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The Kickstarter approach to mobile apps: How to get started with $1,000

AppStori, Millennial Media partner to offer a combination of cash and credit to help developers bring their ideas to life.
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It might take more than $1,000 to really make an app successful, but for Joey Nelson, it was a pretty good head start. The co-founder and president of MobileFWD and his team were working on Trivi.al, a social trivia game based on a highly curated set of questions, when they were approached by AppStori, a crowdsourcing and funding service that tries to connect developers and consumers before their work hits app stores.

"We were asked to create a video describing our product, and this was what first opened our eyes as to how we would market our game," he said, adding that the development process got even better once AppStori launched a Beta Testers feature on its platform. "We were able to sign up users who provided great feedback from playing the game." 

Matt Gillis

      Matt Gillis

As an added incentive, MobileFWD was among the first development shops to take advantage of a partnership between AppStori and Millennial Media (NYSE:MM), a mobile advertising network and creator of monetization and monitoring tools. The two firms are offering eligible developers $500 in cash, along with a $500 credit to advertise and promote their app. Developers will be offered a dedicated mentor from Millennial Media, whose mMedia includes an SDK to place ads, rich media and videos directly in their apps.

"It's hard to start out at zero, and it looks a lot better to have a bit of money in the bank. This is a token to get them going," said Matt Gillis, senior vice president of global monetization solutions at Millennial Media, referring to the $500 cash. "The second money is to aid in discovery, to help people find this thing and get some active users."

Crowdsourcing in the mobile app space
AppStori, which is still in beta, is among a handful of firms offering various forms of crowdsourcing in the mobile app space, where developers work directly with their target audience to solicit ideas and improvements for their games and tools and in the process, provide more transparency to the development process. AppStori takes a proactive approach to courting developers--its "About Us" page consists of a handwritten letter from a developer offering thanks for being sought out--and the Millennial Media partnership will help add value to the service it offers, according to co-founder Arie Abecassis.

"Monetization [is] not thought about enough early in the [development] process, but it's one area that's integral for them to build sustainable apps," he said, adding that Milllennial Media's expertise is a good complement to his firm's. "We're trying to provide the market with a crowdsourcing model and appreneurs [app entrepreneurs] with validation and discovery, which are the two most critical things before realizing success."

Trivi.al

Trivi.al was one of the first apps created via the the Appstori and Millennial Media partnership.

The mentorship and other benefits of the AppStori service will have to be compelling because getting the $1,000 involves several steps. Apart from agreeing to include Millennial Media's mMedia SDK in their product build, developers must be willing to monetize their apps through ads and have a minimum funding target of $2,000, which they need to reach before their funding date. They won't get the money until their app has been accepted by one of the major app stores, including Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play or Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) AppStore. The money will be deposited into an Amazon Merchant Account, which may deduct some fees, and it may take 14 days following the transfer before funds can be withdrawn. Developers also have to be accepted onto the AppStori platform, which Abecassis said involves an "offline" filtering service that is done by man rather than machine.

"We look at things not dissimilar to what an accelerator would look at," he said, referring to the kinds of companies that offer incubation services for startup firms. "Their app should be serving some kind of need. Is it compelling in any way, are they committed to getting this done, and do they have the determination to see this through to market? We want to identify what are the next generation of most innovative apps. There's a fair amount of vetting, I'd say." About one in three developers who submit may be eligible for the $1,000, he said.

Is a partnership like this right for your project?
Gillis said Millennial Media has teams of people throughout the world in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific who can act as mentors to developers through the partnership. Mentors will be assigned about one to two weeks after a developer is approved through the program. "They'll be able to give advice on how they'll work with respective markets, what ad units work best and so on," he said. "One of the unique things is they help facilitate a beta audience for these apps throughout the development processes, and the mentors will be beta users to help give the right kind of feedback."

While there has been heated debate over the pros and cons of in-app advertising as a way to generate revenue, Nelson said MobileFWD has already seen the benefit of promoting apps like Trivi.al via Millennial's ad network. "(It) helps drive installs," he said.

Though larger development firms may eventually choose to work with a service such as AppStori, Abecassis said the majority of its early adopters are smaller shops that don't have the market presence or the history to be able to break out in the market with their upcoming app. Gillis said the ability to bring consumers and developers together will be key to improving their chances of discovery and to making money from their work.

"The more that developers know who their audiences are, the better they'll be able to offer products for them," he said.