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Millions of apps generate revenue in excess of $25 billion each year. Even while other sectors of the economy were shrinking, the mobile app economy was booming. Many developers found success virtually overnight creating apps that appealed to the public. Those who were the most successful found an idea that would take a problem—even one people weren’t aware they had—and solve it in an intuitive way. The other option? Create an addictive game people can’t stop playing.
5 Fingerprint Security Pro
In 2009, Chad Mureta was on his way home from attending an NBA game when he hit a deer with his car, resulting in a horrific car wreck that kept him in and out of the hospital for the next six weeks. While there, Mureta read an article about mobile app millionaires. Looking at his mounting hospital bills and the iPhone 3G he’d purchased the day before the accident, he had an idea. A few months later he launched his first app, Fingerprint Security Pro. The app became a bestseller and produced $700,000 in revenue. Mureta was inspired. By 2012, the entrepreneur was running four app-development companies including App Empire, with more than 55 apps and 50 million downloads.
4 Doodle Jump
Brothers Igor and Marco Pusenjak launched the addictive game Doodle Jump in 2009, and it became a viral sensation. All you do is jump Doodle from platform to platform. The Pusenjak brothers inadvertently latched onto the secret of viral games: Keep it as simple as possible. Since its release, the game has been downloaded more than 15 million times, as of 2013, and netted the brothers more than $10 million in sales on the iPhone and iPad alone. Although they’ve expanded the game to make it available on Android and other platforms—and regularly update it with new levels—they have no plans to sell the company or release any other games.
Apple’s app store launched in July 2008, and Steve Demeter’s game Trism was available for download from the moment the store’s virtual doors were opened. The game became the first big gaming hit on the iPhone, grossing $250,000 in its first two months. If Demeter ever questioned his success, that ended when Steve Jobs called and asked whether he could use his game to help promote the app store. In all, the $5 game, which has similarities to puzzle games like Tetris, sold more than 3 million copies. The instant popularity became a bit too much for Demeter, however. He quit his job to spend more than a year traveling. In 2012, he returned to game development, beginning work a sequel to the original game called Trism 2.
London student Nick D’Aloisio had a problem: He needed to study for exams efficiently, but too many websites just repeated the same information over and over. The solution was Summly, which D’Aloisio launched in 2012. The app produces short summaries of news stories, designed to be read in full on a smartphone screen without a single scroll. The app took off beyond the 17-year-old’s wildest dreams, and less than a year after its release, Yahoo purchased the property and development rights for nearly $30 million. In 2013 D’Aloisio began working in Yahoo’s London offices, becoming the company’s youngest employee.
In 2006, Mark Zuckerberg invited Kevin Systrom to leave Stanford and come work for his startup website, then known as “The Facebook.” Systrom declined. Instead, he graduated from Stanford, interned at Google, massaged his connections and developed Instagram. Launched on October 6, 2010, the app had 25,000 users within its first 24 hours. Less than two years later, the wildly successful app had more than 85 million users. The mobile-focused photo-sharing service, which combines a basic camera app with social and commenting functions and hip retro filters, was purchased by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion in cash and stock. Looks like Systrom’s plan to stay in school paid off.