Stav Zilbershtein is the CEO of SellMyApp.com, a source code marketplace. Listen to how his platform is differentiating itself from Chupamobile or Apptopia, and hear his point of view of the future of indie app development
Interview with Stav Zilbershtein
Yohann: Welcome to another episode of the Mobile App Flipping podcast. Today I have an amazing guest. His name is Stav Zilbershtein and he is the Co-Founder and Product Manager at SellMyApp.com. Now, welcome Stav!
Stav: Thanks for having me, Yohann.
Yohann: It’s my pleasure. So, before we start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what SellMyApp is about?
Stav: Sure. Okay, I am mostly an Internet entrepreneur ever since I remember of myself. I have experienced the becoming of the Internet from nothing all the way to where we are today. We’re complaining about our fast Internet when it’s not working; I’ve been there when we still had like dial-up modems, playing Doom one-on-one with my neighbors by connecting my computer.
Yohann: By cable, right?
Stav: Yeah. It was a phone line. It was like calling another modem, like a fax method and I would have to place my computer next to the phone socket in order to play and I would play on the floor. So, this is just something funny on how it began.
Yohann: So, you are from the dinosaur time of the Internet?
Stav: Completely! Actually, even before the Internet there were many other things that I think some old-school people know, like MIRC chat and like BBS, which is the old version of a download server. People would just allow other users to call using a dial-up modem and just connect to their computer and download files. The funny thing about it is that only one person can log in at a time, so basically you just redial and redial, and when you get access to a certain server, you just stay there for as many hours as you can, downloading files and all the other people are just redialing and redialing, again and again hoping that you will lose connection in order to connect themselves.
Yohann: I’m glad these days are over.
Stav: Yeah. And my background is in Internet Marketing and User Experience. I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now. I started in providing services to other companies who wish to appear and to gain more exposure on search engines and social media and so on. And from there I’ve started with years to like more the idea of doing things for myself.
Yohann: Okay, hold on. Before the Mobile App Industry and also before 2007, you were mostly into; I mean social media was already almost non-existent there.
Yohann: So, what were you doing before these times of having smart phones and when the Internet was already here, but there was no smartphone yet?
Stav: Well, I was mostly into Search Engine Optimization, you can say. That was my major practice. I had a few online ventures of my own – there were in a completely different niche and yeah, as soon as the Mobile Development world started to evolve and the Digital goods era itself. You know? All the digital products that are out there, there are many of them and the mobile source codes are just one. This was appealing to me all the time, because I knew there is nothing more fun than a 100% Internet-based business. I think that what’s exciting about the Mobile Industry also is that it resembles a lot of the same. People just create a virtual good of some kind – a game, an application, a utility, then using in-app purchases and other methods they turn it into something that is monetized, something that generates income.
Yohann: Okay. So now, when was your website SellMyApp founded?
Stav: Actually SellMyApp was already founded in early 2012.
Stav: Back at the time it was just a basic version – it was just a free marketplace that allowed people to negotiate about buying source codes directly with the sellers and this was not involving the platform at all. But as the time went by and when I stepped in around 2 years ago, the vision was completely changed, also because there was just a feedback from users saying: “Hey, if I buy source code on this site, who can guarantee the quality of the source code?”, and so on. And the only answer that we could give them was: “Listen, you just have to talk directly with the seller, make your checks, make sure that you are buying from a legitimate person, because right now we are not standing as a watchdog, you can say, between you and the seller”. So, from all these feedbacks, we have realized that of course, the most natural move would be to continue with a fully operational marketplace, and in early July, 2015, we made a soft launch and from there we’re only getting better and better. We are wasting a lot of our fixes on the customer and developer feedback – we are very flexible and open for feedback. This is why we are evolving quite fast.
Yohann: Okay. So, you know that I own AppsFresh.com and I also sell source code there? Now, what I do in there is that we own the source code. We barely have any other person, anyone that can just come in and just put their source code, so my business is very different than yours. Now, what I want to know is that – how do you compete with or how do you demark yourself from other platforms where anyone could sell their app, you know those free platforms like Chupamobile or Apptopia? How different are you?
