While browsing Reddit the other day I came across someone excited that his side project was starting to take off. I love hearing stories like this – they motivate me and also give me ideas for my own side projects. I reached out to the redditor and luckily he turned out to be a great guy named Jeremy, willing to share tons of details about his side business: AppShortcuts
AppShortcuts is a simple app launcher for Amazon’s Fire TV. I’ve heard of Fire TV before – it’s a console you connect to your TV that allows you to access all sorts of apps, games, and tv/movie streams. However I did not realize how difficult it is to launch apps from it. Jeremy had recently been using his Fire TV and realized a need for a tool that makes launching apps much easier. Instead of complaining, he utilized his genius and created AppShortcuts to use your iPhone, iPad, or Android device to launch apps or games right on your Fire TV. Pretty cool!
Jeremy is a 29 year old sidestrapper, and on nights and weekends he runs Quiver Apps, his app development business. During the day he’s a Senior Software Engineer in St. Louis, MO, working for a fairly large enterprise type company doing iOS and Windows Phone development. Eventually he’d like to have a collection of apps/services and be able to live off that income.
How did AppShortcuts start?
About 6 months ago Jeremy was able to get an Amazon Fire TV Stick, a really nice media box similar to a Roku. One of the coolest things about it is that it runs Android, so a lot of the apps in the Google Play Store are available in the Amazon App Store. Even apps that aren’t in the app store can be manually installed on the device. This is where the pain comes in, Amazon makes it really difficult to launch these side loaded apps.
He really liked how he could launch apps with his phone on a Chromecast and was disappointed that something similar didn’t exist at the time for the Fire TV. He decided to build something himself just to scratch his own itch. It took him about a week to get a very simple version done. He sent it to a few friends and they liked it so he got a bit more serious. After a few weeks he was able to send a more put together version to the writer at aftvnews.com and he was very supportive. He knew then that he had something that other people would want even if the comments section of that site didn’t agree (http://www.aftvnews.com/
It took him about a month to build the first version of the iOS, Android, and Fire TV apps and another month to build the Windows Phone app. He usually puts in about 5-10 hours per week to answer support emails, add features, and deal with marketing but that number can go up when he’s getting close to a release.
He did all the dev work himself (impressive!). To date, his total expenses of $447 break down like this:
- $27 – App and icon designs from Fiverr
- $100 – Stock photos/audio
- $110 – Ads and paying for an expedited review on a review site
- $110 – A new Fire TV
- $100 – Windows Phone developer account.
How’s it going?
AppShortcuts is a free app, which makes it tough to monetize at first, yet his numbers in the first few months show good traction (Feb thru May):
- 14,500 downloads
- 5,000 monthly active users
One thing he’s been doing is to try and add the features that users request. He’s had an amazing reception since adding these features as in-app purchases.
- 469 purchases netting $470
- $410 of that was in May:
What are his struggles?
The biggest thing holding him back is that his Fire TV app is not in the App Store. Amazon refused to approve it. Users have to download the app from his site and then install it manually. This cuts out a pretty large segment of users who either don’t know how to side load apps or just won’t. To try and get around this he provides as much support as he can through emails and documentation for users who get stuck.
Another challenge is making money from a free app. Take a look again at the graph above – see how revenue was flat until something sent numbers skyrocketing? Before that spike, the app only had one in-app-purchase (IAP). It let users setup more than one Fire TV for $0.99. On the 12th he released an update with two more IAPs. A remote feature for $0.99 and a pro upgrade that unlocks everything for $1.99.
After the update he sent an email out to his mailing list (146 at that time) telling them about the new features and prices. He doesn’t have conversion numbers but he thinks that helped a lot. He also thinks the pro upgrade helped a lot with the perceived value of the app. For $1.99 you get the current set of upgrades as well as any future paid upgrades for the same price as buying the other two individually. As features get added he’s going to increase the price of the pro upgrade but it won’t ever exceed the price of the other IAPs combined.
The spike on the 17th is from a great blog post that was written about the app. He got a ton of traffic on that one day but it dropped off almost immediately. It really goes to show that momentum is more important than any one big event.
This is my first time providing a sidestrapper profile on an app developer, and it has been eye-opening. Most of my experience is in website development, and it’s interesting to see how the process and challenges for both types of side projects are both similar and different.
First, let me point out all the things Jeremy is doing right:
- Creating a product out of a need for himself, then validating it with others before putting too much time into it
- Seeking out and responding to user feedback (in fact, that’s what led to his in-app-purchases which are making most of the revenue)
- Keeping a mailing list of his customers – who better to sell to than active users of his app?
- Keeping his expenses to a minimum, and trying to do as much as he can in his spare time himself
And a few suggestions, if he’s open to it:
- Your app solves a problem that people may not know they have. I’m sure others are annoyed that it’s so difficult to control their FireTV, but they don’t know that a solution exists. My hunch is people aren’t going to be searching for ‘better way to launch apps on FireTV’ and finding you via SEO. Instead you need to get in front of them another way. Reach out to people that are writing articles on stuff such as ‘The top 5 free apps for your FireTV’. Or hell, create a few of those lists yourself and stick AppShortcuts on them. I guess what I’m getting at is people aren’t going to be looking for you, you have to push yourself in front of them. I’m optimistic about your facebook ads and would love to hear how they do if you figure out the right set of people to target.
- It’s a bummer that Amazon isn’t letting you into the app store. I have a similar problem with Google where they won’t let me advertise AmpedSense since it’s AdSense related. I’ve overcome this via other channels (SEO and affiliates), but keep exploring other channels in addition to seeing if you can tweak the description of your app (or provide other features) so that Amazon doesn’t see it as a threat and approves it. Keep resubmitting every time you get rejected, perhaps you might find a reviewer than is less strict than the others. Manually installing is a huge barrier, and you need to figure out how to overcome that. You’ll also notice the time you spend on support go way down when that happens.
- Be aware that you may become extinct. It seems to me that Amazon could release an update that could immediately make you obsolete. Think about other features you can provide that Amazon wouldn’t bother with, but would still make you valuable even if Amazon eventually provides this functionality. Until then be careful putting too much of an investment into the product as I’d hate to see you lose it (you’re doing a great job keeping your expenses low).
- Consider the ‘above the fold’ content on your home page. Here’s what I see below. Doesn’t excite me. You have some excellent photos in your press kit – stick them here!
- Don’t give up. You’ve seen great success within less than 6 months. Most of my projects don’t take off until the 1 year mark. Keep with it and you’ll continue to succeed.
Let me know if you end up trying any of these ideas – am hoping they can take you to the next level!
I want to personally thank Jeremy for sharing his experience with us. It’s easiest for me to learn through examples, and having real stories like this helps me improve as a side project developer. Thank you!
If you have a Fire TV and are interested in giving App Shortcuts a try, go here: http://appshortcuts.quiverapps.com/
Did you have any other suggestions for Jeremy? Let us know in the comments what you think of his app!
PS – This post is the fourth of the “Sidestrapper Profile” series where I interview successful (or struggling!) side project creators to see how they’re doing. I’m always looking for side projects to examine, let me know if you’re interested in being featured.