Getting Featured

Getting “featured” in the iTunes App Store or Google Play is a boon for any mobile app. It can lead to thousands or even millions of downloads in a matter of weeks. Even better, it can zoom an app to the top of the “Top” charts (most downloaded, most favorited, etc.).

Therefore startups naturally covet this. It can add significant lift to any startup’s trajectory.

But this seems more significant 2-3 years ago. Back then, there was a real urgency to get featured in the App Store (Android wasn’t around then). Even better, getting featured on an Apple television commercial was the holy grail. If you became one of The Chosen, the sky was the limit. Getting featured was virtually necessary and sufficient for success. It correlated very highly to (or even caused) a top ranking.

And that was generally the only way users could ‘discover’ apps. Social media distribution channels (i.e., word-of-mouth) barely existed – Twitter was a curiosity to most. Now it’s a mainstream phenomenon. Back then, most people just looked to the “Top Rankings.” And there was a wave of clever developers who figured out how to ‘game’ the system to stay at the top once they got there (a topic for another post).

Now there are more ways to ‘discover’ new apps. More people have smartphones; apps get publicized in mainstream press and blogs. And social media/word-of-mouth channels are now stable and robust. Facebook Open Graph and Twitter OAuth create immediate network effects but also make switching apps easier (i.e., your social graph is portable).

So today, “getting featured” is neither necessary nor sufficient for success. It’s obviously hugely helpful for any app to get featured. But if your app is good, people will find it. Conversely if your app gets featured and it can’t stand on its own, you will hear about it. We’ve seen many apps get featured – and zoom up the rankings – and then fizzle thereafter. It only highlights the importance of building something great and that speaks for itself.

The only (and obvious) takeaway is to build an app that delivers long-term value. Something that people use every day (i.e., a “first screen app” as we douchebag VCs might say). People are less forgiving of apps that don’t deliver long-term value. Don’t worry about getting featured. That’s a second-order effect. Getting featured can get asses in the seats. But it’s no good if those asses leave.

Thanks to Coach for chatting about this.