Income Diary

As Seen in

Top 20 App Developers

By:     Topics: Entrepreneurship

We’ve all heard about it.

Some independent developer sitting in his basement makes a simple app that shoots to the top of the Apple charts. Next thing you know, he’s making $50,000 a day off of a product that took him three days to develop.

The gold rush of the iPhone application market has everyone, myself included, in an all out frenzy. The sheer amount of growth that is being predicted is enough to make me want to drop everything and start coding.

I’ve personally spoken to guys who have made over $200,000 a year off apps that they outsourced by simply riding this tidal wave.

My business is focused on how to make money with apps and teaching people how to do just that. Beyond the development and design, I am impressed with killer marketing and explosiveness – developers that are able to turn ideas into millions.

It’s not easy to do and when I see people who can execute on that level, I take notice.

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iPhone App Developers

In 2011, there were some remarkable success stories. IPOs launched with a foundation in applications and mobile gaming. 30 year old hobbyists retiring. Below is a list of 20 developers who rode shotgun on this train and are tap-tap-tapping all the way to the bank.

* Please note that all revenue numbers are approximated


#1 Zynga

Founded: 2007

Number of Employees: 200-250

Popular AppsZynga Poker, Farmville, Words With Friends

Zynga is the Titanic of the app world (and then some). With over $1.4B in revenue, these guys took mobile gaming to the max, dominating not only the iPhone application market, but also the Facebook gaming market. Games like Zynga Poker and Words With Friends are consistenly in the top 5 top grossing apps worldwide, bringing in an estimated $200,000+ a day.

Rovio - Angry Birds Developer#2 Rovio

Founded: 2003

Number of Employees: ~ 300

Popular Apps: Angry Birds, Angry Birds Space

Rovio is probably the most popular brand in the mobile world, having taken Angry Birds to multiple distribution channels (movies, products) and producing over $100M in revenue for 2011. As a point of reference, these guys did about $10M in 2010 – that’s 1000% growth. Not too shabby.

Fun Fact: Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd app (after 51 flops).

CapCom Mobile#3 Capcom Mobile

Founded: 1983

Number of Employees: 1000+

Popular Apps: Smurf’s Villiage, Resident Evil

Capcom has been around for a while selling video games and recently entered the mobile market. They were one of the first companies to integrate a currency system within the app with Smurf’s Villiage, effectively monetizing the gaming experience in a way that had never been done before. The latest stats are saying this venture into the mobile market added a cool $70.3M to their bottom line, which is also nice :-)

Crowdstar#4 CrowdStar

Founded: 2008

Number of Employees: 10+

Popular Apps: Social Girl, Top Girl, Modern Girl

CrowdStar has made some serious moves lately, coming out with Modern Girl and going straight to the top of the Grossing charts in April 2012. They’re young, hip, and have been getting more funding than most other developers in their space. Talk about building an empire – these guys are doing it.

Funzio#5 Funzio

Founded: 2008

Number of Employees: 100+

Popular Apps: Crime City, Modern War

Funzio is a multi-platform development company that had huge success in the 2011 iOS market. They set some very strong benchmarks by pulling in one million downloads in 5 days for their first game Crime City, and another 1.5M downloads in 7 days for their second game, Modern War. They’re hiring and they are hungry.

Storm8#6 Storm8

Founded: 2010

Number of Employees: 100+

Popular Apps: World War, Racing Live

What’s most impressive about Storm8 is that they are only two years old and have reached the top 10 free app with every game they release. As a parent company to TeamLava, one of the top mobile social game developers in the space, they are developing a strong brand of awesome games that cross market themselves to the top, to the point where Zynga listed them as a competitor on their IPO filing. Last June they had a $1M day and then followed with a 40% off sale, pushing 8 of their apps into the 50 top grossing charts.

Backflip Studios#7 Backflip Studios

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 30+

Popular Apps: Dragonvale, Paper Toss

Backflip Studios are located in Boulder, Colorado and were self funded as of 2011. That’s not hard to do when you log over 100 Million downloads and 1 billion impressions last year. Translated – approximately $1M per month so far in 2012.

ForeFlight#8 ForeFlight

Founded: 2007

Number of Employees: 3

Popular Apps: ForeFlight for iPad

ForeFlight found a very interesting niche – pilots. Instead of going after the mega populations in gaming, ForeFlight successfully turned their technology into the de facto aviation app, landing contracts with major airlines and the government. They also successfully mastered the subscription model for their free app, coming in at a cool $74.99 per year. ForeFlight was the 6th top grossing iPad app of 2011. Further proof that dominating a niche is the only way to live!

Halfbrick#9 HalfBrick

Founded: 2001

Number of Employees: 40+

Popular Apps: Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride

Halfbrick, based out of Australia, was one of the first big names in iOS gaming when it opened the gates of Fruit Ninja. With that one paid app pulling in over 20 million downloads alone, they’ve established a full Fruit Ninja suite that feeds itself. Fruit Ninja was #2 on the top Paid app for 2011.

