Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How I've Made $200k in the iOS Education Market - Figures & My 1st Year as an Indie Dev

To celebrate the v2.0 of my successful and innovative app Word Wizard, and the fact that I’ve made $200k on the App Store, I’ve decided to share figures about the education market on the App Store, and by the way to talk a little about bit about my story and experience being an indie developer. I hope it can help some indie devs to make some decisions, as I did more than one year ago after reading some posts. It will also help to understand the size of the education market on iOS (and even the size of the overall market since some of my apps went to the top for a short time) since these data are rather difficult to find, and help promoting my apps.

I begin with sales and ranking figures (all figures are coming from AppFigures ), and then develop about my experience (and sorry for my poor English - I'm French). As of my experience, please note that I'm 40 and got a lot of skills in several domains (so it may not be easy for everybody to reproduce what I've done).


So I released my first educational app for iPad and iPhone more than one year ago now, and here is the chart of sales since Montessori Crosswords, my first and successful app,  was released in August 2010.

$200k is not bad considering I’ve made $90k since August 2011 due to the success of Word Wizard, my second app, in English and French (you can see that the steep of the slope is much better once the app has been released).
So now let’s see some details about 4 apps, the most important ones (more of 90% of the income - see below for others apps). Note that all my apps are universal (iPad+iPhone)

The first serious app I’ve designed. It was iPad only until end of September 2010.  The huge peak (beginning of Q4 2010) is when the New York Times mentioned it (see also this link for more details). Later on, I released a very nice update based on users’ feedback, but it was on Christmas that everything began to work really well. During Q2, sales were down because I was working hard on Word Wizard and I did not have time to promote and update it but hopefully Children's Technology Review awarded the app and it helped a lot. However, I felt that many improvements could be made, and eventually I took 3-4 weeks to make another very nice update which was acclaimed by users and teachers, and sales went up immediately (end of Q2). Then the popularity of Word Wizard helped to push sales (there is a link to this app in Word Wizard). I will release an update soon with new features requested by users hoping that it will boost sales another time.  

I am French, so I logically decided to release a French version of Montessori Crosswords. Even if I thought  the French market was small, I wanted to do it for my kids and friends (but eventually it was a good business decision too). Since there is much less quality educational apps in France, the app was mentioned by major blogs in France and Apple France did add it to its “Apps for kids” section, and it was almost every time in the top 10 educational apps on iPad in France. I didn't need to promote it a lot (I did it a little bit in January) or create nice updates to stay in the top 10, due to the lack of competition. There was a nice boost recently due to the huge success of French Word Wizard in France (see below).

I worked hard on Word Wizard for 5/6 months, lots of design, testing, graphics to find the right balance, and I was really excited by the innovation inside this app, and feedback from beta testers. When it launched, it did get noticed by teachers, educators and people involved in chidren’s technology but it lacked a very good promotion to be visible. Then everything gone wild, Children's Technology Review awarded the app, there was an article in The New York Times online and then in the paper edition  (this the huge peak), in Wired Geek Dad blog, Apple mentioned it on its Facebook page and selected it as “New and  Noteworthy” for iPhone and iPad in the US and most of English speaking countries.  Then after one month sales went down surely because I did not promote it afterwards - this is a good lesson, even with a lot of good press you need to continue to promote your app. Now I’ve just released V2.0 (adding all users requests - more than 20 options and features), things are getting better and I'm publishing a costly press release on PRWeb to see if it has some effects.

This one was a big surprise. In one day, the app was in the top 10 on iPad (overall ranking) and stayed there for 2 weeks. Each peak is due to a post on major French Apple-related blog . It was then selected by Apple as “New and Noteworthy” but surprisingly the impact was really lighter than blog posts.  

Others apps:

I’ve released a small app (Draw With Stars) in March 2010 to understand how the App Store was working and to learn how to program for the iPad and the iPhone. Apparently, people love the app and it generates an average income is $10 a day (so $6,000 since it has been published). I’ve also published Montessori Crosswords on the Mac App Store but it does not sell very well ($6,000 in 9 months for the English version and $1,600 for the French version). I also did an experiment with the French Montessori Crosswords and offered a cheaper iPhone only version but it does not work as well as on the iPad ($2,800 for a price of $1.99). I've also released a free app, Hearts Extravavaganza ,an app to draw with hearts especially made for my daughters.

Ranking vs Sales

Now what’s interesting is to see these sales figures in relation with the rank on the App Store. This gives an idea of the size of the educational market (and even some hints on the size of overall market), and you will see that my apps are almost never in the top 10 educational apps (despite their quality).

