Lessons Learned from 3 Million Downloads & 250,000 Monthly Users in 2 Years

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By Tim Waldenback

Why do some apps experience explosive growth while others fail shortly after launch? While the media likes to report about the apps that seemingly became overnight sensations, those stories often don’t detail the many hours and difficult lessons that were instrumental to their success. 

Then again, just because you’ve crafted a well-thought-out strategy and masterfully coded your app, it doesn’t mean you’ll see long-term success. What have we done over the past two years that’s led to millions of downloads and impressive monthly usage levels? We’ll share the most indispensable lessons we’ve learned so far.

Mistakes Will Happen. Learn From Them.

Understand from the outset that you’ll make mistakes. It’s okay to make errors, and you shouldn’t punish yourself too much for them.  But don’t just forgive yourself for your missteps – learn how you can correct them to make the user experience even better.

In fact, one of the worst things you can do is avoid accountability for your blunders. Why risk losing users because of a bug or a specific feature that doesn’t live up to expectations? Users will be more understanding if you’re transparent with them about the errors you’ve made and when you show them how you’re working to solve the problem. That kind of honesty helps to earn trust among your users and motivates them to be goodwill ambassadors for your app and brand. Since growth can take off – or decline – due to word-of-mouth, it’s imperative that the people who use your app are saying positive things about it.

The Launch is Just the Beginning 

There’s no mistaking it. Your launch is pivotal for showing potential users why they should download and continue to use your app. You’ll have spent so much time and effort to make a good first impression (and that counts for a lot) that it’s tempting to want to collapse in relief on launch day. However, you won’t be resting for long if your goal is long-term success. Be prepared to not only promote and market your app, but to also monitor user experience in the hours, days, weeks, and months following your launch date. You must be ready to assess, tweak, and reassess long after the app first becomes available in the Apple iOS or Google Play app stores.

Understand Your Market and Your Competition

Make sure to have a keen understanding of your target customers and how your app provides value to them. But don’t stop there. How are your competitors attempting to satisfy your target’s needs? How can you differentiate your app to provide even more benefits – or perhaps the ones that your competition has missed?

The way to gain a loyal following is to prove that what you’re offering will meet your users’ most salient needs, and then to demonstrate that you’ll go out of your way to keep listening to them. For example, when it came to creating content for driving, obvious modules we created included practice driving tests and guides on driving theory, but something that we found our users requesting was content on pedestrian crossings. This wasn’t something right off the bat we thought users were going out of their way to find, however, we found that users had the most trouble with this during their driver’s education. So obviously, we went ahead and published a module to help those users with understanding pedestrian crossing rules and concepts. 

As a bonus, a clear understanding of your users’ needs, wants, and habits will give you an edge in creating an effective marketing strategy that will pull in new users and improve current users’ engagement.

Gimmicks are a Short-Term Solution. Every Feature Should Have a Purpose.

Does your app feature technology that does something unique and unexpected? That’s cool, but only if there’s value inherent in it. Gimmicks may earn you downloads in the short-term, but those users will drop off if those features don’t serve a valuable purpose. 

More important than the cool factor is that your app’s features provide real usefulness to your target customers.  Take the time to develop the features that are most desired, make them work better than the competition, and then aggressively market your strengths. 

Along with unique and purposeful features, make your app useful to customers by offering information that’s relevant to them. Include blogs that share how-tos, educational material, guides, or tips. Your current customers will begin to see you as a leader in the category, and that kind of credibility helps to gain new users as well.

Make Plans to Scale Your Business Before You Launch 

There’s no doubt that growth is synonymous with success. But are you prepared to scale up for an influx of users? Will the technology be able to keep up with demand? If not, positive user experience will plummet, and it will be very difficult to regain your footing.

Scalability should be a priority from the outset and is just as important as great design. You believe in your app, don’t you? Then make sure it’s ready to go big and broad. There’s no downside to making plans to scale your business. It’s not putting the cart before the horse. Prepare for your growth early or you’ll have plenty of regrets later on.

Profitability is a Long-Term Goal. Focus First on Sustainability.

All new businesses have their financial ups and downs. It’s likely that if your app garners a lot of positive feedback, you could reap financial rewards right away. But profitability is sustainable only if you continue to focus on your customers’ needs and your app’s ability to fulfill them.

And if you struggle to earn that initial positive spin that leads to a massive number of downloads at launch, that’s okay too. Simultaneously focus on the day-to-day and the long-term. Be very clear about the value your app promises, how it’s delivering on that goal, and which tweaks you may need to make in the future as your industry, your target customers, and the technology environment change over time.

Always Be Learning

No realistic person believes it’s easy to make your app a success. But some may think that most of the hard work happens prior to launch. Continue to remind yourself why your app is valuable, and then set out to see if it’s performing as expected and if there are ways to improve it. In Zutobi’s case this is understanding that the drivers we are helping are those first learning. So we are always updating, adding and creating new modules and lessons learners need to know about the provisional driving licence, driving theory, practice tests and so on! The industry moves rapidly and your success depends on keeping up with those changes so that current and potential users will connect with both your app and your brand.

About the Author

Tim Waldenback

Tim Waldenback

Tim Waldenback is the co-founder of Zutobi Drivers Ed, a gamified e-learning platform focused on online drivers education to help teens get their license. Tim founded Zutobi to make world-class driver’s education fun, affordable, and easily accessible for all.

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