How I went from an App Reskinner to the enemy of the Reskinning phenomenon.
To start let me confess the obvious:
I made a lot of money from app reskinning. During last year I was one of many so-called appreneurs that exploited the app store at it’s best. I come from an SEO background and for the last 2 years I have been the WORLD AUTHORITY (yes baby) in the world of App Store Optimization. (ASO) .
So exploiting Apple iTunes algorithm was, well, kind of easy, fund and dam profitable.
Yes: I was the guy Indie Developers love to hate.
In fact I became famous thanks to TUAW and other Apple magazines when I disclaimed how I was making money in the app store.
Real app developers hated me and marketers loved me… sooner I became the poster child of the app mercenaries. I didn’t care about the apps, about the user, I just made apps and it worked.. Just in the first week I play this game, I made $2800 and after a few months I saw results like making over $6000 from apps where I invested only $50 to produce.
It was fun, specially for a side business.
So while I was consulting some of the top App companies in the world, my army of crappy apps were making me money every day and night.
So… the app store was my little b*tch and me and many other of my friends we loved the way the game was being played.
Life was good. Tons of money, tons of downloads this was a fun way to make a living …
It was a no-brainer.
Make apps, fast, launch, make money, and travel around the world talking about how to do it. What could go wrong huh?
So why did I stop?
To start let me clarify that this is usually of those topics that people refuse to talk in the app industry. Because this industry is full of unicorns and rainbow sellers… is all magic and awesomeness in podcasts and blogs but the reality is way different than what TechCrunch tells you…
You see, me and some mercenaries peers, we wanted to believe we were Appreneurs and that we “built apps for a living” …but deep inside for many months we only did one simple process, the process was:
- Buy a specific source code
- Change graphics (cheaply)
- Change the topic of the app (cheaply)
- Launch the app (free)
- Make money
This was the whole business idea of our app business. Launch as many apps as possible: Period.
Crap or not, who cares! just launch, just launch, just keep launching.
Before I continue let me go trough the basics.
If you are new to the concept of reskining let me introduce it to you:
Reskining is the concept of buying a source code and re-use that source code as many times as possible to produce apps.
These are the apps people use once and then they go away… the type of apps my kids WILL NEVER play.
By using the code as many times as possible you save a lot of money in development.
The secret was to choose different topics using the same code.
So if you are building a slot machine app, you can build a slot machine game with the topic:
but that can also let you do a second game called
Kings and Princesses
or Castles and Dragons
or Knights and wizards
Small changes that make each game “slightly” unique but deep inside is the same game all along.
Poor level games that made no difference to someone and polluted the app ecosystem with ads, popups, and crappy user experience.
I knew it and I was OK with it.
Not very proud, but I was OK with it… business is business right?
But there was a a catch 22.
The problem of reskinned apps wasn’t the method, it was the ROI metrics. To make it really profitable you needed to do it in BULK.
And by BULK we are talking go INSANE. Produce as many apps as you can: and faster than your competition.
Like a crazy bastard.
And so I became a crazy bastard also ….
Building a system (THE system)
When I discovered reskining, I decided to analyze the way the whole process worked and I quickly realized I could improve the method of making more apps in a most effective way.
I could do it better, I could do it faster, cheaper, make more money: and I did. (and dam was I good at it)
I became a master at reducing the costs of production of each app and while doing so my team started to push the boundaries of how far Apple will let us go.
How many apps can I publish in one month? how many developers account can I create? how much money can I make while investing the least amount of money.
And with practice I became better and better, my costs started to drop and I became the owner of a new system: The app factory machine.
I was a Ninja, and god I was proud of my own Frankenstein.
I had students and I showed them the way to push more crap apps out there. I was a mercenary and while I was doing this, the industry flourish with services that surrounded the app reskinning business.
Life was good, and while I was doing conferences in Singapore, Thailand and China, I started to wonder how long could all this game last.
You see, I had done it before.
I had played with systems in the past… I had profited from weak systems where profit was easy achievable while the industry adapted to people like me.
Ebay affiliates, Adsense, SEO, clickbank… I’m one of those guys you called : Marketer.
