Brainscape: How to Build a Booming App Business in the iTunes Store

Last Updated Oct 14, 2011 1:11 PM EDT

Andrew S. Cohen was teaching himself French vocabulary for fun when he came up with a novel way to study. "I created a Macro [program] in Excel to drill myself in French grammar," he explains. It was a twist on the traditional flashcard. The program repeated cards that he struggled with and skipped ones that he was more familiar with. It worked so well that his friends in college started asking him to create programs for their classes. "When I found out that my Excel document was traveling via email to other campuses and going viral, that's when I had my 'aha' moment."

Cohen became obsessed with the idea of creating a virtual flashcards business. But, first, he wanted to get the science down. Cohen decided to drop everything and get his Masters in Education Technology. His thesis project: designing the prototype adaptive algorithms that would underpin Brainscape.

With $100,000 of his own and friends' money at first, and later a $700,000 angel round, Cohen made his big bet -- and so far it seems to be paying off. Since August 2010, more than 500,000 people have downloaded various versions of Brainscape's virtual flashcards. They use the cards to study everything from bartending to geography to Spanish grammar. "We plan to expand to eventually cover the entire world of knowledge," Cohen says.

Most apps get lost in the iTunes store, where there are hundreds of thousands of them. Cohen has come up with some unique ways to get his apps ranked higher. He's making $17,000 a month doing so. (He's probably kicking himself for giving such great advice to potential competitors!) Here are Cohen's iTunes secrets:


Investor Owen Davis, managing director of NYC Seed Fund, was my co-host for the show. We had an enlightening discussion around Cohen's current business and where he's trying to take the company. Here's the full show:


Laurel Touby is the founder of mediabistro , the largest media community website in the US. Touby is an Internet pioneer, who started her company in 1996, took it to profitability, grew it to millions in sales, and sold it in 2007 for $23 million. She currently is an investor in and advisor to small Internet companies.
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    Laurel Touby is the founder of mediabistro, the largest media community website in the US. Touby is an Internet pioneer, who started her company in 1996, took it to profitability, grew it to millions in sales, and sold it in 2007 for $23 million. She currently is an investor in and advisor to small Internet companies.

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