How Twitter Got an App Store: The Oneforty Story (Part 2)

10/13/09Follow @bbuderi

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I missed a lot of the in person stuff at TechStars, which is a real regret of mine,” Fitton says. TechStars co-founder Brad Feld told her, though: “It’s your company, you have to do what’s right” for it.

It wasn’t just conferences and the hunt for investors that kept Fitton in San Francisco. While there, she met Rob Mee, who runs San Francisco website development company Pivotal Labs. By early May, things were far enough along with the fund-raising that Mee agreed to start work on the promise of being paid soon.

Pivotal’s unique approach to development asks that customers work alongside its staffers—so Fitton stayed in town. She says that if they hadn’t gotten started coding when they did, the company might never have been born. ”When you’re doing a startup, everybody is lined up on tippy toes,” Fitton says. She had a group of angels committed but still not sending in their checks. “Pivotal starting the coding brought all my angels off the start line and into the race,” she says. “All punning aside, they were really, really pivotal in the process.”

Fitton returned full time to Boston in mid-July, and was around for much of the second half of TechStars, which officially ended in late August, although Fitton and most of the entrepreneurs stayed in the space a few more weeks. On September 10, when TechStars held its Boston investor evening at Microsoft’s NERD (New England R&D center), Fitton was one of the stars of the show. TechStars held its Bay Area investor day in Palo Alto on September 30. Seven minutes before she went on, oneforty dropped its beta shield and opened to all comers. “It was just adrenaline charged,” says Fitton.

oneforty team 2By that time, Fitton had four full-time employees—herself and three developers: Mike Champion (@graysky), tech lead for oneforty; Robby Grossman (@freerobby); and Michael Macasek (@macasek). “All 3 are scary-smart, awesome Rails developers and really great humans…” Fitton e-mailed me. “Everyone on the team is crucial to strategy, decisionmaking, etc. and they are turning out features faster than anyone had dared to hope.”

A Twitter app can be anything from a desktop client like Tweetdeck that provides an easy interface for sending and tracking tweets to a mobile application like ShoZu that lets you submit photos to Twitter and other social media services. Today, oneforty lists more than 1,800 apps and has more than 10,000 registered users. At least 150 apps are for sale; the rest can be downloaded for free. Everything was free in the beginning. So premium apps have seen “very sharp growth,” Fitton says.

The oneforty site has the basics of what you’d expect in a store, including a Most Popular apps list and an index so you can browse by category: business, games, travel, and so on. But users also automatically get their own profile pages that feature their picture and bio as lifted from Twitter, the apps they use, and any reviews they’ve written—so there’s a Facebook-like aspect to oneforty, as well.

I asked Fitton about the business model. Right now, if you click on an app, it takes you to a oneforty-hosted product page, where you can read about the app, add a review, or click a “Try it” button that takes you to the developer’s site for download. If it’s a paid app, oneforty doesn’t get anything at the moment. But it does currently have revenues—thanks to affiliate links to some other products—and if oneforty drives sales of those items, it gets a share, just like a Web vendor would in any affiliate program.

But that isn’t a big revenue stream—and it isn’t what oneforty is all about. Direct onsite … Next Page »

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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