I Leveraged My Experience To Start A $72K/Year Auto Reply App Business At Age 50

Michael Ginzburg
Founder, LeMI Apps
$6K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
4
Employees
LeMI Apps
from Jerusalem, Israel
started September 2013
$6,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
4
Employees
1.33M
alexa rank
2.47K
followers
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I Leveraged My Experience To Start A $72K/Year Auto Reply App Business At Age 50

Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi. I am Michael Ginzburg, 57 years old mobile app indie entrepreneur, founder, and owner of LeMi Apps - SMS Marketing Auto Reply Apps for Small Business Automation.

Do not leave yet - believe me, you can / will learn a lot from our story!

At least we have learned a lot about the full circle of mobile (android) apps business, starting from an idea, architecture, SPEC, UI, design, development, technical writing, interface, and usability evaluation, QA and then publishing, maintenance, support, new features evaluation, and development.

This is just the beginning (usually beginners - as we were, don’t see the full picture) of the long, hard work of mobile business development.

All said above, should be ideally based, on well researched and known in advance: monetization channels, price model, marketing, promotion, and sales strategy.

One more important point, if not the most important “According to Gartner, less than 0.01 percent of all consumer mobile apps will become financially successful” – means only 1 of 10,000. Less than 1% of all apps will reach $5000 monthly revenue

99.99% of Mobile Apps Will Fail!

THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY THE $6,000 THAT I EARN TODAY FROM MY MOBILE APPS BUSINESS, I ESTIMATE AS A GOOD ACHIEVEMENT! (temporarily, until I move to the next stage)

We sell consumer-oriented apps (restricted versions) through several app stores (Google Play, Amazon, and others) and lately started selling full-featured apps’ versions through our website as well.

Call / SMS AUTO REPLY APP

Reply to Missed calls, Incoming Texts, Signal, Telegram, Facebook, WhatsApp + 10 more Messengers when you are

  • busy
  • in a meeting (keep your meetings free of interruptions),
  • on vacation,
  • out of office
  • driving (automatically turn ON, when your phone connects to your car via Bluetooth),
  • sleeping
  • watching a movie
  • etc

For example

Our office will remain closed until the end of this week for the Thanksgiving Holidays. But we are here for you. All of your requests will be answered once we are back. Meanwhile please visit our website.

Small business and self-employed-oriented app. The app replaces the previous option that small business owners had of using well-known, but expensive, SMS Marketing services.

This is the only android app allowing Keyword-based SMS Auto Response and it is more than 5 times cheaper than even the lowest-priced services.

Nowadays, customers want immediate access to information that is relevant to their current activity and easy to access. Texting is one of the most widely available methods of communication that is quick and accessible. Sending a keyword through SMS can be a great way for customers to interact with the business.

KEYWORD BASED SMS MARKETING AUTORESPONDER APP

Handle inquiries for your products and services; auto-reply to leads; answer most frequently asked questions and much more – auto answer triggered by received keyword.

Customers instantly request service/product information by texting you a specific keyword

You send instant, automated text messages to customers / potential clients after they’ve texted a specific keyword to your phone number

i-leverage-my-experience-to-start-a-72k-year-auto-reply-apps-business-at-age-50

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

So, in 2013, at 49 years of age – yes, 50 was coming soon -☺ I had 15 years of experience (I started in 1998) working as a software/websites product manager, usability expert, project and marketing manager.

I was looking for an area in which I could apply the accumulated knowledge and experience. Several members of my family worked in the field of mobile telephony and mobile applications and actively recommended this direction to me to try to open a small business in this area. (it is worth noting that my basic education is M.A in Telecommunication and Control Systems). Therefore, the area is not unfamiliar to me.

So the decision was taken. And I decided that based on my experience, all I need is an idea and a small amount of money to hire 1-2 programmers to develop an application. Then the income will allow me to maintain and expand the project.

I chose the idea and even conducted research that confirmed the presence of demand and low competition at that time for an answering machine (autoresponder) for missed calls and text messages.

Mistake number 1: (critical)

I decided to start developing an android application and then "translate" it for the iPhone. I didn´t know that the iPhone does not allow the implementation of this functionality.

