Allen Wong founded Rego Apps, where he creates a variety of iPhone and Android apps such as the super popular 5-0 Radio app. In this interview, Wong shares how a young 20-year-old entrepreneur can be driving exotic cars and making millions of dollars in the app store. He also discusses his tactics and strategies to make money making apps.
The Allen Wong story is amazing for a number of reasons. Wong’s parents were both poor immigrants and Wong initially had little desire to be an entrepreneur. He was okay with a normal 9-5 job, and after college he worked a normal office job like the average bloke. Unfortunately, tragedy struck his family when his father died. That became a turning point that gave him the drive to make extra income to help support his family.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
My father made me want to be an entrepreneur, but not in the traditional Asian way where the father guilt trips you into doing something with your life. I mean yes, he always taught me to apply myself and work hard in school to get an education and a good job. But it wasn’t because of that that I started to become an entrepreneur. It was his sudden, unnatural death that changed everything.
You see, I was actually okay with working the traditional 9-5 office job and having a stable career. In fact, that’s exactly what I was doing when I graduated. It was just the way things were and what society taught me to become. But when my father passed away a few months after I graduated from school, I became the only person in my family making an income. And there’s no motivator quite like the motivation of seeing your family uncertain of their financial future.
I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to give my family the peace of mind that I would be there to catch them if any or even all of them fall. That’s just the kind of person I wanted to become – a person who provides in any way he can. Being my own boss and seeing all the profits directly connected to how much effort I put into the company was also another great motivator to becoming an entrepreneur.
Can you give us the brief story of your life all the way up to making your first dollar as an entrepreneur?
My first attempt at entrepreneurship was when I was in the 1st grade of school actually. I didn’t come from a rich family (quite the opposite actually), so every dime and penny helped.
When I was 6, I learned how to fold paper into ninja stars. And they became really popular in my class. Nobody else knew how to make them, so I decided to sell them at 10 cents each. I got my first lesson in trust when an older student offered to buy all of my ninja stars at 50 cents each. The catch was that he didn’t have the money on him and he wanted to take them home first to try them out. I trusted him and said that he could pay me the next day. The days kept rolling in and he never paid me back. Finally, after a few weeks, he confessed that he didn’t have the money. So he returned some of the ninja stars back, but they were all bent and dirty. What pissed me off the most about him was that his father was actually a famous drummer, so it wasn’t like he didn’t have the money for it. He was just selfish and greedy. It was quite the life lesson to learn for a 6-year-old. But since that day, I vowed to never get scammed by people ever again.
Fast forward to when I was in high school and you’d find me coding website as a freelance web developer. I only got paid a few hundred dollars for them, but a few hundred dollars was a lot of money to me. And then I moved on to fixing people’s computers for money, because I was annoyed by how much Best Buy’s Geek Squad was ripping people off with their prices.
During college, I used to code game mods for video games and sold them. That was the greatest learning experience for me at entrepreneurship; it was the first time that my income wasn’t tied to how much time I spent on something. It was tied to how well I marketed my game mods. It was my very first passive income. After college, I looked for the next passive income job I could find, and that’s when I discovered the App Store.
You started making apps shortly after graduating college. Walk us through how you made your first apps.
I went to college for computer science and engineering, so I already had a strong programming background. Coding apps meant learning a new language, but since I knew how to program in other languages already, it was really easy for me to pick up coding apps. So by following tutorials I found online and playing around with the programming software, I managed to create and publish a few apps without even owning a smartphone.
What were your biggest challenges to get to where you are now?
One of the biggest challenges I had early on was managing my time. I still had a full time job when I was coding apps and learning how to do it. I even lost my girlfriend at the time mainly because I didn’t have the time to manage a social life and two full time jobs at the same time. I told her that I was doing this for the future so that I would have the money to take her places and provide for her, but she didn’t care. She felt ignored. She was thinking about the present and not the future. Letting her go and putting my app business in front of her was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. And the only way I justified it was that I needed to do this. I needed to at least try. The opportunity to do something special in my life was there, and I had to take it. I knew that it was my calling as soon as my apps started taking off.
Has being an Asian American affected your business or your motivation to be an entrepreneur?
I honestly don’t think that my race had anything to do my business. Coding is great because it’s not biased. Your computer doesn’t care whether you’re black or white nor male or female. If you’re a great coder, then you’ll code great programs.
