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Thirteen Months of Audiobus: Part 2

This is the long awaited sequel to the tale of Audiobus’ development. I’m completing this article now, on the day we say an emotional farewell to our motorhome Nettle, who has today been sold to a new family in the UK. It seems like a fitting time to tie off some loose ends as we start the next chapter of our lives in our new home in Australia.

In Part 1 of this article, I wrote about the early stages of the technology which was to become Audiobus, our inter-app audio platform, now supported by over 500 great music apps. Part 1 ended just as Sebastian had one of his genius moments, which I obnoxiously left as a cliffhanger. So, onwards:

It was winter in the south of France, and I was buried in the best kind of work: A new project, and one that brought together a bunch of different interests into a challenging, exciting heap.

But first, it was time to move on and find a more satisfying place to spend the rest of the winter.

Read More »

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Thirteen Months of Audiobus

Tomorrow, Monday December 10, my friend and partner-in-crime Sebastian Dittmann and I are launching a project over twelve months in the making: Audiobus. We’re very proud of what we’ve managed to do, and we both firmly believe that Audiobus is going to fundamentally alter the way people create music on the iPad and iPhone.

You can find out more about Audiobus itself at audiob.us, but I wanted to take a moment to breathe, look back, and explain why the hell I’ve been so quiet over the last year. Read More »

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Experiences with some app promotion strategies

Buy my thingIn the dim and distant past, while in a moment of neglecting my PhD to work on the very first version of Loopy (which is now currently one of the most popular music apps on the iPad!), I had grand visions of an almost totally passive income, making apps. I love the creative initial product development process and, with naive optimism, I pictured pumping apps out and then sitting back and watching the money roll on in. Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek had me enthusiastically lifestyle-designing and dreaming of all my free moneys.

I bet I’m not the only one, but of course reality struck and we realised that the App Store aint that kind of beast. Like any other product, an app needs to be actively presented to the world on a regular basis, and needs to be nurtured to keep it fresh and relevant.

I say “we” because at this point, my partner Katherine joined me after this particular revelation, and became A Tasty Pixel’s part-time marketing director and PR strategist — it’s taken two of us to keep A Tasty Pixel’s wheels turning smoothly, and we still have a lot to learn.

I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on some of the lessons we’ve learned in the past year, in which we’ve released a relatively successful travel planning and travel assistant app, The Cartographer, a very successful live looping app, Loopy, and its big brother Loopy HD, and tried a bunch of promotion strategies, some successful, some not, and some that haven’t yet run their course. Read More »

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Automatically Track App Sale Referrals

I recently came across an article on Mobile Orchard about connecting click-throughs to app sales, which is a rather ingenious idea using the affiliate program LinkShare to create trackable links. As Apple record and report orders that come via these referral links, you can actually see the number of sales (not just views of the App Store page) that resulted from follows of the link. Plus you get a 5% cut of the sale!

I’m doing some experiments with advertising my live looper app Loopy lately, and want a way to track the success of various approaches. It occurred to me that the totally freeform nature of the LinkShare “signature” field (which you can use to track traffic sources) lends itself to an even more flexible approach than that presented in the Mobile Orchard article.

Here’s a way to use that signature field to report the domain name of any referrer who links either to the app page, or to a download link (like, say, http://loopyapp.com/download).

This way, if, say, TUAW link to your app site, if someone clicks through then clicks the download link on your app site and buys, the resulting order will be reported as coming from TUAW. If someone clicks through from your Facebook page, it’ll come up as coming from Facebook. You can even modify the script further to report more precise details (like the path), if you like.

It assumes you’re using PHP, but the principle’s the same for any other language (BYO code, though ;-)).

Step 1: Sign up to LinkShare

First, if you haven’t already, Sign up to the LinkShare program — Once you’ve created a LinkShare account, join the Apple affiliate program via the “Programs” tab. After 3 days, you’ll get an email welcoming you to the program, and you’ll be good to go.

Step 2: Create a product link

Once you’re admitted to the program, open up the “My Advertisers” sub-tab from the LinkShare Programs tab, and open the “Link Maker Tool”. This lets you search for products, and create a link that will open up your app’s App Store page, and will be associated with your LinkShare account.

Screen Shot 2011 09 13 at 13 17 31

Step 3: Create a download redirection script

Now we’re going to set up a script on your app site which will redirect the visitor to the URL you just created (which in turn, redirects straight to the App Store page). It’ll add a “signature” parameter to the URL, which corresponds to the original referrer, so you can track where orders came from.

