Nguyễn Tuấn Cường (Cường Nguyễn), the co-founder of Amanotes. Photo courtesy of Cường Nguyễn
A graduate of the Việt Nam Trade University and University of Amsterdam in Holland, Nguyễn Tuấn Cường (Cường Nguyễn) is the co-founder of Amanotes, which is listed in the top 15 of Android application developers in the US.
The company’s Magic Tiles 3 game is ranked in the top five games in the US and in the top 92 games in the world. This year, Cường was included on the annual Forbes' "30 under 30" entrepreneur list.
Việt Nam News reporter Thu Ngân spoke with Cường about how he developed his startup and what he thinks about the potential of the Vietnamese gaming industry.
Inner Sanctum: Would you please tell us about yourself?
My name is Nguyễn Tuấn Cường, co-founder of Amanotes. I’m currently chief product officer responsible for developing strategies, products and marketing.
I graduated from the Foreign Trade University in Việt Nam in 2012 and got my master's degree in innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Amsterdam one year later. Before Amanotes, I had almost zero experience. However, having similar thoughts with Bill Võ about a Vietnamese product on a mobile platform, I learned from other people and also taught myself, and then launched Amanotes in December 2014.
Before launching Amanotes, I was a fresh graduate, and probably like anyone else out there, my biggest challenge was to understand who I was and who I wanted to be. The craziest time was when I joined the first two companies and quit around one month after that because I didn’t feel that was the working experience I was looking for.
After quitting those two jobs, I decided to change my career direction from corporate to startup.
So I posted on “Launch”, a Facebook start-up community in Việt Nam, that I wanted to work in a startup. Then, Bill (Võ Tuấn Bình, now the co-founder and CEO of Amanotes), out of nowhere and without mutual friends, chatted with me. We met over a coffee, and we have worked with each other since then.
I’ve always loved music and Bill is from a musical family. We also love technology and share the same thoughts about a Vietnamese product on mobile platforms. Music and technology are quite different, but they both improve our quality of life. We can combine these two passions and share our love for them with the world with great music game apps.
Inner Sanctum: Your most famous games are Magic Tiles and Tiles Hop. How did the two games become so successful? Do you have other hit games planned this year?
We try our best to know our users better and adapt according to that.
For Magic Tiles, after its launch, we focused on app store optimisation techniques (using relevant visuals and texts) that brought a lot of organic traffic. To maintain growth, we increased investment in user acquisition: both in dedicated people and creative production itself. Since the first success, we have been focusing our efforts on continuous product improvement (emphasising the amount and quality of music content) and extensive acquisition of users through different channels and countries.
Tiles Hop is another story. For months, the growth was moderate, and the team worked on product and monetisation improvement. The big change happened when we noticed that one of the experiments with app store kit materials showed great results. It was a different artistic style for gameplay screenshots. We tried to apply it to our ads; the result was also good. Then we decided to apply it to the game itself. All of these actions led to booming growth, from being ranked 189th to 16th in games in the US (our key market) within just two weeks.
We are in a permanent search for new hits. In February we launched more than five games, including Magic Hop, Candy Beat, and City Race 3D. Each of them has the potential to become a new global hit. Also, we plan to experiment with new app types, entering new market segments.
Inner Sanctum: Mobile games are now popular. However, not everyone knows how a mobile game is created. Can you explain how Amanotes develops a new game application?
First, we start with the gameplay idea itself. It can pop up in various ways. Sometimes, it’s in mixing two games that we like, sometimes it is in musicalising the standard game play of an old title, or sometimes it’s just a morning dream of a designer. Just a few weeks ago, we had a workshop with the team to source out new unique mechanics.
Then, it moves to product development itself, when gameplay ideas are transformed into a holistic game draft, with a simple level and basic musicalisation. Through a series of product tests, reworks, UX and music content improvements, the product is then ready for a soft launch.
The game then appears on the app store for a limited amount of users. We precisely track each step of a player's journey: how many people who saw the ad installed it; how many who read about the game decided to get it; how many continued playing it after the first level or the first day, etc.
Based on this actual users' test, we make final game improvements and make a global launch in one or a few countries. We continue to adjust UX and monetisation processes, but now marketing becomes king. They test hundreds of creatives and messages to make sure that we reach the right user at the right time. So the overall success is a mix of ideas, execution, timing, and sometimes a bit of luck.
Amanotes staff at a company meeting. The company’s Magic Tiles 3 game is in the top five in America and the top 92 in the world. Photo courtesy of Amanotes
Inner Sanctum: How do you see the potential of mobile game development in the Việt Nam market?
Việt Nam is a mobile-first country with almost 1.5 million more mobile phones than people, so any mobile-related business can be seen as having high potential. Some of our popular games were developed in collaboration with the Vietnamese company InWave. OneSoft and VNG also deserve to be mentioned among Vietnamese gamedev companies that have conquered global charts.
There will always be questions about the industry's governmental support and visibility to investors, but look at examples like VNG, Onesoft, or ours. Based in Việt Nam, you still can grow and challenge the status quo, even in the world’s biggest markets, the US and China. And surely there are people in Việt Nam who already see this perspective and are ready to invest in local gaming and overall tech businesses.
As our belief is that everyone can enjoy music, we want to make people around the world try it in different ways. So we will focus on creating a whole music tech ecosystem, to help users not only entertain themselves but also listen, learn and even create music. This will require experiments with totally new types of apps, deeper collaboration with music labels and artists, cross-portfolio user management, more branding efforts, and more.
From a sourcing point of view, it’s not only about the technical solution, but also about people’s growth. That’s why we will work both on the development of internal talents and getting some stars from overseas to help us grow globally. We are already changing the music gaming landscape and want to do it with the whole music tech industry.
Inner Sanctum: What about opportunities for young people to launch their start up?
Việt Nam is a growing hub of entrepreneurship and innovation, as marked by the growth of its tech startups, including food delivery apps. Its economy has become one of the fastest growing in Asia. Today, Việt Nam is home to as many as 3,000 startups, making it the third largest startup ecosystem in Asia, according to Topica Founder Institute. Yet we truly believe that there are still opportunities for anyone, as long as you find your niche. For future young entrepreneurs, I’d say you should dream big. However, pick one small problem and be the expert on solving that problem.
Inner Sanctum: What is your experience of bringing your products to global markets?
I think to make a great game you need to keep challenging yourself and make continuous improvements to ensure that your products match audience needs. When you develop an app in general, you are never “done”, so you need to find the right time when your product is strong enough to be launched and then keep investing to improve it to stay innovative and relevant to your audience. There are a lot of great apps out there, but we never get to know about many of them. We decided the best use of our experience would be to pass it on to other indie developers, helping them publish and market their music and music game apps. As a publisher, we support indie developers in creating quality music game apps and bringing them to global markets.
In 2019 we clearly proved that we can do it well, reaching the top 20 in mobile apps publishers worldwide in downloads, and becoming the Number 1 app publisher from Southeast Asia. VNS