Secret to Success Allen Wong

Everyday someone somewhere is trying to launch the next great app on the iPhone/iPad platform. A quick peak will show there’s roughly 750k+ apps available to download at your disposal. But how many of these are truly successes? Meet Allen Wong, a very successful app developer who shares his insight and tips in the elusive world of app development. Did we mention he’s the youngest self-made Lamborghini Aventador owner? Meet Allen of Rego Apps…
Tell us a little about where you got your entrepreneurial mindset and motivation from…

My life story starts with my parents, who were born in the slums of Hong Kong and China. Before they met, they both came to the United States with just the shirts on their backs. My father told me that he was so poor that he resorted to sleeping at a YMCA. Both of them were too poor to afford a decent education when they grew up. So my mother got by by sewing clothes in a sweatshop in NYC’s Chinatown. Meanwhile, my father taught himself how to administer herbal medicine, and treated sick patients in Chinatown. Eventually my father and mother met through mutual friends and got married and had my older brother and me.

Like my brother, I went through the public school system and studied hard. I did not want to disappoint my parents, because they worked hard to give me this opportunity. It would have been foolish and irresponsible if I wasted it. Although my father worked from 8 AM to 9 PM, he still spent the night either studying his medical books, teaching me important life lessons, or challenging me at chess. My mother always made sure that we got to school on time, signed us up for extracurricular activities, and limited the amount of TV we watched. Because of this great parenting, I was able to attend a top college in California majoring in computer science and computer engineering. I spent my spare time in college creating and selling computer programs as well as developing websites for different businesses. After I graduated from college, I started my career at a big tech company.

However, a few months after I had started work, my father passed away unnaturally. My mother suffered from severe depression because of this, so I moved back to NYC to be with her and started working at Columbia University. This was around the time when the iPhone app store started accepting new apps. At the job, I asked them if they could give me a MacBook as my work computer, because you needed an Apple computer to code and submit apps at the time. As soon as I got my MacBook, I learned how to code in Objective-C on my own by reading books and playing with the code. Ever since I was young, I had a fascination with learning new skills and using those skills to help people or create things that helped people. My father was the same way, and as you can see, he was a great role model for me.

What impact did your father’s passing have on you personally?

As I mentioned previously, my father was my role model, and he had a great impact on my life. He was dealt a bad hand when he was born into a poor family in China. He did not let this unfortunate upbringing deter him from striving for a better life, and most of his life lessons came from this hardship. Because he could not afford to buy video games for me, he used to play chess with me, which taught me how to plan ahead, strategize, and predict other people’s actions. He taught me how to draw pictures and take photographs, which taught me how to be creative and eventually helped with my graphic design talent. And most importantly, he worked long hours at work and taught himself how to do everything on his own. This was the type of attitude that influenced me to persevere during stressful times, and to take my education onto my own hands. His passing was unexpected and gave my family a burden that no family deserved. Since I was the only one making money at the time, I had to step up as the breadwinner for the family, despite being only 22. While my peers were slowly eased into adulthood, I was pushed into the deep end of the pool without warning. I went from being a dependent to an independent to an independent with dependents within the span of a few months. So, his passing fast-forwarded my life, and the burden, responsibilities and stress I received strengthened my character.

What did you study at college?

I chose computer science, because I had already been making websites and coding C++ and Java programs in high school. I created my first website in junior high school and learned how to build my own computer even before that. As a child, I was always curious about how things worked, so I would take things apart and put them back together. That is how I learned to build my own computer, and why I also majored in computer engineering. I was also one of the first people on the internet back when I was still in elementary school and one of the first people in my school to have his own website. Because our family used to be so poor, my brother and I used to go around the neighborhood during trash day and pick up computers that people had thrown away. We would salvage parts from the computer and either use them as spare parts or add it to our existing computers. I did not even get to buy my own computer until high school. To this day, I still build my own computers and try to stay on the cutting edge of technology by learning and adopting new technologies on my own.

 
You mentioned that you created programs and websites during college, what kind of work did you do?

