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All right, let’s get started. Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Over 700 interviews with proven entrepreneurs who come here to tell you their stories. So that you can learn fro them and build your own success story. And hopefully when you do you’ll come back here and do an interview as today’s guest is doing.
I met today’s guest because the other day I was looking through the app store at night before going to sleep to just see what was new and what was going on. I saw this app just dominate the entertainment section of the app store. I invited the founder on here to talk about he built the app. How the app got so many users. How it got so much press and how it became a success.
Jo Overline is the co-founder of Dapper Gentlemen which makes this app that I saw, it’s called The Ugly Meter, and a collection of other apps. Jo, welcome and thanks for coming here to tell your story.
Jo: Yeah, no problem.
Andrew: How many downloads have you had of The Ugly Meter?
Jo: We actually have two versions of The Ugly Meter, One came out in 2010 and we have had about five million downloads of that app. They’re not all paid downloads. We do free promos but there are a lot of users out there and it gives us a big customer base. A pretty valuable thing to have as far as launching new apps and things like that. We have someone to actually promote our product to.
Andrew: You do, you have someone internally who promotes it?
Jo: Well, it’s just to our, we do it ourselves but to our customer base. It’s hard, with over half a million apps in the iTunes store it’s tough to stand out. You have to have a unique product and you have to have a way to get it out there. Having a strong user base allows us to do that.
Andrew: Oh, you mean because you have a strong user base when you come up with a new app you can leverage that user base to get new users of the new app. I’m going to ask you about that as we go. But 5 million downloads, I think you told the Howard Stern show that it was 300,000-400,000 people paid $.99 a pop for the first app. Right?
Jo: Yeah, and that was before Howard. We had a crazy week last week. The kind of exposure you can get from a show like that is just unmatched. You can’t buy it anywhere. There’s no other way to get it. We actually did, just that single day on Howard, we did another $80,000 in sales that day.
Andrew: Of the $.99 app?
Jo: We have two versions. There’s the original Ugly Meter that’s $.99 and that was kind of a, it’s kind of a joke. Like a party app where you can force ratings on your friends and things. But then we actually made a new version called Ugly Meter Pro and that actually really scans your face and gives you feedback on your facial features and gives you a score on how good looking or ugly you are. That one is $5. The combination of the two, Ugly Meter Pro is what we were featuring on the show, but Ugly Meter and Ugly Meter Pro went to number one and two in entertainment in iTunes.
Literally while we were on the show. We got off the show, opened our phones up and both of our apps were at the top. Which, besides Angry Birds no apps hold the top two spots by the same person ever.
Andrew: That’s what I saw at night when I was looking through the app store and I said I’ve got to get this guy on. I’ve got to find out who’s behind this. I’ve got to find out how I can connect with him and I’ve got to find out how to get the guy on here. I’ve downloaded both apps. The $4.99 and $.99. The $.99 is clearly quick and it’s a jokey app that as soon as I went through it, it said something like you look like you, well it was just insults. It gave me a rating between one and ten and it gave me an insult. I did it again, the rating changed, the insult changed. Ha ha.
The other one took me some time to use. Can you tell people what the other one, what Ugly Meter Pro is? And then we’re going to talk about how you built it up, some of the great moments along the way. I promise you guys, if you’re thinking of getting in the mobile apps store, I’m going to talk to Jo about how he built this app in a way that will help you understand how to build your app. How he got publicity. If you think it’s just about the Howard Stern show you’re missing out. I’ve got a collection of media outlets that featured him long before the Howard Stern show did. The New York Post, Fox News, how did they create controversy on Fox News? MSNBC wrote a long piece on them. These guys are both good at creating apps and marketing them. That’s what I want to find out for you in this interview.
Going back to that question of Ugly Meter Pro. For someone who hasn’t downloaded it how would you explain what it does?
Jo: Well, Ugly Meter Pro, you take your photo with the app and it scans your face and it takes measurements of 100 different facial points. There’s some known scientific research that’s been published on beauty and there’s different ratios between different points on your face. Like a common one everybody kind of knows is the space right here between your eyes is supposed to be the width of your eye. That’s a common one. But there’s actually 100’s of different points.
Andrew: I didn’t realize that, OK.
Jo: And there’s different ratios. There’s what’s called the golden ratio. For example there’s certain points, like on a perfect mouth when you’re not smiling the width right here will line up with the pupils of the eyes. If your mouth is in more it’s too narrow for you face. If it’s bigger it’s too wide. The width of your nose to your mouth should be 1-1.6. There are a lot of different things like that and the app takes all those measurements, combines them all, takes variances, and gives you a score on 1-100 on how attractive you are.
For the people who heard us on the Stern show, it’s surprisingly accurate and consistent. We scanned Howard and he got a 34 and he was pretty upset about it. Scan me again! We scanned him again and got another 34. It’s a fun app because there’s nothing you can do about the way you look. People can try to do better but you look how you look. It’s honest about it too. It gives you feedback. It will say, it just doesn’t give you a number score that you wonder about. It gives you a, it will say your nose is 18% too narrow for your face and your eyes are too far apart. It gives you a whole paragraph explaining your score also.
Andrew: I saw that. And it takes a lot of, you spend a little bit of time with the app making sure that it knows, that it picks up on where your pupil is. That it picks up on where the right ending of your lips are and that it’s not confused by a mustache or something that you happen to have grown, or a shadow. Then, as you said, it gives you a score that is consistent. I’m very proud to say I’m somewhere above 55. I think it was 58.
Jo: That’s a lot better than I am.
Andrew: I really thought I’d end up being way, way lower. I thought I’d be something like 10. I think it’s the lighting in this office and the way I keep looking at myself via this little video Skype camera all day that makes me feel really down on the way I look. But truthfully I’m at like the best point in my life here. I’m dressing better than I ever have. I’m looking better than I ever have. This app, look at me, this app is actually perking me up. Damn you Fox News for thinking that it’s only going to have negative repercussions in the world. No, this is actually very helpful for some of us.
