Going Viral: Q&A With A 16-Year-Old App Creator
We talked to Ben Pasternak, a 16-year-old who created a gaming app that was wildly successful with teens, on his upcoming venture, Flogg.
The app market is a competitive space for developers who are attempting to capture the attention of Millennials and teens. Not only is “app juggling,” a common practice for young consumers, they are also very selective as to which apps they spend their time on: according to an Activate study, smartphone owners use about 27 apps per month, but spend 80% of their time in just five. For developers, these statistics can be daunting. According to New York Times: “App makers fear this kind of juggling the way TV networks fear DVRs. Each time someone leaves one app for another, there is a chance that user will never come back. And since apps make money only when users are plugged in and absorbing ads, the number of monthly users is less important than how many users they get each day — and how long they stay.”
One app developer has been able to unlock the key to harnessing the attention of the generation, and it may be because he is only a teenager himself. As a 15-year-old Australian high school student, Ben Pasternak developed the gaming app Impossible Rush. He was inspired mostly out of boredom, and because he “just wanted to get something cool in the app store.” The addicting gameplay made the app go viral, and within six weeks it had been downloaded 500,000 times—currently that number is over a million. The success of the app got the tech industry talking about the young entrepreneur, including Facebook and Google who invited Pasternak to their headquarters for tours.
The now 16-year-old has since dropped out of high school and is currently living in New York City working on his next big venture: peer-to-peer marketplace app Flogg, which launches today. We recently reached out to find out his thoughts on how to make an app go viral with teens, what new social network he’d bet on, and why he thinks Flogg is his next big hit:
Ypulse: What sparked your interest to create apps?
Ben Pasternak: My hobbies are making apps and that’s pretty much it. It isn’t really the technology, it’s just that I like making tools. Right now apps are the easiest way to do that and give you [access] to a large amount of people.
YP: Can you run through what a day in the life of a teen app developer is like?
BP: Wake up, check my never ending to-do list, get as much as I can get done before the team wakes up. When the team is up we work out what we want to get done for the day. Throughout the day I’ll mostly work on my own thing and leave the team to do their bit. By 4-5 p.m. I’ll realize I haven’t eaten today, go get food, be distracted for 30 min after that, then keep working, 1-2 a.m. sleep and repeat.
YP: Take us through a day in your social media life–what do you check when you wake up, what apps do you post to through the day, etc.
BP: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and SNAPCHAT are my dailies. Big fan of Snapchat –I post to it daily (pasternakben is my user), sometimes Instagram. Tweet every 2-3 days too.
YP: What do apps need to have today to attract young users?
BP: EMOJIIIISSSS, people seem to think they’re unprofessional but they’re now part of our culture and language. They’re an easy way to make something cool and to show off to friends.
YP: When you think of your favorite apps and what your friends like to use, is there anything in particular that stands out?
BP: Right now most of my friends are on Snapchat and Instagram, but if I had like two million dollars to invest into a company, I would be betting my money on Peach.
YP: Why would you say that?
BP: I kept seeing my friends had a finsta, which is like a fake Instagram account where all is natural. It’s known to be called as a safe Instagram account, and basically it’s teenagers accepting 30 of their closest friends and just posting unedited photos of what they are up to—kind of the way you use Snapchat story. And I feel like Peach saw that was happening and created a home for finstas.
YP: So do you think people your age are looking for more of a real representation on social media?
BP: Yeah, less about editing and perfection and more about unedited stuff and just raw content. Teenagers spend all this time in school trying to be the best and most popular that it’s frustrating when they get home they have to do it on Instagram too. Snapchat is raw content.
[Editor Note: Our Social Media Illusion trend reported that Millennials and teens are pulling back the curtain and embracing social media that encourage more unfiltered content. It has become all too easy for Millennials and teens to send out a version of themselves made just a little more perfect via filters, frames, and photo do-overs. Some are now wondering how real their online personas should be, and others are skewering the “perfection” that online branding allows them to portray. Finstas are just one example of young consumers manipulating social media to convey the image they want to one group while showing their real selves to a smaller, trusted circle. The popularity of Snapchat is likely also being fueled by their desire to share imperfect images with close friends only.]
YP: Why did you make the decision to leave high school to pursue app development?
BP: As soon as I started getting involved with apps, my grades started going down and I was failing a lot in school. I put my apps before my school work, and I had the attention of teachers who said: “you can do this and get to apps later.” Even before Impossible Rush launched, I was really confident that it was going to work out. After venture capitalists got interested in Flogg, I discussed it more extensively with my parents and we came to the realization, it’s probably going to come up again.
YP: Tell us about Flogg, what is it about?
BP: I say Flogg is a fun way to buy and sell within a trusted community.
I had friends using Facebook groups to buy and sell in these really tight communities. For example, in Sydney, Australia, we had our like Sydney girls buy sell. The reason they were buying and selling in these groups, was because it was a trustworthy community. They weren’t buying and selling to random people. They just trusted each other within the group. I kept seeing tons of these groups, and Facebook wasn’t doing anything to look after these people, and they were kind of ignoring these groups. So I set out to create a much better experience to buy and sell within these tight communities.
YP: What makes Flogg different from other peer-to-peer marketplace sites and apps that are out there?
BP: 1. Our platform focuses on social selling (e.g. I can recommend an item to a friend and, see mutual friends with a user etc.).
2. Most competitors are in the classifieds space and the transactions are with complete strangers. With Flogg you buy and sell with your friends and their friends.
3. We’re fun and easy. You can list an item in 4 simple steps.
4. Flogg will list the most desirable product for our core users. Flogg’s differentiation lies in our deep understanding of the teen mindset.
YP: What kind of things do you think teens will be looking to buy and sell on Flogg?
BP: Phones, shoes, clothing, gaming products, laptops, sun glasses, etc.
YP: Do you have any marketing plans for the app you can share?
BP: I can’t say that much, but we are doing influence marketing again. It’s the most effective way to market an app. It turns out with the best results, because people are so obsessed with influencers, and influencers have such large following.
[Editor’s Notes: Online influencers are providing that authentic conduit to young, marketing-wary young consumers. Digital stars are increasingly seen as the solution for marketers that want to endorse products through a trustworthy source, sources that Millennials and teens see as their friends. According to Ypulse’s Fame Redefined trend, 53% of 13-17-year-olds say that videos on YouTube is the content they enjoy watching the most—compared to 29% who say TV series. It’s these young viewers that have helped to make online influencers into marketing powerhouses.]
YP: Has social media played a role in app developing?
BP: Yeah for sure, but once you have users actively on your app you don’t really need to convince them to continue using it with social media. Social media marketing on Facebook and stuff like that, I’d say its probably the second most effective after influencer marketing.
YP: Do you have any other ideas for apps that you may create in the future?
BP: For now, I’m definitely just focused on Flogg. Regarding where my apps are heading, I don’t know about apps, but I think technology is going to be a lot smarter, like virtual reality in the next ten years. I’m definitely into that.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
Ben Pasternak was finding science class less than scintillating so he developed an app instead of paying attention to the lecture. The game, “Impossible Rush”, was downloaded more than 1.2 million times and trended to the number one spot in the App Store worldwide (the app reached #16 in the U.S., trending higher than Twitter and Tinder). At 15, he was the youngest person to ever get serious financing from some of the world’s leading tech venture capitalists.