My college and several other companies hired me to be a web developer while I was attending college there. They were all part-time jobs that paid well. Before then, I learned how to code HTML, CSS, and Javascript while I was in middle school. By the beginning of high school, I was already making animated and interactive websites using Flash. This was my first crack at beautiful user-friendly interfaces for users. I eventually taught myself other advanced languages, such as PHP and SQL, to further develop my web developing skills.

My two college majors did not focus much on web development. They focused on C++, which was a programming language. Since I was a major gamer, I used to code programs for games like World of Warcraft. During my freshmen year, I was selling these programs and making more than what my father was making. By the second half of my freshmen year, I was starting to pay off my own college tuition.

How did you pick up all the knowledge and skills? How did it lead to iPhone app development?

I am a quick learner, so I learned how to code Objective-C in less than a week. Once you know one computer language, it’s very easy to pick up another computer language. You just need to learn the differences between the two languages, because all the basic logic is the same. Most of my profitable skills (designing, coding, web developing, and etc.) started off as fun, creative hobbies, and making iPhone apps was no different. Even though I only made a few bucks daily in the beginning, I was not deterred by the small profits for my hard work. I was determined to create better apps for several reasons. Firstly, I was the only one in my family with a job. My older brother had trouble finding a job, because nobody was looking to hire a newly graduated PhD during a recession. So, I took every opportunity to convert my free time into extra cash, because every dollar helped. Secondly, it was always my dream to create something useful that would help people. It was less about the money and fame, and more about making this world slightly better than it already is. Thirdly, even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I still wanted to make my late dad proud.

 
What kind of challenges did you face early on? Wasn’t it a gold rush to create the next big app?

The challenge was that there were not many iPhone developers at the time, so you pretty much had to learn everything on your own without the help of anyone. Nowadays, you can just search on the internet for your programming question, and there will probably be a dozen developers who would have posted an answer to your question already. It was a gold rush in the sense that there was not much competition at the time. The big companies had not yet stepped in during the first year, so you were mainly competing against other independent developers. Since I knew how to do graphics design, web development, user-interface creation, programming, and marketing, I was basically my own company. Most developers were either great at coding or great at graphics design. But rarely were they great at both. And for those who were great at both, it was even more rare for them to know how to market their apps. Thus, I had an advantage over the rest, because I could do all of those things. Nowadays, apps are created by a team of people, and you will rarely find apps created by just one person in the top charts.

What were some of your first few iPhone apps?

My first app was a browser that removed the toolbars, did not save your browsing history, and allowed you to view websites while offline. It was a great alternative to Safari. One of my first successful apps was called News Feed Elite, which was the #1 news app back in 2009. Using the technologies I developed from my browser app, I made an app that made it easy to view various news sites. It was successful, because it allowed you to scroll through websites by tilting your phone, save news articles to be read at a later time (even offline), block ads, share sites to Twitter/Facebook, and other things. It basically paved the way for the other popular news apps you see today. All of my apps were paid apps, so I made money from satisfied customers who used my apps.

 
Your most successful app to date is your 5-0 Radio Police Scanner…

5-0 Radio is currently and has been the #1 police scanner app for the iPhone since it was created in 2009. To date, it has been downloaded by at least 10 million people. It currently is the #1 news app, and at its peak, it was in the top 10 paid apps in various countries. People had many uses for this app from monitoring crime in their neighborhood to getting live alerts about hazards in the region to keeping in touch with family members who were in the force. People have used this app to get early tornado warnings, hurricane warnings, flood warnings, and other news before the radio and TV broadcast them. It made it to the top charts after I added internet radio stations to the app and created a free ad-supported version of the app. Other copycat apps have since popped up and saturated the market. However, my 5-0 Radio app is still a top seller and is the among the top 100 most downloaded app in 2010 and 2011 according to Apple’s end-of-the-year report.

 
Where do you get the inspiration and ideas for apps you develop?

It was never about luck. Apps have to click with the users. The litmus test is to see if even you will use the app yourself. That is the test I do whenever I code a new app. If I am not using the app myself, then I think it is a failure. At that point, I’d either scrap the idea or keep improving the app until it got to the point where I liked using it.