All right, I want to go in time and figure out how you got started and how you built it up and so on. But that must have been something to be on the Howard Stern show. You’re a fan, right?
Jo: Oh, a huge fan. I listen every single day. It was a big deal for us. It’s kind of interesting, we were on in 2010. In 2010 we had a week where all the media picked up Ugly Meter, the original. Ugly Meter Pro didn’t exist yet. It was crazy. Every news outlet in the country was reporting on it. We were on every news station. We actually got hurt (?) from Howard’s people and we were like wow, that’s cool. That’s all we care about. Who cares about anything else, to us? We were actually scheduled to go on there and bought our plane tickets. We were ready to go on the show and we get a call from the producer. He’s like hey guys, we’ve got to cancel you. I was like oh, I felt sick to my stomach just the second that it happened. Because we were looking forward to this.
It was funny because the original Ugly Meter was just a goof and Fox, MSNBC, New York Post, and all these news stations reporting on it were reporting on it as a real app. None of the media cared if it was a real app or not. They all just said it was because it was good news. They didn’t bother testing it. A lot of them even wanted us to, knew it was fake but wanted us to fake results on the air to make it look real.
Jo: Because it was a better story. Oh yeah, it was amazing. It was…
Andrew: Like who? Which major news outlet said that?
Jo: I don’t even remember, honestly. But it wasn’t just one of them. It was mostly like local news stations.
Andrew: I did see that they had their angle and they ran with it and it didn’t really matter if the app was real or not. I don’t think, I read the news stories in preparation for this interview, it didn’t matter to them that it didn’t work. I don’t think that many of the articles that I read even explained that it doesn’t work. It was only when I used it twice that I realized oh, all these guys are doing is taking a picture and showing me a funny comment and some score. How long did it take you to make that app, the one that actually got 300,000-400,000 downloads at $.99 a pop before even this latest crush of downloads?
Jo: Our first run at it? About three hours.
Andrew: Three hours?
Jo: Yeah, it was pretty quick. It was funny because we didn’t, we never expected to sell it. Then when Howard’s producer called and said hey, we’ve got to cancel you guys because they, the only people nationwide that tested it. They’re like this isn’t a real app, this is a goof and we can’t mislead our listeners. Of everyone nationwide Howard’s the one who…
Andrew: Who has integrity.
Jo: He has a loyal following and there’s a reason why and we saw that. We respected that but we said hey, can we just see the studio? They brought us on for two minutes just to say hi to Howard and let us go. We got home and I was like wow, you know, let’s make a real version of it. My friend who’s my co-developer of it, Ryan…
Andrew: Actually, I’m sorry. Let’s go back even before then. I want to go all the way back and really understand who you are. How did you get into mobile app development?
Jo: Well, I was programming since I was about 14, 15 years old. I’ve been doing it pretty much since I had my first computer.
Andrew: What kind of programs were you creating back when you were a teenager?
Jo: Things that would steal your AOL password.
Andrew: OK, really? Tell me about that.
Jo: I was in high school, this is mid-90’s and AOL was real big. It was $30 a month or whatever it cost. We couldn’t afford that. We were all on dial-up. There were a couple of other, I’m trying to think, Compuserve I think was one of the things…
Andrew: Prodigy, Compuserve.
Jo: For us to be able to get internet, because our parents wouldn’t pay for it. They didn’t even know what it was. They didn’t understand. We’d make these programs to, like, to get people’s password. Like fake sign on screens and stuff like that.
Andrew: How would you get it into people’s hands? How would you get it on their computer systems?
Jo: People were dumb back then. We could just go into a chat room and say here, run this program and people would just do it all day long.
Andrew: Oh, and then you’d get their password and you’d use that to log in and read their email.
Jo: Well, we didn’t really, it wasn’t even that. We never took any personal information. It was always just a, we had some internet. Because if you remember back in the day I think Compuserve charged, like you only had 10 hours a month or something. Or whatever it was. So we ran out of our internet time in like a day. Basically, to us, it was just, we wanted to be on the internet more and that was the only way we could do it. We weren’t old enough to have jobs yet. Our parents didn’t understand what the internet was so they weren’t going to pay for it. That was kind of what I would do in my nights.
I actually went to college at night when I was 15 to start learning programming. I learned a lot, most of it I learned myself. That’s kind of where I started because I didn’t know where to learn. But once I got the first class under my belt there I was like well, this is too slow. There’s all these old people, you know all the 20 year old, old people in the class, that are holding me back. It bothered me because it was so slow. Then I just went on, I learned myself because I couldn’t…
Andrew: By buying books?
Jo: Yeah, online. It was hard to find back then though. I mean, mostly it was experimenting and just learning myself because there really weren’t many books. There were some college textbooks and things that were, but it was hard. The resources are not available like they are today. There was no YouTube. You can learn to program through YouTube videos today.
Andrew: What other apps or what other programs did you create back then?
Jo: Mostly it was just stuff screwing around. We make little games. It was mostly for fun, just for our friends to hang out. Mostly, just learning. I…
Andrew: Were you entrepreneurial also? Were you the kind of guy who would create programs and sell them and see if you could make more money with them? Or was it just fun?
Jo: Yeah. I would do all kinds of stuff. Since I was 10 years old, we would paint addresses on curbs for money. We made good money. I know some kids go out and do it for a day, but I had people that I had as hired help to do it. We were starting little businesses back then. So, it’s something I’ve always done. We had a lawn mowing service. We never really were able to monetize software until recently, though.
App Store is an opportunity. Five, 10 years ago, there was no was to distribute apps unless you were a major publisher. App Store has changed that. You take a guy like me, and I’m smashing electronic arts in the App Store. That’s completely ridiculous, but it’s possible now to do.
Andrew: So, do you remember the first mobile app that you created? Or how did you get into mobile app creations specifically?