Result:

I got stuck on Android, deciding that it was more convenient to develop this application and use its basic functionality to develop additional related applications and thus dominate in a specific niche.

That is what I did, and after 3 years I already had 17 applications and I will say immodestly, I occupied a leading position in the field of communication applications, namely autoresponders and text message schedulers

Mistake number 2: (later turned out to be also critical)

We started distributing and selling apps in the Google Play Store and since it took a lot of effort, we did not expand the promotion to other stores and distribution channels.

Result:

In 2019 Google restricted the use of Calls and SMS permissions, (means we can’t any more implement most of the functionality of our apps) and as a result removed our apps as well as almost all applications with similar functionality, about 250-350, (possibly making exceptions for 1-2 applications) from the Google Play Store.

To Make a long story short, over time, we managed to return 4 of our applications, although with limited functionality, and again take the first positions as SMS Auto Reply apps

After 2 years (2021), we also finally started distribution (selling) of our fill-functional apps from our corporate website.

Do not expect to grow your business only from organic traffic. Allocate a significant budget for pay per install advertising.

Looking ahead, I will say that I continued (and continue) 50 hours a month to advise corporate clients and the income from these consultations still, alas, exceeds the income from my applications for which I spend at least 150-200 hours a week

Take us through the process of designing your first app.

Let’s go back to 2013. We have created a simple basic SMS autoresponder app and started selling it ($0.95) through Google Play Store. As well, we have released an ad-supported version with 5 most popular advertising networks integrated showing rare ads in a very gentle manner

1-st app’s prototypes;

i-leverage-my-experience-to-start-a-72k-year-auto-reply-apps-business-at-age-50

Pretty soon we had 500.000 users for our free app and about ten thousand paid users. Yes, this is approximately a proportion – Paid apps users about 2% of free app users.

Today after going through the full cycle of “app development“ (including all 20 components) we have a bit better proportion between so-called Free (ads supported + in-app purchases) and Paid apps. Paid app users 10% + of free app users.

The most critical phase was testing – quality assurance. Since we didn’t have enough devices for testing (and had no allocated budget to purchase 10-12 different types of Android devices), we hired 10-15 freelancers, so-called “testers” (actually simply Android device owners) all over the world (mainly East Europe and Asia) to run UI and functionality tests. In addition, we used the service of “virtual” access to android devices for our testing.

These were the first unexpected expenses.

Also, during the QA phase, we realized that it will be hard to provide quality support without “remote access’ to customers’ devices. So we developed and integrated it into our first app hidden debug mode. The user could activate debug mode to solve device-dependent issues.

Later it turned out that this is one of the critical decisions taken at an early stage, which allowed us to quickly and efficiently fix breaking functional bugs and problems associated with the presence of several thousand (at that time) types of android phones.

This, in turn, was reflected in the high rating of our applications, which, thanks to continuous feedback from users and the time that we allocated to respond to them, we managed to maintain for a long time. Even after 8 years and 15,000+ types of supported phones, our apps still have high ratings.

These two factors, bug-free apps, and high rankings are important criteria for getting high search positions in the Google Play Store.

Output

Creative solutions are needed, that, at an extremely low price of the application (we started with $0.95 - today $6.90 for our consumer-oriented app), will allow you to provide continuous support to users

It is also critical to develop a prioritization system and mechanisms for providing support. Since for a small company consisting of 3-5 employees (at different stages) it is almost impossible to provide a,) phone b) continuous 24/7 c) for all possible types of devices, support

Most mobile app development companies overlook this critical aspect.

See Call / SMS Auto Reply App evolution from 2013.

i-leverage-my-experience-to-start-a-72k-year-auto-reply-apps-business-at-age-50

1st video of our first app;

Whether you're busy: driving, in a meeting, watching a movie, sleeping, in a school, or just where you would prefer not to be disturbed, act as simple as 1- 2- 3.