News Feed Elite was one of those apps that I put a lot of time and effort into. I’d listen to user feedback and implement the changes they wanted. I’d use the app everyday and implement the changes that I’d like to see myself. By making an app that people want to use, the app promotes and markets itself, because users will tell their friends and family to download the app.

I grew up in New York City, where an emergency vehicle blares its sirens every few hours. There was a curiosity as to what was going on, so I did my research on police scanners. That’s when I realized that it would be great if I could have the police scanner technology on the iPhone, so that I could listen to it even if I’m not home.

 
What other apps have you developed?

Since then, I coded several other successful apps, such as Drudge Report, HiDef Radio, and Razzi Photo Editor. I’ve also recently released an alternative version of the 5-0 Radio app called, Police Scanner+ under my new company, Rego Apps. Currently, it is the #2 police scanner app for the iPhone/iPad and is quickly catching up to 5-0 Radio. Its focus is on a cool futuristic user interface with more emphasis on the music stations that are available in the app.

I also recently published a game for Fancy Pencil LLC called, “Slash It!” Fancy Pencil LLC consists of established software developers and designers, and I am only responsible for coming up with the game ideas and marketing them. The company does all of the game coding and graphics. “Slash It!” was released on March 9th, 2012, and was the first iOS game I ever published. If my marketing strategies still work and people see how fun this game is, this game will be a big hit.

 
What is the secret to creating a successful iPhone app?

The most successful marketing strategy is to have a great icon, great screenshots, and have at least a 4.5 out of 5 stars average ratings. If your app is constantly getting 5 star reviews, then people love your app and are willing to tell their friends about it. Very rarely will an app with less than 4 stars stay in the Top 100 paid apps for long. 5-0 Radio is actually a rare success story, because it stayed in the Top 100 (both paid and free) for at least two consecutive years. Statistically, that is a feat that less than 100 apps have accomplished. I still meet new people who have told me that they have downloaded 5-0 Radio before I even met them, and they said that they got the app because their friends told them to. That word-of-mouth type of marketing is the best type of marketing a company can wish for. I personally would trust my own friends’ opinion to download a new app over the opinion of some random banner ad on some website. I have yet to spend a single cent of marketing on any of my apps. If the app is great and people love it, it will market itself.

You can obviously make great money from apps, from your experience is it better to monetize through ads or by selling an app?

I actually have a mix of both free apps with ads and paid apps. There are free versions and paid versions of all my popular apps. I’d say that ad revenue is only half of what the paid apps make even though the download rates for the free apps are usually ten times higher than the paid apps. One of the differences is that ad revenue grows in time as more and more users use your apps. Whereas, paid apps only grows if more and more people buy your apps. While apps don’t tend to stay in the Top 100 charts for long, ad revenue does stay more consistent if the users are still using the app long after its popularity has waned. Thus, there are pros and cons to both free and paid apps, so it is better to just have both.

 
With app development, is it truly passive income? How much time and upkeep is needed?

You don’t really have to update an app at all after it is complete. If you are confident that the app does not have any more bugs and the reviews are good, then your work is complete. The only time you would want to update the app is if you feel like it. Apps are definitely a great source of passive income. I barely modified 5-0 Radio for the past year and a half and it is still highly rated and highly downloaded.

 
You mentioned your new company Rego Apps, what other ventures are you involved with?

Right now, Rego Apps consists of myself only. It is a new company I formed to sell my new Police Scanner+ app to compete against my Smartest Apps’ 5-0 Radio. The idea behind Police Scanner+ is that I wanted to make a brand new interface to 5-0 Radio with never before seen features. If you compare the two apps, you can barely tell that it is made by the same developer. However, I know that some users don’t like to see changes (for example, not everyone welcomes Facebook’s interface changes). So instead of updating 5-0 Radio, I created a brand-new app. And since I didn’t want users to feel like I was reselling the same app to them, I put it under a new company name.

But Rego Apps and Smartest Apps are not the only companies I own. I also own a part of Razzi LLC along with Robert Himler and Michael Fussy. I coded the app for their company in exchange for part ownership of the company. My app has been responsible for doubling Razzi’s user base after the apps first release (with over 10,000 downloads on the first day alone), and increasing Razzi’s new user sign-up rate by over 2000%.