Jo: Well, Ryan, my friend, had an iPhone and I didn’t have one yet. He was kind of pestering me about it. Hey, we should do this, we should do this. I’m like, I don’t care, I don’t even know what an iPhone, I don’t care about my iPhone. Then I saw his phone one day and I was like, wow, that’s pretty good. The Maps app is what really got me. He was one of the first people so it was before we could send pictures on our iPhones to each other.
Andrew: Before the Apps Store even?
Jo: Yeah. Before the Apps Store. I saw the Maps app, and he’s like yeah, check this out. He opened it and the icon started blinking on the Maps app where we were, and I was like, oh my God. I went and got an iPhone the next day. I was like, that’s amazing. I was using my old Nokia, or whatever, I had at the time. There was no way it was doing something like that. So, the iPad launch was our first real…
Andrew: When the iPad came out, that’s when you guys decided we’re going to start to really build apps?
Jo: When they announced it, because we heard about the iPad, and were like, wow, the iPad is going to be big. We need to make software for it. The launch was coming up, I think it was in April, and we had a deadline. Like, let’s make a game for the iPad because not a lot of people were doing it, and there’s going to be no competition. It’s like the opportunity that we missed with the iPhone. Apple announced the iPad a month before, or something, and people can’t throw together games that fast. It’s near impossible.
So, that was our first real challenge, is getting something out for the iPad launch, with no iPads to test on. Apple doesn’t give out development devices, so we were doing this all on simulators and it ended up being a complete disaster, but it was our start.
Andrew: It was? What do you mean by complete disaster? What happened?
Jo: Well, we didn’t have devices to test on, which any developers out there know, what do you do? I can’t believe… We were shocked that Apple was not going to let anybody test their apps on the iPad before…
Andrew: I was too. Yeah.
Jo: …they came out. It was tough because the simulator is not the same. The iPad has a certain amount of memory on it. What would happen, we got our app submitted in time for the launch and Apple rejected it. They were saying, it just crashes upon opening. We were like, OK what else? They’re like, that’s all the feedback we can get from that. We had no other feedback. We didn’t know… It was working perfect on the simulator. I hadn’t had it crash once and it was just a huge game. The game was called Meatball Madness. It was like a Simon type game, and there was a lot of animations and things, and we had no idea.
So, we kept submitting it, changing some things, submitting it. We thought we fixed it each time, but we didn’t know because we didn’t have a device. They kept saying, no, this crashed. Then, we missed the iPad launch because it just wouldn’t work, which was hard for us because we worked day and night to get this app ready. We were sure that it was our golden ticket to…
Andrew: To greatness.
Jo: Yeah. It just didn’t happen. We got iPads finally, plugged in the iPad, and they were right, boots up and crashes. The problem ended up being the animations we were using were way too large and complex. The iPad was literally running out of memory within 10 seconds of our app launching.
Andrew: I’ve got a screenshot in my notes here of the apps that you have running. Next to Meatball Madness it says, this was our very second app and really our first game. A lot of work and love went into making this and it’s just too bad that only a handful of people have ever played it. You guys are so honest and I love how you write on your site. So, what was the first one then if that’s the second?
Jo: You know, I had totally forgotten about the first one because it was just a quick project. We made like a comic book, it was a digital comic book and we had users submit the content and we threw it together.
Andrew: Father Sterling Comic?
Jo: Yeah, that was so minor I totally forgot about it.
Andrew: It’s an iPad app or, no, iPhone?
Jo: That was, I think we put that on iPhone. But that was just kind of, that was one of my, I forgot we even published it. It was one of my just learning to do apps. One of our test things. It was not even anything we were selling.
Andrew: OK. The reason that it’s on your website and the reason that you’re so open about Meatball Madness is it seems like your company, Dapper Gentlemen, is designed as a consulting company to create apps for other people?
Jo: We do contract work. I mean, it’s a great, see apps, the app store is very hit and miss. Obviously with Ugly Meter you’ve seen a huge hit and every app is not that way though. In fact most aren’t. It’s tough out there. There’s half a million apps, how do you stand out in that? But then there’s contract work. We can bill $100-$300 an hour in contract work. Which, you know, that’s not bad money.
Andrew: Not bad at all.
Jo: Because we’re not a company billing this and paying the developer $25 an hour. That’s our money. And it’s guaranteed money, it’s different. We do some contract work too. Because everybody has an idea for an app right now. Literally every single person you talk to has, I know what would be the next $1 million app. There’s a lot of opportunities to make those apps for people and make some good money in the process. It’s, iPhone…
Andrew: You’re still doing it now even though Ugly Meter has done so well for you? Because it’s a hit or miss business and Ugly Meter could peter out in a few months when people are tired of the novelty of it?
Jo: And it will. I mean, you take Ugly Meter, for example last week we did roughly over $200,000 in Ugly Meter sales.
Jo: In a week. Hey, that’s great money. But we’ve already seen this week once you drop in the store you drop fast. Yesterday we did maybe $4,000-$5,000.
Andrew: Which is solid but I see the big difference.
Jo: Obviously, we can’t complain.
Andrew: Overall how much money have you made with Ugly Meter, both of them?
Jo: With this week I mean, I would say now we’re up to $500,000 or $600,000.
Andrew: That you get directly after Apple gets its cut?
Jo: Apple gets a cut, I mean I would say we’ve probably taken in actually after Apple’s cut, probably taken about $400,000.
Andrew: Wow. And you’re still doing other contract work. You’re not sitting around saying we need the next Ugly Meter. Maybe it will be Ugly Foot Meter or Ugly Hand Meter.
Jo: It’s hard, you know. It’s got have a gimmick and people love vanity is why Ugly Meter is popular. We’re talking about ways to expand Ugly Meter because it’s a brand now. I mean it’s turned into that because so many people use it. Any talk we have about new Ugly Meter type stuff is expanding the app, maybe build in social sharing, things like that.
Andrew: Yeah, I’d love to see social sharing. I’d love to be able to post online what my rating was or even a do-over function. It’s just so stripped down. It’s the most basic of apps.
Jo: Well, Ugly Meter Pro, the reason for that is Ugly Meter Pro I never expected anybody to buy. Just like the first Ugly Meter, we never did. Ugly Meter Pro, I strictly made to pitch to Howard again.