Stav: That’s an excellent question. I would say that a part of that is also in our mission, because we are not focusing only on selling source codes. I think there are several needs in this niche, both from the buyer’s end and both from the developer’s end. So, let’s start with the developers.
Stav: The developers mostly don’t make good income. I mean, if you take the statistics and you cut out the huge firms, the ones that really made successful games like Angry Birds or Rabbit company.
Yohann: Right, because there are like 5% that make money and then the other 95% are having the hard time. Yeah.
Stav: They are having a hard time and the statistics by Vision Mobile for example, states that when they check the industry, they see that developers make sometimes an average less than $100 per month.
Stav: And that’s quite tough, you know?
Yohann: Oh, yeah. I mean, you can’t live with that. You’ll have to do something else to bring more money, to keep going.
Stav: Yeah, and the problem is that this discourages people away from the mobile industry, which is actually an amazing industry. So, our way to keep them in the industry and some of the things I cannot yet reveal, but during 2016, we are going to produce several ways for developers to contribute and create a new revenue stream by participating and actively contributing to SellMyApp marketplace. It’s not going to be only source codes and the idea is: “Okay, some people just want to sell source codes”. That’s completely fine – they can just login, it’s very fast, they go through the vendor registration process, upload their source codes and if the source codes are good, they have high chances of making sales. But, there are other people who care more about their reputation, they want to produce some content for the readers, they want to give that extra mile to push themselves to the top, and this is how we are differentiating ourselves from others. We are going to give them a big set of tools this year that according to their will and passion and appetite to eat this industry, they will be able to generate more income and not only from selling source codes. So, that would be the first side, like the developer’s side.
Yohann: Yes. Let’s still stay on the developer’s side and then we are going to talk about the second side after, but before we do so, I have a couple of questions. First of all, it sounds to me that you’re going to be closer to the developer than any other platforms out there. Are you planning on doing some kind of a one-to-one communication, where you’re going to be with the developers, look at their source codes, tell them what’s good, what works, what doesn’t work from your own experience and get them to get sales out of this? What’s your strategy here? Because from my understanding, if you start being so close to each developer, how you are going to be able to handle the volume in the sense that let’s say in the company like Chupamobile, they can do what they can because they only need to put a few minutes on each source code in a sense that they just need to verify that the product is okay and it works, and then it’s in the platform and it goes on its own. So, how are you planning on doing that? It sounds very hard on you to be able to sustain so much work. Right?
Stav: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. First of all, I would like to tell you that each and every developer on SellMyApp gets special attention, except for the Moderation team, which is separate from me, as I have a lot of other things on my head, and they do the basic stuff like you said – checking that the source codes are good, that they are running without errors before they are uploaded and of course, as much as we can that they don’t violate copyrights. So, this is an important part of course for the buyers. You want to be able to buy a source code and have it running good and not having to deal with bugs. People just want to launch their apps and deal with technicalities as less as possible, still in the limited framework of working with the source code, of course with little technicalities. But this extra personal mille is not the only thing – I have the direct conversation with the developers, because I really want to listen and hear their feedback – what are their needs, what are their difficulties, what they think can help them better and I gather all these information and I can tell you just now, because still I cannot expose some of our milestones this year, but there will be some kind of interactive interaction between the developers and the platform in a smart way that will allow them to improve their sales and performance step-by-step. If you can imagine, it’s something like HubSpot, if you know what it is.
Yohann: I’m not sure. Can you tell us a little bit more about HubSpot?
