Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Andrei and I developed Spapp Monitoring.
Our product Spapp Monitoring is an Android tracking app. Our clients use Spapp Monitoring for tracking their children. You can monitor your children to keep them out of harm's way. You can also use our software for tracking your employees. You can monitor your employees to see if they use their phones or their time for other reasons.
The business started as a side project while I was employed. After realizing it has potential (people were interested), I started about 2014 to work full time.
At some point I was able to get around 2000 downloads per day - that was probably the top.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was working as a Web developer - PHP programmer. I did not work as an Android developer but in general, I liked using Java (I used Java for the Android app). I do not think I used Java at work but I liked it from college. I also had projects(that are not online anymore), mainly when I was in college, that did a lot of SEO, so I was familiar with Google.
I wanted to see what tracking apps were on the market. I was interested in some new fields and at the time there was still some room in the mobile apps market. I have seen some apps that were selling for a lot of money and they were also charging a subscription fee (it was not a one-time fee). I did not know how much demand there was but I assumed that if those apps were selling at very high prices, there should be some demand.
I worked on some websites that generated money from displaying ads but Spapp Monitoring was different. It is very difficult to get advertising money from your website. Even if I had traffic on the websites, there wasn’t enough money in order to make sense. It was easier to make a living just by getting a job. With Spapp Monitoring not displaying ads, I was selling software. There are not many projects that ask for money. In most cases, you can get Software for free.
I was investing time, not money.
I started to make the Android project just to see if it can track different activities on the phone. After seeing that it works I started working also on other things like the website, database, etc. It took about 8 months to have something reliable that works.
I was employed when I started the project but I was still interested in having a personal project, even if the project that I had in the past didn’t work out.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and building the app.
The project first started on Google Play. At the time there were a lot of tracking apps on Google Play. In the last few years, there haven’t been as many because Google removed a lot of tracking features. Now if you need a tracking app with a decent amount of features, you will have to search for one outside Google Play. Clients, in general, don’t want a simple GPS tracker, they want features like Remote livestream, WhatsApp tracker, Facebook tracker, Snapchat tracker, or Whatsapp call recorder tracker, and Google does not even allow access to Phone calls or SMS.
The initial costs for starting the business were low. The heavy investment was doing all the programming work. I was investing time, not money. In most cases, I was working for about 14 hours per day - every day. A normal workday would finish at about 10-11 pm. The start was hard because I was also employed.
Describe the process of launching the app
Thanks to Google Play, I was able to have customers in the first year. In order to get some clients, SEO optimization helped also with the app listing. The techniques of App Store Optimization are in a way similar to Search Engine Optimization (keywords, user engagement, or making something in general that people want to use). I ran into a lot of problems also with it, but without Google Play it would have been really difficult to start.
One of the biggest issues was that Google just like Apple has a rule that you have to use their platform for payments. The problem was in my case that the tracking app was installed on the phone and it was sending data to the server where the parent logged in. The parent was making a subscription on the server (website) in order to view the activity on the phone. With this model, you can not force the child to pay for the subscription (using Google Play) in order for him to be monitored.
Lately, if you start a new project, it is unlikely that you will get clients without advertising. In 2013, if the app was ok, you had a chance to rank well in Google Play, without buying ads.
I did not spend a lot of time on web design. I was more interested in adding a lot of features to the app. I did not have a background as a web designer. The app was constantly updated and with each update, I have also added new features. On Android, it is also important to test the app (and its new features) on as many phone models as you can (including different Android versions). The problem is that every manufacturer makes changes to the Android system and you really do not know what to expect when you publish a new update. A few times I have also asked for feedback from my clients to see how I will prioritize what new features to publish.
Starting the project didn’t require spending much money. I did have some savings from when I was employed. It is a big plus when you start a mobile app (or any other software project) to work as a developer. In many cases, people start a project, for example, a website or a mobile app, and they just hire a freelancer, most likely someone from India. I never hired a freelancer for the programming work of the app. Freelancers on the internet are very unreliable. In general, I would recommend them for tasks such as web design or SEO for link building but even then you could have a bad experience and in general, you are spending money for nothing.
Probably the biggest lesson learned was that you have to work hard yourself, not only to pay someone.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
With Google, you can grow your project. But in recent years, it is more difficult for a startup to grow based only on Google without investing money. In general, I relied mainly on SEO (organic traffic for the website or for the app). I continue to improve the content of the website by publishing new articles that my clients read.
You can also get some customers if you add your app to different app stores or from some app review blogs. Samsung Apps was a good source of downloads but now I do not get downloads as I used to.
Cnet was also a good source of downloads. Lately, Google Play is becoming the only source of downloads for Android apps. In general, it is free to add your app to an app store. I had a few reviews but in general, these were done for free by people that used the app - for example, people were publishing tutorials or video tutorials about tracking a phone.
For example, if I started the project in 2021, it would probably be impossible to grow it without a substantial advertising budget (that I did not have when I started).
We bring existing customers by developing and improving our app all the time.
We did not spend much money on buying ads but since Google organic traffic is falling, it is possible that we may buy ads in the future.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The project is profitable.
There are a lot of users but many of them don’t buy the app. People, in general, are used to freeing software.
Now, most of the clients are from the website. We work on app updates in order to keep people interested. We create content for the website. We focus on some search terms that would bring some organic traffic. The app is on some app stores but now there is almost no traffic from other app stores. Many of the app stores that were online when we first started the project are now closed. Google play does not have much competition left from other app stores.
I had plans to expand also on iOS. On iOS, you can publish a tracking app on their official App Store but the only feature that you can add is GPS tracking. You can not ask money for GPS tracking since there are a lot of apps that do this for free - for example, Find My Phone from Google or even with iCloud for iOS. Now in 2021 also Google Play looks a lot like the App Store in terms of tracking features for a tracking app. For iOS tracking, you can use something like jailbreak or iCloud. I discontinued both of the methods because both of them are not reliable.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
For the iOS tracking app, I did hire a Chinese freelancer. Communication was really hard. At some point, I had an app but it was difficult to update it. I was able to contact the freelancer but he demanded unrealistic money for simple updates. I do not recommend using a freelancer for this because it would probably backfire.
A good decision that I made was to rely on organic traffic from Google - using white hat SEO, even if it takes a lot of work. I would not recommend doing black hat SEO. Even if it is a faster way, this too will backfire.
The timing was ok when I started but it would be a lot better if I would have started the project before 2012. Timing is very important. The only way I would consider starting a new project would be if some kind of new technology would be released. For example, if people would start using a new phone operating system - I really don’t think this would happen since Android and iOS don’t have any competition.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I do remember reading SEO books when I was in college but I do not remember the name of the books. I also remember PHP books. If you start working on something that you are not familiar with, then it is a good thing to start with a book. Once you start the actual work it is a lot easier to search on the Internet about what you want to accomplish. Stackoverflow is a good place to get info related to your problem. If this info is not available, you also have the option to ask a question.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
You can learn a lot of things on the internet - and it is also available for free. Stackoverflow has a lot of good documentation if you are starting development for a new project. But to me, honestly, the most important tool is Google itself. Sometimes it feels like I’m spamming Google trying to resolve a problem.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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