Alexey Strakh and Alex Sorokoletov are two young and very prolific Windows Phone developers from Belarus. I’ve met Alex in the early spring of this year when he came to Lithuania to get a US visa in order to be able to visit MIX11 conference. Yes, they have to go to another country in order to get a US visa (thanks to the “awesome” relationships their president has with the western world). I’ve watched him making the most out of the networking possibilities provided by the conference and I knew right there that this guy is going to be successful.
Alex and his partner in crime, Alexey, have made a number of apps before releasing their hit Google Maps client – gMaps. And today we are talking with them about their success strategies.
Hi, guys. You are from Belarus and Marketplace is not officially available there. Yet your apps are published under your own name (Alexey’s name to be exact). How did you do that?
You are correct, we are both from Belarus. In marketplace we are registered as developers from Russia. Alexey has right to work in Russia, so, he was able to register in Russian marketplace. That operation took us 2 months, now with help of SoftKey it can be done in a week or so.
Before you released gMaps and became famous, you’ve done other apps and participated in some contests with them. Can you tell us about these contests and what effect they had on popularity of your apps, if any?
Before gMaps, our most popular application was Naval Battle – simple battleship game, now with multiplayer and Facebook support. We participated in the infamous WP7Comp from RedGate, but didn’t win any place. The contest effected with some boost of downloads on Naval Battle, zTop and App Discounts, but not big.
We also took part in WP7 Challenge, and Naval Battle got into TOP 10 apps. We had won entry pass to WPC and organizers asked us to visit World Partner Conference and show our app to audience to compete in the “best app” nomination, but unfortunately we had no opportunity to do that ;(
What do you mean by “had no opportunity”? Was it just that you weren’t able to travel to US at that time?
Yes, we had no visas and not enough time to get them.
You also have an app and a web app called zTop which is pretty popular and useful for Windows Phone developers. Tell us a little about it.
Once upon a time.. 😉 As you know, first version of marketplace had no ability to track downloads of the apps. We were thinking about a way to track downloads, and found out that position in Zune feed (when ordered by popularity) depends on downloads. In one working day we created the tool that displays application position in marketplace. If position goes up, then you had at least one download. That was the idea. Now we have historical position and discounts on applications tracking based on that scenario.
Latest version of zTop integrates with AppHub and shows summary page with all information you need about you apps: downloads, purchases, conversion ratio and so on. All you need is just run zTop and see the information.
Now let’s move on to your most popular app – gMaps. As far as I remember, when you released it for the first time it was free and had no ads. Was it because you didn’t plan to make any money on it, or was it part of your marketing strategy?
Marketing strategy actually. We started with free version. When gMaps became popular it was still free, while deciding on best monetization strategy. Our idea was to get money and don’t loose users.
Now you have ads in the free version and you have a paid Pro version. How are these doing in terms of revenue? What ad providers are you using for the ad-supported version? You can’t use pubCenter, right?
We added ads in free gMaps, but the ad banner can be closed as on YouTube. Using that, we have ads and at the same time users can use the whole space of the screen. Revenue is pretty much equivalent both from gMaps and gMaps Pro. For ads, we use mixed set of providers – PubCenter, AdDuplex, AdMob. We can use PubCenter, but can’t get our money until we are residents of USA or Europe.
As I understand your current strategy, you release new features in the Pro version first and then move them down to the free version later. Do you see spikes in sales of the Pro version when it has more features than the free one?
You are right, strategy is as you described and it works good for us.
It seems like Microsoft Russia loves you and makes an example of you for other aspiring Windows Phone developers in ex-USSR region. Did they just contact you after seeing gMaps’ great performance in the marketplace or did you specifically seek their attention? In other words: was support from Microsoft Russia a happy coincidence or a result of some targeted efforts on your part?
MS Russia supported us from the ground. We visited launch of Windows Phone in Russia, had a great time and were able to play with the Phone. After that, we quite constantly contact each other in different areas – events, applications, monetization advices and so on.
We’d like to dedicate many thanks to whole MS Russia team, especially to Mik Chernomordikov and Vlad Kolesnikov.
Have you ever been featured in the Marketplace? After all your app uses Google’s service which is a competitor to Microsoft’s own Bing Maps. Do you think competitiveness of apps to Microsoft’s own offerings affect decisions of the merchandising teams? (I believe this is how people responsible for featured apps are called)
We’ve been featured recently in 3 regions, including the largest one – en-US – with our paid version gMaps PRO. The release includes support of Google Latitude on Windows Phone, it’s the only app in the market. Before that, we believe we’ve never been featured. There could be various reasons – from the one you suggested to other like existence of other good apps on the market.
I’d like to thank the guys for spending the time with me and wish them continued success in the worldwide Windows Phone Marketplace.