App Store Foundations program alumni roundtable at Slush 2022

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During Slush 2022 conference in Helsinki, Apple organized a roundtable with 5 startups from Norway, Italy, Germany, Finland, and Denmark to share their stories and how the Apple’s App Store Foundations program works.

Apple’s App Store Foundations Program was launched in Europe in 2018 and it provides developers with additional support to help create even better apps. Developers participating in the program benefit from a tailored curriculum in which they work closely in one-to-one and group sessions with App Store leaders from across the UK and Europe. The program has already supported over 1,000 developers across the Continent.

At these sessions, developers are educated on how to foster their business and extend the impact of their applications to 175 nations on the App Store. The discussion points include how to effectively utilise Apple’s technology and APIs, strengthen their editorial, and build their presence on the App Store. Other sessions cover monetisation, marketing and more to help developers reach their goals.

Once their involvement in the program is complete, developers maintain access to Apple’s experts, allowing them to keep improving their apps and learning, benefiting from the App Store’s worldwide reach and user base. Developers can join a network of alumni, where they can gain insights from other developers as they strive to reach their full potential.

The session was organized in the Apple office in Helsinki and moderated by Esther Hare

Esther Hare at App Foundation Alumni, ©photographer Andrew Taylor
Esther Hare at App Foundation Alumni, ©photographer Andrew Taylor

Esther Hare is Senior Director, Worldwide Developer Marketing at Apple. Since joining Apple 18 years ago, Esther has played a key role in helping to inspire and grow the number of women that become involved in the app economy through her leadership roles in Apple’s Worldwide Developer Relations organization.

She is also the executive sponsor for Women at Apple, and manages Apple’s student program for WWDC, which has empowered 1000s of students to take part in the conference each year. Esther is also instrumental in Apple Entrepreneur Camp, which supports underrepresented founders.

Esther has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from the University of Kent at Canterbury, spent a year at Université de Paris Sud XI, and holds an MBA from San Jose State University, California.

Startup – alumni of the program

StarBerry GamesAntti Hattara CEO and Co-Founder (Germany)

  • StarBerry Games is a Berlin-based games studio most well known for the titles Merge Mayor and Idle Coffee. In November 2021, it announced it closed a €5m funding round.
  • Antti has over 15 years of experience in gaming and mobile technology. He co-founded StarBerry Games in 2017 and before this, he held various product management and development roles in the online gaming industry.
  • Antii made his first mobile game in 2003 for Nokia smartphones running Symbian while studying at the Helsinki University of Technology.

SevenSixTrond Kittelsen CEO and Founder (Norway)

  • SevenSix is an award-winning tennis app, powered by AI, that gives users the ability to analyse their swings in real-time and improve their training.
  • Before founding SevenSix he was a regional director for several brands within the telecommunications and the IT industries.
  • Graduated at BI, NMH Norway, and Ecole Superieure de Commerce a Grenoble and Nantes.

Compensate: Antero Vartia CEO and Founder (Finland)

  • Compensate is a non-profit organization that aims to bring people and companies together to stop climate change. It works with companies to offer their customers a convenient, trusted and effective way to offset the emissions caused by their purchases
  • Antero is a former member of the Finnish Parliament and has a Masters degree from the Helsinki School of Economics

Marshmallow GamesCristina Angelillo CEO and Co-Founder (Italy)

  • Cristina founded Marshmallow Games, a digital games developer specialising in educational apps used by millions of children worldwide, in 2014.
  • Their focus is Smart Tales, a game that features a series of puzzles and challenges that help teach children 3-6 years old onwards STEM subjects in a fun and enlightening way.
  • UNICEF (the United Nations Fund for Children), which has always been committed to promoting and defending the rights of children and adolescents, has recognized Smart Tales product as an innovative and current tool for disseminating them.
  • Smart Tales has reached 700K downloads in December 2022.
  • In December 2021, she was elected president of InnovUp, the Italian association of start ups and innovative companies. This role will end in 2024.

Marshmallow Games – Massimo Michetti, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder (Italy) 

  • Co-founded Marshmallow Games with Cristina back in 2014  and now focuses on project management and strategy
  • Massimo received his first degree in Computer Engineering in September 2005 and a master’s degree in Computer Engineering cum Laude in April 2011, both from the Polytechnic of Bari.

