Live from CommunityNext Platform: Advice from top independent Facebook app developers

10:40am Hi everyone, we’re here at CommunityNext Platform in Sunnyvale. This morning’s session is “Soup to Nuts: advice from top independent Facebook application developers,” with:

  • Craig Ulliott of Where I’ve Been
  • Keith Schacht of Grow-a-Gift
  • Edward Frederick of Hungry Machine

Craig Ulliott, Where I’ve Been

10:47am Wouldn’t recommend starting a company in the UK, very expensive and very hard, would recommend doing it here. These days, trying to make Where I’ve Been into a sustainable business.

10:48am The idea is simple, it doesn’t deserve its own network, its own website.

10:49am We had a lot of organic coverage. There was the initial gold rush period. Rumors were very helpful, struck some marketing deals. Have hired a PR firm since, we were on Fox News the other day, my two minutes of fame.

10:50am We had to make it fast. I told my wife I was going to leave for two days and make it. We had to make it in Flash, not the best, but it was fast. Now it looks much better.

10:52am What makes a good app? It’s got to have a great interface. Use the Facebook color scheme and tabs, etc. Don’t set a product inside their windows. It needs to have a sustainable business model – not just biting your friends. There will be some bigger more complicated apps coming soon. Testing and learning. We got thousands of responses from our user surveys, free market research.

10:53am “I have 250,000 users, now what?” Travel is a very consumer friendly space. The gold rush stage is over, what do you do? Cash in or try to find a sustainable business model?

10:54am What are monetization options? Ads are always there, but the CPMs are bad. We’re building a flight finder. Adding new layers to sell things in the space. I don’t think CPMs are enough. Need to find ways to innovate. Also going into hotels. Have a little subtle info in there.

10:56am The biggest challenge is over, we have the user. What now? We’re going on to build our own website, build on MySpace. There will be blogs and reviews on the website. But do we leave Facebook? It’s a great launching platform. But no, others are going to keep coming in there. We need to reengage the user with games, photos, videos, forums, chat. All of these are monetizable. We’re definitely hiring if anyone wants to come out to Philadelphia.

10:58am Our biggest problem? We had to scrap everything and redesign the database two times. We use a ton of bandwidth. The Flash itself is 200K. Everything we do is in the Flash, we don’t use the Facebook API that much actually. We have one big live server and one test server.

11:00am What’s next? We want to own travel on Facebook and move out onto the web.

Keith Schacht, Grow-a-Gift

11:02am Facebook compresses time to failure. The second best thing in enterprise sales to “yes” is “no,” so that you don’t waste your time. On Facebook, you know pretty quickly if your idea sucks and you should move on.

11:04am Outside Facebook, there are many more variables that are hard to see. Inside Facebook, it’s a much more level playing field.

11:06am I have 4 apps on Facebook, Hatching Eggs and Grow a Gift, and two more that aren’t that active. About 4 million total installs.

11:07am There is a big benefit to having multiple apps and being able to cross promote. You can get the first 5,000 users by cross promoting and figure out if your app sucks in the first 2 weeks, not 9 months like on the web.

11:08am Also be sure to get your infrastructure right. You can do things well on PHP or RoR. Get on a good path early on.

11:09am Understand the niche that you play in. Even in Facebook, there are so many different niches you can play in. There are some apps that cater to under 17 females, some that cater to over 25 males, some that like travel, some that like connecting to as many people as possible, some that like sending gifts. Once you have a niche, build logically in that niche. Don’t move from gifting to home loans. Even applications like Vampires and Werewolves, Jia said, they saw catering to a slightly different demographic within Facebook.

11:11am What next? Keeping track of what’s possible on all the platforms. Hi5 doesn’t do messaging, that’s obviously critical to any kind of gifting application. Unless I can find a way around it, I won’t build there. Building our own website is not part of our strategy right now.

Edward Frederick, Hungry Machine

11:13am We’ve got 20 apps, with about 5 million users. We have a mini ad network. We have our fingers in a couple things.

11:14am The ability to fail fast is a great aspect of Facebook, as Keith was saying. We have a lot of apps, but they’re really instances of templates. We have 4 or 5 templates, and we test concepts within those.

11:15am The purpose of our Oktoberfest, Mardi Gras, Luau, etc apps is to generate eyeballs for advertisers. They have more longevity than we were expecting. We include things like beer and models.

11:16am The apps that are built on the same template just have different images and text labels. But what’s interesting is their growth curves are incredibly different. So much depends on the concept. Not only should you A/B test features, you should A/B test concepts. Hot Potato and Firecracker are on the same code base, same concept – you throw stuff at people, but Hot Potato is 10x more popular. It’s very popular in the UK by the way.

11:20am For maximum virality: refine the concept/subject first. Make sure it’s simple second. Design, technology, features, etc. become rounding errors. I’ve seen some people really toiling on these apps without testing the concept first. It’s fine to polish your “blue chip” apps, but don’t refine apps that don’t connect with people.

11:22am Bookshelf may not be as viral, but there are some users who have entered 5,000 books. Our hardcore users are our monitoring system. If something goes wrong, they’ll let us know. It’s surprising to me how much interest there is in just cataloging. There seems to be a lot of interest in just getting this information in and on the profile. If someone enters 5,000 books on your app, the chances they’ll switch to a different app because you change your color palette is low.

Note: this is not an exact transcript!