more critical the answers are, the greater their value. You don’t need people to tell you that your idea is great. You like it enough to question whether it is worth pursuing. You need someone to play devil’s advocate – why it is not great. That provides you the opportunity to make your idea even better and more competitive.

All of this barely scratches the surface.  If you would like more, take a look at Part One and Part Two of “Non-Developers with Ideas for Apps” to add some additional perspective.  Then, feel free to explore the rest of the Developer’s Guide as there is a lot of information useful not just for developers, but in almost any business (variable by article and subject matter, of course).   The next few articles will also be devoted to how non-developers can get into the mobile app market one way or the other.

 

Need another great, potentially free, way to promote your apps? Challenge your players to compete for prizes and bragging rights. We’ll take a look at some of the benefits, options and possibilities that you can explore to help you get the greatest benefit from engaging your players with contests.

First, competitions can be announced any time as special events, or on an ongoing monthly or seasonal basis. They mainly require some creativity coupled with time and effort to promote. Where possible, keep the theme and rewards central to the nature of your app. It’s appropriate to try planning a month ahead of time and having everything set up at least two weeks before the competition is announced. Plan on at least a week’s worth of promoting the event – getting announcements out to web sites, posted on social networking channels, perhaps even updating your app’s description on app stores.

Types of Competitions

The type of competition should be centered around the kind of app you have and the elements of it that can be easily measured – whether in a video, screenshot or through your own in-app tracking. This might be associated with doing something the fastest, getting the highest score, being the first to reach a certain level or unlock.

However, competitions do not need to be performance-based. Coolest screenshots, puzzles based on in-game content, Easter Egg hunts, most interesting build or load-out, funniest captions, even fan fiction, can all serve as a cool event to promote your apps and games.

Real vs. Virtual Rewards

Real prizes like free mobile devices or cash are great. Most developers, however, tend to be short on cash, so first we will take a look at Virtual and Vanity Item rewards. After that, we’ll return to more tangible prizes.

One only needs to consider that Blizzard generated $2.1 million in sales of its Celestial Steed mount in 2010 to realize that virtual vanity items have “real value.” Value has always been subjective, and it’s become even more abstract in the digital age.

Virtual rewards can include anything that equates to a “quality of life” improvement for the player – being able to run faster, have a faster mount, extra storage, be able to summon bankers or vendors, have extra crafting professions, swap builds for free, in-game or in-app store discounts, account upgrades, a free month of premium game time, etc. They can include performance enhancing prizes – better gear, vehicle upgrades, stat boosts. Rewards could just as easily be a new “skin”, a rare pet or mount, unique items or titles.

The benefits of virtual rewards are that, aside from your development time, they are free – can be given away as many times as you like. The main concerns with these rewards are maintaining balance in the game and its economy. That said, you can easily establish multiple tiers of rewards so that everyone who participates gets something, while the “best” and perhaps “wild card” winners get something better.

Real rewards, in the sense of something more tangible, do not necessarily require a large budget. Here, again, you have many options available to you. You can offer rewards out of your own pocket or budget, or you can coordinate with another app developer or business to sponsor your competition.

Offering real rewards will usually require you to observe local laws regarding contests, and it may be necessary to limit eligibility on a regional and/or age basis.

Taking money out of your own budget is the “easiest” approach. It is not necessarily the best approach, but in certain cases could be a good option to consider. Cash prizes are offered by some games and most tournaments. Instead of cash prizes, you could offer digital devices, t-shirts and other “paraphernalia” (via sites like Café Press), gift certificates, or other mobile app or software products. This lets you shop around with whatever budget you may have.

But, you don’t necessarily have to foot the bill yourself. You have the option to approach other businesses to sponsor your event, too! This approach sets up the potential that they may help promote your event – wherein your event offers prizes that promote them. Win-Win. Make sure to give your sponsors like this a nice write up in conjunction alongside your promotion of the event.

Say you have a F2P “Racing” app, good but not top of the line. You could approach the developer of a premium “Racing” app offering to promote it in exchange for one or more free copies to offer as prizes. All the way around, this would be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

In some cases, you may be able to arrange an extra commission with the developer of the premium app for any purchases and downloads you are able to generate for them. This is heavily dependent upon their tracking mechanisms and would be easier if you are able to provide coupon/discount codes.

Functionally, your prizes could be just about anything – virtual items or currency, unlocks, an account upgrade, a slot on your beta test team, cash, tangible products or simply bragging rights.  The greater the perceived “relative value” – the more compelling the competition is likely to be.

Promoting Fan Contests

You have the capacity to enable others to announce competitions on your behalf!

This is a great way to gain “evangelists” in promoting your app. Remember, there are two types of “super users” – those who help monetize it for you by using your app and purchasing in-app products, and those who help promote your app. Both are important, suffice that your “evangelists” are the ones who are best able to help you attract paying customers. There are even game sites that cater to announcing game competitions – and you don’t need to be the latest and greatest app to get a mention.

Offer your “evangelists” incentives for their own game play and prizes they can distribute to their audience.  The easier you make it for your closest followers and greatest fans to promote you – the more likely they are to do so.  The more you promote them – the more likely they are to run events.  And, the more you are able to help them monetize those events or expand their own audience encourages them all the more.