MFA.com Exclusive Interview with Quoc Bui and Michael Moon Founders of Free the Apps!!
What is the name of your company?
Free the Apps! (Now owned by Bitzio Inc)
What are the names of your app(s) ?
Introduce yourself — Tell us about yourself, your company, and how you got into developing mobile apps?
We are Quoc Bui and Michael Moon. We’re your typical “Two guys in a garage start a business” (http://www.elance.com/p/two-guys-in-a-garage-build-a-business-with-elance.html) . We got into apps in 2009 at the age of 26. The difference between us and the rest of developers is that we didn’t program any of our apps. We outsourced them all, and before we knew it… we had created a viable $80k/month business (http://mixergy.com/free-apps-interview/). Instead of spending months learning Objective C to develop apps ourselves, we did what any efficient entrepreneurs would do, we hired someone to build them for us. The idea to outsource our business was the single smartest decision we made. Since then, we’ve been living the 4-hour work week lifestyle and traveling the world. Quoc gave his time to medical missions in developing southeast asian countries and Michael and him continued to grow their business working virtually with one another.
How many people are on your team? And what are their roles?
2 people. The entire business was run by the 2 of us. Outsourcing all development.
At what point did you decide you wanted to make apps for the iPhone?
In the summer of 2009, we were hanging out and talking about the insane amount of revenue indie developers were generating through the Apple iTunes App Store. Being tech-geeks who love the latest technology, we talked about how cool it would be to release our own app in the App Store. The thought of creating an app and making it available for the world to use was enough to get us started. Making a few bucks off it was merely an afterthought, let alone creating a real life-changing business out of it.
What were you doing before you started developing for the iPhone?
We were both working your typical 9-5 jobs in software. Quoc was a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. Michael was a Software Engineer at Websense.
One of your recent apps has broken into the top 50 of its category on the charts. Tell us about that app.
We’ve had a few apps break the top 50 overall in the entire app store and many are currently in the top 50 of its category. Convert Units recently broke the top 50 overall free in the overall app store. As self-proclaimed, this app is currently the #1 unit conversion app on the iOS app store. If someone is using a conversion app, it is probably ours. We have a cool features like live currency updates and custom unit conversions.
What was the best rank position that app hit?
Number 3 overall in the entire app store in November 2010. We were fortunate enough to stay in the top all the way past Christmas and the holidays. It generated over 100,000 downloads on Christmas day.
Were you surprised to see it reach that ranking?
YES! We were ecstatic!
For your most successful app, how did you come up with the idea for it?
We were actually looking for a unit conversion app, but they were either poorly designed or too flashy. We wanted something simple, efficient, clean, and easy to use.
How long does it take for you to write a typical app from start to finish?
We outsource all development and it takes 1-2 months. The advantage of outsourcing is that we can work on 2-3 apps at a time.
What framework do you mainly use to program your apps?
You would have to ask our developers.
How many lines of code does your app have and what programming language did you use?
Same as above.
What do you think was the number one thing you did that made your app successful?
We had custom unit conversions. We noticed that a lot of people were asking for this feature in the other unit conversion apps and we were the first to add it.
With so many apps in the app store, what would you say have been your top 3 ways and/or places to help market your app to gain ranking in the app charts, and why?
Cross promotion has definitely been the most powerful tool for us. We are actually working on creating a public SDK so people can join our network of 40 million downloads. It will not only help others, it will help us too. Cross promotion is powerful in that the success of one app can pull the rest up and keep the rest of your apps from falling off the charts. Visibility is the most important thing in the app store.
Have you used any app promotional services, and if so, who, and how did they each work out for you?
We have used Apalon and it turned out pretty decent for us. Not as great as we had hoped for how much we paid, but it did help. We’ve been using fiverr a lot. Tons of great stuff for only 5 bucks a pop!
Are there any marketing services you have heard about that sound interesting that you have not yet tried? If so, whom or what, and why have you not yet tried them?
We’ve tried almost everything out there and we’re always trying out new things as they are available to the public. One thing that has been hard to find is a cross promotional network that is more than a simple banner exchange…which is why we’re working on creating our own.
Our readers are very interested on what kind of download numbers it takes to break into the top 50 of a category. Based on your peak app ranking, how many downloads were you getting daily on average?
It varies by category and the numbers increase exponentially as you rise in the charts. Right now, our “Picibooth” app is ranked #8 in Photo & Video and it is averaging about 11k-12k downloads a day.
If you had to pick the top 3 things app developers should always include in their apps to help with the marketing of their app to other users or something that helps your app jump up the rankings, what would they be, and why?
1. Cross promotion
2. Cross promotion
3. More cross promotion!
Cross promotion is the most effective and useful tool in app marketing. If you don’t have your own network, you can probably find a few other developers in forums to join up with. Cross promotion helps everyone. It’s Win-Win! One of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
What has been your largest sales day?
100,000+ downloads for Convert Units on Christmas day 2010.
Why did you decide to go free/paid?
Our entire business is from free apps. We are living proof that there is money to be made in free apps. The freemium model is actually the top grossing business model currently in the app store. When we started, there weren’t any quality free apps. We wanted to give users the option of using quality apps without having to pay for them. Gmail is free, Facebook is free, and why not have quality apps that are free.
Are you creating apps full time now, or do you have another job?
Yes, we are creating apps full-time now. Along with making useful tools for devs like ourselves. We have joined a great team of talented people at Bitzio Inc and are excited to do what we’ve been doing on a bigger scale.
What is it that excites you most about developing apps for the iPhone?
It’s really cool to see people actually using something that you created and enjoying it. It’s rewarding making something useful and functional.
Outside of your own apps, what are your 3 favorite apps and why?
Instagram – Photography is awesome and these guys made it social!
Cut the Rope – Who doesn’t like puzzle games with cute characters?
Pandora – Intelligent streaming radio stations. Awesome.
Which app has wowed you more than any other, and why?
Instagram. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr…everything is social. These guys made taking awesome photos easy and made it social. It’s genius.
What’s your favorite iOS based websites you check out on a regular basis for your business?
All the analytics any developer will ever need.
What are you working on next?
Our cross-promotion SDK, so we can team up with other talented developers and be seen in the massive sea of apps.
Any advice for up and coming indie developers?
Execute. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Get it done and add all the bells and whistles after. You’ll make money, get feedback, and be able to release an update that will only improve your app and show your user’s that you’re listening.
Some questions that we get all the time – Is it too late to join the app game?
No! If it was too late then we wouldn’t be making any new apps, but we are! We always have 3-5 apps in the works that aren’t released yet so why would we say it’s too late. It might be harder to get noticed now with so many apps out there but it’s definitely not too late.
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