All my apps are universal (iPad+iPhone) and Apple does not tell how many apps have been sold on each type of device, so it’s not really possible to know how many sales are made on iPad and how many are made on iPhone. However, ranks are available by device so you can get an idea. The general opinion is that the education market is bigger on iPad even if there is a lot more of iPhone, but if you are in the top 10 education on iPhone it seems that it is better than if your are in the top 10 education on iPad because it seems that sales are more evenly distributed on iPad than on iPhone. Anyway, one should do a better analysis to be sure of that.

Disclaimer: My goal is not to make a detailed analysis of the education market. It is only to offer you some data to understand it and view that it is relatively big (at least for an indie). I think one can say a lot of things with these graphs but I have not the willingness to do it.

US Market

Figures below are for the US market (of course the biggest), that’s why sales are lower that the one displayed above. It is also a way to compare the US market to the Worldwide market.

Word Wizard ($2.99)

it is an interesting figure because Word Wizard was very successful in August. The day The New York Times wrote an article (in the paper edition) about it, it was #2 in iPad Education, #5 in iPhone Education, #30 in iPad overall (and only #326 on iPhone overall!).

Now let’s see the Grossing Ranks for the same period, which is important to understand the size of the market (sorry there is no sales on this graph because I did not succeed to make it with AppFigures which is sometimes changing its mind)

Interesting, isn't it ? The NYT day I was ranked #104 in overall grossing on iPad (and not even in the top overall on iPhone) I’ve made $2,000 - So how much ca you expect when you are ranked in the top 10 iPad ? There are some hints below because the French version was in the top 10 but I don’t know if this can be extrapolated.

Montessori Crosswords ($2.99)

Here are the figures for Montessori Crosswords. It is interesting to see the difference in sales for the same rank in 2010 and 2011.

French Market

Of course the French market is smaller, but it is also a good market if you are well ranked - however according to my computation the market is 7 to 10 times smaller (in education).

So this one's interesting because the apps have been ranked #5 iPad overall, and these days the income was between $900 and $1,000 (by the way the grossing rank was around #10 overall these days). When you compare it to the day I was #30 overall on iPad in the US and made $2,000, you can imagine why I targeted the US market first.

I skip the ranking vs sales for French Words for Kids but if you’re interested drop me a mail.

My Journey as an iOS Indie Dev

Enough figures and numbers, now I just want to talk about my experience. As I've said I've read a lot of posts about this when I was starting and it was interesting - so I hope it can help somebody.

The Start

I decided to develop educational apps for iPad and iPhone some weeks after the iPad was announced. My first try to build a kind of startup with a friend was not successful, I was looking for a new project, and after some friends told me that I was not the best candidate to join their own startup (Thanks Matthias to have understood that it was not exactly what I was looking for ! ), I remember that I really wanted to develop something for the iPad. After reading some blog posts and understanding that there was already some opportunities in the education market on iPhone, I finally found the perfect match :  develop educational apps for my kids on iPad ! We are a homeschooling family and so we (especially my wife) did have some experience with the education of kids. In addition, it was very interesting for me to be able to work a little bit with my wife and my kids (my kids are testing all the apps!). In others words, I just followed the advice given all over the Web : find a good problem that you have (and of course enough other people have) and develop a solution. The iPad seemed perfect for my kids, who already enjoyed playing on the iPhone, and I am perfectly sure that kids learn better when they play.

I started with a small app (did it in 2/3 weeks) to understand how the App Store worked and after some brainstorming we decided to create Montessori Crosswords because one of my kids was doing this Montessori activity and it seemed perfect to put it on the iPad. Actually, at the beginning we wanted to do something bigger, Montessori Crosswords only being a part of it. However, I soon realized that I had - as often - underestimated the resources needed, so I decided to release Montessori Crosswords as a standalone app. After releasing it, I realized that I had a lot of promotions and support to do, and eventually the big app was never developed.

Once the iPad version was released, the first thing was to make the app universal which pushed sales a little bit but not so much (it is a little expensive for an iPhone app). Then I began to try to understand better how I could promote the app, found some good advices in MomsWithApps forums, and was featured in an AppFriday event by MomsWithApps (which, luckily, resulted to a mention in the NYT) . I gathered all the feedback I could and released a really nice update. I then began to promote it everywhere (I remember writing this expensive PR for one week, it was not an easy job for me - I'm French - and eventually I do not know if it was useful or not). I wanted to release a French version quickly but due to the use of cursive letters, accented letters and recording my wife voice it took me a lot of time (I thought I was crazy to do this and not to concentrate on the US market!).

