Jeffrey Bunn

Advice for an app entrepreneur

January 29, 2019

I was recently introduced to an entrpreneur nearing the launch of her first mobile app. We had an hour-long Skype chat about business, software, and, not surprisingly, mobile apps in particular.

I made notes prior to our conversation about my experience in the App Store / Google Play with Mealime. The areas that helped us the most are listed below. I hope they’re helpful!

iphone background

ASO (App Store Optimization)

We found that organic search drove most of the traffic to our app (I believe 70%-80%). These ended up being specific keywords that people searched for when looking for a meal planning solution.

Focusing on keywords and running experiments with different keywords over time (even changing the name of the app) would be something I would focus on.

I used two main resources in regards to keyword research and strategy: SensorTower (for research) and TapTimize (for automated ASO recommendations later on).

Related: Add your keywords to your app listing and make the listing as a whole (screenshots, description, videos, etc) compelling.

Great (“Apple”) Design / Get Featured

Great design is important by itself as there are still so many apps that are poorly designed. Having something that’s a delight to use may give users that push to figure your app out, which makes you that much closer to activating them.

But really, good design funnels into a key objective: getting featured by Apple. Good design is only one of several factors Apple considers when deciding to feature an app, but it’s certainly up there in importance. While trying to get featured shouldn’t be your core focus, getting featured can really drive traffic, especially when your app is new and doesn’t yet rank for your desired keywords.

Mealime was featured as a Best New App when we launched, which netted us ~30,000 users in our first week. Though we didn’t even have billing or a premium subscription plan available at the time, this was a nice boost that gave us actionable feedback and caused our initial keyword rankings to jump. Plus, it was cool to be on the same line as Starbucks and McDonald’s!

Mealime Top Free iPhone Apps

So, how does one get featured? For an unknown developer without industry connections, I think it’s mostly luck. But anything you can do to tilt the scale in your favour is worth trying.

I ended up searching for App Store editors on LinkedIn and reaching out to them with a short pitch. I found them by searching by company (Apple), then filtering by keywords like ‘editor’ and ‘food & drink’ (our main app category). The person I reached out to never responded, so I can’t say whether she featured us or it was just random luck. But, three days after I emailed her, we were featured. 🤔

For ‘getting featured’ resources, I received lot of value from the App Masters newsletter, despite never purchasing one of their products. It’s probably worth a subscribe!

Optimize for 5-star reviews

You should probably use Apple’s API for reviews, as it makes rating/reviewing your app easier for users. But you can do some interesting things on your end, like only displaying the modal after a user has experienced success in your app.

If you map out an activation flow, for example, you could show the modal after a user completes a particular action. That should drive more positive reviews. And the text in reviews is indexed by Apple, which contributes to your keyword rankings if users mention them.

Early on, we even had a pre-modal before the ratings modal was shown. It had a question - ”are you enjoying Mealime?” If yes, we sent them to the ratings modal. If not, we asked them to provide feedback. The intention was to have happy users reviewing our app while avoiding poor ratings by proactively helping those users that were stuck.

Minimize time to activation and focus on retention

Drop-off rates for apps are huge, so making sure as many users get to a success point as fast as possible is incredibly important.

android retention graph average Source

We spent a ton of time A/B testing different onboarding and activation flows, and we ended up making a lot of gains. It was also pretty humbling, as we learned that you never know what works for users and what doesn’t.

I like this quote (and video) from Chamath Palihapitiya:

People who talk about “gut feelings” are morons. People don’t predict correctly. Therefore, you must invalidate all the lore. Disprove all the “stuff” floating around in the company. If you can’t take a clinical approach to your company and shut out the ego, your product won’t succeed and you won’t know why.

On a related note, we didn’t give any consideration to the top of our funnel. Whether we lucked out with the initial feature that helped our keyword rankings, or we would have ended up with the high rankings anyway, the fact of the matter was that Apple and Google took care of distribution for us. Our main concern was the bottom of the funnel and getting users to be successful as quickly as possible. Considering our resources, working to increase acquisition would have been a waste of time.

Other

  • People get angry when apps cost money. Do your best to mitigate this anger with education about working for the long term, being a small team, supporting the mission, etc.
  • We did amazing customer support. I don’t know objectively if it helped with retention or word of mouth, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
  • A new version of your app was rejected by Apple (for no reason)? Re-submit it before changing things. It will likely get through the next review.
  • Track and run A/B tests if you have the traffic.
  • Remove crashes (i.e., don’t have a bad app).

Mobile apps are a tough business. You have relatively low prices, high churn, low(er) margins (after Apple/Goole’s 30% cut), slower development cycles, complexity (multiple apps, billing systems, etc), and so on. Yikes! I’ve (almost) convinced myself to stay away from mobile apps in the future.

But distribution is a hard (the hardest?) problem a new business has to tackle. The App Store / Google Play can still offer massive distribution for (predominately) B2C businesses. And there are (in my opinon) lots of growth opportunities still available for mobile apps in the future.



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