How I Made £15,000 From an Android App

By on May 28, 2014

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This is not an unadulterated success story. I am not now rich (far from it at the moment in fact!) and things certainly could have gone better… but this is the biggest hit I’ve had on the Google Play Store and there are a ton of lessons here to learn from in terms of my successes and my failures. That’s why I’m going to share the story here, so that you can take from it what you will… Also £15,000 doesn’t feel like that much when it’s spread over nearly two years…

Seared into my brain as a ‘flashbulb memory’ is the moment when I first realised that Multiscreen Multitasking was going to be a hit. I was actually at a friend’s party when I decided to check sales on my phone. I already had an inkling that this app was selling better than my previous attempts (my game had a total of four downloads) but it was at this point I saw that it was actually gaining momentum rather than losing it. I’d had about 50 downloads already that day that point and I still had a good few hours until the cut off point.

My app was selling for $1.20 at the time – about 70p – and 40p of that I would keep after Google took their cut. x50 and that would be £20 for the day. Times that by seven and I’d be making £140 a week (£560 a month on top of my regular earnings)… while I slept. And it was growing. I believe this is what you call ‘the dream’.

My payouts when they were good and healthy. Those were the days...

My payouts when they were good and healthy. Those were the days…

At that point I then actually got out my laptop and went to sit in another room to drunkenly add some more tweaks (I carry my laptop with me everywhere). Yes, I know how to party…

(You can click here to learn how to make your own Android apps and live the dream too! The link will take you to a page where I’m selling a new eBook.)

Later I would get approached by Indian contractors and get my app pre-installed on a number of devices from two different OEMs over there. It was all very exciting stuff and a great ‘win’ when I really needed one.

Getting to This Point

It was no easy ride getting to that point though. This was certainly no ‘overnight success’ as I’d been building and releasing apps for a few years up to that point. The biggest sales I’d had previously were for my ‘Word Count’ app which tended to sell one or two copies a day. My game which took me years to make was never a hit at all….

One of the biggest and best changes I made though was to switch to the absolutely incredibly Basic4Android platform. You can find that here. And if you enter the discount code ‘NQR’ it will give you a 30% discount… (you’re welcome)

This basically let me code in my favourite programming language: BASIC (I grew up with a ZX Spectrum, what do you want me to say?). Up until that point I’d been working with Java in Eclipse which was fiddly as hell. Basic4Android doesn’t just make life easier in terms of the code, it also provides many useful features such as the ability to test on your device over a bluetooth connection and an incredibly supportive forum/community. If you’re thinking about getting into Android development this will save you months. Just check it out…

Okay that’s the technical bit out the way. What really made the difference this time though was the idea behind the app itself. That’s not to say the others weren’t good ideas, but I landed here on an app concept that people were looking for a lot but which there was currently no competition for. People wanted to be able to use more than one app on their phone at once, they wanted to be able to write and read the web at the same time, and they wanted their PC to look like a computer. What are they going to type? Multiscreen Multitasking. And there my app was, promising just that; which is why I actually didn’t need any marketing and right away saw it climb the charts. Then Samsung started releasing phones with split-screen functionality which only increased the amount of people searching for something similar and finding their way to my app.Screenshots_2014-03-07-11-10-44

Tip: Make the name of your app something that people are going to search and something that is self explanatory. Had I called it ‘Blongo’ then I’d still have zero downloads (unless I had done some major marketing). I even used a screenshot for my icon so that people would see instantly that this really did mean realizable windows on their phone.

Another Tip: Don’t give your app away for free. Ads make barely any money for apps unless your app is Angry Birds. Had I placed adds on my app and given it away free I’d probably have earned about £300 by now… People are willing to pay a few dollars for an app and it’s a much more stable source of revenue.

Getting the Idea

So I was fortunate enough to fill a need to such an extent that my app was almost an ‘event’ rather than just ‘another app’ and that it could promote itself. How did I stumble upon the idea?

Well for starters I was ‘scratching my own itch’ as Tim Ferriss would say. I was a writer who wanted to be able to do my work on my phone so I didn’t always have to carry a laptop, but unfortuntaely I couldn’t because I couldn’t read resources at the same time as writing.

Actually then the first idea I came up with was ‘Split Screen Browser and Notepad’ which was just a notepad and browser (both very basic) in one app. You could grow either to fill the page or have both fill half the screen.

