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How to make money from mobile apps

Stephen Maingi is a young Kenyan developer with a great entrepreneurial spirit and many good ideas. Through the Nokia Store, he has managed to convert his ideas into cash; netting around Ksh100,000 per month from downloads.


Stephen’s journey began in 2009 when he started application development, all self-taught by using the internet for resources. Shortly thereafter, he developed a suite of 14 applications called Kyuste Mobile Suite.


The young Kenyan is one of the few – but growing developers – monetizing their apps by making use of readily available online tools and app stores, giving them access to millions of app users.


According to a recent research by VisionMobile, 54% of mobile apps developed in Africa are designed for the international market. In comparison, 73% of apps in North America are built for the region.


But, according to Moses Kemibaro, Director of Sales for Africa at InMobi, export-driven app development is not sustainable in the long run. While Kemibaro admits the worldwide shift to app interactivity has created untold opportunities, not to mention its fair share of overnight millionaires, this, in itself, has also resulted in potential barriers to profitability.


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“The stellar growth in popularity and use of mobile apps inevitably led to opportunistic development attempts,” he explains, “which in turn led consumers to become sceptical of paid apps that are obviously more focused on generating fast profits than on creating the rich, value-adding user experiences they desire.”


Kemibaro explains that this rapid evolution in consumer discernment has meant that, while there are still immense opportunities for app developers to make money from their applications, they now need to be more innovative in order to do so. “As long as there are mobile users, there will be a ready market for apps,” he explains, “but for app developers to be able to tap into that market in a profitable and sustainable way, they now have to be far more creative than merely charging per download.”

According to Kemibaro, this requirement is particularly true within the fast growing EastAfrican mobile market. “Mobile usage in countries like Kenya, Uganda and other steadily emerging markets like Rwanda and Burundi remains on a steep upward curve,” he explains, “and with app development in countries like these still in its infancy, there is most definitely the potential for significant profits – but this requires a smart approach.”


This is the smart approach Stephen needed to employ after pitching at several app developer competitions failed to attract investors.


First, Stephen developed a number of apps including My.Manager for adding, viewing and editing contacts; Scriptures covering a collection of bibles verses; Finance for personal finance management; Diary for management of daily and future events; I.Record for storing important information, SMS, Chat and many others. This gave him an edge in terms of diversity of products.


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He then went the route of direct sales by personally visiting schools and marketing his applications to teachers. However, with no personal transport and some health issues, this process was slow and limited, and eventually he had to get a regular job.


During this time, Stephen did manage to get 12 apps registered on GetJar where users would download the applications and get the activation code after paying for the app via PayPal.


However, the commercial success was very limited with many users either not having or using a PayPal system at that time, and the sum total of his efforts amounted to around 2,000 KES per month.


However, in August 2011, Stephen’s dreams were re-ignited when he heard about the Nokia Store and the ability to publish apps for free. By mid-October, he had published the first 12 applications, rebranded under his new company Dolphins Data Systems.


Within the first 2 weeks, Stephen had already received revenue of almost 19,000 KES from his downloads. With this incentive in mind, he pushed forward, more determined than ever, and has since published around 200 applications to Nokia Store.

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“My journey with Nokia has been an amazing one,” says Stephen. “Based on my success, I have already started work on a Qt and Windows Mobile version of my apps, and I hope to capture the smartphone user base next. I recently attended the Open Innovation Africa Summit in Nairobi and this has inspired me to keep on developing mobile apps – there is so much opportunity in this space. The ‘3 idiots’ movie reveals it better: Make your passion your profession”.


With Samsung recently pledging to support local android app developers access global markets, the playing field can only grow for a chance to make money in apps.


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