There are millions of apps out there. Many are very successful, but most are not. What are the steps taken by successful app makers that distinguish them from unsuccessful ones? What are the steps you need to take to create a successful app? As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Todd.
Daniel Todd is the founder and CEO of Influence Mobile. He is credited with creating a corporate culture that repeatedly won Washington CEO’s and the Puget Sound Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” awards.
Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I was born in Southern California and moved to Grants Pass, Oregon at the age of two. I played sports, but I also loved playing Atari. Early in life, I knew I wanted to be a professional video game player, long before that was a real thing.
Most of us have been around a lot longer than apps have. What were your hobbies and interests in your youth before anyone knew what an 'app' was?
When I was young I was fascinated by technology (like a digital clock) and I was always taking apart electronic stuff. In 7th grade (mid- 80’s) I was hired by a guy that owned a Kaypro to do data entry and suddenly I was the “computer guy” and that put me on a path to where I am today. I did play soccer from 3rd grade until college as well and hung out at church youth group a lot with friends.
It has been said that our mistakes are our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or 'takeaways' you learned from that?
One of my earliest and biggest mistakes was around hiring. I viewed myself as a “tech” guy and so we hired some smarmy salespeople to attempt to sell our product and they were horrible. They couldn’t actually sell tech products, they were out of touch with our target market and they destroyed the company culture and nearly the company. It was a big mistake, but a valuable lesson that people are what matter the most.
I tend to meet two types of app developers; people who are passionate about app development and technology and people who started an app because they saw it as a means to solve a problem. Which camp would you put yourself in, and how did you arrive there?
I would say that I am an equal mix. I love using technology to solve problems. I figure out what is possible and then brainstorm ideas with the development team to come up with something creative.
What kept you motivated to develop your first minimum viable product, and how have you kept your momentum since then?
Well, my current company is the second company I co-founded and in my first company we had LOTS of ups and downs. So with my second company I didn’t take small or even large setbacks as an indication that we couldn’t succeed. I learned that big gains and progress is made from small, incremental, almost seemingly trivial, daily improvements, not grand single changes. My momentum is as high as it has ever been. I love what I do, I love my team and I love our future opportunities. I recently took a week's vacation at Christmas and by mid-week I was wishing I was back with the team making progress towards our goals.
Now let's shift to the main focus of this interview. Can you tell us a bit about your app? How does it help people? What do you think makes it stand out? What are you most proud of?
We took two things that are very popular, playing games on your phone and participating in a loyalty program, and combined them in a unique way when we developed Rewarded Play. The launch of our app in 2019 allowed players to discover new games, earn points and redeem them for gift cards to top retail locations like Amazon, Target and Walmart. While no purchases are required to earn gift cards, we’re very proud that Rewarded Play users who choose to spend money earn greater rewards than they could on any competing play-to-earn app, up to 20 percent back.
Rewarded Play and sister apps have awarded over $22 million in total rewards to users since introduced to the Google Play Store. I think it is very cool to hear some of the unique ways our players choose to spend their rewards. Most recently, one of our employees had the pleasure of speaking with Vicki Sulfaro, who has earned over $4,000 playing games through our app. Vicki shared that in 2021 she noticed how hard the pandemic hit people, from losing jobs to losing loved ones, and knew she wanted to help. With her Rewarded Play earnings and the help of her community, she created the Angel Train, a group dedicated to making Christmas special for every single child in their community. Last year alone, Vicki bought over 20 Christmas gifts for kids in need using the gift cards she earned on Rewarded Play.
Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app currently have?
Since Rewarded Play was introduced, it has received over 10 million installs, and has quickly become the largest loyalty platform for mobile gamers in the U.S. Recently we have been welcoming 15-to-20 thousand new players per day and have up to two million active players per month. Our app creates great value for players that spend money in games, which is why the majority of them stick around for months and years to come.