And like an experienced Marketer I knew Apple and Google wouldn’t tolerate a gang of punks like me to make their app store look like a joke: And I was right.
Changes always come : Regardless if you want it or not.
I knew things were changing when the ROI of each app I was doing started to drop dramatically. Not only I was loosing money, but those guys I was getting drunk in S.E Asia with, where also suffering the changes…
I tried to understand what was going on :
why I was making less money by launching MORE apps?
It didn’t make any sense… until I considered the external factors
Reskinning was going stronger than ever and people like Trey Smith and Carter Thomas were pushing more and more codes for sale, creating a bigger gold rush feeling.
Chupamobile.com started to consolidate as the new Amazon of source codes and the idea of launching better app games, without investing so much money was becoming a reality.
But with this trend of new services, a new paradox appeared. More options bring more competition and the competition I was facing was simply brutal.
Some of my friends were launching 100 to 150 apps per month distributed in 15 to 20 different App developers accounts.
Those boys were going crazy! They were taking reskinning to a complete different level and there was no way competition was going to get any easier. In fact, all the tools out there had created a monster with 2 heads.
The appreneurs had become mercenaries, and nobody wanted to stop pushing crappy apps. It was too late. We had to continue.
Everyone could reskin and the ones doing it well where pushing the envelope to the limit.
Understanding the New Economy
So the question was: Why are those guys publishing so many apps?
The reason was in my own numbers. Apple had changed the rules and for some mysterious reason, the BUMP effect of a launch was loosing effect.
For all of you new with app marketing, the initial launch of an app is the critical part to get as many downloads as possible. Once you launch you expect to get a rush of downloads that in one way or another will justify your effort and investment. In normal apps the launch is vital (not reskins) but not as important as a reskin.
The reason is: Reskins only option to get downloads is via 2 systems or paths.
So once the launch stop brining the initial downloads to recover the investment, the only solution reskinners had was to launch more… produce more… try to keep up with the decrease in profits by launching more and more….
By reducing the bump effect, reskiners decided to take the approach of fight until the death, and by making less and less money from apps they step the game up and worked instead in reducing costs and publishing more and more apps.
It was like if reskinners where showing the finger to Apple: We can make cheaper apps and we can keep publishing as many apps as possible!!!!
That was the war cry of reskinners and with their war cry Apple went quiet and decided to change the SEARCH Algorithm to start destroying reskining as a viable business model.
Here comes Jonny !!!
So IOS8 came along and I was the only clown claiming that things were going to change dramatically in the ASO world. At the end of the day I was the ASO expert and I truly believed IO8 was going to be PANDA of the app industry.
But I made a crucial mistake.
I forgot this was APPLE and apple does shit quiet, they do their stuff without telling us why. They really don’t care about you or me, Apple cares about Apple and by launching IOS8 they started to tweak the ranking algorithm in such a silent and smooth way that it felt like a KGB hit.
Very difficult to prove , very difficult to find any clues.
But the clues where there.
First it happened with ASO.
Now that the launch was a weaker factor, resigners started to complain that ASO sucks
First they blamed their ASO provider, and then they blamed their keywords, their selection of topic…. but back in my office we were doing around 500 ASO jobs per month and very quickly noticed something:
This had nothing to do with keywords, it had to to with the type of apps where ASO was failing.
So the normal question to ask myself was:
How can Apple detect what a reskin is or not?
Initially I did some serious research, I didn’t want to ask to the reskinning community because I knew as soon as I open my mouth I was going to get an army of clowns telling me that reskining was super alive and everyone was happy and profitable.
I needed proof to understand why App store optimization was working so well for my serious clients but so bloody bad for the reskinners.
This was in October 2014…. and here are my findings.
First it was the question: Can Apple detect what a reskin is.
The answer was yes, I knew from months before that Apple and Google had patent technology to index and crawl footprints in source codes, so I knew finding patters in source codes could be easy. In fact by then Google Play was already giving us hints they where going to start indexing content INSIDE the source code. So if indexing is possible, finding a footprint is technically possible.