Word Wizard, The Second App

In January 2011, I began to try new ideas for a new spelling app. I wanted to do something new that would be more like a game and where people could enter their own words. I did 2 or 3 prototype but it was not fantastic. Then I began to look for voice synthesis library so that people may not need to record their own voice to enter new words and rapidly began to toy with the idea of a talking movable alphabet, and soon realized that it was really really nice ! Kids and adults were having fun with the prototype and what I originally saw as a small project began a 6 month project because I wanted to be perfect from a UX point of view, and also because market analysis told me that I needed to add a spelling quiz section in addition to the talking movable alphabet.  The major issue was the speech synthesis library because they took 20% to 30% of your sales (you can't buy the library) but the project was so exciting that I took the risk.

I was lucky enough to get some income from Montessori Crosswords, which gave me the time to start developping Word Wizard. However, the sales were not so good, and I was starting to get some very promising feedback about Word Wizard. So in May I took 3-4 weeks to release another update of Montessori Crosswords, which was a good investment. Then end of July, the English version of Word Wizard was released, then the French version in September. I now plan to update Montessori Crosswords and release German and Spanish versions of Word Wizard.

What I Do Everyday

I’ve tried to sum up what what I do to give you an idea of my choices as an indie dev and what was difficult for me. The percentage are approximated and of course it could be very different for another dev. Of course, some days I do only development and others days only artworks or promotions.

Development (20-25%): For me its was really not an issue. I have been a developper for 25 years (I started on Apple IIe when I was 15), did long studies (PhD) in computer science, and worked as developer/UX Designer in a startup for 6 years. I was happy to learn a new language and a new platform, and I love development. Compared to my previous jobs, it was a really easy and gratifying job.

Product Definition & User Experience Design (15-20%):
As for product definition, it was easy because I’m a father, so I have an understanding of what parents wants for their kids (but of course you need to listen to your users to enhance the app afterwards). As of User Experience (UX) I worked a lot on UX previously so I knew how to do it and the pitfalls, and it was a very interesting experience to design apps for kids on touch devices (I was mostly doing enterprise software or Web sites before). UX seems easy to do but eventually it is tricky, and if you don’t have experience in UX, I would advise you to buy some books to understand the basics (personas, users goals, tasks, tests). Without a good UX, it will be difficult to have good feedback and sell a lot of units.

Artworks (20%) : this one was more tricky for me because I’m not a designer. I love doing this but I need to work very hard to get some nice results. I’ve always played with Photoshop and Illustrator, and I was/am happy to do it even if I think it would be better to hire a real designer to do it (because it would take him less less time to do it). So if you don’t like it or know nothing about it, you should think about hiring or doing a partnership with a designer (you can also buy some artwork on the Web but depending on your needs it may be impossible). Everybody knows that artworks are really important to sell apps, and you need this skill also for your Website, screenshots, app icon, ads, ...

Promotion (15-20%): As you may imagine, it is also crucial. If you have a software engineer background like me, you must focus on this point (once you’ve got a nice app). Sometimes I only did promotions and support for one month. Promotions include Press Release (PRMac, PRWeb if you’ve got something big), Web Site, contacting reviewers, Facebook, Twitter, ads, participate in forum but also understand how to do it. I knew that marketing was very important but I have no experience at all. Actually, marketing is not so difficult to do, it is just very time consuming, and when you’re more on the creative side than on the marketing side, it’s sometimes hard to push you to do your marketing. You must try to find some promotions techniques that you love to do (this post is also a kind of promotion). As for everything, you will improve yourself and it will take less time in the end, you will know who to contact, where to find information, ...

Be in the loop, participate (?%): I was looking for advice from others devs and also a kind of community of educational developers. I find a fantastic one in 2010 : MomsWithApps Forum (Hello and Thanks Lorraine!). It is a very useful place where you can discuss everything and they also can make you some promotions on their Facebook Page and Website. I’ve met nice people (Hello Evan from Apps Kids Love) that helped me to be better in the fields where I needed some education.  I also try to help people when I can. I tried to participate to others forums but none is so good as this one.

Support (5%?) : When you begin to sell a lot of units, you have to do some support, and it’s great to do the support for the product you have done. Actually, this is the best way to know how to enhance your product. Of course a lot of people would send you an email because the sound is not working and you have to help troubleshooting the issue, but some will send you amazing suggestions. To get feedback, you must have a button in your app that allows users to contact you easily. It's also a good way to ask people to add a review if they like your app.

