Seven successful smartphone travel app developers tell us how they conquered their corner of the tech world.
APP: AT THE BOOTH
PLATFORMS: iPhone, Android, Blackberry ($.99)
WHAT IT DOES: Every bargain hunter who’s made a trip to New York City in the past few decades knows TKTS, the ticket booth that sells discounted seats to Broadway shows. They also probably know that finding out what’s available at TKTS entails showing up in person. Not with AT THE BOOTH, an app that keeps users updated on what’s for sale, the price and, most importantly, the length of the line.
INSPIRATION: “I wanted to help people save time and money at the TKTS booth.”
COPIES SOLD: “Thousands”
MY BIGGEST MISTAKE: “We would have liked to have had the BlackBerry and Android versions available when we launched the iPhone version.”
THE SECRET TO MARKETING SUCCESS: “Not giving away your secrets.”
NEXT STEPS: “We plan to keep updating the app based on what users want. If you don’t adapt to what your users want, your product gets stale.”
HOW IT HELPS ME: “I produce Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, and I use it all the time to make sure my shows are for sale at TKTS. Then I recommend that people go buy tickets!”
APP: Food Truck Fiesta
PLATFORMS: iPhone, iPad, Android ($.99)
WHAT IT DOES: On any given day, there are around 40 food trucks prowling the streets of Washington, DC — and this app aims to show you where they are at all times. It tracks the trucks in real time as they move across the city, so that lines of ravenous cube-dwellers start forming for a cheddar and cheese quiche from the Dangerously Delicious Pies truck or a mammoth lobster roll from the Red Hook Lobster truck.
INSPIRATION: “I wanted to be able to grab my phone and press one button and locate all of DC’s food trucks instantly. It does just that!”
COPIES SOLD: Enough to pay “for a few food truck meals.”
MY BIGGEST MISTAKE: “Not creating the app sooner. You can’t get bogged down with packing the app full of features. You just have to pick a very small set of features and go with it.”
THE SECRET TO MARKETING SUCCESS: “Create a product that people want to buy.”
NEXT STEPS: Johnson plans to keep the app updated with new features as they’re requested, but he won’t go overboard. “I think it’s important to keep an app uncomplicated and simple to use.”
MY FAVORITE TRUCK: “El Floridano and their tasty Cuban sandwich.”
APP: Vegas Mate
PLATFORM: iPhone ($1.99)
WHAT IT DOES: Vegas Mate is a detailed guide to the everchanging dining, dancing and money-losing landscape of Las Vegas. Hillegas says two diff erent types of people use Vegas Mate: first-timers, who use it to wrap their heads around the often-overwhelming city, and pros (like him), who use it to look up phone numbers and addresses of their favorite spots.
INSPIRATION: “I was working on a website about Vegas when the iPhone came out and I knew I wanted to write software for it. This seemed like the perfect content to bring to the iPhone.”
COPIES SOLD: “Tens of thousands”
MY BIGGEST MISTAKE: “When the app debuted, it cost $4.99 and it sold fine at that price. But when the January 2009 Consumer Electronics Show rolled around, I decided to put the app on sale at $1.99 for a week, and sales exploded to 15 times what they’d been. Clearly, I had overpriced the product out of the gate.”
THE SECRET TO MARKETING SUCCESS: “Finding websites and podcasts run and visited by like-minded, Vegas-loving individuals has allowed me to place ads and set up sponsorships so thousands of new customers could learn about the app.”
NEXT STEPS: “First up is enhancing the user’s ability to plan their trips and provide them with intelligent suggestions based on their preferences.”
NEW DEVELOPMENTS: “I just added a trip planning feature that I use all the time.”
Todd Koym and David Bell
AGE: 43, 44
PLATFORMS: iPhone, Android (Lite $1.99, full $19.99
WHAT IT DOES: Birders are always hunting (with their eyes, of course) for new species to check off their life lists. This app links tech-savvy feather fiends with eBird, an online database of sightings around the world. Users enter a list of the birds they’ve seen, then BirdsEye locates users with the phone’s GPS and displays birds they haven’t seen that have been spotted nearby.
INSPIRATION: “This is purely a labor of love. All of the core members of the team are passionate bird watchers, and we did it because we felt like it was something that the world needed.”
COPIES SOLD: Around 8,000
MY BIGGEST MISTAKE: “Launching as a single-payment app rather than a subscription app. Our model really works best when we have an ongoing, active relationship with our users.”
THE SECRET TO MARKETING SUCCESS: “The birding space is all about word-of-mouth, and our app is fairly novel, so the first step was to educate key infl uencers about what it does and how it can help them.”
NEXT STEPS: “There are a couple of key steps, each of which can roughly double our sales: expanding from iPhone and Android to desktop, and expanding from US to worldwide.”
APP: Trip Journal
PLATFORMS: iPhone ($2.99), Android ($4.18), Symbian and Bada (free)
WHAT IT DOES: Like a 21stcentury Moleskine, Trip Journal allows travelers to document every move of their vacation in painstaking detail. Routes can be mapped and waypoints can be plotted. It also lets users upload photos and videos at any location, and Facebook integration allows friends to virtually come along for the trip.
INSPIRATION: “I had the idea during one of my travels to Morocco a few years ago. I traveled 124 miles in the desert on a camel, accompanied by a Tuareg tribesman, and wished I had the means to share the experience with my friends at home.”
COPIES SOLD: 300,000
MY BIGGEST MISTAKE: “Launching as a one-time sell app instead of a subscription app.”
SECRET TO MARKETING SUCCESS: Having “the best application on the market.”
NEXT STEPS: “Off ering different services through the existing platform. For example, we want to offer advanced trip planning functionality in the immediate future.”
WHO IT’S FOR: “Trip Journal was created with the passionate traveler in mind. Any trip worth sharing should be recorded and made public.”
PLATFORMS: iPhone, iPad, Android (free)
WHAT IT DOES: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s mobile app is like a tiny tour guide hiding in your jacket pocket. It enhances a trip to the museum by illuminating its many pieces with explanations from artists and insightful interpretations from curators. The only thing it won’t do is prevent a case of museum feet.
WHY IT’S FREE: “SFMOMA took over some of the implementation costs and the rest was compensated by NOUS. We didn’t really care about the revenue model; we just wanted to create a unique app experience and reach as many visitors as possible.”
COPIES DOWNLOADED: “A couple thousand.”
MY BIGGEST MISTAKE: “We tried to sell it at first, and even though it was for a low price, it didn’t work.”
SECRET TO MARKETING SUCCESS: Quality. “If apps are good, people will find them.”
NEXT STEPS: “We want to make it more interactive — add a comments section, Twitter feeds, content on demand.”
BREATHTAKING MOMENT: “There was an artist who died a couple weeks after we released the app, and to be able to go to SFMOMA’s rooftop and watch a video of her explaining her work was amazing.”