Stav: Yes, just briefly. Let’s say that as a Marketing Manager in a company, you want to do a lot of activities in order to reach goals. There are so many things to do with the Internet Marketing – you can do PPC campaigns in Google, in AdNetworks, in Facebook, in other Social Media means. On your site, you can do Blog posts, you can improve landing pages, you can do so many things and because it’s such a big mess, many Marketing Managers have tons of other responsibilities on their heads and they just lose themselves in the process. So, HubSpot comes and say: “Hey, we’re going to help you out – log in and step-by-step we will tell you what you could improve or what you can do better, or give extra tools, extra advice, extra access to knowledge”. And step-by-step you can see how you execute the different advice and you can improve your overall performance as a Marketing Manager.
Yohann: I see, and to be honest, I like the idea in the sense that developers are not that great at marketing, because they spend most of the time on learning how to program and how to make amazing apps and games. You have this other side, which is the marketing side and sometimes it takes a different type of personality to be able to do the marketing side of things.
Yohann: Now, I understand that you’re going to be able to provide help or provide the necessary tools for developers to turn themselves into marketers, or at least to have the product look more marketable, right?
Stav: Well, you can say that. I mean, I know that some developers and some people in general are allergic to the word ‘Marketing’, because when they hear it, they immediately have a sense of rejection.
Yohann: Yes. You are bringing up a good point in the sense that some developers don’t even want to think about marketing, they don’t care about it, they don’t want to touch it; all they want to do is create amazing apps and games. That’s it! This is their creativity part and they’d rather have somebody else to take care of the rest.
Stav: Yeah, exactly. And that what the marketplace is there for to begin with. We still generate great sales for authors who create great source codes and they don’t do nothing at least in the means of what I see they could do to generate more sales on the platform. So, they have that covered exactly, but I think there is another layer of developers, the ones that say: “Listen, I’m curious!”, or “You know what? Maybe there are 100 things I could do, and maybe if you show me what I could do, I will choose just the ones that I feel comfortable with”. And this will already give them a certain boost. You know? Then, there will be the ones that will say: “Listen, I’m completely marketing-oriented. I want whatever you can provide me with”. And this is exactly what’s beautiful about how it’s going to be, because it’s going to allow everyone – from the ones that don’t want to do marketing at all, just to enjoy the demand for a high-quality source code by selling it on the marketplace, all the way to the people who want to do something or take the whole package and just do everything they can.
Yohann: Alright. I think we’re going to stop here for the developer’s side of things. Now, what’s the second side of things on your marketplace?
Stav: Well, the second side would be, of course, the buyer’s. So, I would say that the needs of the market had changed. People used to just be able to replace a few images, relaunch an app, as fast as possible and succeed. Sometimes we have crazy apps that they didn’t even imagine could succeed as a reskin – I’m sure everybody is familiar with the word ‘reskin’.
Yohann: Yes. In my podcast, we definitely talk about it a lot, so everybody would know what you are talking about. No problem.
Stav: Yeah. So today, people are in need for greater customization abilities. They take a certain source code as their framework for a game or for a set of rules or modules, that will comprise, that will make the final source code they’re about to launch and we have set up our own team, which gives customization services to the codes. And I think there is another gap – the hardcode companies or reskin services companies, not all of them, but a lot of them are stiff with the flexibility of changes that a code needs. For an example, let’s say that on our marketplace we have a source code that is only suitable for iOS 8, but it’s still a good source code and somebody buys it together with the reskin service from us, we will make sure to get that extra mile down for the customer – for an example, to fully customize it and make it ready for iOS 9, to refresh the SDKs if it’s needed, to add the SDKs to all the outdated and within a reasonable amount of request for customization that is not completely setting the code into something else, we will also take care of it without charging extra cost, just because I see that many beginners have this need. And if you have to work in the old-school way, just a Menu, just paid for a reskin service, you get this and that’s it.
Yohann: That’s amazing. Yes, go ahead.
Stav: Then people get stuck. They get a bitter taste in their mouth.
Yohann: Yes. I’m sorry to cut you here, but you bring up a good point, in the sense that it happens to me on ApssFresh.com where many people buy source codes and it’s mostly for reskinning and sometimes they want to add their own features. Let’s say they are like: “Oh, I would like to add one extra level, or one extra enemy character that throws fireballs”, or you know something that’s totally different than the source code can do.