Others (the rest): there are some other tasks, like analysing the app store to know what people love (your reviews but also the reviews of others apps), playing guitar when you don’t have enough energy to work, reading news and blogs , and a lot of other minor stuff . Of course, some holidays (but not much this year I would say 2 weeks but I'm always doing the support and participating in forums). By the way, I think I work 45 hours a week and never work on week-ends (this is family time!). I try to always be productive and when I can't, I stop working.

Hope this post was of interest to you. If people are interested, I may publish new posts about this. If not, next post will be in one year (last post was one year ago!).

Pierre (pierre@lescapadou.com)


  1. Congratulation Pierre. You have done a fantastic job.
    Thanks for sharing and wish you many more success to come.

  2. The secret to your success is no secret. Montessori Crosswords is a fantastic app. My son loves it.
    Not to mention your obvious good karma.
    Congrats Pierre and thanks.

  3. Pierre - you are a big part of the Moms With Apps community - thank you for taking the time to share insights to your success. --Lorraine

  4. Pierre :) Congratulations to you on your successful apps. I am going to download word wizard for my daughter right after righting this message. Thank you so much for sharing this info. Always helps for developers like us :) Best Wishes to you!

  5. This is fascinating and a must ready for anyone involved in kids apps. It is also uplifting to other developers as it shows there is a market for the education apps as long as you create something that the parents wants.

    Thank you Pierre for sharing this info.

  6. Great post Pierre and thanks for sharing. But isn't against the TOS of Apple to post these figures?

  7. thanks all for your messages
    @Fabian I don't think there is a TOS for that - it's only sales figures (but If I loose my iOS license it will be a little annoying ;-) )

  8. Thanks for the post - an interesting insight into the process, and congratulations on creating something people love to use.

    You also made it to the top of Hacker News - will be interesting to see how that affects sales.


  9. Hi Pierre. Amazing work you have done here. I was in the market right now searching for apps for my nephew for learning and came across this great article. Keep up the great work!

    I wanted to ask a hout a point you mentioned in the UX section. You said that if a person does not know about the UX, then he should go through books to get a grip on it. What books/resources do you suggest for this, as I am currently toying with the idea of developing some test apps on the iPad?

  10. Very interesting, thank you! I'm thinking about porting to Android and iOS a couple of Italian (but good also for foreigners studying Italian) educational apps that my father created on Windows... it's good to know that there is some market there!

  11. “Apple mentioned it on its Facebook page” — Apple doesn’t have a Facebook page. Well?

  12. Apple have a facebook App Store page : http://www.facebook.com/AppStore

  13. @Faz sorry I'm not aware of good books on UX for iOS and I can't really recommend you one . All the books I've read (5-2 years ago) were about web or desktop applications, and even if it is always the same framework applied , I think it would be better for you to read a book that focus on iOS

  14. Such an inspiring article.

    Pierre, what advice would you have for a designer/marketer who wanted to aid a developer in both the artwork and the promotion phases?

    What publications and online communities to you follow in addition to Moms With Apps?

  15. Thanks Pierre! Great post and exactly the kind of practical details I've been looking. I've decided to give Indie development a go myself too and I'll try to document everything essential to my blog @ http://timowallenius.com . I'm just getting started, but I hope it'll be useful for with similar thoughts!


  16. Fantastic!

    Thanks so much for sharing, Pierre.

    Really happy to see a fellow app developer make it FT.


    Artgig Apps

  17. Congrats! Very inspiring and useful info.

  18. great read pierre
    but sorry to ask, let say you just develop any of these app, how much would you sell it

  19. Samuel, I've really no idea how much I can sell this kind of dev because dev is only a small part of the equation. You have to check how a contractor is paid and estimate how long it would take you to do it (but one more time it is not only dev - dev is only 20%)

  20. Hi Pierre!
    Great article, very detailed and very inspiring. Congratulations and keep up the great work!

    For those asking for a good book I would like to recommend one about Web Usability but I think you will find out there are a lot of things that can be applied to any product that needs great usability (all products :) )

    "Don't make me think" by Steve Krug


  21. Thanks for sharing this. As a part-time independent developer, I found reading about your experience very useful. They mostly match my own.

  22. Thank you for a very interesting inside look you are offering into app development. For most of us it is quite challenging to put ideas like this into a real product.

  23. "All my apps are universal (iPad+iPhone) and Apple does not tell how many apps have been sold on each type of device, so it’s not really possible to know how many sales are made on iPad and how many are made on iPhone. "

    Just use Flurry (or any other analytics library) to know useful information about how users play or use your apps, and of course what device is being used.

