Today, we get a special opportunity to talk with Sandra Ilyina, Sales Director at Opera Mobile Store. Charming, extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the Mobile Market, she was part of the original Handster team which is now the core of Opera Mobile Store.
Sandra is a graduate from Zaporizhzhya State University, fluent in Russian and Ukrainian, as well as English. On top of that, she’s conversational in German.
Sandra heads the entire OMS Business Development Team and has a complete handle on all of the ins and outs of what goes into the best performing advertising campaigns. She is a veteran public speaker and conference-goer which has accrued to her having met and talked with hundreds, possibly thousands of developers. If you are in Mobile, Sandra is someone you want to know and what she has to share for developers has a high tendency of standing against the tests of time. Plus, she has a lot of new things to bring you up to speed with Opera Mobile Store
Mark: This is the first chance we’ve really had to meet up since the holiday season started – for our readers, we have two sets of holidays starting with Christmas which many people celebrate on December 25th and Orthodox Christmas which is celebrated in Ukraine on January 7th. Then there’s New Years Day, but also Old New Years which is celebrated on January 14th. Which ones did you celebrate? And was Santa good to you?
Sandra Ilyina: This year my winter holiday celebrations were very unconventional for a Ukrainian. I spent them in the southern state of India with my friends. Huge prawns, fresh tropical fruit juices, palm tees decorated like New Year’s trees — it was an international “chilled- out” party. We had a calm fire on the top of the house under a deep, star-filled sky instead of a family dinner with a fir tree and snow outside. Santa was very good this year bringing lots of revelations, challenging adventures and many new dear friends.
This trip also helped me understand the people of India much better. India is one of Opera’s core markets and is a significant content source. So, this trip was not only pleasant and relaxing but also very helpful for my work.
Mark: Over the past six months, a lot of interesting changes have been implemented with regards to how Opera Mobile Store is able to work with other divisions of Opera Software and Opera MediaWorks. Can you tell us about some of these developments – what kind of new products are you able to offer that you weren’t before?
Sandra: There are really a lot of great changes both in the service quality and the range of available inventory that we are happy to offer to customers. Opera Mobile Store is one of the premium publishers offering high quality traffic for Opera Mediaworks performance advertisers.
Opera MediaWorks is one the biggest premium user acquisition platforms, globally. It can offer both Opera owned and operated ad inventory inside Opera’s mobile browsers with over 270M users and Opera Mobile Store scoring 105M monthly users. Opera’s owned ad networks which used to be big and well-known players in the mobile market are even bigger now – AdMarvel, Mobile Theory, 4th Screen, Moolah Media and Hunt – offer access to 425M uses via 14,000 premium publishers. So we are glad to say «yes» to any advertiser.
Mark: For the mobile market, which region do you find especially interesting? What special challenges and advantages do you see there?
Sandra: Observing both social apps and games products one of the interesting regions is Asia. Previously this market was not very receptive to western products and were not expanding its user reach outside the region. Now one can see an expanding interaction between the East and West with mutual penetration of these markets. Asia has a huge population and its number of smart phone users is growing quite rapidly.
The challenge is that some users in the region do not have the purchasing power which is characteristic of the US or Western Europe. Nevertheless, such a huge number of users, the volume, can generate significant revenues.
Mark: What do you believe is the most valuable reason for a developer to advertise through OMS?
Sandra: OMS is the most dynamically growing and the biggest cross-platform app store now. It follows the main trends of the mobile market increasing the number of smart phone apps downloads. Moreover, its unique end users are intending to install and use great apps. One cannot ignore such independent big market players after publishing an app in a native store.
OMS campaigns can be also easily expanded to Opera Mini browser and other Opera MediaWorks’ publishers.
Opera’s account management team is doing a great job of launching and fine tuning campaigns. Their efforts are focused on QA, third party tracker integration, banners improvements and targeting improvement. As a result CTR and conversions can be increased up to five times.
Mark: On the side of networking within the industry, which trade shows and conferences have you found the most interesting to attend?