How did you and Robert Himler link up to become business partners?

We linked up because we had a mutual friend. He and I both knew the president of the Lamborghini club of America for the northeast region. He recommended us to meet because we both had a lime green Gallardo, moved to Orlando, and made our fortunes from websites. So Robert and I exchanged emails and met in June of 2011. We realized that we shared many similarities and became close friends quickly. A few weeks later, I attended his final presentation for college, which was about Razzi. We both agreed that the missing ingredient to Razzi was a powerful app. Since I pretty much was finished with my 5-0 Radio project and had spare time, I decided to take on the Razzi project in exchange for a share of the company. So, by Fall of 2011, we released the first version of the Razzi app. The app was well received, and the reviews have been very positive. Some very big YouTube Celebrities, such as Charles Trippy and Toby Turner (Tobuscus), have been uploading pics through the app on a daily basis and earning high ad revenue via our Google Adsense revenue sharing program.

 
 
What’s next for you? Do you plan to try to repeat your success into the Android market?

My next project for my company, Fancy Pencil, is on making video games for the iPhone. We recently released a game for the iPhone and iPad called Slash It! We already have more games in the pipeline. As for my own personal coding projects, you’ll just have to wait and see. One of the ways of being successful in the app business is by being the first to do something new with an app.

 
I’m sure many readers will want to get into the app game after reading this. What’s your best advice?

Spend a lot of time on the icon and screenshots. Those two things are probably the first two things that customers look at. Customers tend to judge apps by the quality of the icons and whether the screenshots look interesting. Even the description of the app is rarely read. My next major advice is to address the negative feedback that you receive. Do not take constructive criticism personally. Instead, try to fix your bugs and add the features that users are requesting. If your app’s reviews are not constantly averaging with 4.5 stars or higher, then you need to either fix your app or come up with a new app.

So the word on the street is that you rewarded yourself with a nice gift after your apps went mainstream. What did you buy yourself?

I eventually became overwhelmed with juggling a full time job, creating apps on the side, taking care of my mother, and maintaining a social life. So, I bought a brand new Lamborghini LP560-4 to deal with the stress. I know, I know; I could have just got a stress ball for much less. But it was my dream car, and so far, it had done a great job at putting a smile on my face each time I drive it. The car had also put a smile on everyone else’s face, and helped raised money for many charity events, so it still fitted into my ideals of making this world a better place. Before the car, I never really spent any of the money I earned on myself (I was living with my mother and the Lamborghini was the very first car I bought). My mother, who’s very fiscally conservative, abhorred the idea that I was getting an overly expensive and flashy car. But my brother later told me that when I was taking delivery of my new Lamborghini, my mother had a proud look on her face and even became a little teary-eyed.

The LP560-4 looked the most beautiful to me at the time. I liked the sharp lines that were on the car compared to the Murcielago or the Ferrari’s, Maserati’s and Bugatti’s. It is not modded, because it is my daily driver. It would have been overkill if every time I went to get groceries, flames would come out of my exhaust.

Now you raised the bar again by not only adding a Lamborghini Aventador, but also becoming the youngest self-made owner. What can you tell us about this latest purchase?

The build date for the car is June 2012. It will be one of the first 2013 models to hit the shores of the U.S. The wait period was over a year. Currently, I have all the options available for the car. I also chipped in for the Ad Personam program, which is only available in the newer 2013 models and not available to the first models. I have plans for a rare never-before-seen body color for the car.

The body will be in red carbon fiber, the trims will be in black carbon fiber, the rims will be a matte graphite, and the brakes calipers will be in red. This will be the only Aventador in this color scheme, unless someone copies me in the future. I will post pictures of it on my Razzi account when I get it.

As for mods, I have plans for adding a twin turbo on it if it doesn’t become my daily driver. If it does become my new DD, then I might mod the LP560-4 instead.

 
We want to thank Allen Wong for sharing his success story with us. For more information and to get in touch with Allen you can find him at the following locations:
 

Rego Apps

 
 

Smartest Apps

 
 

Razzi

 
 
Also take a moment to support Allen by downloading and using the apps he has developed. By clicking on their respective icons below you will be redirected to the iTunes app store.
 

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