This was a good indication, but then after exploring Appannie as a solution for my ASO research I realised something strange:
Crappy apps where ranking in authority accounts.
Yes. Bad apps where ranking faster than good apps even if they were crap… it all depended WHO published the app.
I could write a whole thesis of how long took me to analyse this and I have to confess I could have never done it without the help of Ryan Kelley consultant at Gummicube, one of the smartest ASO guys that they ere out there.
But after many weeks the idea of App DNA or Authority for ASO became logical.
I was considering authority in the eyes of APPS and not account holders.
but quickly I realised that the app store was analysing authority as part of an ecosystem where the queen bee is the account holder and not each app…. therefor if your account is not strong enough your apps have very little option to survive
This theory initially was crazy, but it make so much sense!
Apple was applying the mindset of Steve Jobs
“Good artists copy, great artist steal”
They where stealing the authority idea from sites like Google with content authority, Trip Advisor authority algorithm, dam even stupid Yelp authority system.
So if the authority system was right… reskins where deep inside f*cked. right?
Well not so far.
I’m A DOUBLE FACED ANIMAL
So… (are you still with me???) while I was doing all this research I fired my whole reskining team.
First I was sick of doing stupid slot machine apps AND on top of that my income wasn’t increasing dramatically.
Was I making money? Yes.
Did I hate it? Yes.
And although I was still making the same money I made before all these changes started, in order to keep the same income I had to produce more and more crappy apps every month.
It was a cycle that was giving me emptiness and frustrating me beyond belief.
I was a bloody crack dealer.
There was no capacity to predict growth of this business and that was driving me bananas.
I fired my team, it was hard but a smart decision and I kept focusing in ASO thinking that may be ASO was going to save my own apps.
The king of ASO not getting traffic from ASO itself!!!!
(Was I a Joke???? Yeah go on. you can bash me on Social media sites, I will like that posts)
But if ASO wasn’t the answer the question I was asking myself day and night was: why my clients where finding ASO as an effective tool while my apps where failing miserably?
I knew where this was going… authority, reviews….
So while I kept researching I was hired by Chupamobile to write about ASO and educate reskinners about App store optimization while deep inside I doubted ASO wasis going to help them at all.
But why a reskinining market place anted to teach reskinners about ASO?
(The same way The Pope want’s to teach you about heaven? To keep you hopeful? to keep you hooked to a religion?)
The answer was sad :
Because they had no other option.
Only when you really understand the nature of the reskinning business you can comprehend why ASO is the only option to generate traffic. and that’s and that’s why my findings were so serious.
ASO for reskinners was less important that expected. Or at least ASO wasn’t going to save a reskinners account.
As a reskinner ASO is your only friend, mainly because you don’t have any other option than hoping to achieve organic traffic.
And the vital word in the last statement is : hoping
As a reskiner, hope exists because you don’t have any control over the organic traffic and 99.9% of appreneneurs have no idea how the app store algorithm really work.
Their market research is usually based on the type of CODES available for sale and not in the opportunities ASO wise….
And obviously all these opportunities every month become less of an opportunity, specially when you face the fact that every month 50.000 new app join the ecosystem, making downloads more difficult every single day.
But while I was thinking that, the App marketing gurus where making money milking from the gold rush and telling everyone to adapt.
- The industry is going nowhere
- reskinning will never die.
- everyone can make money
- just make better games
- just pay us money and we teach you how to make money
- just buy our source codes
- just click on my bloody sales page and give me your money
The human side of the story.
The problem with any tech industry is that industries are full of humans and humans have floods and we make mistakes.
So the app industry is not different, is full of humans, and many of those humans came to me 100% broken.
Humans with families, with kids, with dreams, with houses, with mortgages.
Humans that invested in the dream of reskining and while the App gurus where posting photos in Aruba and telling the world how amazing their life was thanks to the profits they made from reskinners , the “humans” that believed the dream were in deep trouble.
Thousands of dollars invested in dreams that didn’t pay off.
