Mobile Applications

App innovation vs Monetization – Have a Clear Goal in Mind

I’m proud of all of the apps that I’ve developed, but if pressed I’d say that my favorite is Tropfest. I got the idea for it while at the Movement Music festival in Detroit – I think I was actually there to promote another app that I just finished. I was overwhelmed by the vibe there – no singers or bands, just DJ’s and producers playing beats in front of a sea of people, and the crowds were just insane.

I went on Instagram that night and followed a gang of producers from the festival, and that’s when I noticed an interesting pattern…they all recorded live videos of their new music while it they were making it. Awesome right?? Except one thing, it wasn’t very awesome at all. They just put their cameras up to the screen and expected you to sit there and watch a recording of a computer playing music. It would be about as exciting as watching me type this article with some good music playing in the background.

So the light bulb went off in my head – let’s give producers a way to make their videos more exciting by staging them in animated festival scenes. The theory was that the customized scenes would add value by enhancing the visual experience. Fans would enjoy the virtual experience more than just looking at a computer monitor, and this, in turn, would increase views and engagement for producers. So I jumped “all in” to get this app done and be the first to market with app innovation. It took a few months of hard work with a team of designers, and even some outsourced development. We finished and launched a beta in July 2016.

In my opinion, the app is a quite remarkable blend of technology, design, and animation. Here’s how it works:

  1. Users record their computer studio sessions
  2. They select different animated festival or studio backgrounds
  3. Users can add different effects like stage lights and confetti
  4. Users can add custom text and even exclusive producer themed emojis
  5. The video is rendered with all of these features and then shared directly to Instagram.

Nobody had anything close to this in the app store. It was innovation at its finest. Now all I had to do was put it in a few producers hands and watch the cash roll in. Except that didn’t happen at all. This was around the time that Apple introduced the iMessage app store (a dedicated app store just for iMessaging apps). The store took off, as iPhone users were demanding custom emojis for all the things they loved.

In response, I decided to take the just the producer themed emojis from Dropfest and make an iMessage app with them. It was very simplistic and took me two days (maybe) to finish. And you guessed it, I was monetizing in no time.

Beatheads emoji

✓Two days work

✓no extra expenses

✓monetizing immediately

All because I didn’t try to out-think my customer and just gave them what the market proved they already wanted.

That’s when I realized that we had actually over innovated on our initial release of Dropfest. Even though it was “feature rich”, it was too far removed from our target user’s current behavior. I was so inspired to make the app that I convinced myself that being first to market with a game-changing product was the right business move. What I neglected to consider is that with great leaps in innovation comes huge consumer education and behavior changing costs. If you don’t have the resources for the long hard fight, innovation can be very unkind to your bottom line. So when starting a new project be clear about your objectives and expectations. Innovations is fun, but it can also stand in your way to achieving revenue.


I may have been on to the right idea with Dropfest. It appears we were just a bit too early and had to wait for users to embrace change. It’s since taken off with absolutely no marking at all. But that’s story is for another day.

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