The Apps Story – Indian software firms that build successful Apps

‘There’s an App for that’ has become as ubiquitous a statement as ‘Google it’ these days. Whether you’re an Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows or Symbian user, there is a whole host of Apps you can download on your mobile device, that run the gamut from practical (clock, camera flash, flashlight) to fun (parking and dress up games) , both unpaid and paid. There are companies in India like Sourcebits, Rolocule, Robosoft and Games2win that have been highly successful in developing apps for both B2B and B2C, and some got on board the iOS/Apple train right at the start. There are a number of successful consumer apps developed by Indian companies that rank high (in terms of downloads) on both Google Play and Apple App Store. So, what’s been their path to success, and has geography had any impact on their trajectory? Do these companies build India market specific apps, or U.S. focused ones? Is there a secret or formula to building a successful app? With Apple App Store and Google Play each offering upward of a million apps, the vast majority do tend to get lost, with consumers relying on the ranking in the app store to provide guidance. So is there a formula to push yourself out to the tip of the iceberg?

Helping consumers and entertaining them

The two kinds of apps that companies in India tend to focus on are entertainment apps (which are largely aimed at consumers) and problem-solving/platform apps that are often created for an organization, as a way to solve a consumer pain point. Rohith Bhat, Founder and CEO of Robosoft which boasts a global app business, stresses that focus is key – he believes that a company can get lost in building a large number of apps and get so diversified that it loses focus. Better, he says, to focus on a particular area, preferably one that speaks to the internal team’s strengths, and work towards solving customer problems within that framework and do it well. Everything we do comes from problems our customers face. They are the best indicators of the future, says Bhat.

Robosoft has worked right from the beginning – when it was one of the very first to create apps for Apple as an Apple-only developer – in the photo, video and audio space.  Camera Plus, the digital flash and digital zoom app the company created at a time when iPhones did not offer either of those features became a  top 5 photo app in 40 geographies worldwide, and was also picked by Apple as one of the showcase apps demonstrated in its Apple stores, says Bhat proudly. Today Robosoft has created 1300 apps across the various OS, of which 500 are Apple exclusive. After games, the photo and video category are the most popular in App stores, says Bhat, pointing out that people are willing to pay, even upto $7 for an app, if it solves a major pain point.

How important is location?

Bhat believes that geography has not made a difference as such, and says the company creates for a global market. Still there is something to be said for an Indian contextualized space. When they created an Indian audience specific app, Dhoom 3: The Game, based on the hit Bollywood film Dhoom 3, it was downloaded 12 million times in a six month period.

Rohit Singal, Founder of Sourcebits feels that geography plays a bigger role in platform app building, citing the example of the Uber taxi cab service app, which has to be customized to the location/country. Thus, both geo specific and geo agnostic games work, depending on the context and need drivers.

Unlike the software product makers who have struggled to build products that can straddle the global stage, a handful of Indian app developers have undoubtedly demonstrated that they can build successful apps that have global appeal and revenue generating potential. Sourcebits is definitely an exemplar – it was the first company in India to build an iOS app called Night Stand that happened to be super successful and generated revenues of more than a million dollars. The company’s trajectory went from start up to getting funding from IDG and Sequoia to now getting acquired by Enterprise Mobility Company Globo.

Playing the numbers and ads game

All app marketplaces offer free and paid apps and the monetisation strategy is linked to the kind of scale they want to build. After all, would Rovio, builders of Angry Bird, have gotten as big as they did with a paid only strategy? Some Indian app developers think likewise. Alok Kejriwal of Games2win, India’s first gaming site that began in 2007 as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) company and quickly morphed into gaming, says the Indian consumer’s buying pattern is different from the western market. The Indian consumer likes his free content and is willing to view ads, so we have a completely ad driven model. For us, it’s about the volume and audience, and we are happy with this – better to have volume and generate ad revenue than have a small 2% of paying customers, he says. With 30% of revenues coming from online gaming and 70% from mobile, Games2win has made the transition to mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Of the company’s 700+ games on the flash site, Kejriwal says they found that around 12% were revisited by users even without any promotion and since theirs was a global website, they were able to extract statistics on which country’s users played which games. Using these insights, Games2Win began to mobilize its most popular games. The games that were most visited on the site were then given the mobile treatment.

The company’s immensely popular Parking Frenzy boasted download numbers right up there with Angry Birds, of over 2 million downloads within 10 days of its launch in 2012, and went to #1 on the list for U.S. iTunes. Kejriwal says that he looked at games with universal appeal, like driving and parking and dress up. He set out to prove that Indian content could go universal and stresses that a company must believe in being worthy of an international market – it’s all about the promoter’s mindset when it comes to scale.

India is the place to be

Global or local, paid or unpaid, everyone seems in agreement that the prospects for Indian app development companies are bright and the potential to become international stars is big. Singal goes so far as to say that Bangalore, India is rightly positioned as the next Silicon Valley. Where it costs half a million to one million USD to test out app ideas in the U.S., one can do that for 50-100 thousand USD in India.

India also needs to be looked at in terms of market attractiveness. Here, Kejriwal says that the India market is a humungous opportunity – if you contextualize to an Indian context, then any app can be successful here. Kejriwal says that the battle for Indian consumers is one worth fighting – app companies should focus on building plenty of content for the India market. One can take global game play and give it an Indian twist, much like what Bhat did with the Dhoom 3 game.

Entertainment or helping hand, there is no doubt that the app market is very much in play in India and there will always be a demand for good apps. Following in the footsteps of the seasoned players, mobile apps start-ups can certainly join the game.

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