App store discovery a little less broken?

By August 12, 2014Apple, Google, Mobile

It’s a common refrain that the process by which apps are found or discovered is broken. Discovery and hence download volumes are driven more than anything by ‘app store placement’ and by being ‘featured’, both of which seem to be more down to the whim of Apple and Google than the merit of the app. What we need is an equivalent of Google’s Page Rank, but for apps. That way good apps would float to the top and discovery would be more meritocratic. That would be better for startups who often have great products but lack the resources or the networks to curry favour with Google and Apple.

The current discovery process isn’t completely broken, in that Apple and Google do take the quality of the app and it’s popularity into consideration, but it isn’t right. Consider these stories. Two similar stage startups that we are close to have recently been playing the App Store game with Apple. They both networked hard to get close to the right people at Apple, developed features that Apple suggested they should and then held back release of those features in the hope of getting promoted. One got promoted in a big way (Stylect) and the other got only a low placement in an App Store category with little traffic. Neither knew until the day of the promotion. That can’t be the best way to do things.

However, Apple and Google are both heavily invested in the status quo. Their app stores earn them a lot of money and are a protective moat for their mobile phone businesses. So I’m not expecting things to change quickly. Thus I was surprised to read this morning that app store competition is increasing. Tomasz Tunguz has found that app store volatility has increased substantially over the last twelve months which indicates that new entrants are doing better and that discovery is getting less broken.

That’s a little bit of good news for startups in an area where they don’t usually get much. I like to think that one day we will have an open system on mobile, but until we do life will be harder for young companies than it needs to be and we will get less investment and innovation in mobile than we could.

  • Richard Skaife

    I have found that featuring works well for the first few weeks of an apps life ( having had about 30 apps featured over time ) post that period it becomes less relevant. Really what is key in a highly paced store environment is Paid UA, unless of course you have a highly viral messenger which harvests from the address book graph or a highly novel game. It’s fair to say that unless your app is in a top chart place because of that effect, so much app discovery ( and finding the right users ) is actually via 3rd party ad units from Facebook and now Twitter that a strong paid UA strategy is key to growth, our product is working with app / game developers to increase liquidity cycles and drive growth harder. I would urge any developer to build a comprehensive UA strategy into any launch, from the off. Discovery will change overtime, but at the moment, this is what we have. Richard Skaife CEO at YUZA.

  • What does an ‘open system’ on mobile look like?

  • Think Google search to Yahoo Directory, but on mobile. If I knew more than that I’d start a company…

  • Fair point. Paying for downloads can get expensive for young companies though, because the unit economics haven’t yet got into positive territory and they often don’t have much cash.

  • Richard Skaife

    They really should look at using our Pollen service. The payment cycles from the app stores are pretty un forgiving, which agreed in the early stage is really the time you need access to that cash either to prove your metrics or to raise your next rounds or simply fund product / growth cycles – Once you know you have a positive LTV ( which I would always suggest you can do by targeting a soft territory such as NZ and Australia
    ) then you really want to double down as hard as you can. If your not building a content centric business, but have commerce at heart, then you in someways have more to play with – as LTV’s are way higher then games / app LTV’s. If your app has no business model, well Europe is not really the best place to fund – head to warmer and sunnier mountain climbs !

  • Ah. Lots of startups attempting to index the directory. Thus far, they’ve failed. Sounds like such a simple query “What’s the best app to discover amazing shoes?” The index is after all, small.

    On the larger point to your post, startups place too much expectation on the stores to solve their discovery problems. Any successful app (at the discovery level) we’ve been involved with optimise with the traditional channels – SEO, SEM, PR… App Install Ads is a dangerous game until you know your LTV and have your conversion down.

  • Interesting service. None of our companies are currently monetising through app sales or in-app sales, but if they are I will point them to Pollen. tks

  • Richard Skaife

    Thanks – a lot has changed in the app space since I first saw your inspiring talk on Venture Capital upstairs at that old boozer in the West End ! Do let me know if you ever need any of your portfolio firms to speak to our UA folks about tips for buying and planning effective media for app growth. Happy to share insight. Richard

  • Dan Field

    Interesting twist on Invoice Factoring there!

  • Richard Skaife

    We have avoided the F word. As we have set out to offer a lot more then a factoring firm ever would ( i.e more then just cash ) the synergy between apps and adverts is something which can happen in a seamless manner inside Pollen and a big focus for our business is helping developers understand paid UA mechanics. Do get in touch if you would like to know more.

  • Dan Field

    Smart idea, makes a lot of sense for a lot of Apps… I won’t mention the F word again 🙂