  1. Set your Auto Reply and Calls / SMS Autoresponder will auto-respond to missed phone calls and SMS with preset (by you) text message

  2. Set a list of people whose phone calls you will receive anyway.

  3. Set a list of people to whom you want to send personalized messages.

1st Press Release -08/02/2013

1st Tweet - 08/02/2013;

embed:tweet

Describe the process of launching the business.

We have launched our 1st app without any pre-launch activity, without “collecting” early bird users.

Do not start mobile apps business if you do not have your marketing (promotion, sales) budget at least 3 times bigger than your development budget.

For our B2B Keyword-based SMS Marketing Autoresponder App release, 4 years later, we already learned the importance of pre-launch activity and used social media platform, Product Hunt and BetaList to provide discounted prices for pre-registered users.

In 2013, the app market was still less competitive. Therefore, since we have taken all basic “must” actions such as creating full 4000 characters descriptions, all available screenshots, video, press release, images, texts, website (see below).

In addition, immediately after the app release, we started a/b testing of all available ASO elements.

We started seeing a lot of customers – about 2000 a day for our free app from solely organic app store traffic.

i-leverage-my-experience-to-start-a-72k-year-auto-reply-apps-business-at-age-50

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For 8 years, we have tried all available acquisition channels. Some of them require complex setup and management, others less complicated and time-consuming. I would honestly say we have got from low to medium conversion rate per average user. We never reach a high conversion rate per average user from any paid channel.

Will rate below some of them according to our level of success. Take into consideration we have distributed/sold applications (in the communication, productivity, business categories - NOT a GAME app. There is a huge difference in the level of interest, acceptance, engagement, etc.

Standing alone – ASO - App Store Optimization

  • Probably the most important strategy to get organic app store traffic
  • Don't save time and efforts required for ASO

Social networks maintenance to get free traffic

In addition to our accounts, we collaborate with influencers on the following networks;

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

Very good experience on

  • Reddit
  • Quora

PPI channels

  • Facebook Ads – most successful experience
  • Google Adwords
  • Twitter Ads
  • Bing Ads

We tried but didn’t get any “impressive” results from

  • Paid PR/Influencer
  • User referrals/influencer marketing
  • Incentivized referral

Just basic must-have channels

  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Email marketing

Avoid or at least do not rely solely on large monopolies such as Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

A few milestones are on our way:

2015 – Acceptation to the Bootstrap track of FbStart, Facebook's program

“Congratulations! Your app has been accepted to the Bootstrap track of FbStart, Facebook's program to help mobile startups succeed. Your app was chosen because of its impressive development so far and its potential for continued growth. As part of the Bootstrap track, you are eligible to receive up to $30,000 in free services and tools from Facebook and our partners.”

2017 – Release of our main B2B app Keyword based SMS Marketing Autoresponder App

In the subscription-based app, we have tried to sell subscriptions per amount of used keywords.

1 keyword subscription - $3 per month

Unlimited keywords - $200 per month

2018 – Monetization strategy change + Price drop for the Keyword-based SMS Marketing Autoresponder App

We have changed our strategy to 3 unlimited keyword subscriptions;

  • 1month
  • 3 months
  • 12 months

The change resulted in a significant increase in the subscriber base;

4 / 2019 – a drop of 14 from 17 of our apps from the Google play store

  • Google Play restricted use of SMS/ Calls permissions

We succeeded to keep 3 of our apps with limited functionality by changing permission-based communication to notification-based. Our apps are the ONLY apps on Google Play Store that provide this functionality.

8/ 2019 – Start of distribution on Amazon App Store

No real success in-app sales.

Amazon App store not even a 1% of Google Play store from the user volume point of view

In addition, Amazon calculates the income from the sale of applications per store (the per 8 stores) and currency. The minimum amount paid is 100 units of a certain currency. So if you sell USD 97, GBP – 86, EURO – 93, you won’t get your money until 100 units are accumulated in each currency. The payment is done 60 days after the sale month. To compare Google Play payment is done on 15th of the next month

11/2019 – we start offering on Google Play store - MULTI-CHANNEL EXPERIENCE

SMS, Facebook, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, LinkedIn, Instagram, Skype, Line, or Viber. Build a consistent messaging across each of these channels.