Create a file called ‘download.php’ in the root of your app site, with the following content, with your LinkShare URL inserted where indicated:

<?php
// Replace the following URL with the LinkShare URL you created
$linkshare_url = "http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/stat?id=/yGrgMJzFG0&offerid=146261&type=3&subid=0&tmpid=1826&RD_PARM1=http%253A%252F%252Fitunes.apple.com%252Fapp%252Floopy%252Fid300257824%253Fmt%253D8%2526uo%253D4%2526partnerId%253D30";
 
session_start();
$referer = $_SESSION['original_referer'];
if ( !$referer ) $referer = $_SERVER["HTTP_REFERER"];
 
if ( $referer ) {
    $signature = preg_replace("@https?://(?:www\.)?([^/]+?)(?:\.com)?/.*@", "$1", $referer);
} else {
    $signature = preg_replace("@^(?:www\.)?(.+?)(?:\.com)?$@", "$1", $_SERVER["HTTP_HOST"]);
}
 
$signature = preg_replace("@[^a-zA-Z0-9]@", "", $signature);
 
header("Location: ".$linkshare_url."&u1=".$signature);
?>

This script looks for the original referrer in a session variable (which we’ll set up in the next step), so that the domain of the site that links to your app site is used, not just your app site’s domain. Then it creates a properly-formatted signature parameter (just alphanumeric), appends it to your LinkShare URL, and sends the viewer onwards.

Bonus points: I prefer to get rid of the ‘php’ extension to make the URL a bit cleaner. Pop the following into your .htaccess file to access ‘download.php’ as just ‘download’:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME}.php -f
RewriteRule . %{REQUEST_FILENAME}.php [L]
</IfModule>

Step 4: Remember the referrer

Now, on the landing page script for your app site (or the site header), pop this in at the very start:

<?php
session_start();
if ( !$_SESSION["original_referer"] ) $_SESSION["original_referer"] = $_SERVER["HTTP_REFERER"];
?>

This stores the original referrer URL in a session variable, to use when we actually link the viewer through to the App Store.

Step 5: Test it

To make sure everything’s working properly, open download.php again, and replace “header” at the bottom with “echo”, so that instead of redirecting the browser, we just print out the URL where we would be redirecting to.

Open your appsite/download URL, and make sure the URL ends with “&u1=appsite“. That’s for direct visitors. Now, click through to your app site from another site, then click your “download” link. You should now see the name of the original site you linked from as the “u1″ parameter at the end of the URL.

Once you’re satisfied that you’re good to go, make sure you replace “echo” with “header” again.

Step 6: Track

Now that you’re ready to track referrals, you can give out your http://yourappsite/download URL as your app’s direct iTunes download link (to reviewers, in your press releases, etc).

You can view a report showing clicks and orders associated with each referrer on the LinkShare page — create an advanced report by clicking the “Advanced Reports” sub-tab, then select your desired date range (I use “Since Last Payment”, and under “Report Type”, select “Signature Activity”. Hit “View Report”, and you’ll see your clicks and sales versus each referrer (“Member ID”, on the report).

Voila! Omnipotence achieved.

Addendum: This technique works for tracking referrers, but if you’re wanting to track the performance of ads (say, with AdMob), you’ll want to use your original LinkShare URL, with a custom “&u1″ signature parameter. As ad platforms like AdMob link directly (and don’t, as far as I know, send a referer parameter), this script won’t pick up that it’s from your ad platform.

Addendum 2: LinkShare’s reports don’t distinguish between products, so if you’ve multiple apps, you might want to add a prefix to your signature parameter to tell ‘em apart. You could, say, replace that header("Location: ".$linkshare_url."&u1=".$signature); line with something like header("Location: ".$linkshare_url."&u1=myapp".$signature);.

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The Business Side of Technomading: Anti-Marketing Marketing

We feel so green with regard to all of this business stuff it’s easy to forget we’ve learnt a thing or two along the way. There’s so much information out there about running a business that it’s pretty overwhelming for someone who’s starting from scratch and it’s difficult to know where to begin. I haven’t actually read any conventional books on business (although I am currently reading “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” and am thoroughly enjoying it) but the two (yes, two!) that I have read have each introduced me to a concept that has completely obliterated many of my assumptions and given me some firm foundations to grasp onto. Another guiding principle I use doesn’t come from a business book at all but rather a sociology/social psychology one – an area a bit closer to home, for me.

I’ll talk a little bit about each over three blog posts.