Sandra: Our team is always searching for big trade shows in our core markets. Exhibiting, having speech slots and meeting important partners proved very valuable in St. Petersburg at the Winter Nights Games conference, Casual Connect in Kiev, and Pocket Gamer Connect in London. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is definitely the must-go event of the year.
Mark: Which ones would you most strongly recommend up and coming developers to prioritize attending?
Sandra: Regional events are a must. Networking with local publishers and traffic providers is very important. Big global companies tend to attend all big events so it’s highly likely to catch up with them. Depending on the mobile content type (games or apps) some events are more relevant. Billing and tracking solution partners can be met at almost all mobile trade shows.
Mark: Broadly speaking, what do you think is the one area most developers can improve upon with respect to making their app more successful or profitable?
Sandra: Tracking solutions should be given close attention. The OMS tech team faced many challenges while tracking the effectiveness of mobile apps campaigns. Opera has done a lot of work cooperating with third party trackers such as Has-Offers, Ad-X, AppsFlyer and Kochava to improve their SDKs for a more accurate geo and traffic source tracking of users. Developers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of cooperating with the team that provides traffic. Perfomance advertising requires some efforts at launch. Once everything is tuned, users acquisition process goes very smooth and ensures revenue growth.
File size for Android apps and applying a freemium model also matter. In case of the size — the smaller the file, the higher the conversion is to installs or CPI. Some app developers and creators let users download a small sized apk file and force additional downloads after the user has registered. Freemium apps and games generate about 95% of the revenue in all stores (especially for games and social apps).
Mark: Are there any special words of advice you would have for a new developer seeking to promote what they think is a great app, but don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising it?
Sandra: Fortunately, the majority of market players already understand that marketing budget is vital for any product. For initial user acquisition, new developers should first publish their apps to native app stores and the largest independent store fronts. Publishing reviews and searching for press coverage also help.
Mark: In closing, as with our interview with Victor Shaburov… and our future articles, the last question I have for you is, what is your favorite desert of all time and where did you discover it?
Sandra: I am a big fan of healthy life stile and organic food. One of the best deserts that I have had was an open top apple pie with vanilla ice-cream and caramel topping served in one of Odessa’s cafes. I also cook a great lemon tart that I have had a chance to taste in Paris.
Today, we feature an interview with Victor Shaburov, Vice President of Storefront Services at Opera Software. For some history, Victor was co-founder of SPB Software House and the founder of Handster. Victor graduates from St. Petersburg State University with a M.S. in Computer Science and Mathematics. We cover some of the history of Handster leading up to Opera Mobile Store.
Developers should find some interesting and very valuable tips in consideration that Victor has led two very successful mobile/tech start-ups. There are many more questions we wanted to ask, suffice that we don’t intend for interviews to be one-time events.
Without further adieu…
Mark: At the moment you are in Sunny San Mateo, California. As it is the middle of January, is it still sunny there?
Victor Shaburov: Yes, but shortly we will have a short rain season starting.
Most of the time the weather is great – you know, IT entrepreneurs selected a great place for running businesses.
Mark: As noted in the introduction, you are the founder of Handster.com which was the leading independent app store for Android when it was sold to Opera. So going back a bit, what first got you interested in the mobile app market? How long after did you start Handster?
Victor: Even before Handster I worked for Spb Software company (recently acquired by Yandex) and we were developing apps for PDAs at that time.
Reaching end-users was difficult, they mostly came from developers’ websites, so we decided to try to create a marketplace where users can view different apps and buy them. That was kind of like the iTunes App Store, but long before iPhone existed.
At that time only 4% of users were installing 3rd party apps; we wanted to reach the other 96% of the people.
Mark: Your ideas and plans were obviously quite successful as Handster was purchased by Opera in January of 2012. Were you surprised by this development or was that part of your plan all along?
Victor: I was not looking for an acquisition and even initially rejected talking with the Opera guys. But they were quite insistent and made a great offer, so I changed my mind.
We become part of a very aggressive and successful company, which is showing fantastic growth over these last years. And Opera benefited from having a store inside their browser, the ability to increase loyalty of end-users, and also monetize them.
