What should US developers keep in mind when going global?

This is a guest post written by the Application Developers Alliance, a global membership organization supporting developers as creators, innovators and entrepreneurs. The Apps Alliance serves a growing membership of tens of thousands of developers. The Apps Alliance created DEVSBUILD.IT, an app industry search engine to help developers build apps and businesses.

A lot of US app developers understand the opportunity in international markets based on the sheer volume of potential users and the success of developers before them. The approach, however, is a much more challenging and labor-intensive process than most app developers think.

Mistakes are made all the time when expanding to overseas markets by small companies and large companies alike. Simple things like running English advertisements in a foreign market or relying on a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter in a market where that platform isn’t popular (or is blocked) are both completely useless and a huge waste of precious capital. Far too often do developers rely on the same user acquisition and monetization strategies when expanding their apps overseas, and they’re simply not going to work in some cases.

Localizing content, mechanics, and marketing of your app is key because not all markets are the same; not even close. Beyond just simply translating the content in your app, developers must consider how users find apps, use apps, pay for apps (or pay in apps), and how your app appears in foreign markets. Partnering with local entities or services that can help you do this can save you a lot of time.

There’s certainly interest in the international audience from successful and unsuccessful developers alike. Even if a developer gains traction and acquires hundreds of thousands of users in the US, eventually there’s a limit. Bringing your app to a global level, if done correctly, can bring an app into an entirely different echelon of success.

For struggling and small-scale indie development studios, international markets are fantastic for finding success outside of the highly-competitive US market. According to a presentation about the app economy in Thailand, for example, it takes more than 80,000 downloads per day to even break into the top 10 in the US, but just 10,000 downloads per day in Thailand to reach #1 in the App Store. This presents an incredible opportunity to grow your app’s brand in a foreign market and generate revenue while you crack into the US market.

I’ve also seen a lot of developers use “test markets” for their apps. For example, a developer might release a version or update in Canada – a market that behaves very similarly to the US market – before releasing it in the US. If you have the resources to do this, I think this can be really powerful before putting US-focused marketing spends behind features or apps that simply won’t catch on.

App stores are saturated and very few developers earn most of the revenue. The statistics about the app store are extremely daunting to a new developer. There’s always the promise of becoming an overnight success – like Yo or Flappy Bird – but the reality is that these are very rare scenarios. There are literally millions of apps and only a small percentage pull in the majority of the revenue.

I do, however, think there’s room for growth. I think we’ll see a lot more personalization from both apps and app stores over the next few years. The unbundling of larger apps, such as the introduction of Facebook Messenger and Foursquare’s Swarm show that there’s room for single-purpose apps. Everybody uses their phone a little differently, and there’s a great opportunity here for new players. We’ve also seen a few larger publishers, particularly in the game space, lose ground after a big title and fail to follow up.

From the app stores, the recent expansions to both Google Play and the Apple App Store subcategories are a step in this direction and really improve app store discovery on both platforms. The Firefox Marketplace really personalizes and curates app recommendations for its users. I’ll be interested to see if the larger stores adopt similar models.

Regarding new platforms like Windows Phone, Tizen, Jolla etc gaining traction in 2015 - I’m always optimistic about competition in the app economy, but I think we’re a ways off from another platform in the US gaining any significant market share, even with the backing of some major companies. I think keeping an eye on how iOS and Android adapt and innovate over the next few years will be most important, as that’s what’s caused some dominant platforms to fail in the past. The fact of the matter is that the majority of users are on these platforms and developers will continue building apps for those users if they want to monetize in the US.

Outside the US, I know there are a number of countries where Windows Phone is actually more popular than iOS. Windows makes it really easy for developers to port their apps, and jumping onto a platform that grew significantly over the past few years could be really beneficial for a developer. If you’re developing a cross-platform application, considering some of the new platforms can definitely be worth the resources.