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Making Money Off Your App

Recently, I’ve worked on a slogan for our 2018 website update. At Shakuro, we do websites and mobile apps. Mostly for clients, but also our own startups. While thinking of a cool slogan, I digressed into thinking what kind of apps are out there and why people bother buying and installing mobile apps.

Making Money Off Your App | Shakuro

There’s an app for that, yo

By now, I heard the saying “There’s an app for that” almost as many times as “That’s a t-shirt”. Does this mean apps are that essential?

As a matter of fact, there are way more apps around us than we need.

There are some useful apps I can’t imagine my life without and I believe 90% of them are the apps we all know/use. Is it because these apps are so cool or because they substituted an action we don’t necessarily like? Making a call to get taxi for example, or pizza, or new shoes, or new couch. There’s an app for all of those.

At the same time, there are tons of weird and cringy apps that someone actually had spent time to make. What were they thinking? Maybe just for a goof like an app that sends “Yo!” to all your friends. But let’s leave them in peace; this won’t get you anywhere business-wise.

Okay, a serious app

If you have a solid app idea that is as unique as it is simple, you can turn it into a startup. Mobile app startup in particular. What do you expect from it in a best-case scenario? On a general level, these are the goals:

  • Market your coming app.
  • Build an MVP.
  • Redesign/iterate.
  • Launch.
  • Get exposure.
  • Hit a big milestone.

Most of the apps available on the market for all major platforms are free. Only one-fourth of users are willing to pay for the apps.

Considering the price of most paid apps – around $1.00 and the number of downloads popular apps might get – at around 1 million or more, the potential revenue is solid. If you are planning to make money off of your app, when do you actually start making it? Depending on your business model, it’s usually the first 6 months to a year period. But the work towards that begins much earlier.
When a client first approaches us with an app idea, we make a genuine effort to get the feel of the project, tune into its concept for better design, understand the business logic behind it for better development, and most importantly, figure out how the client is willing to generate revenue off that app. If it’s an e-commerce platform, it’s clear, but what if it is just an app, distributed for free?

In-app ads suck

A low hanging fruit for an app startup is selling the application screen estate. However, I doubt you strategically plan specific ads in specific places while wireframing and prototyping your app. If you even consider placeholders for ads, so that they won’t mess with the UX of your app, you still can’t guarantee the ads will fit in. Most, don’t even bother. As a result, you get an ad-infested app with broken user experience. On top of that, let’s make this clear:

You spend time and effort to design and build an app, and then you cover it with ads like a Nascar race-car, leading elsewhere?

With our eyes being exposed to over 5000 ads per day, there doesn’t seem to be much space for an ad to remember. At the same time, it’s a perfect recipe to push off the users who bothered trying your app out.
Charging a dollar to remove ads is cheap and lame.
So, without turning your mobile app into an add catalog, here are some of the options to monetize your FREE app.

Go freemium

Your app has a core functionality, something that shapes the essence of the app and makes people install it. But as you progress, you might want to add some new cool features. You can charge for those. Your app will still work just fine, but if a user is willing to expand their abilities with your app, there has to be an option. Spotify, Skype, Dropbox, and LinkedIn are a good example of the freemium approach.

Making Money Off Your App | Shakuro

Image credit: Dejan Markovic

Have in-app purchase

Any app as engaging as it is still can be potentially repelling if it doesn’t allow depth of interaction. By depth I mean its ability to make you a master in whatever the app does. Naturally, we are competitive and if the app recognizes that by not showing you its 100% but rather, urging you to take action and gain something, there might be a good chance of it becoming a lucrative app.
There must be a clear definition of what you are getting and how it might help you. There are two types of in-app purchases:

  • A single-use purchase. A consumable perk that you use once to either boost your performance or achieve a specific goal.
  • A reusable purchase. A constant asset you buy once to use forever.

You can raise awareness of the purchases you provide by implementing freebies, giveaways, bundles, special offers for limited time, and so on.

Making Money Off Your App | Shakuro

Image credit: Johny vino™

Employ disappearing features

If your app provides great value to the users, there is no need to deprive people of that value. At least for some time. Like you do with a freemium plan, you can demonstrate a lot of your killer features for a limited time. We’re talking free trials here, subscription plans, extended functionality tricks, etc.

This is a flexible and quite generous approach that also has the potential to generate revenue. The people that will use your app for a one time task, or an every once in a while task, will be satisfied. Those who will require a constant use of your app will have a chance to extensively try it out. It makes sense, that you will want to market your product so that the first category will migrate into the second.

It might not always be a useful content that you provide that can create immersion. You can play on addictions just as effectively. Not an ethical approach, indeed, but it gets the job done. Whether it’s extra profiles and visitors on dating apps, binge consumption of content, shopping options, or whatever else, these are all monetization opportunities.

Making Money Off Your App | Shakuro

Image credit: Igor Shadko

Leverage sponsorships

Every successful app is a honey hole for a bunch of companies who share the target audience with you. Of course, your app has to be kicking in order for other brands to express interest in associating with you.

Nike has built a successful business relationship with Apple, first resulting in native fitness apps, and later in the entire product line.
If sponsors approach you with negotiable agreements, this will allow you to keep your app completely free with no strings attached. However, there will have to be a lot of work done before that, both in production and marketing.

Making Money Off Your App | Shakuro

How to choose the right way?

Before you even speculate on which way to go about your cool app monetization, there has to be a solid user research policy established in your startapp. By introducing a mobile SDK into your app, you can start gathering the valuable input from your users that will help you distinguish the future path.

Audience ID

The online identity profiles created from anonymous identifiers in order to recognize and match the same user across different channels, devices or both, are called audience IDs. They are likely to lower the rate of frauds and non-human traffic while providing developers with valuable insights as to what types of users appreciate which features.  If you get the feel of your audience, you will get a chance to tune your application so that it becomes more rewarding to your users functionally, as well as you financially.


Once the app establishes a following, its side products gain more traction as well. The name works for you after you do for it. For an app to go viral, a lot of stars have to align, luckily the market as saturated as the mobile app market is, still presents opportunities of high reward to everyone demonstrating consistency and a quick eye for what’s in now.

We’ve built a lot of different apps, from games and e-commerce apps to corporate mobile portals, all with their unique sets of features. We’ve witnessed the demise of a lot of apps which made us realize: the first thing you have to think of is are you really going to make a living off your app? This defines all the future actions your startup takes. So when approaching a development team with your project, state your intentions right away.

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Written by Moses Kim

February 02, 2018

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