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Top 20 Earning App Developers

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20-top-app-developers-of-2011We’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.

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.

Read more: ‘How To Validate Your Million $ App Idea in 3 Simple Steps’

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  1. Alihan Yildirim says:

    Wow! Its amazing to see how these guys become so successful from a new market pioneered by Apple. Maybe I should try and build my own game for the app store ;p

  2. Edoardo Moreni says:

    I like this list, but I think that it is probably going to change in the near future. Rovio needs to find something to do because it can not implement its ecosystem on Angry Birds. Although they have created a cool brand behind it, you can not lead a company just with a single game. On the other hand I am a little bit skeptical about Zynga, which has been notorious of cheating on other apps and games, and Lima Sky, which I thought was ready to launch something big after Doodle Jump. The App Market is not so huge and the possibility to make huge revenues are not enough, giving the fact that Apple and Google take a great percent of what you earn. However it is always interesting to experiment new things.

    • Hey Eduardo – agreed. This list is constantly changing and morphing. Look at 2012 – OMGPOP is already crushing the competition with DrawSomething and they’re not even on this list. The old players are faced with a crucial choice: adopt the cutting edge marketing and advertising necessary to leverage their prior success or be eaten by the new sharks.

  3. You should of included how many apps that are available that don’t make any money as a side note. Reading this makes me want to quit everything and make a app, make a couple million and retire. I wonder what the ratio is from apps/companies that make money, to the apps that don’t turn any profit.

    • Dan, you’re right. I know this because I own a handful of my own apps. Some kill it and some cost me a lot of $$ that I’ll never make back. The latest numbers put the iTunes Store at about 700,000 apps. I have no idea what the ratio is for profitability, but my own personal opinion is that it follows a bell curve. 20% are making a lot of money, 60% are either breaking even or not making enough money, and 20% are just complete failures. What’s amazing is that the size of the market is growing as fast as the demand. Most research companies are saying the app market will be 1000% the size it is now in 3 years…and most people will make no money chasing that dream. BUT – just like what Michael and the guys at Income Diary always talk about – if you have a great product and work hard, you’ll absolutely make it work.

  4. Jeffrey C says:

    Thx for the list. I never thought there are so many new company that were such success in penetrating the mobile market. Thanks!

  5. Great posts Carter! I sent you an email, hope to hear back. Great content here.

    • Hey Tyler – got your email yesterday. I will follow up later today. Thanks for the note!

  6. Dmitriy Kozlov says:

    Post like this remind me to get my ass in gear and get my company into developing mobile apps, for small businesses for a fee and for ourselves as a revenue model. Every time I come up with a great idea though, I search the app store and it already has a relevant app.

    It would be nice to see a follow up post on the different options people have for building and/or outsourcing mobile apps.

    • Dmitriy, I completely hear you. For the past 6 months I’ve been splitting my time between web marketing and iphone app marketing (with some development of my own) and finally realized I need to go full-on mobile. This is quite literally the next big thing on the web. Check out Amish Shah, one of the legendary internet advertisers and marketers. He’s dropping everything and going after apps. You go down the list of most internet marketers out there and you’ll see the same thing….everyone saying “I saw this before in 2001 with Google and there is no way I’m missing it again.” If you check out my website and sign up for the newsletter, I have an ebook I wrote about pretty much everything you could want to know about the process, getting developers, and marketing. I think you’ll enjoy it.

  7. George Nosa says:

    Nice one there carter although i didn’t care about the list, to be honest. I’ll checkout your site carter cos lately i’ve being researching about this new gold rush. Yesterday i was thrilled reading an interview about the guys who created the app ugly meter and they said just this last week it did $600,000. Damn man! You could afford a Miserati or something with that money! Excuse me for being childish…and there’s this article I read at about theappbuilder…a website where you build apps in minutes without knowing any coding or hiring a tech guy! Cool i’m sure carter must have heard of it anyways here’s the article

    • Yeah, there are tons of website like that. Appmakr, GameSalad, the list goes on. I’m writing a post right now about whether it’s worth it (because it’s actually not really free…) The ugly meter story is what’s so crazy – you have a hit for a few days and you literally make hundreds of thousands of dollars. I did a promotion once and got about 60,000 downloads in 3 days, completely changed my business. One day on the top 25 lists for Apple and you’ll make 5 figures.

  8. After reading what your reply’s have been I went to your website and downloaded your ebook. I have always wanted to start developing apps but been busy working on blogs and design, but after reading that this market is going to explode, I’m going to start setting time aside to learning how to develop one.