Andrew: Just to get on the Howard Stern show.
Jo: I wanted to get back on. My friend Ryan got stuck in the waiting room last time, didn’t get to meet anybody because they didn’t really even want us in there. They were just doing it as a favor because they knew we were fans and didn’t want to screw us. Which was really nice of them but Ryan didn’t get to meet anybody. Ryan didn’t even know I made Ugly Meter Pro.
I spent a year on it in my own time and he came over to my house one day to work on another project and I was like hey, I’ve got something to show you. I started up Ugly Meter. He’s like yeah, I was like just try it. He tried it and he’s like whoa, what is this? I’m like I remade it, I’m going to get us back on Howard. He laughed and he’s like yeah, good luck getting us back. He’s like this is awesome but, you know, how are you going to get back on Howard? I kept in touch with those guys over the years and I…
Andrew: What do you mean by kept in touch? Most people would say oh, you know what, I had my shot. Life is good. Maybe I’ll get another shot but they don’t want to hear from me. You stayed in touch and actually got back on. How’d you do that?
Jo: Well, you know, the producers are all nice guys. They’re normal guys. And we were gracious to have them on. After we were on the show we actually sent them thank you notes and like gift baskets. Like hey, thanks for having us on. We were really, we did that because we were truly appreciative to do it. It was a big opportunity for us, so to them, to me it was funny, like, that was the thing we should’ve done, like, OK, thanks for having us on, here’s a token of our appreciation, but nobody really does that, I guess. It’s almost a marketing thing, you know. They remembered us and I just keep an email contact every once in a while, so when it came time for Ugly Meter Pro and over a year later, I released it in the app store.
Literally, that day I printed out screen shots. I wrote a letter, overnight it Will, the producer over there. He knew who I was because we had talked a couple of times over the year. That day he got it, he said, “Hey, this is great. We’re going to have you guys back on, and . . .
Andrew: That’s great.
Jo: . . . It’s going to be a [greater] segment this time.” That was the greatest feeling in the world. We didn’t really care about the sales dollars at that point. We were like, wow, we’re going to be real guest on Howard. . . The day he sat aside for us, I mean that’s pretty . . . They didn’t even know going into it, was it going to be a [500 bet]; is Howard going to kick us out and get bored or . . .
Andrew: Would’ve lasted as long as it had.
Jo: . . . no one expected it to turn . . .
Andrew: You’re saying it’s still going on today.
Jo: It’s still . . .
Andrew: It’s been a few days since you were . . .
Jo: . . . I talked to 100 News yesterday afternoon. We’re passed a week after it happened because people are still freaking out. Their news guy, John Liberman, you know, I feel bad for him, but didn’t get a great story. He went berserk. He went crazy. They’ve actually changed his intro song now when he walks in to play the news to his Ugly Meter score. I mean, they’re never going to let that go with him, and it’s cool though, but they play that thing three or four times a day when he walks in the studio. That’s, we can’t buy that adver- . . .
I mean [?? and Howard] you just can’t get that. That’s going to go on forever for us, so it’s a [inaudible] to everything they’ve done for us. It’s been awesome.
Andrew: All right, so you launched the second app. The first app was a trial find. The second app came full . . . you’re saying that it didn’t go well. What happened next? Did you build apps for other people at that point, or did you say I still need another shot in this store; I think I can make it.
Jo: Well, the mistake we made a the beginning is we always wanted to make games. The reason why is games are fun. They’re fun for people. They’re fun for us to make. They have fun graphics. There’s a lot with games. We continued on the path of making games. We did another game called Wordicus. Words With Friends is real popular. We need a word game; let’s do multiplay . . . nobody’s doing multiplayer yet. Words With Friends was the first guys to do turn-by-turn multiplayer, and, like, we’re going to do a turn-by-turn multiplayer.
We spent eight or nine probably on that app. It was huge. We took some of our money from Ugly Meter. We were like, this is it; this is a great game; it’s one of the only multiplayer games. We did the biggest launch that we could do. We spent $22,000 on online ads through Touch Arcade, through a couple of just big tech sites. We had an ad on Tech Crunch for a month. We were like, this is five million views; this is . . . Wordicus is going to be . . .
We threw a huge launch party at our house with all our friends. We had 150 people over at our house. We were ready, and nobody brought it, again.
Andrew: How much money did you do in sells for Wordicus?
Jo: Oh, gosh. Our launch week, 150 bucks.
Andrew: Oh, wow, wow.
Jo: It was depressing. It was tough. At that point, we were like, wow, do we even do this anymore because it’s a tough market. Then that, we tried to buy our way into it, and we couldn’t buy our way into it. I mean, we with 20 grand, we did not put a dent in sales.
Andrew: Wow, unbelievable. I wonder if it was the right kind of ads then. If you’re buying ads on sites like Tech Crunch, maybe that’s not the place to do it. Maybe it’s ads within other apps that would get you more downloads. What do you think about placement versus the overall effectiveness of ads?
Jo: Well, Touch Arcade is where we had spent half of our money. Touch Arcade was our focus. I don’t know if you’re familiar, but all they do is iPhone gaming, mobile gaming. That is exactly our market, and it couldn’t been more targeted It was just not effective. We did buy some [??] banners and stuff, but what we have found, ad money is a complete waste of money,. It all comes down to press.
That’s all that matters. I mean, you cannot, I mean we did nothing with $20,000. So, if we did $100,000 it did five times nothing. [laughing] We started doing our multi-million dollar national campaign that only big companies can do. Who knows how effective that is either? But they have the budgets that can handle it. So, yeah. It was rough on us that all that money was gone and we had nothing to show for it.
Andrew: So, it seems like before you did Wordicus, you created the Ugly Meter. This was a quick app done in a matter of hours. You launch it, it starts to do well, but how do you get press? Jay Leno, Today Show, FOX, Daily Mail. Actually, you launch it, and then does it starts to get downloads already? Or is it only… No, it doesn’t. It just basically sits there until you get the press?