The app market lacks discrimination, too. When someone buys your app, he/she doesn’t care about what the coder looks like. So that’s one of the things I loved about coding apps as an independent developer. It’s one of those careers where you’re not limited by the color of your skin or your sexual orientation or your gender. There’s less discrimination at the app store than there is at a workplace (even more so if you hide your name behind a company name). How many millionaire actors, athletes, lawyers, and musicians could honestly say that their appearance did not affect their business at all?
In an interview with website Secret Entourage, Wong also shared his best marketing strategy for building a profitable app. Instead of asking him the same question, we reproduced his answer here.
The most successful marketing strategy is to have a great icon, great screenshots, and have at least a 4.5 out of 5 stars average ratings. If your app is constantly getting 5 star reviews, then people love your app and are willing to tell their friends about it. Very rarely will an app with less than 4 stars stay in the Top 100 paid apps for long. 5-0 Radio is actually a rare success story, because it stayed in the Top 100 (both paid and free) for at least two consecutive years. Statistically, that is a feat that less than 100 apps have accomplished. I still meet new people who have told me that they have downloaded 5-0 Radio before I even met them, and they said that they got the app because their friends told them to. That word-of-mouth type of marketing is the best type of marketing a company can wish for. I personally would trust my own friends’ opinion to download a new app over the opinion of some random banner ad on some website. I have yet to spend a single cent of marketing on any of my apps. If the app is great and people love it, it will market itself.
Which app was your first big success and how much money did you make with it?
5-0 Radio continues to be my very first big break. It was the first app to make me a million dollars in under a year, and it continues to make millions. On August 16th, 2014, it became the #2 app in the App Store, only behind the Facebook messenger app that Facebook forced its users to download.
What are the differences between marketing apps now and back in the day?
Back then, you marketed apps to users directly and gave a nice presentation to try to get them to download your app. These days, it’s all about how much social media and regular media exposure your app can get to get to the top. Before, you didn’t need all of that to get to the top. If you had a great app, people would find it by themselves. But nowadays, you need some marketing help to make sure your great app doesn’t get lost in the vast ocean of apps.
If you wanted to start making a new profitable app today, what would you do and how would you market it?
I talk about how my marketing works in my book. One of the tricks I teach in there is to make users market the app for you. Make it easy for them to share your app on their social media. Make it so that they actually want to share your app on their social media. Candy Crush became successful because it made users bug their friends on Facebook to give them a “life”. Other apps are starting to mimic this marketing tactic.
Allen Wong is the proud owner of an Azure Blue Lamborghini Aventador. One of the questions that everyone wants to know is, “Has your life changed from owning this car?”
It’s in my opinion one of the best looking super cars on the market during the time that I bought it. I ordered it before it even started shipping out to customers because there was a one-year wait list on it. A year earlier, I was one of the lucky few to meet the CEO of Lamborghini and get a sneak peek at the Aventador. At first, I didn’t want one because I already just bought a new Lamborghini LP560-4 a year earlier, so I wasn’t sure if I really wanted another one so soon. But then one morning I just woke up thinking, “Screw it. I’m going to buy it.” Then I drove to the nearest Lamborghini dealership that same morning, and put my deposit down.
I definitely gained a lot of fame on the internet because of it. I once posted a video of me giving a 17 year old girl a ride from high school in my Lamborghini, and that video currently has around 7 million views. So, even just a video of me picking someone up from school got me some fame. If I did the same thing in a black van, people would probably call the police on me.
But has your dating life changed?
I actually never had trouble finding dates when I was driving my mom’s Toyota Corolla. I don’t think girls really care about a guy’s ride as much as a guy does. Just having ambition and a sense of being in control of your life is already enough to attract women. It’s unattractive to not have your life together whether you’re driving a fancy car or not.
To be honest, having a fancy car actually steered some girls away. Some thought that I was a drug dealer and others thought that I was a spoiled brat with rich parents. None of which was true, but having a Lamborghini does give people some preconceived notions about you (and they’re not always good).
I did notice that a lot of girls have been starting to talk to me, and I’m just talking about girls just randomly on the street trying to start a conversation with me. I’m not even the one approaching them and initiating a conversation. The car acts as a great ice breaker, but that’s about it. It’s only an ice breaker. How great the rest of the conversation goes really depends on the person behind the wheel and not the car itself.