Interview: Meet Elliot Schrock Whose Apps Got A Million Downloads on Google Without Any Marketing

The app success story of indie developer Elliot Schrock who got more than a million downloads on Google Play Store and makes Full-Time income from his apps while doing consulting on the side.

Developer Name  Elliot Schrock
App Name Subway NYC
App Niche Maps & Navigation
App Description Map for subway transit
iOS/Android Android
Country United States
Year Published 2013
Pricing Free (ads)
Revenue (per month) $1,000 – $5,000
Downloads 500,000+
No. of people 1
Reason for success Solved a problem through app, Chose market carefully
Social Media @elliot_schrock

Tell us about yourself and what are you working on?

Elliot Schrock Subway App Million Downloads             Thryv Inc Logo

I run a small mobile app development company called Thryv, Inc. We build apps and websites for our clients and ourselves, help companies hire with less bias, consult on raising funding, as well as teach/present at conferences.

We have more than a million downloads on the Google Play store and a full-time income from apps. These apps include subway transit, bus transit, and bible apps. You can view our apps here on the Google Play Store and by searching for Thryv Inc on iTunes App Store.

We’re working on a bunch of cool things in mobile, AR (Augmented Reality), AI (Artificial Intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things), and wearables.

How do you come up with your app idea?

Well, obviously, we have a lot of clients bring us ideas, and we build those for them. But most of the app products that Thryv owns come from facing problems ourselves and wanting to fix them.

Subway NYC screenshot Elliot Schrock   Subway NYC 2

One of our biggest markets by revenue is Subway Transit Apps, and I personally built our first app – Subway NYC in that space because I didn’t like any of the apps that were out there. I wanted a simple app that opens quickly to the map, so I can decide whether I need to hop on the train in front of me or wait for a different one.

This sort of thing happens over and over again and is a great place to start out if you’re thinking of getting into the app business.

You have a great strategy for developing your apps. Tell us more about it.

I’m a really big proponent of reducing things to their simplest possible form (Minimum Viable Product) and testing that.

For instance, Thryv has developed a series of transit apps that could not be simpler: they’re just zoomable, scrollable maps of the subway systems in their respective cities.

Subway transit apps by Thryv

Subway transit apps by Thryv

Advantages of Building the Simplest Possible Form of the App

  • First, they’re easy to develop, so we’re not sinking a bunch of time and money into them before seeing if there’s a market for them;
  • Second, a simple, uncluttered app built for one purpose cuts down on distractions and improves usability.
  • Finally, they open really quickly to the one page with the info you need, so there’s no frantic searching around while the subway doors are about to close.

This strategy applies to lots of things.

80% of people searching for an app are probably looking for a solution to a single, shared problem. If you can solve that problem alone, you’ve made a great app for those people and can cover the vast majority of that market.

Other apps may solve more sub-problems, but probably not as well, so you’ll have a big advantage in reviews. And if there’s no market for the app after all, you haven’t invested too much into giving it a bunch of features.

Bottom line: Let the market tell you when you should invest more resources.

When did you start app marketing? What was your budget for the same?

For most of our apps, we do no marketing. We’ve carefully chosen our markets such that people are looking for our apps, and we don’t need to market.

All we need to do is rank well for the right keywords, which comes from choosing your title, icon, and screenshots carefully. And be sure to A/B test them before making a change or make the changes one-by-one so you can analyze its impact.

I have a very interesting story on the same. I changed the app icon for my Subway NYC app to a slick looking icon designed by a professional designer to jazz it up. Instead of attracting more users to the app, it decreased my downloads from 1000 to 150 per day.

As I had also made other changes in the app, I couldn’t figure out what caused it. Then I had to test everything one by one till I changed the icon back and voila, the downloads went up.

Subway App logo change

On Subway NYC app logo change downloads decreased by 85%

Finally, getting good reviews is vital. People generally only rate when they hate an app, so gently/very occasionally prompting your frequent users to rate is really important. But wait for the users to use the app 3-4 times before sending your prompt.

How does your app make money? Can you talk more about growth in users and revenue?

Our own apps primarily make money through ads. I don’t believe in limiting features to try and drive sales, so most of our apps are free with ads and offer a 99-cent upgrade without ads. But the vast majority of our revenue comes from the banner ads themselves.

I hate interstitial ads as a user and don’t add them in my apps. While banner ads are on the side and you can still avoid them. Interstitial ads are too much in your face. Also, the placement of the ads is crucial. I use Flurry to study the impact of ads and placing ads at the bottom of the tab increased the clicks by 40%.

Banner vs Interstitial ads

Banner vs Interstitial ads

One of the reasons for our higher revenue through ads is that subway users open their apps frequently. They use it multiple times a day and almost every day. So, if you want to make money through ads, choose a market where users use your app frequently.

Cumulatively, year over year, our apps tend to grow by about 50% in terms of the number of users. Apps that are still climbing the charts grow by about 300% – 400%, while the more established ones grow at a more modest 10%. Our revenue largely follows the same trend.

What’s next for you?

Well, we’re currently working on an AR app to make measuring spaces easier, an AI project to improve coding productivity, an app that integrates with all major IoT devices allowing you to control all of them in one place, a cheap alternative to a smartwatch, and a couple Bluetooth powered apps. Plus, all of our clients! It’s an exciting time 🙂

What’s your advice for app disciples who are just starting out?

– DON’T try to build something new for your first business; rather, aim to build a better version of something that’s already out there.

– Start small so you can start fast.

– Spend more time simplifying, and less time adding features.

– Have as many projects as you can without losing focus.

– Make sure you know yourself well enough to know what you can and can’t handle, and make the hard, unflattering choices that lead you down the right path for you.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can visit Thryv’s site at thryvinc.com or my personal site at elliotschrock.com. Another place you can meet me is on Twitter at @elliot_schrock.

What tools/books do you find indispensable for your app business?

A lot of books mislead first-time entrepreneurs into looking too far ahead. Concentrate on product/market fit FIRST, and don’t think you’ve got it right until the market tells you so (usually with explosive growth/revenue).

That said, The Four Steps to the Epiphany is great, and App Empire is a good guide for beginners as far as what markets you should be targeting. Contagious – Why Things Catch On is a great primer on building for viral word of mouth.

                   

 

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