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25 Jul 2013

11,000,000 Downloads (and my top 5 mistakes)

Yesterday we crossed over the 11,000,000 download mark in mobile games.  Now I have to make the difficult decision about updating the videos and websites with this new number or just let them be slightly dated.  I think 10,000,000 has a nice ring to it, so we’ll keep them as is for a while 😉

That said, this post isn’t about my successes.  It’s about the bombs.  Because I will tell you right now, success doesn’t come without falling flat on your face many times.  As Oracle founder Larry Ellison said, “I’ve had all the disadvantages required for success”.

Looking back I have no regrets.  It’s been an absolute blast and the business has grown ten times bigger than originally planned.  That said, I would change a few things if I had a time machine, but since I don’t the best I can do is attempt to help you from making these same classic follies.

Here is the top 5 mistakes I’ve made on my way to 11,000,000 downloads:

5. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

Bert Lance, a businessman from Georgia who worked in the Carter administration, coined this phrase in a 1977 interview with Nation’s Business Magazine.  I’ve made this mistake a lot and the solution is so obvious.  If something is working great, then don’t touch it.

For example, Jump Pack has over 1.5 million downloads, but if you look at it now, you’ll see it’s got hardly any reviews.  The reason is, I decided to move all of my best titles to one company about 6 months ago.  This was before Apple had the new app transfer feature.  When I did that, Jump Pack went from doing 2,300 downloads a day to 50.  I lost years of reviews and some really amazing SEO positions because Apple was giving it lots of love for being a popular game over the years.

Now, one thing we teach is to re-upload a game if it’s bombing as there is definitely a bit of “seo lottery” that comes into play when you are first releasing an app.  We did this with Maze+ and now have it back up to 1,000 downloads per day, but Jump Pack has been harder to get back to where it was.  We’ll get there, but it’s taking longer than planned and hindsight is now 20/20.  We should have left the successful game right where it was.

4. “Free App Today” Promotion Services

I’m not going to name names, but I gave a certain promotion service tens of thousands of dollars and looking back, I don’t think it was a wise investment.  Over time these services have rendered less and less return and I think money is better spent elsewhere.  If you are dying to buy downloads, use TapJoy.  With them you can get real measured results.

3. Not finishing projects (Grass is Greener Syndrome)

Let’s talk about the most fun part of any business project: the first 30%.

If I could have it my way, I would do nothing but the first 30% and then hand it off to a team to complete.  When you are creating the first 30% of any product, including apps and games, it’s an absolute blast.  Ideas are flowing.  Creativity is beaming out of you.  Then reality sets in and you’re stuck finishing out the project.

After this first 30% something dangerous sets in.  You’re in this creative state and you start thinking of other creative ideas.  “Oh, this is cool.. but what about THIS!”  You start to fall out of puppy love with your current project and think how much fun it would be to start this new one.  The grass starts looking very green in the lawn one house over.

There are SO many games we’ve started on, got very close to finishing, then abandoned for new projects.  Dragon Run, Steam Roll, Milo and Diamond Hunters to just name a few.  Looking back, some of these could have been completed in a matter of weeks, and they are still on the long todo list to complete. It’s much easier to finish something while you are currently working on it.  ESPECIALLY with games or anything involving source code.  Trying to go back to a project from last year is a true pain for a developer.

2. Deviating from the plan

When broken down, the plan is pretty simple:  Make games that are fun and monetize well while keeping expenses as low as possible.  The more you spend on a game, the more it should monetize.

Anytime I’ve focused on other things, my income has gone down.  For example, 2 years ago Apple ranked the name of your company higher than the keywords when it came to SEO.  This means if you had “Fun Games” in your keywords it would not rank as high as a company named “Fun Games”.  Because of this, we shifted our strategy to making a few new companies instead of focusing on updating and creating new games.  We broke down all of our games into Genres and had companies based on the genre.  We built a company for kids games, fighting games, girl games and more.  As expected, Apple shortly killed all power of company names and we had basically wasted two months and thousands of dollars focusing on something trivial.

Looking back it was very short sighted.  To build a real business, you don’t focus on silly trends or loopholes, you focus on creating products.

1. Hiring people I wasn’t sure of

I’ve gotten better at this over time, but in the beginning I made a lot of bad hires and this slowed us down.  It really comes down to this:  If you aren’t sure about the person 100%, then they are a bad fit.  Period.

The truth is, it’s not super fun hiring people.  Posting ads, going through applicants and interviewing a lot of people isn’t the most exciting part of the business, but it IS the most important part.  Having the right people is what will set you apart from everyone else.  Most people get lazy in the 11th hour and make a rash decision, if you stick it out longer and get that perfect person, then you will always be a step ahead.

That’s just the top five mistakes we’ve made.  Trust me, we’ve made a lot more and I’m very proud of that.  Don’t be scared of your mistakes, because each and every one is a learning experience that pushes your business to the next level.

I’ve always thought of businesses like living organisms.  They live, learn and grow over time.  Sometimes if they aren’t cared for they can die, but typically what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger.  Just like in life, mistakes force major learning breakthroughs that are required for success.  So embrace the mistakes, learn from them and know you are one step closer to your goal.

– Trey Smith

30 Responses

  1. Hey Trey, thanks for sharing your experiences. Failure in business gives you two options – Quit or keep going; I always choose the later, because I know that success is just a few inches away. All the best.

  2. Jeff

    Hey Trey , glad to see you are trucking along!
    If you don’t mind me asking – how much do you net per day with your app biz?

  3. Daniel From Brazil

    Great tips Trey.

    It’s really cool to see the evolution of their games. I really can notice as mistakes and successes may be part of the process.

    Congratulations!

  4. Jane van Honk

    Trey, Like Steven Jobs you are a visionary in the App world. Your passion for Apps inspired me and that one decision has changed everything. Yet its not all peaches and cream and the lessons learned are treasures to gain future profits. Great Post.

  5. Trey,

    Being part of Appelite 2 has been one if the best decisions I ever made. It has also cost me a lot of time and effort to actually get my games out there. Thank so very much for who you are.

  6. Hi Trey,

    Great post and congratulation with the 11M mark. One thing I was wondering about is your phrase “re-upload a game if it’s bombing”, what do you mean by this? Should you resubmit your game to the AppStore as a new title if it’s not getting as many downloads as you expect, or should you upload a new version to the game, if the current version for some reason seems to get fewer downloads as a previous version?

  7. Kevin Healy

    We share the same metaphor of businesses being a living organism! It’s so true… You can gain insight into how to organize a company by studying cells and bodies too. 😉

    Great post. Thanks.

  8. How would you prioritize the marketing budget? Would you spend 1/4 of your app budget towards marketing? And also i’m having difficulties generating potential profits to show investors, how do you estimate that with something like an app?

  9. Thanks Trey for your advice. I have just learnt my lessons on those issues. I have settled to be wise on this issues but I know I am getting strong by the day. Wow! Awesome

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