Mark: What’s the biggest change did the transition from Handster to Opera Mobile Store have organizationally?
Victor: The great part is that Opera kept the unit function for these 2 years on our own. And we received fantastic help from their marketing, legal and sales sides. We used existing Opera connections to reach mobile carriers and offer our solution.
As a result, we launched new carrier stores for such operators like TIM Brazil, MTS Ukraine, MTS Belarus, partnered with Yandex on Yandex.Store launch and helped other partners like RIM, LG to grow their developer base.
During this 2 year period since the acquisition, our number of monthly users has grown from 18 Million to 100+ Million (this is 230% annual user growth)
The number of applications on the store has increased from 36,000 to 200,000+ apps.
We were able to achieve such results thanks to the great help from other Opera teams.
Mark: Out of curiosity, what kind of mobile device do you use most personally and what kind of apps do you use most often?
Victor: I’m an iPhone 5s user. I mostly use email, some news apps, banking and, of course, Opera browser – which is very fast especially if you travel a lot and have to work on low speed networks.
Mark: You’ve lived in several different countries – Russia, Germany, the United States – and California almost qualifies as its own country, plus Ukraine. With this kind of international experience, what are some things that you think developers from different regions would most benefit from in their development and marketing for different markets?
Victor: Developers should do app localization – that definitely increases usage in local markets.
By localization I mean not just translating texts, but also paying attention to local specifics. For example, if you distribute to India, most popular sports are cricket, movies are from Bollywood, etc.
Another small localization trick – we had to promote a dating app in Kazakhstan – and made a banner with Kazakh girls for it. The CTR conversion increased 3-times.
Also, try to find as many distribution methods as possible. Our store has mostly non-USA users – and it is a great place to reach users in countries, like India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and others.
Mark: Which country do you find especially interesting? What special challenges and advantages do you see with USA vs Ukraine?
Victor: Well, every country has its cons and pros.
The US is great for business development, and American people are best customers for the app, if you are looking from a monetization prospective.
Ukraine has a very strong pool of highly educated software developers and comparatively reasonable costs of running business.
So, we did combine these two countries at that time of Handster, developing the storefront in Ukraine and running it for US and international audience. It continues working well after we became part of Opera.
Mark: What do you believe is the most valuable reason for a developer to advertise through OMS?
Victor: We have people – 100M monthly users. And we can run developer marketing campaign also on the Opera browser homepage, reaching even more – 260 Million monthly users.
If a developer wants to acquire a lot of users fast – we are a great channel for this. Plus we are also a direct source of traffic, no middleman agency is in-between which makes such campaigns most cost-effective.
And, of course, we provide developers with flexible tools to configure a campaign for a platform, country and even a device or carrier. Developer can view downloads and spending in real-time through our tracking online reporting.
Mark: Just a few months ago, the Internet.org initiative was announced by Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook in conjunction with Opera and several mobile device OEMs. The goal of Internet.org is to bring reliable internet service to people who don’t yet have access to it – largely through expanding mobile service reach. What kind of role or roles do you see for Opera Mobile Store in the kind of future Internet contemplated by the Internet.org initiative – an Internet with over 7 billion people?
Victor: Opera browser is already servicing a huge number of users especially in emerging markets, like Indonesia, India, Nigeria where networks connections are not allowing users to browse the internet using other means. The browser has optimized network traffic by approximately 10 times, making browsing affordable and fast in such and other countries.
Our store provides a fast way to find apps and download them for people.
Mark: Well… we covered a lot of ground, but it just would not be right to finish this without trying to feed hungry minds in a more literal way. What is your favorite dessert of all time and where did you discover it?
Victor: I’m vegan, so for the dessert I usually eat some fruits. The most tasty fruits I tried were probably in Hong Kong – I liked local cherimoya and pitaya very much.
From my personal experience, Victor is very clued in on today’s tech world and in every way a true gentleman. I greatly appreciate his time in doing this interview and again, hopefully we’ll be able to get him to come back for more.
If you would like to connect with Victor Shaburov, you are welcome to reach him on Linked In.