Anti-Marketing Marketing

This one is by far my favourite as it provided me with an alternative to an area of business I had nothing but contempt for and it has had the biggest impact on the way we run our business. I first came across this concept in Chris Guillebeau’s ebook “Art + Money”. To quote from his ebook:

The “anti-marketing” approach is all about relationships, your story, and giving value… When you’re selling art, or any product that you passionately care about, you want the buyers to be people who truly want it. You want to connect with the people who are into your work, and let them realize on their own how much they want it.

The beauty of this concept is that it is not only a painless way to go about marketing, it is enjoyable, as long as you’re passionate about what it is that you do. Basically it works like this:

  1. Connect with people in your niche on various social media sites
  2. Some of these people like what you do
  3. Some of those people tell people on various social media sites about what you do
  4. Some people buy your stuff

It’s basically word of mouth on steroids.

A slightly more cynical take on this concept is to connect with “influencers” in your niche, a concept I read about in “Cloud Jacking: 7 Steps to Dominate Your Niche”. This can be done as authentically or disingenuously as you please. For example, we took a fairly strong dislike to the number one blogger in our target niche. We didn’t un-follow him straight away but after a time it became pretty clear that even if he did like The Cartographer – which we didn’t think he would – we didn’t actually want it associated with him or his website. We un-followed him and could put our efforts into connecting with people who we respected and were genuinely interested in getting to know.

The Cartographer hasn’t launched yet so I can’t tell you if any of this has actually worked for us but there are plenty of case studies out there for whom it has: Tim Ferriss, Kelly Rae Roberts, and Natasha Newton, for example.

For me, marketing always had negative connotations so I feel like the anti-marketing approach to marketing makes the entire prospect of running a business at the very least palatable and at the very best enjoyable and something I would do for free.

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The Business Side of Technomading: Our Automated Business Model has Died a Death and that’s OK

I kicked off our new blog series on the business side of technomading with a tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating little ditty on the evolution of our business. To summarise, for all you late-comers (you know who you are) we started out with the grand and slightly naive plan of creating an automated iPhone app business (the apps sell themselves, you see) which has graduated into what we have now – the very sobering realisation that without concerted and continuous marketing, updates, and customer support any app, no matter how shit-hot, will be lost in the noisy black gaping void of a hole that is the iPhone App Store. Accordingly, we are working our little butts off. I wrapped up the post with the (hopefully) tantalising teaser that in this post, we’ll explain why we really don’t mind all that much.

Meaningful Work

We’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. In it, he recounts the story of a typical Jewish immigrant couple, the Borgenichts, in New York in the 1880s who bootstrapped their own garment manufacturing business:

“When Borgenicht came home at night to his children, he may have been tired and poor and overwhelmed, but he was alive. He was his own boss. He was responsible for his own decisions and direction. His work was complex: it engaged his mind and imagination. And in his work, there was a relationship between effort and reward: the longer he and Regina stayed up at night sewing aprons, the more money they made the next day on the streets.

Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfils us… Work that fulfils those three criteria is meaningful… Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning”.

The work we are doing on A Tasty Pixel has those three qualities, but I would also add a fourth dimension — we are pouring our everything into a product we believe in and can be proud of. Our app, The Cartographer, was built because we needed it as travellers and we’ve found it immensely useful on our travels. More than that, it has been crafted into an artisan iPhone app with an exquisite design. It is feasible, as an entrepreneur, that you could be doing work that has Gladwell’s three characteristics of meaningful work whilst working on a product which holds no inherent meaning for you. I can’t imagine that would be particularly captivating for long.

On Automated Income

Our dream of an automated income began after reading Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Work Week”. One of the assumptions the book is founded upon is that:

“…for most people, somewhere between six and seven billion of them, the perfect job is the one that takes the least time. The vast majority of people will never find a job that can be an unending source of fulfilment, so that is not the goal here; to free time and automate income is”.

This clearly doesn’t apply to us. Sometimes when we’re travelling, Mike pines for programming. He’ll quite happily tap away on his lappy until 3 in the morning and then lie in bed for another hour, brain buzzing away at the problem at hand.

Obviously, marketing and operations management is not my dream job but as least I’ve still got Gladwell’s three tenets of meaningful work going for me, and that’s a lot. Of course, I’m still in mourning for my creative endeavours and grieved a little bit last night after the realisation that I’m going to have to work full-time on A Tasty Pixel for the next month until launch, maybe longer. As the darkly comic universe would have it I’m feeling super inspired lately, I have several paintings in the works and I’m really excited about them all as well as some newly learnt techniques I want to give a whirl but they’ll have to wait. Presumably my marketing and operational duties will become more manageable once we’ve built up some momentum. If not, our voyage of discovery will continue, possibly into the realm of outsourcing or streamlining my duties. In the meantime, I’m learning invaluable entrepreneurial skills.

