St. Paul startup moves into mobile apps


Blacktop InteractiveThree years after entrepreneur Christopher Black started his web consulting company Blacktop Interactive, he’s making the transition into mobile product development — and learning a lot as he goes.

Based in St. Paul, Blacktop Interactive is a small start-up, consisting of Black and interns Emily Lyman and Jake Merringer. Thus far, they have released two apps, both of which are designed for children.

Blacktop InteractiveThe first, Wet Paint, is a simplified painting program designed for ease of use; the app garnered over 100,000 downloads on the Blackberry (where there weren’t many existing painting apps) and has gained some traction in the iOS and Android markets.

More recently, Blacktop released “Turtle’s Day at the Beach,” which is an interactive storybook that was written and drawn by Black’s girlfriend, Emily Michels.

The company has tried different methods of generating revenue with the two apps. Wet Paint is a free download with in-app purchases, whereas the storybook app is a paid download – it originally sold for $1.99 and has since been bumped up to $2.99.

The greatest challenge, says Black, is creating visibility.

“I think that’s something people fail to realize when they have that killer app idea. They think people are just going to download it, but even with a great app, unless you have a good marketing strategy and a good social sharing strategy, it’s difficult to grasp that initial user base.”

That’s just one lesson the entrepreneur has taken away from his early forays into the mobile space. His results up to this point have also led him to shift away from developing for one particular family of devices.

“I’ve found so far that with monetization, Blackberry and Apple are the two markets I’ve seen the most traction in,” says Black. “The general Android market, from what I’ve seen so far, hasn’t been valuable enough to put a lot of focus in.”

The up-front development costs for those first two apps were on the high side, because Black had to purchase special one time equipment and develop original code from scratch. He sees great potential in going forward with more industry knowledge,  less overhead and higher profit margins on future product releases.

For example, “Turtle’s Day at the Beach” could be both an ongoing series and dovetail with a niche coloring book app. Additionally, Blacktop will be stepping into the adult market soon with the release of Recipe Box – a consumer app for storing recipes and syncing them across multiple devices – later this summer. The firm will continue to offer traditional client web services and custom development, but it’s clear that the passion here is creating and launching mobile apps that they can call their own.

“I could definitely see Blacktop moving exclusively into product development one day,” says Black. “That’s the part of this business that I’m loving the most.”