Paul Kemp: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where we appeal to app developers, app entrepreneurs; even if you are working in corporate and you're just fascinated with what goes on in the app world, then this is the episode for you - do stay tuned. I go around the world, find amazing founders and go through their stories.
Today I have really found a terrific founder... Get this - he has had over 30 million downloads for various apps that he's created. It's just a dream for anyone who's getting into the app world, so we're going to learn a little bit about the success he's had with those apps. But more importantly, we're going to go through what he's doing right now with a company that he is the CEO and co-founder of - SwingDev. They're developers that can create apps or websites for you, and they do it in a beautiful, very high polished way. Jo, first of all, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Jo Overline: Thanks, great to be here!
Paul Kemp: Terrific to have you on. We're going to go straight into it, man... 30 million downloads - that is a remarkable achievement. I would love to know, was that manufactured/strategized? What was your success owed to?
Jo Overline: It was kind of a mix, I would say. Certainly, there was a big element of luck in the whole thing. I think every great success probably has that little bit of luck. To really propel things forward, it was about leveraging that luck into a strategy to maximize the impact and just really push things forward so we could get the most out of the opportunity. That was the key thing that really drove things forward with that and changed thousands of downloads into millions of downloads.
Paul Kemp: The app was called Ugly Meter, and it resulted in you getting onto the Howard Stern show not just once, but four times... How did that come about? That's incredible.
Jo Overline: Well, there was a lot of press at the time, and it was never my intention. It was funny, because the whole reason I made this app was to -- I was just learning iPhone development at the time, and every time I needed to learn a new feature, I would come up with a mini project; really, the best way to learn is to just jump into it.
I needed to learn how to use the iPhone camera, so I'm just sitting there, thinking
"What could I do? This sounds fun, let's just do it."
I just did this app; I spent a few days with it, figured out how the camera worked... I never had any intention of selling it or making any money off it, but when I made stuff, you just put it in the App Store and let it be out there.
I woke up one morning and there's a message for me from the Daily Mail in the U.K. They're saying,
"Hey, just letting you know we're running a whole story on celebrities and the Ugly Meter, and we're rating everybody and doing all this stuff..."
I was like,
"Okay... That's cool, I guess."
I didn't really know at the time... I'd heard of the Daily Mail, but I didn't realize how big they were and the impact this would have on my future.
Things went pretty crazy from there. It got picked up on the U.S. side, all the news stations were covering it; I went live on CNN, Jay Leno did it in his monologue... Howard Stern - that was one of our big breakouts. They contacted me... They had heard of it also, and I was a huge fan of the show, so I made that a priority, of course. It was a really great experience to meet all those guys that I listened to for so many years. It kind of got a life of its own and just went forward through the media nationwide, and even worldwide.
Paul Kemp: Yes, what's really fascinating and what I'm learning immediately from you, Jo, is that a lot of the listeners, the appster tribe are always asking about how to get free press, and here you are, without any PR agency I'm guessing, you just get this random call and it propels you into success. I'm almost grateful that we can learn about this story, because so many developers are trying to push their app so hard, get into the press, get rejected from all these journalists... And yet, if you build something that is viral -- why do you think it went so viral? What was the essence of the app that just kind of caught the imagination of the press?
Jo Overline: It's easy... There's one thing that the press needs. A lot of people make this mistake when reaching out the influencers in the press. The press needs a story; the press is not in the business of just writing about things... They love a story, and even better, they love a juicy story. Ugly Meter appeals to people's vanity, and everyone like to do this and see what happens. One of the big things about it was, whether they admit it or not - we know by the download numbers - everybody was downloading this.
Keep in mind, this was many years ago, so the App Store worldwide was much smaller that it was today. We were instantly number one in the App Store, which was a big deal. We got the fun coverage by Daily Mail, but what happened was as the later news stations picked it up, they wanted to cover it, but they needed a new angle. It was actually an interesting view into the inside of the press because it was Fox News first that did it - completely fabricated a fake story that it was being used as a tool for bullies in schools, because they wanted to put a twist on it that sounded bad... Which is completely false, completely made up; this was never once reported or used as that, but the thing is, as soon as there was this controversy behind it - it was all made up, but it was there - that's when the media really ran with it, because they truly had a story.