ZeptoLab#10 ZeptoLab

Founded: 2001

Number of Employees: 20+

Popular Apps: Cut the Rope

By December of 2011, Cut the Rope had 1.6 Million unique users every day. Zeptolab, based out of Russia, basically built their entire fortune on that one game, adding a few variations to the mix and adding an even larger base. Across both platforms (iOS and Android), they have over 60 Million downloads of Cut The Rope.

Adreas Illinger#11 Andreas Illinger

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 1

Popular Apps: Tiny Wings

Andreas Illinger is the poster child for this gold rush – one guy, one app, one retirement. This self taught German developer’s smash hit game Tiny Wings went straight to the top of the paid charts and never left. There is no clear number that I could find for his downloads, but I think it’s safe to say that he’s doing alright – Tiny Wings was the #5 top Paid App in 2011, ball-parked at about $3M for the year.

An interesting interview of Andreas can be read here.

TapTapTap#12 TapTapTap

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 10+

Popular Apps: Camera+, The Heist

TapTapTap is a firm built on a series of principles, highlighted by “Everything should look amazing.” Seems they did that right with their Camera+ blowout, clocking in over 7M downloads and landing a spot at #8 for the top Paid apps in 2011. During peak weeks, they were making about $200K a week. Their latest release of the Heist puzzle app brought in half a million downloads in the first 7 days and landed them a cool $300K payday. Quality sells, apparently.

LimaSky#13 Lima Sky

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 2

Popular Apps: Doodle Jump

Lima Sky was started by Igor Pusenjak and his brother Marko in 2009 and gained over 10 million downloads in 20 months. In 2011, Doodle Jump was the 9th most downloaded Paid app, spring-boarding the company to add another 10 apps to their arsenal. The company has since grown beyond the two brothers, but the duo remains notoriously private, releasing very little about what they’re up to. I guess it’s hard when you’re busy counting all that money :-)

Popcap#14 PopCap Games

Founded: 2000

Number of Employees: 100+

Popular Apps: Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap has a larger business than many of the others on this list, as they develop for all platforms – mobile, Facebook, Nintendo, Xbox, computer. That didn’t stop them from making the top 10 paid apps list last year with Plants vs Zombies and raking in $1M in 9 days. This firm is a Goliath in their capabilities and will continue to have their hands in every gaming medium under the sun. In July of last year, EA agreed to a buyout which could bring in almost $1.3 billion for PopCap.

Pocket Gems#15 Pocket Gems

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 100+

Popular Apps: Tap Zoo, Tap Pet Hotel

Pocket Gems did something very few other developers could – master the currency model within an app. This is when you buy coins or gems within an app using real money. The result? #1 and #4 grossing apps of 2011. They have over 60M downloads so far with a revenue stream that is said to be in the $50-100M range and skyrocketing.

The Playforge#16 The PlayForge

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 20+

Popular Apps: Zombie Farm

There’s something about zombies and iPhone users. The Playforge luckily figured this out early and released Zombie Farm, only to have it become the #3 grossing iPhone app last year. With over 7.5M downloads, these guys are poised for another year of success.

Kama Games#17 Kama Games

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: 15+

Popular Apps: Texas Poker

It’s no surprise that gambling ranks among the most lucrative app categories. Kama Games took this vice and capitalized with Texas Poker, getting them the #7 slot for top grossing iPhone apps. Ethical? I suppose that’s tough to answer when you have $20M+ coming in from one iPhone app.

Haypi#18 Haypi

Founded: 2009

Number of Employees: Unknown

Popular Apps: Haypi Kingdom

Haypi is a Chinese game developer that used solid game play and hardcore marketing to get to the top of the charts (#8 top grossing for 2011). By leveraging promotions and advertising, Haypi effectively pushed their way to the top of the market and established themselves among the top earners, allowing for a growth trajectory that has led to countless other games under their brand.

Epic Games#19 Epic Games

Founded: 1991

Number of Employees: 200+

Popular Apps: Infinity Blade

Epic Games brought us Infinity Blade, one of the first big steps forward for iOS graphics rendering, and never looked back. Infinity Blade was #5 on the top grossing iPad apps last year, driven by awesome game play and a well executed currency model within the game. The Infinity Blade brand alone has grossed them over $30M, putting their over value well into the hundreds of millions.

Full Power MotionX#20 FullPower Technologies

Founded: 2003

Number of Employees: 50+

Popular Apps: MotionX GPS, MotionX Sleep

FullPower prides itself on how well they develop. Their apps are widely regarded as some of the most technologically advanced and powerful on the market and have been downloaded accordingly. Their GPS app was the #10 top grossing iPhone app of 2011 with their latest Sleep app right behind. 2011 projections for the GPS app put them in the $12M range.


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