Can you tell us about yourself and what you're working on?
I'm Sherry Yang, a geeky girl based in Singapore. Being a life science major colleague student, I'm a self-taught programmer and designer.
I was first inspired by Steve Jobs's keynote for the first iPhone release. When Android came out, its open source nature caught my attention, and I quickly realised that it's going to take the world like storm. I started learning programming in Java and studying Android OS. Meanwhile, I bought my first smart phone: a Nexus One.
My app is Audio/Video Converter Android — a media conversion tool that converts almost any video/audio formats to popular formats like mp4, wmv, avi, flv etc. It also supports audio extraction from video.
What's the story behind how you got started?
I was working full-time as teaching assistant teaching biological science tutorial at a Singapore University. I'd been self-studying Java programming for quite some time and had developed a few dummy apps, but none of them took off. I still remember it was a rainy day in October 2013 when I ran into my old friend George (not his real name, but the friend is real) at a bus stop. We started chatting, and when I told him I was fascinated by Android programming, everything changed.
George was an experienced Android developer with a dozen popular Android apps. He couldn't continue the development due to personal reasons and wanted to give away the source code so people could still benefit from it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I agreed without a second thought to take over the source code for the media converter app.
At that time, there were relatively few media conversion apps. None of them had an intuitive UI, and most of them suffered from slow conversion speeds. I studied George's source code whenever I could find time. I was always head down, reading something related to either media conversion or Android, even when I was having lunch.
It took me a month to understand the source code and related concepts, and another month to polish the app to a state that I became confident enough to publish. When I clicked the "publish" button on December 2nd, 2013, it was the most satisfying moment since I started programming. I just hoped there'd be people who liked and used the app.
How'd you find the time to do your studying, polishing, and coding?
It was very hard for the first few months. The code was not easy to understand, and at the time I lacked the domain knowledge of multimedia conversion.
Fortunately, being a teaching assistant gave me a lot of free time. I was studying and coding whenever I found time. My friend George was very helpful. We had a few pair programming sessions together. Of course I had to buy him beer :-)
How many users have you gotten since launching?
The app has accumulated over 2 million downloads over the past two and half years.
What techniques have you used to get all of these users?
I struck a deal with my friend George. He provides a link to the new app in his old app, and I share 20% of the revenue with him. It works rather well.
I've also read a lot about app marketing. I never allocated any marketing budget for ads. Instead, I spent a lot of time submitting to app websites, making tutorial videos, optimizing the store listing page, etc.
How did you start making money?
The app is free for basic usage, but some advanced features require an in-app purchase. Currently, I'm making $2.5k to $3.5k per month most of the time, and I've peaked at $3.8k.
George suggested that I start charging from day one, but I released it for free at first. I found myself spending lots of time and effort answering user questions and reading feedback. It wasn't a small or easy commitment. I finally figured I deserved a reward if I was going to be working so hard, so I implemented in-app purchases and hid some features behind it.
Surprisingly, people don't seem to mind it much. As long as the app is high quality, users understand and are willing to pay a few dollars to support the app developer. I've been much more motivated to add new features and answer user questions since then. So I think it's a win-win situation.
What's been the hardest part of your journey?
Besides coding and support, I think the hardest part is making the right changes. There've been a couple of times where the daily downloads and revenue dropped after new releases, and I had no clue why. It took a long time to figure it out. Sometimes it's due to UI update, sometimes it's because of a bug.
I think I could do better if I add more automated testing code, and also use A/B testing when introducing new UIs.
What's your advice for those aspiring to make money from apps?
New apps take time to climb up the ranks and grow their download numbers. I think it's good to track additional metrics like active users, user engagement, etc from early on. If your users keep coming back to your app, you'll gain confidence and be motivated to invest more time on it.
Also, don't stop at one app. Try different ideas and keep track of the stats to see which ideas are promising, then spend more time on those.
Where can we learn more about your apps?
You can also leave a comment below, and I'll try to get back to you!