Yohann: And then I tell them that in order to do that, we need to get a software engineer or somebody that went to school and got a Bachelor degree and that we cannot pay them $5 an hour. You know? And this person is going to take maybe 4-8 hours to be able to do that. They end up with a sum to add one or two features of an extra $500 and they pay the source code only a $100 or $200. How could you justify the fact that they have this amazing source code that has all these features that they had only paid a 100 bucks for, and then they have to pay $500 for a small extra feature or two features? Obviously, it seems like they are asking for too much, but they are right to ask for changes. It makes the game more enticing, more unique and more fun. So, what can we do with that, because I even wondered myself? Many times I had to tell people: “We just can’t do that for you. It’s not going to happen. I know that you’re just going to spend too much money and it’s not worth it.” What’s your opinion on that?
Stav: First of all, that’s an excellent topic. I think that the most interesting topic when it comes to customization. So, first of all I want to tell you that we also will not add the character that shoots fireballs under a basic reskin quote, but if someone wants to change a size of an element, or certain elements and it’s not something complicated, there is no reason to say: “Hey, you did not pay for resizing elements, you only paid for replacing the graphics in an existing code”.
Yohann: I see.
Stav: Because that would be too pragmatic, but to really regard or relate to what you said, what people miss out mostly, the source code market has enabled something, an amazing convenience that was quickly forgotten from the days that people used to just write source codes from scratch.
Yohann: Excellent point.
Stav: People need to understand and I can say it to all your viewers, your listeners, your readers and to ours, and to anyone who will listen to this podcast – coding games and source codes from scratch can always and mostly ends up at 5 digits – it starts from $10,000 and it can go to $30,000 for things that may sound trivial, too easy or too simple to a person who doesn’t understand coding, but this is how it works. There are so many platforms, so many devices, so many adaptations you need to make. You want your app to work perfectly, you want it not to crash, you want elements not to exceed screen limits, you have to have everything in place and this takes a lot of work. So, I think what happened is people forgot that building an app is risking $10,000 – I don’t know how many salaries that is for some people. The gap starts because a lot of beginner people are now running into the industry obviously because they get better tools to compete with people who have rich experience. They come and they have a $100 in their hand and they say: “Okay, I want to try it out”, so my advice to you, because we didn’t even talk about marketing at this point and I don’t know if we will talk about App Marketing today – you need to have a certain budget. My estimation would be that this extra $500 to get in the end a genuine, nice game with features that other games don’t have, that would have costed you $10,000-$20,000 to develop from scratch is probably worth your risk.
Yohann: Yes. You are absolutely right. Let me summarize it with my own words, so that I can let it sync in, in my brain and so that people can also try to think about it deeper. What Stav is saying is that before the app reskinning industry and all these source codes that you could buy online in this marketplaces, you had to do it on your own, meaning that you had to hire your own freelancers or create your own team and there was no other way. This would take so much time just to make one app or one game – minimum 3-6 months or 1-2 years to make one app. Can you imagine how much money you have to spend on that to get 2 or 3 developers to create that or maybe I’d say a team of 12? By buying your license or a source code, you are already saving yourselves tens of thousands of dollars. So, what is that $500 extra you’re going to spend? It’s ridiculous. Now, he is bringing a good point that since the source codes came to be the entry level, to get in and create your own game is very low – you can make your own game for a 100 bucks, but don’t expect it to succeed nowadays like it used to be, because this time is over, in the sense that you can just change a couple of images and sounds and publish it and make thousands of dollars. This time, this is saturated, I’ve talked about it in the previous podcast episode. So, what he is saying is – don’t be afraid of spending a hundreds of dollars for customization. It’s totally worth it and he is right, because in the first place, you’ve already saved so much money by buying a source code that’s already made for you. Alright, that’s what you meant Stav, right?
Stav: Yeah, completely.
