Breaking through in the competitive app market

Molly Wood Sep 30, 2013

Breaking through in the competitive app market

Molly Wood Sep 30, 2013

Video games are more than games to Swatee Surve. They’re a route to better health. Surve is the CEO of Seattle-based Litesprite, which “builds games to help people manage chronic health conditions.”  

Conditions like anxiety or depression. The app collects data for clinicians and doctors, who can use it to get a better handle on what someone’s issues might be. Neat idea, right?

Unfortunately, ‘neat’ doesn’t get you noticed in the world of apps, where there are millions. Literally. 

“If you want to get listed as a top 10 app in any app store, it’s gonna cost you $100 thousand to $200 thousand in marketing costs just to get your visibility out there,” says Surve.

Getting any visibility at all can be pricey. Nate Westheimer, who helped create a cloud storage app called Picture Life, says it’s easy to make an app.

“Everyone from the biggest companies to folks in their parents’ basement have put out an app,” he says. “Ideas are a dime a dozen.”

Renee Ritchie runs He says in the good old days when mobile apps first appeared, people did get rich.  But then everyone wanted in. 

“It went from being a gold rush, to be more of a lottery,” he says.  So one thing the modern App maker does now, is play the lottery by entering an App Contest

“I’m going to guess there are 2,000 hackathons annually and 500 software challenges annually, but there are many more smaller, grassroots-focused challenges that might not have their own webpage,” says Brandon Kessler, founder of ChallengePost Inc., one of the leading designers of App contests and developer challenges.

“Software challenges and hackathons have several purposes,” he says. There is the prize of getting your app discovered, but these contests also focus attention and resources on a set of discrete problems,” he says.  “Developers are motivated by status and recognition, intellectual stimulation, the competitive spirit, and altruism. But mainly, no engineer wants to build a house and have nobody live in it; they are after impact.”

“The biggest help is in validation,” says David Joo, creator of Knowre, a web-based math app designed to help teachers figure out what students are missing. He recently won $15,000 in cash and $6,000 worth of web services from the New York City Schools’ Gap App challenge

“I’m not gonna lie, it was a big surprise, but one that we’re just thrilled about,” he says. 

Swatee Surve, with Litesprite, is a finalist in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation developer’s contest with a top prize of $200,000.  The winners will be announced on Tuesday, October 1st. 

Even being a finalist has “been really instrumental, from accelerating our development to introducing us to potential partners,” says Surve.

But playing the lottery isn’t a business model. Westheimer, with Picture Life, says the app store and its rankings are “driven by having good reviews and by having a lot of downloads especially close to when you release it.”

That means getting the attention of techy trendsetters on launch day, or gaming the search system so your app rises to the top of the list.  Every time your app updates, you have a new shot at getting to the top by experimenting with search terms or getting more people to download it.

“It’s a very serious and complicated business,” says Westheimer. 

And about as far from the lottery as you can get. 

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