Reskins that cost thousand of dollars
the idea that an app produced by Chupamobile (app market place of source code) was going to pay their car repayment and the dream that posting 1 app in the app store was going to bring any decent income
Those were some of the fantasies that many of those humans realized quickly where just part of a sales page, part of a pitch, part of a stupid guru on Facebook…
Reality outside the Facebook groups was very different.
Struggle, stress, family crisis, confusion…
Apps went from “make 1 dollar per day” to make cents per day, and every time I posted my concerns on social media, a small army of people that were still making money started to attack me saying that I was being a dark angel, brinigng pessimist vibes around the industry.
But even in those moments, everyone failed to answer some vital questions that now I have the freedom to post.
- How to adapt when ASO is less effective
- How to adapt when the launch effect is practically gone
- How to adapt to a system where you don’t control the flow of traffic
- How to adapt to 50.000 new apps flooding the app store very month
To all those questions there was only one answer provided by the gurus:
make better games
And that answer was like hoping to save the whales by not eating tuna.
Make better games????
Make Better games????
That answer made very little sense and didn’t tackle the serious issues.
Everyone talked about adapting, about making new games, about going to Unity development… but nobody talked about the main problem: Traffic. Bloody traffic.
It doesn’t matter about the game, is about the traffic and although I understood retention is key, the problem wasn’t retention. The probem was to get enough downloads to make the whole reskin biz profitable.
People weren’t getting downloads, that’s it
it didn’t matter what they did.
I knew it and the industry knew it…
and while I knew that, those human that believed the dream where in debt, facing depression, and in many cases divorce of bankruptcy.
Not so much now right?
And in the mean time… I wondered if anyone was going to have the balls to talk about it?
Because this is an industry where the gurus are cowards and nobody has the balls to say STOP FOR 2 SECONDS and LETS LOOK AT THIS MESS.
Because while this crisis started we only saw posts of App gurus, traveling around the world, buying houses in the Caribbean and claiming the risis was a normal part of the process.
We have to adapt, we have to adapt they claimed, and while they claimed that, we forgot the App gurus had already left the app business a long time ago.
They were in the business of selling shovels to the miners… not in the business of minding.
Those gurus where as bad as the CEO of banks that sell their stocks before the bank goes down. They profited from an industry going down and they knew it from the start.
But again… those gurus where like me: marketers – and like Gary V says it.
Marketers ruined everything.
Facing my opposition
You see, I’m a clown in social media, I don’t respect anyone and there is an army of people that literally hate me out there. I’m the bad spoken colombian tht gives no crap about what gurus, companies pretend to say about the app industry. I hate gurus and sad enough I was being called a guru by those people that I hate.
So when I posted this concerns in a reskinner group I saw posts of people making money and telling me that reskinning wasn’t death at all.
You see Gab! We make money! Is not death! is not death!!!!
The idea was cute, but the reality was that I still couldn’t find answers I was looking for.
Making money didn’t mean that an idea was viable. In the same way you can sell toxic waste and profit from it, it doesn’t mean is a healthy business decision.
The reskinners anger was clear, I could smell the fear.
If reskinning doesn’t work, then what?
what are we going to do now?
what is next?
Nobody want’s to face the facts hey have boarded the wrong boat, that boat that is facing an iceberg collision .
Instead what happen was interested. The reskinning experts decided to make a shift.
Wait wait Gabriel
reskining is now different , we reskin our own code, and is not the type of resigning we have done for so many years… was the new argument many of them claimed.
I respected that. but again the problem of traffic remained.
So far resigners could only make money in 2 ways, on the launch and then hoping form organic traffic thanks to ASO…. and even that was going to change a few weeks later….
Going deeper into ASO.
In January I bought Appmind.co a small ASO tool SAAS that had a lot of potential and a horrible marketing and management team.
The tool is still the fasted keyword suggestion tool in the market and for $9 per month I wanted to provide something valuable to app developers
I loved the tool and I found it death easy to find long tail keywords but after analysing the evolution of the data provided I realized the age of the EASY long tail keyword was gone.
