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AppOnboard has raised $4 million for a technology that enables users to experience an app before choosing to download it from an app store. AppOnboard calls these “Full-Fidelity” mobile demos for apps and games.

Troy Capital Partners, London Venture Partners, and a syndicate of venture capitalists and industry luminaries provided the funding. Jonathan Zweig, CEO of AppOnboard, believes his company has an interesting way to demo apps within ads that will counteract the ineffectiveness of mobile advertising.

Zweig was a cofounder of AdColony, which built its business around video ads on smartphones. Opera bought the company in 2014 for $350 million. Zweig took time off to travel the world, and then he came back and started studying the ad business (at GamesBeat Summit 2016)-. He saw that there was a lot of money being wasted on ads to get users who weren’t that interested in using apps.

He noticed his niece would take an action in a game and opt not to spend money by watching a video ad instead. But while the ad was playing, she went off to do something else and then came back when it was over. Zweig decided that adding more interactivity to that process would weed out the people who really didn’t want to engage with an app. And those who actually made it through that process would be much more valuable as proven, pre-qualified users for a new app.


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“There’s a lot of churn and money being wasted,” Zweig said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We saw a lot of people wouldn’t even watch videos.”

The app economy is larger than ever, with mobile revenues growing 40 percent in 2016 and app developers grossing $37 billion, excluding any advertising revenue. Roughly half of that goes back in the ecosystem for user acquisition, or paying for downloads. AppOnboard wants to make that money more effective by providing user-acquisition tools — or a new kind of ad — that vastly outperform today’s banners, interstitials and videos.

Above: AppOnboard can tell developers where users are tapping on an app demo.

Image Credit: AppOnboard

Rivals call the technology “playable ads,” where you can click on an ad for a game and immediately start playing it. Those rivals include mNectar, Google, Chartboost, 1app, Tresensa, and Cross Install. Zweig’s idea was to take the onboarding experience out of the app and turn it into an ad to draw in new users.

Zweig’s team built a mini game engine, like a mini version of Unity, that allows any game or app to be re-created in a small form inside an advertisement. It wouldn’t be the whole game or app, but it would reproduce the core loop, or the heart of the experience. They launched beta tests in the last few months, and now they’re going wider with it.

Lots of users will play a tutorial or fail to finish it. Zweig took that process and put it into the ad, where you could tap on an ad and then you would go straight into a tutorial of the experience.

“We would give them the tutorial experience on the other side of the experience in the app store, and only pay for those users who download the experience after playing the demo,” Zweig said.

But Los Angeles-based AppOnboard provides some analytics that are unique. The company has applied for patents on chronological heat map analytics, which tell a developer where a user has touched the screen for a Full-Fidelity demo. That helps the developer understand just how committed some of the users are who are interacting with an ad.

The custom engine is delivering better performance results, Zweig said, compared to HTML5 and other streaming solutions.

Above: AppOnboard’s team

Image Credit: AppOnboard

“As for playable ads, the problem is they sometimes don’t have a lot to do with the game themselves,” Zweig said. “They are good for measuring interactivity, but it doesn’t solve the problem of pre-qualifying users who are actually interested in your game.”

AppOnboard carries a user’s actions from demo through to download, bringing a completed level or earned in-game content with them into their new app selection. The technology’s Full-Fidelity demos also contain built-in anti-fraud protection that vets every new download as a real human being to prevent fraudulent bots from charging advertisers.

“This is a sector of the mobile gaming industry that is ripe for disruption,” said Samit Varma of Troy Capital, in a statement. “Having close relationships with gaming leaders like Jam City and Scopely, I have witnessed firsthand the need for an improved user-experience in the on-boarding process. AppOnboard does this seamlessly.”

Indeed, AppOnboard has tried out its Full-Fidelity demos with various leading game companies, and the results have been great, Zweig said. In the game Lucktastic, you can click on “play games earn coins” to see what AppOnboard does. You can also earn new keymoji phrases with the Keymoji app.

“One partner told us the return on their ad spend was double their highest current ad partner,” Zweig said. “Our ads are snappy and fast.”

“Jon is the ideal founder we like to back; Successful, driven and serial entrepreneur doing something new that touches the game ecosystem where we focus”, said Paul Heydon, partner at London Venture Partners, in a statement. “The playable ads category is one that LVP has seen in the past and the combination of AppOnboard’s technology, strategy, team and timing made this an ideal company to invest in right now.”

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