Another Lisbon-based startup that is taking over the world is Aptoide. We talked with Paulo Trezentos, Aptoide’s CEO to know more about what Aptoide is all about, how they got to 97 million users, what are their plans for the future and what are they organizing for the Web Summit.
What is Aptoide?
Aptoide is an Android App Store. Well, it’s not “just” an app store, it’s a set of app stores.
Our mission is to touch people’s lives by supplying apps that are easy to use, safe, exciting and fun.
We would like to be installed in a billion Android devices by 2020. It’s an ambitious goal. But if we think that last year we were installed in 97 million Android devices, a billion doesn’t seem that far away. It’s “just” adding another zero. That’s our vision.
What sets Aptoide apart from the “official” App Stores?
We have a major difference from Google Play and the Apple iOS App Store. Those are centralized markets. We are decentralized. We are a bit more like YouTube. People manage their own channel, their own store, they do content upload, curate their apps, manage their network. That’s the logic we work on. It has been working well. We have been growing constantly.
You’re already a global startup. How diverse is your team?
We are a very diversified team. About 20% of the people are not from Portugal. Indonesia, Vietnam, Iran, Brazil, Russia… We are also a very young team. I turned 40 two days ago – still getting used to it – but the average age is still 28 years old.
What is Aptoide’s story? How did it begin?
Aptoide was born in 2009 as a summer internship at Caixa Mágica – a company that I started before this one, a Portuguese Linux distro. Back then we had several summer internships, each with an idea, a project. One of those ideas was Aptoide. “Aptoide” comes from “apt” – after the install tool in Debian Linux that is called “apt-get” – and “oid” because of “Android”. But when I sent the e-mail to the student telling him how the project was going to be named I wrote “Aptoide” with an “e” in the end. And then everyone started to write it with an “e” and when we realized it was just a typo it was too late to change it.
Since the start we established that the Android app was open source. The source code is available, anyone could check it on Github. And the community started to get an interest in the possibility of installing apps on Android devices without using Google Play. The community started to contribute to the project, it had a really interesting dynamic.
In 2011 we decided to start a company just for Aptoide. In 2013 we had investment from Portugal Ventures. It was a 750.000 euro seed round. In January 2015 we got to break-even and become a sustainable company. And from that came an interesting lesson: when you don’t have money you have very strong reasons to raise money. But when you have money it seems that you have even stronger reasons to raise capital. And investors push you that way. If you prove that your business is sustainable you’re going to need more capital to take leverage from that and grow more. And that’s what happened.
In January 2016 we did our Series A. The lead investor was e.ventures (Germany), Gobi (China) and Golden Gate Ventures (Singapore). When you talk to VCs to raise capital you need to set the right investor profile for your startup: in what geographies they operate, what kind of companies they usually invest and, last but not least, the cultural or human factor, if you can get along, do we like to talk with them, be around them and if the feeling is mutual. This last one you have to deal with it on a case by case scenario. About the first two: it made sense to have an investor in Europe. And we saw a huge potential in Southeast Asia – someone that had local know-how from there. China, for us, is not a market. We have no users there. They have a lot of App Stores and the Great Firewall of China makes everything closed. But it’s in China where the most Android app developer companies are. It’s also where the investors with more capacity are and most importantly it’s where the hardware makers are. We opened an office in Shenzhen and we started flying to Singapore and to China to create local ties and establish relationships with that part of the world.
How do you explain your growth?
It’s a bit cliché to say this but our team was essential for our growth. We have a very solid culture. Even in situations like… losing a revenue source that is 75% of your revenue in one day – it happened – the team reacts and adapts really well. That has been our formula for success. We are very focused in growth hacking. We look a lot at analytics, retention, KPIs, funnels and we try to understand where it is going right and where it is not going so right. All the work we do around product, UX …it’s based on growth hacking. We do a lot of analytics work, SEO, A/B testing. All with a very high workload of analytical monitoring.
We spent 0 on user acquisition. That was a great argument for investors because a lot of companies have to leverage huge amounts of capital by investing in user acquisition. That tells us that we have a place in the world because we aren’t paying for the users and they are installing our app. And we realized that was happening a lot because of word of mouth, social media and search. We have a lot of organic growth due to those two: search and word of mouth (via social media or “in real life”). In SEO we do what other startups do: make sure your content is easily crawl-able. We follow Google’s rules, because they are 99% of the search traffic. Regarding community we need to make sure we take care of our community by listening to them. We also have ambassadors, one per country, that have incentives to report bugs, organize local meet-ups, etc. And also influencers. There’s a group of people, mostly on YouTube, that when they talk about Aptoide get to a lot of people and generate a very positive snowball effect. They talk about it, the micro-influencers that follow them also talk about it and so on. We put a lot of effort in supporting the influencers that we think have value and incentivize them to talk about us to their audience.
