Luck, timing and user acquisition: how do you build a winning app?

Mobile icons iPhone

Mobile icons iPhone

Should you invest in advertising your app or digital content? Did they know that they might be the next Internet hit in Japan? At B Dash Camp 2013 in Osaka, Japan, four panelists, Hiroki Teshima (United Inc and maker of COCOPPA), Shin Murakami (Yahoo Japan), Eiji Takahashi (Alim) and Shinji Kimura (Gunosy Inc) took to a hearty discussion about the elements that go behind a successful hit app moderated by Katsuaki Sato (Metaps).

Luck or strategy?

Alim, a young mobile gaming startup in Japan, has its first game Brave Frontier see 520,000 registered users with 340 000 monthly active users and 120 000 daily active users as of September 29. In addition, the title is earning JPY 5,000 from every paying user on an average month. While the company might not be making as much as GungHo Online Entertainment’s Puzzle & Dragons which churn US$3.8 million in daily revenue, Takahashi noted that it is faring well for a role-playing game.

Was it a case of luck and good fortune, or did they know it was going to happen? After all, Alim was made up of a group of experienced individuals from Fuji Startup Ventures, Gumi Ventures and B Dash Ventures. Takahashi said, “I think it’s complete luck, we did not predict this at all.” He added that team knew that they were going to attract a bunch of users, thanks to the fun nature of the game, but they never thought it would be this many in such a short time period.

Murakami, the operating officer and chief mobile officer of Yahoo Japan, disagreed that capturing a sizeable number of users was a matter of “complete luck”. He said, “I think there’s a timing rather than luck. Rather than to capture that timing, how long you have been in that industry and thinking about the strategy.”

With over 95-million downloads across iOS and Android, Yahoo Japan and its subsidiaries as well as partners like Community Factory and KakaoTalk have been striving to move fast and ride on current trends.

Shinji Kimura from news curation app Gunosy also agreed that it is indeed timing that helped them. The product was launched when Facebook and Twitter users were tired of a constant spam of useless information from friends and family on their social networks. Getting timing right also means that the startup has successfully identified a problem which needs to be solved.

In Gunosy’s case, it was the intelligent selection of news users would like to read that eventually pushed it into the top 10 list for highest monthly downloads (excluding games) on the Japanese iOS App Store last July.

User acquisition – paid or free?

For Alim, when they first started in iOS, they never spent a single cent on paid advertising. The company tried a pre-launch registration process which helped to attract more users even before the product was launched. It was only when they hit 300,000 users that the team opted to invest in advertisements.

Could it be that apps with good content have all it takes to garner users? Takahashi advised, “Until you reach that couple of hundred thousand, users might drive users but when you reach a ceiling, you do need to think about expansion in the foundation of users.”

On the other hand, Hiroki Teshima, the director and executive officer at United Inc, said that content which was easy to share was a great advantage for companies looking to improve traction significantly. He shared, “Until August, we didn’t invest a single [cent]. 100 percent came from word of mouth. It was content that was easy to share. When we consider future growth, we need to consider investment [into advertisements].”

This article by Elaine Huang originally appeared on e27, a Burn Media publishing partner.



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