PING POWER: Moonbeam Development owner Richard Harris says the company’s Chirp app has 250,000 downloads.
Business Spotlight: Sea of Apps
There’s only one Flappy Bird.
It’s the poster child for mindless yet moneymaking mobile apps. But for every Flappy Bird, there are thousands of peeing monkey games and air horn sound-effect apps.
Richard Harris of Moonbeam Development has created his fair share of silly apps.
Milk It has been on the market since 2010. Yep, it tests one’s farm skills by swiping animal teats in timed play to see who can draw the most milk.
“You could just about program anything that was mildly entertaining and see quite a bit of success,” Harris says of his 2009 entry in the mobile applications business.
“Publish and see how it goes,” was the company’s mantra the first three years.
“Through that, several very popular apps were born,” he says. “Many of our apps went to No. 1 or sub-25 in the Android and Apple app stores.”
Milk It has topped 2 million downloads, Harris says, while the Useful Facts app is in the 3.5 million-download range. He also points to the Monogram Maker custom photo and wallpaper app and the Naughty or Nice Scan, a holiday app updated in November that he says reached No. 11 overall in the Apple store.
He’s never seen $50,000 a day in app-generated ad revenue. But the most lucrative app he’s developed netted a seven-figure payday – for a client.
The Springfield company created the Battery Saver for Android app that was white-labeled by Crowd Funnel. It was a $35,000 job.
“And they sold it for $3 million,” Harris says. “They were better marketers.”
He’s now putting his chips on Chirp, a GPS travel app he developed out of necessity as a dad.
“In 2012, my kids were just starting to drive,” he says, and with safety, accountability and valuable commodities in mind, he built something for parents to track traveling children or companies to follow moving merchandise.
Moonbeam Development also creates websites and hosts data. The five employees are tucked into the RDI Building on East Chestnut Expressway, where a server room hums to the tune of data crunches and another secure server at an undisclosed location supports the remaining Web work.
Fresh off an update to version 2.7 in February, the Chirp Phone Tracker app has 250,000 downloads and 63,000 registered users – a strong retention rate in an easy-come, easy-go app world.
“The download numbers aren’t impressive, but it’s by far the most used app we have,” says Harris, a software engineer by trade who worked 15 years as a senior administrator for Assemblies of God as well as a programmer for McKesson Corp. “I would like to see that turn into 630,000 users. We’re capable.”
Chirp features include real-time locators on map satellite or street views, indicating speed, distance and stops, as well as weather and crime notifications. It’s engineered with panic alerts, messaging and turn-by-turn directions to paired phones.
“It is device agnostic,” Harris says. “It’s kind of like a black box on an airplane. It’s pinging all the time.”
Tap the traveling dots on one phone and the driver’s actual speed pops up. There is a “Make Me Invisible” option, but a parent also has the ability to lock Chirp so it can’t be turned off.
“It’s a little incriminating,” Harris says. “Kids tend to not want it, but dad’s paying for gas.”
Users as far as Israel and Japan have signed on for the $5 monthly or $50 annual subscription.
“It’s probably going to turn into a little side company,” he says.
On the business-to-business side, local clients include Pellegrino’s School of Music and Load & Go Landscape Products. More broadly, Moonbeam has handled projects – typically $30,000-$150,000 – for serial entrepreneur Itai Kathein of Mobixi and France-based AccorHotels.
Last year, Renew Biomass researched app developers and chose Moonbeam for a custom agriculture product. The main objective: streamline paperwork and data coming from the field to the office, says Eric Allphin, the director of agriculture.
“You can write things on a piece of paper, and that paper can be misplaced pretty easily,” he says. “You don’t misplace your phone.”
Renew Biomass, a subsidiary of M-Fiber, produces non-GMO and gluten-free fiber ingredients for pet foods. Working with about 170 farmers and about 4,000 acres in southwest and mid-Missouri, field managers use the app to record harvest tonnage, send emails to farmers or record payment information for the home office in Springfield.
Started in October, the nearly $20,000 custom app is now in the final stages of Apple approval.
“We’ve been using the app for about four months now,” Allphin says. “It cuts down on the paperwork our field guys will have to truck around.”
Harris already has one side business.
Moonbeam’s app work has pushed Harris to niche content publishing with App Development Magazine.
He co-founded the publication in 2012 with Stuart Parkerson, the publisher of Astronomy Technology Today.
Online only the last 18 months, Harris says its website collects 1.2 million impressions and roughly 400,000 unique views per month. An e-newsletter is sent to 80,000 developers a day. Sponsors include Facebook for Developers, Localytics and Kony Inc.
The cover story on 96-page April issue asks, “How Do I Build An Agile Organization, Part I,” while other articles address monetizing app games.
With app development costs in the $10,000-$30,000 range, Harris says the payback comes from the number of installs and in-app activity. The cut for developers is usually $3-$4 per install, and with data tracking to each device, developers receive a percentage of profit from in-app activity.
“Every time a video is watched or an ad is clicked, a developer gets paid,” he says.
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