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Four app tips from a developer with 20 millions downloads

Sagi Schliesser, co-founder of Israeli app developer TabTale, shares his top tips for anyone who hopes to make it in the apps business.

These days, lots of folks are talking about apps and how they might join what looks like the app gold rush. Unfortunately, like the gold rush of yore, most people will come away deeply disappointed.

A recent New York Times article by David Streitfeld, "As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living," showed the reality of trying to make it in the app-making world. In the piece, one unscientific survey of developers showed these stats: "A quarter of the respondents said they had made less than $200 in lifetime revenue from Apple. A quarter had made more than $30,000, and 4 percent had made over $1 million." (A related article by Brian X. Chen outlined the practical steps to becoming a developer.)

Stats like those don't keep people from joining in, of course. So when I met an app developer who has had some success, I thought I'd ask him to share some of his top tips.

Sagi Schliesser is co-founder of TabTale, an app development company based in Israel. The apps his team makes are all in the kids' interactive books and games space. Aimed mainly at the under-10 set, the apps are individual titles such as Xmas Tale, Noah's Ark: Bible Story Book, and Cinderella Dress Up. (You can find the dozens of apps by searching for "TabTale" in the Android or Apple store or on this page on

TabTale has had more than 20 million downloads, and Schliesser has useful tips for anyone planning to enter the apps arena. I interviewed him using the SoundCloud app on my iPhone. (Speaking of successful apps made overseas, SoundCloud, which is from Sweden and Germany, is an audio recording and sharing app that's rapidly expanding. I use it occasionally to interview entrepreneurs and others; see collection here.)

You can listen to part of our conversation above or at this link; you can also comment right in the audio stream. 

Here's what I learned about the apps business from Schliesser:

1. Beware of the giants: Schliesser got started in 2010 when it was a lot easier to get noticed. Now almost every category has big companies (Disney in TabTale's case) that are dominating the category. If you can find an under-served category, you might be able to succeed. He started in children's books, which didn't have much competition. But now, in the interactive games space, he has to deal with really successful developers, like Outfit7, which, thanks to apps like Talking Tom has more than 500 million downloads). 

2. Spend your time and resources on the app itself: Seems pretty obvious, but many developers don't realize that building the best experience possible is the most important thing. Right now, most of the money is being made by the service providers (providing push notifications, analytics, and so on), rather than the app builders themselves.

3. Play by the rules: When marketing your app, it's tempting to break the rules of Apple and Android and pay for downloads and engage in other shady practices. But this can do real harm to your app, and you might get suspended from the store. Think about how you will build a good reputation for the long term.

4. It's much more complicated than you think: Right now to succeed, you need to not only make a good app, but you also have to think about cross-promotion, analytics, and other business considerations. In the early days, it was all about putting an app out there and releasing it. Now, it's about putting in a complete infrastructure, and in order to be engaging and not fall in your download numbers, you need to keep on updating. "So you need to have, on one side, update, update, update and on the other side, you need to have the value chain end-to-end. So it's becoming a lot more challenging," Schliesser said.

What thoughts and tips might you have for newbie apps makers? Share them in the comments, please.