You’ve done a light version of Aptoide? Why?
The light version of the app was made because of the growth we are having in emergent markets. We have 3 or 4 areas in which we would like to be market leaders by 2020. One is Generation Z. People born after 1995. We feel that our community-focused model with multiple-stores has everything to do with the way that Generation Z consumes apps. There is a total match there. Another one is Android devices in new categories. We are closing a lot of interesting deals around Android for the TV. And the third one are the emergent markets: Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and India. In those countries we have realities that we don’t have in Portugal. One of the three most popular apps in India is an app called SHAREit. It allows users to share with each other. Movies, music, files and apps. In India, sharing between devices via Bluetooth, direct Wi-Fi, hotspot and between phones that aren’t connected to the internet is super important. This because mobile internet access is extremely expensive and totally unreliable. This type of app sharing makes total sense there. That’s why we’ve made Aptoide Light. It’s less demanding in bandwidth. The screenshots and images are smaller, data transfer is highly compressed. We are launching this week two features that are very important for these markets: delta updates – updates where you only download what is different and new in the app you’re updating and not the whole bundle. And a direct app sharing feature that will allow users to share apps between devices when they have no internet access – integrated in the app store itself. Aptoide Light was made for that: integrate features that are bandwidth sensible. If those features start to get traction with users we put them in the “normal” Aptoide.
How about other platforms? What are your plans?
We are doing some experiments around VR. We have a version for VR headsets. Our focus is on Android devices where we can be as an App Store (mobile, TV, VR). But we always had a very focused culture. When we started we had a lot of requests to do a version for Blackberry and Windows but we decided to focus. And the industry specializes. For instance, Slack is good because they just do that. WhastApp is good because since the beginning they do just that. And that’s also our approach. No one is good because they half-do something else. It’s very tempting to want to do new apps to grow our user base. We always put that into perspective. Our rule of thumb is: if it’s an AppStore on Android devices, we’ll do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s TV or VR or something else. If it’s not an AppStore and it’s not on Android it’s not in our plans.
We still don’t know how VR is going to evolve. We have been feeling that there is a lot of investing going on in VR manufacturing, mainly because of our Shenzhen office. What we are developing is an AppStore where we can easily choose and browse apps using a VR device. If it’s going to evolve in that direction or if you’ll install an app in your smartphone and then you use it in VR it’s not clear yet.
Our premise is Android. If it runs Android, we want to have an App Store for it. If Oculus Rift works in a different way, with another OS, we won’t be in that device. Android is what allows Aptoide to focus on quality and it’s where we can deliver more value. Mobile is a super mature market. Then there is TV, where it is starting to grow. And then there is the VR nebula. In mobile we have an 86% market share. That’s more than enough for us. In TV it’s not. You have Taizen, you have webOS. We believe that Android will have a major market share on TV. Developers have the knowledge of having spent years developing for Android smartphone devices and when they want to develop for TV they go with what they know. And we would like to be the major AppStore on TV devices. We are working with the top 3 chinese TV manufacturers. In VR it’s still too soon to know if Android is going to be the major platform. But we’ll be ready if it is.
And then there is also Android on the desktop. I was expecting Google to announce, in their last I/O conference, a merge between Android and ChromeOS. I think everyone underestimates this. In Singapore there are divisions inside hardware stores just for Chromebooks. It’s much more popular than we realize. It’s interesting to think about this. I have no doubt that Macs and iOS devices are here to stay. But all those Windows devices… their existence is questionable for me. There is more and more stuff that we do inside a browser. Gmail, Google Calendar, shared Google Docs… everything we used to do inside an app on the desktop we are now doing inside a browser. And everything that Microsoft was able to consolidate in the PC-era doesn’t make much sense now. If the OS is free they might manage the impact of having a competitor like Android on the desktop. But then something else might happen: having Android apps for the desktop that don’t exist for Windows. An Android developer will be able to do things for smartphones, TV, VR and, obviously, the desktop.
What are your plans for the Web Summit?
We were in RISE in Hong Kong. It was very interesting. In the Web Summit we are going to be in their Start program and we will also have our own events in parallel. Our main goal for the Web Summit is to meet with partners, do some networking and showcase our apps.
In our own event, we will deliver awards for the best Portuguese Apps. We have a jury picking the best Portuguese Apps and Games of the last year. We also rented a tram to show Lisbon to our partners. They’re coming here and we will show them the city. But that’s a smaller thing.