The app story of Itamar Rogel, co-founder of Newsfusion, whose news apps in multiple niches like technology, sports, science, and others are redefining the way users consume news in the fast-paced mobile era. Learn how they validate their app idea before even building the app and are profitable just through more than 5 million organic app installs.
Tell us about yourself and what are you working on?
I’m a tech entrepreneur. I’ve always been excited by technology and especially by the malleability of software. You can come up with an idea and see it come to life so easily!
I found that really exciting as a kid.
But technology alone is not enough! The exciting technical challenge must be married with disciplined business thinking to create a viable venture.
When I started my entrepreneurial life, I had to learn this the hard way.
The intersection of these two things – interesting challenges that make business sense – is what I’m excited about in general.
Now, if the nature of the problem is such that solving it advances the world in some way, then it gets me truly excited. I try to work on things that meet that criteria.
More specifically, I’m the co-founder of Newsfusion. Here we’ve built AI (Artifical Intelligence) that emulates a human news editor. It gives you (the reader) a powerful way to know what’s going on in an informed manner.
We’re making this available in our topical (vertical) apps. Each app features highly-relevant content in a particular topic and a community that’s built around that topic.
I’m also a co-founder of Commun.it, a social media marketing service. It helps small and medium businesses establish a presence and expand their reach on social media with minimal effort.
You have a very interesting approach for coming up with your app idea. Tell us more about it.
In Newsfusion, we want to empower people to be more informed and spend their time engaging around things that matter to them: We believe in the power of focus and passion.
So our aim is to serve passionate audiences and create best-of-breed apps for them. For example, we have the leading mobile communities in CyberSecurity, Science, Football Transfers and many more topics.
Think about it – let’s say you’re passionate about science. How would you like to spend your downtime, those little moments you have available during your busy day?
Catching up on exciting discoveries and engaging with people who share your passion for science, or mindlessly scrolling through social media?
We’re trying to create these experiences, that are not only engaging but also leave you better off as a person.
Did you validate your idea? If yes, how?
When ideating and developing new product directions, we try to keep the process very close to users.
We iterate very quickly, do in-person user testing, validate via paper prototypes – the whole deal. When coming up with new things it’s very important to keep it true to need.
As for creating vertical apps, before targeting any given vertical (topic), we research the demand for it via a variety of tools:
- Our own engine’s trend-spotting ability
- The different app store intelligence tools
- Web search intelligence
- And more…
In addition, because our technology stack allows us to create vertical apps very easily, we sometimes release verticals as tests, to see the real-world demand for them.
How did you go about developing your app?
The key part of our stack is the backend technology, which we’ve developed fully in-house. Our apps are all powered by AI that emulates a human news editor.
Building that and bringing it to production was not easy, but that’s exactly where our technological edge lies.
As for the mobile (client) apps, we’ve developed them almost entirely in-house as well. Product quality and UX is key for us, so we wanted to keep close control of the process.
We did employ some external resources at some points for cost-effectiveness reasons, to a very limited extent.
We’ve found that developing in-house is better than outsourcing. As it gives us greater flexibility and ability to experiment, iterate and adapt.
What is your strategy for marketing your app?
Our distribution – millions of downloads (5 million plus on the last count) – is 100% organic.
We achieve that via the following:
- Relevance and the quality of the apps
- App store optimization, and
- The viral power of the communities in each of the apps
We don’t employ any paid marketing tactics. Sometimes we get organic press coverage, but it’s not strategic for us. It’s not really a significant driver of downloads.
How does your app make money? Can you talk more about growth in users and revenue?
The primary source of our revenue is advertising. Our apps include mostly native, in-feed ads.
The relevance of our apps (and favorable reviews from users) serves us well for discovery in the app store. This, in turn, provides our apps with a good organic lift.
In addition, since our editing AI engine is very flexible, we have some SaaS API customers for it.
This is independent of the apps – these are business customers who are using our technology for powering their own products.
What’s next for you?
We’re working on very exciting things for the gaming vertical.
More generally, we’re always focused on serving our communities better across the board and growing them.
We’re also considering increasing our SaaS revenues. This has not been something that we’ve focused on so much till now. But we get more and more signals that the need is there.
Also, our SaaS customers basically stay with us forever, which is a good indication of the quality of our solution. So we’re considering giving it more attention.
What’s your advice for app disciples who are just starting out?
I’m assuming consumer apps is the focus area for your readers.
There’s so much great advice out there. But if I want to get one message across for 2018, it would be this.
Figure out distribution first!
With the app market being quite saturated, it’s harder to “get lucky” with apps nowadays.
Before building anything, figure out what your app’s distribution channel is going to be. And ask as many experienced people as you can to give you advice about your ideas.
You have to avoid wishful thinking, which is plaguing entrepreneurs everywhere (this happens because we are an optimistic bunch … we have to be, doing what we do).
Where can we go to learn more about you?
What tools/books do you find indispensable for your app business?
There are so many great tools out there nowadays; mentioning some obvious ones such as Asana or Slack probably doesn’t help your readers much.
Therefore, I’ll go old school here and pick VIM (the text editor). I’m an engineer after all, and this venerable and customizable editor is so powerful. It has been my tool of choice for years.
As for books, if I have to pick just one, my choice would be Peter Thiel’s From Zero To One.
There is much wisdom contained in this book. Even though you have to remember – it may not apply to your business.
That book is focused on a very specific kind of startups, and your business doesn’t need to be that type of business to be viable.
Even so, the thinking process it embodies is useful regardless of the business you’re building.