TiimoMichael Juhler Co-CEO (Denmark)

  • Tiimo is an award-winning paid subscription app that helps individuals organize their life, stick to routines, and work towards personal goals in a visual and motivating way. Tiimo has more than 40K paying subscribers.
  • Michael only became CEO of Tiimo in March of this year. Before joining Tiimo he was CEO of Nordic skincare company Neighbors. Before this, he spent over ten years in various roles at the shipping company Maersk, having joined the company as a graduate. 
Tiimo app

Esther Hare: What is your experience, what you got out from the App Store Foundations program?

Antti Hattara: – The environment is changing so fast and you need to keep up with all updates. all details. We enjoyed the webinars, and learned a lot. It is a very efficient for small teams, when one -two people can fully dedicate themselves to it. Particularly, in the last 12 months, in-app events, we learned about it and how to use that.

Trond Kittelsen: – When we started the program, I did not know what we were going into at that time, but then we had great help with the business and marketing. Our app was revised and we received lots of suggestions.

Talking about our technology, what we are doing, that was not done before – our neural network reads the body’s movement and our algorithm is trained for tennis. It means now we can in milliseconds how you play and visualise it. We received lots of help from the Apple engineering team, they are so passionate about machine learning and they still are helping us.

Cristina Angelillo: – We had a great opportunity at the Apple App Foundation program when we were launching Smart Tales. One of the most important topics covered for us was the onboarding moment of the app. All we know is that onboarding is the crucial moment when you convince your user that the download is cool and satisfy your needs.

Thanks to all examples and best practices shared with us during the program, we completely changed our onboarding, increasing a lot of our metrics related to the engagement’s users and monetisation, business, and best practices of paywall.

Also, one of the points was accessibility – to help all users to use Smart Tales. We are happy Apple shares our values and provides many instruments to create it. We designed to add accessibility features like colour blindness filters, and fonts for dyslexia.

Esther Hare, Antero Vartia, Cristina Angelillo, ©photographer Andrew Tay
Esther Hare, Antero Vartia, Cristina Angelillo, ©photographer Andrew Tay

Esther Hare: What’s up next? What are you excited about?

Antti Hattara: – Big theme in 2023 for us is the community and social features. We have a discord community of players talking to each other about the game.

Trond Kittelsen: – We implement a microtransaction in the app: if you are not ready to commit to a year subscription, you can pay for your backhand. It is going to be a new business model. Always you are going to have a possibility to compare yourself to Roger Federer and other players.

Antero Vartia: – I see the paradigm shift when companies and people, instead of saying “one day we want to become carbon neutral” they want to take action now.

People need to have visibility into how they impact, sometimes we don’t understand numbers and we need to speak language people understand. So, knows what you do – if you fly, you can see how much you emit and you have a possibility to offset it.

Esther Hare: In Apple, we’ve been carbon neutral since 2020 across our global operations. We aim to become carbon-neutral across the whole supply chain till 2030.

Cristina Angelillo: – We are committed to do Smart Tales the best app for kids globally. For this reason we raised €2M in Italy to grow our team (22 people now) and to increase our marketing activities.

The most important target market is USA and UK, English-speaking countries, but Smart Tales are localised in four other languages (German, Italian, Spanish, French) and we are ready to scale our acquisition activity in other European countries.

It is a subscription-based app; we add new content every two weeks. We always work on new features which engage kids and add value to parents. We believe creativity for 3-6 years old is important, we add instruments to help them to create their characters for Smart Tales.

All improvements we make are based on the continuous exchange of ideas with our users.

App Store Foundations program alumni Helsinki, ©photographer Andrew Taylor
App Store Foundations program alumni Helsinki, ©photographer Andrew Taylor

Oleksandr Komarevych (StartupReporter): – I have lots of questions, you can choose one of them. What is your team culture for developers? What Dos and don’ts for you learned during App Foundation? How do you cope with the learning curve?

Antti Hattara: – Related to the team culture, I am lucky we are based in Berlin. Out of 30 people, we are from 18 nationalities, 10 women (what is the big topic in gaming in the last decade). Gaming is a competitive field and it is an interesting one for everyone nowadays. I remember I went to a university posting a job application for a product manager, and I received 100 applications and maybe one woman. So, it is changed a lot since that time.

Nowadays, after the pandemic, a whole remote system is crucial for the creative industry. For us, Monday and Friday are days when everyone comes to the office and works together, but on days in between, they can choose remote.

Trond Kittelsen: – When we started conceptualizing SevenSix in 2018, we had mentors during the accelerator program, it was hard, never done before, and there were lots of staff we could not do.

We spent years to find our core team – it is a perfect mix of people; they are curious, musicians, doing staff nobody had done before.

Antero Vartia: – People are coming to work because of other people. When you build things, communication is also important.