So that, my friends, is a little insight into why the transmogrification of our automated business model into a what-the-hell-kind-of-a-frenzied-time-guzzling-monster-with-no-end-in-sight-business-have-we-created is really not so very bad.

Happy Little Entrepreneurial Vegemites.JPG

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Launching Our New Blog Series: The Business Side of Technomading

I’d like to introduce Katherine, my partner, and A Tasty Pixel’s operations and marketing manager (or some similar title that means she does all the work that isn’t hammering out code). She’s started a blog series on the goings-on at ATP, and I thought it was time we posted it here.

Technomading.jpg

It occurred to me the other day that we should be blogging about our software development business, A Tasty Pixel — our hopes for it, our progress, our setbacks. Is it madness that this only occurred to me 15 months into our technomading lifestyle?!

At the moment our business is absolutely all-consuming. Five months ago we decided to stop travelling for a bit to get some work done and we’ve still got another 2 solid months ahead of us before launch.

In this time we’ve watched our project evolve, branch off into unexpected territory, and have adjusted our goals accordingly. It seems obvious, now that I’ve thought of it, that we should be documenting this thing that’s taking up so much of our time and energy and plays such a vitally important role in our lives. It’s an amazing (for us) thing that we’re doing and I want to record it for providence. I also want to take time to reflect on what we’re doing. That’s something I’ve really appreciated about travel blogging – the perspective it provides. I think blogging about our business will make me appreciate our accomplishments, assess our decisions and progress and hopefully, if we’re very, very lucky, reach out and connect with like-minded entrepreneurial souls who we can share this experience with.

Technomading Mike.JPG

But first, to get our gentle viewers up to speed, some back-story:

Iterations of A Tasty Pixel

Before leaving Australia we read Tim Ferriss’ book the “4 Hour Work Week” and were rather captivated by the idea of “automation” or as we’ve come to call it, “passive income” – basically you sell a product and automate as much as you can so you don’t have to spend more than a day a week on it. This lead to the grand idea that Mike would make iPhone apps – which of course you only need to make once – then sell it forever and ever for wads of cash on the iPhone App Store…

And thusly we progressed:

  1. Goal: Mike does what he loves and we have a comfortable passive income once x amount of apps are out on the App Store. (Technically, the first iteration of A Tasty Pixel was Mike making apps in his “spare time” *ahem* whilst completing his PhD before we left Australia.)

    Business Model: Mike makes stuff he wishes existed and puts it on the App Store and waits for the money to roll in.

  2. Goal: Unchanged

    Business Model: As above, plus after some prodding from Katherine, Mike dabbles in marketing.

  3. Goal: Unchanged

    Business Model: Mike makes stuff he wishes existed and Katherine is promoted to “Operations and Marketing Manager” once we both realise that if Mike runs every aspect of the business himself he may be able to release an app within the next decade or so.

  4. Goal: Mike does what he loves. Delusions of a passive income are, at the very least postponed, after Katherine’s realisation that without concerted and continuous marketing, updates, and customer support any app, no matter how shit hot, will be lost in the noisy black gaping void of a hole that is the iPhone App Store.

    Business Model: Work our little butts off.

I don’t know if you can tell from the above business models, but neither Mike nor I have any education or experience in business. We’re both what I believe many people (comprised mostly of my extended working-class family) would call “over-educated” (3 degrees, 1 honours, and 99.9% of a PhD between us).

Alas, despite all those many years of book learnin’ not a snippet was dedicated to the exchange of goods and/or services for monies. Luckily, I have a degree in psychology so apparently I know how to manipulate people into parting with their money — at least that’s what my psych lecturers told us when they mentioned that a whole lot of psych graduates use their powers for evil and go into marketing. I remember shuddering at the thought, and now here I am — not that I’m complaining! I’m one of those strange people who takes an exorbitant amount of pleasure in organising. As a kid I had borderline OCD tendencies and they serve me well today.

So, where we’re at right now is the realisation that in order for our business to be successful we either need to do a crapload of work or pay somebody else to do it (we both take far too much pride in our work to have any love for the idea of outsourcing, however), with no end-date in sight. When and how we are we going to find the time to travel Europe in our motorhome again? We have no idea but I’m hoping once this iPhone app that we have poured our everything into is out in the big wide world things will balance out and we’ll be able to focus on A Tasty Pixel, travel, and I’ll be able to get back to my passion – art and design and creating my own little creative business.

I think the next blog post will be about why, despite the death of our “automated” business model, we really don’t mind very much.

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