Turning an app into a sustainable business takes more than just a great idea. The story of the founder of Spinrilla (which today has over 21 million users), Dylan Copeland, shows why it’s important to think about monetization from the beginning, especially for app developers planning to focus on ads to generate revenue.
In 2010, while attending Georgia State University in Atlanta, Dylan Copeland noticed his peers were listening to more and more independent music, but the whole distribution process — from artists recording and burning their music onto CDs, then physically passing those CDs out — was completely inefficient, clunky, and “very mundane.”
Having some coding experience under his belt, albeit limited, Dylan saw an opportunity and slowly got to work building Spinrilla.com, a website for uploading, promoting, and streaming independent hip-hop music. Working nights and weekends, Dylan bootstrapped the entire website himself, and didn’t tell anyone what he was doing until it was launched two years later.
So how did Dylan turn his brainchild, Spinrilla, into a full-fledged business, attracting millions of artists and listeners worldwide? He started rather simply by contacting people who were promoting their own music, and convincing them to publish on his website. Dylan found the most successful way to find and entice these fledgling artists was through Twitter. “I sent a lot of unsolicited Twitter messages…[I would say], ‘Hey, I see you’re releasing music, I’ve created a new platform, I’d love to have you give it a try and let me know what you think about it.’” That tactic, combined with good old-fashioned word-of-mouth, proved to be very successful.
However, it wasn’t until Dylan released the Spinrilla iOS app in 2014 that he saw that success hit its inflection point. “I always knew that this was going to be a mobile-heavy platform just because people are listening to music on the go...nobody was listening to music on their computer anymore.” Very quickly, the Spinrilla app started to climb up the rankings and, with that, Dylan saw exponential user growth. As it turns out, he had a marketing machine working for him in that artists would bring their fans to the platform, and more listeners brought more artists. Not only that, but those artists would then blast their music out via social media and listeners would blast out what they were listening to — all of this working to promote the Spinrilla platform.
Thankfully, Dylan had the foresight to start thinking about monetization from Day 1. “I always knew I wanted this to be a sustainable business...and eventually cycle that money back to the artists.” Running ads on his site and in his app were the easiest and most surefire way to quickly monetize his users without charging them for content, which he didn’t want to do. Because Dylan had considered monetization early on, he was able to to incorporate ads in the experience right away, so that users were always used to seeing them.
Dylan’s ad monetization strategy started out at a very basic level: he had just one ad format (banners) and one ad network (AdMob). The switch to MoPub made sense because it allowed him to open up his inventory to more demand, with ample flexibility to maximize revenue. Not only that, but being a developer, Dylan loved the fact that MoPub offered an open-source SDK. “Having an open-source SDK was huge; ad networks are notoriously bad on the technical side and developers are always sort of hesitant to throw their software into their app without being able to see what’s going on behind the scenes…[MoPub being open-source] gave me a big vote of confidence,” he said. More confidence (and more revenue) meant Dylan quickly became a satisfied MoPub customer.
Dylan is also a devoted Twitter customer (and user). In addition to crediting Twitter for helping build his initial audience, he finds the Spinrilla Twitter account to be a great place to get feedback and suggestions from its users and fans. Not only that, Dylan notes that running paid user acquisition (UA) ad campaigns on Twitter (vs. other platforms/ad networks) has proved to yield the highest ROAS or Return on Ad Spend. “We’re able to not only drive app installs, but also drive people back to our Twitter account, which we love.”
Check out our video interview with Dylan and, if you’re into independent hip-hop, be sure to check out the Spinrilla app and follow them on Twitter (@Spinrilla)!