What I realize is bad press and good press... Good press loves bad press. They love to run with these types of stories, because everybody -- literally, every news station across the country, and every comedy show ran with it. There were days where I'd do 50 morning show interviews just to talk about it, like morning radio shows. But really, you have to create a story.
I see a lot of people trying to promote their apps, and they just put them out there and tell people about it, but the reality, the truth of it is nobody cares. It's another app; there's two million of them out there. You need to be unique, and you need to craft a story. That's what PR is all about - creating a story around what you want to sell, to give people an emotional connection to it.
Paul Kemp: You're reminding me of my wonderful chat with the founder of Blonde 2.0. She was responsible for the Yo app, which I think attracted a hundred million downloads. The things I'm learning from that episode and from you now is that there's the connection of having a story that is slightly controversial as well, which is what the press love. Really interesting for any app developers who are struggling to get any exposure... It's a good thing to think about.
Should we transition then into what you're doing now? Because I guess this success gave you the freedom to choose your own future, although you were an independent developer at the time. Tell us about the story in the aftermath, coming off the back of this, and what eventually ended up with you founding SwingDev.
Jo Overline: Yes, so it really opened up a new world. Being in software development, since I was a little kid, was my dream; it's what I'm passionate about, it's what I love to do, and this really opened up to me the thought process of
"Wow, this is a real business. We just made a ton of money, and we don't need to stop here. What could we do? What's the greatest thing that would make me happy to do every day?"
We thought about those things, had a ton of incoming requests... There was so much press around it... I just had hundreds of e-mails like,
"Hey, I have an app idea. I want to make an app. I want to do this, I want to do that."
Seeing that, I kind of came to the realization that
"You know what? I was so successful, and it changed my life... I would like to help other people do that, too."
It really made me focus on meeting people who had good ideas and are really passionate about them, wanted to develop them, wanted to create their own success... And to really take what I learned and what I know and mentor them to that success.
That lead me into taking certain projects that I wanted to work on, and moving forward, it just kind of became too much, though. I mean, I was only one person; I had my partner, Ryan, who was a designer, but I was the developer, and you can only do so much. As the incoming requests started coming in more, I had a friend - partner, now - who actually lived in Warsaw, Poland. We were talking and he's like,
"You know, I've got these friends out here that are just brilliant developers, maybe we all partner up. You have this pipeline of projects and a lot of things you want to work on... Why don't you do what you love - work with the clients - and we'll build the engineering on the backend over here?"
We did a trial, project experiment and it worked. That was about four years ago. Over time, our team has gotten bigger... We've built out a business. These days, we concentrate on working with startups. People have ideas, need execution... We make software, but we're not a usual software house. We have a clear goal, which is to make clients succeed. It's not about just letting them drive a process and getting billable dollars out of them. We work really closely with them to make sure they have an actual game plan to succeed with their ideas.
Our culture is really easy - we hire the best people and we create the environment for them to come up with amazing, creative solutions for the best clients.
Paul Kemp: I love this, Jo. It's one of the reasons why I started the podcast, in a way - to help people, to help startups really fulfill good ideas, and I love that we've met some like-minded people along the way with this show, now 514 episodes. You know, this is the first time that I've spoken to an entrepreneur who has pivoted from the basis of success rather than failure, which is quite interesting. Normally, the themes of my podcast are a pivot, because you're perhaps not achieving the success you want, and yet your pivot is based on the success you were having, and then expanding into what you really wanted to do, which was to build apps.
Jo Overline: Yes, I saw it as a real opportunity. I had something that few people get, and it was like
"You know what? Now I can do whatever I want. What do I want to do?"
and it really was about working with startups and helping them have the same success. That's the thing that really drove me.
Over time, it kind of created a culture of uncompromising quality. We never have to compromise. We work with the best people, we work with amazing clients, and it makes us unique because we are truly passionate about what we do. Anyone who works for us, they're not just your average software developer; they're like artists of their craft, in a sense. Those people are really driven to do creative, unique things, and our clients appreciate it. It's actually allowed us to enter the Bay Area, and we're highly trusted out there in the whole VC network, in the startup network, to come in and just deliver a hundred percent of time because it's just not an option for us. We're there to deliver every time, with the best quality.
Unfortunately, in the software business that's a unique business model, to deliver quality on time and on budget. It's good for us, but unfortunately, the industry itself has a high dissatisfaction rate overall with outsourcing, so we really take a different approach. It's not about outsourcing, it's about partnering and creating success.