Jo: Yeah. Ugly Meter was just sitting there and doing five downloads a day, or something. I was fine with that. I didn’t think people were going to buy Ugly Meter. I made it as a goof, I was just… Again, what happened is I needed to learn how to utilize the iPhone camera for some other stuff we wanted to do. I was like, you know what? I’d love to make Ugly Meter because it will take a picture and tell you how ugly you are, and that was going to be our project. When you’re learning your program, the easiest way to do it is to set a goal and jump right into it.
This one was like, let’s make Ugly Meter. Obviously it couldn’t be real at that point. So, we did. We jumped into that. We weren’t expecting to sell them, so there was no disappointment there. Then, the Daily Mail in the UK, which is kind of a Rag Mag over there, ran something that they saw it.
Andrew: They just happened to pick up on it on their own. One of their writers decided to write a piece. I don’t remember. What did the Daily Mail say about it?
Jo: Well it was funny because Daily Mail ran a story on their website saying, hey look at this app, Ugly Meter. We scanned all these celebrities and got their scores. They were the first ones because it was funny. They contacted us and said, hey is Ugly Meter real? Does it work? We’re like, no. Are you kidding me? They ran that as real anyway, and we see an hour later on their website, it pops up that it’s all real. They had taken people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and scanned them enough times to where the random score became something that looked accurate and published all those results.
Andrew: That’s the part that’s shocking to me. That in order to get the ratings that I saw some of these articles get for Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and I forget who else they did, they must have really scanned more than once to get it to that point.
Jo: Absolutely. The original Ugly Meter, yeah. Ugly Meter Pro, now a different story, but back then? Yeah. That’s when we really learned a lot about the press and a lot about the news. It’s a business like any other and marketing is just as important to them. If they would have ran the story about Ugly Meter, hey, yeah, this is a joke that you can do on your friends, nobody would have cared. But see, what happened then it came out, Ugly Meter, this app. Then FOX picked it up and then CBS, NBC. I mean, literally every…
Andrew: So, it wasn’t you calling and promoting to all these other outlets. They were reading one of their own, and they saw this story and they said, ah. Each one of them said, I can come up with my own angle on this.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah. Well…
Andrew: Did you do anything to nurse it or was it just happenstance?
Jo: We had tried. That week when we were busy, because we were busy, we were contacting… We actually emailed Howard about it. That’s how we got on them. They were responding to our requests, but we were contacting everybody, like Tonight Show. We were angling, trying to get on the show and all these things. We tried, but it really didn’t have, nobody cares. They want to run this stuff that’s in the news. What happened, so three or four days after, it was big in the news. I had done 50, 60 radio interviews with like morning shows and things like that.
New York Post, it came on their radar and I think they realized they were a few days too late. They didn’t want to run the story everyone’s been running for three or four days. So, New York Post completely made up the thing about Ugly Meter, it’s a bully tool. Bullying was big in the news back then. FOX then rolled with… FOX at the same time said Ugly Meter, look at this new thing. It’s being used by bullies nationwide. Then, that is when things really got crazy because the bad press was a lot more beneficial than the fun press.
Andrew: This is what the home page of your site says next to the link to the New York Post article. It says, oh look, yet another news organization, picking up a fake story bringing us even more press and sales. Hizaa!
Jo: Yeah. It was. So, it was then, it was funny the tone of all the interviews changed. Fox News called us on and it was funny because they called us. They’re like, hey guys, we love the app. We want to have you on.
Andrew: Clearly lying to you to get you excited to get you on.
Jo: Yeah, it was great and they said, we’re going to have on national news. You’ve got to come in to our Fox National News channel. And we were like, wow, this is crazy. So we get on the show. We’re ready to go and the girl that’s on, the newscaster, the first thing out of her mouth, she’s just like, so how do you feel that your app is being used to bully children. And both of our jaws just dropped. We had heard the stuff earlier in the week, but they totally misrepresented it so we were on there thinking they love us, they’re going to promote us, but they were there to set us up. Thankfully, we are who we are and we don’t get, I think the right kind of person would have just flipped out, Ryan just looks right at the camera and just told her, ‘Well, if that’s how you want to put it, I guess we’re fine with it.’
Andrew: Oh, really.
Jo: And the woman, we just turned it right back on her. They were ready to create some big conflict. We knew there were zero reports of the app used for bullying. We made up, nationwide there was not one story of, hey, little Billy got bullied and in fact, the funny thing is, the newscasters were the ones that were bullying because to make a good story, the newscasters were going to the high schools and finding all the high school kids outside and they’re scanning all these high school girls and saying, ‘Look, this app says you’re ugly. How do you feel about that?’
So the newscasters that were reporting all the bullying were the ones doing all the bullying. There was one girl and she started crying because the app told her she was ugly and she’s sitting there crying on the camera. They never told her it wasn’t real. They could have. They were worse than anybody. It was unbelievable so it was a crazy week.
Andrew: A lot of people at that point would have said, ‘Whew, you know what, the media is in for us. We’ve got to just back away. These guys are going to destroy us, our reputations, our online Google searches will always be destroyed, and no one will ever want to work with us.’ You guys instead embraced it.
Jo: That was the only … We had no reason … My personality, I’m not going to back down to anybody. I don’t care what they say.
Andrew: So, it’s just that you internally are a fighter.
Jo: Yeah, that would happen on these shows. When we’d do a radio show, they’d either love it or attack us. I would be right back. We had these parental groups issuing press releases about it to stay away from the Ugly Meter. We attacked them right back because we said, ‘You know what. Give us a break. Every time you idiots issue a press release, you’re getting us more downloads. If you really cared about bullying children, then you would keep your mouth shut. You issuing a press release got us 5,000 more sales today and 5,000 more kids have Ugly Meter.’
Andrew: And you specifically knew the number and you specifically told them the number. Was it real?