Providing a multi-channel experience to your customers means marketing, selling, and serving customers on all channels to create an integrated customer experience no matter where a customer reaches out.

The experience will be the same for users regardless of the platform they choose to message you to get information.

**6/2020 - Here at LeMi Apps, we decided to Help Businesses and Self- Employed and are opening our Keyword based Marketing Auto Reply App for FREE USE OF “SAFETY KEYWORDS” during the COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

For example:

  • Text COVID, to get current regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Text SAFETY, to get current safety guidelines
  • Text MEASURES, to get of review all the safety measures we have in place
  • Text EMERGENCY, to get a list of emergency supplies
  • Text MEDIC, to get a recommended list of disinfectant and hygiene items

Set up COVID-19 related Auto Replies, to ensure your customers get the information that matters right now!

i-leverage-my-experience-to-start-a-72k-year-auto-reply-apps-business-at-age-50

9/2021 – start promotion of apps bundle for Real Estate Agents, Property Managers, etc

Review;

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Right now our profit split is as follows:

  • Google Play Store – still 75%
  • Website – 20%
  • Amazon App store- 1%
  • Other channels – 4%

Our Plans

From the development point of view, we have:

  • Extended 1-year plan for additional features development for current apps
  • 2 new apps that could be used for the up-sale and cross-sale (same small business audience)
  • We are going to outsource some development in 2022

Marketing oriented development:

  • We already have 1 reseller and going to officially open the reseller's program
  • Affiliate program mainly for our consumer apps

Short term goals:

  • In 2022 increase part of web store sales
  • Scale revenue to $30000 thousand/month

Long term goals:

  • To be acquired by a big mobile company or mobile marketing agency
  • Start new mobile apps business – most probably with the same team (we have a couple of ‘wining” ideas – based on our huge experience)

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I have mentioned through my other answers a couple of critical mistakes and on the other hand good decisions.

Our main learnings we have summarized below

With regards to skills, indie entrepreneurs have 2 options:

  1. You have a budget to hire experts to work for you.
  2. You learn and acquire skills and helpful abilities that could be used for

  3. Detailed professional specification of the requirements for hired experts - which leads to lower costs and better quality of work.

  4. In house production

I have learned;

  • Simple design
  • Video editing
  • Basic HTML
  • WP – all our websites I built 95% myself
  • All mentioned above Advertising platforms
  • SEO – high level expertize
  • Different analytics platforms
  • And much more

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

There are dozens of tools ( I would say close to 100 different tools) that you must learn and use to grow your mobile apps business. Starting from development tools – prototyping, designing, developing, testing, etc. Continue with support tools, analytics, marketing, sales, writing, and more.

Will list just a few probably the most important basic resources (examples – you can choose alternative solutions);

Generic

  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Notepad ++

Development

Web Development

Design

  • Paint.net - Free Software for Digital Photo Editing
  • Photoshop
  • Camtasia: Screen Recorder & Video Editor (Free Trial)

SEO

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

There are a lot (I would even say too many) resources available for mobile apps business developers. I will list just a few of them with is very professional. Again, there are much more guides and resources. Do not stop learning. Allocate at least 1 hour a day to learn new stuff about mobile apps trends, marketing strategies, ongoing analytics – VERY important.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

TO SUMMARIZE OUR LEARNINGS

  1. Do not start mobile apps business if you do not have your marketing (promotion, sales) budget at least 3 times bigger than your development budget.
  2. Do not expect to grow your business only from organic traffic. Allocate a significant budget for pay per install advertising.
  3. Take into consideration mobile apps business is very hard and time-consuming.
  4. The mobile apps world (devices, platform) is highly sensitive and rapidly developing, so it requires constant attention and non-stop adaptation development.
  5. Diversify your risks!!
  6. Diversify your distribution channels.
  7. Avoid or at least do not rely solely on large monopolies such as Google Play Store or Apple App Store. They will not reckon with you (take into account your interests) and with your investments. If you are not big enough, you will be crushed. And alas, there is no one to talk

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Michael Ginzburg, Founder of LeMI Apps
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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