th images menu user export search eye clock list list2 arrow-left untitled twitter facebook googleplus instagram cross photos entrep-logo-svg

Score in the app store

The phenomenal popularity of smartphones is bringing in opportunities to developers of mobile apps. Three local companies share their experiences in the development of their respective apps.
By Toni Antiporda |
Score in the app store
<>There’s a $25 billion market out there for mobile apps, but with over 800,000 apps available each for iOS and for Android—and open-source tools that have made development much easier—the fight for a slice of that multi-billion dollar pie is pretty fierce.

In this highly competitive market, three homegrown developers have carved their own niche through some hard-won lessons. Here’s what they’ve learned.

Go on immersion

Developing an app means that you’ll know all its inside workings—but you also have to know what goes on outside, too. That means intensively knowing your app’s intended end-users, as well as being aware of your competition.

Erick V. Garayblas, the one-man team behind game developer Kuyi Mobile, immersed himself in the app development community, learning and getting feedback directly from other developers, before he began development. He also checked the app stores daily, he says, to “see what’s hot, what’s trending, and what [kinds of] people play the games [I had in mind].”

In his case, Garayblas was able to draw from his own experience—managing a food cart business—to create his first game, Streetfood Tycoon. The world of sari-sari store owners, however, was foreign to Ibrahim Rasul-Bernardo and his team of developers at Sari Software Solutions, so they had to work closely with nanays who own sari-sari stores, to improve on their mobile apps for that audience.

score_in_the_app_store_txt_image_1.pngThere isn’t anyone better than the end users to give feedback on apps, so Sari Software had the nanays work as product testers and early adopters of Sari Load, a mobile loading app, and Sari Scan, a small scale bar code scanner.

With their help, Sari Load has gone through 30 iterations. One of the tweaks, for example, was the creation of an Utang button—important since stores run with as much as a third of their revenues on credit. The tweaks have been so successful, says Rasul-Bernardo, that the app’s learning curve for new users went down to 5 to 15 minutes, down from three hours initially.

Provide a solution

Is there a specific need or gap that you can fill with an app? Mobile and web solutions provider Seer Technologies takes this question very seriously, says company president Joseph Benjamin Ilagan. The staff is required to come up with a list of 15 everyday needs—annoyances or pet peeves, either from life or from existing apps on the market. Then, they identify one or two needs that can actually be turned into projects, thus providing solutions in the form of an app.

Sari, on the other hand, wanted to remedy the lack of bookkeeping in sari-sari stores, since listing daily sales on paper is unreliable. The technology that they used in Sari Load and Sari Scan has been rolled out to a third app, product I|O, which addresses sales and inventory problems of their retail clients, especially those that can’t afford point-of-sale (POS) units in each of their outlets. “We started creating technology for the base first, and something funny happened: the technology is trickling up,” Rasul-Bernardo says.

Design an experience

When it comes to mobile apps, you are not merely designing a game or a visual element; you are also designing an experience. This is why Garayblas notes that you should “focus on the kind of experience that you want your audience to have and have your product design revolve around it.”

Streetfood Tycoon, for example, wanted to court a wide range of players. It needed to be easy to learn, yet challenging and engaging enough to warrant a longer shelf life and more in-app purchases. Since he wanted to project a fun and exciting experience to its users, a colorful and clean interface with lots of rewards did the trick.

Ilagan adds that layout and style choices can also greatly influence user experience in any kind of mobile app. “If not done wisely, it will make your app look old,” he adds, which could push away younger users.

Another important consideration that developers may overlook is user experience across platforms, Ilagan warns. Building once and deploying across different platforms like iOS, Android, and BlackBerry may result in wildly varying user experiences, especially with variations in hardware and tested conditions.

“Once you overlook user experience and it affects your ratings and reviews, you’ll spend a lot more time and money trying to recover in the marketplace,” Ilagan stresses.

Make it stick

The fight for a share of the multi-billion dollar mobile-app market doesn’t end with the download—customer satisfaction, app retention, and generated revenue are often more reliable measures of an app’s success.

Garayblas says that customer engagement is also important—whether they use it daily, weekly, or make a purchase every day or every month. While Streetfood Tycoon has over 1.6 million downloads in the Philippines, revenue comes from in-app purchases—users have become so attached that they are willing to pay for improvements in their “food cart business.”

Still, you have to find ways to make customer engagement measurable, notes Ilagan. “If the app has a back-end connection, you can carefully collect data that allows you to analyze usage, keeping within the confines of what is legal and ethical.”

Sari, on the other hand, employs another metric: adoption. As a social enterprise with the stated goal to “empower small businesses and micro-entrepreneurs,” Sari didn’t want to charge sari-sari store owners for the technology; it was only important to the developers that their apps be deployed and used.

Start small, but with a big end in mind

score_in_the_app_store_txt_image_2.pngMobile app development is a humbling experience—67% of developers are considered below the “app poverty line,” earning less than $500 per app per month, says a 95-country study by market analysis firm VisionMobile. This means that most developers cannot yet make mobile app development their main source of income.

It may pay to take on smaller gigs in the beginning, says Ilagan. “We charged lower than the usual freelancing rates just to build up our mobile portfolio,” he adds. These so-called smaller gigs paved the way for high-profile projects such as the mobile apps for online news portal Rappler, and Enjoy Philippines, a privilege card brand.

To survive in the industry, recognize early on that technical or design skills by themselves are not enough, says Ilagan, who has been in the industry for more than a decade. This may mean that you’ll need a multi-disciplinary team consisting of technologists, writers, designers, and even domain experts who can help you better market your app and fortify your mobile app empire.

Images: Getty Images, Kuyi Mobile, and Sari Software Solutions

This article was originally published in the February 2014 issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

Subscribe to the print or digital version of the magazine here.

Latest Articles