Jo: We’d say, ‘Give me a break.’ These organizations, these parental groups and their agendas are for them to be in the news. Their agenda is not to really help kids or anything. They want to be in the news as much as any body else and we learned that too because they were using us to get more coverage for them and it worked.
Andrew: You know, maybe I should be doing that hear at mixergy. Maybe the headline on this interview needs to be: How to Make Half a Million Bucks by Destroying Kids Self-Esteem.
Jo: You know what, it’s perfect, really. It is perfect and more people would read it because it’s conflict and it’s …
Andrew: I’m going to write that down. How do you feel if I actually went with that as a headline?
Jo: I’m happy with that.
Andrew: I don’t know if that’s actually my style, but let’s just write it down and we’ll think about it later. You know what, I would have backed down or I would have just said, I’ve got a better, I’ve got to maintain my name, I have to maintain my reputation and then I would have lost the sales and I would have lost the growth and momentum that comes from this and then of course, the next level which is to create a new app. You didn’t. You ended up with more sales. Ryan Allen, your co-owner at the business, he also felt the same way about this?
Jo: He was conflicted. There were days he wanted to pull the app and I wouldn’t hear of it. There were a lot of discussions that week of him, his big conflict was everybody was reporting that it was real and it wasn’t. The bowling thing he didn’t really care about.
Andrew: Because he knew the bowling didn’t happen but his integrity as a developer was corrupted and people would think he was trying to pass off something as real when it’s not.
Andrew: …that’ll come across as a liar.
Jo: I was telling him, look, no matter what we do or what we say, we’ve seen this week the news stations report whatever they want. It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not. We’ve seen them time after time just making up stories to suit their agenda. It doesn’t matter. It went on and obviously we kept it in the store and we’re both glad we did. That was an amazing week for us because we had $127,000 in sales in a week. We were like, wow, we’ve finally hit it with apps. Obviously we’re not retiring, but…
Andrew: How did life change, by the way, after that? Because you guys weren’t making much money before then. Did you…
Jo: We’ve never taken a dollar from our app sales.
Jo: We’re piling it up in the bank and we use our money for investing in other apps advertising. We’re getting to the point where we can expand the business. Ryan does contracted graphic design work and I have another business. We live day to day on that. We, with the apps…
Andrew: This contract work that you guys live off of and this other business, what’s the other business?
Jo: I own a lighting manufacture, we manufacture and distribute LED lighting.
Andrew: Oh really?
Jo: Yeah. I own that business. I started that business with my wife 12 years ago. That’s my day job. That’s my real job. Then there’s weeks apps are going to make more money sometimes, but then you have six months where they don’t. Where they don’t make anything. Ugly Meter, like I said earlier, is dropping off and dropping off fast. Until we get lucky again with some news… I mean, we made it happen this time with Howard, but it rolled like we never would have expected it to. So, until the next time, we’ll make a little bit of money. We made over $200,000 last week and we’ll hold on to that until another opportunity comes up.
Andrew: Who’s Eugene Overline? I saw articles with quotes from him.
Jo: That’s me. That’s my actual real name. My friends call me Jo, though. Yeah, that’s me. Anything you see by that, that’s what I said.
Andrew: I see. OK.
Jo: Unless it’s just a made-up quote. There’s someone else out there.
Andrew: Did anyone make up quotes?
Jo: Oh, there’s stuff. Nothing major. Usually the stuff that was made up was a lot tamer than stuff we actually would’ve come out and said. So, it was never [???].
Andrew: Ari [SP], please when you write the intro, I’m talking to the person that’s going to be writing this blog post. Ari please, pull out that piece where he said he doesn’t care about bullying kids and attribute that to both him and Ryan. [laughing] All right. So, it seems like that’s the big one. Then you’ve got Dapper Soundboard HD, Free Flash Light, and those are the only other two.
Jo: You’ll see those things. There’s those little apps out there and we don’t even think of them because that first Soundboard we made, I was like I need to learn a new way to do sounds on the iPhone. So, we were like, all right, let’s make a Soundboard. We did that to just kind of learn all about the audio on the iPhone. We throw that in the store, and it’s free too. It’s not like something we’re trying to sell. Same thing with Flashlight. We needed the LED on the flashlight for an app, and I was like, all right, well let’s just make a flashlight and, that’s a project. The nice thing is that it’s free to submit things to the App Store, so we just throw them out there. People can have them if they want and if not, we don’t care because it was just sample projects anyways for us.
Andrew: How do you get clients? How do you get consulting clients, the ones that have kept you guys going?
Jo: They come to us. People see us in the news.
Andrew: They do?
Jo: After Howard, we’re still getting emails constantly about people, hey I want to make this app. I want to hire you for this. People see us in the top of the charts. We’re actually a company so a lot of the apps have just some guys name next to them. People aren’t comfortable with that. Despite Ugly Meter, we’re pretty professional, as far as our clients. I have been programming for a long time. For someone my age, I’ve been doing it a long time. So…
Andrew: How old are you now? You must be like 32?
Jo: I’m 31.
Andrew: 31. OK.
Jo: I’m 32 this summer, so I’ve been doing it half my life. As far as iPhone programming goes, I’m one of the best guys out there for it. Ryan does graphic design and he’s done a lot of professional work.
Andrew: How can you guys handle all the work that you get from…
Jo: It’s hard. It’s hard.
Andrew: The attention… Can you do it all yourselves?
Jo: No. We contract some, we hire some help. We have friends that have helped us out with work from time to time, but we turn down business too. We just don’t take any contract work. We only do the stuff we want to do.
Andrew: What’s the most fun that you guys did for someone else?
Jo: None of them really.
Andrew: What’s that?
Jo: None of them really. They’re boring generally. You know, they…
Andrew: But you say you only take the apps that you want to make, that you’re excited about. But they’re still boring?
Jo: Yeah. I mean, it’s just, there’s a lot of just stupid stuff out there. Generally we’re under non-disclosure agreements on all of them. But yeah, we just take the stuff that we want to do. And we have the freedom to do that now because we can. We don’t want to get stuck doing a project that we don’t want. We don’t accept everything. We listen to someone’s project. If we want to do it and it’s a good idea we’ll do it. If we don’t we’ll just say you know, talk to someone else about it. We’re not interested. We pick and choose.
