From a mailing list to an audience of millions: How AppGratis is changing the face of app discovery

Superseding search and social tools

From a mailing list to an audience of millions: How AppGratis is changing the face of app discovery
With an install base within touching distance of 6 million, app recommendation service AppGratis has chosen now to launch itself upon the US market.

The daily deals service – which grew out of an email newsletter sent out by CEO Simon Dawlat to his friends – is designed to guide consumers towards the top apps on the market, with the firm priding itself on its "editorial approach".

While Dawlat claims that forms of "traditional discovery" - search, algorithms and social recommendations – are ineffective on the current crop of app stores (read on for more on that), it's still possible for developers to expand their userbase using what he described as the 'AppGratis Effect'.

In short, quality titles can be guided up the app store charts from one initial spark, with word-of-mouth viral promotion helping to build the momentum. It's a strategy that relies on AppGratis pushing apps that live up to their quality billing.

So, what's next for AppGratis, and is there anything new it can bring to the table for developers operating in a crowded US market? We caught up with Dawlat for more.

Pocket Gamer: Can you explain to us how AppGratis works?

Simon Dawlat:
From a consumer standpoint, it's the simplest app discovery service on the market today. You'll get a free, undiscovered app daily.

We recommend free apps as well as huge discounts on paid apps. Every single app is hand-picked and tested thoroughly by a staff of fifteen or more editors and we'll send you one unintrusive push notification every morning.

Initially, before founding AppGratis, I would email friends with my personal picks of apps I had found, and this grew into a weekly newsletter. I realised people were hungry for this information and really appreciated recommendations.

When we launched AppGratis less than 18 months ago, the idea was to curate the App Store in real time and today we're still constantly on the lookout for quality apps that our users will appreciate.

Where have you launched the service so far?

AppGratis is currently available in 11 languages for the iPhone and iPad in over 120 countries. We now cover Europe and Latin America - that's about 40 countries.

We're seeing impressive growth right now, especially in Latin America. ARPUs for developers are still slightly better in Europe but Brazil, Mexico and Chile are catching up very fast in terms of user value, due to the fact that smartphone users in this region of the world are from wealthier demographics.

An iPhone in Brazil costs around $1,200, so we're finding that primarily it is very premium users in that region that are using AppGratis.

Why wait until now to launch in the US?

We've been very busy in Europe and Latin America and wanted to secure unchallenged leadership there before expanding to the US.

We also wanted to be able to refine and improve AppGratis based on feedback from our current user base before launching in the US, which is a more competitive market. Scaling the company was a big challenge but we found success by focusing first on building the right team.

We're proud to share that we have that very special bootstrapped DNA. AppGratis has never taken outside funding and we've grown the company from two to 40 people in less than 18 months.

App discovery appears to be getting more difficult for developers as app stores expand. Do you think AppGratis is the longterm solution to this, or will your service evolve as the market does?

Traditional discovery doesn't apply to App Stores - search, algorithms and social recommendations don't work.

Why? Because no one - except the App Store owners - has the core data needed to execute a true programmatical approach to App Store discovery. An incentivised approach is still an option, but Apple has made that very difficult to say the least.

Instead, we've focused on building a strong following from day one. Every day, more than 1 million daily active users visit AppGratis to discover the app deals we're featuring. They keep coming back because they find our recommendations are useful.

We feel our variety and personality set us apart. Through this loyal audience we've created a data-driven understanding of what people want from the App Store, and our understanding is only continuing to grow. Our audience is our key asset.

Do you think there are any particular issues that impact on the US market?

We've been in soft launch mode for a few months and our key performance indicators (KPI) are really strong.

Getting critical mass will be a challenge but our global audience has helped us prepare.

We have an install base nearing six million, giving us invaluable feedback so we can deliver a quality experience when we hit the App Store officially in the US.

Any plans to take AppGratis to new platforms, such as Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 or BlackBerry 10?

For 2013 our focus is on iOS and Android.
Thanks to Simon for his time.

You can find out more about AppGratis on the firm's website.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.