Paul Kemp: I love that. Let's talk about the clients you work with because you mentioned startups. Many of the appster tribe listening and reading this will be startups, maybe the founder. What do you find are the types of startups that you end up working with?
Jo Overline: There's a big range. There's everything, from the guy that walks in the door and has drawings on a napkin, to -- we work with a lot of series A, series B funded portfolio companies of the VCs. We're a boutique operation, we can't take every project. We need to take the right projects, and we take the ones that we can truly deliver amazing work on. We have to find the right people, and really anyone in that range.
We don't have a typical client that we only work with. It's more about the person, their idea and do we believe in the idea? Are we passionate about it, too? Because if we're not, we just don't even go down the path. We help them find someone else that may be a better fit, but we really only engage in the things that we truly believe in.
Paul Kemp: Jo, there's obviously people listening who have their own ideas, an you're approaching this as an investor, because you have to invest in the company through your time and your effort. What assessment do you use then, when you're looking at a new idea?
Jo Overline: Well, we do a lot of planning up front, analyzing ideas, markets and things like that, to make sure there is a path for success available... Because there are millions of ideas; everybody out there has an app idea, and what we've come to realize is ideas mean nothing unless you're willing to execute and you're able to execute. So that's what we concentrate on, an execution plan - how to really bring something to market, how to create an MVP and beta versions that are successful.
There's kind of backwards approach (some see it as a backwards approach) that we take. If a client comes to us and they have $20,000 (I'm just making up a number) and they have this idea of the app they want to make, what we actually do up front a lot of the times is we look at it and we're like, "Okay, I understand that you have this much, but let's strip things back; let's build this light version of it for half as much money. Don't spend all your money now with us. Let's get that and get some feedback and then get some new features."
Generally, the people we work with are very smart and they have new ideas, and the last thing we want to do is have them spend all their money on a version and have no revenue to continue with these future ideas they have. While a lot of dev houses out there work with people, and when someone says
"Hey, I have a $20,000 budget"
and they take it and they build what they can... We really take an approach to do what's best for the client, for their long-term success.
Our mindset - say we have a company that's got seed funding - is to put the company in a position where they can get their series A. If in our head we're doing everything and our goals are aligned, then that's when success comes. Everyone should be of the mindset to just get to the next level and be on the right path to do that. We're never opportunistic... We don't just go along with clients; we're a little different.
I tell clients up front,
"If you're looking for a team of yes-men, we're certainly not that. We're going to speak up. We're going to tell you if you're doing things from our experience in a bad way or in a wrong way."
We're not going to force anything on you, but we will give you all the information that we can give you to let you make what decision you think is best. Of course, the last decision is up to the client, but we arm them with everything we know to help them make the best decisions possible.
Paul Kemp: Jo, you've clearly worked with a lot of startups, regarding different apps... What metrics are you using right now to gauge success of an app? Is it still downloads, or is it other parts of the process, the metrics that you look at really in depth?
Jo Overline: It's really depended on the business case, and funding... There's a lot of variables there. Raw downloads mean nothing if you don't have a plan to eventually monetize, because you can't just operate for free forever. We work with clients to have those ideas up front; you have to have it in the back of your head, even if you're not going to monetize something from day one. There should be at least some type of idea of how it should work in the future. We kind of go through planning with them to figure those things out if they don't know yet.
Really, we gauge success as things go to the next level, and as you reach the next milestone, whether that milestone means a certain amount of downloads or a certain amount of revenue or a certain amount of press. It's unique to each situation, but we help the client set those milestones up so we can measure progress. Just making progress for progress means nothing unless it can be measured. We actually set goals and we help the clients try to meet those goals.
Paul Kemp: I was really interested -- the issues about branding, for instance... You help a lot of startups and you've learned yourself the importance of branding when it comes to press and stories and downloads... Any tips for the budding entrepreneurs out there who are working hard on their apps about how to get better branding, or help with marketing? Any tips that can really help those entrepreneurs that are trying hard with their apps?
Jo Overline: What we really learned is there are so many apps our there... The market is huge. Before [unintelligible 00:20:50.12] you could just put an app out and a lot of people saw it [unintelligible 00:20:54.23]. There are a lot of big players in the game now, because there are a lot of money, and now we're in the day we're competing with big brands. I don't think Ugly Meter probably would have had the success that it did years ago because I didn't do anything to promote it; it would just disappear into a sea of other apps.