Andrew: OK. We mentioned earlier that you have 5 million downloads of The Ugly Meter. It seems to me like you charged $.99 for a while. It blew up, it generated revenue. Terrific. Then when it started to go down you guys went free and that’s when you got millions more. Is that right?
Jo: Yeah, we do, what happens about three or four different times we’ve made the app free. We do it sometimes for a day or two, sometimes a week. The idea behind doing that is as soon as an app goes free people start downloading it. Especially if it’s one that was popular before. There’s all this software out there that watches the app store and as soon as an app that was popular goes free it’s posted a lot of places. We’ll get, over a week of it being free, close to a million downloads of Ugly Meter. What our goal is with that is when our sales drop below, when we’re down to 100 a day or something that’s useless what we’ll do is we’ll make it free. What we hope to do is get 100,000, half a million people using it and then we switch it back to paid. Hopefully we have those half a million out there scanning their friends.
Andrew: Then their friends say oh, I’ve got to try this on my wife, on my brother, on my husband. What about ads? I didn’t see any ads in there. We did a course at Mixergy with Mike and Quak, the guys who created Free the Apps. They did over $1 million in ad revenue, they only do ad revenue, all on outsourced apps. They say that ads are a phenomenal way to bring in revenue from simple apps like the one you created. But I didn’t see any ads in yours.
Jo: We don’t believe in putting ads in paid apps, for one. Because if the person has paid for an app we’re not going to put ads in there in addition. Second, ads are good if you have millions and millions of users.
Andrew: But don’t you have 5 million users?
Jo: Yeah, but…
Andrew: It’s not consistent. They download and then they move on.
Jo: Yeah, and the thing is ads take a lot of use. Ugly Meter people use a couple of times. If a game, like a free version of Angry Birds or something like that, that people use a lot and get a lot of banner rotations and ads. A lot of games will do that. But Ugly Meter it’s really, and it doesn’t make, ads are a good way to make money if you can’t get money for the app. We can charge people for Ugly Meter so we do. If we couldn’t it might make sense to do free with ads.
Andrew: I think the founder of My Pad, you know the guy who created the first Facebook app, excuse me, a Facebook app for the iPad before Facebook did. I think he charges for his app and he has ads in there. There’s a little bit of controversy but he says for the most part it does well and if you guys are aggressive with the ad networks that you could do well with ads also. But you’re just open to it? You say if people pay, we just don’t…
Jo: Yeah, Ryan kind of talked me into that. Me, I’m on the business side of let’s do what we can, let’s make as much money as we can. Ryan is more, Ryan’s more loyal to the user experience than I am. I’ve run another business for 12 years so I look at the bottom line. Ryan looks at who we should be and what we should do. It’s a good mix for us because sometimes he talks some sense into me. Like things like this, you know, he explained to me why he felt we shouldn’t have ads on our paid apps. You know, and he sold me on that idea.
Then there’s other things too where it goes both ways. I’ll talk to him about look, I know you want to do this but it’s going to cost us a lot of money and not make any money. We need to find a better way or, so we have a good relationship. We’ve known each other almost our whole lives. We’re pretty open about that stuff. We can work together in a good way. We’re a little different so it’s a good match for the business. It gives us a little bit of both sides.
Andrew: Yeah, I find that, too. To have one person who’s the customer advocate and one person who’s the bottom line advocate in a company makes for a really strong company. It allows each side to fully push for one point of view. What else do I want to know? Oh, we also talked about, actually before I get to leverage. First thing I noticed when I downloaded the cheaper app, the one that doesn’t really work, is it asked me if I wanted to upgrade and pay for god mode which allows me then to decide how ugly or beautiful my friends look. How effective was that for you?
Jo: It’s been huge. I wish we did it a long time ago. That was one of our first steps in trying to monetize Ugly Meter more as a brand. It’s funny because god mode was actually built into the app the whole time and nobody knew it was except me.
Andrew: It was a hidden feature than anyone could have used?
Jo: They could have, well, it was hidden buttons and no one would ever find it or know. It was funny, the reason it was in there is because I had to throw it in there because so many of the news station wanted me to fake results. I had to be able to have a say on the fly if someone was hot or ugly. That’s why it even existed. Then almost a year later we were just sitting there like you know, let’s give it shot. What if we charge a buck? Because nothing’s more fun than telling your friends they’re ugly and knowing that it’s going to say it. We took that and we added the button.
It’s interesting because at certain times we have up to 50% of our users on certain days upgrade to god mode. We’re getting another dollar out of 50% of our users. Some days it’s as low as like 15%-20%. But in-app purchase rates are usually around 1%.
Andrew: And you guys go pretty aggressive with it. The way it’s worked for you is the user opens up the app and you say hey, do you want to upgrade to god mode? Click here and you get it. If they don’t they can move on to the app itself. If I open up the app again tomorrow will it still ask me if I want to upgrade to god mode?
Jo: It’s a banner on the front button. In the first thing it says scan male, female and right above it, like three times as big, it says upgrade to god mode.
Andrew: I see, so it’s always visible when you go to scan in. That’s why you get so many people. What else do I want to know? Leveraging, you and I talked at the beginning of this interview about how you have 5 million users which you can then leverage to promote other apps. But when we talked about Wordicus it seems like you didn’t get any members because of that, right? Why not?
Jo: We didn’t do it right. We’ve learned a lot. These days too we have email addresses for most of those people. We use push notifications now where we can in an instant, right now I can send a message that will pop up on the phones of all 5 million Ugly Meter users. We can use those things now to, we can change the banner ad for god mode in Ugly Meter I can issue an update on our server and it can say try our new game, this.
Andrew: And push that out to people?
