Stateside: What are trade associations for?

Stateside: What are trade associations for?
Alaska-based Rob LeFebvre is editor of, which was recently acquired by publisher Steel Media.

The Application Developers Alliance, founded last January, is a trade association focused on supporting app developers in their creative and business endeavours.

As part of this aim, the ADS provides a resource centre – called DevsBuild.It – that delivers a library of related content created and curated by other member developers.

But the Alliance's goals don't stop there.

Also on the agenda is a desire to act as an advocate for developers dealing with government agencies and interest groups. In addition, it serves up research designed to help the business of app development appear more transparent to individual and corporate members.

We caught up with senior VP Jake Ward, who walked us through the Application Developers Alliance, detailing its creation a year ago, its current and future plans, and the challenges of such a multi-functional organisation.

Pocket Gamer: It's been a busy year for your Alliance. What kinds of challenges and successes have you seen during that time?

Jake Ward: The biggest challenge we face is that we can't be everywhere at once.

It is incredibly gratifying that whenever we are able to speak to a roomful of developers at a meet up, or at a mobile Monday meeting, or at a convention or a trade show, hundreds of developers join in large numbers and companies join the alliance as corporate members.

I think that's a reflection of both the need within the industry for there to be an organisation that represents the totality of the ecosystem, but it's also a gratifying reflection of the work that we've done this year.

All of that is predicated on a couple of principles that we began on day one: that this organisation is going to be formed and founded and focused on serving developers in the development community. Whatever they need, we're going to help.

That means listening at every step along the way. We're not even going to pretend like we have the answers to the questions. We're not even going to pretend like we know what the questions are. We've tried to make this as humble a process as possible.

We launched with four corporate members and a couple of hundred of individual members. Now we have something like 128 corporate members and almost 20,000 individual members.

This is the byproduct of doing a lot of listening and being in a lot of rooms where great information and stories are being told.

What was the inspiration or motivation for starting this organisation? How were you able to see the obvious need?

There are actually two answers to that question and they meet somewhere in the middle.

The headquarters of the alliance, like many trade associations, is based here in Washington, DC where there is a clear need. Nobody was able to represent developers as individuals, and certainly not as a profession.

The ADA's website

There were trade associations for the large companies. There were trade associations for the industries that had grown out of the development of software, but not the people who were boots on the ground developing it. And so that was very clear.

And, the app industry - specifically mobile apps - has exploded in recent years, particularly in the months prior to our launch.

People in DC started to take notice. And when policy makers are taking notice of things and regulators are taking notice of those things, they want to talk to those people. And without a trade association it was very difficult to get in touch with them.

That being said, this is an industry that is as nascent as it is exploding at the seams, both economically and in the production and ubiquity of its product. It was time for this to have a centralised voice.

And obviously, that perspective worked out with the explosive growth that you've seen in a year.

I think so. After all the listening we did in year one - and that we'll continue to do in year two - we have a pretty good path forward in terms of strategic initiatives on policy and education about the mission and the foundation of the organisation.

And that sort of comes to life in the DevsBuild.It, the resource center, the library of content that we launched in December.

We'll be building on that, but it is the online embodiment of what we're trying to do, which is just create a place where all of the players in the industry can do what they do best anyway.

We want to serve as the connective tissue between the big companies, the medium companies, the small companies, and the tens and tens of thousands of individual developers that are working for them working with them, and working around them.

We want to give them a place to tell their story and voice their opinion.

We also want, whenever possible, to aggregate the great content, the interviews, the research, the best practices, the types of things that are being produced anyway and sort of curate them in a thoughtful way that makes it easier to find what you're looking when you need it.

So you've spent a year listening to developers and their concerns and their needs. What would you say are the top couple of needs you hear over and over within this community that you represent?

Without question, the two biggest things that we hear about, from early stage app companies specifically, are revenue and discoverability.

"I want to learn how to make money earlier, to create a revenue stream, a dual revenue stream or, in a best case scenario, a three-way revenue stream that can enable my app to break through the barrier of profitability and survive."