We found the approach is never compromising on quality; you need to decide what you're going to do, and you need to do it better than anyone else. Then, if it's a niche market or whatever it is... It takes sweat; there's no magic answer, short of
"Hey, we'll throw millions of dollars at it."
That's not the situation most people are in.
It takes sweat. Get the word out there, work through target user groups, get their feedback - that's really the thing that matters. No matter how much of an expert you are in your industry, you'll find the users will tell you things you never knew before. It's about listening to users, building that confidence that you care what they think, and then hopefully driving organic growth from there. As a developer, you're responsive to what your users want, you listen to them and you try to follow the path of what they need. They will naturally recommend your product to others.
Paul Kemp: The feedback thing has come up on the podcast many times. How did you go about getting feedback...? Obviously, you've got the reviews, which are maybe skewed to apps and bugs in the app. But how did you actually get good feedback from those users that maybe are the potential future power fans?
Jo Overline: It's actually pretty simple. Yes, reviews are actually a bad way, because people who write reviews, in general, are the angry people. They have problems, and they want to write a review. I don't even personally read them because I don't...
Paul Kemp: Unless they're leaving a review for The App Guy Podcast. I've only had five stars so far, which is...
Jo Overline: See, that's an accomplishment because, for every person that's happy that's speaking out, there are ten angry people that are speaking out. Those four and five star ratings are not easy to get. Really, the way you get the feedback you want is ask for it. Either you create communities around your app or around your idea, or go find the communities out there... There's a group for everything out there. You find that and you just as for their feedback. Create beta groups if you need to; give people inner circle access so they feel special and they feel obligated to help you with your idea because they're getting a benefit.
Really, ask for it. That's all you need to do. If you have an app that's been launched ten times, say... You've kind of passed the threshold of someone who just tried it and said,
"Oh, this is stupid"
and disregarded it. If someone launched it ten times, then put a pop-up and ask for feedback. Say,
"Hey, thanks for using this. Will you be willing to give us feedback?"
and put a little form to collect info.
I found those people that are starting to engage with the app and are asked for their opinion, they are really willing to give it.
Paul Kemp: Fascinating advice. In the final few minutes we have with you, Jo... This is a show that has inspired many working in a corporate environment to leave and become independent developers or startup founders, just working on their own. You have been independent now for many years; I can't imagine you've had too many bosses in your life. What's it been like over the years to be boss-free, independent and pretty much making your own decisions? How important has that aspect been to you?
Jo Overline: Yes, you're right, I actually haven't had an actual job with a boss since I was 19 years old, which is 17 years ago now. I mean, I had my kid jobs, but I've never in recent history been in that position. Really, it's a blessing, it's the greatest thing in the world, but there's a lot of stress that comes with it, there's a lot of hard work... It's certainly not easy.
A lot of people that have never been in the position are like,
"Oh, look at you... You get to do whatever you want and go all over the world or you can just stay home all day..."
There are, surely, great benefits, but at the same time there is a lot of sweat and there's a lot of work that people don't see. You're up nights and weekends, and your business and the thoughts of your business literally never leave your mind; it's what you think about all the time.
It's an overwhelming thing, which is why when I chose the path of this, I had to truly do something that I was passionate about and loved because I knew from experience in the past that it would overtake my life. I needed to really know that I was going to do something that I loved.
Paul Kemp: So do something you love, that's the thing I'm getting. Jo, it's been fascinating going through your story with Ugly Meter and the Howard Stern show and SwingDev and all these things you've done... What a stamp you're putting on the planet.
I wondered how best can people reach out and connect with you? What's the best way of getting in touch?
Jo Overline: The usual way is, of course, LinkedIn. If you want advice, if you have a project, if you want to talk, if you want to tell me you love me, if you want to tell me you hate me - I'd like to hear it all, so shoot me an e-mail. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from anybody. That's really the best way. If you have any comments or questions, I'm always happy to talk to anybody. I like meeting people, I like caring about other people maybe in similar situations that I am in business or life, or people that are trying to achieve that and need some advice or direction from what I've learned. I'm always happy to share that.
Paul Kemp: Jo, thank you for coming on The App Guy Podcast, episode 514 - it's a special one. I appreciate your time and all the best for the future.
Jo Overline: Thanks, I really appreciate it. It was great being on.