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Facing heavy odds, Thornton couple create educational children’s software program featuring healthy foods

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Jennifer and Jonathan Fenske recently joined the long list of budding entrepreneurs that have hitched their wagon onto the digital gold rush otherwise known as the wide world of apps.

The Thornton residents, one an author and the other an artist, created an educational children’s software program that features healthy foods.

“A lot of the apps out there allow you to decorate a cupcake or a cookie, and we just thought there is an opening for having kids play with their food and play with fruits and vegetables,” said Jennifer, who has a day job in marketing for a Denver-based weight-loss company.

The Fenskes formed Fat and Appy and paid a developer $5,000 to create their iPad app, which leverages Jonathan’s artwork and allows kids to build creatures using tomatoes, bananas and the like. They released Healthy Creatures in late August, selling the program for 99 cents.

Although Apple said in June that it has paid out $5 billion to app creators since 2008, the odds are heavily stacked against the Fenskes recouping the $5,000.

Two-thirds of apps in stores such as Apple’s iTunes garner fewer than 1,000 downloads in their first year, and a significant number receive none at all, according to a report released in June by research and consulting firm Canalys.

Apple pockets a 30 percent cut on all app sales, so the Fenskes would need to surpass 7,100 downloads to cover development costs.

The Canalys report found that the same titles often occupy top app lists week after week, making it tough for new entries to be discovered.

The Fenskes focused on building an iPad-specific program, rather than one for devices with smaller screens like the iPhone, because there’s less competition in the space. Apple’s iTunes App Store has about 700,000 apps, with 250,000 designed for the iPad.

“Going iPad-only may help some,” said Dan Burcaw, founder of Denver-based developer Double Encore, whose programs have been featured by Apple online and in brick-and-mortar stores.

But he notes that there are far more iPhones in the market than iPads. Burcaw, who didn’t work on the Healthy Creatures program, said releasing an app is just the start.

“So many people think the battle is getting the app developed. It’s not,” he said. “It’s all about everything that happens after you ship. What’s the marketing strategy? What’s the schedule for improving the app based upon feedback?”

On the marketing front, Jennifer Fenske acknowledges that Fat and Appy doesn’t have much of a budget. The company has purchased Google search ads and reached out to community groups. The Fenskes also joined Parents with Apps, an online forum for family friendly app developers.

“We’re on Facebook, we’re on Twitter, we have a YouTube channel,” Jennifer said. “We’re definitely grassroots.”

She adds that the app is just one prong in a lifestyle brand that will include children’s books and apparel.

Burcaw, who has developed apps for the likes of the National Basketball Association and JetBlue, advises that entrepreneurs should “fail quickly” with their initial app release.

“As they get version 1 into the market, use all the data — feedback, reaction, focus group of children — to revise and iterate,” he said. “Few products are perfect out of the gate and are revised upon over time to get better.”

Andy Vuong

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  • comment avatar Rory Donaldson November 27, 2012

    This sounds like an excellent idea. The problem is, as a business, very few can survive as a one product company. May I suggest not creating products, but ecosystems.

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