  24. Hi Pierre!

    Congrats for your success! Thank you for sharing this article, really interesting and great one.

    for the UX, I would recommend the websites which I am familiar and believe are good sources:

    1. A List Apart
    2. Adaptive Path
    3. Useit.com

    Apart from this,

    1. Smashing Magazine
    2. 52 weeks of UX
    3. Usability matters

  25. @ricardo, Flurry has stopped sending such data because Apple does not allow this anymore (because they don't want not released devices being tracked). You can only see now if users uses ios4 or not (now iso5 perhaps)

    1. I think Flurry may have changed since then because I can get data on what devices my users are using my apps on

  26. I think your article is so much informative for developing.I will must follow your instruction properly.Thanks

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  27. Great work!

    Biggest exUSSR IT community wrote about you.

    Good Luck!

  28. Thanks...funny to read it in Russian :-)

  29. Hi

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us .
    I hope you make $1M soon

  30. Thanks for such a education apps in french. This apps is not only helpful to kids but also to person like me who is learning french. :)
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  31. All i can say is "Simply Amazing" Very inspiring and congrats to your success. iPhone repair

  32. Congratulations for your success! I do hope I could come up with an idea as brilliant as yours. Again, congratulations.

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  33. Dear Pierre,
    thank you for your time last tuesday, it was of great help! Your blog is of much interest.
    I don't knowif this can help, but I have AppViz to follow data of my app.
    Btw, my kids love "Magie des mots"!
    MyBlee Education

  34. Thank you so much for sharing. This information is invaluable to our internal discussion! You're the man!

  35. Very nice information,i like and bookmark it for further reading.Its very helpful for me.this is very helpful for me and my website www.themobileindian.com+

  36. Thanks for being so transparent about everything. I really enjoyed reading it.

  37. This is realy something that I've been looking for.
    Thank You so much for sharing this with us and I keep my fingers cross for You.
    I'm teaching my son english with Your app : )

    If You will find time, please write about how much money You put in promoting Your apps?

    thnaks ones more, and hope that You'll make 10 000 000 $ app : )

  38. Outstanding article. I've had this page bookmarked for quite sometime now and appreciate the insight. I've just released my first app to the app store and am currently awaiting an appeal outcome on my second. Here's our first app and I'll leave some promo codes for people to check out. http://itunes.apple.com/app/ipuzzledya-hd/id518189727?mt=8. Our other app can be previewed at www.bonezalesproductions.com. Here are promo codes. Thanks again.

    iPad copy:


    iPhone & iPod Copies



  39. Bonsoir,
    Avez-vous prévu de porter vos applications sur Android ?
    j'ai aperçu une version anglaise de la magie des mots, mais est-il prévu une version française ?
    et pour les autres applications ?

  40. This comment has been removed by the author.

  41. Thank you for posting this information- we are still in our first year with releasing apps (Feed the Monster kids game), Word Pig (rest of suite coming soon) and soon to be released- a Family Word Game- and this is great help. Kristin @ ZiggityZoom.com

  42. very insteresting blog.
    Thank you for taking the time to discuss, I strongly feel about, and love

    Learning. If you want to be able to gain expertise, which is very useful to me. Luculent

    You can update your blog for more information.

  43. Wow.
    Tout d'abord : Bravo !
    Et ensuite, merci d'avoir partagé cette aventure.
    Je débute et c'est extrêmement enrichissant d'avoir des retours tels que celui-là.
    Bonne continuation !

  44. Real helpful work indeed.Hope it will work with great efficiency.Any update should be available here and congrats for the work.
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  45. Just wanted to say that I read your blog quite frequently and I'm always amazed at some of the stuff people post here. But keep up the good work, it's always interesting.

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  46. Salut, Merci pour tous les renseignments. Tres utile. It should help us at VocabularySpellingCity as we try to figure out how to stop losing quite so much money in this market.

    Did you ever do anything in the Android market? Any lessons to share?
    Here's info on our free Spelling App

  47. I am standing before the road on which you were stepping about one and half years ago, esp. underestimated of resources of my 1st app and even zero promotion. 1 million thanks for sharing your data, thoughts, and advices!

  48. I was reading your post and no doubt it was really informative..I got here what i was looking for..Thanks for sharing..

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  49. What a Great blog exactly as I wanted. He had everything I do need you so much I did came from your blog.
    Thanks for posting this I appreciate the information and the effort you put into your site.


  50. hi, great article. thanks. as a beginner android developer, it's good to read about how you started off and encouraging to see the results of your hard work (and believe me i know it's hard work!)



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