Getting paid on Google Play (formerly the Android Market) isn’t quite as easy as getting paid on the iOS App Store. Downloaders of apps for Google’s mobile OS tend to prefer free software to paid, leaving developers seeking alternatives to charging for apps in terms of mechanisms to drive revenue. StartApp, an Israeli-based startup founded in 2010, is trying a different approach that pays developers every time their app is downloaded – regardless of what they’re asking consumers to pay for their products.
StartApp, which secured over $4 million in Series A funding today from Ascent Venture Partners and Cedar Fund, offers developers an alternative to straightforward ads or freemium content, and one that can even be combined with both of the above. It pays developers who integrate its search functions into their own products based on download volume; but there’s a risk with regards to end-users, since StartApp makes its money by attaching a ride-along homescreen bookmark to apps that sign up for its platform and use its SDK. That means users who install apps that integrate StartApp will also install a bookmark and browser shortcut on their device to StartApp’s search portal.
The search is monetized, and features ads in the form of promoted content in its results. StartApp CEO and co-founder Gil Dudkiewicz told BetaKit in an interview that those paying for featured spots are clearly identified to end users. StartApp also has strict restrictions about how it’s presented to users, and about which partners it chooses to work with, he said.
“Our screening selection is very strict,” Dudkiewicz explains. “Aside from the fact that we do not work with any app that violates the Android Market policy, we do not work with any app that has adult or violent content, or anything that we think is inappropriate, misappropriates copyright, P2P, etc. We also require the developer to put a disclaimer that explains what we do and take out whoever doesn’t do it.”
The bookmark can be removed easily, and as Dudkiewicz said, the company insists that its partners highlight the StartApp platform’s presence. Developers are guaranteed a simple and straightforward return on investment this way, too; between $10 – $50 per 1,000 downloads, depending on location and other factors. It’s a much better deal than they can get through traditional advertising, Dudkiewicz argues.
But on the other hand, StartApp’s model is decidedly reminiscent of unwanted software like browser bars that used to so frequently ride along on other software installs for Windows computers. The whole concept clearly anticipates users that likely aren’t tech-savvy enough to recognize StartApp’s new “Search” bookmark and icon as something new and foreign (the page it brings you to even resembles Google’s mobile search page) – a technique that’s at best somewhat sneaky. It offers developers a way to avoid cluttering their apps with ads and still draw in revenue, but at what cost to the user? According to its terms, StartApp doesn’t collect or store any personal information, at least, so any negative impact may be more annoyance than anything else.
Ethical merits aside, StartApp has seen promising early adoption numbers; it’s now been integrated into over 1,500 Android apps, and has been downloaded over 50 million times since its launch in September 2011. And with developers seeking out new ways to make money with mobile software, expect that number to continue to grow, for better or for worse.