How one indie developer succeeded the old-fashioned way in the Microsoft Store

At User Camp, we’re advocating for indie software in the Microsoft Store. This is the first in a series of interviews with successful Store developers.

Imagine an indie app that dominates its niche, has gobs of delighted users, and costs real money (instead of peppering its users with banner ads or hassling them for IAPs). Now, guess which platform it’s on.

This is a story that’s not uncommon on iOS, where wallet penetration is high and pirating apps is a challenge. But it can happen in the Microsoft Store, too. One developer, Timo Partl, did it in just 11 months by identifying an underserved niche and going on a one-man mission to close the app gap.

Now, Diarium has been nominated by Microsoft for the App Creator of the Year award. (You can support Timo and reward him for creating an outstanding Windows 10 and Windows Phone-exclusive app by voting for Diarium until April 27th.)

We asked Timo how he identified the opportunity for his app, executed on it, and brought it to its current popularity and recognition from Microsoft:

What made you develop Diarium?

I saw my girlfriend putting lots of effort into her daily agenda — around 20 minutes a day, including small stickers, pictures and quotes.

I wasn’t even aware that people still used diaries, but she showed me that they can still can be something truly personal and valuable. After she told me about the costs for a one-year diary, the stickers, and the photos, I was pretty shocked.

As an app developer always searching for new app ideas, I felt like I had found one. I searched the Windows Store for diary apps, but there weren’t any decent ones in my eyes, even though there were plenty in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. So I felt like I had to fill the app gap on the Windows side, and started coding.

When did your app start feeling like a success?

When I had the first usable version of the app after a month of coding or so and uploaded it to the Store, I started keeping a diary with the app myself — something that I would never have done otherwise. But the daily reminders in the Action Center kept forcing me to create an entry, and since the app is able to include so much about a day automatically (like Twitter posts, Untappd beer checkins, and pictures from the Camera Roll), the diary’s pages looked good without putting too much effort into it.

I realized that an app can take away lots of the “work” of keeping a beautiful diary, and that means you’re more likely to keep writing in it compared to an analogue diary. I got similar reactions from the app’s first users during the following weeks, as well as great suggestions about how to improve the app.

I also noticed that, while the app had way fewer downloads than my other apps, I got way more feedback from the people using it — people actually wanted my app to improve, maybe for a lack of alternatives. I had some great dialogue with my app users. Some of them even sent me UI mockups.

The app didn’t make it to the top of the Store’s rankings for a long time, but I still got a few downloads every single day; I assumed this was because of the high satisfaction level of the app users (translating to a high app rating) and them recommending the app to their friends. After I promoted the app through MyAppDeals and changed the app name to include some keywords, Diarium finally hit the top areas of the Store rankings, resulting in more downloads.

What advice can you offer to other Store developers?

  • Pick an app that you would want to use yourself. This gives you more motivation to improve it than you would have otherwise. It also keeps you motivated during the phase where the app is not published yet. Creating a new app from nothing is a big job, and requires lots of work (including boring stuff like writing an app description or designing an app logo) without seeing anything — like positive feedback or money — in return.
  • Keep the app simple, but still powerful. An app is something that should focus on one specific task or topic, but should do that task as good as possible. I often get feedback from app users asking for additional features that don’t really help the main purpose of the app. I then decide against adding that feature to ensure usability, and to not overload the app. I note down the idea separately and review it when I search for an idea for a new app.

Did you make any mistakes that you could warn other users about?

I named the app DailyDiary in the beginning, but one day, I received a letter from an attorney saying DailyDiary is a registered trademark in the US, demanding that I find a new name for the app. Maybe I should have checked if that name was registered beforehand.

Why did you choose to develop for the Windows Store?

The Lumia 920 was my first smartphone. Being a student of Applied Computer Science, I wanted to figure out what I could do with it.

I got some great positive feedback after I published GeoPhoto, my first app, so I stuck to the Windows Store. I tried the Android Store, but I soon recognized that it is much harder to get visibility with a new app there.

What’s your development setup?

I currently use a Desktop PC, a Lumia 950 (Release build) & 930 (Insider build) for testing. To test bigger screen sizes, I use my Lumia 1520.

Thanks Timo! You can find Diarium in the Microsoft Store, and don’t forget to vote for your favorite app in the Windows Developer Awards.

Share your own app’s journey

If you’d like to share your own journey as a Microsoft Store developer on our blog, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

User Camp is the place for Microsoft Store developers. You should follow us on Twitter.