Putting a new app in an app store is a lot like starting a new school: It feels really crowded, no one really knows you and it's hard to figure out how to quickly become popular.
This fall is packed with new smartphone launches, including Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5 and Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) latest Lumias, and there are plenty of devices for consumers to get excited about downloading new apps. Behind the scenes, however, the venture capital community has been quietly buzzing about a new firm focused on in-store discoverability.
Based in Montreal, Ooomf last month raised $500,000 from Real Ventures, BDC and others. Its services include setting up simple websites for new apps, curating and profiling compelling apps and providing mechanisms for developers to solicit feedback on logos and features on apps still in development. There are about 200 apps on the site right now, including some categorized as "coming soon."
Mikael Cho, Ooomf's co-founder and CEO, told FierceDeveloper the firm started out as a provider of online referral services to e-commerce merchants before entering into the FounderFuel program in February.
Ooomf allows developers to poll potential users about app ideas, potential features and new logos.
"We knew that what we were building was more of an incremental improvement rather than a game-changing product," he said, which sent the team back to thinking about related business problems. "One thing that really stuck out was the issues that many of our clients had getting mobile apps noticed so we started to explore this further by interviewing every mobile developer we could find or speak to. We realized there were so many problems in mobile that needed fixing and there was so much crossover between what expertise was needed to fix these problems and the talents of our team."
Ooomf has already drawn parallels with Kickstarter, the service that helps crowdsource funding for various projects, but Cho sees nuances between the two startups.
Issues in app discovery
"From the feedback Ooomf has received from its developer customers, the biggest problem in building an app is not necessarily getting funding, but rather finding enough users to care about their app," said Cho. "Something interesting about Kickstarter, is how they cleverly teach you how to successfully market your project as you are setting it up on Kickstarter. Kickstarter offers tips and tricks along the way to help you better engage with their community. Similarly, the goal for Ooomf is to help developers learn tips and tricks about marketing and launching an app along the way to building a loyal following on Ooomf. We want Ooomf to be the place where you go to launch an app."
Ooomf also encourages discovery by maintaining curated categories of apps.
A number of developers were unaware they had been profiled by Ooomf and had never heard of the firm until first contacted by FierceDeveloper, including Expensify's founder and CEO, David Barrett. "I can certainly identify with the problem they're trying to solve," he said. "It's so hard to get noticed in the App Store... the thing right now is I don't know how many people are looking at Ooomf or would be aware of them."
However according to Raul Riera, one of the developers behind an app called Where, anything helps when you're trying to get the word out.
"Most of the downloads from my apps first originate from a news article or website, then the long tail takes effect on the app store and the discovery sky rockets," he said. "Just launching on the App Store won't be helpful at all. Exposure from news sites is critical."
Cho said it's never too early for developers to start thinking about discoverability, but most focus on it only once they have a final product. That may be a mistake, he said. "You're spending so much time perfecting the app and getting it ready for launch, that it can be daunting to think about how to reach out to the press or writing about the progress of your app while it's being built. But marketing during the creation phase of an app is vital if you want to have a successful App Store launch," he said.
Will Apple improve its App Store search results?
Apple has recently decided to assist with discoverability by introducing the Genius recommendation engine from iTunes into the beta of iOS 6. Far from offering a competitive threat, though, Cho sees this as a benefit to firms like Ooomf.
The Genius tab replaces the Categories button at the bottom of the App Store UI.
"The App Store rankings seem to be shifting towards rewarding apps with engaged user bases rather than just sheer number of downloads," he said. "This is excellent news for us, as our goal is to not only deliver users for developers, but an engaged following."
Barrett isn't sure Genius will offer much benefit for developers or consumers anyway. "With music, you may download a lot of the same genre, but you may be interested in many different kinds of apps that are entirely unrelated to each other," he pointed out.
Having gotten its seed funding, the next step is for Ooomf to be discovered itself, and to attract a critical mass. Cho said the firm will soon release some incentives for using its platform, which may involve rewarding users based on how much they influence apps during the creation process.