The idea of app keyword sniping where you can guarantee ranking by targeting long tail keywords that have low competition was 100% gone (Coin term used by David Janner @ another great ASO friend and app marketing genius)
The idea was taken from SEO clearly and it was simply: only aim to rank in top position for easy long tail keywords to rank.
But if long tails where gone… then it meant that only the “real” combinations made any difference and those real combinations had so much competition that was impossible to rank. You see, the top App SEO metric tools like SENSOR tower had it wrong: competition in the app store was way more complex than we ever considered.
Competition was not based on the number of apps competing but in the authority of the developers… and if appreneurs with 300 reskinned apps couldn’t achieve authority status, how they could compete?
The answer was cold and brutal: they couldn’t .
And while I kept testing this theory, more and more reskinners started to quit the reskin game in silence. In fact many of the big players in the reskinning game decided to move away… is just not worth it, they confess privately… we are making less and less money every day.
I had to smile: I was right all along . Apple and Google had done it, they change their algorithm in a way that the business of reskinning became a business where profit becomes a every day more difficult to achieve.
You see, they didn’t had to kill the reskinning industry or ban reskins… they just had to cripple the industry. Make 2 to 3 changes to their SEARCH algorithm and hit reskinners where it hurts the more: downloads.
No downloads, no money, no money no cash flow, no cash flow, production will eventually stop.
The future is a new range of marketers that now will be selling you the new systems to make you believe reskining is not death.
An army of little men that make so much money reskining they now are so generous to sell you the secret formula. Because that’s the way it works right? You find a way to make so much money you sell the secre. (hey ! I have done it! so why not you do it too)
In fact as soon as I mention reskining death, I saw the rise of a new new trend of marketers that now have new reskinning courses… you see, marketers don’t want to let the cash cow die.
They will reveal secrets… and all of them will use terms like the approach of ASO as a “niche’ where the niche for the reskin equals : use copyright keywords, based your approach in very limited sub-markets and get tiny traffic. And once you do that, rinse and repeat… do it again, over and over and over.
Will this work?
If you want to make pennies.. yes.
the problem is the trends, the gurus, the new courses, don’t really understand the algorithm and while they sell you a course, a new source code is not the answer, especially when your whole strategy is to try to achieve traffic from copyrighted keywords that can be easily taken down or based on the idea of long tail keywords.
The reality my friends is… gurus will always sell you stuff, I do, all the time… but there is a time where we need to stop claiming that reskinning is a way for you to quit your job and that one “little secret” is the path to your financial freedom.
Selling systems and schemes need to stop, especially when you want the world to believe making bulk apps is a profitable strategy.
- If is so profitable why are the gurus selling their secrets?
- if is so profitable why Chupamobile is not a publisher vs a marketplace?
- if is so profitable why the app gurus are not publishing more reskins?
I will really love someone to answer those questions… until then: I’m out guys…
Some other opinions that are important to keep in mind
What I Learned from reskinning apps
( Warning a lot of “crap” mentions )
Getting drunk in Thailand and Singapore with other Reskinners is the BEST experience ever.
Money is nice, if you make money have fun with it. Don’t over think it.
Making crap sucks. It always sucks. Do stuff that you are proud off.
Don’t be attached to crap, just because it is crap it doesn’t mean your crap is better than others.
Stop buying stuff, even my stuff. Don’t listen to gurus, they are all full of crap, they all have one purpose: to sell you stuff. Period.
Apple is smarter than you. Also Google. Be smart, play a healthy game.
If you are going to break the rules, like I did, be honest, be direct, have cojones and tackle life in the right way. Don’t pretend you are an appreneur when you are not.
Respect indie developers. They love what they do.
Download apps that matter. Buy apps that you love. Respect your own time.
Bring DATA to the game. If you can’t understand DATA your business is doomed.
Only focus in businesses where you can control the traffic. No traffic, no eyeballs, no eyeballs no money.
Cash is the blood of any business. Period.
Be kind to people and ruthless with idiots.
Do good, travel more and learn to adapt.
Don’t forget… everyone has a plan until they punched in the face” [Mike Tyson]
You will die done day, stop reading blogs. Go out more.