We’ve all heard about the story behind the success of ‘Flappy Bird’, of how an unknown app developer made it to the top of the charts. There are a lot more app success stories like this. Amidst the reality of a very competitive market, there are still indie app developers that rise. They are not only an inspiration to other indie developers but also to other people who are facing obstacles in their pursuit of success.
These app success stories are quite different from our usual posts of the technical aspects of app development. Let’s take a short detour and learn from the human side of the industry.
App Success Stories
This German indie developer was one of those who hit jackpot in the nascent years of the App Store. Illiger’s app, Tiny Wings was the top grossing app for two weeks in 2011(February to March). It was eventually voted as the best iPhone game of that year. Its biggest win though is earning at about 10.5 installs for iPhone and 1.8 million installs for iPad.
As impressive as the app’s report card reads, the background story of its creation is also something of note. The main principle behind the app’s development was, to make something positive. Illiger thought that there’s too much negativity in the App Store at that time. Though simple, the app’s graphics and message resonate with the audience. It is also reflective of his own desire. He is afraid of heights, yet he always dreamed of flying.
But as someone that sees the world through rose-colored glasses, how did the sudden windfall affect Illiger? Apparently, it affected him little, meaning, he hasn’t gone crazy about it. His lifestyle before he hit big with Tiny Wings can be somewhat familiar to many of you. He lived in a cramped apartment – even post app success. During an interview on 2012, he detailed his lifestyle and routine.
Having studied Communication Design, Illiger basically sits down all day doing “creative stuff”. His routine starts at 9 a.m. and ends at about 1 a.m. He has a timer set for every hour. This alerts him to take a break. He believes that these frequent breaks make him more effective and healthy. Health is rather an important issue for him. He confessed that just a year before his big hit, he was so poor that he had to buy cheap (and probably unhealthy) food. The first thing that he mentioned as the most notable change in his life is the good food (organic mostly) that he is able to buy for himself.
But things weren’t always as they were, especially when his success became public knowledge. He was somewhat overwhelmed with the expectations and proposals. It was especially hard he says because he’s doing everything on his own. This made him consider the possibility of working in a team especially that he wants to focus on the creative side of things. He’s in no rush though and wants to meet the right people in his own time.
Jeremy Olson knows very well the struggle of running a small business, producing a quality product, and trying to support growing families at the same time. But he loves every part of it, especially how small indie developers can compete with the big companies and still win. “Indie” is in his blood.
Olson founded Tapity, a company composed of him, his father Todd, and his brother Josh. His app Grades had just won an Apple Design Award so they decided to go full-time on the company. But they soon realize that the app’s earnings can really fully support them. The story now becomes on how a company can go on beyond a single hit and how you can find innovative app ideas by just solving your own problem.
In a blog post, Olson detailed how their fledgling company accepted client work and the time tracking that was necessary to perform tasks. The ineffectiveness of a lot of time tracking solutions in addressing the human aspect of the problem became quite evident to the three-man team. They soon realize that they’re not alone in this problem. There’s a market for a time tracker they have in mind so they went on and made one.
That’s the simplest way to say it but the development phase wasn’t actually straightforward. There were just other things to be done, another app and client work to focus on. When the focus was finally on the time-tracking app the called “Hours”, Olson and his team did not occupy themselves with all the aspects of development. Rather, they hired some people to do most of the necessary coding while they focused on the app’s design. Olson’s principle is to constantly market the app, saying that marketing just around launch day is way too late. He introduced the app to people in the industry, wrote blog posts, and remained active on Twitter. Something he also emphasized is building good (and genuine) friendships with industry influencers and journalists through delivering good products and contributing helpful and timely information.
Hours soon received press coverage, a feature from Apple and rose up to became a top-grossing app.
The app “Hill Climb Racing” had simple graphics, straightforward mechanics, launched in the Google Play Store – and it was September 2012. This somehow made the then 29-year-old self-taught computer programmer, Toni Fingerroos the odd man out in the “Apple-friendly” Finnish startup scene.
Fingerroos launched “Hill Climb Racing” under his company, Fingersoft Oy (which he solely own). The end of 2013 saw the app with 140 million downloads, earning the company a net profit of about $12.7 million. Most of the app’s revenues come from advertising, in-app purchases, and upgrades. This is not bad at all for a company whose base is just an ordinary house with a working area doesn’t look corporate at all. Fingerroos emphasized that having fun is important in the company. “We believe it results in the best possible products,” in Fingerroos own words.
As of the beginning of the year, the company only has 28 employees. It was founded in 2011 and until 2014 only had a dozen employees. The company’s foundation about during a time where Fingerroos was in a financial strait. He had invested a lot of money into developing a game for PlayStation. The development eventual caused him to accumulate some debt. It was risky for him to build his own business at that time. But the idea of working for someone seem out of the question.
Finally coming up to a decision, he gambled with Android app development. But unlike other app success stories, a lot of trial and error occurred. Fingerroos would develop apps at a rapid pace just to see which of his ideas would work. There was no mention of ASO or any form of marketing at all! He believed that it is better to launch thousands of crappy apps than launch nothing at all.
But then one of his apps finally got traction. The app,“Cartoon Camera” amassed about 10 million downloads. It kick-started Fingerroos app development career. His hit app, “Hill Climb Racing” looked simple enough but required finesse and concentration from the players, making it challenging and engaging.
In late 2016, Fingersoft launched the app’s sequel, “Hill Climb Racing 2”. As of January 2017, it already reached 40 million downloads.