Yohann: And then you also mention that without even talking about the marketing side of things, having the app and publishing the app in the App store. It’s great, but it’s not enough. You need to go the extra mile, like the any other company. It’s not because you have a product that is going to sell, this time is over in any type of business. It’s not that – build it and they will come. No, that doesn’t work anymore.
Yohann: You have to build it and you have to promote it. So, whether you are a developer and you don’t want to do the marketing side – somebody else is going to have to do it for you. If you do it yourself, then guess what? You may not have to pay much money, or have a very low budget, but if you don’t want to do it, somebody else is going to have to do it for you. And if you don’t do it, guess what? People that are doing it will have better success than you and they will take over your market.
Stav: And sometimes they will even do it with apps that are in the lower quality than what you have generated in the end. It’s also important to say it Yohann, if you are reaching the point with $100, you are already reaching so to speak, with your tongue out and your fuel tank is already empty, then it’s better to take these $100 and buy yourself a nice gift. Don’t get into the app business, because it’s amazing that you can create apps now for a few hundred dollars, but you still have to treat it seriously to set aside a budget for customization, a budget for little bit of marketing efforts, because if not, then it’s doomed to fail.
Yohann: Absolutely. To add on top of this, from all the different industries that exist out there, the Mobile App Industry is definitely the easiest way to get in and have an actual product that you can sell. I mean, think about a physical product – can you actually create a car? Can you create a phone? Can you imagine how much money would cost creating a candle or even a lighter, to be able to get a physical product and put it out there? That’s going to cost you more than just a couple of thousand dollars. The App Market is still the easiest market to get it, I guess, and create a sustainable business.
Stav: I completely agree. I also think Yohann that this market is only evolving, it’s full of surprises. There are now talks about some monetarization models finally arriving to the Apple TV and it’s only the beginning. There are going to be so many amazing mobile-related markets that will continue to surprise and to evolve, so whoever gets into the industry and starts playing with it, it doesn’t matter in what level, even just start with something simplest, just to experience, just to get your hands dirty – this is already worth something. It’s an amazing industry.
Yohann: Yes, absolutely. To add to what you are saying, I do have the Apple TV and I have two apps in the Apple TV App Store so far and they’ve not done great to be honest, and it’s very hard to make only one right now in the Apple TV world. However, having said that, I’ve already said in another podcast episode that I totally believe in the Apple TV in the sense that the mechanics and the actual platform is the future and that’s how it will be. And if it’s not now in 2 years, it will be in 10 or 15 years – it’s just a matter of time.
Yohann: So, if you understand how it works and if you understand how to generate a dollar now, then you will be able to generate thousands of dollars, if not more in the future. Definitely, that’s the way to go. Now, for my audience here, there is something I would like to do and I haven’t had the time, so if you want please contact me, because I’d love somebody to help me do that and even partner with me on that. Maybe you, Stav? I don’t know. Listen to this – you guys are familiar with the Netflix system and if not maybe from your app from another part of the world.
Yohann: The Netflix system is kind of a subscription-based model where you get TV through the Internet, or even on your computer or your TV. So, you have all these shows and series and movies that you get and you just pay maybe a small fee of $10 or $15 a month. It’s a very small fee and you get all this new content coming all the time. It’s still cheap and you get enough value for it. Netflix is doing amazing lately and some people didn’t believe in it and are crushing it. And guess what? With the Apple TV, now you’re able to create an app and the app could be very similar to the Netflix type of apps, where you would create your own shows or series, or maybe not create it yourself – you can partner with other people that are making these to make very niche type of shows, maybe you know like Horror movies, or Sci-Fi movies, series, episodes and things like this, bundle them and have people pay a membership fee on a monthly basis. If you are a programmer or a marketer and out there and you want to be part of this – now is the time. I’m telling you I know so – if we don’t do it now, then somebody else will do it in the future. It’s just a matter of time. So, what do you say, Stav?
Stav: That’s an amazing idea, Yohann. I like your creativity and yeah, I’m sure there will be some kind of a hybrid between YouTube stars and niche-related, like you said ‘Netflixy’ apps on the Apple TV.
