The App Store Is Dead
According to recent research, more than half of developers in mobile are living below the “poverty line” of $500 in monthly revenue . Studies from 2014 and 2015 show that only 24% of indie developers make between $1k and $10k a month. 
The prevailing sentiment among indie app developers is that pop apps like Supercell’s, Clash of Clans and Candy Crush are the future of the App Store – not the indie productivity apps we’re all making .
Is the App Store officially dead? Let’s find out.
How (Not) To Crash And Burn…
Imagine you’re an indie app developers and you make “independent” apps for a living. It’s not actually how you pay the bills, because you have a day job and work on your app day and night. Perhaps you’ve saved up a bit of runway and you’re taking a 6 month sabbatical to pursue the indie app dream.
Depending on your location, you can get by with $1.000 to $3.000 in monthly expenditure to pay for rent, food and insurance. Assuming you run a one- or two-person household – expenses for a family typically run much, much higher.
Logically, your indie app runway will cost you around $12.000 to start. Provided you make twice that in your normal day-job, it took you about 6 months to save that amount of cash.
The scene is set. On T-Minus–183 you start saving, on Day 1 you begin your indie app development journey.
Is This Going To Be You?
- First, you ideate your app idea. It’s been in your head a while and you scribble it down in a notebook or on a piece of paper. You think it’s a unique idea, and there’s a demand for it, definitely.
- On Day 2, you start developing the app. Maybe you get stuck and resort to first learning how to code iOS apps, while building your own app. Realizing this will cost you time and runway, you download a quick graphic template for your app to save on design costs.
- In a few weeks or so, you start talking about your app to friends and peers. Everyone tells you it’s a great idea and then starts to pull it to shreds by means of giving “constructive feedback.” It discourages you, but you listen to your favourite hustlin’ podcast and realize you were meant for great things.
- About three-fourths into your runway, you publish your first app build with TestFlight to a pool of 15 beta testers. You call it an “MVP”, but in fact it’s a leaky duct-taped atrocity. Your friends tell you it’s nice – because they like you – and you realize your app still needs a bit of work.
- When the end of your runway nears, you work faster and faster. You manage to squash all the bugs in your code, smooth out all the core features of the app, and ultimately publish it in the App Store (almost on time).
This is when overnight success happens, right? You’ve read so much about it. Viral launches, unicorns, acquisitions by Facebook or Google – BRING IT!
Finally, your runway really runs out and you go back to your old job. Before throwing the towel in the ring you read up on this thing called App Store Optimization (ASO) and as a last resort you try to increase your app’s ranking in the App Store.
Why App Store Optimization Doesn’t Work
You realize you need a large crucial mass for optimization to be effective, so your App Store Optimization doesn’t work. Distraught, heart-broken and with a shattered dream you blame it on everyone but yourself, but secretly hurt your self-image when no one’s listening.
I’ve been there. Many of my apps were profound failures. You don’t want to know the mistakes I’ve made – they were that bad. Many of the indie app developers I’ve talked to over the years report the same thing.
The App Store has roads paved with gold, but it’s got a sky-high barbed wire fence around it. Around the fence lie the remains of the indie app’s that didn’t make it, the rotten corpses of ideas that seemed really great one time.
Summarizing, this indie app dream problem has 4 distinct parts:
- The expectations and ambitions of aspiring indie app developers are too high
- A large share of beginner indie app developers forgets to validate ideas
- The majority of beginner indie app developers forgets to do the marketing
- Most indie developers don’t know how to succeed and give up too early
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What Do The Financial Crisis And The App Store Have In Common?
Do you remember the financial crisis of 2008? It’s been almost 8 years now, but it’s effects are still visible. Economists, politicians and thought leaders say “the market” is recovering and attracting, though.
Do you know that way people talk about being stuck in heavy traffic, when in fact they are the traffic? Just like that, we don’t live in an economy, it’s the other way around: we are the economy. When we don’t spend, money doesn’t go around, and progress comes to a stand-still.
It’s as simple as separating the causes from the symptoms. It’s about measuring what lags behind and what actions cause the symptoms.
A misunderstanding of this core concept of causality is what I think the reason for that “The App Store Is Dead” sentiment among indie app developers.
High Expectations Kill Motivation
The high expectations from beginner developers sets them up for failure, because they burn hard and fast when reality can’t keep up with what they expect from it.
I’m not a big believer in business validation, but I do believe in launching early. Any aspiring app developer, heck, any aspiring entrepreneur should launch on Day 1.
Validation Is Overrated?
Why? Launching means friction, burnt oxygen, hitting your head into immovable objects. You need to get to know reality to make your App Store business work. The laws of gravity apply to all of us, whether you think it does or you think it doesn’t.
The feedback from your app launch validates the business, or invalidates it. Either way, you’re all the wiser after you launch. That’s why you must do it.
Do The Marketing (Or Don’t, Your Choice)
Speaking about marketing – have you done any lately? App makers these days are obsessed with App Store Optimization, but they forget that you need to build an engine before you can optimize it. When your app idea sucks, and no one wants it, you can optimize all you want but you don’t have the leverage to make it worthwhile.
Do the marketing. Start a blog, do outreach, get featured on podcasts, walk a sandwhich-board across town – anything! Marketing simply means winning the hearts and minds of people. Sure, a good idea helps, but I’d rather have a big marketing budget for a crappy idea than a great idea and no marketing power.
Most importantly, however, is knowing how to succeed.
App Your Way Off A Deserted Island
I do a thought exercise every now and then. Imagine you’re stranded on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. You have nothing, except for a smartphone and an internet connection.
The island has a tribe of crazy warrior people that don’t speak any language you know, and they’re about to eat you for lunch. You can’t get off the island, because the water is shark-infested. The only way to get out is the magical teleporting machine in the tribe chief’s lair.
Yes, this is one weird island. How do you get out?
Technically, you have two options. First, you could break into the tribe chief’s lair and use the teleporting machine unbeknownst to the chief. You don’t have the skills to pull that off, so your chances of survival are small. It’s also the best way to burn quick and die, because when you get caught, the crazy warriors will most definitely eat you.
No, the best and second option is to barter your way up to the chief. You either become the chief and oust the current one, or you leverage your way into an audience with the chief to ask to use his teleporting machine. You want the chief to say: “Hey, we like you and all, so use the teleport thing, but if you wanna come back to barter iPhones and stuff, you can come back.”
Cook The Chief’s Head
To successfully escape this deserted island you need to know how to succeed. You can only focus on lead measures, on tangible actions you can take, instead of focusing on the output and end results. Input moves output, not the other way around.
You can’t wish your way into the App Store. You can’t cheat, either. The only thing you can do is consistently take actions you know will work, and ultimately see the needle on the output move, too.
Hi, I'm Reinder.
I help developers play with code.
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