This worked well but then I started to realise that I could take the idea further: by adding more swapable features in that top window. Users could use two notepads for instance. And then it finally hit me that I could add in a desktop and launch the apps from there… and the windows they opened in could be movable…

Android is built in such a way that you can’t force it to open installed apps in windows. But by building multiple functions into a single app where I could control the whole environment, I was able to change the rules and essentially create a miniature version of Windows…

I’ve since named this technique the ‘Step Back Technique‘. Here you ask yourself what you would create in a perfect world where your science was advanced beyond anyone else’s and without constraint. In this case it was ‘Windows for Android’. Then you say to yourself: well unfortunately that’s not possible, but what’s the closest compromise that could work? What could you build that would be like that perfect creation. I had a similar idea when I was trying to make a program that would write articles for me. I realised that that was outside of my capability, but what I could do was create a program that could be programmed to write the same articles in lots of different ways… Stay tuned for more on that one!

It’s also worth noting that this idea wasn’t so much a ‘light bulb moment’ as a gradual progression. Studies have shown that this is more how ideas tend to form – they start as a small nagging suspicion and then grow into something that you can really work with. So don’t give up on an idea right away, write it down, talk about it, think about it and let it gestate into it’s perfect form.

The Mistakes

What I wasn’t prepared for was how releasing a successful app would drive me insane. You’d think I’d be happy once I was making £40 a day doing nothing, but in fact all I was was incredibly anxious: anxious that it would stop. I checked my sales probably four or more times an hour, I was constantly stressed and I really didn’t let myself enjoy the small amount of success. Sales have slowed down now, and I’m hoping that this will have been a useful experience should I have another minor (or major!) hit.

This led to me making hundreds of little tweaks that really weren’t necessary and in some cases driving away users. I also definitely could have polished the app a little more before releasing it: I believe strongly in the ‘fail fast’ mentality and like to throw lots of ideas at the wall to see what sticks, but there is definitely a fine line to be walked here. Just a few more weeks and I could have released a polished product and started getting good reviews earlier on.

I also should have made some effort to market the app. If it had so many sales with no promotion, imagine what it could have done with some decent coverage. Like I said, this app is more of an ‘event’ meaning it offers something completely new: with a little persistence I probably could have gotten coverage by some blogs. I’d been burned before and had my press releases ignored, but that was because the apps I were promoting were nothing new. I’ve learned too that to get noticed you need to be persistent and strategic. It’s too late now because the app is old, but that’s certainly something I’d do differently.

Making something an ‘event’ is a fantastic way to ensure it’s a success. That’s why Stallone’s comeback was so successful with Rocky 5 and with Expendables. These weren’t just ‘another film’ with an aging actor these were films with a unique angle, with something people could get excited about – the sequel to a beloved 80s franchise and a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of all the biggest action heroes. Make your product an ‘event’ and you’ll be sure to have a winner on your hands.

Where I Am Now

The last few days have seen some of the slowest sales for Multiscreen Multitasking so far. That’s because a lot of other developers are now literally copying my idea and giving it away free with paid ads. I’ve started adding a lot of new features such as desktop icons and shortcuts to make sure my app is far superior – you can even do things like save websites as images, draw on them and then send them via WhatsApp – but unfortunately it’s not enough.

My sales this year are much smaller. The huge peak came when I dropped my price and the app was featured on a 'discounted apps' site.

My sales this year are much smaller. The huge peak came when I dropped my price and the app was featured on a ‘discounted apps’ site.

I’m at peace with this though. I have begun focusing more on my old business again (and favourite) which is this blog and my YouTube channel. At the same time I’m also working on another new app with a partner (he thought of it, I offered to build it) which we’re on the verge of launching in the next month or so. I consider this to be another ‘event’ app as his YouTube channel ‘ColdfusTion’ has a big following and because he’s great at unique design work.

Hopefully these things will kick off and I’ll be able to take the lessons I learned from Multiscreen Multitasking and apply them. I’ll continue developing MM meanwhile if only for my own use, and I have plenty more ideas in the pipeline.

To learn the basics of building an app with Basic4Android as I did, check out this link for my eBook. That will take you to my page on GumRoad where you can buy the PDF. There I’ll teach you how to go about installing, setting up and learning Basic4Android so that you can get started on your own projects!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

2 Comments

  1. Good article. While I agree that ads generally don’t make any money, I wouldn’t recommend charging for all apps. There are cases where you want to launch basic functionality for free and then charge for extended features, specially if you are starting out and don’t have the same reputation as other well-established companies. It’ll be easier to promote your app that way.

    • thebioneer says:

      Thanks a lot! You’re right, there are definitely cases where a freemium model is better (or in-app purchases even). However I think people are often too quick to dismiss the good old ‘paid’ route. A high proportion of purchases people make are impulsive and driven by emotion and I think with freemium you can risk losing those sales. I’ve bought games I’ve never played on Android and if there were ‘lite’ alternatives those developers would probably never have gotten my money…

      You’re definitely right about promotion though – a lot of sites/communities seem very reluctant to let you market your app unless it’s free!

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