How to turn an idea into an app and an app into a business, right?

That's one thing that we hear consistently from companies and that we hope we're able to help facilitate that conversation between people that know how to create revenue streams and startups and that as a result we'll see more businesses thrive.

The other thing is discoverability.

"I've got an app, how do I break through the noise? With hundreds and hundreds of thousands of apps being downloaded every month in every category, how do I make sure mine's one of them?"

Again, there is an industry that has grown up around the idea of promotion and discoverability in mobile applications specifically and connecting them with app developers is part of what we enable.

And then there's the issue of privacy and software patenting. Those issues have been big in DC and are increasingly being felt throughout the country.

And so how do you connect with those two issues, where are you pointing people? How do you help developers navigate those waters?

So, on the issue of privacy, the federal government - by way of the Department of Commerce and a couple of regulatory agencies - dipped their toe in the water pretty substantially this year.

We launched a road tour. We went to 11 cities within six or seven months and would have a panel of experts - lawyers, chief privacy officers, people from the FTC, one of our guys, and local developers - and we'd talk about the questions app publishers were facing from federal agencies.

We were helping people understand what was expected of them but then in turn trying to help the federal agencies understand what the reality was.

There was a remarkable misperception that mobile developers didn't care about privacy and we wanted to make it clear that not only was that not true but that developers care more about privacy than regulators do because without a relationship where the end consumer understands and believes that the developer cares about their privacy is profitability possible.

And so we had that conversation.

We presented our findings to regulators here in Washington and it was a remarkable success; it's still an ongoing process but we were able to give a forum to developers and advocates within the industry to share their stories, which was great.

As far as the issue of patents, we're just getting started. We have heard many stories from early stage startups particularly about how patent trolls are having a chilling effect on their innovation.

When a developer sees any modicum of success they get a cease and desist Letter - that is a real problem. And so we're working our way through that but so we certainly see that as an issue that needs to be dealt with.

So what's next? What are your plans for the next year besides listening more?

That's not good enough? [Chuckles]

We want to do a lot more business-focused events. We held a great event in New York in October on monetisation were we had 50 founders and CEOs of small startups in a room and we did two panels.

One was a panel of networks, so we had Motion and Tapjoy and a couple of other decent-sized networks to talk about what's making money. Is it virtual commerce, is it pure CPM, is it video, what are we talking about?

And then we had publishers come in and sit and we had mobile deluxe and Newsweek and a couple of others talk about what's making money on the content side: is it games, is it music, is it news?

And then we had a great sort of round table with everybody in the room facilitated by some very thoughtful experts and luminaries in the industry to allow developers to say, "Well I did this and it didn't really work. What do you suggest?"

All of that was cool and really interesting - we had 6,500 livestreams of the event. That's a lot of people.

So we're going to do some more of those around the country this year. It's a resource that clearly was appreciated and what works, we're going to continue to do.

The consistent incremental addition of content and features and products to DevsBuild.It is top of the priority list around the office. It has the potential to take on a life of its own, right? Where corporate members are encouraged and enabled to upload content any time they want to.

And the idea is that individual members or small companies will ask the community for information through what they enjoy and what they search and what they find. And that corporate members will continue to push their content through DevsBuild.It because it's finding an audience.

20,000 individual developers is a good place to start whenever you're thinking about a new idea or rolling out a new product or introducing an event so it's a mutually beneficial ecosystem. And we certainly want it to become a self-fulfilling self-perpetuating platform that is good for everybody.
Thanks to Jake for his time.

Dad. Mac head. Ukulele nerd. Gamer. Rob lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and commutes daily to the intarwebs to edit and write about iOS, Mac, books, and video games. He is currently employed as the editor at 148Apps, the best gosh-darn iPhone site this side of Mars, and contributes freelance to various other sites, including Cult of Mac and VentureBeat. Somehow he still finds time to play in a Disco band, raise two amazing kids, and hang on to his day job.


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