App Success: Alexander and Maarten And Their App "Assessments 4 Students"
How do you successfully market an app? LearnAppMaking’s “App Success” section interviews upcoming app makers and asks them: what makes your app successful?
Last week I interviewed Alexander Cornelis and Maarten Koornstra. Together they made “Assessments 4 Students”, an app for iOS and Android that helps studens practicing assessments (similar to exam questions), to get hired at a company.
We’ll talk about their marketing strategy, how they’ve outsourced their work, how they communicate with each other and their team, ultimately figuring out what the key aspects of their success are.
You can check out their app “Assessments 4 Students” over at www.assessments4students.com.
Tell me something about yourself: who are you, and what kind of work do you do?
Alexander: I’m Alexander Cornelis. I work at Vodafone and I’m a Category Manager for Software as a Service (SaaS) products. In fact, I’m a marketer. I look at the new kinds of products we would like to launch in the market. There is a lot of innovation, I see a lot of interesting stuff coming by.
I’ve had to do some very serious calculations to make business cases, to get support for my ideas. Recently I presented some directly to the highest level of the organization. They were agreed upon. It was a lot of hard work, but it is very rewarding in the end as well, getting a lot of appreciation.
You say, you have pitched your ideas for the company to one of the big honchos up at the top?
Alexander: Yeah, hopefully in an x-period from now, to not disclose too much, I will have something of my own to be really proud of within Vodafone.
Okay, what about you, Maarten?
Maarten: My name is Maarten Koornstra. I’m now an intern at Theodoor Gilissen Bankiers, at the Investment Solutions department. I am supporting in external communication and in strategic information for sales and acquisitions.
What was the most exciting thing you’ve worked on in the last year?
Maarten: Good question! I started a project where I evaluated a company, that was quite interesting. It was great to learn what stuff you really have to look at when evaluating a stock exchange (AEX) company.
Tell me about the app you made. What’s its current status? Is it in the App Store?
Maarten: Just yesterday it launched in the App Store. And well, I think 3 or 4 weeks ago in the Android store. That was something we had not expected: the App Store is so much more harder to get in than the Android store. It’s something to keep in mind. If you’re going to make your app, make sure it’s first accepted in Apple for iOS and afterwards it should be available in the Android store.
Did you make a native app or did you use middleware, like PhoneGap or Cordova?
Maarten & Alexander: Native.
What is the main purpose of your app? Are you working on improvements? Now it’s in the App Store, what are you going to do?
Maarten: Well, it teaches students how to practice assessments before they get accepted to a company. Because when the student is applying for a company, he or she should practice a lot of assessments. With the app they get assessments like: number sequences, syllogisms, analogies, a lot more. We have five categories of those in our app. In Exam Mode the student can test their skill. That’s basically it.
Alexander: We like working with the Indian company, JoomlaVogue, because they helped us and made it accessible for us. We are just two guys starting a business, we’ve never done this before. We needed a low entry point. For our considerations, we’ve made quite some investments. Especially in terms of time, but it’s within the boundaries of what we find doable. We really like the result and where we are now. But first, we need to get commercial results, from the first investment we’ve made.
We have ideas that could bring us forth years in terms of development. But the real question is of course, does the idea catch on? Our app is in its first version, and we need proof from the market, from everybody around the world that our idea —- and it’s free -— is indeed something people need, because that’s the only boundary now between us and the world.
People need to know that it’s there, and we think people should use our app. We would have wanted to use it ourselves. We think we have a good idea, but we need to verify other people agree. If they do, that would mean we can keep improving the app. To invest more, we need at least the confirmation from our potential users, that they like what we’ve done.
How do you divide your time between your regular day work and your night work, the app publishing?
Maarten: What I do: in the train, when I go to work at 7:00 am in the morning, I make changes to the app or the website. And I send text messages to Alexander, saying "Alexander, maybe we should do this and this and this.” And he replies at 7:50, or something like that. That’s basically how it works, and mostly in the evenings we have meetings.
Alexander: We also were a bit lucky, or it was a coincidence, whichever way you would see it. But we were working together with Asian colleagues/developers, who work at completely different hours than ours. So if we would send out e-mails in the evening to them, and we woke up in the morning, then we would have their replies, and they could have done their work as well. In that sense, evenings and mornings worked quite perfectly.
What’s your opinion with working with outsourced people in India, what did you find so far?
Maarten: We looked them up at a website, Freelancer.com. What I really like about them is that they’re quite cheap compared to developers in Europe. And they really want to have a high rating. On Freelancer.com, if you get a high rating, then you get more users. So they really want to get the job done well. In the very beginning, it was quite difficult to make sure everything goes right. But eventually through the process, it went well.
What kind of tools do you use to manage your team?
Alexander: Mostly we use a lot of Skype calls and we use Gmail a lot, which is very practical. And mostly that’s it. Just sending emails and sending a lot of pictures, that really helps. Sometimes, you just need to put a big circle around it to indicate what exactly you are talking about. We said, “This is how we want to see it. Is that possible?”
Can you tell me anything about the business model behind the app?
Alexander: We truly believe that a free app works best also for the user. If you start asking people for money for an app that they haven’t seen yet, it’s hard to know how good the app is. It’s the exact reason why we created the app. We see a lot of web pages, websites, offering assessments to students, but it’s very hard to determine how good those websites truly are in terms of quality, when you all have to pay for them. We thought that it has to be the other way around, and only an app can provide that. So it’s free assessments, and the quality has to be the main driver for people to use it. As soon as you have the quality, then you get more people. That to us sounds like a very healthy way of doing business.
What kind of effort are you doing to market the app?
Maarten: We’re using social media platforms, the main ones like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn. First we just want to test the app, invite friends. We start small, with Facebook, and eventually they invite more people. The most important thing is the rating system. If you have a high rating, then you place yourself high in the App Store or in the Play store. That is the most crucial thing. When people are looking for assessments, and we’re Number 1 in the list.
But what about the first traction? Are you taking any first steps outside the App Store to market the app?
Alexander: Yes, a partnership with a recruitment organization is a very good example to get traction. If we can get a few hundred downloads at once through an organization like that, that would help spark interest. We truly believe that if the quality of the app is good, it will spread itself. And of course we try and create traction, but in the end it’s really the product that needs to sells itself.
Given where you are today, and decisions that you took, would you have done something differently?
No. Maybe if you ask me a year from now, then I’ll answer yes, but for now, no.
I agree. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of times that we really had to push on and we had to push hard. We could have only done it differently, knowing what we know now, and considering what we knew back then, I don’t think there was any way we could or should have done it differently. Of course, we’ve spent too much time on certain things, but that’s only natural, that’s part of learning.
And if you could give one piece of advice to future app makers, what would you say?
Alexander: Be patient. I think that being patient with your developers, with your design, with yourself even, with your ideas, just to be able to cope with it all. In the end, you know, it’s your product and you need to stand by it. And if you get too hesitant or nervous, then you might make the wrong decisions, and in the end you only keep yourself down in that way.
Maarten: I would say that you should think every step through. So every step that you’re gonna take for your app, make sure that you know what it’s about and why you’re gonna take that step. So that eventually when you look back, you have a good app.
And that final advice concludes the interview. Alexander and Maarten are working very hard to gain that well-deserved initial traction for the app.
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