Vintage Card Company Creates Profitable iPhone App, Shares Process and Tips

Cartolina iPhone App

Cartolina iPhone AppWhen Fiona Richards decided she was going to develop an iPhone app for her vintage card company, Cartolina, her industry colleagues thought she was crazy.

“They said, ‘People are going to buy your app and not your cards.’ I didn’t believe that,” she said. “Most of our competitors in the paper business are terrified the e-card business is going to dominate the greeting card business in the future. Our company wanted to respond as opposed to react. We felt it would be fun to participate on our own high-tech level.”

Richards started Cartolina five years ago, tossing her corporate graphic design gigs to make a business out of her obsession with vintage images. She takes old art, digitally restores it, then creates collages that she describes as “quirky” and “curious.”

Keep it simple and sophisticated
The initial idea for her iPhone app was simple: allow users to send Cartograms, her whimsical digital cards, to one or several recipients with a short, personalized message.

Since Richards is an iPhone lover, she had a pretty good handle on what apps could do. But she still spent time researching, picking up pointers from sites like iPhone Dev Forums and iPhone Dev SDK.

She was introduced to a developer in Ireland through a recommendation.

“The creation of an app is a creative process, and app developers are programmers—which is the left brain-right brain thing,” she explained. “It’s great when you have recommendations. I think personality has a lot to do with it when you’re working with an app developer. I think it’s great when you can just get along on a friendly level.”

Richards said the app cost approximately $10,000 to develop. She currently has two Cartolina iPhone apps available: the original, and a holiday version. Both apps cost $1.99. Richards decided it made more financial sense to sell her apps, than give them away for free.

“We’re a commercial business. Also it’s not cheap to develop an app,” she said. “We’re not really in a position to offer a free app, but we have offered free upgrades to the app. So we started with 9 cards, now we have 27 cards. When I’m not designing cards, I’m designing Cartograms to upgrade the app with.”

Build an app—will they come?
With over 350,000 apps in iTunes, it’s quite possible for a new app to be lost in the sea of offerings. As with any new store or product, getting the word out is crucial for mobile app success.

“It’s been proven that you should do an awful lot of marketing before you launch. And that’s what we did. The pre-launch publicity you get for your app goes a long way at the app store,” Richards said. “I think you can have a great app, but if you just launch it at the app store nothing’s going to happen. No one’s going to buy it; it has to be an ongoing PR process.”

Richards approached several high profile bloggers and magazine editors, both in and outside of the design industry, and pitched her apps using screenshots of her digital cards. It paid off.

“We launched with a very loud bang and got a lot of spin off publicity—media that perhaps wouldn’t have paid much attention to us in the past were all over us as soon as we launched the app,” she said.

However, Cartolina’s post-launch success was almost derailed by a little bug that affected one percent of the app’s users. Turns out, those few affected users decided to let their voice be heard and started submitting negative reviews to Apple.

“I lost sleep over this. For the first three weeks until we got things sorted, we got the most awful reviews on the app store. And bad reviews don’t go away. There’s no recourse; you can’t respond. It was awful to wake up each morning and see an email with bad reviews,” Richards recounted. “When you launch an iPhone app you’ve got to be certain you’ve tested it in every way possible.”

The good news is Cartolina has since received an abundance of glowing reviews to dilute the bad ones, the apps helped open many new brick and mortar wholesale accounts, and in five months it has sold enough apps to more than cover its development costs.

Richards’ idea wasn’t so crazy after all.

By Joseph Mutidjo, Reporter,



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Joseph Mutidjo

Joseph is a writer at Smallbiztechnology. His first taste of home computing was the Tandy 1000. He continues to be fascinated with how technology makes life easier and more efficient.

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