Our flagship app, Rewarded Play is well-poised for explosive growth as we enter new markets and introduce features that will debut over the next year. In the spring of 2022, we took our first step in our global expansion and launched Rewarded Play Canada. Now, we’re just weeks away from launching in Australia. I cannot wait to see where this year takes us.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
Our rewarded engagement platform [E]ngageTM, delivers high-value players to some of the world’s largest developers and publishers like Scopely, Playtika and Peak Games, and increases the frequency and duration of users’ mobile gameplay. We charge our clients money each time one of our players installs and plays one of their games. We then use the money we are paid and create a rewards model for the players that install that game, allowing them to earn rewards the more they play, where they receive up to 20 percent back on purchases made within the game. This keeps our elite players active and spending money, which makes our clients happy to continue doing business with us.
Can you tell our readers about the most unconventional tactic you've used to test, market, or gain feedback on a product? What did you try, what was unique about it, and what was the outcome?
In our early days, we would actually recruit random people walking by our office to come in and earn a gift card by using our app. We used video recorders and recorded what they did on the app and then asked them questions about their experience afterwards. It was a very enlightening experience.
What are some of the strategies you have used to improve your products and build on their success?
Early on, we realized how important it was that we get our players to that first reward as quickly as possible. So, we chose to substantially revamp our model and player onboarding process so that all players will earn their first $5 gift card within 24 to 48 hours, only having to complete an hour or so of gameplay. This boosted our retention rates and allowed us to get a much higher level of engagement. There are so many apps out there claiming that they will give you something for free, and it turns out to be a scam. Showing our players that we are legitimate, as soon as possible, has really made a difference.
Thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1. Define your core customer and their long term revenue potential.
Knowing that females play games and do the majority of the shopping, I became interested in creating a technology product that allows us to influence their shopping behaviors. As I dug deeper, I learned that females aged 35 or older spend 60 percent more in mobile games than any other demographic, spending between $5 to $500 a week inside mobile games alone. With this knowledge, we were confident we found our core customer, which allowed us to better target individuals, ultimately increasing revenue and long term engagement for our clients.
2. Test. Test again. Then retest.
In our 11 years in business, I would say that we have run between 300 to 500 tests. From small color and text changes on our splash screen to entire new apps, we’ve done it all. While the majority of the tests didn’t provide any lift 50 were really positive and maybe 10 were complete home runs. If we only tested 200 times we could have missed all that growth.
3. Constantly work on improving your core revenue cycle (and then test more).
In our early days, we ran a rewards app where less than one percent of our players actually earned their first reward because it could take over a week. So, I set a goal to get 10 percent of our audience to earn their first reward. When I set this goal, I had no idea how we were going to do it, which caused us to radically rethink our entire process. This led to a major process experiment that resulted in us ultimately tripling our business. The point is, you should never shy away from a really big goal, it will only cause you to get creative in how you work towards it. Oh, and keep testing.
4. If you build it, they will come? Wrong.
I never assumed that if I built a fantastic app, people would just find it and install it. Knowing I would need to have a successful marketing ROI to reach scale, we incorporated how to market the app as a crucial part of our business model. Forcing myself to consider the marketing channels helped shape the product substantially.
5. Mold your fantasy team.
At my company, I conduct the first interview to ensure that each potential hire fits into our established culture. In this first meeting, I always ask how they've dealt with challenging situations in the past. This question helps me find employees with a growth mindset, who are unafraid to mess up, are comfortable asking for help when needed and are team players even amid stress. We may not get every person we hire right, but when we hire with our culture at the forefront, we have a much higher success rate.
Once we make a hire, we make sure to pay them fairly and provide clear direction. Myself and management work every single day to make the company culture so good, they never want to leave. This is why we have not had a single employee voluntarily leave in over six-years.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I try to help, I mean really help, several people regularly in a way that will forever change their life. This could be helping them get a new job that changes their career trajectory or helping someone getting out of prison make some positive steps toward recovering their life. I try to connect with these folks personally and regularly so they know that I care about their future. It isn’t always a successful process, but I would love to see each person in the tech industry share their prosperity in a personal manner with people around them in need.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
If you’re interested in staying up to date on what’s new with the company or you would like to check out my other articles, I recommend you follow me on LinkedIn. You can also follow our company, Influence Mobile.
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