Stav: Again, monetization models are coming to the Apple TV. It’s not Science fiction, I know that now it might be hard and this is why you don’t see this market lifting up. We have thousands of source codes available, but it’s bubbling. I’m already reading about different companies that are saying: “We are working on it. It’s coming and it’s going to work well”, and you all know that Video Advertising is catching up really fast and what is a better companion for Video Advertising than a TV screen.
Yohann: Yeah, definitely.
Stav: That’s almost obvious.
Yohann: So, going back to where we’re saying that source code and reskinning is far from dead. What do you think about app reskinning? Is it completely dead? I’ve already told my audience that I don’t think that it’s dead at all – on the contrary, it evolved. What’s your take on it?
Stav: Well, I have to be honest. You know, there are two layers to answer this kind of question. First of all, it’s not dead, because I am personally talking and knowing some authors that are still just reskinning apps and they are using smart ASO (App Store Optimization) techniques to monetize and get downloads. They do marketing with simple reskins, still as in the good, old days. Maybe they are not making as much money, as in the times of Flappy Bird, but they are definitely getting to that $1,000, $2,000 per app mark, that many people are aiming to and that’s very impressive. So, I still see people do that with plain reskins. That would be the answer to the first question. You need to have some knowledge about what you are doing in order to reach this kind of level. These people are experienced people that have been there from the beginning. So, App Reskinning still works, but would I recommend to a beginner just to have a basic reskin? No, I wouldn’t say so. I would say – get a few extra bucks, usually customization doesn’t cost more than a couple of more hundred bucks, I don’t know, tops $500 to make a nice addition to your game – to customize it to the way that you see it, that you think will attract your visitors. I’m using the word game, just because games are so popular, but utilities are also completely there. It’s a great market, so it would work if you know what you are doing, but if not you have to take an extra mile and customize it more. But entire market of source codes is still completely there and it’s completely still pumping live creations every day.
Yohann: Okay. I totally agree with you. I have a very similar take on it. There is so much that we can still talk about, but I’d like to keep this episode not longer than we have already. Anyway, you’ll have to come back, because I know that you’re making some amazing, new things for developers and buyers in 2016. I want you to come back to my show later on when you have some of these features already implemented, so that we can tell our audience. Alright?
Stav: I’d be happy to show it to your audience, Yohann. Of course, my pleasure.
Yohann: Excellent. Before we say goodbye, is there anything you’d like to say? One little piece of advice for 2016?
Stav: Well, I would say that if you are a developer and you have source codes, I really warmly invite you to join us. Join the marketplace – there’s going to be plenty of surprises and we really work hard to make income for as much developers as possible. That would be my first advice. The second advice – if you are just a person with new, or just a medium, intermediate, a game studio, please take a look at the marketplace, as well. You will find plenty of new, fresh source codes, from high-quality authors that you can acquire and work with us – the support is great, there is buyer protection. The last piece of advice is I would also recommend Yohann that you can post a link to our guide. We have produced an amazing guide. We call it ‘The Ultimate Guide for How to Create an App that Rocks the App Store’. And it is an 85-piece epic creation, richly designed, full of the real stuff – not fluff, case studies, practical examples, statistics, tools, resources, things that get people going, that get people understand what they can do to make a difference. And that’s exactly what this guide is about. If you’d like to give that to your readers – it’s completely free, there is no opt-in involved on anything – you just surf in, read it and enjoy. This is really a keeper. It will take about two days to read it or something.
Yohann: Yes, definitely. I am going to take a look at it. I didn’t read it completely, because it’s really big and I can assure you, it’s full of great gold nuggets there, so definitely that’s a must-have. At least, go and download it and take a look at it. I will put the link in the show notes. Thanks for everything Stav and if you want to get in touch with Stav, make sure to contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, Stav!
Stav: Thanks Yohann!
Yohann: Alright. I’ll talk to you later in another episode.
Stav: Thanks. Goodbye.