Jo: I can push out and every time somebody launches Ugly Meter from that point on it will say, it will be promoting our new game. It’s kind of, it gives us some options. Our next game or whatever we do, like we have a very successful app called Securely. Nothing like Ugly Meter. But Securely, we used password storage apps like Splash ID and One Password and both Ryan and I, within one week had those apps crash on us and lose all our data. We had no passwords, no logins. It was awful.
Like screw it, we’re making a new password app. It’s going to be better. It’s going to be simple. It’s not going to have all the bloated crap that these ones have. We made it, we threw it together. It was the first, and I think still the only, password app that not only stores all your passwords in a nice interface but backs them up to iCloud. It’s cool because it syncs across all your devices.
Andrew: How long did it take you to make that app?
Jo: Two weeks probably.
Andrew: Here’s what I’m learning from this interview. I’m learning number one go simple with the apps. Really keep the light. Number two offer them for free, go really inexpensively and then have an upgrade that’s visible throughout the app experience. Next thing, collect email addresses where possible so you can market future products to them. Ask for push notifications also, not where possible but always do that so you can promote in the future or bring people back to the app. We talked about keeping it simple, that’s something else that I learned.
Promotion, ads don’t work. Or at least for you they didn’t work as well as getting PR. If you want to get real PR be controversial. I’m thinking maybe I should create an app that, you know, you hold it up to a person’s face, take a picture and it’s going to tell them how rich they’re going to be. Or how much God loves them or hates them and really get people pissed.
Jo: Well, the thing about Ugly Meter that’s cool, Ugly Meter the name is great. I mean, there’s other things in the App store, that are like, Beauty Meter 5000. No one wants to hear that. Ugly Meter had that kind of negative tone to it, and people were drawn towards it. It was a cool name. It was a cool idea.
Andrew: Did you see Ugly Meter Plus in the store?
Jo: Yeah, we’re dealing with that right now; our lawyers are dealing with that one right now. This happens…
Andrew: They copied your name and added a Plus instead of the Pro.
Jo: Yeah, and we have a trademark on Ugly Meter. They can’t do that. We have the lawyers involved right now. Getting that pulled from the store takes a couple days. It pulls pretty slow. About responding to that kind of stuff, yeah, that happens. Anything that’s popular you get copied.
Andrew: The first app, how much did that bring in total? You said, $400,000, bottom line, from the combined apps. The first one, the one that was just a gimmick that took you three hours to create, how much?
Jo: Probably $300,000, to that. Ugly Meter Pro didn’t even exist until about two weeks ago. That’s probably brought in about $100,000, since then.
Andrew: All right. Let me quickly tell the audience where, if they want to follow up with it, they can do that. Then I want to ask you a really important question. Here it is guys, if you’re interested in making mobile apps, we have something called Mixergy Premium, where I invite proven entrepreneurs to turn on their computers, and show you how they built their apps. How they had them outsourced, actually. We don’t do any development courses at Mixergy Premium.
But, if you’re not a developer, and you want to know how to outsource it, go to mixergypremium.com and you’ll find Mike Sykes [SP] of Freebie Apps, who I talked about earlier. They showed you how they went to Eland’s [SP], hired developers, made sure those developers got their work done on time. Or else they didn’t get paid. They made sure the developers didn’t steal their ideas. Which, frankly, I don’t think is that big of an issue.
They still talked about it, and you can see it, if you’re concerned about theft of your ideas. They also talked about how to generate revenue from advertising. That’s the Mike Sykes [SP] course. So, if you go into the app store right now, guys, and you do a search for Apps Savvy,… In fact, forget doing the search to the feature, to the ones promoted by Apple. You’ll see one of those apps is an Apps Savvy app. In fact, Apple often promotes Apps Savvy apps.
The reason I say that is because, at Mixergy Premium we invited the founder of Apps Savvy to talk about how he has his apps developed. How he designs them in a way that Apple gets excited about them, and how he promotes them. That’s also the Ken Yarmosh course. It’s also available at mixergypremium.com. He is also the author of the O’Reilly book on how to turn ideas into iPad and iPhone apps. We give you the digital version of that book, included in the course. Again, all that if you’re a premium member. I’m not selling you on it. I’m just telling you to go to mixergypremium.com and be aware that this stuff is there. If you’re not a premium member, I hope you join us for a low monthly fee, where you get access to all of these. Or as we build them, based on your feedback and based on what’s hot.
Right now, mobile is hot, as you’ve seen. Because, there’s not as much competition. There’s more and more competition, though. Guys like Jo are coming in every day. So, I hope you guys join now, and create your app. Jo, if someone wants to create mobile apps, we give them a lot of ideas here. We told them your story. I broke down your story as best as I could. I gave them courses where they could go, and follow-up. Sometimes that’s overwhelming. Give them one piece of feedback that will give them outsized results. What’s your advice for someone who wants to create a mobile app?
Jo: It has to be unique. I mean, it’s hard. When there’s half a million apps out there, you need to do something unique, and you need to do it better. That’s basically, what it is. Hopefully, the sales follow. But, it is hit and miss. It’s a different market than what it was, two or three years ago. Because now, everybody wants a piece of it. Literally, everybody has a phone with an idea. It’s basically, got to be a unique idea, and something strong that people need. If you make an app, we make apps that we would want. Like the password app, we needed a password app, so we made Securely. We figure if we want it, and we need it, then someone else out there does, too.
Andrew: Right. That’s good advice for coming up with ideas for apps. You guys have made it. You broke through all the noise, and you created one of the success stories in the App Store. If anyone wants to check out Jo’s other apps, or if you have an idea that’s strong enough for Jo and his partner Ryan, to get excited about, and if you want to see if you can hire them, go to dappergentlemen.com. Not only will you see all these news stories that we talked about, and see their funny takes on those news stories, you will see lots of prominently placed buttons. Where you can give them your idea, and see if they would be willing to take you on as a client, and help you build it. That’s dappergentlemen.com and of course, the Ugly Meter.
Jo, thanks for doing this interview. I know you’re away, and you’re out of town. You agreed to find a way to make this work. Thank you.
Jo: That’s not a problem, appreciate it.